Saturday 28 February 2009

Mo chridh Portmagee *

Portmagee from the Dog House
© Teresa Kirkpatrick 2009

Booked plane tickets to Kerry this week. This will be my tenth visit to the annual Set Dance Weekend at Portmagee - we usually go for Halloween, too, and it always feels like coming home. So much so that two of my friends have moved there! The weekend itself is a mad rush of set dancing, céilidh, music sessions, wonderful food (fish fresh from the sea), fabulous Guinness, and whatever sightseeing we can fit round everything else - all based around the welcoming Bridge Bar, Moorings Restaurant and B&B run by Gerard & Pat Kennedy.

Over the years we have travelled in groups of five, sometimes ten (and once, unforgettably, seventeen) - on one occasion we flew to Dublin, intending to drive down, stay the weekend, and take several days coming back in order to see some of the rest of Ireland. We got to Portmagee and stayed there, dashing back at the last minute. That was the year some of us took the opportunity to take a fishing boat out to the Skelligs, the two amazing rocky outcrops in the Atlantic which are only reachable in the best weather. The smaller one is a bird sanctuary and the larger one - where you can land & visit - was once a monastic settlement: beehive huts at the top of an incredibly steep set of steps carved out of the rock.

The Iveragh Peninsula is a mixture of majestic mountain ranges & glacial lakes, craggy coastlines, sweeping beaches, stone age forts, fishing villages and bustling towns, with a surprise around every corner. We'd been visiting for years without realising that JRR Tolkien and his wife Edith had holidayed in Castlecove back in the 1950's; that Caherciveen, the nearest town to Portmagee, was the birthplace of the Liberator, Daniel O'Connell of Catholic emancipation fame; we discover something new on every visit. I just can't wait!

* Mo chridh = 'harp of my heart'. At least, I hope it does . . !

Monday 23 February 2009

The Wonderful World of Watercolour

Gandalf & the Balrog
© Teresa Kirkpatrick 2006

As a child I was always drawing on scraps of paper. Alongside my mother I moved beyond painting-by-numbers into oils. She experimented and progressed, eventually choosing to work in the purity and delicacy of watercolour. I simply stopped painting. After she died, I suddenly had the urge to take it up again - not a gentle inclination but a sensation that I must do it, and start straight away.

I bought myself a starter kit (watercolour tubes, paper & brushes; and a wholly unsuitable easel - upright, watercolour runs everywhere!) and for lack of any other inspiration began painting scenes from JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. I posted the results to the members' art thread on Middle-Earth Journeys, receiving a great deal of encouragement and feedback. But it was obvious that after a gap of thirty years or so I needed to develop my technique, skills, ideas, vision - the lot!! One day at the office I found a discarded printout of short courses at Central St Martins, and on impulse booked onto the Watercolour for Beginners Summer School.

Now I'd done it! I got myself a Portfolio and a bunch of Materials and set off for Art School . . .

There were fifteen of us, a mix of art students (many from overseas) widening their range, and older amateur enthusiasts. One Student confided that watercolour isn't taught in many UK art colleges these days because it's "too difficult" (!). She was keen to try it, though! For a couple of days we learnt the basics: how to Stretch Paper, lay a variety of Washes (ah, the freedom of being encouraged to let them drip onto the wooden floor!!), mix Greens and Greys etc. I was revelling in the whole experience, particularly the chance to work in the wonderful Lethaby building, an Art Nouveau masterpiece in itself.

the Lethaby Building, Central St Martins
(originally the Central London School of Art)
© Teresa Kirkpatrick 2007

On the third morning our lecturer showed us some ways to achieve Texture in our work, such as the use of Salt, Clingfilm, Splattering, Scratching, Wax and Mini Rollers. We crowded closer and closer, all keen to get our hands on the various items as soon as we could. The coffee break was forgotten as the room resounded to cries of "Who's got the clingfilm?" and "Can someone run out and get more salt?" I managed to Splatter myself, my glasses, the tabletop, the mobile phone of the Spanish girl sitting next to me, several brushes, a couple of palettes and a two inch square of paper (it looked very good). We also had carte blanche to try Acrylics (which I disliked immediately - too plasticky for me!) and Gouache.

Salt & Scratching, with Gouache
© Teresa Kirkpatrick 2007

By Thursday, when we started painting from real life or photos, coffee and tea breaks were ignored and many of us were eating lunch in the classroom so as to get back to our work quickly. Nobody was keen to leave in a hurry at the end of the day, either! Friday brought Time Trials, three 30-minute versions of the same scene, in an attempt to get us to Loosen our Technique; in the afternoon we finished our paintings from the previous day and stuck them up on the wall for a Crit. I came away with the feeling I'd definitely be back!!

Room 214, the Lethaby Building, Central St Martins
© Teresa Kirkpatrick 2007