Saturday, March 23, 2013

You will always remember your first Achill Island Painting Workshop

You always remember the first time, right?

Well the first painting workshop I ran on Achill Island was pretty special...I'd been hoping for a nice sized group, maybe six or seven, enough to create a good dynamic and to ensure some good interaction over the two days of the workshop. The room I'd booked could easily cater for more if any latecomers showed up looking for a place, plus I'd bought in a few extra easels, made sure I had plenty of brushes and paints and canvases. By my own standards I was well organised.

My first confirmed booking had been taken nearly two months before the start of the workshop and there had been a steady flow of interest. This was going to work!

Sort of. As it turned out, despite all the interest, that first booking was the one and only! The dates didn't suit, a partner couldn't get the time off, 'we'll do it next month instead'... Lots of excuses, but only one person signed up.. It was going to be a long weekend...!

But it turned out to be very special weekend. The lady that had booked, let's call her Catherine, turned out to be one of those people you meet in your life that make you feel better for just having been in their company. Catherine was a pensioner, and recently widowed. A born and bred Dubliner with a warm heart.

Catherine had been coming to Achill every year to paint for longer than she would admit. For two weeks each year she would come with her husband and paint the Minaun Cliffs, Keem Bay, Croghaun, Keel Beach...She was passionate about Achill. It had got under her skin, she had the bug! Her husband didn't paint but would accompany her each day, sit and read the paper in the car and together in the evening they would discuss the day's painting. On one such day her husband suffered a massive heart attack and died. She had lost her companion and friend on those painting trips.

But Catherine continued to come to Achill, on her own, to paint and to remember her husband. Some friends tried to dissuade her, they couldn't understand why she would come all that way on her own, to a place where 'it always rained' (not true!), and was so remote and isolated. They didn't see the beauty of the island, they just didn't 'get Achill' they way some people do and that makes them return time after time. But Catherine did.

And so this particular weekend she spent it with me. She was the gentlest character you could wish to meet. She was constantly apologising for taking too much of my time or for asking too many questions! I had to keep reminding her that she had in fact paid for the weekend and therefore could ask me as many questions or take as much of my time as she wanted. We spent the mornings at Keem Bay and Keel and Dookinella, sketching and drawing before heading back to Ted's function room where we painted for the rest of the day, stopping at lunchtime for a bowl of their legendary homemade soup and brown bread.

She told me stories about the many times she and her husband had come to Achill, about the painting classes she had attended on the island and how previous tutors would arrive in the morning to give a short demonstration... then leave, and let the class work away on their own for the rest of the day! I started to get a much better idea about how I was going to run my own workshops, and from her I got a sense of what was working and what wasn't.

The workshops have developed since then but the one thing that doesn't seem to change is the type of people that attend them. Without exception I tend to attract warm hearted, generous, friendly people who want to spend a few days painting, enjoy their time on the island and make some new friends in the process. And that's why I find myself looking forward to the start of the 'season' every year, wondering about the people who will attend and what stories I'll be priveleged to be part of for a few days.
My next workshop on Achill Island is on  May 11th & 12th. Full details are on my website

Saturday, March 2, 2013

And The Winner Is.........

Thanks to everyone who took part in my recent Facebook competition to help me choose the image for my next Limited Edition Print. The response was much better than I had expected and the result was not quite what I had expected. Which made the whole thing really worthwhile!

Anyway, in the end it turned out to be a dead heat between image number 1 (Homestead) and image number 6 (Homeland). Each received 37% of the votes, leaving 26% to be shared out between the other 4 images.

'Homestead' 80x80cms Oil on Canvas

'Homestead' 80x80cms Oil on Canvas
And the winner of the competition is.....Marion! (name and email kept private). Congratulations, I'll be sending on one of the first copies of the print in the coming weeks once it has been produced.

This was great fun, expect another competition sometime soon!