Elderflower Loveliness

It’s elderflower season in Galway. years ago I used to make elderflower cordial, but I have passed the baton on to my younger daughter Olivia (15), who is as domestically-goddess as I ever was, with the great benefit that she is extremely tidy and organised too, something I never managed. But she loves all the things that make a house a home: baking sweet treats, making lavender sachets to put under pillows, wild-flower-arranging…and now making elderflower cordial. I invited her to come to a nearby green path to pick the flowers, and her brother Paddy (18) came too. We went to the path that runs past Moran’s seafood restaurant on the other side of the estuary from us, carrying a huge basket to collect the flowers: it would have made quite the wholesome scene, if it wasn’t for the revolting comments and jokes that teenagers find so funny.

You drive along the river, past Moran’s thatched cottage and as far as the road will go, some two hundred metres after the restaurant. There you park, and sometimes when the tide is very high a local racehorse owner “swims” his horses there on leads. Because sound travels crazily efficiently across water, I can often hear the beautiful horsey panting noise (you know the one I mean) as they exert themselves swimming against the tide. The owner seems very rough indeed and not a little scary. As you leave the bit where you park your car (where I taught Paddy to drive), the path rises until there is a steep drop to the river. Then it falls again and soon you get to the shore. Before that, you walk along a very narrow green path of great beauty, wild flowers and grasses accosting you at every step, the little terrier Reuben disappearing in the undergrowth at your very feet. That’s where we got out elderflowers. Liv soaked them with lemons in sugar syrup for a couple of days until the liquid was thoroughly infused with the most delicious aroma pf the blossoms.

Two of the bottles were to be presented to Uncle Malachy and Granny and Granddad, so I thought I had better draw them while I could. Then I needed to give them a little context, so up the hill I schlepped (is that the right word to use? I was definitely trudging a bit) to Tyrone House, where I crossed a beautiful meadow overlooking the same estuary we collected the flowers from (but on the far side, which is my side, if you get me) and got sketching.

I am a very lucky woman.

What do I bring when I sketch outdoors?

I have been asked to describe the kit I bring when I go out to sketch. The answer: very little. When I started in Mauritius back in 2012, I brought a little fold-up chair, a little plastic fold-up stool, a huge sketchpad (A3 or even A2 sometimes), a ceramic palette, a glass jar, loads of brushes and a box of 36 watercolours (maybe more). The chair was for me, the stool for my kit to sit on and so on. The ceramic palette was very heavy until it fell and broke; the jar was just silly; the paper shrank and so did the box of paints. Now I bring an A5 sketchbook (and an A4 one too if I’m collecting images for a book, and the format suits it), a very small but crowded box of paints, one pencil case with everything in it and a metal pot with a sealable lid, a fold-up fabric stool – and that’s it. I can put the entire kit in a shoulder bag or even smaller.

I look rather different as a sketcher than your plein air artist, who often carries an easel. That’s terrific, but what I do is not in the same vein at all, and the results are never for sale. I don’t know why I am not interested in selling art – I think it’s the effort and expense involved that puts me off – but also, my paintings depict MY life and they’re kind of mine. They are akin to a diary; they are nearly as personal as one, but seeing I do post flick-throughs on social media they’re clearly not that private. My urban sketching is about joy and pleasure. It’s not about carrying heavy things around, and it’s also about stopping and sketching anything at all that takes my fancy, which means minimal kit.


Come to Morocco with me next year. I’m giving sketching workshops over two dates in September and early 2021. We’re going to the southeast region of Ouarzazate and I cannot wait. We’re going to eat amazing food, sleep under the stars one night and in general have an unforgettable experience over the course of nine days. You’ll sketch camels if I have anything to do with it, and palm trees, and tagines. The people running it are a local company called Morocco Ecoway and they come highly recommended: they got in touch with me about a month ago and asked me if I would like to teach in Morocco. They didn’t have to ask twice. If you like the sound of it, please get in touch: I will post the itinerary and the full cost in a day or two’s time, but you really don’t want to miss this one.

Until then…dream of doors to an exotic world.

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