Saturday 2 December 2017

Urban Sketches - Urban Stories

[by Róisín Curé in Galway] I love the storytelling aspect of being an urban sketcher. It's completely natural for me to draw something that illustrates a story I want to tell, and to write a story to elaborate on a drawing I have made.

I have a nice little sketchbook on the go at the moment, a Fabriano Venezia. Weirdly, it's not watercolour paper but cartridge, and yet it responds really well to my desire for artistic expression. It's funny how the format of a sketchbook affects my inspiration. Maybe I like the portrait format because I draw a lot of...portraits. 

I love to draw people. I love to draw what they say to tell the viewer, or to remind me, of what exactly was going down when I was sketching them.

Here's my dad Paddy a week or so ago. This sketch shows him just how is. He is nuts about music, albeit in a narrow range of genres. He loves classical music, musicals, showband, dixie...the night before I made this sketch we sat up and watched George Formby ("When I'm Cleaning Windows") doing his thing in black and white on Dad's laptop. I went to bed with the jolly sound of ukelele still jangling in my mind. Dad is never happier when listening to, or discussing, the music that he loves, but gets quite cross about music he sees as being lacking in melody (we disagree occasionally).

Dad loves the electric piano the family got him for his 70th birthday, over ten years ago. He will sit for hours with headphones on, tinkling away at the keyboard.

Dad is not particularly given to strong language - we were brought up to believe that swearing displays a lack of vocabulary, and I still don't say bad words in front of my parents - but he let slip a very soft Anglo-Saxon word just under his breath as I sketched him. Then, because my parents mightn't see the funny side, I thought I had better cover it up, should they be leafing through my sketchbook. I cut out a second speech bubble with a tab attached and stuck it on top of the first, date and all. 

 A few days ago, I wanted to draw the boat we've just bought, but the sketch needed a person to add interest. It was too cold to sit outside and make a proper sketch job of the boat, and a view of a bit of it through the window wasn't going to cut the mustard. My daughter Liv was available and didn't appear to be doing much. Since becoming a teenager, she has become tall, confident and...sassy. Where once she would have sat however I wanted her to sit, and for any amount of time, she is no longer as obliging. "Would you stop moving!" I said. She's an extreme fidgeter at the best of times, and today was worse than usual. The plait she'd put in was falling out a bit and she kept jumping up to re-plait it. She's still a great subject though, and I will continue to pester her to sit for me. She has cropped up frequently in my sketchbooks across the years, and it warms my heart to look at sketches of my youngest child.

So yeah - we bought a boat! It is eighty years old and a piece of history, and my husband Marcel intends to restore it to its former glory. Every man who climbs the ladder to have a closer look comes down and says to me, sotto voce and with a serious expression, "He has his work cut out for him, you do realise that?" and "Does  he know what he's taken on?" etc. etc. My favourite is one I hear a lot - "Don't you mind having a boat in your drive?" (Answer: yes, a lot, but I believe in giving one's spouse freedom to indulge in pet projects). I wanted to record it in a sketch in the days following its arrival, just to remember the sense of excitement and anticipation we feel right now...and, insurmountable task or not, it's a great way to give delivery guys directions.

A day or two later my eldest, Honor, decided to do some study for Christmas exams which are coming up later this week. She has not had an easy journey through the teenage years, and I was very pleased to see the focus and determination she showed. I was also especially pleased that she took out the dreadlocks she had woven into her hair over the previous few weeks, of which I heartily disapprove. The dreadlocks gone, her hair had ended up in a great frizzy mass, so the only thing she could do was to put it into two buns. I was so happy to have a chance to sketch her, as she does not feature much in my sketchbooks, either because she hasn't been around, or because we haven't been in a good mood with each other.

My daughter always looks impossibly glamorous, matted chunks of hair or not. We do not resemble one another physically at all: I have a pink complexion and pale red hair, but my young lady has inherited her half-Mauritian father's looks, with sloe eyes and olive skin courtesy of a Pondicherry beauty in the tropical family tree. She is enveloped in a black velvet dressing gown in this sketch: this is her normal day-time wear, and fits the starlet look she channels with such ease.

In this sketch, Honor is studying geography. She is talking non-stop about her study technique, about her subject - Italy - and about anything else that distracts her ("Have you SEEN how cute the dog is, Mum?" etc. etc.)

I am overjoyed to say that I suspect the drought of sketches of my eldest is over, and my beloved, almost-grown child will appear more often in my sketchbook.

Meanwhile, I can feel some more speech bubbles coming on...thank heavens for urban sketching and the indulgence of telling a story.

Monday 4 January 2016

Asylum Drawing

by Róisín Curé

"It's like an asylum drawing," said my husband in response to yet another sketch I stuck under his nose.
I didn't know how to answer that.
"Asylum? As in, someone looking for asylum?" I said.
"No, it looks frantic, as if it were done by someone in an asylum."

We visited my husband Marcel's family in Britain over the Christmas period, and took two flights in the space of five days. It's the middle of the stormy season, which meant turbulence, bumps and in my case lurching stomachs. Neither my husband nor our three kids suffer from in-flight nerves, but - ever since I became a mother - I do. My husband tries in his way to allay my fears.

Marcel: Think of it like this - this is the tenth flight the crew have made today.
Me: Then why is that stewardess running? There's clearly an emergency.
Marcel: Think of it like a ship.
Me: Oh, so it's like it's floating on air, just another fluid, and is as stable as that!
Marcel: No, not at all.
Me: You could have pretended.
Marcel: The craft is made to withstand forces many times greater than this bit of turbulence.

Some things he said helped, others didn't. Worst were the kids saying things like "look how far the ground is" or "we'd definitely die if the plane crashed now".

But since I've been in the habit of bringing my sketching stuff on board the flights I take, it's all been immeasurably better. The only drawback is that I often forget one of the tiny bottles of water stuffed in some hard-to-reach corner of my sketch bag, and when the security people find it they make me wait while thet eventually get round to my bag for a thorough, frosty-but-polite search. This isn't too much a problem because while my husband may be calm once he's on the airplane, he is so stressed about getting there with hours to spare that there's always lots of time for security to mess around in my sketch bag.

So here are a couple of the sketches I made last week on my journey to Gatwick and back again, starting with a sketch made in the Departures Lounge of Dublin Airport:

I was inspired by the incredible oeuvre ("work" doesn't do it justice) of Donald Owen Colley, who makes the most beautiful and accurate sketches of travellers that I have ever seen. I took a sneaky photo of my subject, I figured he wouldn't mind too much since you can't really see him.

Once on board I got down to more sketching:

For this one I had the idea, inspired by a gorgeous sketch by Lapin which I saw on this blog a few weeks ago, of drawing the window at different stages in the flight. There were two reasons why this didn't have quite the effect that Lapin's did. Firstly, I never get to sit beside the window. ("You're too terrified to look out the window, so you don't appreciate it," says my husband, not unreasonably.) I could have insisted, but the sky was just a featureless grey from the moment we left the ground, and not the pretty blue we're often treated to.
The sketch of Marcel on the right didn't work very well - I was trying to show how the face is thrown into near-silhouette by the bright light outside. I chose the wrong mix of colours.

Then I painted this beautiful woman. She was the sort of woman I envy - really slender, with lovely bone structure, and while her hair was the same colour as mine, it had a gloss and thickness that didn't seem right on a lady who was clearly quite my senior - not a hint of frizz in sight. Her make-up was immaculate and her hands, which she admired constantly, were elegant and heavily bejewelled and her nails were, of course, perfect. Her clothes were coordinated to match her hair and skin tone. You can see the ghost of an initial sketch which I abandoned in the seat ahead of her.

(The seats weren't the usual chunky Ryanair seats. I know them intimately - I have painted them many times. "Look at these cheap, thin seats," I said to my husband. "What else have they cut corners on?" "I think they're great," he said. "More leg room for me.")

On the return flight things got really bumpy. I made the above sketch just after the upsettingly loud noise of take-off and before we levelled out, when turbulence was shredding my nerves. Now that's a frantic sketch. The pen was blotting like mad too with the changing pressure. After this sketch I moved one seat forward as the plane was half-empty - most people have better things to do on New Year's Day than cross the Irish Sea on a dark and stormy night.

The Japanese lad on the left was one half of a loving couple. They were both beautiful, but he was particularly striking. I have done nothing to convey this beauty so I will tell you that he had magnificent cheekbones, an aquiline nose of exquisite proportions, a full, soft mouth and beautiful hooded eyes. Someone commented on Facebook that she was sure she had spotted the same young man and his girlfriend on a flight from Dublin to Heathrow last October. This would make sense - we were making the return journey from Gatwick to Dublin just a few months later. We compared notes, and we both noticed the beautiful hands and the attentiveness they showed each other (I commented to my husband that he put chapstick on her lips at one point).

I wasn't very satisfied with this sketch (surprise) so I turned to my husband to sketch him instead.
"You're not allowed to draw me," he said, with an air of resignation. We've been through this a million times.
"I'm drawing the window, you just happen to be blocking it," I said. He gave up and had a snooze.

I wanted to convey the subtle reflection in the glass. I didn't really achieve what I was looking to achieve but for once my husband wasn't offended by how I'd portrayed him. This bodes well for future sketching.

Here's the reader in the row ahead of me again:
This was on the descent and it was so bumpy that the pilot announced we weren't allowed to land because it was too windy in Dublin. I was sure that no sketch would take my mind off the leaping around - not this time - but it did. In fact I was so relaxed that I figured I'd try to be funny, putting my own words on the reader's book.

I don't know why sketching on a plane works so much better than reading when it comes to keeping calm on board. I wonder whether it's something to do with the fact that reading is somewhat passive, whereas you just can't sketch passively - you have to fully engage your mind, which leaves little room for dwelling on fears.

Asylum sketches? Far from it - urban sketches have kept me from the asylum since I discovered the practice in 2012 (not that I was in one before that, but there were many times that it came too close for comfort). I'm confident urban sketching will continue to keep the wolves from the door as long as pens, paper and paint exist.

Tuesday 15 December 2015

Galway's Fishy Past

 By Róisín Curé in Galway

I've lived in Galway for nearly 25 years, and in that time the most wonderful gems have passed me by, barely noticed in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It has taken my urban sketching hobby to open my eyes to the glory that's all around me, right here where I live. Galway's Fishery Watchtower is, or was, just such an unexplored treat.

Walk down Quay Street in Galway City. through the throng of visitors, buskers, workers, students and the occasional vagabond and you come to Wolfe Tone Bridge, which crosses the rushing, racing River Corrib. After the intensity of Galway, your immediate sense is one of relief, as the wide open space of Galway Bay opens up to your left.

At the foot of Wolfe Tone Bridge there's a little walkway, spanning a few quieter metres of the River Corrib. The walkway leads to the Fishery Watchtower, a very pretty yellow building, designed in an Italian style that was popular at the time that it was built in 1853. Two brothers by the name of Ashworth, Quakers from Lancashire bought the rights to the stretch of river which the Watchtower overlooks. The river was rich in salmon, trout and eels, and the brothers built the Watchtower to monitor stock levels, poaching activity and even to hang nets out to dry. They were not synthetic then and could rot - the Watchtower has doors or windows on all four sides, allowing for a current of air to pass through.

I'd never darkened the door of the Fishery Watchtower until a few weeks ago. Driving past, I noticed that the door was open, and I had two hours before an appointment. As any urban sketcher will tell you...this is an excellent state of affairs! I crossed the little bridge and went inside. Two friendly guides greeted me, and explained that the Watchtower is now a museum dedicated to Galway's fishy past. There are nets and rods of all types, a model of the Fisheries and photos of Galway in times gone by. My favourite was one taken in about 1913 of a proud-looking young woman dressed in a bright red cloak, covering every bit of her save her face. The photo was taken by two Frenchwomen who were travelling photographers, and I doubt that the open, relaxed expression in the face of the subject would have been there if the photographer had been a man. I only think that because her expression was so noticeably different to most of those I've seen from the early days of photography.

The two guides were really helpful and didn't mind me getting out my folding stool and sketching for a while. You can see from the picture of the tower above that the building is tiny. It seems even tinier on the inside, so it was very accommodating of the guides to budge over a little for me to draw. As soon as I looked up at the entrance door from within, I wanted to sketch the skylight above the door. I loved the stained glass, through which the morning sun streamed, illuminating a salmon and making it glow.

I returned a few days later with the intention of painting the beautiful view of the Claddagh and Galway Bay from the top floor window. It being Galway, however, and winter at that, my plans were thwarted - it rained heavily all day, so that the view from the window was just a grey haze, the pedestrians crossing Wolfe Tone Bridge mostly invisible under huge umbrellas from my position far above them. So I looked around at the understated taste of the top floor display, and found my vantage point easily.

The long brown tube in the centre of the sketch is an eel-fishing net. Many years ago, when my husband Marcel and I were newly married, Marcel did a stint fishing for eels along the Corrib. It was a night-time job, and Marcel said the eels were awful creatures - little red mouths, he said, with sharp little teeth. I believe they're very popular in the Low Countries, where the catch was exported to. I mentioned this fact, my eel pedigree, to the guide.
"I've seen cormorants catching eels just there at the bottom of the tower," he said. "They throw the eels up in the air to get them in the right position to go down their throats in a line."
"Amazing!" I said. "Do they kill them first?"
"Yes," said the guide, "they stab them or whatever."
I said this to another guide on a subsequent visit.
"Sometimes they're not quite dead," he said. "You can sometimes see the cormorants' throats moving about with the eel wriggling around. They must have some stomach acid to deal with that."
"Surely," I agreed.
The fork on the wall to the right was our answer in times gone by to the cormorants' elegant way to catch eels.

(A New Zealander visited the Museum while I was sketching. "Friends of mine were watching ducks on a lake once with their children," he told us, "two parents, followed by a row of ducklings. It was all very lovely and then a cormorant appeared behind the last duckling, and gobbled them up, one by one.")

On the ground floor, there's a really spectacular window overlooking the River Corrib. It's in full spate at the moment, a raging torrent hurtling its way from Lough Corrib where it rises. We've had heavy rainfall lately, and to see such an uncontrollable deluge thundering alongside the civilised banks of a modern city seems if we are only fooling ourselves that we're in charge.
Walking past it last night with my fourteen-year-old son Paddy was almost shocking. We looked over the bridge and peered at the boiling rapids in the dark, a few feet from where we stood.
"It inviting," said Paddy.
I know what he meant. It's that crazy half-feeling you get of throwing yourself in that you sometimes get looking over the edge of a ferry.
"You'd last about three seconds, you know that," I said to him. There is no way you'd get out alive the way it is at the moment - and to think that in my youth I kayaked down the Corrib, past the Spanish Arch into Galway Bay, just the once, under no supervision whatsoever. I was a novice, and an experienced kayaking friend told me it was madness.

Back to the tower: I very much wanted to sketch the beautiful stained-glass window that overlooks the rushing water. The window is original, although a couple of the pink panes had to be replaced. You can tell which are the original panes - they are the ones with the more delicate, paler shade.

One of the amazing group of sketchers from around the world, with whom I'm in touch via Facebook and so on, astounded me with a comment.
"Is that Opera Pink by Daniel Smith?" she asked.
I had to fetch my tube and check - indeed it was. I was amazed that someone could know their colours so intimately. Furthermore, she finds it hard to get the colour where she lives, making it even more impressive. I should send her a tube just for her cleverness. Or Daniel Smith should.

A strong sense of time surrounded me during my visit to the Fishery Watchtower. It's wonderful to see oneself as a small, insignificant being on a long, long thread of history. I look forward to discovering more hitherto-unknown wonders that have been part of the fabric of Galway for centuries...and sharing them in words and pictures with you.

Entrance to the Fishery Watchtower is free and well worth a visit. Make sure to check the winter opening hours, as they're a little sporadic at the moment.

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Sketching as tranquiliser

by Róisín Curé in Galway

I am in the unfortunate position of visiting our local hospital frequently. I'm not ill, but I accompany someone who is. The waits are long and so I occasionally sketch.

Other than in hospital, I haven't had many chances to sketch of late because I have to use my time productively (you don't get paid to sketch) but luckily there are always gaps in the day when you get the chance. When I sat down to sketch this one of the café in University College Hospital, Galway, I felt a frisson of excitement knowing I had an uninterrupted hour ahead of me. It says a lot about the intensity of my life over the last two months that I had a wonderful feeling of freedom at the prospect of a single hour when no one would need me and I couldn't do any work.

Some farsighted person in the Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust has allowed a very talented young man called Finbar 247 to be let loose with buckets of black and white paint in the main foyer of the hospital. When you have real talent, that's all you need. He has made beautiful graffiti-type art on the walls, with slogans and messages about looking after yourself and making the most of your time. I normally ignore people trying to remedy my laziness but somehow when I read Finbar's words I want to get fitter and stay healthy. I loved sketching his work but I haven't done it any kind of justice. You should check out his website of the same name.

A mix of medical staff, patients and visitors file past at speed. The ground floor of the hospital resembles a very busy train station with a disproportionate number of people in pyjamas or aqua-green uniforms. The ill people move very slowly and the medical staff stride along. Unbuttoned white coats billow past, their wearers like low-key superheroes, which of course a lot of them are.

Two men came to sit at my table. They were chatting in Irish, which I understand for the most part as not only was it drummed into me since I was 4 but my kids attend a Gaelscoil and I get to speak it quite a bit (very badly, usually ending somewhat pathetically in English, having failed to get my point across well enough). Like many well-educated Irish people I speak one or two European languages but Irish isn't my strong suit, despite the decades of enforced learning (we had no choice). I love it now, and I was really hoping the men who sat down would strike up conversation. One was too ill to talk much. His younger companion was really sweet to him, trying to persuade him to eat a sandwich and have sugar in his tea. I practiced my Irish sketching-related phrases in my mind but in the end the younger man just spoke to me in English and when I replied in Irish he acted all confused. This happens a lot. I say my piece in perfect Irish - I am Irish, for crying out loud - and there's an awkward silence, followed by English. As an amateur linguist I do get it, but it's a bit annoying nonetheless.

Here's a bit more detail of my sketch.

And here's a sketch from before our dreams of Rugby World Cup glory were dashed. This young man was wearing a RWC shirt. I got a silly kick out of using Phthalo green undiluted as I never use it like that - nothing is that colour in nature, except maybe the sea in Mauritius, which I know because I painted it lots of times.

This one is just a line drawing but it got me out of my head for a bit. I'm getting quite used to drawing hand-cleanse dispensers. Their angles are a bit funny so I won't master them for a while yet.

Finally, one from a few months back. This time my charge and I had to watch the entire waiting room empty little by little, leaving us the last to be seen just before the clinic closed for the evening. My young companion became very frustrated, and of course the omnipresent phone doesn't serve to calm nerves. Watching the sketch unfolding did seem to soothe somewhat...

I also did one a few days ago of a lady receiving an iron infusion but she was snoozing away in blissful ignorance of the stupid eejit with the paintbox manically scribbling her likeness as she slept. I will allow her her privacy and not post the sketch.

So there you go. Our health system could do with improvement on many fronts and you can get very stressed in our hospitals, what with the waiting, the worry and all.

Hospital + sketching = calmer me.

Sketching in Galway, City of the Tribes

by Róisín Curé in Galway

When you think of plein air painting, Galway may not be the first town that springs to mind. You're more likely to conjure up a sleepy Italian village, or maybe the French Riviera. But, even in November, Galway is perfect for a different type of outdoor painting. A couple of weeks ago I joined some sketchers for a day's urban sketching. The weather wasn't perfect for it, being cold and a bit on the damp side, but luckily we were made very welcome in St. Nicholas' Church, a 14th century Anglican church in the heart of the city. The choir was practising for Remembrancetide, a concert of movements from Brahms' German Requiem, to be held the following evening. I was in the extremely fortunate position of sketching them while they sang, the renowned acoustics of the church lending wings to the choristers' voices, which soared in stunning harmony. The choir master, Mark Duley, was an inspiring leader who coaxed exquisite responses from the singers. Visitors to the church milled about quietly, evidently delighted with their serendipitous timing. They wandered happily through the music-filled church, soaking up the tranquillity of the moment.

Following my stint in the church I wandered down to the Spanish Arch on the banks of the River Corrib, where a few sketchers were braving the cold. After the unprecedented mild weather of recent weeks, it had turned to normal November weather overnight - the wind and cold on the riverbank meant I couldn't stay very long...or at least my subjects couldn't. They didn't stick around long enough to be painted, so a line drawing is all I produced. Neither the boys in hoodies nor the lad with the earphones were sketching...

A nice hot cup of tea beckoned and the next stop was the Kitchen Café in the Galway City Museum building, around the corner from the Spanish Arch. The atmosphere was lovely, very relaxed, despite the fact that there was barely a table free. I took the last empty place and settled down to sketch, and was immediately asked for my order by a smiling young waiter. Within a few seconds I saw the person I wanted to sketch first, a beautiful girl with peaches-and-cream complexion who smiled as she communicated with someone on her phone. I was about to paint her jade-green cardigan, but when I looked up she had gone. She reappeared to my right a few seconds an apron.
“I didn't realise you worked here,” I said. “I'm afraid I've had to give you the legs of that gentleman sitting where you were.”
She didn't mind at all. “I'm honoured that you drew me!” she said.
Along with the smiling colleague who was serving me they were two of the friendliest waiters I think I've ever encountered. Then my drawing came to an end as I heard a jolly “Hiya!” - it was my friend Ailve, who'd been in town shopping. One of the perks of living in a town that's not too large is that you're always likely to bump into someone you know.

We walked back to the car park through the streets, still hopping with shoppers and visitors. I remembered sitting outside Fat Freddy's restaurant on a weekday evening exactly a year earlier, marvelling at how Galway always seems to be so lively and atmospheric, even on a damp November night. Here's the sketch I did that evening:

The weather is getting worse, but Galwegians don't pay any attention to that. I won't either, and I'll continue to sketch our beautiful city throughout the winter months – and beyond.

Baffled then Inspired at Tulca Contemporary Art Festival, Galway

by Róisín Curé in Galway

The Tulca Festival of Visual Arts takes place in Galway every November. it consists of two weeks of contemporary art exhibited in lots of venues throughout the city, from galleries to public buildings. You can find exhibits in University College Hospital and in the James Mitchell Geology Museum, as well as in more well-known gallery spaces around town like the Galway Arts Centre, Nuns' Island Theatre and more. The old Connacht Tribune print works on Market Street is the main gallery of the festival and was where the opening was held. On opening night I braved the cold, wind and and rain to attend, with the intention of sketching what I saw and soaking up the atmosphere.

The exhibition is called Seachange and aims to draw attention to climate change - and the concomitant disappearance of islands - using the mythology of Hy-Brasil as a motif. The exhibits all referred in some way to the fragility of our existence here on Earth. It's a sort of make-believe sunken island off the south-west coast of Ireland...but any more than that and I'm in unknown territory.

At first the crowd was quiet and well-behaved but the volume rose as the wine and beer began to flow. The dress code was Arty: floor-length black leather coats on some of the gentlemen, opaque black tights for the ladies, black trousers and jackets for nearly everyone. Scarves were worn with aplomb. A man lay down and did some impromptu yoga - you can just about make him out behind the group on the left. Another man struck a funny pose and asked me to draw him, which I did. I recruited a very pretty young lady with huge blue eyes and blonde curls to Urban Sketchers Galway: all she did, poor creature, was admire my sketching bag (plus she had had one or two by then) and I wasted no time in telling her how she should join us. 
Over the course of two days and in two of the venues I drew some of the exhibits. I must ask for tolerance in my interpretation: I was inclined to cynicism, and I'm on the opposite end of the art spectrum (I interpret nothing, they interpret everything), but I did try to get help with interpretation, from no less a personage than the curator. Nonetheless, I wasn't always the wiser.

First I drew something that looked like an umbrella covered in symbols of the euro, by a duo called Culturstruction. This the curator's explanation:
"It's a sort of superhero cape," she said. "A place of shelter and protection. The euro symbols refer to the collective assumption that that currency would save us."
Further reading on the web suggested that the piece was supposed to appear to levitate, a bit like a distant island, and indeed the suspension lines were so fine as to be invisible.

The next piece was about a nuclear holocaust, or more accurately, about a government leaflet that was circulated in the 1960s. This was part of a series of pieces called How Will I Know When To Go Indoors? and it was by Dennis McNulty and Ros Kavanagh. I didn't find out exactly what it meant, although I did try. To give you an idea of scale, it's about head-height at the top.

The next day I called into the Galway Arts Centre on Domick Street to see what was on offer there. I was very taken by the piece I drew, for no reason other than I liked the way the microphone hung over the rock. I liked the vintage, shiny look of the microphone. Naturally, the rock was silent - now. There was a recording of just such a rock type being the bottom of the sea at the Mid-Ocean Ridge in the Atlantic Ocean. The rumbling noise it made was very soothing. The piece (and its companion, a short piece of film) referred to the demise of another imaginary island called Nuuk Island. I looked it up and Nuuk is still part of Greenland, so I'm confused. The artist was called Anaïs Tondeur and the soundtrack to her film had some lovely, very French piano music. I was there two days after the Paris atrocity and I welled up for all things French...I lived in Paris many years ago and was in love with the place from the moment I arrived until the moment I left a year later. 

The woman you can see reading in the background was manning the desk. I asked her if she could help me interpret the exhibition. She did her best, and then recommended a piece back in Market Street. 
"It's called The Water Glossary," she said. "It's a collection of archaic words for weather, and water, and the sea and that kind of thing. The idea is that language is intimately connected with climate and psyche."
She was speaking my language, so to speak, as I am a dilettante linguist and have strongly-held but ill-informed opinions on that sort of thing. It got better.
"It takes the form of a booklet. It's displayed in the gallery and there's abench next to it - you can sit and read it," she said, "at least I think you can, and you can buy a copy too."
I went back to Market Street to the main gallery space and bought a copy of The Water Glossary, by Carol-Anne Connolly. In the absence of a drawing of the booklet (which wouldn't tell you much), here are some of the terms I read:
fiachaire: raven-watcher, weather forecaster
lá idir dá shíon: a day of unseasonably dry, warm and bright weather. In the middle of the wet harsh days of Irish winter, meaning day in between two weathers.
salachar báistí: drizzling mist or rain
síor-uisce: constant rain
maidhm báistí: cliudburst
scim: veil of haze or mist
criathróir: animal surefooted on boggy ground
slograch: sink hole, or a wet boggy corner of a field

These descriptive words about weather and rain and clouds conjure up so many snippets of my life, from early childhood onwards. Our climate stamps us with an indelible mark and it's one of the things we long for when we're far from home - at least, I do. Once, I leaned out of the window in the Wicklow hills, on a September night, having returned from a few weeks in the desert of Los Angeles. I wonder is there a word for the gentle hiss of rain accompanied by the distant bleating of sheep, with honeysuckle on the air?

I had no idea what to expect from Tulca 2015. I think some of my prejudices about contemporary art have fallen away. All it took was one or two pieces to make me think afresh about art - and to remind myself that there's room for all of us. 

Tulca Festival of Visual Arts is on until 29th November. Details from

Sunday 26 July 2015

Drawing Galway 010 - The Crane Bar, Sea Road, Galway

Every year as part of their 31 Day Drawing Challenge, we "liaise" with the folks from the Galway Pub Scrawl to include an Urban Sketch Day! This year, we went down to the little courtyard space outside the Crane Bar, Sea Road, Galway, which can be found here:

There were quite a few brave souls out, even with the weather a bit changeable, but I didn't photograph everyone's pieces. I'll update here with more bits as people send them to me!

Here's the bits and pieces from our Crane Bar sketches:

Josephine Boland -

Donal Fallon -

Jay Penn -

Michelle Gunning -

And one of the "local characters" insisted on giving me his rendition of the Crane Bar in my sketchbook. He signed it in the bottom right, so if you can make out his name I'll tag it as well.

And here's Urban Sketching from other locations over on the Pub Scrawl blog

The weather has been atrocious here in Galway all summer, so we've been a bit too cautious to go out Urban Sketching, but we're going to do ou best to rectify that and get some done in what remains of the bright months! Keep an eye peeled for a gathering in August and September at least.

Thursday 2 April 2015

Health is the crown on the head that only the sick person can see

Down with hospitals! You spend ages and ages waiting to be seen, it's impossible to find a parking space, you're there for unpleasant reasons and you have to use those special hand lotion dispensers every twenty minutes to keep your hands germ-free. Recently I had occasion to take my elder daughter into UCHG (University College Hospital Galway), or The Regional as I think the natives call it - you'd think I'd know by now, after 24 years in Galway, going to university next to it for eight years and giving birth to three children in it. But there you go. Life passes, and these days I'm there for reasons less pleasant than welcoming a teeny little human into the world.

I heard Leo Varadkar, the health minister, say today that they are hoping to reduce time spent on a trolley in a hospital corridor to 9 hours. A month ago, my daughter spent 48 hours on a trolley in a corridor. By corridor I mean a narrow passage in Accident and Emergency, along which the public came and went all day and all night, and along which everyone from babes in arms to old men were trundled in terrifying states of repair (poor things). We were cheek by jowl with pneumonia, gangrene, a chainsaw accident and other such time-to-panic situations. My fifteen-year-old daughter wasn't as badly off as some of them, but she was in terrible pain. I found out after two days that if my husband or I had left her alone, the hospital would have been obliged to find her a nice private spot, but they omitted to tell us that until after they'd found her a room.  Eventually, they found her a bed in Paediatrics, even though she is technically too old for it. This was a blessing in disguise, for although it meant her doctors didn't visit her as often as they would have otherwise (Paeds is a long hike from the general ward), she was in a nice environment full of children and the staff were all very kind. We spent the next week with her there. There is nothing like driving your child home from hospital when you've been told by your consultant that you can leave. I did it once before when my son was five, and that Easter Sunday was the most beautiful, the sunniest, I have ever experienced.

She's much better now, thank the stars, but we had to attend a follow-up appointment the other day. We arrived at 2.20 and were seen at 5.00pm. The waiting room was full when we arrived but we were second last to be seen. My daughter's patience - not great at the best of times - was sorely tested and, as a direct result, so was mine. She badgered me and complained the entire time and so in the end I pulled out my sketchbook. From the minute I started to draw, I forgot about my surroundings, the cross voice in my ear (there wasn't much I could do to hurry the staff up) and lost myself in peace.

(Almost) empty waiting room in the Regional, Galway

Wednesday 5 November 2014

A week in Provence...but I long for a year

A week in Provence...I long for more

By Róisín Curé in Nice, France

Imagine this: you're in  a sketcher's paradise, surrounded by strong shapes and clear, intense colours. Every person who passes cries out to be captured in your sketchbook. The weather is sunny, without being scorching - perfect for a sketching session, long or short. You have all your kit with you. You're a kid in a candy shop...but you cannot indulge.

That was my sketching experience last week in Nice, on the Cote d'Azur. A classic first-world problem: I was with my family on a much-needed break, and so I experienced the conflict of wanting to draw everything I saw, while at the same time wanting to kick back with the family all the time, too. So I did what I could: I hoped there would be "cracks" in the day when I'd get a chance to sneak a sketch in, and so it turned out.

My husband and I stayed in a charming apartment tucked into the eaves of a building on Rue Dijon, near the market at Libération. I tried sitting on one of the sloping beams to draw the view from the window but that was too uncomfortable, so I balanced everything precariously on the windowsill of the other room and stood on a footstool...the early morning sunshine was too glorious to miss. I did this sketch over two mornings when the city, and my better half, were still asleep.

I was nervous about the orange of the roof nearest me, but I remembered Felix Scheinberger's wonderfully abandoned use of colour, and threw caution to the wind - the place it belongs, when you're sketching, in my opinion. So I just mixed the brightest orange I could come up with on my slovenly-kept palette and lashed it down.

Over the week, I made more false starts and abandoned more half-begun sketches than I have ever done, and my specially-reserved France sketchbook is (for the most part) a crashing disappointment.

One morning a flare-up in a minor knee problem provided the perfect excuse to stay at home for an extra hour...but instead of going back to the apartment I stopped by the fish market at Libération on the way back, and cast about for something that would inspire a sketch. Then I saw these -

and I knew I had found my subject. Luckily, there was a café just opposite it, and I sat down with a coffee. It was bliss: as soon as I sat down and started to draw, I felt that familiar blanket begin to envelope me, when the locals start to edge closer and engage; I'm like a cameraman in a wildlife documentary, when the meerkats start to get curious. The beautiful thing about being fluent in the local tongue as a sketcher is that the experience becomes infinitely richer. I began with those beautiful fish heads on the left. The younger fishmonger saw me drawing them and apologised when a customer bought one, but said he'd only take them from the back. I drew the older fishmonger, a quiet man, and when I finished the younger fellow said "Now for the young man!" and took up a Charles Atlas-type pose, all biceps and profiles.
"I'm sorry," I told him, "but I won't draw you like that."
He obliged and went back to serving customers. After a bit he came for a look.
"Em..." I said, "would you mind..."
"Go back to work, is what you're saying," he said. Luckily a lady customer came along and I caught him just as he held out the paper to take her order.
The owner of the bar where I was sitting came over to me.
"That's all very well," she said, "but you haven't drawn Lolotte." She bent down to kiss a black labrador-sheepdog cross with a gentle expression.
"She hasn't drawn you, has she, my darling, but she'll draw you now, won't she? Such a beautiful little Lolo, my beautiful Lolotte," she told the dog, amid many kisses on the dog's muzzle.
The fishmongers tried to get Lolotte to sit for me. But the pavement was wet, having been sluiced down by the fishmongers, and poor Lolotte sat there under duress so I did her as quickly as possible.

I apologised for not doing Lolotte justice but the café owner was very happy.
"That's her, alright," she said. "That's my beautiful Lolotte."

One day, everyone hopped on a train - kids, grandparents, the whole shebang - and tootled off down the coast to Italy. We were enchanted by the locals in the little town where we got off; a tall, large-bellied policeman, resplendent in navy uniform, dashing white cap and mirrored sunglasses, gave us directions in a thoroughly laid-back "nothing's a problem" manner, finished with that adorable "Prego," that sounds so calm. My parents had eaten in a place they loved a couple of years before, and insisted on traipsing for miles along the promenade - almost deserted in late October - to find it. Tempers were getting frayed, it was really late and I was pretty sure everything was going to be a disaster. Then we found it. I think it was called Chica Loca, and it's in Bordighera. Go there. It's heaven. The husband sat with his arm out of the window, with a sun beating down on us that would have been unbearable a month earlier, but was divine in late autumn. Waves crashed against the pebble beach just a few feet below us. I ate the most incredible homemade fusilli: afterwards I tried to say to the waiter in my extremely rudimentary Italian that I would try to make it myself when I got home, but I must have asked him for the recipe, as he said he couldn't give it to me because the chefs would slit his throat (which he illustrated with a gesture). This of course enhanced my experience of Italians, and of Italy. Afterwards the kids went for a swim and I sketched...

...the sun began to go down and I watched our waiter sweep up after us. That's him at the window where we were sitting.

Back in Nice, my husband and I had our morning coffee and croissants next to the market at Libération. The entire street is lined with vegetable sellers, all selling something more or less unique to them - that way they weren't really competing with each other, I guess. My favourite vegetables were the tiny pumpkins called Jack be Little (as in Jack be Quick, Jack jump over the Candlestick...!) and the fantastic slices of giant organic pumpkin that I bought; we loved the light greenish-yellow piles of curly lettuce leaves, nicely plucked from the stalks, so that you could buy as little or as much as you liked; the giant butternut squash, standing in rows, like a vegetable mugshot. We bought strawberries grown nearby, the vendor terribly excited that the unseasonably sunny weather meant they were still ripening in the fields. I took the opportunity to make a sketch one morning.

There remained one or two things that I really wanted to draw. The facade of my parents' place in the Russian Quarter is a truly impressive feat of Art Déco architecture. I love that all the buildings are signed by the architects. But I encountered a problem - this time I couldn't blame it on lack of time, or family commitments, or the cold...the problem was me. I found I simply wasn't up to the task of drawing all those details.
"I'm sketching in a genuinely urban environment for the first time in ages," I said to the husband, "and I fail miserably." I was deeply disappointed in my sketching skills when it came to the crunch: I obviously need to draw many more fabulous Art Déco buildings to get a better handle on them.

Ah well. I guess I shall just have to return. There are many more "tableaux" out there with my name on them.

Thursday 16 October 2014

Painting "The Shire", Killeenaran, Co. Galway

When I came out of the cinema after watching The Lord Of The Rings a few years ago, I was struck by the similarity between The Shire and Killeenaran, in South Galway. The rolling fields, the bucolic landscape, and above all the people, all resemble that idyllic, imaginary land. Legend has it that  JRR Tolkein visited the Burren (just near here and similar landscape) around the time he wrote The Hobbit...

For the last two days I've been painting a house across the water from the quay at Killeenaran. It was sunny but cold and fresh, and yesterday was pretty windy too. I chatted with the people who live in the area as they arrived, out on a walk, or going for a swim. Two ladies arrived in their swimsuits, one on a bike and one in her car, a few minutes between each. There was much shrieking and exclaiming as they hit the water but they both said, as they always do, that the water was marvellous. The second lady told me that once, just once, she bottled it, on holiday in Iceland. At the quay yesterday, we couldn't have been more differently dressed: I had three hats on (baseball cap for the sun, warm hat for the cold and a hoodie for the wind) and as many layers as I figured I could wear while still moving my arms.

I was supposed to paint the house at high tide, which is gone in the blink of an eye: I took my eye off the boat I'd been drawing and when I looked back it had dropped beneath the line of the quay. That's why I had to split it over two days.

A couple of friends came down and we stood at the edge of the quay, peering into the clear green water. Thousands upon thousands of sprats swam in formation, dividing into smaller groups, never quite sure which way was best. We didn't see any bigger fish but there in the bay was a seal with his smooth black head peeking up above the water, and seagulls swirled and called overhead.
"One way or another, it isn't going to end well for the sprats," said one of my friends.

A man who races greyhounds came down with one of his dogs, a sleek, thin creature, who may have wished he had a bit more padding, given what he was about to endure. The man tied a rope to the dog's collar, picked him up and dropped him into the sea, and had him swim up and down parallel to the wall of the quay for a few minutes. When he took the dog out, he rubbed him with a towel and spoke to him lovingly.
"Didn't I tell you you wouldn't get cold," was all I heard.

After a couple of hours at the quay, I was so cold, I could feel my organs shivering - I don't know, my heart, or whatever else is in there. The hands had long since gone numb so I did that American Air Force trick I read once (on their website) where you windmill your arms until the blood goes back into your fingers. It works but you have to be really careful not to hit anything, and you look a bit odd doing it (especially in the supermarket). Plus your fingers go black before they go the right shade again.

This house, the far right of which you can just about make out in the above image (it's the hill just behind the house) is often referred to as the "Hobbit House" by locals.

There's one big difference between our area and The Shire, though - the wind and rain. But for now, it's a land of sunshine, blue sky and fluffy clouds, and there may be a few more outdoor drawing sessions to come.