Peveril of the Peak, Manchester 

There’s probably a very interesting history of Peveril of the Peak Pub, but I haven’t read it yet on Wikipedia. I was in such a hurry to paint it that I wasted no time in reading. I’ve been looking at images of Manchester, especially around Castlefield where my workshop will be held, and this building kept popping up. It’s surrounded by taller brick buildings so it took a bit of time to locate, but how can you not sketch this? Shiny yellow and green tile facade, ornate window and door frames, whimsical chimney pipes, an odd polygon shape… such a joy to behold. 

The Urban Sketchers Symposium starts in a couple of days and I’m already starting to see sketchers around the city. By the time everyone gets here on Wednesday we will be a small army, close to 500 of us in all, if I remember correctly. From the short stroll I took through the city, I can see that Manchester, with its complex industrial heritage, will be a fascinating place to draw. 

St. Stephen’s Green

After the quiet landscapes of the west coast of Ireland, Dublin is a bit of a shock. Crowded, noisy, and of course beautiful too, when you find the right places. Like in any big city, parks are my oasis of calm when I need a break  from the crowds. I didn’t have to venture far into the depths of St. Stephen’s Green to find some drama. Pigeons fighting with gulls over the breadcrumbs tossed by tourists. Their squawks were almost as noisy as the buskers and hawkers on Grafton Street. I don’t sketch birds very often, but I couldn’t resist trying to capture the battle scene. 

Over the water

Knowing what Irish weather might be like, I picked accommodations with water views so I could paint in the unlikely case of rain. In Cahersiveen I had a perfect setup. A window full of clouds and an ever-changing view of what my hostess called “over the water”. I tried to paint what I saw in front of me. Bits of farmland, islands, clouds and some houses in the foreground (which the hostess suggested I leave out), using a muted palette for the foggy day. When the painting was done, her husband (who is an amateur historian and a bit of a sailor too) identified the bits of landmass in my picture, “Viking burial ground over there, ring forts that way, Church Island in front of Beginish Island, standing stones on top of that hill…” It’s a fascinating place in so many ways and in these few days going around the Ring of Kerry I’ve only just seen a fraction of the mountains and bays and towns and ruins that there are to be seen. I hope to come back soon. 

The Little Shop in Sneem

There’s no getting away from the tourist shops in Ireland. And as beautiful as the landscapes are, sometimes I have to stop and draw the towns too. This week the festival is on in Sneem, with rides and games and cotton candy sellers, all set up in the village square. Nearby I found The Little Shop which I drew from a bench in front of the hardware shop. As I approached and saw the bench, I was pretty sure the building housed a cafe. Otherwise why else have a bench? But after I saw the sign it occurred to me that the bench is just for sitting and waiting, or maybe just for sitting and watching. I could get used to this pace of life. 

From Kenmare

This might be a heat wave, by Irish standards. Bright blue skies, tops of mountains visible, and shorts and t-shirts pulled from the depths of my suitcase for the first time since I’ve been here. From my spot in Kenmare on the Ring of Kerry, I can look across the Kenmare River and see the hills of the Beara Peninsula. It’s a joy to finally be painting some pure Irish landscape. The hills across the river are nothing like the tree-covered hills I’m used to in North America. The view is much softer with visible layers of rock and grass. It’s a challenge to think about how to deal with it in paint, but I’m always up for a challenge. 

I can’t see the sea

The last thing I thought I’d be painting in Ireland was tropical plants, but I’m facing an Atlantic coastline that’s socked in by fog. The view from my window is this garden of potted succulents — quite beautiful really — and a good contrast to the grey that has descended around the place.  I had hoped to paint the barren landscape of The Burren today but it was hidden in the clouds when I arrived. I’m hoping for a clearer view tomorrow. 

Two from Inishmore

I spent a most spectacular day on Inishmore, the largest of the three Aran Islands. And for the first time, I did a sketch tour by bike. Cycling is really the best way to see the island. There are buses or horse-drawn carriages that can take you around as well, but biking allows you to stop wherever you find a good view and since the island is only 18km long, it’s easily travelled in a few hours. If you take the low road along the coast, the views on the land side are almost as breathtaking as the sea side. The fields, sectioned by rock walls and dotted with livestock, slope up to a constant wall of clouds. I found a stone table and bench to sketch the view. 

In the afternoon I found an outdoor spot at a cafe in the town of Kilronan. Before returning to Galway, I found some time to draw and paint a view of the town but the wind picked up and was so fierce that I had to finish the sketch on the ferry ride home. Despite the rough water, and the occasional screams from passengers as the ferry slammed up and down on the waves, it was still easier to draw than in the wind. I know this sounds like a Rick Steeves guidebook, but if you ever get a chance to see Inishmore, jump on it. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, but I have a feeling I may say that a lot in Ireland. 

Claddagh Hall, Galway

I haven’t seen enough of Ireland (after less than 24 hours of being in the country) to write anything insightful, and I’m still a little jet-lagged too, but I do have some first impressions. 1. The people are as warm and friendly as advertised, starting, surprisingly, with the immigration officer at the airport.   2. The weather changes from one minute to the next which makes for tremendous skies. 3. I’m glad I brought along lots of green paint. 

Today I toured around town with local urban sketcher Roisin Curé. In a couple of days we’ll be teaching a workshop here along with Marc Holmes, so it was nice to scope out our sketching spots. I intended to sketch the iconic view of colourful seaside houses called The Long Walk but the sky was so dramatic in the other direction that I sketched that instead. Galway is a city with an abundance of water views and Claddagh is a wide swath of land where the Corrib River meets Galway Bay. It was cold and very gusty out there but incredibly beautiful too. 

Down to the beach

I am still scanning paintings from my trip to Rockport. I painted this one in the shade of my car, setting up my easel in a parking lot and using my car both as a windbreak and as a shelter from the sun. Of course, sitting in this spot for a few hours allowed me the time to dream a little and think about what I would paint every day if I lived in that house, with that view…

Painted on Saunders Waterford CP 140 lb, 15″ x 11″.


23 for Galway and Manchester

There’s nothing like a new palette that’s filled with colour but never touched by a brush. So pristine. So much possibility contained within. So many choices. It’s like a box of candy. You don’t know which one to pick first.

I always carry too many art supplies with me when I travel, so with the aim of travelling light — especially after recently losing (and then finding) my luggage — I have a new palette that will go with me to Galway and Manchester. This one is much smaller than my usual plein air Alvin Heritage Palette. The closed size is only 3″ x 5.75″ and yet I have managed to get 23 colours in there. This replaces a travel palette that I used so much when I first started sketching that most of it rusted away.

Of course I’ve filled it with plenty of yellows, blues and greens for painting the Irish landscape, as well as lots of rusts and reds for my industrial workshop location in Manchester. I’m not leaving just yet but have filled the wells a few days early, in the hopes that they will dry before I get on the plane.

Except for two half pans, the colours are all filled from tube paint. They may be hard to make out from the photo so here they are from left to right.
Top row: Cobalt Teal, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Phthalo Blue, Indanthrene Blue, Mineral Violet and Permanent Alizarin Crimson.
Middle row: Burnt Sienna, Raw Sienna, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Umber, Pyrol Orange, Organic Vermilion, Quinacridone Rose.
Bottom Row: Naples Yellow, Hansa Yellow Medium, New Gamboge, Quinacridone Gold, Leaf Green, Sap Green, Phthalo Green, Shadow Green (first time trying this deep green).

Ironically my workshop at the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Manchester is called “Bare Bones: Exploring limited palettes in watercolour“. That might lead you to believe that I use a tiny palette with only three or four colours in it, but the workshop is more about achieving unity in your sketches through limited use of colour. I may be packing light but I don’t think I could ever travel without a full range of pigments.