Soothing The Senses in a Candlelit Café

I had to make a long drive yesterday evening. A friend of mine lost her mother two days ago, and it meant a lot to me to see her, and pay my respects. I drove to Killaloe, a small town in deepest Clare where the removal was to be held: it’s a two hour round trip, and I was hoping to get back to Gort in time to join the life drawing class held above the Gallery Café in the Square.

I was out of luck. Between my atrocious navigation skills (I take side roads on a whim) and the lady in the phone unilaterally deciding to send me home via a twisting, narrow mountain path rather than the spanking new motorway, I missed the entire life drawing session. I figured I would sketch in the hour or so I had before I picked up my daughter from her martial arts class, and draw in the Gallery Café, which is downstairs from the life drawing classes. I walked in to a quiet, candlelit room, sheepskin rugs on the chairs, the lovely Sarah and Gemma waiting to see what I wanted. I settled down with my favourite tipple and chose a cosy scene that I thought would make a pretty cool composition.

As an urban sketcher, you can inhabit a space on many levels, whilst being blissfully zen at the same time. I absorbed the gentle conversation of the three women at the table next to me, that of the artist who came in after the life drawing session and the desultory talk of the two women serving. Through the window I could see the street lights of Gort Main St, and every now and then I thought of my 14-year-old daughter Liv, who was in a boxing club around the corner doing her second Tae Kwon Do session. I took the occasional sip of beer, pulled my beautiful pens across the page and felt the last two hours of the narrow, bendy roads over the dark mountains ease away.

I liked the splashes of yellow of the candle and the street lights, and I added the hair of one of the women to offer a little balance to the candle, explaining to her afterwards that I had gone full orange as a counterpoint to the yellow, and that her hair wasn’t that shade at all. When you’re explaining, you’re losing (or something) but she was very gracious.

Learning By Imitation

I teach by asking my students to look, think and copy. They look at a picture or scene they’d like to draw. Then they think about a good way to go about it. Then they do their best to reproduce it. In time, they become proficient at the skills they need to execute the thing they’re drawing or painting. And little by little, they master them. At that point, they’ll begin to put their own stamp on their work. They’ll learn what attracts them by way of composition, colour, line, and their own voice as artists emerges. It’s exciting to watch.

I learned these skills in many ways as a youngster, to which I’ve referred many times in my blog. One of the most significant ways was by copying the Japanese prints of the 18th and 19th centuries. Following in the footsteps of Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cassatt and Dégas, as a teenager I was mesmerised by the colours and shapes of Japanese art, particularly that of Ukiyo-e, scenes of everyday life in a dreamy world of courtesans and actors.

I’ve passed this on in my teaching practice to both adults and children, both groups of whom respond with the same enthusiasm that I did. One of my most popular tutorials on my website is one about painting ladies of Ukiyo-e prints, so I decided to do one about Kabuki actors, because they’re hard to beat for colour and drama.

And so I painted four chaps in full robes and make-up, and coloured them according to my own whim. Two I merely simplified a bit, leaving out colours that didn’t chime with the palette I chose:

…and two of them I chose to paint a little more creatively:

Why don’t you head over to the article on my website and get stuck in? You could spend a couple of hours in a much less colourful way. You can pay the small charge in cold hard cash, or, if you want to wait till Monday, you can do it for free, along with lots of other teaching articles on my website. To get 50 free tokens to access these articles, all you have to do is leave a comment or suggestion under any of my blog articles. On Monday we’ll give out the tokens. So far I’ve had some great suggestions: skies, people, puddles, ways to catch the art bug, twilight, grass, how to do illustrated maps…as well as lots more. I will get through this list if I think I have something useful to offer, but so far, there’s nothing on the list that hasn’t got mt brain clicking into action.

So comment! Do it here, or anywhere on my website! That’s literally all you have to do to get the tokens. Fifty of them (just spend them on my website, not someone else’s, or this will backfire spectacularly)!

Good luck with coming up with ideas…and get sketching.


  1. Anne

    November 25, 2018 at 5:57 am

    I especially like the color in your sketches but also wonder about the line. Your café drawing up above seems to have variable line weights? How are you controlling this? Do you use a particular pen? Thank you!

    • Róisín Curé

      November 26, 2018 at 1:59 pm

      Hi Anne, well spotted. A variable line width is a good way to convey different planes. Keep an eye open for our next giveaway (we’ve just ended one) for tutorial topics on my website – anyone who asks for a given topic to be explored gets tokens to use on my website. There’ll be another soon!

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