Mixed Bag

Not right yet after last week. I mentioned in a previous post that I was going to Sligo to adjudicate at the Sligo Feis Ceoil. The standard was high but it was a punishing schedule. Three 12-hour days, give or take. Really didn’t know my own name at the end of it. Still pretty washed out.

The feis event that caused me to wake up in the middle of the night was the Seamus Heaney competition. Each competitor had to choose two poems from the anthology, 100 Poems, compiled by Heaney’s family after his death, introduce and perform them. The stressy element was that the winner would be obliged to perform one of the poems at the awards ceremony on Wednesday night in front of Marie Heaney, Seamus’s widow and Catherine Heaney, his daughter. My job was to select the person who would do this and hope that he or she didn’t make a bags of it!

In the end, there was a clear winner: a young woman who introduced the poems beautifully and recited her chosen poems with exquisite skill. Later, at the ceremony, the poor woman was shaking like a leaf as she was presented with her prize by Catherine Heaney. But, to be fair to her, she then pulled it together and performed The Skylight just right. I have to confess, I was very moved.

The feis schedule really didn’t allow any head space for art. Anyway, that’s just the way it was and there wasn’t much I could do about that.

This evening, I’ve been messing with pebbles, drawing on a few and varnishing some of my older ones.

A few fish …

A new mandala …

I had this idea about creating a jellyfish. I’m thinking of hanging it from a ceiling somewhere and I want it to look floaty and for the trailing fronds to move with any drafts. So I created a frame or armature for the jellyfish body out of some craft wire I bought ages ago in Flying Tiger. And then I lined the inside of it with some tissue paper.

I think the next stage should be making and attaching the fronds to the inside of the body. Tropical jellyfish have a mix of thick frilly fronds and thread-like ones. I haven’t quite worked out how I’m going to make the frilly ones. I’ll sleep on it.

We’ve been watching Anne with an E on Netflix, an interpretation of Anne of Green Gables. Anne is played by a young woman from Letterkenny, Amybeth McNulty. She’s excellent. The first episode was a real tear-jerker. For someone who cries at advertisements and who can’t get through the opening credits of the Sound of Music without blubbing, I didn’t stand a chance.

Wild Bird

In November 2017 Christine and I went to an evening stained glass workshop in Wild Bird Studio in Block T in Basin Lane and made some Christmas decorations. Here’s mine … (it’s a robin, by the way)

Wild Bird Studio is run by Alison Byrne, a glass blower, a stained glass artist and a really good teacher.

Earlier this year, I saw that she was running a full day terrarium workshop. We had both very much enjoyed the previous outing to her studio so I signed us up. And so, that’s where we spent today.

There were five other participants and, interestingly, all had attended previous glass events at the studio so, although we all needed a refresher in the basics, we kind of had an idea what we were at.

Block T (which used to be in Smithfield) is a not-for-profit arts body that, inter alia, provides space for visual artists. The studio in Basin Lane is a very airy and bright creative space with lots of interesting potted plants, various art works scattered around, a small kitchen and some big work tables.

Alison had laid out equipment for us and the other participants before we arrived and to start the workshop off, she reminded us how to cut glass. Following a bit of practice, we set about making the terrariums. She had templates prepared and we cut out two squares, a small triangle and three irregular pentagons. We then ground the edges, covered the edges with copper foil, and used a fid to burnish the copper. Then we tinned the copper with solder before tacking the shapes together to make the terrarium shape. There followed quite a long process of soldering all the joins, inside and out. Terrariums made, each of us washed our creation, chose a chemical to apply a patina to the solder, polished the completed shape, and finished it off with a succulent and decorative stones.

Here’s some of the process …

It was a really well-run, enjoyable workshop. It’s always lovely to go to an event like this and emerge with something one has made that one can be proud of.

Here’s mine and Christine’s …

Sound as a pound.

Kid’s stuff, really

Going to Sligo tomorrow to adjudicate at the Sligo Feis Ceoil for three days. It’s a punishing schedule, to be honest. Monday and Tuesday look like 10 or 11 hours each and Wednesday doesn’t look much shorter. One does get into adjudication mode and gets through it but its very concentrated work and it always takes a few days to recover at the other end. Opportunities for creativity will be pretty limited but I’m determined to keep to the resolution.

Today, I was tinkering. Last night we were watching BBC4 music programmes. There was one on Woody Guthrie which was interesting and then a few Top of the Pops based ones: 1987 (not a vintage year for pop music), 1984 (definitely a good year) and then we caught the first twenty minutes of one on 1960s psychedelia. Some Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd and pre-ELP Keith Emerson playing with The Nice and sticking daggers in his keyboard. Ah, those were the days.

Anyway, the point of this was that the subtitles from one song, Echo and the Bunnymen’s Killing Moon, suggested that it was based on the chords from David Bowie’s Space Oddity, played in reverse order. So, today, I dug out the chords for Space Oddity and played it on the guitar. Some nice sequences: F major to F minor. F maj 7 to E minor. And then, there’s the rhythmic guitar bit that goes C to F to G to A, A. Love that.

I finished my swinging owls.

Click to enlarge, if you must

This is based on something that Christine showed me on Pinterest, except they weren’t owls in that picture. Anyway, this is the kid’s stuff of the post title, on the basis that it’s something that an eight-year old could have a pretty good stab at. For me, that’s OK. The value in this creativity thing is the process, not the product. The process is at once therapeutic and enjoyable. I’m under no pressure to produce anything in particular. I’m not selling any of it. This blog is just me recording what I do. I’m under no obligation to blog. I just like doing it.

More kid’s stuff here. Hearts on a tuna tin. This’ll become a candle at some stage.

And finally, just by the way, I’m accumulating quite a selection of fine brushes.

I really much prefer painting small things.

Easter! Whenever.

That Easter moves around March and April and causes significant scheduling difficulties for anyone involved in education and/or work with children is down to a bunch of men sitting down in a place called Nicaea in 325 and a hundred years of subsequent theological argument. Following which, the best they could come up with was to peg the date to the phases of the moon. WTF?

Anyway, this Easter has brought me back to eggs in a big way. I’ve been painting on the inside and outside of hens eggs for the last six months or so. I’m dying to get my hands on some goose eggs, and our local butcher has been trying to get them for me but hasn’t had any success so far. Goose eggs are obviously bigger, are stronger, and can therefore withstand more decorative punishment, so to speak.

Flying Tiger eggs are a bit of a life saver, though, to be honest. They are a bit bigger than hens’ eggs, are wooden and, therefore indestructible. Cheap too at €2!

This evening, I spent a mindful couple if hours listening to Tibetan bowls on YouTube and starting a bit of work on five eggs: one hen’s egg and four Flying Tiger ones. This is work in progress. I ran out of steam eventually and stopped before I started making mistakes.

Here they are …

I’m going to have another go at drawing a mandala on the black one. My previous effort at this failed because the white pen didn’t run on black acrylic paint. This time I’ve used black gouache. You can see I’ve drawn a small circle on the top so I think the pen will work OK this time.

There’s a faint pencil mark on the hen’s egg to the front, as a guide for a simple design. Not sure what I’ll do with the other white one. The two at the back are going to be floral.

I’m quite pleased with the sky effect so far. And here’s a close-up of progress on the undergrowth at the bottom of it.

There’s a significant tradition of decorating eggs in the Ukraine by the way. The decorated eggs are called Pysanka and the method used is similar to that for batik, with wax used to inhibit paint or dye from staining parts of the egg in turn while other parts are decorated.

Sea Creatures in Situ

It seems like ages since I started these things. It was the day after I bought that Air Dough in Evans a few weeks ago. That stuff is really easy to work with, dries quickly and it takes paint well.

I was trying to work out what to use as spacers between the fish and starfish. I had made some small spheres but when I looked at them, they were too dominant. In an idle moment, I had made a couple of small shells and when I put them next to the fish, they looked much better. So I made a whole load more of them last night.

I was wondering about what colour to paint them. I wanted to avoid beige. Then I remembered, about a year ago, being rather taken with an iridescent varnish I saw on somebody’s nails. I love nail varnish and I do tend to look rather more closely than I should at people’s nails when I see a shade or pattern or design that I like. Vicky in my office suggested that I might have a look in Pennys for some. So I did. And I found this …

It worked really well (after about four coats!) and gave the shells the sort of mother of pearl look I was looking for. The photo doesn’t really do it justice.

Anyway, I put the hanging together (with string and glue) and here it is against a black background …

I was so impressed by the iridescent effect that I put a coat of varnish on my seahorses and lobster to give them a lift …

But I left this starfish unvarnished. It’s sparkly enough as it is.

Our downstairs toilet is like an aquarium. We’ve got ceramic and wooden fish, paintings of fish, prints and batiks of fish, one I painted on a pebble, fish bowls and a carved fish a made a few years ago. So that’s where all this lot have ended up. You can see the tail of one of the seahorses in the mirror.

Yay! Under the sea.

It’s Not All About Me 2

One of my core beliefs is that creativity is a human condition, that this creativity is manifested in different ways in different people, that it is mentally beneficial (and mostly enjoyable) to exercise this creativity, and that no one should be denied the opportunity to do this.

One of the most pleasurable aspects of my job is meeting and chatting to children and young people of all ages. I do this in my role as a speech and drama examiner, as part of requirements designed to encourage young people to communicate clearly and confidently. The chat is limited in time and scope but it includes leisure time activities, books and authors, drama (obviously), plans and potential careers, achievements and so on.

Listening to kids talk about books and reading is one of the most interesting aspects of this. I can spot kids who read a lot, both by the books they choose to bring in to the exam, and also by the confidence with which they approach their prepared reading. The authors that appear most often (the age group for Grade 3 is about 7-10) are David Walliams, JK Rowling, Jacqueline Wilson, Francesca Simon, Jeff Kinney, Roald Dahl and, believe it or not, Enid Blyton. I say ‘believe it or not’ because I used to read Enid Blyton books fifty years ago and I suppose I’m surprised at her enduring popularity. The candidates are mostly well able to talk about why they like to read certain authors and I’ve heard a lot of very interesting views.

Every so often I come across a candidate who has a special talent for something or other. In many cases this just emerges from conversation but sometimes the evidence can be a bit more direct.

Last year, in exams held in Karen Murphy’s School in Letterkenny, a 10 year-old boy called Luke Boal came in for his Grade 4 exam, gave me his report sheet and plonked a couple of items on my desk. I thought to myself that he’d probably wish me to have a look at the items and/or chat to him about them. We were OK for time and so, after the business of the exam was over, I had a look.

The items were home-made books. Graphic novels, really, containing drawings and text. The drawings had the most extraordinary energy and expression. They were mostly human figures, alone or in groups, interacting, and there was a clear story line. The text was boldly written, in capital letters. The layout of the pages suggested a raw energy but also a good sense of the use of space to convey dynamism and momentum. We chatted about the books and he told me what they were about and said he had a lot more at home. Time was limited so I thanked him for showing the books to me and he left the room. I thought about those books several times over the last year and told several people about them and about Luke.

Last week, I found myself back in Letterkenny, at Karen Murphy’s exams again, and in came Luke, now 11, for his Grade 5 exam. He handed me his report sheet and plonked another two of his books on my desk. I confess, I couldn’t wait to look at them. Luke presented his programme and I asked him to tell me about the books he’d brought in.

The books were the product of the same, undiminished, energy. The drawings were still expressionistic. More colour used this time. The layout was as bold and exciting as last year’s but the themes showed some development and evidence of an emerging interest in different cultures. One of the books was about Aztec and Mayan culture and history and, in addition to people, Luke had drawn some landscapes of, for example, Machu Picchu.

The make-up of the books was clever too. Luke had used the cardboard from a pad of paper as a hard cover for one of his creations and had then created a dust cover to enclose it. As with, say, library books, the title was on both.

Here are some of Luke’s drawings and layouts. Bear in mind that this is a tiny sample, and that the photos of them were taken in a bit of hurry in the exam room. But I hope that they convey the expressionistic energy I’ve just written about. (By the way, I spoke to Luke’s mum and she gave me permission to include Luke’s name and these photos in this blog.)


My Easter Egg

It’s been a busy few days: Letterkenny, Killarney, Cavan. Longford on Wednesday. A lot of examining. A lot of time spent on the road. Not much time for doing this stuff. I did do something every day, however. On Friday, it was only a sketch of a bottle of Tippex but that’s fine. The creative muscle was exercised and the itch scratched.

I’ve been working on this dinosaur emerging from an egg idea of Christine’s for a while. You’ll have seen the workings in previous posts. Now it’s done. The egg is not a real egg. It’s a plaster egg I found in the local stationers on special offer. It’s a bit bigger than a hen’s egg and not as fragile.


It’s Not All About Me

Christine has been exercising her creative muscles too. This isn’t a new thing. For some time, she’s been a member of Rathmines Writers’ Group, the poetry bit. She’s been writing poems and subjecting them to the critical assessment of the other members, and at the same time, critiquing others’ submissions.

Last Wednesday, the group published and launched an anthology of poetry and prose …

… and one of Christine’s poems was in it. It’s a lovely evocative and onomatopoeic poem about making fudge, and here it is …

And here she is, reading it …

Sound as a pound.

Proud husband, me.

A New Frontier

I was in Flying Tiger the other day and, of course, I emerged with a bag of stuff. Anyway, in the bag were clothes pegs. Little ones. You’ll get an idea of scale below.

I’m in Letterkenny at the minute, examining in a big speech and drama centre. But I did a bit of prep before breakfast and then, when I came back this evening, I completed it.

The pegs.

Prepped …

Painted …

To give an idea of scale…

Hungry now.

Yes, I Can

A few interesting things happened today.

Firstly, there was an email from my Step-mum Jane in response to yesterday’s post reminding me to live in and enjoy the moment. And, to be honest, that was what I wasn’t doing. Especially the enjoyment part. I was rushing to get things finished so that I could go on to the next thing, allowing myself to be pulled here and there, and forgetting to enjoy the thing I was doing when I was doing it.

Yesterday, I was trying to paint a dinosaur claw emerging from a dinosaur egg. I just couldn’t get it right. It was too thick or too thin. It was the wrong shape. I did lots of them but nothing worked. So, this morning (while driving to work-shhh, don’t tell) I took a photo of my own hand with three fingers shaped like a claw. Then I got into work and forgot about it.

In the office, though, Vicky suggested, as part of her campaign to encourage me to meditate, that I listen to a podcast of an interview by Oprah Winfrey of Deepak Chopra. So, on my way to the stationers and on the way home for lunch, I did. I found it very interesting. Like a more sophisticated version of The Secret. And it reminded me that one of the things I tried out last year, for myself, in an effort to stay positive, was practice deliberate positive thinking. Saying to myself, for example, that I expect x to happen or that I will do y.

So, when I got home at lunchtime, I said to myself, I can draw a dinosaur claw emerging from an egg. I grabbed the nearest piece of paper and the nearest writing implement, took out the photo I had taken of my own hand, and drew the picture you see above. Not perfect but pretty well what I saw in my head and a lot better than anything I had done yesterday.

I’m in Letterkenny at the moment and on the way up I listened to a podcast called Start With This. Jane (again) suggested it to me on the strength of a write-up in the last edition of The Ticket. Although aimed at writers, the discussion could be applied to creativity in general. Some of the things I took from the episodes I listened to were the value of making creative practice a habit (which is what I’ve done with my resolution), that one improves with practice (self-evident, I think, but a useful thing to keep in mind when I find that something I’ve done is crap), and that one should try to execute as many of one’s ideas as one can (on the brainstorming principle that while an idea may be impractical or just not great, exploring it further may give rise to a better or more do-able one).

It’s now tomorrow and I have to be up early, so that’s it. For now.


There are a lot of things swirling around in my head at the moment and I’m trying to capture them all either by doing them or by writing them down. But the problem is that I feel rushed because I want to get the thing I’m working on done so that I can move on to the next one. The rushing sometimes makes things get a bit more messy than I would like.

I remember saying to somebody last summer that there is nothing in the arts that can’t be improved by going slower. Really, that’s true. So I need to slow down, take my time and concentrate more on the thing in hand. I think I’m afraid of losing my motivation. I’ve lost it before and I spent years in a kind of limbo, wanting to draw or make things but not being able to start.

Here are some things that haven’t quite worked, the first one because the pen won’t run properly on an acrylic surface.

This one didn’t work because I rushed it and smudged it.

This next thing is the first go at an idea suggested by Christine.

And this is a lobster made from Air Dough. The photo doesn’t do it any favours. It’s only about an inch and a half by the way.

I’m going to be travelling and examining for the next few days so opportunities for art will be limited. I’ll need to be creative about my creativity.