Friday, 30 March 2012

Sunshine, the beach and a Heron

The sun has been shining here in Clifden since the week end, the temperature reached 19 degrees in some areas, which is almost unheard of for the month of March. Are we warming up quite literally for a long hot Summer? Others may dispute this but the last really hot Summer that I can remember in Connemara was in 1995. We usually get a mixture of fine days and wet days/weeks, the latter standing out more in my memory for the last couple of years. Let's hope 2012 will be a good one. There is no place finer than Connemara in good weather, it's a bit like being in the world's best holiday destination all Summer long, for free!
To day, I grabbed my camera and drove out to Ardmore beach ( below ), just outside the town, where I took some pictures and was lucky enough to spot a heron.

Here it is looking along the shore line. It stood perfectly still for what seemed like a long while.

Here's a close up. I love the reflection in the water, I'm going to have fun with this in paint..

And then it moved and I noticed a companion in the distance..

One last picture looking back up the beach, a glorious day.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Sketches in paint 2

These sketches are all based on the same scene, along the coast just outside the village of Claddaghduff, which is about seven or eight miles from Clifden.
In the vein of loose painting, I completed them very quickly (if they can be called complete). One is on a colored paper and the other two are on a heavy acrylic paper.

I enjoy working on a colored ground or paper and it is not quite the same thing as paper that I have colored myself, although I probably need to work on this. Psychologically, one feels more free straight away and I think this usually shows. It has something to do with the daunting hold a blank white sheet of paper has on the mind - it scares us a little. This really should not be the case for someone like myself who has been putting paint on paper since childhood but I do think that it is so.
The other point about these colored papers is that they are very light and not really designed for heavy applications of paint. They tend to buckle especially if larger in size than about A5. This does not bother me especially but may be off putting for a potential buyer/owner of the piece. What is your opinion?

Monday, 26 March 2012

Sketches in paint 1

This photograph of a grouping of trees is not far from Clifden castle, just outside the town. I took it from quite a distance so the image is a little unclear.

The trees in Connemara are few and far between, mostly Hawthorn which are slow growing and can withstand the harsh weather. They have a tendency to grow in the direction of the prevailing wind as in the photo and appear quite striking. Here's my sketch below -

I chose to straighten the tree in this instance but I am making a mental note as I type to return to this subject again soon. It is done on a blank water colour paper, postcard size. I've used a little charcoal to highlight the shadows and I've allowed the paint to fall down the page where it was thin.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Sea sketches

I made some quick sea sketches in an effort to loosen up my painting and allow it to be more expressive. To this end, I chose coloured paper, acrylic paint, ink, charcoal and large brushes.
The subject matter is the sea, its dangers and its allures. I was thinking specifically about a stretch of sea between an island called 'Inish Bofin' (just off the coast at Cleggan, about seven miles from Clifden) and it's neighbour 'Inish Shark'.

Bofin has a population of about two hundred inhabitants while Shark was abandoned in the 1960's, due to lack of support from the government of the day and also due to the hazardous waters around it. The two islands once shared life as sisters. The Shark people regularly made the journey over to Bofin, particularly on a Sunday, so that they could attend the church there. The stretch of water and most direct route between the two is known as 'The Sound' and is particularly dangerous due to a cross section of currents and shifting sands near the shore. The islanders rarely took this route because of the danger and some of the men that ran the risk, paid for it with their lives.

When looking over to Shark from Bofin, the waters of the Sound sometimes appear almost black and it meets the Bofin shore at a deceptively idyllic beach known as Tra Gheal ( which means bright or silver beach ).

The island is a tonic for the senses, everywhere you go the sea is just there, the sound, sight and smell of it. There is for me a wavering sense of awe and trepidation about this particular spot as the knowledge of those who perished there unsettles its astounding beauty. 
I plan to continue working on a series of sketches about the Sound which may turn in to paintings later.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Loosening up

It takes me a day or two to get in to a painting rhythm once I have broken my routine. I have been looking over some of my work, particularly these sea paintings I did about five months ago. I plan to return to this looser style of working on paper as I can get lots of ideas out quickly and it is a good way to get back to work after a break

These pieces were done on acrylic paper. I used acrylic paint, ink and charcoal and varied the way in which the paint was applied. It is very thick in areas such as in the foreground of the middle piece and thin elsewhere. I like the way the charcoal leaves its mark on the paint and for me it adds darkness and character to these pieces.
I plan to return to this looser style of work and use these materials to bring some expression back to my work.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Victorian garden

It's back to normal this morning after a long and enjoyable St. Patrick's weekend with family and friends. It was a typical West of Ireland St. Patrick's day on Saturday with so much rain that Clifden's National school band had to cancel their performance.
The weather redeemed itself yesterday however with a Spring like (almost warm) rain free day. Two seasons in as many days, we rain weary Irish know that it is imperative to abandon everything when the weather turns and go outside immediately as it might be some time before it returns!
I spent the day at the gloriously restored Victorian gardens at Kylemore Abbey.

These next photos were taken about a year ago in the garden around Easter. The great thing about visiting Kylemore is that there are new things to enjoy at every time of the year and the garden is always impressive and interesting even if it is not in full bloom.

The Kylemore story is a romantic one. It began when Mitchell Henry visited Kylemore with his wife on their honeymoon in 1852. They stopped at Kylemore Pass and looking over the hillside, Margaret declared that she would love to live in such a beautiful place. Ten years later, Mitchell Henry purchased the site and began to build the castle, model farm, dairy, adjoining gothic church, and walled garden. The entire project took five years and one and a quarter million pounds to build, a staggering sum for the time. The gardens cover six acres and originally contained twenty one glass houses heated by an underground system of piping that was was fueled by a lime kiln furnace. These houses would have contained a variety of tropical fruits and plants collected from around the world. The head gardener lived in a beautiful residence ( picture below ) within the garden walls and the workers resided close by in the modest 'bothy'.

The Henry's lived happily on the estate with their nine children for ten years before tradgedy struck with the death of Margaret on a visit to Egypt. She was buried in a Mausoleum on the estate but Mitchell never recovered from her death and could not bear to spend much time at Kylemore. Later, one of Henry's daughters died when driving a pony trap locally and after that Henry's empire began to collapse. The Benedictine nuns took over the property in 1920 and still maintain a presence there to day.
I worked at Kylemore when I first came to Connemara, making and decorating pots in the pottery on the estate. It was a fairytale introduction to the place for me and I spent seven years there in total before moving to Clifden, about ten miles away. The Benedictine nuns undertook the restoration of the gardens while I was there, no small task.
I remember visiting the garden in my first year. It had a magical charm then, like The Secret Garden, the children's novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It was out of bounds, wild and completely overgrown behind ancient locked doors.
The garden to day is a tribute to the Benedictine order at Kylemore and all the lay people, gardeners, locals and specialists involved in the massive restoration project. It is a marvel of a place, a surreal and expertly manicured model surrounded by walls, which give way to an untamed backdrop of wild mountains and countryside. It is almost like stepping in to a different world when you pass through the gates and allow yourself to be transported back to a very particular time in the history of this place.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

The Sea

The sea is a constant source of inspiration here as we have stunning stretches of beautiful beaches and coastline to enjoy.
The Atlantic ocean is completely different to the Irish Sea on the East coast of Ireland where I grew up. It is wild, cold, often dangerous and always beautiful compared to the temperate waters of the East coast.
I have done a number of sea paintings on paper with paint, ink and chalk, to give the effect of the waves. Here are two examples below;

I was thinking about Japanese sea prints when I was doing these. The famous one below is called 'The Waves at Kanagawa' by Hokusai. It is part of a large collection of Japanese prints in the Blackburn Museum in Lancashire in England.

Hokusai (1760-1849) is possibly Japan's best known artist but this image is not at all typical of what was being done at the time. Traditional Japanese art would not have painted the lower class fisherman, seen here riding the waves in their boats. Neither would they have been concerned with perspective, used here to show Mount Fuji in the distance. Hokusai was influenced by Dutch landscapes of the time and his unique use of colour and flattening of images went on to influence Western art. European artists such as Van Gogh, Manet and Degas would have studied this style and made elements of it their own.
In my paintings, I imitated the use of perspective by making the waves the focus in the foreground and and suggesting a typical Irish island shape in the background.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Telegraph poles

Telegraph poles line the road ways here and are as much a part of the landscape as the scraggy Connemara sheep. There are large areas of protected land on which there is little evidence of any human interference save for the ubiquitous telegraph poles. The harsh winds in Winter bend the poles so that one in five ( or so it seems ) breaks the line and leans over drunkenly. The first two photographs show this and below them a painting of mine.

The telegraph poles and wires bring something to the landscape for me and more often than not I choose to include them in my work. They are after all a lifeline for the communities here. Of course, most people also have mobile phones nowadays but the uneven topography of the land and small population means that there are still pockets of land with no signal and so the telegraph wires are much needed for communication.
I use charcoal over acrylic paint to illustrate the poles and wires and I love the way these lines follow the line of the road and can bring life to a painting.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Inspiration from others - Ghislaine Howard

Ghislaine Howard is an English painter whom I have admired for some time. Her drawings and paintings are bold and expressive and I love the way that she uses her materials so powerfully.
Although Ghislaine has done many landscapes, her work is primarily about the human figure.

Her maternity paintings are the ones I admire most personally, the portraits of her expectant self and the series she made as an artist in residence at the women's hospital in central Manchester in the 1990's. Here is a link to a gallery of these paintings on the artist's website;

Drawing seems to be at the core of everything she does and I love the expression she gives each mark - sweeping black lines that sometimes stand out and sometimes merge with colour.

These two images below are taken from an exhibition called 'The Choreography of Walking' which took place in the University of Salford in 2011. This work was done in conjunction with the university's Podiatry department and celebrates the simple act of walking.

( reproductions from Arts Development Team, University of Salford's photostream on Flickr )

I love the sense of movement in these paintings and the bold use of colour and line. I admire too the way that each gesture - line, brush stroke and smudge sits undisguised just as it was made. This brings the paintings alive for me because it is as much a celebration of the act of painting itself as it is of the subject matter.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Painting the Rain

It has rained a lot since last Summer, sometimes for weeks on end without a break. It is very much part of life here in Connemara. It is often possible to really see the rain moving in sheets across the sky and this can look very dramatic against the backdrop of the mountains and coastline.
Here is a photograph I took which captures this and below an attempt of mine to paint/draw the subject.

I have used charcoal here over the finished acrylic painting to give the effect of rain. I love using charcoal like this, smudging it in places and leaving its grubby texture just as it falls over the canvas or page. I was very struck by the possibility of using paint and charcoal together when I first saw the work of Ghislaine Howard, a figurative artist who uses both of these materials. I will look up some images of her work to put in another post.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Too dark?

I worked on this piece a little more yesterday and then decided to call it a day. I felt it had come to the point where any further tinkering would be counter productive.
My own thoughts on it at this point are, on the negative side that it has become very dark, perhaps too dark. On the positive side, it has taken on a quality which seems vaguely other worldly to me and one which might be called interesting. Perhaps I'm stretching it here!
Anyway, I gave it a couple of coats of varnish and called it a day.

I use an acrylic gloss varnish which protects the surface from dust and dirt over time. It also gives a depth and richness to the colours, especially the darker and metallic shades. For me, its a bit like taking a pot out of the kiln after a glaze firing when the colours that I have applied really come to life. I tend to choose darker colours in my paintings because I've always found them more interesting to work with and because facts are facts, the climate here is pretty wet and grey most of the time. (This is a subject which I try not to harp on about too much in general conversation because there is always the risk of it developing in to an extended moan which just puts everyone in a bad mood! )
Can a painting be off-puttingly dark?

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Bad day at the office

I had one of those days yesterday, you know the kind. Apparently, I got out of the wrong side of the bed and things just kept going slightly off. I spilt a couple of things, broke a mug and walked charcoal over three floors after a brief inspection of my work room.
Then I tried to tackle a painting commission with my four year old needing attention in the next room. Not a good idea.
I should have gone for that walk after breakfast - Resolve to go for a walk tomorrow morning regardless of weather!
Anyway, I decided to tackle this painting which has been sitting around my desk for a while. This is what it looked like as I got started. It is based on a scene from one of the islands off the coast here and I had roughed in the composition. I liked the lines going out to sea in the distance with the island shape in the far back ground.

I wanted to work in a sky line that I had seen on another occasion when driving home from Galway - so I was working from memory here. The clouds seemed so dark and heavy on that evening, they appeared suspended like physical objects.
This is how I left the painting yesterday. I'm going to leave it for a day or two before I varnish it as I might tweak it a bit.

The great thing about working with acrylics is that I get lots of chances to go over paintings again. There is no rule of thumb for me with this, sometimes the paintings that I have reworked a lot turn in to good paintings. Other times the ones that have been started and finished in a single sitting work well. It depends on the piece. I think this one needs a little more work, what do you think?

Monday, 5 March 2012

Bog Paintings

Here are some more of my Bog paintings. These ones formed part of an exhibition during 'Bog week' last Summer. This is a fantastic week long festival held in Letterfrack, which is a short distance from Clifden. It is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate our Boglands through music and art, a kind of pagan thanksgiving for residents and visitors.

This piece is based on the Bog road between Clifden and Roundstone village, with the 'Twelve Bens' mountain range shadowing in the distance.
I wanted to describe the richness of the bog colours here when the grasses are turning golden. I contrasted these rusts and golds ( I love using metallic paint! ) with the turquoise blues of the bog water. I've used lots of dark blue and green here too, so that it almost appears black. I wanted to give the effect of depth and shadow in the central pool to evoke a watery darkness in the piece which I sometimes get a sense of when walking in this place.

I've taken a slightly more literal approach here when describing the cut bog and the grasses. I've used lots of gold paint and ink to add a richness to the colours.

This painting is more of an imagined kind of place. I liked the way the broken down fence structure in the back ground gave it an abandoned feel.

Friday, 2 March 2012

A Treasury of goodies

I have just about recovered from my own excitement at getting my etsy shop up and running! It has been the culmination of a lot of work and energy and now that I am online, I am enjoying getting to know some of the etsy community. This is a really great thing when you are living in a fairly isolated part of the world like Clifden.
I have connected with people by making a couple of etsy 'Treasuries' which are collections of hand picked items with a theme. Apart from being lots of fun to create, they are a really good way to get in touch with other artists. People are notified straight away when their work is selected and so a connection is made when they make a comment and then view your work.

I called this Treasury 'Mothers and Daughters' which may be a little fanciful but I chose things that reminded me about this theme and I decided on mushroom pinks and browns for my main colours. You can look at this collection and some others by clicking on the title below.

Mothers and Daughters

Etsy is a feast for the eyes, when galleries and city life is so in accessible. Enjoy!