Sunday, 22 June 2014

Drawing Galway 004 - Quay Street, Galway

We had a fantastic day for our group meet-up. Galway has been sweltering under the influence of our annual week of Summery weather, so we knew it would be warm. Luckily, the temperature dipped down to pleasant but not melting for Sunday, so we proceeded out to Quay Street for our meet-up.

We were mentioned in the Galway Advertiser in the previous month and Roisin delivered an excellent talk in Charlie Byrne's Bookshop, so we knew public interest was piqued, but I think the turn out was beyond our expectations! Jay arrived early and picked an excellent spot under the shade of some small trees just down from the Spanish Arch and we settled in for our drawing day.

You can spot any collection of Urban Sketchers by the folding stools!

In fact, I found several new people by spotting them wandering about with folding stools on their backs! We also got a wonderful reaction from passers-by, everyone was very friendly, with locals, children, tourists and Artists alike all enquiring what were we doing? Are we a group? Is it a class? I have a feeling more people will turn up to join us next time.

Look at everyone, busily sketching away.

Angeline Cooke

Caitriona Ryan

Ruth Campion

Scott Sibbald

Patricia Hehir

Nora Shaughnessy

Roisin Cure

Patricia Kavanagh

Ruth McHugh

Kerry MacLure

Josephine Boland

Jay Penn

Donal Fallon

Philip Barrett

What a great crew on a great day!

Keep an eye on our Facebook Group for more updates, and come join us on the canal walk, Newtownsmith, Galway (behind Born) on July 20th for Drawing Galway 005!

Friday, 13 June 2014

Lorna McMahon's Garden: An Oasis of Serenity in Galway City

In early summer every year, you can leave Galway City and head west for a few minutes, and find yourself in heaven. Lorna McMahon opens her garden, Ard Carraig, to the public for three consecutive Sundays each May to support Mental Health Ireland. Lorna pots up literally thousands of plants to sell at the open days, and it raises lots of badly-needed funds for the organisation. But at 75, she's beginning to find the work involved in that a bit much, and next year will be the last year that she opens Ard Carraig to the public.

I first visited Lorna's garden about sixteen years ago. That time, I was on my own, and tears came to my eyes as I walked through the woodland area. Dappled sunlight filtered through birches, making bluebells, wild garlic and ferns glow in the greenish gloom, and I was transported to another woodland on the side of a mountain in Co. Wicklow, where I grew up.
Two years later, I carried my baby on my back through Lorna's garden, and later again, my toddlers hopped over the rocks and played in the streams that twist and turn through the garden. And then a few weeks ago, my eldest - the baby in the back carrier - had to be bribed to come with us, and sulked from start to finish, but I saw her running her hand over the bark of a silver birch, and feeling the fronds of a fern through her fingers.

"Lorna must have lots of help with the garden," said my husband, as we walked through five acres of immaculate, weed-free beauty.
"No, she does it all on her own," I answered. "In fact if her family want to contact her, they have to write or call in - she rarely hears the phone."

The day we visited, I asked Lorna if I could come back and paint in the garden: I thought between us, we might be able to do something with the paintings, to raise money for the charity she supports. She was delighted.
"Thirty years ago, I held a dance to raise money for Mental Health Ireland," she said. "People didn't want to buy tickets. If they did, they did so anonymously, because they didn't want to be associated with the stigma of mental health issues. It's much better now, but it's still there."
I told her that I had had my troubles in the past, and that I wanted to play my part to help, if I could.

This is the herb garden. "It used to be a tennis court," Lorna told me. "but none of the children played anymore. So I made these raised beds, and when I had to move a bed for some reason a while back, the white lines were still visible. It could all be moved away again in three days, if necessary."
I marvelled at the variety of herbs I saw.
"There's a section of herbs that appear in Shakespeare, and another with herbs that appear in the Bible...but on the whole, the herbs have been chosen for their medicinal, ornamental or culinary value."
Then I was left on my own to draw. Suddenly I heard a terrible squeaking, as if a rat was being attacked by a flock (a murder?) of crows. Any sketcher will tell you that nothing short of an apocalypse will get you to move, but I had to see what the noise was about. A huge frog squatted near the hedge on the right. I wondered if it had been injured, so I poked it lightly with the edge of my paper. It squeaked loudly and hopped now I know that frogs squeak.

This drawing is from the primula and azalea garden, chosen because they were at their best when I was there a couple of weeks ago. Sadly, I didn't do the beautiful primulas justice, which are more like a troupe of pretty ballerinas that the measly stalks I produced. But I have an idea up my sleeve that will fix that when the time comes.
There are also lots of luscious hostas alongside the primulas, and as they aren't in any way fiddly to draw, I have no excuse. I'd love to go back and do them again.
Lorna has made all these little private areas within the garden, each with its own focal point, like the Japanese temple (if that's what it is) in this sketch. It was heaven to draw - all those strong, simple shapes - but I can't say the same for the blossoms everywhere. Ah well, it's all a learning curve and it'll be fun getting there, and I'll have plenty of opportunities over the year as I return to paint the garden some more.

As usual, time went far too fast. In stark contrast to the crowds that were there on the Open Days, I had the entire place to myself, with nothing but the sounds of very relaxed birds singing around me, and no more alarming squeaks. I had plenty of time to reflect on the great good fortune that was the discovery of sketching, how it's been therapeutic beyond words for me...and how I might be able to help others in some way through this practice.

Tip: Lorna's hostas were magnificent, and didn't have a single slug bite. Lorna says if you go out on a nice day in January and kill the slugs, before they get a chance to breed, you won't be troubled by them for the rest of the year.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Next year in paradise? A stretch of sand in Mauritius

Mauritius is a tiny dot of land on the vast expanse of blue that is the Indian Ocean. Travel south, and you hit Antarctica: east, and it's Perth; west, and you'll hit Madagascar; north it's Oman. But each of these places is a very long way away, and you really do feel isolated from the world in Mauritius. I don't know if it's because of this, but there is a magical, Dr. Seuss feeling to the island: the people don't exactly look like characters in his books, not being particularly fluffy, but they are multi-coloured, with origins in China, India, Europe and Africa; and the landscape most definitely looks like a Dr. Seussian one, with bobbles teetering on top of mountains, and adorable bottle palms and the like that are straight from the pages of his books. And to me, from the very start, Mauritius was most definitely Sola-Sollew. To me, it's paradise.

There's a small beach on the north coast in a village called Trou-aux-Biches. I had the great fortune to spend six months living there. Early one morning, I took my cup of tea and my drawing kit to the beach and painted what I saw. The coconut trees behind me threw shadows onto the white sand and boats bobbed in the turquoise water, waiting for young Mauritian guys in mirrored sunglasses to take the helm and churn up the tranquility of the lagoon, tourists on board, or venture past the reef and chase dolphins messing about in deeper water. In my drawing, a man walks purposefully from left to right: he has just greeted the man walking in the opposite direction, with the tiny child beside him. She was an adorable girl of about six, who was skipping happily through the shallows, her perfectly-coiffed, jet-black plaits bouncing behind her. As the two men met, they greeted each other warmly; two native Mauritians, with the beach still to themselves before the hordes descended, apart from the tourist with the paints.

This sketch is what I see when I turn through 180 degrees: these are the coconut palms throwing the shadows onto the sand that you see above. When my husband first visited Mauritius, he was just seven years old, and the trees were tiny. Everything grows fast here: cyclones periodically raze most vegetation to the ground, but it never stops creeping back. For over fifty years, my husband's aunt and her family lived in the house on the right, and my family and I stayed in the apartment on the left. The white picket fence is ten yards from the orange awning; hop over it and you're on the sand, literally a stone's throw from the lagoon. All day long people walk up and down the beach - samosa sellers, hawkers, tourists, and there's never a dull moment - not until the sun starts to set and peace descends. This is what my auntie-in-law looked out upon. Every day. For fifty years. My auntie-in-law and her daughter told me of the time they endured a cyclone, and the sea was trying to carry off their house. "You remember Bou bou, the dog," they said. "Yes!" said my husband. "Of course I remember him! We named our first dog after him - I loved Bou Bou! I used to make him dive for stones." "Well, said, my auntie-in-law, "he was in danger of being washed away by the storm. He was in the doorway - here - with all four paws clinging for dear life to the frame of the door, barely visible through the surf. We were clutching his fur, trying not to lose our grip..." Happily, Bou Bou lived to see another day.

This was drawn a little later in the day, with my back to the two houses, after people had had lunch and were generally lazing about. It was mid-winter, which in Mauritius means you will probably get sunburned, but you may also be rained upon for a minute or two. I enjoyed drawing the tourists as they alternately frolicked in the lagoon and frantically packed up their towels. You can see the cloud threatening overhead, but I'm Irish, and I know what clouds are going to do next, so I bided my time. You can see a bright yellow craft full of day-trippers. These boats drag along huge inflatable rings they call "bouées". I'm sure I haven't spelled that right. The driver of the craft straps tiny kiddies onto these "buoys" and off they go...tearing up the reef. The kids love it, but the boats make an almighty racket and disturb the peace something terrible. I would wish them all well, but every year there is less sea-life to be seen in the water of the lagoon; soon it will be the sterile basin that you can see in other parts of the island. On my honeymoon fifteen years ago, there was so much life under the water just next to the shore that I was terrified and kept having to catch my breath. Two years ago, it was still scary: I finally solved this problem by sending my husband ahead of me, so that he would meet the shark first (there aren't any in the lagoon, but you never know). Last year, it just wasn't scary. Actually, it was worse, but in a ghost-town sort of way. Very sad.

I always thought living on the beach would be nice, but I had no idea just how blissful it would be. One has one's dreams: someday we hope to live there, but I don't think we'll get fifty years out of it. We'd make do with whatever we get.