Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Messing About With Boats

What a beautiful evening - I had to get out and enjoy it. The family was doing other stuff and I wasn't needed - hurrah! - so I hopped into the teeny red car and set off for the Burren Hills. I love Abbey Hill and Reuben the hairy terrier needed a walk but it was too windy there to sketch - and a bit lonely - so I decided to head back to Kinvara village. Back in the shelter of the little dock of the harbour in Kinvara, I took out my sketching kit and basked in the warm evening sun.

I sat on a bench on the quay and started to draw. Mast, keep it vertical. Tie on the lines. Draw what I see. Watch those shapes. Two girls settled down on the next bench a few feet away. One had a Madrid accent, and over the course of an hour, I learned all about her life, her living arrangements and her job-hunting woes. Her English was excellent, despite the strong accent. The other girl barely said a word. I wondered idly if that's what it's like to sit beside me, and I wished they'd run out of steam. Then I was joined by two little girls with long dark hair and English accents. One carried a toy lamb, which she fed to Reuben. "This is my lucky Irish sheep," she said. "Your dog is sooo cute carrying it in his mouth! I'm a seven-year-old and she's a five-year-old. We're allowed to go and explore." I thought about the deep, open water everywhere, the cars passing through and the weirdos sketching, and wondered about the judgment of whomever sent them out on the quay. The little girls played with Reuben, who was tied to the bench, and he did his best to evade their little hands. Amid cries of "he's sooo cute!" they tried to pat him, who tried in turn not to be patted, tangling himself and my ankles in his lead. The older one trotted off for some ice cream and chocolate sauce, and while she was gone the younger one finally hit the jackpot when she gave him a rock - he loves biting rocks. "He's soooo cute biting the rock!" she said. The patting attempts continued, as did Reuben's attempts to hide, but the lead meant it was futile. How he must have regretted leaving the nice lonely hill. Eventually I think he snapped at her, as I saw her pull her hand back quickly - being five, she didn't understand that dogs aren't allowed to do that, and she didn't wail or complain. "Don't try to pat him any more," I said, "he'll bite." He has never bitten anyone, but there was no harm in letting the little girl know that dogs have their limits. Then the smaller girl told me about how bad cigarettes are and how she was going to get her hands on some candy ones when she went to America. This made her very excited - even at five, she was conscious of the power of a taboo. Over the course of an hour, the little girls knocked the bench I was sitting on ("Don't touch the bench," I said, "I'll do a wobbly line"), fiddled with my brushes and paints and ooohed and aaaahed over my sketch, their long hair obscuring my page. "That's sooo good," they said. "I bet the next time I see it it'll be in a museum." The innocence.

Finally a lady came out of the restaurant to get them. She was American and appeared to be their mother. I had the strong impression she was only just in charge, imploring them not to get onto people's boats, telling them to stay away from me. She didn't acknowledge me in any way, in sharp contrast to the little girls' easy, friendly manner.

An older Dutch couple stood behind me and discussed my sketch, without acknowledging my presence. The woman made lots of observations in Dutch, pointing at bits of the page. Her finger hovered millimetres from the surface of the page. Lucky for her she didn't touch the paper. Oh yes, she would have got quite the stern "please don't touch" from me. Finally the man said "Photorealistic!" to which I answered "Not really" because I did not take it as a compliment. I hate photorealism in art - you may as well cut to the chase and take a photo. But at least he was saying hello, in his way.

I always say one of the nicest things about urban sketching is interacting with passers-by. I still feel that way.
As for Reuben - he conked out when he got home. Little girls can be very tiring.

Monday, May 29, 2017

A Simple Way to Paint Reflections in water

I have zero interest in painting from photos. Painting from photos takes away the exhilaration, excitement and immediacy of capturing life on paper - all the things I love about sketching. If I was stuck indoors for some reason, I would draw the crap lying around my house, or even the stuff in my bedroom, if I was bedbound - anything but a photo. I use photos as references for design jobs, but never as part of my own recreational sketching.

Painting water is always a challenge. What you're really painting is reflections and the patterns made by wind. But light shifts, making shadows and reflections change. The wind makes boats bob about and the surface of the water do all kinds of things. Sometimes clouds come along and alter the scene completely. So here's a five-minute tutorial on the basics of painting reflections. One of my students asked me for help sketching a boat bobbing away on the water a few days ago, so I did a lightning-fast sketch to show her how I would tackle it.

1. First, get your drawing right. We all know boats are long, but seen from the back, they are very short indeed. Make mental measurements to help get it right - hold your pencil at arm's length as a measuring tool if you must, or do what I do, and ask yourself "how big is the top part of the boat compared to the stern?" etc.

2. Decide what colour you're going to paint the stern. I mixed phthalo green with burnt umber to take the bright edge from the green. Paint it. If the top surface of the boat is in sunlight, try leaving it unpainted altogether. It will have the effect of appearing to be in strong light.

3. See if there are any dark blacks, like the gloom inside the boat itself. Avoid using black (always!) - I mixed rich indigo with a touch of burnt umber. I kept it almost undiluted to give that really gloomy, shadowed effect. I'm always conscious of my values - how dark each colour is with respect to its surroundings.

4. Now for the water. Sketch out a wobbly shape under the boat to represent the reflection on a moving, rippling surface. Repeat a few ripples away from the main reflection. Make sure to leave lots of white spaces in between. Next, decide what colour the reflection is. I mixed phthalo green with indigo and burnt umber. Make sure the stern of the boat is dry - and paint the reflection.

5. Are there any shadows around the top of the boat? If there are, paint them in. This will serve to make the prow of the boat really stand out.

Remember, my sketches are always about drama, and to achieve that I always look for contrast.

Now step away from the photos, out you go and find some water to paint!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Pointless sketching

I find it hard to wait and do nothing, and so I throw my pencil case and sketchbook into the car when I go to the bus stop to pick up Paddy. I always point the car towards home because the kids wind me up so much that my chances of hitting something during a three-point-turn is much higher.
It was time to give my Kuretake brush pen a little outing. But what to draw? There was nothing much to draw that I haven't drawn a million times already, as you can see...

Spring, summer, autumn, winter. Every day it's a little bit different but no matter how nice it is to draw, I wanted to use my brush pen and draw more freely. That meant sketching something from close up. The interior of my car was the perfect solution, and my fountain pens got a turn too, as I drew one of those pic-within-a-pic things on the piece of paper I was holding.

Paddy's bus arrived and we all set off home. He gets the shivers from surreal things so while he admired my sketch he wasn't too keen on the drawing-within-a-drawing. 

More pointless sketches to come!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Making a Sketchwrap

How to make a custom SketchWrap

This SketchWrap is a bit fiddly to make but very useful.

You will need:
1. Fabric - make it easy for yourself and get one with checks. I would say half a yard will be more than enough.
2. Velcro
3. Bias binding - 2 yards
4. Old newspaper
5. Cushy fabric if you want to cushion the compartment for the ceramic palette. I used some jumbo cord and it works a treat.
6. A sketch kit

1. Decide what you want to put in the wallet. 
My items were: a box of watercolours, a ceramic palette, lots of pencils and brushes, a craft knife and a rubber. The paints and the palette were roughly the same size so I decided that they would sandwich together first, and then I would roll up the bit with the pencils etc on top. .

For the Paintbox:
(1) Wrap a piece of newspaper around your paintbox. Add an extra 1.5" for the flap at the top. 
Cut it out.

(2) Pin the strip of newspaper to the fabric, adding 3/4" seam allowance all around. Cut it out.

(3) Sew velcro tabs to each end, one on the inside and one on the outside (obviously). 

(4) Cut two strips of fabric the length and depth of the paintbox, adding 3/4" seam allowance. 

(5) Stitch two long strips onto the main piece to form a pocket. I sewed right way out, and covered raw edges with apron tape (I'm not sure what it's called in the fabric shops). But there should be plenty of excess fabric on the seams to turn in the edges and do a neat hemming job.

For the Outer Wallet:
(1) Measure a piece of fabric 1" wider on both sides than the little pocket you've made for your paintbox. That's your width (I'm assuming the paintbox is the longest item you want to pack). To determine the length, just make sure it is long enough to wrap everything up comfortably. Stitch the paintbox pocket onto the fabric on two or three sides. I did two and it is plenty strong enough.

For the Ceramic Palette Pocket: 
I padded this to cushion it in case of an accident. 
(1) Cut out a rectangular piece of cushy fabric a bit bigger than your palette (to allow for a neat hem).
Make a little flap out of your checked fabric. Mine was about 1.5" X 2" after hemming. Stitch a bit of velcro on the inside of the flap, as for the paintbox.

Trap this little flap between the outer wallet and the rectangle of jumbo cord, and stitch securely all around.
Hem as you go. Use your iron first and it will be nice and neat.
(2) Sandwich together a piece of check fabric and another piece of jumbo cord a bit bigger than your palette. Stitch all around, hemming nicely. Stitch the corresponding bit of velcro onto the checked side.

(3) Stitch this piece onto the bit that you have stitched onto the outer wallet, making sure it covers the inner bit of jumbo cord.

Now your paintbox and palette are safe! 

For the pencil/brush holder:
I thought this bit would be tricky but it wasn't. 
(1) I cut a really long length of checked fabric. I stitched around three sides with white apron tape (bias binding, whatever). You could hem it also if you like. Now it's much longer than the outer wallet, and has neat edges.
(2) Now, make little tubes for each of your brushes and pencils. Just wrap a bit of fabric around each one and stitch as you go, nice and snug so it's tight enough not to fall out. Much easier than it sounds.
(3) Continue until you reach the edge of the wallet. Leave a long strip so that it will wrap around the entire wallet when closed. Stitch velcro to each end of the trailing flap, on either side. The way to get the position right is simply to roll it up full of your sketch kit, and see where the velcro should be.

My Mistakes:
I screwed up in two ways, which I will have to fix.
1. The tube for the craft knife should have been closed at one end, with its own flap. The Stanley knife I use is too heavy not to have its own little pocket, and keeps falling out.
2. Same with my rubber, which needs its own tiny little pocket. 

One More Useful Thing to Know:
When I am out sketching, the ceramic palette fits nicely on the "palette" (ie lid) of the paintbox. This saves valuable space.

I hope this has been easy to follow. Sometimes I think something is really clear and people say it's totally illegible. If you would like to take a look at what I've painted with my lovely sketchwrap, then have a look around my gallery at I hope you really enjoy it.

Good Luck!!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Publsihed for the First Time

Published for the first time!

Back in 1995, there was a paleontology conference held in University College Galway. All the breaks would take place in the James Mitchell Museum, within the Department of Geology itself. I thought it would be really cool to hold an exhibition of paintings of fossils from the museum there, in my ceaseless quest to gain recognition for my art, and sell a few paintings. The naivety! All those guys were interested in was the phlanges on some obscure brachipod. Buying art was the last thing on any of their minds.

All except for one.

Professor Euan Clarkson is a jolly, convivial man, who has written many books on palaeontology. His particular interest was in the eyes of trilobites, but he may be best known for his book Invertebrate Palaeontology, which is regarded as the standard textbook for undergraduates. ( I actually didn't really know trilobites had eyes, which is shockingly ignorant, seeing as I actually passed exams in palaeontology.) There was a drinks and nibbles  reception on the last evening of the conference. Euan approached and said he really loved my drawings: he said he would like to use one or two for use as frontispieces in the next edition of Invertebrate Palaeontology. "I've had a bit to drink," he said, "but I really do love them, and I meant what I said, and I've told one or two people so that if I forget in the morning they will remind me." I was charmed by his warmth and gregariousness, but I didn't want to hold out hope on the strength of a promise made when in one's cups.

Sometime later I received a lovely letter from Euan with a formal request to buy two paintings, which would be reproduced in the fourth edition of his book. (Heaven knows what edition they're on now.) He was very apologetic about the amount his publishers would offer me, but I was so honoured to be included in his book that I didn't mind. He intended to keep the originals for himself, which flattered me immensely.

A long time later Euan sent me a copy of his book, and there were the frontispieces as promised. 

If you check back here tomorrow or the next day, I will dig out that old book, scan the pictures and post them. One was a bed of ammonite fossils and one was a beautiful polished belemnite.

A year later I sold another painting from the exhibition. I was having a party at my house and everyone was getting pretty giddy (we were young). It was a brill party, as it happens. My friend Cormac's mother had a birthday coming up and Cormac asked me if I had any paintings for sale. He chose a really pretty one: it was the inside of the nautilus that you see above, which was coated in a thick layer of mother-of-pearl. I had a new boyfriend at the time. "Don't tell me you're not a businesswoman," he said. "You've just sold a painting at half past three in the morning." 

I don't think he's quite so impressed now. In fact I know he's not - we've been married for fourteen years.

The most unlikely sale was to one of the boffins in tweed jackets. He was regarded as being very dishy within the department and lots of girls had a serious crush on him. (I was immune for some reason.)  He was passionate about fossil corals and I had painted one. It wasn't a glamorous bit of coral, and the only reason I painted it was that it was covered in tiny striae, which I thought were very cute. Someone bought it for him as a gift, and I believe he was accounting for taste I guess.

The nautilus is the last of the paintings. I'm glad I have it. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The City of the Tribes

The City of the Tribes: so named for the twelve family names who...well, I don't know what they did, but I guess they had the place sewn up. I couldn't even give you all twelve names. That's what Google is for!

Anyone who has visited Galway City on the west coast of Ireland will be familiar with its liveliness and charm. The above scene is the embodiment of the dinkiness that is Galway, with its sweet little cottages, painted in defiantly vivid colours.

Galway is a medieval town, established in 1124. I don't know that much about its early history, but back in the 16th Century, when Queen Elizabeth I was hellbent on taming Ireland, the town was a haven of relative peace and decorum in a countryside of wild men. I had better not name names as memories are very long around here but two families were banned from entering the town itself as they were regarded as being troublemakers. I meet people now with the same names and I wonder if time has calmed them down a bit.

Galway is also a city of water. I have no sense of direction and as a student back in the early 90s I was always getting lost, and there was always a river or canal I was sure I recognised nearby. You would think it would be impossible to get lost when there is a network of waterways, complete with distinctive bridges, to guide you around a tiny city but somehow I managed it. Those were happy days of learning, laughter and love, the latter of which vanished like the snows in April. Not all the love I found in Galway vanished: I am married to a Sasanach (English) man I met at a party on Lough Atalia Road (more water), which leads into the docks. They are always full of ships and boats bustling in and out of port. We have three Galway children, who are developing Galway accents (eek).

On the far right of the picture above is a tall building, whose other side is at one end of the docks. So the water you see in this scene is the point at which the River Corrib meets the Atlantic Ocean, with the river coming in from the left of the view, and the sea stretching out to the right. My viewpoint was in the Claddagh, looking at the city itself, and at the row of colourful workers' cottages which form the Long Walk. 

The Claddagh itself is a marshy area bordering the sea, and used to have its own king. When I first came to Galway in 1991 there was still a gentleman to whom the people of the Claddagh paid homage. I don't know if or when that custom disappeared.

I have painted the scene above many times. One day I was at home with my two young babies, one and a half years old and brand new, when I received a call. It was from an old college mate, Fiona. "It's Paddy's leaving do tomorrow," she said. "We'd like to make him a gift of a painting. Do you have anything at the moment?" Of course I didn't! With two babies, the only times I escaped to paint was for a commission - anything else would have been seen as an indulgence. That meant they were all sold in advance. "I'm afraid not, Fiona," I said. "But I can do something for you. What time is the presentation?" "Five o'clock," she said. At six o'clock the following morning I was already on my little stool, across the river from the colourful houses. I had phoned my framer in advance and he had a mount cut to size, and a frame ready. At midday I dropped it in. At half past I collected it and by half one I was home to give the baby his feed. It was a moody piece, painted in the rain, which gave the slate rooftops a lovely shine, and the sky was full of soggy clouds. I think Paddy liked his painting and I'm sure it reminds him of the time he spent as a palaeontology lecturer here in Galway.

It's not the easiest scene to paint, although I always enjoy it. I start with a long horizontal line in the middle. I usually use the bottom of the houses as a baseline, as I know that's straight. Getting that line horizontal is actually the hardest thing I do - you need a huge T-square or a very long ruler...and I don't like to measure as the hand-drawn element is lovely. To a point! No one wants to see the right drooping down, as i always seem to do.

Once I've got my line straight, I do construction lines for all the windows and doors. They are not all on the same line but enough of them are that it's a useful guide. Then I do the same with the vertical sides of the windows and doors.

Next, I block in the roofline. They are fun to do because the angles are really cute and if you get it right, your picture will look automatically sweet. The perspective will become clear, as the rooflines change on the left and right of your view.

The next bit is fun - that's when I ink in with my trusty Platinum Carbon pen. It's when it's all done I simply wash watercolour on top.

You can't really go wrong at this stage. A good tip is to wait for the sky to do something interesting - a mix of cloud and blue is always best - and when it arrives, paint as fast as you can. Don't forget to do the sky (a) in one go and (b) preferably before you have painted below it, or you will smudge your newly-painted bits.

I needed about four hours to do this, maybe a bit more - it's good to do it over two days but just remember to do the bits that will change first, like the sky (see above) and of course the tide. I know you can't guarantee it (especially not in this mad country) but try to choose two consecutive days when the weather will be more or less similar.

That's it!

If you were to walk left from the end of the row of houses above, you would immediately be in the best part of Galway City. It's known as the Latin Quarter and consists of narrow, pedestrianised streets, with bars and restaurants along its length, and outdoor tables full of lively conversation. There are often buskers along there and they contribute wonderfully to the happy atmosphere. I first arrived in Galway in the month of October. It was just a normal Tuesday afternoon and there were no festivities on at the time. I remember thinking the atmosphere was like Grafton St. (Dublin's fanciest street) at Christmas. I now know that it's always like that (apart from a November afternoon on a school day in the rain).

Here's a view down Kirwan's Lane, one of the seven medieval lanes which lead off the twisty and windy Quay St., the busiest part of the Latin Quarter:

 Here's another view of the Long Walk, drawn from a bit further along:

There are always swans in the sea there and they always find their way into the scene. I really like drawing them - that S of their necks makes such a nice sweep with the pen.

Other occasions for which I have painted the Long Walk include: for my father's birthday two years ago (he is nuts about that scene); for my friend Irene's wedding: for my friend Cathy's 40th birthday and for my husband's friend Glenn's 40th birthday. I've painted it just to make a few quid. And it's been good to me: I've sold 45 prints of it, so there are 55 left in the print run of 100 at this time. 

You're not supposed to park where I like to park when I paint The Long walk. It is typical of Galway that far from asking me to move on, the traffic warden has made sure no one blocks my view.