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  • I remember his hands.
    He had large hands.
    Large, pale hands with black bristly hairs on the back of his hands and fingers.
    And clean manicured nails.
    And I remember wondering at the incongruity of how such large hands could produce such fine and delicate, beautifully hued watercolours.

    He always wore a suit and was impeccably turned out.

    And his gentleness. I remember his gentleness.

    The high school I attended was a no-nonsense affaire run by Christian Brothers and dedicated to sport and academic achievement. As a day-dreaming asthmatic I didn’t quite fit the mould and spent my days staring out the window and doodling my books and note-books full with drawings and sketches. My class-mentor picked up on this and suggested I take Art as an extra subject and gain extra points. The only problem was that Art was not on the curriculum. In a no-nonsense, sport/academic, all boys, Christian Brothers school, one thing was sure: 'Art was for girls!'

    So, for the duration of my high school years I would get up early on Saturday mornings and walked across town to the other side of the city, to the “ North Side” and another school to take extra-curricular Art classes.
    There I met my Art teacher for the next three years; Mr. Padraig O'Suilleabhain.

    I know we learned drawing and painting, lino-block printing and Art History.
    But what has stayed with me is the memory of his giving a water-colour demonstration.
    He taught us how to wet the water-colour paper to make it stretch; how to moisten the gummed-paper to fix the water-colour paper to a board.
    How to patiently build up the colour washes; letting each layer dry before beginning the next. His large hands moving with control and ease. Coaxing out the image as if already present, there in the paper.

    I’m almost sure he also instilled in me the idea of the possibility of going on to study at Art College.
    When that idea was firmly set in my head, (the only idea in my head) Mr. Padraig O'Suilleabhain was no longer my teacher, having been replaced by others. By chance, in my final year, he came once more to replace a sick teacher. I told him of my plan to study at Art College. He invited me to his home. There we worked on my putting together a portfolio of work for my application to Art School; he, mentoring and coaching and encouraging me along the way. At that time he gave life-drawing classes in the evenings at the Art School I wished to attend. He invited me along to join in the drawing classes to improve my drawing skills and ‘fatten-out’ my portfolio. Such was my luck.

    I made the application, took the interview and gained a place in the foundation year at Art School.

    I never met him again after that time. In the intervening years I have thought of him many times and I am immensely grateful for the role he has played in my becoming the artist I am today; as scenic painter/sculptor working for the Netherlands Opera and Ballet Company.

    Recently, a young German girl came to our workshops for a three week internship. She had travelled many miles and crossed borders to broaden her horizons. I was very aware that now the roles had turned. Now I had become the mentor to coach and encourage a very talented young painter and student, if only she could believe in her own abilities. I was very aware of my responsibility to pass on that which was given me many years earlier; patience, gentleness , and to coax out the knowledge that is already there in this creative young adult.
    We worked together painting an 'alter-piece' of Adam and Eve for an opera production.

    When she was leaving I presented her with a book, as a token of appreciation and encouragement for a pleasant and sucessful internship. A book of beautiful studies, drawn by famous artists through the ages.

    Beautiful drawings of hands.

    With grateful thanks to my Art teacher and mentor, Mr. Padraig O'Suilleabhain.
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