The best time to get up at the weekend is?
am Head of Art in Ashfield Girls’ High School in Belfast, which means an early start every day leaving the house at 6.45am to miss the bad traffic. On a Saturday I like a bit of a lie in, have breakfast late, then I like to head out for a walk somewhere local. We moved from Belfast to the Mourne region in 2016 and are spoiled for walks and views. Our house overlooks Slieve Meelmore and Spellack Cliffs – I have painted this view many times in all sorts of weather and throughout the seasons. It is a recurring motif in my work.
Breakfast or brunch?
Throughout the week I tend not to have breakfast as I head off early and usually grab a coffee and some cereal when I get to work. At the weekend I’m up later and brunch would be the preferred option, especially enjoyable at one of my favourite local cafes in Newcastle after a good walk in the Mournes or along Murlough beach.
What does an ideal Saturday look like?
I love doing what I do and can spend hours blissfully unaware of time passing. So, for me, an ideal Saturday is having the time to go out sketching or finishing off work in my studio. Recently, most weekends I have been busily painting landscapes for my show in the ArtisAnn Gallery in East Belfast.
What would you get up to on a Sunday?
On Sundays we visit my husband’s mother, do a bit of shopping, then back for a Sunday dinner and to watch a film on the telly, then I prepare for the school week ahead. It’s marking season at the minute, so I do lots of that at the weekends too. Often we go for a drive and go down unfamiliar roads by accident – I love coming across lesser known places and views, especially on your doorstep. A large part of my work focuses on the often overlooked landscape.
Indoors or outdoors?
I love being indoors with a roaring fire and a nice meal to eat after a brisk, cold walk in the snow or frost. I also love the outdoors but, although I’m half Italian I’m not a sun worshipper, so you’ll always find me in the shade or under an umbrella in summer. The weather in Northern Ireland suits me perfectly and the clear seasonal changes of light and weather keeps me busy as I try to capture this unique landscape in all its ever-changing beauty.
How have weekends changed as you have gotten older?
Since our two girls have left home – Nina’s a lawyer and Ellen’s finishing her Architecture course at Queen’s – our weekends are our own, painting, holding art classes in the holidays, print-making, walking or visiting galleries or friends around Northern Ireland. I am a member of the Art Association of Design Education (AADE), an art teacher organisation which holds training for Art teachers in the Ulster Museum on a regular basis and invites practising artists in Northern Ireland and Ireland to showcase different processes and techniques for our own practice (and use them in school if we wish). I was honoured to be asked to do some acrylic painting sessions for them last year. I recently went to the Isle of Mull in Scotland in April to paint there, as well as a detour through Glasgow city. Work inspired from this trip is now on show at three art galleries in Glasgow.
If you could eat out anywhere this weekend, where would you go?
Since moving from Belfast, I don’t usually go out to eat that much. There are plenty of great restaurants locally, but I like to keep it light and have lunch somewhere – usually I tag it on as part of a day out walking. There are so many good places where you can grab a great bite to eat on the hoof – some of my favourites are The Squid Shack in Dundrum, Finnebrouge Woods in Downpatrick, and Docs or Base Coffee in Newcastle.
What would you have?
The Squid Shack’s salt n chilli box – squid, prawns and napa slaw.
At the weekend I’ll always make time for…
Having a siesta after painting or marking so that I am fresh to start again later on.
Are you a weekend cook?
Yes – I’m very lucky to have a husband who is a very good cook and makes my meals for me during a school week – I try to reciprocate during the weekend.
Who would you most like to go for a drink with?
Barack Obama – I’d never heard a politician like him before. He seemed to speak from the heart and answer questions directly and honestly. I also listened to Michelle Obama’s podcast recently about family – it was so refreshing to just hear common sense answers to questions we all like to know (but rarely ask) about relationships or how to bring up children – fascinating.
Too tired to cook? What are you having from the takeaway?
We live up in the mountains so it can be difficult to get a delivery, When we moved here from the city our daughter did try using her Just Eat app. It didn’t work – probably a good thing.
Heading to the cinema, what are you going to see?
I don’t tend to go see the big blockbuster movies, although I do have a weakness for a good Bond movie. Usually it is the smaller independent films that interest me and the QFT in Belfast would be the place that I would go. The last film I saw at the QFT was The Banshees of Inisherin.
Staying in? What’s on the box?
I’ve just finished watching Season two of The White Lotus and I rewatched Mare of Eastown; both excellent HBO productions. I also like to watch reruns of Columbo on the box. I remember my dad and I watching them, so it brings me some comfort since he died when I was 28.
What are you reading?
I am rereading two amazing books, Sightlines and Findings by the Scottish writer and poet Kathleen Jamie. She writes uniquely about her experiences of landscape and nature and is the source and inspiration behind my show at the ArtisAnn Gallery.
What’s your bedtime routine?
It depends on the day of the week. During the working week I like to unwind by listening to music, watching a bit of television and then a spot of reading before lights out. I’m asleep by ten as I have an early start. On a Friday or Saturday night I like to relax with a bath and a glass of wine before bedtime. If I’m not too tired, I love to dance to disco music, either in the house or I go out with friends to a disco in Granny Annies in Belfast – It’s great craic and there’s music there on Fridays and Saturdays.
Sightlines – An Exhibition by Valerie Giannandrea McKeag is showing at the ArtisAnn Gallery, Belfast, until January 28. See studio1plus1.co.uk or @ valeriegiannandreamckeag on Instagram.
Leave a Reply