Sunday, 27 February 2011

ACEOs - Teeny, Tiny Art!

A while back when I first started blogging and finding other arty blogs I kept coming across the acronym ACEO which seemed to be really popular amonst other artists and discovered that it means Art Cards, Editions & Originals. 

These are basically artist trading cards and they only have 1 main rule which is that they must measure 3.5 inches x 2.5 inches.  They were originally so that artists could trade these amongst each other but then they quickly realised that the public couldn't join in as they had nothing to trade and so artists started to sell ACEOs to the public at really low prices. This means that people can buy either printed editions or original artwork for as little as maybe £3-£5 per painting. 

Anyway, I decided that I would do a series of ACEOs based on my holiday photos of Skye. I did two today.  The advantage of painting on such a small area is that it doesn't take as long; the disadvantage is that everything has to be really tiny to fit on the small area!

I'm not entirely sure if I am happy with these but, as they are my first attempt at ACEOs, I'm not going to beat myself up about them.  I still wanted to use the pointy style but it does require a really fine paintbrush and because the details are so much smaller it does require patience and a steady hand.  It is quite hard not to end up with muddy colours, which I think is what happened to the first one of Staffin Bay.  The other problem I have with painting landscapes is that without a manmade object to give it detail, I suspect my fields, mountains and sea just turn into big blobs of nothing very distinct!  I did incorporate a fence post into this (which did actually exist in the photo I took) to try to give it some kind of focus but I'm not convinced it works.  In fact, I fear it may even look a little rude!

This is just slightly bigger than the actual lifesize painting
The next one I tried was one of the telephone box out in the middle of nowhere.  I decided to use more ink in this one with just a sort of wash of watercolour over it.  I did like it, until I got impatient and tried to paint sky inbetween the red of the phone box before the red had dried and ended up with a sort of pink sky!!

*Note to self - yes, watching paint dry is boring, but it's better than a rubbish painting because you're too impatient.

Anyway, tiny paintings may be the way forward and I will work on some more of Skye and see if I can improve upon these next time.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The Armchair Tourist - Bound for Boston

It seems like forever since I last blogged although it has only been just over a week.  Time has just gotten away from me since we got back from Skye.  I still haven't done any new artwork since completing the sketchbook project although I have a million sources of inspiration to draw from (pun intended) if I can ever manage to motivate myself and/or find time.

I did print off 30 greetings cards (5 each of 6 different designs) and took them up to Assisi Animal Sanctuary for them to sell at the weekend so hopefully they might be able to make some money from those.

Anyway,  I did a post a couple of weeks ago called the Armchair Tourist - Roussillon and mentioned that I might make it a regular spot, using paintings of places I haven't been to as an illustration and with some useful/useless bits of information about the place which might inspire me and/or you to go there at some point in the future.

This week's hot spot is actually a wee bit of a cheat as I have been there before, twice in fact, but I didn't take the photo I used as inspiration to paint from and it's been 11 years since I was there so it has probably changed so much I would need to go back again anyway!

So, things I know about Boston (and things I have gleaned from Google!)

  • It is the largest and capital city of the state of Massachussetts.
  • It was the location for serveral major events during the American Revolution including the Boston Tea Party - which I learnt was not actually an Alice in Wonderland style tea party at all but rather was when a group of colonists boarded ships full of tea and threw it all into Boston Harbour after officials refused to return the taxed tea to Britain.
  • I spent Millennium Eve in Boston (more specifically a town not far from the city called Hull) - although this was not as exciting as it sounds as I had the flu and missed all the celebrations trying to sleep it off - I wasn't even awake to see the ball drop!
  • The pub that inspired the setting of the 80s sitcom Cheers is located on Beacon Street in Boston. The sign outside was used in the opening credits of the show.
  • It was home to one of my favourite 90s TV shows - Ally McBeal - the building
    used for exterior shots of the law firm is also located on Beacon Street!
  • Locals say things like 'wicked pisser' (pronounced pissah) which apparently means something that is either really amazing or really rubbish depending on the way in which it is said!

Credit: Kimber Butler from
Next week, we're heading down under and after that I'm all out of sketchbook project paintings and will have to actually start painting something new!!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Sleep, Snow, Sunshine & Sheep...Skye

Our cottage for the week - the Old Inn, Staffin

Well, we're back from an amazing week on the Isle of Skye.  We left our house in Ireland at 1.30am and arrived in the cottage at Skye at about 5.30pm, stopping for a cup of tea with S's dad in Glasgow.  The scenery en route is stunning, up into the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Skye is technically an island although there is a bridge now connecting it to the mainland so we didn't have to travel over by ferry as was once the case.  It makes life easier for tourists, like us, although I suspect if I was a Skye inhabitant I'd feel a bit cheated that my island had been linked to the mainland in such a permanent way.

Staffin bay

Skye is mother nature at her moody, don't give a damn, best. She hasn't shaved her legs, she doesn't wear any make up because she doesn't need to; she is naturally beautiful.  She won't dress up just because you decided to pop by - take her as you find her; moody, desolute, with amazing bone structure and wearing her heart on her sleeve.  On Skye you literally experience four seasons in one day.

I loved this old-fashioned telephone box
right out in the middle of nowhere
It was both the same and very different from what I was expecting.  S had shown me photos of his previous trip there and I knew it was remote and barren but I was genuinely surprised at just how remote it actually is.  Portree, the largest town, is tiny and all the other towns appear to be just a collection of houses scattered about the countryside. My theory is that they only gave them a town name so the postman would know where to deliver the mail!


Our days fell into a beautiful, uncomplicated routine. Up early to let the dogs out, then sit with a coffee on the incredibly comfy sofas and watch the BBC news until it completed a loop and we were fed up knowing what new hell Britain was facing - that was as much of the outside world as we allowed into our bubble the whole week.

Then, we would don our best outdoors gear - I did comment at one point that I wouldn't be winning any prizes for style but still, comfort and warmth are the name of the game and I was very, very glad to have my welly boots for some of the muckier walks!

Snowy Old Man of Storr
We would head off either for a coastal walk from the cottage or we'd pile into the truck and drive to one of the places S had earmarked for us to visit - one day we walked up the Old Man of Storr into snow and mist and it was absolutely freezing and two days later we walked up the Quairaing into a cloudless sky and ended up peeling off layers of waterproofs and fleeces and walking in short sleeves (until we stopped for lunch at the top when we soon cooled down again!)

Brodie up the Old Man of Storr

Reuben looking like the Old Man of Storr!

On the Wednesday I quietly turned 40 and I'm happy to report that I don't feel any different to how I did at 39 (or 19 if I'm to be honest).  We stayed close to the cottage that day and S pampered me as he does so well, cooking me dinner, presenting me with a Cadbury's mini roll with a birthday candle in it as he hadn't been able to smuggle a birthday cake onto the island. and generally seeing to my every whim!

My birthday cake!!
The cottage (and I use the word loosely as it was bigger than our house!) was just beautiful.  It dates back to circa 1783 and is decorated in such a way as to instantly make you feel at home.  I never wanted to leave.  We revelled in the glow of the wood burning stove (several times bigger than the one we have at home) and enjoyed a spiced rum or two to mark the passing of another year.

Sunrise view from the cottage garden

I developed a strange love affair with sheep during our week in Skye.  Even though we have them in abundance in Ireland, I've never really paid them much notice before. Now, though, they were in such close proximity and I fell in love with their sweet, simple faces as they lounged by the side of the roads chewing grass like a football manager chewing gum! 

The only traffic we encountered on the roads for the most part!

On one of our walks up to Neist Lighthouse, we had to walk down a million steps before climbing back up another steep slope to reach the lighthouse (which we then discovered offered bed and breakfast - It's a beautiful location but you'd need to be seriously fit to haul your luggage all that way just to stay overnight!!) 

Lighthouse at Neist
Anyway, I digress. As we were walking along the bottom of a steep cliff face I heard this pathetic bleating and discovered a poor sheep had managed to get itself lodged on a very small ledge about halfway down the cliff.  We couldn't work out if it had climbed up or fallen down but either way it was well and truly stuck there.  S dismissed my suggestion that we tell it to jump and we'd catch it! I worried about that sheep the whole rest of the walk and nothing would do until we found someone to alert to the sheep's plight! 

We found a man working on the road way not far from the cliff and he said he knew the farmer who owned the flock and would let him know to go and rescue it.  I can only trust that he did and the poor sheep was hoisted to safety (at least until it ends up on some carnivore's dinner plate).

These are the steps we climbed down (and back up).
 If squint, I'm sure you can just make out the sheep at the right
edge of the photo halfway down the cliff!

Brodie at the Quairaing

Mountain Dogs
My favourite picture which S got framed
and gave to me on Valentine's day

The lovely S

The Quairaing

As far as painting went, well, I didn't do any, I'm afraid to say.  It turns out I am a rubbish artist who can find distraction in the simplest things.  I wanted to put brush to paper, but I just couldn't manage to stay awake long enough!  I did manage one sketch which I started in the conservatory but it was so cold out there and the fire was roaring inside so I only did the barest outline.  After all the fresh air when out walking, we inevitably came home and promptly fell asleep in front of the fire.  I did take loads of photos though and I will endeavour to paint my favourite scenes.

All those walks in the fresh air were exhausting!

Anyway, that was our week on Skye.  Wonderful, wet, windy, yet dry and sunny and simultaneously snowy, beautiful, contrary Skye!

Sunset on Skye

Friday, 4 February 2011

Over the sea to Skye...

The Castle at Kyleakin

Well, in precisely 5 days I will no longer be 'in my thirties'.  Even though S and a few of my old school friends have already reached this milestone birthday, I still can't quite fathom that I am going to be 40! Gulp.  I still feel 20 in my head (unfortunately this isn't reflected on the outside so much these days!)

The Old Man of Storr

Anyway, I've never been much of a party thrower - in fact, I can say, hand on heart, that I have never thrown a party in my life - not for my 18th, my 21st or my 30th (although I did have a great night at a comedy club in Liverpool with my sister and a few friends for that one), so I definitely won't be throwing a party to celebrate turning 40.  I enjoy going to the odd party and have a couple of invites lined up to friends' 40th parties later this year which I am genuinely looking forward to, not least because one of them will be 80s themed!

For me though, I'd rather commiserate celebrate the passage of time far from the madding crowd and with that in mind, S is taking me and the pups to the Isle of Skye off the coast of Scotland for a week (as mentioned in the Armchair Tourist post the other day).

Loch Langaig

For his 40th last year, I took him to Krakow in Poland (one of the few destinations you can fly to directly from Belfast).  It was an amazing place and one I totally recommend everyone visit at least once in their lifetime if only for the sobering experience of a visit to Auschwitz which certainly puts things in perspective.  It was freezing - it reached -23 degrees celsius while we were there in January!!  It meant leaving the dogs at home and so I arranged for my sister to come and dog-sit while we were away.  When S told me he was planning a trip for my birthday he gave me the option of with or without the dogs.  Bearing in mind we have to leave them for 3 weeks when we were in New York in November it was a no-brainer for me that we take them with us this time even though that obviously narrowed the field for where we could actually go.

However, S has absolutely come up trumps with the Isle of Skye.  I've never been before but he has and loves it.  He's rented a stunning cottage called the Old Inn in a place called Staffin which is located in the middle of nowhere and right beside a beach.  I am so excited because it will be our first 'family holiday' with the dogs and Skye has so many areas of natural beauty where we can go hillwalking and exploring - the dogs will be in walkies heaven!!


We head off in the early hours of Saturday morning.  I will be taking my Galaxy Tab with me but I'm not sure what the reception will be like there so am not sure if I'll be on the internet much.  I'll also be taking my sketchpads and watercolours as I think this may be my first real opportunity to draw from life (without people around to gawp!) - the cottage has a lovely conservatory where I can sit and sketch to my heart's content.
There is also a small chance we will get to see the Northern Lights - Skye is one of the top ten places in the world to see them from so fingers crossed!!

Credit: S the last time he went to Skye!

We're on the 3.30am sailing in the morning so it's an early night all round. 

Back in a week!

Thursday, 3 February 2011

In the dog house...

Just a quick update to my post here from a couple of days ago - I got a reply from the other person I had contacted at the sanctuary (she had been on leave for a few days) and she would love to accept my offer of greetings card and a portrait as a prize!!

Thank you to everyone who left comments on that post - it looks like you were all right and it just took a little patience on my part (something my mother and S will tell you I am sadly lacking in!) and for the right person to read the email!

Anyway, I may be the only person ever to say it but I am delighted to be in the dog house!!

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The Armchair Tourist...Roussillon

Rouissillon, Provence, France

I bought S a big framed world map for Christmas and we stuck pins in all the places we've been to together and separately - even though I thought we were quite well travelled, it turns out we've hardly made a dent. 

We have been lucky enough up until now, to enjoy annual summer holidays somewhere hot and sunny as well as city breaks in the winter but, now that we have the dogs, the type of holiday we go on will change immensely - obviously our trip to New York and Mexico was the mother of all trips as it was for our wedding, which was planned before the dogs came along, but now there will be no more fortnights lying by the pool like beached whales.

Nope, from now on it will be holidays where the dogs can come too.  Inevitably this will mean camping or caravanning or perhaps renting a cottage where pets are allowed, mostly within the UK but perhaps we'll make it to France or Spain as they have great campsites there apparently.

Anyway, you are no doubt wondering what in the name of Toulouse-Lautrec this has to do with art? Nothing really, except that as I won't be getting to do any actual travelling too far afield for the foreseeable future (apart from my birthday trip to the Isle of Skye - more about that later in the week!), I thought maybe I could be an armchair tourist of sorts instead - if I can't actually visit in real life maybe I can  paint pictures of all the places I would love to go and learn about them on the internet instead!

The illustration of this post is a painting I did for the Sketchbook Project from a photo taken by Franklin from the Paint my Photo website .  It is a village called Roussillon in Provence, France and somewhere that, now I've painted this picture, I was intrigued to find out more about.

Credit: Franklin at

Things I learnt about Roussillon from the internet (the usual disclaimer applies for any inaccurate info herein!!)

  • It is famous for its Ochre mines below the village the colours of which are mirrored in the old houses and buildings. 

  • It is apparently one of the most beautiful villages in France

  • There is a natural park of jagged cliffs of ochre near the village called the Giants' Causeway (Sentier des ocres) - which is a funny coincidence as Northern Ireland's most famous natural landmark is also called the Giant's Causeway!!

  • The Irish Nobel-prize-winning writer-poet Samuel Beckett lived in Roussillon from 1942-1945 and the village gets a mention in his book 'Waiting for Godot' (see another Irish link - surely a sign I need to visit this lovely little French village!)

  • There is 1 campsite here so we could potentially visit en famille and go hiking in the mountains in which the village is situated as well as touring round all the other little villages in the vicinity.

One of the descriptions I came across said that this village has seduced many artists - perhaps some day I will be one of them?

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

I can't even GIVE it away...

Tequila Time in Twisty Town - irrelevant post illustration!

Just a wee update on my notion of asking our local animal sanctuary if they would like some greeting cards to sell (with all profits going to them) and to offer to do a pet portrait as a prize for any upcoming raffles they might be having.  Well, it seems I can't even GIVE my art away!!

When I sent my email I had put a small 'by the way' at the bottom just asking that they make sure to use my new married name on the membership I had recently applied for.

Anyway, I emailed them at their [email protected] and when a couple of days went by with no response I resent it to [email protected] just to make sure it had gone correctly.  I then got a reply from the [email protected] which completely ignored my offer of artwork and instead just responded to my query about membership advising my card would be sent out shortly!!

Let's just say I'm a little disappointed and not really sure what to think.  I know that the centre is mainly run by volunteers with only a few paid members of staff and I also know that any time we call up there to walk a dog they are always very harrassed and busy which is why I didn't want to take up their time by approaching them in person about this (plus I didn't have the nerve to undertake the self-promotion that might have involved).  That said, I'm confused about how they answered the question at the bottom of the email but didn't acknowledge the main point of the email.  So - a) did they skim the email and not really read what I said therefore not realising I was offering them a donation of sorts or b) did they read it and click on the link to my blog and decide they weren't interested in my artwork, free or otherwise?

The problem now is that I would still like to donate my cards to their shop because I really think they do a great job and would like to help in a way other than just walking the dogs when we have time (which we don't often have these days), but I don't know how to offer again without seeming like a weirdo who can't take a hint.  S says I should just leave it - they got the email and if they want my cards they just have to ask.  I think he's probably right but am still feeling a little dented, truth to tell, that they didn't just say yes or no.  What would you do?


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