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.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Short back and sides at Fat Tony's, Oranmore

My boy had an urgent need for a haircut a few days ago, as he said he could no longer see out. We raced to the barbers' before it closed and were the last in a long line of customers waiting for our barber of choice to become available. The barbers in that place all used to be men, but little by little that's changed and there were just three lady barbers on that evening. They are all very warm and I love watching them tend to their customers. The young fellas with towels around their necks and ladies fussing around them with scissors and razors remind me of puppies being groomed by their mothers. Once I saw an elderly gentleman being given a hot shave (by a man barber). He was ninety-something and told the barber he'd have to speak up because he was deaf from the war. It was the most beautiful thing to see him close his eyes and be pampered with warm water and towels and whatever else happens during a hot shave. He needn't have worried - the barber tended him in silence.

The shop is called Fat Tony's and it's themed to be sort of gangster-tough. Al Pacino glowers from posters as Scarface. Travis Bickle is somewhere, I'm sure, as is Tony Soprano. I like it a lot and I don't think I've ever been disappointed with the cuts they've given my young lad.

It's a good way to practice (a) patience, as you have to wait for those quick-footed ladies and gents to take the position you were drawing them in again; (b) mental agility, as you have to flip the figures around to make sure you match them to their reflection (I didn't in the second sketch) (c) stoicism, as you won't get time to draw everything you'd wish and (d) observation, for the usual reasons.

I bet the last thing these guys expected was to have some woman draw them as they zoned out for a few minutes. Sorry, fellas. But I really love taking my boy for a haircut. I get to sketch, he loves being looked after and coming out looking smart and we chat lots en route. Plus there's a box of chocolate cookies on the counter next to the till sold for charity, and I can always be persuaded.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Drawing Galway 007 - The Spanish Arch, Galway.

More drawing out & about in Galway! The weather was absolutely fabulous at the Spanish Arch - I'd imagine that some of us must have gotten a small touch of sunburn. The environs of the Arch was super busy, with lots of people quizzing us about Urban Sketching, and how to find out more. I really have to remember to make a flier or handout to give away with our web address on it.

We'll be out again next month, who knows where! Well, Jay does, it'll be his chance to pick. :D Keep an eye on the blog.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Pearls in our Ocean: Sketching the Clarinbridge Oyster Festival 2014

September is an important month for Clarinbridge, Co. Galway. It's when the native oysters (Ostrea edulis) come to the end of their summer reprieve and are once again pounced upon by gourmets the length and breadth of Ireland and beyond. For a long while I had wanted to document the preparations for the Clarinbridge Oyster Festival in the village next to mine, and last week I got my chance.

The weather was truly exceptional for mid-September. Although the mornings were a little fresh, as each day wore on the sun beat down from a cloudless sky and Galwegians went around in a happy daze. It was more than I could have hoped for.

My first stop was the shoreline at Killeenaran, where the native oysters are harvested. They live on the seabed, wild and free, and are managed and harvested by the Kelly family in Kilcolgan, who have been in the business for nearly sixty years; Michael Kelly started it back in the 1950s, to be joined in the business by his bride Bernadette after their marriage in 1963. Three generations of the family have worked these seabeds, and the oysters found here are regarded by those who know about these things as being the very best in the world. My husband, an oceanographer, tells me that this area is unaffected by naturally-occurring red tides that can wreak havoc with sensitive shellfish - no one is quite sure why. What is sure is that fresh water from the Dunkellin River mingles with the salty water of Galway Bay at Killeenaran, creating the conditions that make oysters very happy. Nowadays, Michael and Bernadette's sons Mícheál and Diarmuid run the business, together with their wives Mary and Theresa, and are helped out by their children at busy periods.

I cycled to Kileenaran Pier from my home some two miles away on Tuesday morning, a place I've painted many times. The sky melted into the sea and it was the first time I haven't drawn a line for the horizon, simply because you couldn't see it in the hazy sunshine. I drew the Kelly's white truck, then Mícheál and the two guys from Brazil who work with him, sorting and washing the oysters at low tide in waist-high rubber trousers.

I wondered if the action was as visible as it might be, so the next morning I returned to draw from a closer vantage point. Here's Mícheál washing the oysters at low tide:

I was very excited at the combination of blue and orange. It was tricky to paint everything as I wanted it, as one of the hazards of painting people at work is that they keep taking away the subjects. But Mícheál works hard and there was much shaking of crates of oysters so I had plenty of chances to get his pose right.
As the tide rose and the guys went back to the factory a mile up the road, the two Brazilian guys stopped for a quick word.
"My friend says he wants a print of that, but an enlarged one, if that's okay," said Elizeu, who has excellent English.
"That's super," I said, "but hang on till I've done the whole lot, as I want to draw you guys at work too, and your tractor too, because it's beautiful."
They seemed to think that was perfectly reasonable, and said they would wait.

The next morning I drew Mícheáĺ in the factory, packing oysters for restaurants here and abroad.

The machine on the left is actually for the mussels that form part of the business. They get tossed around for cleaning before being returned to the sea for a rest, as they get stressed from their tumble in the machine, poor lambs. Again, I was in colour heaven with this sketch. Mícheál's action was repetitive so I was able to draw him as comprehensively as I wished. It turns out you don't do anything much to oysters to prepare them for sale - they're picked and packed within an hour of leaving the shore.

Here I am, snapped by Mary, Mícheál's wife, with a silly rabbit-in-headlamps expression and a mouth full of chocolate digestive biscuit, courtesy of Mary:

I drew Mícheál fully first, following the golden rule that if something is likely to move, draw it first - and he did. But just feast your eyes on that Schmincke yellow that I used for his glows.

It was chilly in there, not helped by the occasional icy blast from the cold room next to me. After I finished, I cycled back down to the pier with stiff, frozen hands and sketched the two Brazilian guys hard at work, taking large forkfuls of oysters from the sea:

The sun wasn't quite as strong as it had been for the two previous days but it was still warm enough to thaw me out and make for a fabulous sketching experience.
Those things in the foreground are wire bags, where the Pacific oysters (Ostrea gigas) are husbanded. They're an altogether different fella from the natives: available all year round, and quite delicious too, but they're not as delicate as their rounder cousins who get to live without shackles beside them. The Pacific oysters can grow so big, in fact, that their wire mesh bags are turned to put a halt to their gallop, as they like to grow towards the light. I was put in mind of a kind of steel corset, clamped around these feisty oysters to curb their natural exuberance.
The two Brazilians were delighted with the sketch and decided that this was the one they wanted. I don't know if they'll follow through on the plan, but I'm always honoured when hard-working guys like these consider buying my work. By contrast, I felt rather lazy, sitting there in the sunshine, exerting myself no more than stretching for my water jar...

Next I sketched the factory where the oysters are packed -

again, they WOULD keep messing with my subjects: that yellow thingie in the middle was moved and returned in a different position, so the light's wrong underneath it. But I think it's still identifiable as a thingie. I am almost 100% sure that the Kellys did not paint and arrange those palettes for my benefit, but I may as well have, as I found them poetic in their colours and positions. The orange crates and I have had our appointment now, and it's over - I won't miss them, despite their orange loveliness.

The weekend approached, and with it the culmination of all the hard work. On Friday night I let my hair down, got dressed up and set off with my husband to the marquee where the opening night of the Clarinbridge Oyster Festival was to be held, leaving my sketching stuff - and the kids - at home. We arrived a bit early and the room was still empty, giving us time to greet Mícheál and Mary at the stall where they were serving oysters to the festival goers. They immediately treated us to a plate and I finally got to sample the marvellous creatures that had been so near, and yet so tantalisingly out of reach all week. Eating the oysters, I was transported to an ocean realm, my senses flooded with visions of diving into the sea, the whole all inextricably bound up with flavour, texture... Does this go some way to describing the heavenly nature of a native oyster? The joy? I know people are divided about them. My only conflict is - when can I have more?

I didn't draw these on the night. Even if I had had my sketch kit with me, there's no way I would have been able to defer my reward long enough to draw these guys. No, I painted these at home the next day: it took me half an hour to open five of them, struggling with all kinds of knives - my respect for those super-fast oyster shuckers has only increased. Yesterday I bought me an oyster knife...

The next day I was back for the main event, but this time I had my kit with me again, and I was there as official sketch artist for the event. It was another hot, sunny day, and elegant ladies and their handsome escorts began to file into the marquee as the shadows began to lengthen and the afternoon turned to evening.

It was a real pleasure to paint Galway's glitterati. I was just a teensy bit sorry I wasn't one of them, but I'm sure that if I had, I would have been wishing I was sketching. After a while I went back inside and drew Kelly's stand, where three cousins from three families - all Michael Kelly's grandchildren - were helping out and manning the stall.

That's Michael Kelly Junior opening an oyster at the back. He's just returned from competing in the Canadian Oyster Shucking Championships in Toronto (his father Mícheál was European Champion in 2004). That lady in the pink dress was his first customer, but she disappeared before I could colour in her dress.
"Sure follow her around," said a few onlookers.
"I don't think that's gonna go down too well," I said, but later on, to my joy, she happened to wander in front of me as I sat in the garden - and moved away the second after I'd put the last brushstroke down, oblivious to my beavering away behind her.

After a while some friends invited me to join them at their table for a drink, so I thought I'd take a little break from sketching. I failed.

However, I still managed a delicious plate of oysters and a pint of Guinness, kindly offered by my friends (that's my pint on the table, and very welcome it was too).

The night wore on and the second band to play, the Amazing Apples, had the floor hopping. Their covers were great, but their own work was even better.

You'll see all ages on the dance floor at an Irish celebration, and often the aul' ones put the youngsters to shame. See the man at the back punching the air? He's someone I know, and I had to draw him punching the air because that's the kind of guy he is: a huge character and very loud. (I once sat in front of him in the library as he held forth to a friend for a good half-hour. I got crosser and crosser at his lack of volume control - and they say women gossip?) Sketching the marquee earlier, I had heard a booming voice drifted over from the garden, and before I looked up, I knew it could only be him. But he is genuinely great craic - larger than life.

It was fun to draw people dancing - there had been a lot of wine, champagne and Guinness taken by then, inhibitions were a vague memory, and lots of dancers wanted me to draw their special moves, which I only wish I'd been able to do. (I'm available for special-dance-move drawings.)

Eventually the band played their last tune, and the dance floor was cleared to make room for the oyster eating competition. This I HAD to sketch.

Not the most polished sketch I've ever done but certainly one of my favourites. I was laughing so hard I could barely draw. The lady on the far left was from Gort (I think) and ate her oysters so fast that she appeared to breathe them in - eight oysters in 7.6 seconds.
"What's your secret?" asked the host, the man who had been responsible for making me laugh so much.
"You don't know how much I love oysters," she said.
I've tried to suggest the thick crowd around the dance floor, phones poised and ready to time the contestants and film their efforts. I did consider volunteering myself as a contestant but then I remembered I was supposed to be working.

I was starting to tire by now, but there was one last sketch I needed to make. Every year a local beauty is crowned queen of the festival, and I had seen this picture of elegance floating around earlier, a vision in gold and pearls. The host had introduced her to the crowd - along with her grandmother, who was the first Oyster Queen a full sixty years ago. I expected to see a little old lady - she had to be at least in her late seventies by now - but the lady I saw, in a pearl grey sheer shawl and soft fuschia suit was beautiful and elegant, still very much a queen. There were only thirty-five people in the tent that night all those years ago, and now there were seven hundred.
I approached the young queen, Aoibheann, with a request for a quick sketch. She was obviously very tired but she obliged, asking a young male friend to sit with her for company. The lad went off to get her a coffee, and Aoibheann fell into conversation with the lady behind her. When he came back, I drew Aoibheann again, looking a little more relaxed: I could have drawn something a little more detailed, but I didn't want to keep her too long as she'd had a long weekend already, and it was still far from over.

"I think I know you," said Aoibheann.
"I think I know you too," I said.
We worked it out: she was a good friend of my next-door neighbour, who had babysat my kids years ago. It's a small and tight-knit community here, where everyone is only one or two friends in common from knowing everyone else.

If you're planning a trip to Galway, make it coincide with the Clarinbridge Oyster Festival in September. It'll be something to remember.

Next week: the Galway International Oyster Festival...oysters anyone?

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Drawing Galway 006 - Mutton Island/Grattan Road

So we went out and about in Galway, but as can happen occasionally in our cold temperate climate, it was raining and grey when we got there. Like, the kind of rain that would dissolve sketchbooks. So we went up the road to the cafe attached to the Galway Aquarium ( The Atlantaquaria ) for tea, coffee and sketches. :) There was only a few of us in, and Margaret left her drawing supplies in the car, so here's the few bits and pieces we made!

Roisin Cure -

Katie Creaven -

Daniel Reynolds -

Donal Fallon -

That was it (apart from all the damp). Come join us on the 21st of September for Drawing Galway 007 - The Spanish Arch!

A small update: Brianán was Urban Sketching on the same weekend - while at the Electric Picnic Music Festival! Obviously they had very different weather over in the East, here's her pic from the weekend:

Sunday, 10 August 2014

A little update

Notice to all Galway Urban Sketchers:

Due to various circumstances, our next get-together, Drawing Galway 006, has been moved to Sunday the 31st of August instead of the 24th. Hope that doesn't affect all of your plans too much!

Thanks everyone & hope to see you there,


Sunday, 27 July 2014

Being Merrie in England: summer in Tenterden, Kent

I had the great fortune to spend a few days in Southeast England a couple of weeks ago. This is an illustrated account of my break and I hope it gives a flavour of a corner of England in the summer.

My extended family live in near Tenterden in Kent, so I've got to know it quite well. It is a very pretty town, full of red brick and cream-painted buildings in classical architecture from the Tudor period onwards, although I won't say more as I'm not an architect and I don't really know my periods. But I do know it is a town with an older-than-average age profile, an assumption I have made by looking around. You have to be careful not to be mown down by very frail flat-capped gentlemen in motorised scooters travelling quite speedily along the pavement. The first time we visited, my husband and I were enjoying an evening stroll on the outskirts of the village, making jokes about the demographic, having survived just such an encounter, and were finding ourselves hilarious. Then we passed two young ladies sharing a passionate embrace - that shut us up.

This time, my husband and I stayed in a sweet little bed and breakfast in the centre of Tenterden called Little Dane Court. Rod, the owner, is a lover of all things Japanese, and his guesthouse reflects that. The garden has an elegant Japanese garden and is generally a delight. I was inspired to sketch the bathroom of our bedroom, which is accessed via a few steep steps from the bedroom. Through the little doorway into the dressing room, two blue kimonos are ready for you, should you need one.

I started drawing the same scene in pen, as I am addicted to strong, indelible lines - but the latter came back to bite me, as I made so many mistakes with the sink that it was a total mess. Wrong lines can make a drawing lively - to a point. Too many, and you can kill it stone dead. So I turned to pencil, which always seems a bit feeble to me, but I enjoyed it all the same.

We were in England to celebrate my sister-in-law's birthday. The first night of our stay kicked off nicely. My sister-in-law's lovely house dates back to the eighteenth century and was extended upstairs using the oak beams from a dismantled ship following the Napoleonic Wars.

Here's her house: the windows look like they've been smashed, but that's just my attempt at dappled sunlight. This was done two summers ago when I was a brand-new sketcher, and I'd approach it very differently now.

I immortalised Bluebell the chicken strutting in front of the house, which is just as well as the fox got her later that day.

The weird thing about Tenterden is that although it's many miles from the sea now, it used to be right on the coast. Then a massive storm altered the entire south coast about five hundred years ago, and you can still find smuggler's dens and stuff in the town today.

The floors in my sister-in-law's house are all uneven and you take your life in your hands walking across the room, especially after a convivial night in our hosts' company. In fact lots of old buildings in Tenterden are like that, having settled unevenly over the centuries.

I did this sketch of my husband, my brother-in-law and my sister-in-law enjoying a glass or two after dinner on our first evening. No one looks particularly like themselves, but so what? It will always remind me of a pleasant night with the family.

Two days later, I drew the party as it was in progress.

Here's the same party close-up, in case you can't see the detail:

It's my idea of a classical English garden party: lots of fruit punch made with Pimm's, meringues with strawberries and cream, a fine side of beef barbequeued to perfection were served to about a hundred guests; leaves cast dappled shadows on white awnings and the sun got hotter, so children ran in and out of the spray from a hose. You can see a sweet little boy wrapped in a giant orange towel sitting on a bench after he'd had enough. I drew the figures on the right before the crowds arrived to block my view, so it looks a bit quieter than it was. As usual there were hordes of little girls watching me as I drew. One of them, my 9-year-old niece, remained silent, and surprised me with some very accomplished paintings of her own a few days later, done from life with the tiny sketch kit I had just given her for her birthday. It's so exciting when you come across a brand new sketcher, and she has the support of her mum, who is also keen to learn the secrets of sketching.

The afternoon shadows grew longer, and although the World Cup Final was due to begin at 8pm, the party showed no sign of slowing down. In the end my son and a few others turned on the match. I don't have any interest in football but - like lots of other sketchers - I've discovered that football matches provide an ideal opportunity to draw men keeping still. I did make a half-hearted attempt at watching the match, but my boy kept forgetting to keep his head to one side so that I could see (we were a bit tight for space) so I gave up and drew him instead. He looks about 17 in this but he's only a young fella of 12 - I got something badly wrong. That's his dad on the right. You'd swear my family was interested in football - but we're not, unless it's the World Cup.

There aren't many other sketches to record my visit to Kent. I had decided to leave the paints aside unless I could do it without notice, as the family does get a bit annoyed when I disappear into the sketchbook. So there are no sketches of Leeds Castle, which we visited the day after the party, and which was spectacular, and none of picturesque Tenterden or its little nineteenth-century steam train that trundles up and down ten miles of track every day. I'm sure to get a another chance some time.

But I did insist on whipping out the sketchbook on the flight home. I figured it would take my mind off the flight, and the mechanics of flying, which always make me tremendously nervous. My husband and son love all aspects of flying, and my eldest is nonchalant, but the youngest shouts things like, "Wow, it's so far down!"
I find that sketching works a lot better than reading when it comes to distracting me.

Any of you determined sketchers will know that a 100ml bottle of water is perfectly acceptable on a flight, as are paints and pens. So even as we were parked on the runway at Gatwick, I had my sketch kit out and was scribbling away.

As I started to paint, my husband was bemused. "Why are you doing the same painting as last time?" he said. "It's boring." "It's about the process, not the result," I said. Then a stunning white-blonde air steward started her safety routine. I realised far too late that she'd make a great subject, and I had just drawn her lifejacket when she packed up. You can still see the blow-up tube on the right of her chest, which I changed into the blue jacket of her dark-haired colleague.  I had to morph her into another girl, because Melissa (as the blonde girl turned out to be called)  had disappeared into the back of the plane. She was disappointed when I told her that she was nearly in my sketch, and said that she would have drawn out her safety procedure if she had known, which is a very Irish response.

Now that's service.