[by Róisín Curé] Thirty five years ago, I spent far too many cold winter nights standing at the Clocktower in the village of Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow, waiting for a lift home. There was a payphone in the foyer of the Powerscourt Arms Hotel, and if I had change for it, I could make a call home to ask for a lift. But a lift was often unforthcoming. Perhaps a sibling didn't feel like coming, or my parents weren't available, or not immediately. Rather than wait alone in the deserted village, I would walk those three dark miles home. We're talking the Wicklow Mountains, and that means lots of huge trees lining the narrow, twisting roads, making for pitch-black walking, and I have always been afraid of the dark. My father would try to allay my fears: "Do you really think some man is going to spend hours crouching in the dark, freezing his backside off, bored to death, on the off-chance you might pass?" It wasn't the crouching men I was worried about, but silent eyes, running hooves, evil...I had imagination issues. Sometimes it was so dark on that road I would have to run my hand along the wall next to the ditch to keep going in the right direction. Sometimes I fell into the ditch. Once I decided to wear my new Sony Walkman headphones to make it less scary, but it was much creepier with them on. Sometimes I hitched a lift, which was usually fine, but occasionally resulted in being in a confined space with a weirdo. As soon as I turned eighteen I was gone, and I have not spent more than a minute in Enniskerry in thirty years.
How it would have comforted me on those miserable walks home to have had a vision of the future, even for a split-second. To have seen myself sitting in the sunshine outside the Schoolhouse for Art in Enniskerry Village, sketching away, sharing my passion for urban sketching with an audience of enthusiasts. Enniskerry is as pretty as they come - the buildings are Victorian and picture perfect, and the steep roads leading out of the village on all sides meet in the middle at the Clocktower. I was so lucky to be there - it was by chance that I was going to be around. I wanted to meet Brenda Malley, a fantastic artist and one of the original Urban Sketchers (was anyone else sketching around Europe in 1974?). Brenda is a tutor in the Schoolhouse for Art. The Schoolhouse for Art is a wonderful art school in the heart of Enniskerry Village which teaches all kinds of visual art, from sculpture to painting, pottery and drawing. It was having a SpringFest for Art open weekend and was offering all sorts of drawing activities to the public, as well as an exhibition of the work of some of its tutors and students, all free of charge, in conjunction with the National Gallery of Ireland and National Drawing Day 2016. Brenda suggested that I might drop in and share a few words about urban sketching with the visitors. I jumped at the chance. And so, on Saturday afternoon I chatted to a group of sketchers, from the beginner to the experienced, all about urban sketching: its definition and aims, the highs and lows, the kit and caboodle. I was in my element: I love to be in the spotlight, talking for Ireland about my passion, and then talking my way through a sketch, describing what I'm doing as I go.
I put in my little green car at the bottom: the car that means I won't be walking alone in the dark anymore, the same car that my teenagers ask me to park at some distance from the school, because it's so embarrassing - apparently it has no bonnet.
Here are some of the sketchers on Sunday afternoon. Although a thunderstorm threatened, it held off, and it was really hot...bliss.
That's me in the stripy grey teeshirt, chatting to Anna, an artist who has recently started sketching again. She's getting all addicted again. "I bring my sketching stuff up to bed," she said. I know, Anna, I know. Ciarán is on the right. He was one of the lucky group of artists who accompanied Brenda on the recent sketching trip she led to the South of France. How I wish I could have been there. Ciarán is intrigued by the possibilities of urban sketching, and is hoping to join us on June 12th in north Galway for the next Urban Sketchers Galway meet-up: there's a vintage car rally on in Castlehackett, near Tuam, so if you're around, please join us.
On Saturday afternoon, after the visitors had begun to disperse, I did a quick sketch of the Schoolhouse:
You can see Jenn on the left. Jenn is the lady who makes everything happen in the Schoolhouse. The lady opposite her with the long dark hair moved away before I'd finished her, but Jenn was still there, so I gave her Jenn's skirt and legs. That's urban sketching in practice! The gent in the foreground is James Joyce, in the form of a wooden cut-out. The figure was what attracted me to the scene in the first place, so I gave it centre stage. Quirky things like that are why I love urban sketching.
Meanwhile, Brenda was sketching away too. She gave an urban sketching demo on Sunday too, and produced a beautiful sketch of the Clocktower, with the hot early summer sun making the east face glow.
Neil and Jenn, who run the Schoolhouse for Art, are very keen on the ethos of urban sketching. They weren't surprised to see an enthusiastic response from the public who visited the Schoolhouse over the course of the two days. "Where is the urban sketching happening?" was a question they heard over and over again. Brenda Malley, as well as being a natural urban sketcher, is a lifelong one. Now she intends to start a new chapter: Urban Sketchers Leinster. With someone as active, generous and enthusiastic as Brenda at the helm, it promises to be an exciting group for anyone in the East of Ireland. And what a wealth of subjects they'll have at their fingertips! Glorious Dublin City, the religious buildings and monuments of the Ancient East...they'll be spoiled for choice.
Here's another of Brenda's sketches, showing her loose, expressive drawing style:
If you are a sketcher in the Leinster area, then give yourself a really huge gift and join Urban Skecthers Leinster - once it's up and running!