The Irish Times
Tuesday August 8th, 2006.
The Clare People
Tuesday March 14th, 2006.
Drawing out the inner artistThe Irish Times
Tuesday August 8th, 2006
By Róisín Ingle
Can you learn to paint - and find the artist within - all in two days? Róisín Ingle picks up a brush and takes up the challenge
There are eight of us sitting in this quiet studio in rural Co Clare, the rain lashing down outside diluting the beautiful views over Lough Graney and the mountains beyond. Some of us are sighing heavily, staring into space as we contemplate our next move. Others are scribbling industriously, eyes narrowed in concentration. Some are doing all of these things at the same time.
We are here for two days to learn how to draw, paint and generally locate the artist within. "My banana looks like an eel," one of us will grumble aloud to nobody in particular. Then the near-meditative silence descends again.
Presiding over all of this is Julie Douglas, the teacher at "Art at the Park" in Killanena. A smiling, sylph-like figure, she moves between tables like an arty guardian angel. "The line on the jug is all wrong," you moan and she takes your seat and shows you how to fix it yourself. Or your mushroom might be a bit too small. "Start again, use that putty rubber," she says soothingly. So you do and it works out fine.
Within hours this small group of beginners and improvers is admiring each other's work, amazed that the pictures laid out on the floor came from our hands. A firm believer that everyone can improve their drawing and painting skills hugely in only a short space of time, Julie, handing out coffee and home-made carrot cake during a break, is the only one of us who isn't surprised.
Originally from Co Down, she and her English husband Mark Smith, also an artist, moved to Killanena three years ago from Rye in Sussex, England. Paul McCartney was a neighbour there, and among other high profile commercial art projects, Julie once did some illustrating work on one his world tour programmes.
Mark's demanding job as a marketing manager and retained fire fighter meant their family life was suffering and after Julie and their two children Rory and Christy escaped uninjured from a serious car accident, it was time to take stock.
"Amazingly they were okay," says Mark. "But we were all aware it could have been very different." They decided to sell their big house in Rye and find something smaller.
"It was raining so much in Rye that summer that I joked we might as well look for a house back in Ireland," says Julie. "That got us thinking. We loved the descriptions of Co Clare from Niall Williams's book Four Letters of Love, so we decided to look on the internet for properties in the area."
On a visit to Co Clare, they were shown tumbledown Killanena House, known locally as The Park, and fell in love with the lake and mountain views. They took it on despite the massive restoration project it presented. Mark did all the work on the house, teaching himself to make stone walls so he could build the perfect teaching studio.
"The locals were very supportive but I think they thought we were taking on too much," laughs Julie. The couple now offer bed and breakfast, lunches and sometimes dinners along with the art classes.
It's a team effort. Mark prepares the huge salad lunches, looks after administration and keeps the house running smoothly. Julie makes breakfast and that gorgeous carrot cake while teaching everyone from absolute beginners and improvers to groups of secondary-school students preparing a portfolio for art college. Their own beautiful art work is dotted around the house and studio.
"Many people, including myself, were told they were rubbish at art in school. People give up then, sometimes for 20 years, because they believe what they were told," she says.
She doesn't claim drawing or painting is easy but she does believe it can be taught. "Teaching drawing hasn't been fashionable for decades but painting without drawing is like running before you can walk," she says. "The ability to look, observe, understand and reproduce what you see is the first step."
Now for a disclaimer: this writer hasn't drawn anything except the curtains since school when she specialised in badly-sketched Doc Martens. The following is a diary of two illuminating days at Art at the Park.
Lamp, bowl, jug and teapot in pencil: You'd think she might start us off gently. Instead, an array of teapots, jugs, bowls and a complicated lamp are arranged on each table. Julie explains her approach to drawing. "Starting in the middle with the stem of the lamp, we will draw everything as we see it - shapes and shadows and changes in tone.
We want to resist sketching an outline of all the items, concentrating instead on getting each detail right before we move onto the next."
She does a little demonstration on paper where she talks about the importance of "negative spaces" or the in-between areas around the subjects. "This will be a slow exercise," she warns. Tortuous, more like.
There's lots of deep sighing in the room until we begin to understand how attention to detail can yield results. I get impatient at one point though and rush ahead sketching the whole jug.
"Resist, resist," says Julie wielding that putty rubber. It's been slow but we've learnt a lot from that pesky lamp.
Mushroom in charcoal: "There is much more freedom in this exercise," says Julie handing out pieces of charcoal and arranging flat, fat mushrooms in front of us. It's great fun using our fingers to smudge shadows and bring life and depth to the mushroom.
I am not happy with my finished mushroom. But one of Julie's studio rules is that when we receive praise for our work, it must be accepted with good grace. This takes time.
"Ah, no it's terrible, look at my stalk," is the most common response at first. Pretty soon though, we are saying "thank you, Julie" when she points out good work and after a while we actually mean it.
Lemon and chili pepper in chalk pastel: My confidence must be growing. I decide to go really big with my lemon. I enjoy this exercise the most so far, smudging various gaudy yellows together, adding on a bright green background with what I hope is an artistic flourish.
I'm not saying it's perfect but hey, it looks like something you would slice and put in a gin and tonic. Success.
Feather in colouring pencil: Post-lemon, I start to think I'm Van Gogh or somebody and decide to tackle the peacock feather which Julie has suggested only the really experienced should attempt. It's an unmitigated disaster and I soon revert to a small feather.
Shading with the colouring pencils is about layering rather than smudging, and it's tricky. Much sighing ensues. "Well done," says Julie.
"No way, look at the state of the fluffy bits . . . I mean, thank you Julie," I reply.
Four bananas in watercolour: One banana would be bad enough but four? This exercise is to show us different ways of applying water colour. The first banana is drawn using pencil complete with shading, the last three are just outlines of the fruit. Julie says she tries her best to find very curvy bananas but I seem to have ended up with a straight one so I cheat and make it slightly more curvy. Shadows are a huge challenge but Julie encourages us to see them just as shapes. Applying paint for the first time is a challenge. Amazingly, I keep within the lines and pretty soon the drab pencil sketches look good enough to eat. This exercise takes up most of the day. When it's all over some participants reflect on how you become so engrossed in the work, you forget about the stresses of the outside world, much the way you'd expect to after a yoga or meditation weekend. I'll be back.
All-day sessions at Art At the Park are €120 and include lunch, tea/coffee and all artist quality materials. B&B costs €45, dinner is €25
© The Irish Times
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“MOVING at the speed of life”
Art at The Park
The Clare People
Tuesday March 14th, 2006
By Christine Breen
“MOVING at the speed of life”, proclaims the promo for the Oscar award-winning film, Crash, “We are bound to collide with each other?”
It was something like this that prompted artist Julie Douglas and her husband Mark Smith to pull up stakes and immigrate to Ireland. Julie was involved in a nasty car crash, a head-on collision in fact, and that winter Mark found himself asleep at the wheel, waking in time to avoid collision with a lorry. The car accidents motivated the couple to pause and consider the value of working so hard just to pay the mortgage which resulted in lost time together. It was then that she and her family decided to downsize and relocate from East Sussex to East Clare to a derelict farmhouse with no windows and no water.
As anyone knows who has done this, it’s a huge decision. Julie is a serious creative artist and was one of London’s top award-winning commercial illustrators before packing it all in and moving lock stock and coloured pencils to Clare. (Some of her clients included Barclays Bank, Tesco, American Express and Paul McCartney’s World Tour Programme.) She exhibits her work in galleries in the UK and Ireland.
Julie and Mark and their boys, Christie and Rory, arrived to the farmhouse in Killanena, known as ‘The Park’, five mile from Feakle on Friday, December 13, 2002 and they seem to have been lucky ever since.
When I asked Julie, ‘why Clare?’ she surprised me by saying that it was on account of Niall William’s first two novels, Four Letter of Love and As It Is In Heaven, that they started looking in Clare.
“At the time, we were really stressed and his books kind of got into our spirits somehow, with an otherworldliness about them and hopefulness too. Looking back, it all seems a bit reckless and certainly very random.”
(Talk about colliding with each other, When I told The Husband that his books had inspired Julie and Mark to move to Clare, he said, in the words of Flannery O’Connor., “Everything that rises must converge.”)
In some ways, however, it has been hardest on Mark. Julie was born in Co. Down and has Irish roots whereas Mark has none. Julie moved from working alone in her studio in East Sussex to working in the one in Esat Clare that Mark built for her. Mark, who had been a marketing manage by day with a staff of 40 and a fire-fighter by night, has had to pack away the nice suits, give back the company car and say goodbye to a lucrative position in a design firm only to pick up a hammer and fast become a DIY expert on farmhouse renovations. He has done nearly all the work himself and as anyone who has ‘done up’ an old house can tell you, it’s never finished.
And while mark is still ‘at it’ and now thinking of renovation two old cabins next to the house, Julie has equally been busy. She has set up not only her studio where she can continue working but is also teaching art classes. And when the two of them are not busy renovating or painting or teaching, they run a B & B in Caher called Killanena House.
Julie’s pieces are highly finished and can take up to six weeks to produce. She is particularly drawn to people and animals, and works in coloured pencil and accepts commissions on portraits as well. A huge portrait of Martin Hayes hangs in her sitting room. She began teaching when people asked for her help and found that she really loved it. “It’s a good antidote to spending long hours on your own in the studio.”
She calls herself a lively, enthusiastic teacher and thrives on helping students of all ages to maximise their creative potential. Students have fondly referred to her as the ‘ultimate motivator’ and I can safely say that, after having coffee with her recently, her enthusiasm is contagious. Her laughter infectious. Her work extremely accomplished.
She teaches private classes as well as group classes and is particularly pleased with the week-portfolio preparation courses she is holding at ‘Art at The Park’ – the name they christened their enterprise.
Julie is a bit like me. She’s a blow-in. She lives in Clare and she has two children. We are among the ever-growing band of blow-ins who have chosen to make Clare our home. As The Husband and I wrote 20 years ago in our first book – the books we now refer to as the ‘Kiltumper books – we wanted to make a house of words and paintings, and music and flowers… It seems we weren’t the only ones with a good idea!
© The Clare People
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