Making A Silk Purse Out Of A Sow’s Ear

I go to a sleepy country town two evenings a week. My daughter Olivia does Taekwondo in Gort, a small town in south Galway. Not a lot happens in Gort, and I have an hour and a half in which to do it…twice a week.

(Two things make it stand out: it has the best secondary school I’ve ever encountered – my kids look forward to school every single day – and it has a large population of Brazilians, who bring their liveliness to the place, along with their shorts and flip-flops: I love that they ignore the terrible weather. But in terms of evening entertainment it is not in the top ten towns in Ireland.)

I thought I’d sketch in the one big Gort hotel last night, the Lady Gregory. I broadcast it live on Instagram as I went, and it’s on my story for you to look at until this evening at about 8pm GMT, should you find yourself with an uneventful hour.

“Not much in the way of a subject,” was my husband Marcel’s verdict.

“Doesn’t matter,” I said. “Urban sketching is about the process more than the subject. It’s sketching for its own sake.”

“Better to have an interesting subject,” said Marcel. “Given the choice, wouldn’t you rather sketch something interesting?”

As we discussed this, I was looking at Twitter. Someone had tweeted that Dolly Parton wrote Jolene and I Will Always Love You on the same day. Amongst all the expressions of adoration for Dolly the Queen (which I share), someone pointed out that Barry Gibb had written Islands In The Stream whilst watching rubbish pile up in the industrial river that separates Manchester from Salford.

So: one person sees rubbish. Another person sees a metaphor for a relationship and hears a melody in their head.

And in the Lady Gregory Hotel one person sees an almost empty room with unexceptional decor. Another sees curves, harmonising colours and two humans interacting. It’s no hit single as sketches go, but neither is it a one-hit wonder: there is always something in front of you that has interesting lines and complementing colours…and there will always be people, the most interesting subject of all.

Some scenes are harder to eke beauty from than others (plastic tends to leave me cold). And we’re all different, and one person’s stream full of rubbish is another person’s melody. But isn’t that the point? That human creativity is as individual as humans themselves?

Just as a musician will make music no matter where they are, and nothing can stop a writer telling stories, an artist will make art. That’s why urban sketching is such a joy: it’s art for its own sake. This sketch was my first for a long while that had no purpose or destination. That was beautiful in itself.

There’s beauty everywhere. Keep your eyes and your heart open. And if you’re sketching today, or writing music, or poetry…look around you, and make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

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