Clams and Mussels, Alive Alive Oh!

My brother Malachy paid us a visit. He bought clams and mussels from the guys down the road. They harvest them down at the shore where I sat on wet sand and sketched the other day, and bring them back to a little shed, where they are filtered (clams) and de-bearded (mussels) and flown all over the world. We can walk or cycle to the shed and buy shellfish that’s barely left the sea, whenever we like. Malachy walked there, got what he wanted and made delicious dinner, with Liv (15) as sous-chef. Malachy is a true gourmet and has great appreciation for the finer things that the sea and land can offer for our tables. Years ago there used to be an ad for some kind of hideous fake butter, and they had as their opening line: “At the table, we never grow old.” I am in full agreement with this and I feel that when I sit at the table over a beautiful meal with my family or friends, time stands still. Soon after I finished this sketch I was tucking into mussels in a tomato and chilli broth, which was followed by a clam curry with coconut and coriander. We had a bottle of something cold and white with it, carefully chosen by Malachy, and it was a lovely evening.

I love to capture my loved ones in ink and watercolour, and I never consider that I might make a mess of it and upset everyone and myself. It’s not easy to draw people in motion, as every sketcher knows, but there are a few things you can do to make it all a bit more likely to be a success.

  • Choose a pose that your subject will keep for a while. If you’re not sure, ask, and they might be able to adjust what they’re doing a bit to accommodate you.
  • Use a thin nib or the reverse of a fude nib to sketch loose and sketchy. You can always beef up your line after you’re happy with it – you’ll never notice the “wrong” lines that way.
  • If a person is intent on a task, the head is probably angled downwards, so be careful to include lots of the crown of the head. Likewise, watch out for downcast eyes and a nose close to both eyes and mouth, if the subject is looking down.
  • Get the head, shoulders, arms and torso done quickly. Do NOT worry about detail of the clothes until after you have the main elements of the body down – you’ll get plenty of chances to draw colours and patterns when you have the main shapes down.
  • I used a limited palette for this sketch so that there’s no clashing. If I felt a certain colour was important, I repeated it somewhere else.
  • Above all, do jump in and give it a go – even when your subjects don’t look like themselves, you’ll be so pleased you have a memory of a special moment. Use loose sheets if you’re under-confident.

I guess the Lockdown is officially over now. So my blog is no longer my response to Covid-19. However, I have grown and developed enormously as an artist and as a writer in the three months since I started this daily, or almost daily, blog. I have learned that you don’t have to write everything, but if you do write, be honest and real, and be counted. As an artist, I have become more…well, I don’t know. Just better.

Speaking of which, I am off to sketch some elderflower trees. I shall report back!


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