Wednesday 20th July
I decide to treat myself to a full day’s sketching. My plan is to wander like a soulful hippie along winding country roads without a care in the world, sketching as I go, having thrown all timepieces from my person. This latter is highly unlikely to happen, seeing as I will probably film lots of video as I sketch – and I will be unable to avoid seeing what time it is. But it’s the thought that counts, the intention. I tell my mother, Cinnie, and she’s all for it.
“I’d love to walk along with you and sketch,” she says, and not for the first time I am sorry that she doesn’t want to live in Galway and I don’t want to live in Dublin, so that sketching together is more feasible.
I go to start the day with my usual delicious breakfast of muesli covered in nuts and whatever fruit is in the house. I find strawberries in the fridge and suddenly feel inspired to sketch them. My plan is to make a drawn composition of my breakfast elements, and just paint the strawberries in red. But I quickly get carried away…and before I know it it’s 11.30am and I haven’t even taken a bite. In regard to my approach, I am trying to break from my old pattern of care and caution. I scribble the lines freely, I splash on colours heedlessly and I use ink and watercolour indiscriminately. I talk about the approach I use in great detail in my podcast, Sketch Therapist.
Breakfast is as delicious as usual and my next stop is Moran’s Oyster Cottage, a restaurant across the estuary from my house. I pause outside the restaurant, which is full of jolly people enjoying pints, oysters and mussels, but I quickly realise I am longing for nature, not noise. I am enjoying this sketch-whither-you-will adventure. I walk past Moran’s to the end of the road in front of the restaurant: Moran’s is literally a stone’s throw from the water – it’s so close that if you were to imbibe a few pints and decide to walk home, any more than the slightest weave along the road could mean landing in the drink. I recall the day my son Paddy turned 18. It was the first of September, night had fallen and we had bidden farewell to my parents Cinnie and Paddy, who had driven across the country for the occasion. Paddy Jr, his dad Marcel and I sat all alone outside the entrance to Moran’s at an upturned barrel, enjoying a pint of Guinness. A light drizzle had started and we could just about make out the stony, seaweedy estuary bed at low tide in the dark night of early Autumn. Sea birds of the night (no idea which) cried plaintively over the trickling, unseen water and all was still. We reflected on how lucky we were to live there…
And here I am, three years later, all on my own but for little Reuben the terrier. The road gives way to a country trail which rises quickly so that you soon look down a mini-cliff to your left over the estuary. The trail is lined with hedgrows and wild flowers. I spot some purple ones and remember a similar afternoon four years earlier, when I had sat in the grass beside them and sketched. I feel inspired to sketch the same flowers again. I am missing a pen containing purple ink, but do my best nonetheless with whatever ink I have – hot pink, green and brown. I get nice and loose and scribbly but it takes a lot of flower-sketching to get the lush feel I am looking for. Then I have to paint them, and am soon faced with the task of creating the look of the thick grassy undergrowth. I find that I can achieve this by darkening between blades of grass with a deep black-brown ink, Lily by Rohrer and Klingner. I’m still on the sample so kindly sent by Jan, one of my students, but I will soon run out and I need a supplier. The same people make Emma, a delightful olive green, which you can see in the lines I use here. If you are reading this and have a supplier of this brand of ink please share it with me in the comments!
Reuben is restless and while he is always utterly loyal, he cannot hide his boredom. He wanders further and further from me, out of sight, so that I must tie him down. For the flower sketch I tie his lead to my stool, and when I am done he thinks it’s time to go home.
The view across the river from the flowers leaves me no choice but to return once more to the fray. This time I tie Reuben’s lead around my thigh and nestle down into the grassy verge to sketch. Reuben is restless and pulls on his lead, jerking my leg – and my body, and hand – throughout the entire sketch. He usually gives up and settles down, but he is not inclined to so do on this occasion. He should reflect on the fact that I would be well within my rights to force him to wear his “belly band” – male hygiene wrap – as he has taken to cocking his leg against furniture all over the house (which started with the visits, unrequited, of a little bitch in heat from across the road a month or two ago). I choose not to because he looks so dejected when he is forced into a bright yellow nappy around his middle, but if I am displeased with him – say, if he jerks my hand restlessly while I am trying to sketch – I may well change my mind.
The rigger brush is ideal for the tiny wavelets which need to be sketched in paint and not pen. The soft mauve sky is very typical of an Irish summer’s day – warm, overcast, still. Perfect sketching weather, but I have been outdoors a long time now and my fingers have gone numb. I finish up and return home around seven in the evening: dinner, to no one’s surprise, least of all my own, has not been made in my absence. It’s back to the pots and pans, but I got my carefree wandering artist sketching day.
Thursday 21st July
In the morning I discover that Instagram isn’t really my friend, and I feel sad. (The details are boring, but their stupid algorithm is prejudiced against artists who make thoughtful, creative posts and reels, and are all for brief, zero-attention-span fluff….most of which I devour like a fiend, especially the cute-koala variety.) Then I recall that I always feel happy after doing.a live broadcast on Instagram, and so I arrange a few things on my desk in shades of blue and hit the Live button. As usual, the lovely people who stop by to watch are engaged and fun – at least, those who stay more than one second. More on that later. I have loads of fun sketching and talking to the viewers and feel infinitely better afterwards. I splash and slop blue, purple and jade around in watercolour and ink, and when the curtain has fallen and the audience has gone home I add the words by hand and by letter-stamp.
Sunday 24th July
The All-Ireland GAA Football Final is taking place bewteen Galway and Kerry. I am not someone who feels excited about watching sports as played on a screen, but I have a conundrum: the whole of rural Ireland is in a tizzy over this thing, or at least the two counties involved are – one of which happens to be my home. I may be from rural Ireland, but I am not from Rural Ireland. Growing up as the child of a mixed-couple North American woman-Irish man pair of blow-ins who built a homestead on the side of a mountain in Co. Wicklow does NOT count as Rural Ireland, even if you cannot imagine a more perfect rural idylll than where I grew up. Therefore, not only was I unaware of the existence of GAA (Gaelic Athletics Association) until I was in university in Galway at the age of 23, but I am deeply ignorant of all things GAA. But on this Sunday I want to take part, even if only in spirit.
The previous day has not been a good one. I am the fully-licensed driver who sits beside Paddy as he gains in driving experience. He suggests that he take the multi-storey car park as he has to learn sometime, and I agree. There have been a couple of testily-received corrections from me so far on the way into Galway, and I decide to keep quiet unless it’s absolutely necessary. This, and allowing Paddy to ascend the multi-storey on a busy Saturday morning, prove to be mistakes. Paddy underestimates the distance needed to turn a corner onto a ramp, and the door on the side of my car crumples in a piercing shriek of scraping, collapsing metal. Paddy is devastated, extremely apologetic and sorrowful, and his mood is greatly worsened by the sight of cars all over Galway with GAA county colours flying from the rear windows. As if this wasn’t deeply unreasonable, he is made even angrier when the car in question is a Nissan Qashqai. After our morning in town (which is stressful anyway) we must swing by the Galway Bay Sailing Club on the way home to pick up his phone from his pal, in whose car he has left it. We reach a very-crowded sailing club where the pal will be starting his job as a barista. We find the last parking space, find that the pal hasn’t arrived yet, pass him on the road on the way home, have to turn around and go back to the club (what young lad can be without his phone?) only to find a Qashqai with flags in the rear windows in the one spot left we had found on our first foray there. This is the last straw and a stream of expletives issues forth from the calmest, most unruffle-able young man you will ever meet. At last he meets his friend and gets his phone, and our terrible journey is soon over.
By the next day and Sunday’s match, Paddy is calm. I have told him that the only thing that matters when it comes to motor accidents is that no squishy humans are squished in any way, and that every learner driver has a scrape or two, and usually in a multi-storey car park. Now he is rooting for Galway with all the other Qashqai drivers. I settle down to take part in the only way I can bear to – by drawing the action. The young players are slim and fit; no burly rugby bodies here. I am, despite myself, in awe of their agility and glorious youthfulness. I would have chosen two different team strips for aesthetic reasons, but I will let that slide. The trophy is, I think, a sort of huge replica of the Ardagh chalice and is called the Sam McGuire Cup.
Kerry win, Galway lose. My stony Wickow heart feels nothing.
Tuesday 26th July
On the spur of the moment, I decide to do another live broadcast on Instagram, this time in the morning to suit viewers in the Asian time zones. I wonder what to sketch, then I remember that I have been meaning to make a paint chart for those who have bought the beautiful Roman Szmal watercolours I sell. I get cracking and before too long all the rest of the paint sets I have in stock are gone, which is a nice side-effect of this spontaneous broadcast. I mention to the viewers that I will soon do Instagram Lives where they can dictate what I draw, and one viewer takes the bull by the horns and suggests I draw a robot magician. That explains the personage on the right.
The name of my eldest, Honor, appears on screen, a visiting viewer. I greet her warmly and tell everyone that my daughter has arrived. Later, when she arrives at my house in Galway for the party being thrown by my youngest, Liv (she has just turned 18), I ask her if she has heard my nice greeting when she dropped into the Live earlier. No: she has not stayed longer than one second.
I talk with my watercolour supplier, Roman Szaml himself, and discover that the pink is 329, Cherry Quinacridone Red.
Thursday 28th July
I drive Honor to a doctor’s appointment and know I won’t be there long enough to sketch anything too elaborate. I am happy to sketch a couple of cars in the car park. They’re a bit wobbly, a bit weird, but I enjoy myself immensely and the fretful thoughts my mind has taken to dwelling on of late are soon drowned out by questions like “how do I show the window is open”, “are the door handles colinear” and “will I change the colour of the van, and if so, will Aquarius Green be too sludgy?” Then the post van driver comes out of the surgery and drives away. The spell is broken and I am as if awakening from a trance. How grateful I am to urban sketching…forever and always.
It’s been a busy week of sketching. I am so full of ideas for my students. But for now I am supposed to be taking the summer off. It doesn’t always work out that way because my work is my life and my life is my work. And you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.