June 15, 2014

A Matter Of Conscience: Meeting Punters and Painters in Mary O'Donoghue's Pub, Kilcolgan

A week or two ago, I joined a group of artists in one of the pubs in my village, O'Donoghue's of Kilcolgan, Co. Galway, for an evening of sketching. I was delighted they were meeting there, just a minute or two from my house: I have only been in the group for a short while, and I looked forward to getting to know them better, and sketching a bit too.

There were about fifteen people there by the time I arrived, all sketching away quietly. All the tables were full, and because I didn't know most of them, I sat at a table on my own. I settled into a sketch immediately - I am very used to sketching in public, so I didn't feel in the least self-conscious.

I remembered my old maxim, "If it's mobile, draw it immediately, because it's going to move!" and so I drew the man sitting with his back to me, and quickly painted him in.

The owner of the bar is called Mary O'Donoghue. That's her in the white top, but she never stays still for long, and by the time I had finished drawing David - the gentleman on the right - I had missed my chance to capture Mary. The  man on the left is called Donal, I think.

I soon realised that sketching quietly at my little table, keeping a low profile, with Mary around was going to be impossible. 
"Do you mind if I see your book!" she said. "And do you mind if I show it to everyone!"(There were indeed exclamation marks, not question marks, after her requests.) 
"Look everyone! Look at these sketches!" she said, and proceeded to go around to every other sketcher with my sketchbook. You really can't be shy or retiring at these things, and I guess you could say the ice was certainly broken after that. Then she showed my sketchbook to everyone who came into the bar for a quiet drink, whether they were in the mood for a exhibition of sketches or not.
I was so touched at the simple pleasure she got from looking at a bunch of very ordinary sketches - things like a cloudy sky, or my boy having his hair cut, even a very wobbly sketch of my husband driving along the motorway - no "art" as such, no careful landscapes or portraits. 

After a while, David's wife came in, and pulled up a stool between her husband and Donal. 
"I'm sorry I didn't keep a space for you in my drawing," I said to David's wife, eyeing her white blouse with black polka dots wistfully - I adore painting spots and stripes. 
She was a most jolly woman.
"Never mind!" she laughed. "Would you not draw me hovering over his head, like his conscience?"
"What an excellent plan!" I said.
"Bleep off!" said David, using the vernacular.

Meanwhile, some of the other sketchers had gathered around me to ask about my various pens and paints, and in this way we began to chat and generally introduce ourselves. The topic turned to drawing classes: they asked me if I gave workshops, and if so, what was my approach. We spoke about drawing, and how they sometimes felt that it was not prioritised at art college.

It tied in with my own experience of art college: I met some amazing, inspirational tutors, but too many 
whose remit it was to open our eyes to the world of art, but who were so jaded that they sought to humiliate and belittle those who drew for the sheer joy of it. I remember one tutor who told me my work was (bad word) and made me cry. She gave me an E. My tears didn't stop her tirade...I was seventeen years old.

That's why the simple act of sketching, and the urban sketching movement, is such a gift to everyone who loves drawing. It doesn't come with any pretensions. The Irish word for drawing, tarraingt, translates as "pulling": you are pulling the pen across the paper. I think that is a simple way to describe a simple act. The students and I didn't agree on anything concrete for workshops, but if we do, it will be my duty and my honour to show them some of the not-rocket-science tricks I use to make drawing a bit easier.

At the end of the evening, we thanked Mary for her hospitality.
"You've made my day," she said. She had so much enjoyed watching everyone sketch in harmony, and was so hospitable, that I will certainly return...and who knows - maybe I'll get to draw Mary herself.


Caroline said...

Lovely, lively drawings, Roisin, and I can understand how you felt about that 'tutor'- I've met a few like that, both as an artist and as a life model. I found out that some of them weren't actually qualified to teach fine art as such, but just staff from other departments with some free time. The disregard for our craft is appalling!

Les B said...

Very nice sketch indeed.

Also the story that went along with it make it come to life. Makes me think that writing more in my sketch book, maybe on the page across from my sketch, is a good idea.

Róisín Curé said...

Thank you Caroline: my own experience in art college back in '85 left me running for the hills. I spent many years pursuing science, but some things just can't be stopped. I wasn't the only one either - it was the same for my classmates and good friends, who also left art, and also came back.

Róisín Curé said...

Les B, I never thought of writing till I started sketching. It seems to go with it really well, and the sketch is definitely enhanced by a story. I too have just started writing a little bit on the page across from the sketch.