Chasing Magic (and running from the rain)

This is my son Paddy, making bread one evening recently. We had just returned from the barbers, and my very quick watercolour sketch gives a pretty good idea of what his haircut looked like. Paddy knows I didn’t like it at the time, but so what – short hair grows back quickly so I wasn’t bothered.

(Clearly, the much more important aspect of this sketch is that my actual son is making bread, rather than me. This is a wonderful and most welcome development in the life of my continuing drudgery as a food preparer and provider.)

Paddy had gone to his usual place but neither his regular barber Ali nor his colleague were there. They are both Syrian. A different, non-Arabic guy cut Paddy’s hair and he did all kinds of things I don’t like – shaved the hair too close and too high (which is fine, but – allow me to be a proud mama here for a sec – not when the lad has beautiful thick chestnut hair!) and also I cannot bear a thin little fringe brushed forward, loaded with “product”. Eeooow.

A few weeks passed and it was time to go back to the barber.
“Great, ” said Paddy, looking through the window, “Ali is there.”

This is Ali. His face is not like that at all. I have depicted him looking very fierce – “like he’s going to cut the shit out of this hair” said Paddy – but I have a way to draw people’s faces when they’re being too jiggy to pin down, which is to draw them any old how that pleases me. So they’ll get dots for eyes, eyebrows if they’re lucky, a nose (always) and a mouth of some sort.
Ali carved the most perfect L-shape into the stubble of the cheek of the reclining man. He looked up, caught my eye and smiled.
“Let’s see you get that drawn as well as I’ve shaped it,” he said. Sadly, I didn’t quite rise to it and do Ali’s handiwork justice…

When Paddy sat down to have his hair cut, Ali looked at it and ran a comb through it, clearly not very happy.
“Who did your hair the last time?” he said. “Where did you go?”
“Here, but it was that other guy,” said Paddy.
“I was in Barcelona,” said Ali. “That guy was standing in for me. I looked at the cameras when I got back. The complaints! Never again!”
I felt for Ali – he’s an amazing barber who works a lot of hours, who clearly takes a lot of pride in his work.

This is the other barber who was working next to Ali. I don’t know where he’s from but I think he’s Arabic too. After he finished with his client, he carefully observed Ali doing his fancy moves with the scissors. Soon there’ll be two swish barbers there, working their magic to make men look sharp.

Channelling some magic sketchers

You see all these great sketchers and, little by little, their personal brand of magic sinks its way into you and gets under your skin. But it can take a long time. I can see Felix Scheinberger and his coloured pencils in my mind’s eye (something I’d never really incorporated into my sketches) and the wild and free expression of Inma Serrano. Of course, I admired it at the time, but it didn’t impinge upon my consciousness in terms of my sketching practice. A few years have passed, though, and something Inma said is finally beginning to find expression on my page: “I realised at some point that I don’t have to do what is there.” I am now starting to play with that concept: to draw what isn’t there, but which is not absent, either. It’s a way of capturing the essence, something that is often talked about but is hard to pin down. That’s what I was doing with these barber sketches: cultivating a devil-may-care approach. It’s very liberating and I can see myself going more and more carefree with form and colour, always looking to walk the fine line between control and being out of control.

Magic all very well…till it rains

This approach was put to the test today. I was in the Burren College of Art to take part in a workshop run by four women doing their Masters in Fine Arts degrees. The girls were from California, Oklahoma, Minnesota and Ontario. They showed us some beautiful nature trails that wound through a scrubby woodland and up a hill, covered in a lush vegetation of hart’s tongue ferns, dactilorhiza (can’t remember the name for those common ferns), hazel copses, ivy and the occasional limestone folly. The theme was “Traces, Places and Memories” and this lime kiln high up the hill struck me as a visible trace of a time long gone. I liked the idea that it is experiencing a kind of rebirth now that long lines of art students climb the hill to use it as the basis for artistic inspiration.

Things were going great – even the short bursts of rain showers only made my sketching more energetic. Soon, I had a lovely sheet of glorious colour, and I was feeling really good. I am always telling people that it’s the constant threat of change and the unpredictability of working outdoors that breathes such energy and spontaneity into one’s work…but then my words came back to bite me on the ass, as the heavens really opened and immediately washed all my lovely colour off my page. I was forced to do the very thing I counsel against – finish it indoors, from a few photos. Bah!

More workshop tomorrow…wonder what’s in store for us?


  1. fiona godfrey

    November 30, 2018 at 12:28 am

    I really like all those energetic lines in your barber drawings, particularly the blue ones on the robes. Lovely work. And how fun that you’re attending a workshop! I hope the weather improves for you all

    • Róisín Curé

      November 30, 2018 at 1:19 pm

      Thank you Fiona. Yes it was the blue lines that made me feel “no way am I going to do all these lines carefully”! And no, the weather hasn’t improved. It’s truly freezing and very wet 😣

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