East Coast Sketchers was formed in June 2023 by local woman, Linzi Conway. It has since grown to 70 members, who meet on a regular basis to sketch the locality and to enjoy the diversity of the group.
While most of those involved are from the Larne area, East Coast Sketchers has also drawn membership from as far away as Hillsborough and the north coast.
Founder Linzi explained: “I originally wanted to go to university to study art, but ended up doing Mathematics and Computers instead. Art took a backseat for a while, but I always enjoyed arts and crafts and always had that passion for it.
“I had to give up other hobbies after I hurt my back and I wanted to get back into art, so I took course after course at The Duncairn and then started up my own art business.”
The idea for East Coast Sketchers was inspired by Linzi’s husband Martin, who plays traditional music at sessions. “I wanted to see if it would be possible for artists to meet up in the same way as session musicians, while promoting wellbeing and having a community feel to it,” she added.
“I started the group in June and thought we would only have a few people coming along, but it snowballed and we now have 70 artists. Some haven’t lifted a pencil to sketch since they were at school, while others are commercial artists, but a lot of people have spoken about the benefits of the group and how it has gotten them back into sketching every day.”
East Coast Sketchers has seen magnificent support from local businesses, with venues including Ballygally Castle, Hillmount House, Drumalis Retreat Centre, Aroma Coffee House, and Larne Bowling and Lawn Tennis Club all offering their premises as a place for the artists to meet and sketch.
The group’s work was on display during a pop-up exhibition and mini market at Jubilee Farm earlier this month, while artworks by member Nigel McAuley are to feature on a new flag at Larne Football Club.
Members have also benefited from the expertise of local professionals in the field, such as a recent workshop by Whitehead artist Steve Diamond. Linzi, whose work can be seen on Facebook at Linzi Conway Art and on Instagram @linzi_conway_art, has been involved with Extern’s Funkit art therapy programme for young people, as well as sketching workshops with AEL.
Among their plans for 2024 are pop-up exhibitions and sales of members’ work, while the group also hopes to get involved in Larne Arts Festival during the coming year.
“We have also applied to become a local chapter of Urban Sketchers, a global community of artists in over 60 countries and 394 cities with in excess of 120,000 members. For that, we need to have been a sketching group for at least six months,” Linzi said. “I believe we will be the first chapter in Northern Ireland if our application is successful.”
Anyone who is interested in joining East Coast Sketchers can email Linzi on firstname.lastname@example.org, send a membership request to the group’s private Facebook page, or message Linzi at Linzi Conway Art on Facebook.
Mid and East Antrim councillor Maeve Donnelly, a member of East Coast Sketchers, praised the “positive” and “encouraging” nature of the group. She added: “My background, many moons ago, was in the Arts – I went to art college in Brighton in the ‘90s. Since starting my career in teaching I haven’t had time to do much art, so I now really relish the opportunity to pick up the paintbrush again.
“I love that it’s a group where there are lots of mixed abilities and talents. Everyone has something to offer and have been very welcoming. Linzi has done a great job of getting it up and running and setting us tasks every week.
“It’s a lovely contrast to my day-to-day job and I love that it has brought me back to my arts roots. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy drawing and painting.”
Source: Northern Ireland World