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.