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.