Some of my favourite moments in Ireland were spent sketching in places where I could overhear conversations while I drew. This one is from a café in Waterville where two local women chattered on about children, husbands, neighbours and friends. They were seated a few tables away from me, but talked loudly enough for their words to form a background narrative while I drew. Sketched in a Handbook Journal, 8″ x 8″, while drinking tea and eating a scone.



Manchester panorama

This begins at the end. The last sketch completed in Manchester before I start my journey back to Montreal. It was my intention to blog more along the way, all through Ireland and Manchester, but time constraints and wifi problems made it harder than expected. All I managed were a few quick photos of sketches here and there. The upside of this is that by scanning them upon my return, the image quality will be better.

The beauty of the city of Manchester took me by surprise. I’m usually a prepared traveller, researching neighbourhoods, history and culture in advance, but for this visit I’m embarrassed to say that the only reading I did was to choose locations for my workshops at the Urban Sketchers symposium, and the only expectation I had was to see an “industrial” city, whatever that means.

Upon arrival a week ago the first real view I had of Manchester, not counting the grimy exit of Oxford Road Station, was from my 10th floor hotel room. It took me all week but finally, on my very last morning, with the (rare) sun shining through the window, I found some time to sketch the view before hopping into a cab for the airport. Manchester is a city of ornate brick buildings contrasted with modern glass towers and, judging by the dozens of cranes, more modern to come. The view from my room showcased a bit of everything, including the iconic clock tower of The Palace Hotel.

With complex views like this one, I always waffle between portraying the scene in line (starting with fine pen line and drawing the contour as well as details of the buildings) or painting it with watercolour shapes. These contrasting techniques require different ways of looking at a scene and are also dependent on the time I have to complete the sketch. With an imminent plane departure in mind, I chose the faster option: big shapes in watercolour.

Building up the panorama with brush shapes is fairly simple. I usually start by drawing the line between city and sky in pencil, and then adding in the contours of the key buildings in the foreground. Next, with my biggest brush I paint the sky, and when that is dry, I work on the buildings. I begin with the largest ones (the apartment blocks, the Palace Hotel clock tower, the lower buildings in the foreground) and move towards the smaller shapes (chimneys, rows of windows, dark spaces between buildings). It’s not necessary to paint every window as long as you get a variety of large and small shapes, alternating light and dark ones as you go. In this I also used a pattern of warm reds (old, brick, industrial) with cool blues (modern, glass, steel) to create contrast. Details were added on my plane ride home. Manchester was a delight to sketch, the symposium was a crazy, chaotic, exhausting, joyful few days and I’ll be posting more sketches soon.

News travels fast in sketching circles, but if you haven’t heard yet the 2017 Urban Sketchers Symposium will take place in another stunning architectural city: Chicago! Great news for so many North American sketchers who have been waiting to attend a symposium that’s a little closer to home.


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. 


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