Sketching in the City of the Tribes

When you think of plein air painting, Galway may not be the first town that springs to mind. You're more likely to conjure up a sleepy Italian village, or maybe the French Riviera. But, even in November, Galway is perfect for a different type of outdoor painting. The global Urban Sketching movement is all about drawing wherever you are. People all over the world can be seen with their tiny sets of paints, scribbling away in sketchbooks, sketching whatever happens to be in front of them – indoors and out.

I've been a member of Urban Sketchers since 2012. On Saturday I joined Hilary Morley Clarke and her group of sketchers to take part in an urban-sketching type event called Offsketch, a one-day sketchcrawl in partnership with Galway Design Week which was designed to get people together to sketch our beautiful city. The weather wasn't perfect for sketching, being cold and a bit on the damp side, but luckily we were made very welcome in St. Nicholas' Church, where the choir was practising for Remembrancetide, a concert of movements from Brahms' German Requiem, to be held the following evening.

I was in the extremely fortunate position of sketching them while they sang, the renowned acoustics of the church lending wings to the choristers' voices, which soared in stunning harmony. The choir master, Mark Duley, was an inspiring leader who coaxed exquisite responses from the singers. Visitors to the church milled about quietly, evidently delighted with their serendipitous timing. They wandered happily through the music-filled church, soaking up the tranquillity of the moment.

Following my stint in the church I wandered down to the Spanish Arch, where a few of Hilary's band of sketchers were braving the cold. After the unprecedented mild weather of recent weeks, it had turned to normal November weather overnight - the wind and cold on the riverbank meant I couldn't stay very long...or at least my subjects couldn't. They didn't stick around long enough to be painted, so a line drawing is all I produced. You can see Hilary herself in the foreground, with another sketcher to her left. Neither the boys in hoodies nor the lad with the earphones were sketching...

A nice hot cup of tea beckoned and the next stop was the Kitchen Café in the Galway City Museum building, around the corner from the Spanish Arch. The atmosphere was lovely, very relaxed, despite the fact that there was barely a table free. I took the last empty place and settled down to sketch, and was immediately asked for my order by a smiling young waiter. Within a few seconds I saw the person I wanted to sketch first: a beautiful girl with peaches-and-cream complexion smiled as she communicated with someone on her phone. I was about to paint her jade-green cardigan, but when I looked up she had gone. She reappeared to my right a few seconds later...in an apron.

“I didn't realise you worked here,” I said. “I'm afraid I've had to give you the legs of that gentleman sitting where you were.”

She didn't mind at all. “I'm honoured that you drew me!” she said.

Along with the smiling colleague who was serving me they were two of the friendliest waiters I think I've ever encountered. Then my drawing came to an end as I heard a jolly “Hiya!” - it was my friend Ailve, who'd been in town shopping. One of the perks of living in a town that's not too large is that you're always likely to bump into someone you know.

We walked back to the car park through the streets, still hopping with shoppers and visitors. I remembered sitting outside Fat Freddy's on a weekday evening exactly a year earlier, marvelling at how Galway always seems to be so lively and atmospheric, even on a damp November night. Here's the sketch I did that evening:

The weather is getting worse, but Galwegians don't pay any attention to that. I won't either, and I'll continue to sketch our beautiful city throughout the winter months – and beyond.

Draw your world, one sketch at a time — That's the motto of urban sketchers, a worldwide grassroots sketching movement founded by Gabi Campanario in Seattle in 2007, which has grown rapidly to its current membership of 40,000. We draw our surroundings, where we work, live and travel, from life - not from photos or imagination - wherever we are. We support each other, sketching together and alone. In 2014 Donal Fallon, Jay Penn and I founded Urban Sketchers Galway. We meet once a month for a group sketch, it's free, and everyone is welcome to join the fun.

For the less experienced, I offer taught urban sketching sessions once a week on Sunday mornings: we meet at 10.00am under the Spanish Arch and wend our way through the city, sketching as we go, finishing up at about 12.30. Cost is €10.00 per person and children are welcome. I can be contacted at 087 242 0800 for details. )

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