There are a moment one Saturday afternoon last August while I was wandering, literally aimlessly, through the streets of Dublin when I was inspired to draw something.

The question readers may want answered before I explain the drawing is “why were you wandering aimlessly through the streets of Dublin?” To which the simplest answer is simply that I was there alone and early to do one thing I needed to do on Saturday, and with no reason to do anything but explore a place I’d never been I wandered. Aimlessly.

In fact, I had walked for two hours from Chapelizod to Trinity College, which on the map seemed a lot shorter than it actually was, and having scored a bus pass only after I’d reached the downtown core I was free to catch a fast ride back to the hotel but was not inclined to do so knowing that all which awaited me was some television and pondering the race I was scheduled to run the next morning.

Instead, wandering aimlessly through the streets of an old Irish city filled with life and culture, streets lined with countless variety and ages of architecture, and nothing but free time for myself, I bought a sketchbook and some inking pens from a bookshop and found a nearby place to sit.

I remember a few things about the hour while I sat in a small square on a concrete bench sketching what I saw:

  • there were pigeons bustling about the place, doing what pigeons do, which is to look extremely busy while accomplishing very little
  • virtually no one had spoke with me since arriving in the country, but a man with a sketchbook in a park might seem more approachable so I had a brief conversation with two people, first about a pair of shoes that had been abandoned in the middle of the square, and second with a young lady who seemed to think I’d let her tether her phone to mine so she could borrow my mobile data
  • there was a cafe built into an old rail car of some kind, and we returned there later in the week and had coffee — well, I had coffee

Not having sketched in public in over a decade, my rendition of the square was weak, and lacked a lot of details, and wouldn’t be much to brag about, but it was the first in a series of a dozen I composed while we spent the following week in the city and spurred me to become a prolific, regular urban sketch artist upon our return to Canada.

Only that never happened.

I got home, went back to work. Heck, I even bought a nice new sketchbook (not wanting to “spoil” the travel edition that I’d started) and went to the middle of our city square and drew exactly one picture.

To be fair, life got really crazy and busy for a while after we returned from three weeks in Europe, and sketching in the street was not a priority, but something else was going on.

Inspiration.

Dublin was simply that: inspiring. But more than being a beautiful old city, full of life, people, buildings, colour, shapes, texture, culture, everything, it was also a new place for me. It was the same sort of reason that I don’t take many snapshot while I’m on my lunchbreak from work even though I might be sitting in a similarly simple city square, engaging with similar random people, and watching Canadian pigeons behave virtually identically to their Irish cousins. Novelty, opportunity, and purpose might just be a thing one finds on vacation. Or not?

I’ve got it in my head to do more sketching during the pandemic, cracking open the art tools I own to draw the world in which I now find myself temporarily trapped: sheltering, holding ground, and staying healthy. I penned some nature art on the sketching app on my iPad during May and as June hits its stride I’m going to try and post at least one proper “urban sketch“ per week — analog, pencil and paper, a moment in space drawn in place.

I’ll be in my own neighbourhood, like as not, but I’ll be thinking of and drawing on Dublin.

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