Chicago Irish interlude

Box player at the Abby

A visit to Chicago would have been incomplete without attending an Irish session. The Chicago Irish music scene is legendary. My fiddler said this was the one thing he really, really, really wanted to do. I, of course, was not against this idea.

We found the Abby, where, when we walked through the door,  we were astounded by the most amazing whistle playing.

It was Laurence Nugent, a top Irish whistle and flute player. Pretty cool.

At the Abby

If I’m shy about drawing in public, sometimes I’m even more shy about playing music.  I couldn’t see taking my whistle out and squawking  around on it like a wounded ostrich when there were musicians who were roaring like lions. Instead, I sat at a table, had a beer, and listened to ripping reels, jigs, and hornpipes while I painted. Listeners are an important part of a session too!

I leave you with this video.


Laurence Nugent

Boxwood flute

Boxwood Flute © 2009 Margaret Sloan

This painting is a portrait of a young woman I met at Friday Harbor Irish Music Camp. Her flute was made of boxwood, which has a tendency to warp.  Hers was bent in a charming shape. But, she said, it hadn’t really made any difference in how it played. It was a sweet-toned flute, and fit her playing style very well.

It took me a while to finish this painting, with many sketches and smaller studies. I started off rather badly; the night I began I was exhausted, and there was loud, very interesting music playing in the classroom. I have a really hard time working when music is playing, because my brain stands up and says, hey! There’s music going on over here that you need to come listen to right now! It’s one of the things I know about how my brain works. I can’t have music playing when I’m painting or drawing.


I’ve been working on this drawing of Catherine McEvoy for my watercolor class. It’s been problematic because my photo reference is so bad. I took it in class last year at Friday Harbor Irish Music Camp. Really, the photo is mostly just the idea for the painting, and a brief reference for Catherine’s face.

My teacher, Steve Curl, brought up something that has helped me with the drawing. “Think about the angles,” he said. “That will give you the dynamism you need to show the intensity the has when she plays the flute.” Steve is a musician as well as a painter, and right off he recognized  the dynamic force with which Catherine plays the flute. That force is what I’m trying to capture.

So I put the drawing in Adobe Illustrator and picked out the angles and the line of action to better understand the drawing. The purple lines are the dominant angles, the light blue lines secondary, and the orange lines are the lines of action. I still don’t have it quite right. I’ll have to spend some time in front of a mirror with a flute (holding it backwards since Catherine plays left-handed) in order to understand the pose. It’s times like these I wish I could afford a model. And I’ll have to spend some more time watching Youtube videos of Catherine. Darn.