There’s a place I have sketched many times. It is called Killeenaran Quay. It has colourful boats and a wall with a bridge, and sea and seaweed, and loads of sky that is usually a celestial canvas of something dramatic and beautiful. When I arrived last Sunday I dropped down over the sea wall onto the beach, found a corner in the muddy sand with the view that I wanted and got going. I looped Reuben the terrier’s lead under the leg of my stool, as he was minded to explore and has no road sense, and sensed a happy hour of sketching opening up before me.
I started with the white and turquoise boat in the foreground. Recently I did a short class on making sure your drawing stays strong and solid, and once you know how it gets easier and easier. “Boats are hard!” people say, but they are no more difficult than any other subject. They do require very careful observation, however, because their beauty is in that beautiful sweep of the hull. To make matters more challenging, they often have equidistant slats on the hull that are waiting to trip you up – but observe them well and your sketch will be even more beautiful.
But back to the painting. A couple sat on the steps down to the water with a flask of tea and sheltered from the breeze. I heard a car radio behind me. An elderly man had parked on the road above me and was listening to a chat show. I grumbled inwardly. My intolerant self battled with my kinder self, but the sketch required concentration so I couldn’t obsess too much and some barely-audible talking. A woman arrived with her child, stopped right next to me and made a phone call. This meant her unleashed dog stopped right next to me too, and bounded over to greet Reuben. I don’t care if a dog isn’t on a lead at the quay – there’s nothing at all it can bother. Nothing, that is, except sketchers with dogs whose leads may be looped under a stool for their own safety. I was one of those sketchers. In a flash my water jar had been tipped over – not going to say which dog did it, except that it was Reuben – and I emitted a loud F word (apologies to the young ears) because the last time I came to sketch here I had forgotten my sketchbook, and it was all going great until that free dog arrived. The boat I was sketching was full of water – salty, but no less welcome for it – so I refilled my jar and got back to work.
The elderly man got out of his car and approached. He had a serenity to his bearing, with taut, glowing skin and the beautiful bone structure of a lean man who has seen many winters. “May I have a look?” he asked, most politely. I said of course he could. “Watercolour?” he asked. That’s very unusual. “I used to dabble myself,” he said. Like a crazy person I immediately started my well-worn sales pitch – “You could take it up again, nothing to stop you, look how small the kit is, look, look, so small, all fits in here, I have my paints, my brushes, look…” – sensing he didn’t care – “nothing to stop you…” I trailed off. “I keep a boat here and bring it in in the winter,” he said. “I’m waiting for the tide to come in, so that I can pull my boat in a bit.” I accepted defeat and asked him which boat it was. He told me, and then he said he’d grown up in the area. Island Eddy is close to the shore: it’s accessible from this quay on foot about four times a year at a very low tide, and this old man told me how he would run to meet the men in boats as they pulled up at the quay. It’s deserted now. “There were about twenty families living there at that time,” the man told me. “There was a woman called Mary who lived just over there” – he pointed – “and she always invited me in for a cup of tea. I suppose you could say I had a very happy childhood.” It certainly sounded idyllic. Then off he set to pull up his boat. The tide had risen, but my sketch was fully painted by then and so it looks as if he is struggling against the mud. On-location sketches! Can’t trust ’em!
Not for the first time, I was struck how impatient and intolerant of others I can be, and how I am so often set a better example by those around me.
Later that evening, my family and I joined our good friends Lorraine and Seán and their son Mattie and spent the longest day of the year watching the sun go down over Galway Bay. In this photo you can see my Liv keeping warm under a quilt, and my husband Marcel, who has just had a nice glass of beer.
Good-bye latest sunset of 2020! We left the beach long after it had sunk over the horizon, and if we had left anything amongst the boulders – well, it was a gift to Poseidon, or Neptune, or whoever the Irish god of the sea is, if there is one.
I had to show you this. I teach kids once a week and I am lucky to have wonderful students. The youngest is 8, the oldest 13. Over the last few months I’ve taught them through Zoom, but it was with great joy that the lifting of lockdown meant we could meet in person. The end of indoors! At last! Then Tuesday came around and it started raining heavily so it was back to screens with the children. The good thing is that while they’re not together in person, they get to follow the art in a focused way, so they get better results (probably no coincidence). They also chat away to each other about the topic of the class and how their drawings are going, which is lovely. So I thought they’d enjoy drawing animal playing cards: they would suggest the animals and their motifs and I would draw out the shapes for them to follow. They ended up doing beautiful work…really made me laugh. I feel privileged to teach these kids.
I will see you next time!