Just back from a couple of days in London. To be honest, today I’m feeling as if I’ve been hit by a train. I think it’s the consequence of enforced relaxation after several months of high intensity and not enough sleep. Whatever it is, I’m sure it’s a temporary affliction.

My reason for going to London was to watch cricket. Not just any old cricket. The Irish cricket team has recently been given test status, which means that they may play extended matches against the top cricketing nations in the world. Test matches typically comprise two innings over four or five days. For those not familiar with cricket, that means that each team gets two chances to bat. This test was Ireland playing England, at Lord’s. So it was too good to miss.

Cricket is quite an extraordinary game, especially at test level. Ostensibly, it’s about scoring runs. But, really, it’s a battle of wills, in which concentration, skill, technique, confidence, endurance, aggression, tedium, the weather, and psychology all play their part.

It was a most entertaining few days, organised by a close friend, spent in enjoyable company. But it rather knocked my creative agenda out of whack.

I did manage this at the airport yesterday …

And this today …

But that’s about it.

In other news, I’ve been cast in a low/no budget film, a consequence of the Happy Murray reunion described a little while back. It’s a project of Colin McKeown, the documentary maker who filmed the reunion, and I’ll be acting with Happy. Two years ago, I would have hummed and hawed about this. Now, I’m more inclined to say yes to new experiences and opportunities, and embrace the unknown and the slightly scary with a sense that, fuck it, life is short and I might as well, and that I’d much rather take a risk and make the odd mistake than regret not having a go.

Also, this …

Tribal 2

I’m rather taken with some of the tribal symbols, motifs and drawings that I’ve found on Pinterest. I like their primitive vibe. So I did a few of them this evening. Some elements are just copies but I adapted and messed around with others …

They’re on used teabags, painted with gouache, which has the right sort of matt quality to make them quite effective. They’re fun to do too.

Here’s that preacher on a pebble, with a few more embellishments …

I varnished the pebble later but the contrast was lost so it’s hard to make out the detail.

Then I did this from Rice’s Architectural Primer, keeping up my sequence of one a day from that book.

It’s a bit messy but I don’t mind that. I layered the watercolour from light to dark. You can see the layers on on the right hand side. I then used a fine liner to emphasise the detail. I’m quite pleased with the texture of the stone. I felt this was going to be a hard one, and it was. In the past I would have approached this with some trepidation which tends to make one’s lines quite tentative. This evening, however, I felt reasonably confident that I could have a good go at this, and so I just went for it.

Received this today and I’m going to have a go at it …

… later in the summer. My sewing experience to date comprises sewing buttons on shirts, sewing up a sweater that I machine knitted years ago, narrowing a pair of chefs trousers for college wear and making some net curtains. Still, nothing ventured …

I did a few other bits and pieces this evening but, as yet, they are works in progress.

Playing with Matches (and other things)

Years ago, I saw a cute idea on Tumblr and saved it. I haven’t been on Tumblr for ages but I went into it the other day to look at something embroidery-related and found the thing I’d saved. The idea is a series of boxes, like matchboxes containing little messages.

Anyway, long story short, I got hold of a matchbox today and deconstructed it, used the now flat pieces of cardboard as a template, and made a little box out of black card. Now I know I can make these easily, I have some ideas for how I can decorate them.

The matchbox I got a hold of had a few matches in it. In work I started trying to glue them together but it didn’t really work. At home I happened to look behind the fire guard in front of one of our fireplaces and found a load of spent matches. I gathered them up, cut off the burnt heads and made an abstract sculpture. Fun times.

I bought some thin cotton cord recently with a view to doing some small scale macrame. Some years ago, I got stuck into macrame with paracord: a kind of man-macrame. I enjoyed it for a while and made some interesting things. The nylon-based paracord came in different colours and one could create interesting patterns. Finishing paracord projects was easy too, With nylon cord, a bit of a flame sealed the ends of the cord and stopped fraying.

Finishing projects made with cotton cord is a bit more challenging. On YouTube I found a few methods involving either glue or sewing the loose ends into the knotted part.

The other thing I wasn’t sure about was how to create a tightening mechanism for, say, a macrame bracelet. YouTube, again, provided the answer. I gave it a go today. So, you make the bracelet. I made a simple square knot one. Then you do a further tight sinnet of square knots around the loose ends and put a stopper knot or a bead at the end of the loose ends so that they don’t get pulled through the sinnet. Simple, when you know how.

Today’s architectural drawing/painting is of Haddon Hall in Derbyshire, England, found on p186 of Rice’s Architectural Primer.

Apart from getting used to drawing buildings, the other benefit of this exercise is getting used to watercolours. That’s very useful.


The spirit is willing but the skills are weak. They’ll get better. I know they will. A bit of discipline and plenty of practice. I’m a bit disappointed that this is not better than it is but I know what’s wrong with it.

This, I like. It’s not an original idea. I’ve seen roses done this way before. This particular working is copied from Gemma Black, a calligrapher who puts her stuff up on Instagram. The only change I made is to paint it with gouache on black paper. It could be neater but it’s grand.

I did my fingerpicking practice on the guitar and, for the first time in a few months, I played the ukulele. It took a while to get the chord fingering right but after a few songs I was flying. It made a nice change from the guitar.


Went down the rabbit hole of the internet this morning. Knots, macrame, mandalas, doodles, tangles and … tribal motifs from south America. I like them and I put a few simple ones on pebbles this evening.

Yesterday, I painted a lighthouse. It was dreadful – flat, lifeless, one-dimensional, insipid and dull. I’ve never been good at buildings.

With a bit of discipline, maybe I could be better. Some years ago, my step-mum, Jane, bought me an architectural primer with lovely hand drawn illustrations. So, what I’m going to do is try to draw and paint one a day, just copy them from the book, to get used to proportions, shapes, colours, shading, perspective. This should help me in time to draw and paint real buildings.

Here’s number one …

I’m not aiming for photorealism, and I don’t want to be prissy, so a little wonkiness is OK as long as it’s clear what it is and it makes visual sense.

The other thing I’m doing at the moment is teaching myself to fingerpick the guitar properly. Again, I think discipline is the key. I can do simple arpeggios but I’d like to try something a little more complex and fun. So, using a guy called Matt Smith on YouTube as my teacher, I’m learning Travis-style picking, named after Merle Travis. It’s not that complicated at its most basic but it takes a lot of concentration to get the right fingers plucking the right strings in the right order. I aim to spend about 10/15 minutes a day, to start with, just plucking away using a C chord and concentrating on getting it right.

That’s all, folks.

On a Whim

I’ve kind of done most of the painting this evening that I wanted to do yesterday. I also wanted to work fast. So this and the wild flowers in the previous post are not as carefully done as, say, the leaves on the teabag from yesterday. That’s ok though. For me anyway. I’m not aiming for photorealism.

I wasn’t planning to do this. Something on Pinterest caught my eye.

Birch on a Bag

Around about Easter, I used acrylics to paint sky on a series of wooden eggs. Specifically Blue Lake and White which seems to suggest a spring/summer sky. If you don’t mix them thoroughly, you can get little streaks and variations that suggest high clouds. Anyway it worked then so I thought I’d try it again. The bits of tree are painted with gouache.

I’m continuing the theme of looking up at edges. Yesterday evening, just as the sun was going behind the house, I took a few photos of one of our back garden silver birch trees. This is based on one of those photos. This is the second painting today. The first one was on paper. It was OK but had no depth and I’m not going to include it here.

I noticed from the photo that the focus was very much on the dominant branch and the branch above it was further back and slightly out of focus and that this phenomenon gave the photo some depth. I’ve tried to replicate that in the painting. Not 100% successfully but I think a reasonably good attempt. It might have been better to extend the upper branch downwards, behind the dominant one. I didn’t think of that when I was painting it.

Click, if you must, to enlarge

It’s on a tea bag, of course. The brush I used to paint the branches and leaf stems is TINY!

PS (just a quickie)

When I should have been present and mindful in town today, I was thinking about the different ways in which I could use that drawing gum. So, as soon as I got home, I played with it a bit. I wanted to see if I could use it to create different shades in a painting.

So, having sketched out the leaves, I applied the gum to the two branches in the foreground. I then gave the whole thing a wash of blue watercolour and let it dry. Then I applied the gum to the leaves in the background, over the first wash. When that gum was dry, I gave the painting another wash of a darker blue.

When that was dry, I removed the gum with an eraser.

It’s a bit ragged, the result of not enough care shown in applying the gum but I succeeded in getting the effect I was looking for.

The advantage of this method over, say, painting around the leaves, is that you can get a uniform shade. Uniformity is difficult to achieve when painting around things.


Just received a package from Amazon. Literally 20 minutes ago. Another weapon in my aforementioned. Drawing gum.

So, the idea is that you use the drawing gum to create a mask. You’ll see what I mean in the illustration below.

In this, I drew the branch with leaves with the drawing gum directly onto the black card. I let it dry (well, with the help of a hairdryer: I’m not a patient man). Then I painted the entire card with diluted white gouache. Hairdryer again. Finally, I rubbed off the masking gum with a normal eraser.

Click to enlarge


Looking Up

Over the last few weeks I’ve been looking up. More specifically, looking at trees against the backdrop of the sky. Not the whole tree. Just the edges.

Edges interest me. Edginess conveys passion, energy, momentum, opportunity. The edge of something contains outliers, things that have broken away from the mass, seekers of light, growth, challenge, change. In theatre, the Fringe is, by definition, on the edge. It’s where innovation happens, where people take risks, experiment with form and emotion.

Although they are not all that good, there are a few things about these small paintings that please me. They represent my thinking about edges. They are done in watercolour and so they represent some sort of perseverance and determination with that medium. They have been influenced and motivated by people I have encountered recently who have displayed passion, excitement, courage and positive thinking.

The colours are better in real life.

(The influence for the middle one came from Rowena Dring)

Making Harissa

Harissa, as I’m sure you know, is a North African hot chilli paste used as an ingredient in, for example, tagines; for flavouring soups and vegetables, and as a condiment. You can buy it in tins and tubes, much like tomato puree, but the bought stuff lacks subtlety.

Two years ago, almost to the day, I made a batch, based on a recipe I got from an evening session in the Dublin Cookery School in Blackrock, to celebrate the end of the speech and drama examining year.

Here’s the recipe …

Here we are again, at the end of another examining year. It’s been a good one. The Irish Board has grown. The Irish Board of Dance Performance had twice as many exams this year compared to last year. Thanks entirely to Vicky Sargeant, the Board’s administrator, the transition from a paper based administrative system to an online one was a resounding and verifiable success. And so, today, I decided to repeat the celebratory Harissa-making, sticking more closely to the recipe this time. This is today’s creative venture.

Here’s the process. It’s not difficult but it is very worthwhile. The resulting paste has a subtlety and a complexity that cannot be matched by the tinned stuff.



Still working on this …

You know, at some stage, I’ll get it right. That stage clearly hasn’t been reached yet. No worries. There are elements of each of these that are OK and I’ll keep going.

In the meantime, a musical interlude …

If you’re a regular visitor to YouTube, you’ll know that the comments under videos are often negative and tedious. The comments under this one are an exception. Click through and you’ll see.

I made a list today of creative things I’d still like to do. Some old, some new, some old with a new twist. It’s a long list and it still excites me.