Keeping Up With The Curés – Holiday Special (in Sketches)

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Christmas is over and the new year has begun. I breathe a sigh of relief every year at this time. Christmas and the holiday period mean preparing for the arrival of my extended family, eating too much rich food and spending far too much money. While it’s a lovely time once you’re in the swing of it, it can feel somewhat daunting in anticipation. However, a holiday also provides time to draw colourful decorations. I love an excuse to turn up the volume on colour. The paper I use is great for taking a few layers of colour and letting them pop – and nothing says “holiday” like a soldier with a cupcake on his head.

Christmas holiday decorations, watercolour by Róisín Curé
I made this sketch on Christmas Day and I was full of confidence, but I’m afraid I’d had a glass or several with my meal and my sketching ability was not equal to my confidence. Consequently, everything ended up far too large and I missed out on half the nice things I wanted to include. Beer glasses?

Paddy at Christmas Holiday, watercolour by Róisín Curé
We were on our own (just the five of us) for the first time in many years, and although this was something I’d always feared, it turned out to be blissful in a way I find hard to describe. I spent the morning baking for sheer enjoyment: mince pies in puff pastry, vanillekipferl, bread. My Austrian relatives were very kind about my attempts at baking Austrian-style cookies via a group chat and photos on whatsapp, but I’m just a beginner! Besides, they were delicious, despite not looking very professional.

Next day everyone was taking it easy. I’m an early riser most of the time so I decided to indulge and make this sketch…I suppose I had a soldier theme going on. Very camp soldiers who would not be outshined on any stage!

Holiday Soldiers on a tree, watercolour by Róisín Curé
A few days later we went for our annual holiday to see Mother-in-law in Tenterden, Kent. I adore this woman, and the few days’ holiday we spend there every year are the highlight of my year, and have been for nearly twenty. From the first time she greeted me with a hug and a huge smile, and promptly made me a prawn and avocado sandwich and a cup of tea, she had my heart.

Since that first visit, through courting, marriage, babies and now teenagers, she has been a font of humour and generosity. She is an elderly lady now and frail, and finds the annual New Year stampede that is the descent of her enormous grandchildren exhausting. But she insists she wouldn’t have it any other way, and our children simply adore her. Mother-in-law and I have had our differences, but they seem to have ebbed away in recent years.

I hate flying. I get collywobbles looking out the window. “You don’t deserve a window seat,” says my husband. This time, however, I ended up with one. My husband was in the seat in front of me and, turning around with effort, reminded me that I would be unlikely to appreciate my window seat. He was right, of course – as soon as I looked out the window I immediately felt the usual terror.

Sketching always calms me on the plane, and once again I wondered if it would work its magic, or if this time it was just too bumpy. I couldn’t see it having the desired effect, and the usual fear of crashing to the ground wouldn’t leave me. But what to sketch? The seats were a boring uniform navy, and I couldn’t see the other passengers. Consequently, my only option was to draw what I could see out the window.

Plane Sketch, watercolour by Róisín Curé
It worked! I focused on getting the colours right, the cloud shapes and the shadows, rather than imminent death. In the event, I could not but be moved by the power and beauty of the silver-grey wings, and the everyday miracle that is travelling through the air.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are cruising at 420 miles per hour, at 15,000 feet,” said the co-pilot. “Heathrow is below us on our left.” So now I know where I was when I made the sketch…sort of. I showed the husband the sketch after we landed. “See? I was appreciating the view!” I said. He believed me, but little did he realise that the converse was the case. The truth was, I had barely been aware of the endless void as I sketched until I was nearly finished. Sketching worked once again, which is just as well because nearly every holiday involves getting on a plane.

In Tenterden, I took every chance I could to carry on sketching. My daughter had her hair cut on the high street, and I always like drawing in a hair-cutting outfit. However, unlike the many barbers whom I’ve sketched, Rachel the hairdresser was a bit hard to pin down. Too unpredictable! I was left with an aborted sketch, just a few lines, something I hate in a sketchbook of pretty pages.

Help was at hand in the form of a Japanese print in the lovely B&B where my husband and I were staying. I painted right on top of Rachel’s lines, and I changed the colours of the print a very tiny bit to harmonise with those in the sketch of Olivia, my daughter.

Liv and a print, watercolour by Róisín Curé
Next day was New Year’s Day. I drew my dear mother-in-law Erika, followed by a sketch of my older daughter Honor. My girl looked very beautiful in her harem pants and scarf – all things sub-continent are what she’s into at the moment – which inspired me to draw her. You can’t tell from the sketch that her hair is a mass of dreadlocks under that scarf. My Austrian mother-in-law is unimpressed by the current hairdo. “Worms!” she says. “You have a tangle of worms instead of hair on your head!”

Honor and Omama, watercolour by Róisín Curé
Neither of these sketches looks exactly like their subjects, but I have decided to just sketch in ink and accept whatever happens. I do find that if you just plough on as if everything is going to turn out fine, it does tend to be better than if you get all panicked. So I ignored the stray ink lines, the false starts, the lines I seemed to insist on putting in the wrong place.

Continuing in the theme of drawing my loved ones less than expertly, here are my husband Marcel and his mother enjoying a quiet moment after dinner. Regardless of how “right” the drawing is, I am so happy to have it.

Omama and Marcel, watercolour by Róisín Curé
The day we were to leave for Ireland, our boy Paddy broke his Omama’s chair. A leg snapped. My mother-in-law insists it was making cracking noises anyway, and doesn’t want Paddy to feel bad. I decided to draw it before we left, as we would never see it again, and it has been mother-in-law’s favourite chair for years.

Omama's chair, watercolour by Róisín Curé
Back home, and the cake Paddy made at school is still in evidence. I drew it intact – how could you not? – and when it was open, to show the cake itself. I am very happy to have made the sketch, and Paddy is happy it’s been recorded too.

Paddy's Christmas Cake, watercolour by Róisín Curé
Now it’s time to get back to the business of everyday life. Luckily, it doesn’t take a holiday to get an urban sketcher busy!

Exclusive! Would you like to improve your sketching knowledge and skills?
After five years of near-daily sketching – not to mention over three decades of learning the basics of art before that
– there are literally hundreds of tips and techniques I can share that I have picked up along the way. In return for your kind support, I would like to share them in this section.
This is a brief introduction to the kinds of things I want to share with you. Later on in 2018 I hope to publish a guide to sketching. Here however you will get sneak previews along the way.

I will talk about the pen I used to make the sketches in this post, and my favourite ink.



I love my Sailor Fude calligraphy pen with a 55-degree nib. I owned it for a full year before I began to use it regularly. My colleague, Inma Serrano and I, were giving a workshop in Galway last year, and Inma told me that she simply would not be able to draw without her Sailor. That convinced me to give it another try. Now I wouldn’t use anything else, including the pens I used for years. Here’s why:

What a Sailor can do, sketch by Róisín Curé
You can see from the sketch that every width of line is possible with the Sailor. Although I tried the 40-degree Sailor fude pen, the angle was too shallow for me. Give me the the full 55 degrees any day.

Another advantage of the wide nib is that you can fill in large areas of black (or whatever colour) very fast. The only trouble with this is that it does take longer to dry – be careful. Smudge alert!

I always use De Atramentis ink these days. It’s smooth, waterproof and permanent. Highly recommended. Apparently it’s handmade, which no doubt means it’s very special, but I have yet to discover how.

In my collection I have brown, black, grey and violet, the latter which was sent as a sample, but I must try it! I will do so and let you know what it’s like. Apart from that, I also have red and two shades of blue, all of which I will demonstrate in a Sailor pen here over the next few days.

Okay, till then – cheerio!

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