Sketching Is Getting Me Through January

January is awful, weather-wise, and this year is no exception. However I’m cheering myself up with a good bit of sketching.

Technicolor in Neachtain’s

After a long gap, Urban Sketchers Galway met in Neachtain’s on Cross Street the weekend before last. It was just Mairéad and myself, but that counts! We had a lovely afternoon in Neachtain’s: we drew what we could see and Mairéad tried out her new pens. There was a couple sitting at the table we chose, and they graciously allowed us to share their table. They were in their fifties or sixties. The man was quiet and seemed gentle, and the woman was chatty. They were English. The woman had at one time been very interested in art, and she was most enthusiastic about what we were doing. Her eyes lit up when she saw the tiny box of paints, the clips, the small sketchbook.

“I want to do that!” she said. “I need to get this little kit and – and – just draw!”

I explained that urban sketching isn’t like other art groups, that your level of skill is irrelevant and that she would never be bored again once she takes it up. Then I was demonstrating Mairéad’s new pen for her, which she’d asked me to buy on her behalf, and even though all I did was a scribble of the English lady – I mean, it’s this sketch below – she was mightily impressed. What other activity has this effect on strangers? Seriously? Drumming, maybe? Singing? Tell me if you know of one!

I told her about the urban sketching groups in London, where she lives. Her very nice companion took my card and photographed the empty packet that had just contained Mairéad’s new pen. The English lady, D, contacted me later that evening, and I hope she has joined an urban sketching group. D, if you’re reading this, do it!

After they left, we got on with sketching, and I continued to intrude on the quiet afternoon that the chap to my right was having with his girlfriend. “You’ve been rumbled,” said Mairéad. I turned to him and smiled, and said I hoped he didn’t mind me sketching him.

“No!” said his girlfriend, a real beauty, in a delightful Spanish accent. “We love it!” The fellow seemed to, too. That was very nice and I put the few finishing strokes to the sketch which was just about finished anyway. Turned out the guy was an artist of some kind himself, and he was enthusiastic (in an Irish way, ie. not demonstrably so) about joining Urban Sketchers too. They took a card and…well, I hope they join too.

A few tips about sketching a very colourful scene

I like to keep things safe, on the whole. I keep a limited palette, often choosing browns and blues, along with skin tones, because I know they’ll always look great. You can’t do that with Neachtain’s, though, and keep it looking like Neachtain’s. Its whole raison-d’etre, in décor terms, is its vibrant, colourful interior. So I did something else: I made all the colours very strong (apart from the skin tones, which don’t obey the rules). I also kept the colours somewhat limited, and chose to emphasise a small number of them. So you’ll see turquoise repeated, warm yellows repeated, orange and rust repeated. That brings harmony. What I definitely will NOT do is combine pastels with strong colours. I hated it as a teenager, when my school allowed the girls to wear PASTEL A-LINE SKIRTS with their dark green jumpers (looking at YOU Holy Child Killiney!), and I hate it now. Other than that…just remember the indigo or Payne’s grey and you won’t go too far wrong. And lots of white highlights.

Cooking with John Bonham, Kevin Curry and Paddy Curé

My son Paddy is 18 and has recently become a keen cook. The idea he has is to prepare food for five days’ worth of school lunches, so that he has a huge, hot meal every day and doesn’t have to mess around making sandwiches in the morning. Santa Claus got him a cookbook by Kevin Curry for Christmas. Paddy loves the book, which is full of nutritional information, great photos and very tasty recipes, but Paddy likes cooking much better when his mum is on hand to advise, chop and help. The other evening he was starting to cook something with turkey mince and jalapeńos and persuaded me to join in. We had the kitchen to ourselves so he fired up Led Zeppelin at high volume, and off we set. I told him to put on an apron, and he did, but he let it hang open, and couldn’t be bothered to take his schoolbag off his back, so I tied the apron strings around it too. This caused me to laugh a LOT and he is such a good sport, he allowed me to sketch him like that. He was fidgeting so I made him take out his phone. That in turn made him keep turning to me to show me memes but I prevailed. (I had left my normal sketching stuff out in my studio – on the far end of Storm Brendan – so I had to use my Platinum Carbon pens, the ones I cut my teeth on as a sketcher many years ago. You can see tons of mistakes but you just have to keep going.)

The cooking involved a lot of tapping of wooden spoons on the sides of casserole pots, and it was very natural to tap them in time to John Bonham’s beats. This was very satisfying. Then a particularly tricky riff came up and John just couldn’t keep in time with Paddy and me, each with a wooden spoon and a pot. It was a lot of fun and I can’t believe I didn’t appreciate Led Zeppelin when I was a teenager (I cared a lot more about bad colour combinations, clearly). Then all that remained was the rice to be prepared, and although I told Paddy it was up to him to watch it, he decided to play the guitar for a bit, and the rice got slightly burnt. Paddy said the meal was a huge success and tasted just like Boojum, a very cool Mexican restaurant we have here in Ireland.

No idea what soundtrack will go with which recipe next week, but I am looking forward to it. I might just sketch it too.

And if you want to jump into urban sketching – or improve where you’re at now – join me in Dublin 20th-23rd March this year for a really fab workshop. Just 4 places left – you’ll find all the info here:

Until next time – keep sketching!


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