On a Break

Taking a break from my Chinese brushes. Just a short one mind.

We were out for a walk the other evening and there was a full, or nearly full, moon. Down by the weir on Lower Dodder Road, the effect of the moonlight on the river was quite magical. Christine suggested that I paint it. My painting skills are improving but they’re not that good. This morning, however, I had a look at a YouTube video of a very talented Australian artist who was demonstrating how to reflect moonlight on water. He was using acrylics and a very dry brush. So I thought I’d give the technique a go with gouache on black paper. I tried a sea scene rather than a river. As a first go, I’m reasonably pleased with the result and it’s good to know that I wasn’t as terrified of the prospect of trying to get on paper what I saw in my head (with a little help from a photo I found on Pinterest) as I would have been a few months ago.

I’m still keen on the idea of using pebbles in various ways. I painted on one this evening. It’s a little too clinical and the blue colour on the wings is too blocky. I’m a bit disappointed with it but there’s no shortage of pebbles to use as canvasses.

Trawling through Pinterest this morning, I found some other ideas for egg shell paintings, and I came across a reference to red bamboo (there’s some mythology around this) and Chinese brush painting with gold paint on black paper. There’s no end to the stuff one can have a go at. Oh, and my wax and wicks arrived in my office this morning so candle-making is very much going to happen soon. Just waiting for the delivery of some essential oils from the US. The US! The simple fact is that, even allowing for postage, it’s far cheaper to order them from the US than buy them in Holland and Barrett or anywhere else in Dublin.


It’s been quite a week at work. But otherwise some progress has been made and I’ve managed to do something creative everyday.

Yesterday, I received some brushes I’d ordered from China. With my low level of skill, I didn’t really think that I’d notice any difference between them and the ones I’d bought earlier from Cork. But, my goodness, they are very different. They hold a lot more ink and the moisture release is much more controlled. They keep their shape really well too, so that one can get the sharpest of lines with the biggest of them as well as a broad mark. I love them. Here’s the brushes and some practice sheets from last night.

I’ve been toying with my pebbles, working out what to do with them …

Not exactly creative, but I’ve been de-rusting these bad boys. The lower one is looking a lot better now … (click on the image to get a closer look)

And I’ve been going mad on the ukulele, practicing in the morning and the evening. I’ve learned all the major chords, most of the minor and 7th chords and a smattering of others. D and E major are hard. The rest are pretty straightforward. By playing songs, I’ve got used to the changes and can do them pretty quickly now (having played the guitar for some years in my late teens and early twenties has helped). I get Em wrong quite a lot but I’m getting there. The fingers on my left hand are in ribbons from the strings.

I wish I could sing better!

And I almost forgot. I’ve ordered wax, wicks and essential oils. I’m going to make some candles in old tin cans.



I took the ukulele out for a road test last night. Christine and I went to Ukulele Tuesday, a weekly event held in the upstairs lounge of the Stag’s Head in Dublin. We got there at about ten past eight and the session was in full swing. We had to push ourselves in and elbow our way into a spot big enough to strum and sing.

I had printed out the song book but the organisers project the lyrics and chord tabs onto a screen anyway. There were maybe 60 people in the room, about two thirds of whom had ukuleles.

It works like this. Songs from the book are suggested. One is chosen. The song is projected on the screen. The organisers start off and everyone joins in. It doesn’t matter what level of competence one has. It’s all about having a go and having fun, and the energy in the room was palpable. We stayed for about an hour and a half and had enormous fun. Is this creative? Of course it is. Music and singing are about creative expression and, my goodness, we expressed ourselves pretty loudly and creatively last night.

This evening, after a bit of kettle bell swinging (part of my attempt to regain some of the fitness I used to have), I blew some eggs that had passed their expiry date, and that Christine left out for me. I’d never blown eggs before although I’d often thought about it. Anyway, with the help of internet instructions, a pin, a cocktail stick and a lot of puff, I emptied them, cleaned them, and I now have 5 complete egg shells to do something with.

My third Chinese brush book arrived today and it emphasises the importance of regular practice of basic strokes using good technique. So, this evening, I had another little go at poppy petals and then I did some stroke work, concentrating on holding the brush vertically and painting from my shoulder.

Oh, and I bought these today. What are they? Little bottles of essential oils. What do I need them for? I’m going to make some candles and scent them with these and other oils. Sure, why not?

Better than TV

Came home from work, made the dinner (merguez sausages in a harissa tomato sauce with pasta) and raced up to the attic.

First on my agenda was to have a go at the ukelele (see yesterday’s entry for context). I found a short YouTube video which warmed me up by teaching me how to hold the ukulele, how to strum it and how to play the C, F, G and E chords. So I practiced those for a while and then I found the tabs and lyrics for Hey Jude. I used to play this song on the guitar so I kind of had the basics in my head. There are a few difficult chords in it, however, so it was a challenge. Anyway, I went over a few verses slowly and then I thought I’d video myself playing and stick it up on YouTube (as a private video). The playing isn’t great and the singing is dire, but I was very pleased with myself for having got that far so quickly. I’m going to enjoy learning to play this instrument. I know I am. I’m not going to link anything here until I get a bit better.

Next, pebbles. A bit ambitious this but if one doesn’t stretch oneself, one doesn’t learn. So, I traced a simple Celtic design onto a flat pebble and had a go at etching it out with the Dremel tool. It’s not fabulous but I’m OK with it. It’s difficult to keep the lines even and to know how deep to go. And it’s quite strenuous too!

These are the books I received in the post the other day.

One of them suggests strongly that best way to learn the brush technique is to copy good stuff done by other people. I’m good with that. Here’s what I copied today. First crickets, or grasshoppers. Not quite sure which.

Then poppies. They’re not delicate enough but I’ve started to get the hang of loading the brush with two colours and to understand the importance of controlling the moisture in the brush.

Moving on a bit

Very interesting morning. I’ve been thinking about doing things with pebbles for a while. Two things actually. One, drilling holes in them in order to string them together, either as sort of hanging cairns or interspersed with drift wood, as wall decorations or mobile hangings. And two, carving designs into them (see below).

So, this morning, despite a rather severe hangover*, I took myself off to Killiney Beach where I knew there would be lots of pebbles of all shapes and sizes. Lovely morning, at about 10am anyway.

I didn’t spend all that long there, but I got a good haul of suitable stones.

(*The hangover, by the way was entirely my own doing. In Casino Royale, James Bond makes up a cocktail that he later calls a Vesper, named after his love interest in the book. It’s made up of 3 measures of gin, 1 measure of vodka and a half measure of Kina Lillet. I rather took the measurements too literally and ended up with a glass full of very strong alcohol. I don’t like wasting booze, so I drank it. It was lovely but I paid for it this morning.)

My next port of call was Killiney Hill Park. I entered by the Victoria Hill gates

and walked up to the obelisk (built in 1742) noting, en passant, how unfit I felt.

I took in the air and the views and started down the other side of the hill towards the car park.

Dalkey Island, Muglins, Sorrento Terrace and, in the distance, the Kish Lighthouse
The lead mines in the distance

For several years I’ve had a piece in my head. It’s a carved wooden ladle and in the bowl of the ladle are coloured stones, set in something that looks like liquid, that’s spilling from the ladle. I have the stones. I know how to simulate the liquid (epoxy resin, this information gleaned from a model railway website) and so I’ve been looking, but not that hard, admittedly, for a suitably shaped piece of wood from which to carve the ladle. This thing in my head is quite a large piece. So my visit to Killiney Hill Park had a purpose.

On my way down the hill, I was just starting to think that there didn’t seem to be much in the way of fallen wood, when I spotted a bough lying on the ground that fitted the type of size and shape I was looking for. I had brought a camping saw and so I cut the bough into manageable pieces and returned to the car. On my way down towards Killiney Hill Road, I looked at the path I was on and reflected that it was paved with the same concrete that my childhood feet had walked on about 50 years ago. So I spent a moment with my childhood self and then walked on.

Morning wood

Seeing as how I was in the Killiney area, I thought I’d pay a visit to Jane, my step-mum who I’ve mentioned before in this blog. I gave her a buzz just to make sure that she was home and that she’d be OK with me popping in (she was both) and I drove to her house. Over a cup of tea we caught up with each other’s news, activities, plans, reading activities and so on.

I’m not sure that I’ve mentioned this but, on the bus into town on New Year’s Eve, Christine and I …

… met a woman who was on her way to a ukulele event. The woman showed us her ukulele and taught me a couple of chords. (Turns out that they were the easiest chords – C and Am, each involving just one finger.) She told us about a regular ukulele event called Ukulele Tuesday, held in the Stag’s Head pub each week. I was kind of sold.

Last year, Jane bought herself a ukulele, planning to teach herself to play it. Unfortunately, an arthritic finger (yes, that one) hampered her plans and her beautiful ukulele has been sitting in a spare bedroom, unplayed, for a few months. With characteristic generosity, Jane offered me the use of it if I wanted to pursue the Ukulele Tuesday idea, with the possibility that it might become a birthday present. I accepted her kind offer and so, the ukulele is now in my attic space. I had a little go on it today, and managed to struggle through a verse of House of the Rising Sun. My sausage-like fingers are going to be challenged to fit onto what is a very small fretboard. But I’m going to have fun trying. Thank you Jane.

The other project I’m going to work on (not forgetting the Chinese brush painting and all the other stuff that I will keep on doing) is gently restoring a couple of French 19th Century bayonets that I kind of inherited from my mother. They are Gras bayonets, both dated, and both in good condition, save for some significant rust on the scabbards and the handles. They are not all that rare, or valuable, but I think they’ll look a bit better without rust. So, I’ve done a little research and I’ll de-rust them gently over the next while. (I’ve started on one already.)

Oh, and this. Well, it’s a start.

Life and Movement

Still waiting for those books on Chinese brush painting to arrive. I’m feeling frustrated that they’re taking so long to come.

In the meantime this came from the improbably named Robin Wood. It’s a hook knife, very sharp, designed to carve the bowls of spoons.

Anyway, I’ve been using YouTube videos to guide me with the Chinese brushes. Of course, the artists in the videos are professionals and make everything look so easy and effortless. That’s why I need the books. I know I need to be methodical about it (even though I’m not really a methodical sort of person).

I’ve been ploughing on regardless, attempting to get some life and movement on the page. These are a bit messy but there are some aspects of them that I’m pleased with as learning points.

Ironically, just as I was about to walk out the door to go to work this morning, the postal delivery person came, with two of those books. I had a quick look through them. They are exactly the type of thing I need. I’m excited.

Messin’ wit’ me brushes

Just that really. I’ve ordered a few books on Chinese brush painting but while I’m waiting for them to arrive, I’m just experimenting with different paints, brushes and paper.

Goldfish. Gold gouache. Acrylic brush.

Goldfish. Gold gouache. Chinese brush.

Gouache. Rice paper. Chinese brush.

I’m still keen on getting a phalaenopsis on paper. I’m aiming for an impression rather than photo realism and this is quite close to what I have in mind. (Rice paper. Gouache. Chinese brush.)


I had a go at these before. I had another go today but with a Chinese brush and a new set of watercolours.

Here’s my phalaenopsis graveyard …

These aren’t phalaenopses, but there are aspects of some of them that are getting close (see below). I’ll keep practicing. The nature of the Chinese brush is that one can hold a lot of paint in the body of the brush and a small bit of a more intense or contrasting colour at the tip. So one can get a gradation of colour in one brush stroke. The difficulties include knowing how much paint to load onto the brush, how much pressure to apply onto the paper with the brush, what to do with the brush once it’s touching the paper and precisely how to lift it from the paper.



Yesterday a man came to my office with some brushes, ink, paint and paper that I had ordered from Cork Art Supplies the day before. Gratifyingly quick service. And they were sharp enough to note that I had made two orders and qualified for free delivery.

I was excited about this delivery and I planned to get home from work in time to try some of them out before our visit to the cinema. But then I got a puncture and the jack collapsed and it took ages to sort everything out. So, I got home just in time to catch my breath and head out again. And after the film we were hungry and then tired and so the brushes went unbrushed and the paints unpainted and the inks uninked.

So I woke up at 4ish thinking about painting and bamboo and orchids and the moon. I couldn’t really get back to sleep. Then it was morning and we ate breakfast for my blog and then went to IKEA and then we came home.

And I got to play with my new toys.

Phew. Normal service resumed. Time to do some of the things I was thinking about in the middle of the night.

First, a go at getting a bamboo in an egg shell.

And then, you know, that bamboo in the moon thing. I was puzzling about it all day. Watercolours? Gouache? Chalk? Then I remembered messing around with pastels a few months ago, and enjoying the light and shade effects I managed to achieve. So I gave that a go.

Well, it’s not perfect but I like it.


This evening I filled up about ten large sheets of paper with amateurish marks made with a Chinese brush and ordinary ink. And proved to myself that this style of painting is very difficult. I’ll explain this more in a subsequent post. Anyway, out of lots and lots of marks here are two reasonable looking cranes! The idea is that the crane is formed from just one brush stroke, from beak to tail.

An Exciting Track

I’ve been watching a lot of extraordinary YouTube videos of demonstrations of Sumi-e painting. This is the stylised oriental painting with Chinese brushes and (mostly) black ink. This is not just art. It’s philosophy, mindfulness and art rolled into one. It’s fascinating to watch and the resulting works are just stunningly beautiful. To be good at this takes years of practice and dedication.

I had no idea what I was doing yesterday when I had a go at the bamboo. I still don’t really know what I’m doing now, but I have a greater understanding of some of the principles behind the brush strokes. Bear in mind that I don’t have the correct brushes (although I’ve ordered some) nor have I had the years of practice required to do this seriously. But, as usual, having a go is part of the fun of this project. So, here are today’s somewhat clumsy efforts:

And, of course, how could I resist doing one on a teabag …

I’m enjoying this!