Back from Amsterdam last Sunday. Dublin Airport and a Citylink bus at 9.15pm. A Dublin cocky lad gets on the bus and asks the bus driver his name. Says he likes to know the name of his driver. Driver says his name is Butter And Cream. Cocky lad doesn’t miss a beat, says “thanks Butter-and-Cream” and sits down. In Galway by midnight, then over to my dear friend Lorraine for a midnight snack. The craic with Lorraine and her family is always mighty, regardless of the time of day or night, so we got home and fell into bed at 1.30am. Now THAT’S how you come back from holidays. Next day I had promised to meet a visitor to Ireland for a spot of urban sketching. She travelled all the way up from Cork, where she was staying, and we sat on the banks of the Corrib and sketched in the sunshine, while buskers of uncertain expertise filled the air around us with sound.
(Clue: one was playing the bagpipes, which can be a beautiful instrument in skilled hands. This guy had a bit more practice ahead of him. The other person sang songs from the heart, but also needed some practice. Okay, who am I kidding, both offerings made the birds fall dead from the sky and were a cacophony.)
So yeah I wasn’t in the most fresh state of mind to go into Galway City but it was important to be a good host to a visitor and – as is always the case with sketching – I was happier after the sketch was finished.
In Amsterdam I saw a lot of sketching, despite the heat. I am always looking for inspiration, someone whose beautiful soul makes me want to go to a higher plane. So I tried something new, painting without making a line first. I fell down after a short time and fell back on my fude pen, but you can see some bits that have no line. The reason there are white bits is that you have to leave a tiny gap or the paint will run…
Next day the fatigue hit me, and I nearly fell asleep at the wheel a couple of times. In fact I did bump the kerb outside Aldi. Back home, I took to my bed and insisted on dinner on a tray. Nice. Will do it more often.
Thursday was Ladies’ Day at Galway Races. That’s the day in Race Week when all the women dress up to the nines and look like birds of paradise. They do look uncomfortable in their shoes though (the day I decided to never bother with high heels again was a good one for me. We gasp at what Chinese people used to do to women’s feet, but very high shoes aren’t far off that). Liv and I had our own little Ladies’ Day for two sitting on the side of the quay at Galway Docks, with a delicious tasty mature Swiss cheese and Italian fennel salami from Sheridans Cheesemongers. Liv sketched the yellow apartments on the far side of the harbour and I sketched her – we were in heaven, the two of us. She is tall but not as crazy tall as I have made her. But she loved the sketch I did, and I loved hers – especially the blue digger she put in the foreground. So urban sketching.
It’s apricot season in Kilcolgan, at least it is in my polytunnel. When you hear that I have apricots in my polytunnel, you might imagine a sort of Hanging Gardens of Babylon vibe – steamy, tropical and a lush paradise of God’s bounty. It was indeed like that at the start: the polytunnel is 7m wide by 10m long so it’s big enough for trees and all the vegetables you could eat. In fact, the first day it was up I put on a swimsuit, took the hose that had been lying for a few hours in the hot polytunnel and had a delicious hot-water hosing down. I don’t remember what it was like outside under the REAL Galway sky that day but I can make a fair guess that it was windy and fresh. Over the years we have grown everything you can think of in there: tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, aubergines, courgettes, grapes, peaches, herbs, onions, garlic, radish – oh come on, so much more – if it’s been on the front of a seed packet in the garden centre, we’ve grown it.
(Even at its best, it had its ups and downs: one afternoon Marcel saw a rat, threw a stone at it and thought he’d missed, but we found it the next day, dead as a doornail. “Why wasn’t I that good a shot at cricket,” he mused. And one morning we went in to find that the rats had swarmed through the night before, eating every one of the pumpkins, perhaps forty or so, that were about to be harvested.)
But that was then and this is now. Work commitments have changed the game: the polytunnel is a den of neglect. You could lose an eye in there, you could be badly scratched and at the very least you’re likely to lose your footing. But I guess apricots aren’t put off by brambles and spikes because they are there, looking magnificent, and tasting sweet and dripping in a way you just don’t get in the supermarket.
I painted the apricots with no drawing first. It was fine, and it looks okay I think, but I;m just about so much more than how something looks – I want the story! I won’t be giving up my pen for a while yet.
Right now I am putting a proposal together for the 11th International Urban Sketching Symposium in Hong Kong. It’s fun to do – if it wasn’t, I’d be doing something wrong – so I guess I’ll know in October whether I’ve been accepted.
If Hong Kong is a bit far for you, you can come to me in October and join a very small group (only six) for three days of a workshop in Galway. It’s mostly going to be indoors unless we get a particularly nice afternoon, but I hope you’ll go away excited to draw the lovely indoor café and pub scenes of winter. Do let me know quickly if you want to join us though – there are only a couple of places left. It costs $395 and takes place over three days, 24th, 25th and 26th October.
But it’s still warm now – get out sketching!
Yes, don’t give up writing. You’re very good at it. You make me smile.
I’d better not give up – my publisher might have something to say! Delighted to hear I make you smile!
Are you planning any workshops in Galway in summer 2020?
Hi Rosemary, yes I will do something this summer. Probably in July, as I am working hard until the end of June. I think I might do something in Dublin too as there are so many amazing spaces to sketch there. Drop me an email sometime and I will put you on the mailing list if you like, or keep an eye out on Facebook / Instagram for announcements.