Plein air sketches from Ireland

Joel and I are back from a 3-week trip to Ireland. We rented a car and drove around the country as far north as Co. Sligo but didn’t have time to make it to Northern Ireland (there is a LOT to see in Ireland). It was fabulous! We saw and did so many things I can’t quite remember it all. When Joel and I roadtrip, we roadtrip hard. We had beautiful weather, a heat wave in fact, and only two days of rain…so it was perfect for sketching!

I feel like I need to say this somewhere and since I’m not active on social media, I’ll say it here: please don’t go on bus tours. Ireland’s tiny roads are literally clogged with massive tour buses who are dropping thousands people off at sites, turning them into circuses. Those sites are not meant to accommodate that many people at the same time. Go on a small tour with a van-full of people…not a giant tour bus. Or better yet, rent a car! You get a much more authentic experience than the pre-packaged tours. Driving on the other side of the road is not that hard, you get used to it.

And now on to the sketches:

The Superintendent’s Lodge in St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin. Our first sketch of the trip.

The round tower at Glendalough Monastery in Co. Wicklow. There are hundreds of these thousand-year-old towers all around Ireland, many of them still standing like this one. You can’t go in because the door is 10 ft from the ground, so they would have needed a ladder to get in. Fun fact, I lost my nose ring in the long grass while sketching this (don’t ask).

Blarney Castle, Co. Cork. Jam-packed with American tourists, but worth seeing nonetheless. It’s a very picturesque ruin and the gardens are amazing.

Poulnabrone Dolmen in the Burren. I realized as I was sketching this that I’ve drawn it before…from a photo that my mother took on her trip to Ireland. Turns out it was the same dolmen. Hah.

The wreck of the Plassey on Innisheer, the smallest of the Aran Islands. This massive ship was wrecked in the early 1960s and was washed ashore where it’s been deteriorating ever since. Joel and I sought it out because it was featured as an aerial view in the intro to Father Ted, one of my favourite tv shows.

We thought “we can’t leave Ireland without drawing one the famine cottages”. Most famine cottages are either in ruins or have been converted to animal enclosures; this one was being used as a shed. It was located on the road towards the Rosserk Priory in Co. Mayo.

I love this building so much. It used to be an Edwardian bathhouse that specialized in seaweed baths, but was abandoned 40 years ago because the tide was encroaching. I love that it was built to look like a sandcastle. Not to worry though, if you want a seaweed bath you can visit Enniskillen Bathhouse up the road in Enniscrone, another Edwardian-era bathhouse still in operation. Joel and I tried a seaweed and steam bath there and it is definitely an experience.

Women’s History series

March was Women’s History Month and I decided to do a series of portraits highlighting some of my favourite women in the arts and literature.

Mrs. Doyle, the long-suffering housekeeper on the classic TV series Father Ted ,has a few of the funniest scenes I’ve ever seen. Just thinking about them makes me laugh. Like when she falls off the windowsill…good Lord it’s hilarious.

Beatrix Potter is undoubtedly the most famous female illustrator of all time. Just like L.M. Montgomery above, her books have never been out of print. Peter Rabbit is an enduring character, and her illustrations continue to bring joy to kids (and adults like me) around the world a hundred years later. One day I hope to visit her estate in the Lake District. 

L.M. Montgomery is one of my favourite writers and our Canadian pride and joy. Anne of Green Gables is a modern classic; it’s never been out of print since its publication in 1908. I’m working my way through her archive of over twenty novels and hundreds of short stories. Her work has also provided me with the source material for two of my absolute favourite tv series of all time: Road to Avonlea and Anne of Green Gables (the 1980s series, not the recent crap, thank you very much).

Emily Dickinson-  the 19th century poet whose mournful poetry some people find depressing, but I like the melancholy of it.

Julia Margaret Cameron – one of my favourite artists, she took up photography in her sixties…in the 1860s! I started seeing her photography pop up on the web in the late 1990s, but didn’t know they belonged to her. I drew a lot of her photos in those days because I was drawn to the pre-Raphaelite Victorian tragedy of them (lots of Madonna/child poses). She is credited as being one the first “artistic” photographers.

Timelapse video

I’ve been wanting to make a timelapse video for years…but it’s always been complicated; first to film with a decent video camera, then find the editing software that will accelerate the frame speed, teach myself film editing, etc. And then the iPhone 6s came along with timelapse built-in! And the app for iMovie is free. How simple it now is! It condensed a two-hour process into 1:37 minutes. Technology is crazy amazing sometimes.

I thought it would be fun to film myself drawing one of my Victorian Ladies. All my illustrations are basically a five-step process: pencil, ink, watercolour and finally pencil crayon with gouache accents. Hopefully you get a sense of that from this video.

music credit: The Cello Song by The Piano Guys

Final illustration

St. Kilda series

When Joel and I travelled to Scotland two years ago, I was very much influenced by the landscape.  While we were visiting Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye (the seat of Clan MacLeod), I saw a tiny little exhibit in the hall with artefacts from the island of St. Kilda. It said St. Kilda was the most remote island in the Outer Hebrides and the people lived there for thousand of years in almost complete isolation, until 1930 when the last residents requested to be evacuated. Evacuated, I thought? I was intrigued, so I picked up a book in the castle’s bookstore called The Island on the Edge of the World: The Story of St. Kilda and it was fascinating.

The small island was such a hostile environment and yet the St. Kildans managed to eke out a living for a thousand years, subsisting mainly on fowling (catching and eating seabirds) and exporting wool products later on. Their culture was primitive, pagan and completely unique until the 19th century, when advances in technology meant that ships could regularly make trips out to the island, bringing mainstream religion and tourism with them. It’s acknowledged in the book that this is what ruined the St. Kildans. The St. Kildans became dependent on tourism and the money it brought (money was a foreign concept to them before then, but rather they bartered and traded) and their traditional way of life started to become obsolete. Knowledge of the wide world resulted in some St. Kildans becoming restless and unsatisfied with their traditional way of life. Finally in 1930, the handful of residents left on the island asked to be evacuated, as it became unsustainable for them to continue living there. The village is now mostly in ruins with a couple of restored buildings and is maintained by the National Trust for Scotland. Joel and I did not have time to go there (it’s quite an ordeal to get there), but one day we will!

There’s so much more I could say about St. Kilda, but I highly recommend reading the aforementioned book. I did a series of illustrations influenced by St. Kilda and the other parts of Scotland I have seen.

Cairn – this illustration is inspired by belief held by St. Kildans that the soul transmigrates and departs the body in the form of an animal; a white moth, in this case.

Cleit Girl – The ruins of “cleits” dot the landscape of St. Kilda and some are believed to be a thousand years old.

The Sluagh – St. Kildans believed in the Spirit Host bird phenomena (known locally as the “Sluagh”). a spirit geese formation accompanied by a west wind that could pick up a man and transport him over long distances.

Hirta – inspired by the women of St. Kilda

The Fowler – inspired by the men of St. Kilda who went “fowling” for birds and the idea of isolation.

New Year, new illustrations

I had some time over the holidays to work on more illustrations, including a portrait of Florence Welch, the lead singer of Florence and the Machine. I’ve always thought her look was reminiscent of pre-Raphaelite paintings, so here is my homage. I also made an illustration that celebrates the history of printing (yes, my letterpress modelled for this one).