Last year’s Open Ear festival was a dipping of the collective toe in water for the talented Chris Chapman and his team – a techno festival on a small island off West Cork? Sounds like a bonkers idea, but it was meticulously organised, blessed by good weather and filled with happy young people who were able to enjoy their music in the wondrous surroundings of Sherkin Island.

The festival is based at Sherkin North Shore, as are my art workshops, so Chris and I met frequently across his planning period ahead of the festival both last year and this year.

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Now, at this point, I must emphasise that ‘techno’ music holds no great place in my heart. In fact, I’m not too sure what it even is – my younger self would be mortified to hear these words, as it doesn’t seem too long ago that I was confident about all forms of contemporary music and couldn’t quite believe old fogies who couldn’t tell the difference and wrinkled their noses in apprehension.

Spoiler alert: I am now such an ancient being.

This may have been reassuring or distressing for Chris, but he knew our conversation was not me angling for free access to the music tents, but instead we had a genuine discussion about the idea of having a ‘kinda’ artist in residence at Open Ear 2017.

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Chris is very keen on raising awareness of the environmental issues of rural and coastal life within the context of the festival, so yours truly came up with the idea of recording the festival from its earliest moments, from when the fields were being mown and tractors laying water pipes, through the gradual crescendo of tents being erected, lights hung, the young people arriving and then the bright lights of the festival itself, through to the quietening at the end of the weekend; the festival goers leaving the island and the gradual dismantling of the festival site, with the island being restored.

The weather was threatening this year, but it was a great relief for all that the sun was shining on Friday, when the majority of revellers arrived and started to pitch their tents. There is nothing worse that trying to put up a tent in the rain. Trust me.

Everyone was very accommodating of this funny woman, dragging her little camping chair around with her, sitting in random corners of the site with her notebook and pencils.

What was interesting, was how my ideas changed across the w/e. initially I intended to make rapid figures drawings of all those creating the festival site …. And this I did, but I found that the music playing quietly (!)  in the background made me realise that this was a very ‘contemporary’ art form, so drawings based on traditional life class exercises some how did not feel appropriate. Instead, I found my figures becoming more and more cartoon-like, more reminiscent of contemporary animated figures – yet another form of expression totally alien to me.

These speedy visual notes of the hive of activity seemed to work well, all clustered on the same pages, but with hints of the serene West Cork coast-line and hills rolling behind.


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An unanticipated coincidence, as I sat above the fields, watching huge bell tents being erected for the ‘glampers’ was that I had seen such imagery before, in my family home. Indeed, my great-grand-father was a senior officer in the Crimean War. His career was in the military, yet he loved painting (strong genes, eh?). As an officer, he would have been seated above the battle fields, painting the tents of the ‘men’ down in the valleys below. These watercolours hung in our breakfast room, along with his images of the supplies ships and the landscape around the horrors of that war.

How strange that an officer recorded the grimness of warfare through the painting he loved and now, centuries later, his great-grand-daughter was painting bell tents, coast-line and preparations for an event steeped in peace and the celebration of life.

Next challenge was the festival itself – full of colour, movement, noise and dynamism. Watercolour pens proved very useful, offering a range of mark from washes to strong strokes in bold, undiluted colour. I also found coloured pencils and pastels useful to over-draw and scribble to recreate some of the energy of the event.

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Then the rains started.

Fortunately mainly on the last day, when everyone was packing up and trudging their way back to the ferry, the mainland and a hot showers.

Everyone, however, had had an amazing time and my head was buzzing with ideas.

And was Chris’, with ideas for bigger and better in 2018.

Watch this space.