Summertime…And The Sketching Is Soothing

Saturday 15th August

I’m restless. I want to make the most of my free Saturday. It’s warm, but not so sunny. I want to go into town to sketch the Potter’s Market, which will be in Galway City for just one weekend. I hop in the car with my son Paddy (18) but have not managed to get further than a mile when I realise I have forgotten my sketchbook. This throws me and I realise I am adrift, with no purpose. Paddy understands.

“Come on Mum,” he says, “go back and get it and we’ll go into town, have the craic and get a shnackín” (a sort of made-up, pidgin Irish for snack) “- it’ll be great.”

But I couldn’t. As soon as I pull up my driveway I see the apple trees that line the drive, including one in particular that is heavy with crisp, sweet, red apples that will soon be gobbled by rooks if we don’t eat them. I change plans, grab my sketching stuff and make myself as comfortable as you can be when you are sitting on a pile of half-eaten apples hidden in the long grass. As soon as I start sketching I feel my mood improve – almost instantly. Sketching is pure magic that way. No longer do I fret about what I should do with my day, but about which apples I can see, where branches connect with each other and what the shapes of the leaves are. A tiny lime-green spider crawls up my arm, finding the golden hairs difficult for its thread-like legs. A caterpillar the size and colour of what I imagine a newborn earthworm to be stretches and contracts its minute body along my other hand. I want to be relaxed and at one with nature but I recoil and shake them off. I use brown ink for the branches, green ink for the leaves and red ink for the blush of the apples. It is marvellous in its midfulness.

Then I paint. Throughout all of this, Reuben amuses me, first by leaping silently for low-hanging fruit; then, when I tell him to stop that (because he only ruins the apples, and doesn’t eat them), chases birds who are helping themselves to apples (but silently, because he is not a huge barker); burrows deep into the long grass to find insect-nibbled apples (because he’s a terrier and cannot resist burrowing) and generally amuses himself as I paint. Then he curls up on a flattened patch of grass, tucks his nose into his body and falls asleep. I finish up and feel peaceful in a way that shouldn’t surprise me, because sketching has worked wonderfully to bring me peace for eight years.

(Note: if I had sketched from a photo, I would not have heard the birdsong, or met the tiny creatures, or had the pleasure of Reuben’s company. My sketch would not have had the mood-altering ability it did.)

Afterwards, my family and I go to Mulroog for a snorkel and a swim. Standing on the stony seabed with Paddy and Liv (16), it takes a while to get used to the bracing freshness of the sea, but not too long. There is no one there but us. Marcel, a tropical soul, has lost his courage and watches from the shore. Paddy and I strike out a little. Paddy goes further than I. As I splash around I swim through tall fronds of seaweed, determined to remain calm. Blackness keeps looming towards me as I approach gently-swaying groves of yellow-orange Fucus vesiculosis. I feel myself start to panic and try to recall the conversation I had with my dad the previous evening, when he said that there is nothing as beautiful, in his opinion, as swimming through an underwater forest of pure, natural seaweed. This thought soothes me and I make it to the shore without emitting embarrassing squeals through the top of my snorkel. Liv is still standing on the seabed, but she’s bent in two, her tall, slim figure hinged at the waist as she peers below the water surface with a face mask on; she wants to look at the sea life but is unwilling to be fully immersed. We return home feeling very lucky to live here.

Sunday 16th August

Potter’s Market, Take Two: Paddy and I make it into Galway City. It’s a lovely afternoon. I don’t forget my sketchbook. All the stars of Galway City seem to make a cameo appearance in my sketch: a Galway Hooker sails serenely by, the Spanish Arch encloses the left-hand edge of my frame, seagulls swirl around and the obligatory hippies mull about, although since Galway is mostly hippies you can’t really distinguish them from anyone else. The pottery is beautiful, particularly the incredible raku sculpture of Turnstone Ceramics. I want it, badly. Paddy buys some new jeans while I sketch. We have the craic and a shnackín and I feel great.

Tuesday 18th August

There are rumours of another lockdown. I might just start sketching and blogging in earnest again…

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