Friday, 26 September 2014

Still life sketching workshop Leaflet

From the Ebony & Irony leaflet which shows tomorrows still life sketching workshop at the Ebony and Irony festival. At the workshop you'll be shown the basics of sketching still life, with an archaeological twist, as we sketch iron objects and rocks in graphite from life. More here in this Facebook event:

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Drink and Draw Sketch

On my visit to Cork this week I also went to visit friends of mine at Cork Drink & Draw, probably the best creative meetup in Cork. While there I had a chance to work out the above sketch of a creature sketch. Its got no real purpose, twas simply created for soley for fun

Still life Sketching Workshop

Ill be teaching a workshop on sketching old iron objects and rocks in graphite from life at the Black and White festival at the Brandon House Hotel in New Ross, Wexford. This workshop on Still Life sketching with an archaeological twist is for beginners and is on this Saturday the 27th from 3 pm-4:30 pm with a €5 entry fee, art supplies will be supplied at the event. The workshop is part of the larger Ebony & Irony Fringe Fest going on New Ross this weekend.

You can find out more about the event here on this Facebook event:

The location of the event can be found here on the hotels sight:

All welcome, hopefully ill see some of ye there!

Sketches from Cork Museum

Christ Church Iron Spearhead (Maybe Viking)

Christ Church Iron Buckle (Maybe 17th Century)

I took an hour out of my day on Tuesday as well and popped into Cork Museum in Fitzgeralds Park to look at the collection of later medieval objects they had on showcase there. While there I did these two sketches.

One was a Spearhead found in Christ Church Cork. The plague in the museum said it could be Viking, but the shape of the spearhead is common in quite a lot of periods, like the Lisnacrogher Iron Age Spearhead, I have seen a Norman spearhead found in Britain similar looking as well, the style was quite common. I suppose "if it aint broke, dont fix it"

Another is an Iron Buckle found at Christ Church Cork again, and at the museum it said, that it was probably the 17th. But D shaped buckles were common I believe in the later middle ages too, so Im not so sure

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Cork Life Drawing Group

A drawing from Cork Life Drawing Group on Monday. Really enjoyed their new format with the inventive lighting, cool space and great model, if you're in Cork, you should definitely attend!

Sunday, 21 September 2014

A life of filled with Sketchbooks

Recently, the Islanders (a group Im part of) have been doing a series of posts about each of our sketchbooks and our sketchbooking, so Im posting that post here too.

Right, my sketchbooking life can be broken into two; outdoor sketching, and indoor sketching. Even the outdoor sketching can be split between my kit for painting and my kit for drawing.

For drawing, I always have a little A6 sketchbook in the inside jacket pocket on one side and in the other a little fold up pencil case. (All my jackets must have 2 inside pockets, otherwise they are burnt in flames.... or just not worn)

This is my main sketchbooking, I do this kind of sketching all the time. They are for any time I get a free moment to sketch, whether that is; standing in the queue, having a beer with friends, waiting on transport or a person, sitting in the bus etc, if there is one thing I have learnt from fellow Islander Kevin Gough, its never waste a minute.

I have a variety of pens and pencils in the wrap up pencil case. The pens are mostly just different size nibs as well as different style nibs (felt tipped, hard metal etc), also there is a white pen for highlights and sometimes for error correction and adding white over black. The pencils I carry are: clutch pens, a mechanical pencil, graphite stick, a graphite stick clutch pen etc. Also a white conte pencil, a rubber pencil, some sanding paper for sharpening, a ruler and newly added a Chamomile leather for blending, (not used that much yet). Its amazing how much you can fit into that thing.....

For painting, I carry a camera case for the belt, which I only take on longer walks or Sceitse's, as painting is a longer process thing, it takes 2 or 3 mins just to setup, no matter what kit you have, so not something you do when you have only 2-3 mins to sketch

 Its handy old thing though, as I cram quite a bit into it. It has a watercolour box, an A6 Watercolour pad(I think the same as Mikes), a top of a jar (for water), some rag cuts, small kids paint brushes (so as to fit) and recently added some gouache paint tubes (I havent used them properly yet tho)

The 2nd form of sketchbooking is the stuff I do in indoors, this is to aid final pieces and is geared more towards work and final illustrations. I have several different sketch pads for this, it just depends on the final piece Im working on and what part of the pre-finish piece Im doing. Shown are Hot press papers for paintings, bristol boards for inking, and those cheap moleskins Mike talked about previously, for initial rough sketches for composition, character design etc.  (Also included in the pic below is the tonal paper I use for life drawing, its here solely because I do life drawing indoors :) )

Alot of these pads wouldnt be cheap but not expensive either, middling in price. Generally I do my sketches on the exact same paper as my finals, as I need to know what they will look like before I commit ideas to the final piece. But Im talking more about the more developed idea sketches here rather than initial roughs, which are done in the cheap moleskin as said previously. To show what Im talking about when I say "more developed idea sketches", Ill leave you with ones I did for Corbally Neolithic village before I did the final piece.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Life Drawing at Soma

A sketch from Life drawing today in Soma Life Drawing Waterford, if you're in Waterford I recommend attending, its a great group, very laid back and small intimate sessions. They can be found here:

Monday, 15 September 2014

Visiting Mahon Falls with Sceitse

Mist caked Mahon Falls

On the way up Mahon Falls

Rork cliffs at the top of the waterfall

Sitting on top of the mountain looking down

Treenearla Commons Standing Stone/Gallán 

View from ontop Crohaun Mountain

View of East Cork/West Waterford from Crohaun mountain
During the weekend I went for a bit of a sketch hike with fellow artists in the group Sceitse, where we headed to Mahon Falls in the Comeragh mountains and Crohaun mountain in the Monavullagh mountains. Great day of brilliant views, misty mountains and warm sunshine in the later evening.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Barryscout, Tramore & Garrarus strand

Barryscourt castle

Barryscourt castle, bawn walls and guard towers

Tramore Beach

Garrarus strand
Recently I popped in to Barryscourt castle, an impressive late medieval tower house castle and also had a great day today at the beautiful beaches at Tramore and Garrarus in Waterford. Beaches always have spectacular colours

Friday, 5 September 2014

Corbally Neolithic Settlement

Corbally is one of the largest Neolithic settlements in Ireland with a total of 7 houses found there, it must have been a site of importance to have this many houses in that period. It was located east of the plains of Kildare with the River Liffey basin about 2.5 km away, which is also the nearest water source. All the houses were firmly radiocarbon dated to the Neolithic period, with dates ranging from 3930-3541 BC.

Before I go too much into this, I would like to thank the excavators of the Corbally site, Red Tobin and Avril Purcell for their continuous support, feedback and guidance throughout. Also I have to thank David Freeman from Butser Farm for his detailed email responses, and passing on such informative articles and he had some great ideas (e.g. the use of birch bark on roofs, by peeling the bark of birches in large sheets, flattening them to create a covering instead of thatch, as shown here, as pioneering farmers may not have had access to the amount of hay they would need to thatch). Finally, Id like to thank Luke Winter from the Ancient Technology Centre, for his informed feedback on the building and structure of the houses.

Right back to Corbally, the houses were found to be ranging in size, from 11m by 6.7m in house 1, the largest, to 7m by 6.5m in house 3, the smallest. House walls were constructed with a mixture of plank walling, and wattle and daub.The houses are quite similar to houses found throughout Europe from the time ie three aisles with a central simple ridged roofs supported by a pair posts, like in Corbally, which in later Neolithic houses became 3 internal roof support posts. The houses were also internally divided in two, one half larger than the other. Red Tobin, believed that the walls were too weak to hold the weight of the roof and instead the roof was supported by the exterior line of poles. The eaves, created by the external poles, also served the purpose to keep the water away from the walls. The ruined house shown here was believed, by Avril Purcell, not to have been contemporary with its nearest 2 buildings, because of the way its entrance butted against the back of the other house.

Alot of the items found in the site decided on the activities that took place for example: Scrapers, a form of lithic artefact found in Neolithic sites, which are believed to have been used in tanning, hence why the 5 post holes outside the pair of houses on the left show various tanning processes going on. Or another example a saddle quern was found so the sign of cereal production,and  pottery was found, especially near the house at the top middle of the image, so pottery is being made near there in the image. Serpentine beads were one of the more interesting to show up during excavation as these beads aren't from Ireland, the source of the beads could have been anywhere from Cornwall, Wales or Brittany, so may be a sign of long distant trade, so possible look to this sort of trade goes on in the centre of the image.

I have heard some people complain about people standing around doing nothing in illustrations but some archaeologists believe that people would have spent alot of time chilling out, talking, socialising, it wasnt a factory in the end, where everyone worked all the time. Hunting and gathering would still have been quite important at this time, but a certain amount of animal husbandry, cereal farming and growing small plants in garden plots would have also been important. It was theorised by Red Tobin, that a form of teethering would have been used for some of the animals, as there was a lack of evidence for some form of fencing or enclosure as shown in the illustration.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

NRA Seminar 'Stories of Ireland's Past' Q&A

As part of the NRA seminar 'Stories of Ireland's Past' there was an exhibition of the artwork created by various illustrators for the NRA. An aspect of this was a series of questions were asked about my practice as an archaeological illustrator for inclusion in the exhibition. For the seminar because of space, the answers had to be shortened, so with permission of the NRA, I have included the longer answers to those questions, below for your viewing, along with images I illustrated for the NRA

Woodstown Viking Grave

How do you realise a vision of the past?

Realising the past is mostly from three avenues: research, reference, and imagination. Its a slow process, starting with the research, which entails the initial reading of reports, talking to excavators and reading more general background information about the site type and era. During the research phase reference is also sought from the site as well as reference of contemporary finds in Ireland and abroad. From there, sketches are created, this begins with just scribbling to see what comes out after the research, moving eventually to more cemented sketched ideas. Generally I try to come up with 2 or 3 versions of the scene and then picking one that really works. If time and budget allow, I create maybe another 2 or 3 alternate takes of that chosen version.

Sometimes I will sketch out specifics too that need to be worked out separately, like: posing, character design, architecture and environment design etc. I always want each aspect to feel as fully realised as possible, as that person is supposed to be a real person who has lived a full life and has a character of his/her own. Or that environment has been lived in for hundreds, or in a natural environment, thousands of years, so hinting at that complexity is important to giving an image gravity.

Then starts the drawing phase, which is where the final ideas, sketches, research and reference come together to create a final piece. I often look back to the research throughout but during the drawing phase I take a good deep look back on my research to make sure I haven't strayed too far. Once the drawing is at a good level and all aspects like; posing, costume, weaponry, natural environment etc. are worked out and the visual problems are solved like; leading the eye, visual interest, convincing values and good storytelling etc. I then take this final drawing and cement it by inking or painting.

Clowanstown Mesolithic Fish trap

What information do you need?

Archaeological evidence that is relevant to a visual reconstruction is the most important information . But also good interpretations from the archaeologist can be a big help in deciphering what is there in the archaeological record. Or even a few different intepretations to allow for additional paths to be explored. Besides this, evidence from the wider world at the time and knowledge of what could be there possibly like technology, structures etc. can help save time. Finally an opinion or an idea in what they are visually looking for, in part or in whole, is a good starting point, new or fresh ideas are always more interesting to test out in the visual medium.

Where does the excavation report end and the imagination begin?

I find the evidence and information a great boon to the imagination, not a hindrance to it. So the excavation report is always there, I often check back to it while creating an image, to make sure Im on the right track. Its the anchor to the piece really.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

The feel of the era. I read alot of archaeology, and I also create alot of illustrations from the different periods. So I spend alot of time thinking about the different eras, but also obsessing about them at times too. So for example when walking in forests I often think what it would have been like in the Mesolithic to live in such places, for that environment to be your whole world. Granted modern forests are not quite the wild ancient forests of the past, but its as close as one can get.Also when I get a chance I try to visit museums and draw finds from the periods, I think studying the tools or objects that were in the hands of the people from the time is a must. All these combined, means I have spent alot of time imagining, studying and thinking about the eras, and what it would have been like to have been alive at the time. Its not exactly a science but it creates a well of inspiration that I can pull from when needed.

Edercloon Ritual Tochar

What are the challenges in producing particular scenes?

I suppose the biggest challenge in archaeological illustration are the gaps. There are alot of gaps in the record and while in text having those gaps isn't as jarring, in an image, if you left the gaps where they were, you would have half completed images in the end. If you were dealing with the subject just as a creative avenue you would just fill in those gaps with whatever you imagine. But in archaeological illustration, you have justify your decisions, you need to do your research and base it on something. I think this is especially important with public consumption, as for some, the only experience they will have of that period is looking at that image, so you need to be careful what you're showing.

What is your favourite media?

My favourite medium is pen and ink, as I just love the variety of values (range of grey's between white & black) that can be used to create a compelling image without colour. The medium can pull you in and if the values are balanced right, it can create lots of different moods and really come to life. Its a great medium for texture and design, and I like how it can walk that fine line between just plain realistic and the artistic, and how both can sit in the same world without being jarring.

What role do reconstructions play in interpreting the past?

Reconstructions can play many parts in archaeology. One is to make clear, as some archaeological writings can be difficult to penetrate and it can be the job of the illustration to illustrate, or to make clear, what is there. Another is that archaeological illustration can offer a connection to the public with their past, to give them an impression of what could have been the world of their ancestors in a fully realised  3 dimensional form.

But also visual imagery can be part of the archaeological process, and not just for publication. The archaeologist can use it to test ideas out, to see what certain ideas look like and the problems attached with those ideas as all sorts of issues arise from the making of text into a 3 dimensional form. All these can be done without having to go to the trouble and expense of building it in real life.

Raystown Cemetery Settlement

Are there any pitfalls with reconstruction images?

Sometimes one can try too hard to be accurate and over reliant on accuracy which can sometimes create a stilted image. So sometimes decisions need to be made for creative reasons, in order to create more compelling images, especially if the image is used for promoting a site or find. So its a balancing act, keeping an image as accurate as you can but also compelling enough as well.

What interaction do you have with the excavator/director?

I believe the greatest strength of illustration is that its a collaborative process, between the illustrator and the excavator/client. An illustration can only get better being the production of a few different minds; their ideas, input and creativity. So I always coordinate with them on each step of the process; the idea/research phase, sketch phase, drawing phase and final inking or painting phases. Collaboration can also take the form of critique too, with the excavator making sure the image hasn't gone too astray from accuracy and the report. Also being so close to an image, sometimes an illustrator cant see the mistakes, and a second person can point out problems that the illustrator misses, making for a better illustration in the end.

How do you decide on the specific details of the scene – clothing, roles, activities etc.?  

Sometimes the decision as to what to include in an image is easy, as its found right on site. But after that you may need to include details from Ireland at the time, and/or abroad, to complete an image. Also sometimes what is possible with the technology can lead to some interesting interpretations. So for instance if razors are found at the time, that can lead to different possible hairstyles, or if tattooing was around, designs can be found in the rock art, pottery or metalworking at the time, that may also have been on the body. While activities are based on what is found at the site or elsewhere, but also from historiography or what is possible from the technology available.

Monday, 1 September 2014

NRA Conference "Stories of Ireland's Past" Video

Archaeo Myth recorded some of the NRA archaeological seminar on Thursday last which featured some of my work in it. So for those who missed it, you can get a glimpse of the proceedings here. My work is shown in the end about 2:35 in:

Monday, 18 August 2014

Kilcrea Abbey & Castle

Kilcrea Abbey

The Bell tower

The Scriptorium, apparently manuscripts written here are preserved in Rennes, France

Kilcrea castle, a tower house with bawn wall and a guard tower

The top of the walls

Looking down at the guard house and the abbey beyond

The view from the top looking west

Today I visited Kilcrea abbey, been hoping to get there for years, and visiting the site, it did not disappoint at all, probably one of the best intact and most impressive medieval sites I have visited. And so untouristy, barely any people there, allowed you to have alot of time alone to soak it in and just listen to the silence and ambience. Well worth a visit.

More photos here:

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Kilcrea Abbey

I stopped in a place I have planned to see for years today, Kilcrea Abbey, just off on the main road between Cork and Macroom. What an amazing site, probably the most intact 15th-16h century Abbey I have seen and the castle beside was incredible as well, one of the best medieval sites I have visited. Here is a sketch of the central bell tower I did while a the abbey

Thursday, 14 August 2014

'Stories of Irelands Past' Seminar Art Display

On Thursday the 28th of August, at the yearly NRA(National Road Authority) Seminar, I will be showcasing the work I have done for them and be there to discuss my artwork and answer any questions attendees may have about my process and archaeological illustration, from 4 pm to 5 pm. The Seminar will take place in the City Wall Space, Wood Quay Venue, at the Dublin Civic Offices.

The Seminar is the 20th of Anniversary of the founding of the NRA and so suitably it will reflect on various aspects of Archaeology in Ireland and the discoveries in recent years through the NRA's road building schemes and the resulting archaeological boom around it. The day features a series of promising talks delivered by some of the leading academics in their various fields. Im certainly looking forward to attending and Im blown away by their list of speakers, many of whom I have read their brilliant books and articles when creating illustrations.

Hopefully I will get a chance to see some of ye there too. For more on the Seminar and the timetable for the event take a look at this link:

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Sketches from Sketch House

Ballycarbery castle

Part of Ballinskelligs Abbey

Unfinished sketch of the view from Geokaun mountain on Valentia Island

Recently I went with the sketch adventure group, Sceitse, to sketch explore the ring of Kerry and stay in a house across from Valentia Island for 3 days of non stop sketching, above is a selection of my favourites. 

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Gouache Figure

Recently I have picked up Gouache and mixing that with a small bit of watercolour. I started using the medium with figural painting, the above is one of the many greyscale figures I did with it. I have to say the minute I used the medium I loved it, it feels like a mix between watercolour and oils. As its way more forgiving than watercolour, and allows alot more control, especially the ability to work with the light shapes and highlights. Also loving the mixture of hard shapes or soft blending you can get with it, looking forward to playing with it more!

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Sceitse- Battery Recharging

This week, over in the Islander Art Blog( we have been making posts about where they find inspiration and go to recharge their batteries, so I have just copied and pasted there here to my blog as well.

For those that know me, it will be obvious where I go to recharge my batteries. Its to the sketch group 'Sceitse' that I help organise. This is the place I go for inspiration, to really open my eyes to the world,  take a break from work and to keep my art not just work but as a bit of a hobby too. Broadly Sceitse is a sketch adventure group, and it is really broken into two types of trips A:) Adventuring- where we head off to the mountains on foot or jump into cars and go sketch exploring.

Gougane Barra sketch mountain walk

Hungry Hill sketch mountain walk
B:) Activities- where we try out various activities and see if we can combine them with sketching. As we say in Sceitse "if you can sketch while doing it, we will". This has lead us to combine sketching with all sorts of things, like sketch cycling, sketch caving, sketch sailing etc.

Sketch sailing in Lough Allua

Sketch caving in the Ailwee caves 

For  me, as an archaeological illustrator, the highlight is of course the archaeology. Its often an adventure and a half trying to find them (sometimes not finding them), trodding unexplored paths, clambering over fences, struggling through forests, discovering the hidden gems in the countryside. Its the anti-tourist ireland, going where most people will not go bar archaeologists. Some sites you visit end up being disappointing, as there isnt much left or its damaged but the walk there and the view from the site, often make it worthwhile as you get really SEE the place, which you wouldn't have stopped at otherwise. Other times the sites are full of mood and mystery, like megaliths caked in mist or wondering a forest and finding a castle hidden within with vines growing up the side, inspiring stuff!

Castle lyons,North Cork
Monkeys Bridge stone pair,  North Cork
But one of the most important parts of the group, is the social aspect. We spend alot of time chatting, talking art, philosophising, making jokes and laughing. That last, laughing, is the sound you would most often hear coming from the group. Its such great fun and I have made some good friends because of it.

When I think of all the great mountains with spectacular vistas I have walked, the ways I have explored what is around me and all the amazing sites I have seen, I feel very lucky. Its been an unbelievable time and the group is only getting bigger and better, so Im just happy to be part of it.

With that, ill leave ye with another really important aspect of the group and that is sketching, here are two of my favourite sketches out of the many, many we have done while out on the various adventures:

Inchinlinane Gallán or Standing Stone
Rostellan the Tidal Portal Tomb
More can be found about Sceitse over in the blog: and the facebook page: