Water & Waves In Watercolour…

It’s May and it’s paradise here in Galway. It’s hard to find a place that is so totally unspoiled this close to action, but we manage it in this hidden part of Galway. So I don’t need much persuading to head down to the shore with my sketching stuff and an excited white fluffy terrier.

I wanted to paint a thank-you card for the designer who worked on my new book. She’s called Alba and she works in Currach Press in Dublin: she took well over 150 of my sketches, which came in all shapes and sizes, and arranged them across pages such that they look as if they were designed specially for them. She then added my blocks of text to each page, which meant the overall task was like piecing a jigsaw together that comprised of three different sets, randomly thrown in a box with the wrong picture on the front. She did a stunning job and I’m very grateful: it meant so much to me that my book would be as beautiful as it could possibly be.

So I went to Mulroog, a few miles from my house, to see if I could find inspiration It didn’t take long: the rocks at the water’s edge were just the job, and I set to. Within five minutes (well, five minutes’ sketching time is fifteen in normal time) the rocks were covered, but I knew what I’d seen and got the job done. Alba is very happy with the simple sketch and is going to frame it. Result!

On Sunday I wanted to paint another card, so I went back to Mulroog with Olivia, my youngest. She brought her paints too, and we sat side by side painting in the warm sunshine. I offered her help.

“There’s too much talking going on around here,” she said.

“People pay thousands to get my advice, and this is how much you appreciate it,” I said to her (it’s not thousands, but I wasn’t going to let that get in the way). I ran with my theme, expressing faux outrage that my pearls of wisdom were being cast before swine, to mix my metaphors. I love that you can be obnoxious with your kids and they couldn’t care less.

After a couple of minutes she needed help.

“There’s too much talking going on around here,” I said, but I helped her anyway. She had a couple of panicky episodes but her courage prevailed and she ended up pleased with her sketch.

The card is sent. I hope the recipient is pleased. I won’t know for ages…

Home from abroad…

I have recently returned from Portugal, where I took a group of sketchers to the Algarve. We spent a week visiting some beautiful places. My favourite sketch is the demo I did at Burgau on the beach. For the sake of honesty, I have to say that Portugal’s beaches are pretty close to paradise too: the sea really is that colour, they are deserted or nearly so at that time of year and the waves crash onto the sandy shore, the only sound you hear. On this particular workshop we were studying elements of water, light, shadow and reflection and how best to portray them, so we visited a lot of beaches. They were invariably tranquil places, scattered with our concentrating sketchers, and other than one of our group’s happy humming, the waves only underlined the silence.

I like this sketch not so much for the subject I was teaching – reflections on wet sand and cast shadows – but for the cormorants bobbing on the waves, going about their daily fishing session. They were a pair, and were totally united, turning, swimming and diving in unison.

Our sessions were invariably followed by a tasty lunch somewhere or a group dinner, so there was always something to look forward to – as if throwing watercolour down onto our sketchbooks in perfect settings wasn’t already enough.

This is another of my favourite sketches. It too was followed by a lovely lunch: on the beach is a restaurant serving fresh fish of all sorts. That day my mum had sardines and I had squid, and we shared. The sketcher on the right is the wonderful Caroline, a smiling and exuberant French lady who puts you in a good mood just by her very existence. The challenge that morning was to sketch people on the beach; the fishermen, who muck about in a serious fashion with nets and boats, or the occasional sunbather. Seagulls loitered, waiting for a moment to poke their lethal-looking bills into Caroline’s bag. But I had my sketcher’s back – literally. They would have to get past me.

Another demo, sketched from a sort of terrace overlooking one of the beautiful coves near our base at Armaçao de Pera. The weather was perfect all week, and before the day was out two of my sketchers had had a dip in the sea. I followed suit, as I just couldn’t resist.

One of the fun exercises for the students to do was to sketch the glassware on their tables in the evening. This was an idea I had to help the students process what they’d learned during the day, but it turned out that when I was at one end of a long table there wasn’t room for me to flit from one student to another. Some of them did it in a spontaneous way, which turned out to be lovely, as they were only sketching what had inspired them. And so I sketched with whomever I happened to be near, and it was really nice. The sketch with the sign of sardines on it was especially enjoyable: it was our second evening together, the meal had been good (everyone chose the fresh grilled halibut!) and a lot of fun, and afterwards I stood in the quiet street with one of my sketchers, Tazza, by my side, and I felt rather smug to be in such a beautiful place with such a lovely group of women (we were very lucky with our group, who were open-minded, calm and generous, and lot of fun too).

But all good things come to an end and the following Saturday I found myself relaxing with a drink outside Faro Airport with my mum Cinnie (who earned the moniker “Mama Cinnie” from the other lovely ladies) and my lovely sketcher Jennifer, who is a huge asset, always giving me hints on what I could do to make the group that bit happier. For that invaluable advice I am eternally grateful (added to which fact that she makes me laugh a lot).

The next workshop is on the horizon: I’ll be introducing a group to urban sketching in Galway this June 20th-22nd. I don’t usually have first-timers and I’m so excited to introduce them to the activity that changed my life. I’m putting together the cutest mini-kit for each of them, which I love doing…I still have two places left if you’re interested but don’t delay if you want to join us as there’s only a few weeks between now and then.

Next blog I’ll talk about my new book. Gulp!


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