Wednesday, 24 May 2017


Last Saturday, May 20 2017, was National Drawing Day. I had been planning to do some plein air sketching in Knocksink Woods but there were a few downpours and I also had a birthday cake to make, so the kibosh was put on outdoor drawing. However, while doing my morning ablutions, I was enamoured by some of my curls and decided to do a quick self-portrait before brushing my hair. This is the result:

I have been thinking of doing a regular bout of self-portraits, but just haven't been motivated to start! For a brief period before my daughter was born (15 years ago!) I tried doing a daily self-portrait, but once I became pregnant, my drawing regimen lapsed. But at the beginning of that attempt I think I look a bit tentative about the project of self-portraits in a brand new sketchbook. This charcoal pencil sketch from August 9 2001 has holes speckled on the face because I later used the closed sketchbook as a semi-hard surface when I was piercing holes for bookbinding!

The pencil sketch on August 10 2001 also has numerous holes in it. It took me awhile to figure out what the things were in front of the mirror, then I remembered I was in a different house at the time, the mirror was above the fireplace and they were objects on the mantlepiece.

This pencil sketch is from August 13 2001, and again, because it is at the start of the sketchbook has holes in it. It must have been a warm day because my hair is tied back.

On August 14 2001 I was outside with a mini mirror on the window ledge, and obviously more interested in the fuschia.

On August 15 2001 I was interested in a continuous line, which stylised the drawing.

I remember this taupe t-shirt from Canada with the stylised deer, under one of my favourite items of clothing at the time - a denim shift dress. This pencil drawing is from August 16 2001.

A week later, August 20 2001, I was wearing my denim dress again. I loved my blue fish earrings, a gift from one of my Canadian friends. I lost one, but still have the other.

In this sketch from August 22 2001 I was trying to include a bit more of the room. The image behind me is a sketch of an oil painting of tulips that I had done in 1980. One of my earliest works that is still in existence!

This sketch is also from August 22. I know I was outside with the mini mirror because my glasses have gone dark.

This pencil sketch is from September 19 2001. I was starting not to feel well, but I didn't realise yet that I was pregnant.

By time I did this pencil sketch on October 27 2001, I had let all my family and friends know that I was having a baby. Later I was so grateful that my morning sickness only lasted for the first trimester -- one of my aunts had told me she had morning sickness for 9 months with each of her 5 children... I was never actually sick, but constant nausea all day prevented me from eating anything other than porridge and dried apricots. I remember it well.

On May 14 2002 (a week before my daughter was born) I commented on feeling Yoda-like while I tried to draw!

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Eternal City - early days yet!

I was in Rome for the second time a few years ago, and did this sketch of the Teatro Marcellus. There was something about it, and I knew it was a foil to my painting that I was working on at the time, Fractured City. So the intention to paint this was always there, the sketch a little kernel for the future.

For Incognito 2017, the fundraiser for the Jack & Jill Foundation, I conceived of three "cityscape" postcards. So  still the painting was on my mind.

I took a printmaking workshop at the beginning of April this year in order to learn the Chine collé technique and quickly did an intaglio from my sketch.

Finally, I unrolled some canvas, quite a large piece (takes up most of the wall in my attic studio) and blocked in Eternal City.

I started to apply metal leaf in the negative areas behind the architectural structures.

I had applied some texture before blocking in the painting, but then decided that I wanted some rougher texture on the older part of the Teatro building.

I will gesso over this scrim burlap and re-block before I get into the meat of painting.

The texture of the columns is mostly smooth rather than canvas.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Mini quiche recipe

I had overseas visitors arriving after midnight last Friday, so I wanted to prepare some nibbly food to have with a relaxing chat and glass of wine before they headed for bed. A few small snacks and also something light but sustaining - I thought mini quiches would fit the bill. I added some dried basil to my usual pastry recipe, but basically use your favourite pastry recipe or pre-made puff pastry to fill a tart tin (usually 12 shallow places). Preheat the oven to 180 C.

For my filling, I cut only about a  tablespoon or 2 of purple onion and two mushrooms in small pieces and divided among the pastry shells. If I didn't already have the onion waiting for use, I would have used a scallion (green onion) instead. By all means, use your own favourite fillings but remember these are 2-bite size, so you only need a small amount (eg, 1/2 cooked sausage, 1/2 cooked slice of bacon - chopped and divided between all!).

I beat 2 eggs with a splash of milk and divided between the pastry shells (about 2 spoons each).

The egg doesn't have to cover the fillings (as it will in cooking) and be careful not to overfill the pastry shells.

Slices of cheddar cheese are placed as the last ingredient and I have cracked some black pepper on top as a finishing touch.

Bake in the oven at 180 C for 15-20 mins. They will look like little souffles when fully cooked.

Once they start to cool, they deflate. Remove them from the baking tray and they can be served hot or room temperature. They are delicious!

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Accordion and Stick Books

I have my next book-print project in mind for during the summer (after my big painting is finished). One thing I needed to do, though, was whip up a couple of templates for an accordion book and a stick book. These were done really fast to ensure I had the concept right for the book designs, I haven't decided on paper or materials for covers yet.

So first off, I got some thin cardboard for the front and back covers. I recommend having a look at American artist Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord's YouTube channel here - she gives complete, quick instructions on how to make a variety of simple books for various uses. She is also a brilliant calligrapher and artist, using bookbinding within her gorgeous sculptures (have a look at The Spirit Books).

I used some heavy grey paper, folded it and glued the covers on either end. Okay, I have the concept figured out! In 2015, I saw an exhibition of Etel Adnan's work at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, and in a display of small works there was an accordion book, which was opened out to reveal a single painting. This has stayed happily in the back of my mind till now.

I am also planning a stick book for this coming project - the two types of books, with their prints, will be companions.

Again, I have not yet decided on the materials for the pages or covers. It is not likely that I will use acidic cardboard for covers, as I am not planning endpapers (I used 100% acid-free rag endpapers for the Good Morning/Maidgín Mhaigh/Buenos Dias books). However, never say never - it's early days yet!

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Incognito 2017 fundraiser

Just before Christmas last year, I received my "Incognito" kit: 3 postcards with plastic pockets (to protect finished pieces) and a return envelope. I was going take part in Incognito 2017, a fundraiser for the Jack and Jill Children's Foundation which supports the children and families of children affected by brain damage. I took part in a fundraiser for this charity a few years ago, The Big Egg Hunt Dublin, for which I painted a huge egg, which was auctioned off after public display at two locations (there were over 100 artist decorated eggs). Incognito 2017 was both less and more ambitious: there were no giant objects (eggs, pigs, hares) to be decorated and sold at auction, instead, artists simply had to create small works of art on postcards, signing the back only, and each and every postcard was sold at the same price of €50. The buyer would not know until buying a piece who the artist was, amateur or professional, famous or struggling artist. I got to work.

I decided early to do paintings/sketches related to the cityscape series I have been working on, planning to mount them on the postcards when finished. I began by attaching some pre-gessoed canvas to a board and added tissue for texture on the surface.

As is my usual practise when beginning a painting, I paint an undercoat of quinacridone violet. I like this colour and the way it sometimes warmly and happily peaks out of a finished painting.

I blocked in my basic image with yellow paint and applied metal leaf.

 Early stages of painting show some greens and blues.

When I had finished the painting on the paintings I decided they needed a bit more oomph and brought out the oil pastels for a bit of colourful drawing.

This is "Fracture" finished, prior to cutting from the board and mounting.

This is "Loss" prior to cutting from the board and mounting.

And this is "Eternity", which is related to a current large painting I am working on "Eternal City", also prior to cutting from the board and mounting on the postcard.

The art works were sent to the Jack and Jill foundation in late January and displayed last weekend at The Solomon Gallery, along with more than 1500 other cards! By Sunday afternoon all the cards had been sold making this a very successful fundraiser! I was planning to go into Dublin on the Friday when Incognito 2017 opened, but found out (via FaceBook) that there were enormous queues and that some people had been waiting upwards of four hours just to get in the gallery, so I decided not to go. However, an online gallery is now available here, though I do not know how long it will be live. I am happy to say that I was correct in identifying some of the more famous Irish artists who took part but it is a credit to all of the artists to give so freely of their work to this very worthy cause.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Lucian Freud Project at IMMA

I went to the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) recently to see the Lucian Freud work, which will be exhibited in the Garden Galleries for the next five years. While at the moment all the work is being exhibited as a large collection, I got the impression that over this period that the work may be exhibited in different curatorial permutations, so now was the time to see the work before there was any personal "agenda" attached to it! This etching is Self Portrait: Reflection, 1996

I have to admit that I was never particularly interested in Freud's (what seemed to me) hyper realistic painting before, but there is something compelling about seeing a collection of works together. And that I have long been interested in psychoanalysis. And that there is an unmistakable psychological element in his work that definitely is reflective of the work of his grandfather. So the name becomes part of the intrigue, and part of my reason for going to the exhibition. This etching is Bella in Her Pluto T Shirt, 1995.

The basement gallery was devoted to works on paper, mostly etchings. Given my relatively recent interest in printmaking, I was delighted to find the room full of work that was unfamiliar to me. This etching is Girl with Fuzzy Hair, 2004. I thought this print was especially interesting as I thought at first the white highlights in the hair were were created manually when wiping off the plate before going to the press. However, there was another print with similarities and the display included the metal etching plate; the highlighted areas were actually burnished on the plate itself! These burnished highlights in curly hair are a major feat of burnishing brilliance!

There were quite a lot of etching portraits in this exhibition, which had incredible detail and certainly did not speak of flattery; as I said above, something about psychology and the artist's name... This etching is The New Yorker, 2006.

Although most of the basement gallery exhibition displayed images of people, there were several landscapes, which also indicate Freud's meticulous translation of observation. This gorgeously detailed etching is Painter's Garden, 2003-2004.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Jai Jai launch

Though it seems like an age ago now, it was less than two weeks ago that my friend Jai Thorn launched his fashion-art label Jai Jai at an evening event in The Chocolate Factory, Dublin. Jai's exhibit was a tactile mix of organic matter and living material. 

Despite the use of a male and female model, the garments themselves are conceived as "gender non-specific" and the models are perceived as vehicles for the movement of the garments; the choreography of the interaction between materials is paramount.

While the guests were invited to wander the space throughout the event, one looked at the still environments as sculpures most clearly during periods of time when the models were absent from the space. 

During the first presentation, the individual models slowly moved around the warehouse space, interacting with the sculptural materials throughout,

 After an interval, in a second presentation, the models reappeared in different garments. There was a heightened sense of change as there was more interaction with each other while the models continued to visually and psychically explore the materials of the environment-sculptures.

Even while the sculptures were still, one always had a sense of movement because of dynamic forms and the use of living material -- soil and plants.