Monday, 30 April 2012

Inspiration - Henry Moore's Sheep Drawings

I was reminded recently of Henry Moore's beautiful sheep drawings while taking photographs of a ewe with her lamb. Moore is perhaps best known for his large sculptures. There is a very fine example of one of these in Trinity college Dublin, photographed below. This piece is called 'Reclining Connected Form'.

Photograph by Andre Winlondon at

I read recently that when asked by his niece why the titles for his work are so simple, Moore replied "All art should have a certain mystery and should make demands on the spectator. Giving a drawing too explicit a title takes away part of that mystery so that the spectator moves on to the next object, making no effort to ponder the meaning of what he has just seen. Everyone thinks that he or she looks but they don't really you know" *
I take the first part of this as something to really strive for myself in my own work. I also appreciate it as an observer of art and nature myself - the skill of looking is so often undervalued.. but I digress!

These are the sheep drawings I have been thinking about. Moore made a wonderful collection of them and several of the ewe with her lamb - mother and child - a subject which he drew from throughout his career.

Photographs reproduced from the Henry Moore Foundation website

Moore has such sympathy with his subject. I love the expressions and gestures in these wonderful wiry drawings. These and many more are available as a collection in a book published by Thames and Hudson ( below ) which I would recommend to anyone with an interest in drawing.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Connemara Sheep

I took these pictures of Connemara sheep recently. This is a typical sight here - the sheep often feed and rest near the roadside because the tarmac surface is warm. They wander freely and graze on what they can find among the bog grasses. This one ( below) has just noticed me.

This ram is giving me the eye because there are lambs around..

How rugged and handsome these weather worn creatures seem in relation to their East coast cousins who appear plump and coiffed by comparison. Another ram decides to ignore me ( below).

Then I spot a ewe with her lamb. They move quickly when they become aware of my presence so I take as many pictures as I can. It's breezy and I'm finding it hard to keep the camera still so some of my shots are just out of focus. I keep all the images however as they will be useful as reference pictures.

The lamb stays close to it's mother as they retreat across the heath together. These images remind me of Henry Moore's beautiful sheep drawings which I will share in another post.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Finished Sea scape

I've been working on this one for a while now. This is where I left it ...

This is the finished painting below. I've added more buildings and telegraph poles to the landscape to make this a seaside community under the eye of the storm, rather than just a lone building.

I've given the sea a bit more substance with more paint and I've used some more gold in the clouds. Finally, I've used charcoal to darken the surface a few degrees.
Recording the stages of work on this blog has been an interesting process for me and sometimes I wonder if I should have left the painting at an earlier stage. I am often tempted to darken things towards the end of a piece. What do you think in this case?

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Connemara Colour

I took some photographs on a recent walk along the 'Bog Road' between Clifden and Roundstone. This is a protected area so the landscape is preserved and the mountain, bog and lake views can be enjoyed unhindered by dwellings. Along the way I found some lovely old twisted Hawthorns and unexpectedly, a colourful grouping of Willow. Here's a picture of the Hawthorn - I love the knarled branches and the way it has formed itself in the direction of the prevailing wind.

Here's a close up of the leaves and twigs which have a lovely layer of lichen. This combination of green and grey seems like a perfect partnership in colour to me..

Here's the Willow with its colourful and delicate Spring display of catkins (below).

The next couple of photos are close ups of these bright yellow downy flowers. 

They almost have the appearance of tiny sea urchins in water as they move in the breeze.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Sea Paintings on Canvas - Next Stage

To day, I worked on two of the small paintings I started recently. At the risk of repeating myself, I am showing you the paintings as I left them. The first began like this.

I added lots more colour using ink and paint together to get it to this stage (below).

I left it to dry completely before working on it again. Then I touched up the house and added some charcoal to give the effect of rain in those clouds (below).

The next photo is of the same scene but it is the larger 8 x 8 inch canvas which began like this.

I really attacked this with colour (below) in an effort to emphasize the dominance of the elements in this landscape and the insignificance of the house as a manmade construction within it. This is how it felt on this particular evening - the power of the natural landscape over everything.
I often think about this in relation to how it feels to live here in Connemara and I remember being quite struck by it when I settled here first. We are at the mercy of the elements here in a way that one is not living in a city. I suppose it is the effect of the wide expanse of the sky and the exposed, mostly treeless spaces combined with the force of the Atlantic weather.

I used a combination of acrylic paint and ink and I used my hands instead of brushes to make strong gestures with the colour to achieve a kind of drama. It's not finished yet but I am reasonably happy with the sky so far. I will let it dry and return to it later.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

New canvases

I've started some paintings on canvas. These usually develop over several sittings so I'm recording the progress (or otherwise!) as I go.
While it is possible for me to finish a small painting on paper in one session, I find that the canvas surface demands much more. I usually apply a base colour followed by a rough sketch of the composition in paint. I often work on several at one time so that I can explore different ideas during one sitting. Here are three pieces I have started. Once again, the theme is the sea.

I covered the canvas with a metallic gold paint in this piece above before outlining the composition roughly. This next one (below) is of a house near Mannin Strand.

I've cropped all of the images except the one above so that you can see the canvas in three dimensions.
Many painters choose not to paint around the edges or paint a neutral colour there instead. I prefer to continue the line of the composition loosely around the edge.

This one is a larger version ( 8 x 8 inch canvas ) of the last piece which measures 4 x 4 inches.
I was able to fill in more detail with this one while the paint was still wet, although the piece is still quite basic in its form and range of colour. I will come back to it once this layer has dried completely.

Friday, 20 April 2012

The Coral Strand

I have mentioned the Coral Strand recently as it has been a source for some of my work. It is a most unusual beach as its name implies and I feel that it deserves a special mention here.
It is located a couple of miles south of Clifden and is accessible from the main road that connects the town to the coastal village of Ballyconneely. The strand looks like any other in this area as you approach it and as shown in this photo below.

However, when you step on to the beach expecting to feel the silky sensation of sand between your toes, the prickly Coral is immediately obvious!

This 'Coral' as it is known locally, is in fact a type of red calcium carbonate forming seaweed called 'Maerl'. Mannin bay where the beach is found, is largely composed of the skeletons of Maerl that live on the sea bed and thrive in the unusually shallow, sheltered waters of the bay.

Each piece of Coral is distinctive like a very small clean bone and it mingles with tiny shells and plants in this unique and protected area.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Evening Sea - More sketches in paint

Here are some more of the Sea paintings I made recently. The photographs describe the paintings as they developed. The first group of three include the beach, but it is essentially the same viewpoint as the photos and painting from my last blog post.

These next two photos are of another piece in progress. I have used less paint in this one because I'm working with a lightweight colored paper which cannot take too much paint or water.

I quite like the energy in this one although again, I may have allowed it to become too dark.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Evening Sea - In Paint

Last week, I took a short drive south of Clifden to the Coral Strand, which is near the village of Ballyconneely. It was evening and the sun was setting against a menacing sky which threatened for a while and opened into a downpour just as I was leaving. The dark blue and turquoise colours of sky and sea against the peach coral sand and golds of the evening sun were truly spectacular. Here are a couple of the photographs that I took;

The top photo was taken slightly earlier in the evening. The rain storm is visibly brewing in this magnificent cloud, which seems unnaturally solid and bulky in the way that it hangs over the land in the distance. I tackled the subject in paint, as you can see below and tried to keep my focus on colour and atmosphere. The first picture shows the initial sketching out of the composition in charcoal and acrylic paint.

I'm using a heavy acrylic paper here. I've added more colour for the next shot.

I'm always in danger of going too far with these because I'm working quite fast and layering wet on top of wet.

Looking back I like the piece at this stage ( above ). However, I took it further as you will see below and it has darkened considerably.

What do you think about this one? It was still wet when I took the photograph. Did I take it too far?

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Clifden - 200th Birthday Celebrations

Clifden is celebrating an important birthday this year and there's lots going on!
200 years ago, a landlord named John D'Arcy founded the town on his private estate. The town plan was triangular in shape, consisting of two wide streets which converge at Market Square and are connected by a narrower street at the lower side. When I look at old photographs of the town, it is astonishing to discover how little it has changed over the generations.
A website has been set up to mark the occasion and highlight some of the events that have been scheduled for 2012. It's well worth a look, particularly if you are planning a visit to the area.
This photograph below shows Market Square as it was in the 19th century. Anyone who is familiar with the town will recognise Foyle's hotel in the centre right of the frame and and E.J. Kings pub on the far right. The town is virtually unchanged as it is captured here ( apart from the very recent developments in Market Square ). I find it hard to reconcile the images of the people who have been frozen in time, long since gone.

Image from the Clifden 2012 website gallery and courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

The second photo below is of Main Street in the 20th century - perhaps you can guess the year by looking at the cars. Once again, this street and many of its buildings are instantly recognisable.

Image from the Cifden 2012 website and courtesy of the National Gallery of Ireland

This final image is Clifden as you might find it to day. We are looking down at Market Square - Main Street is on the left of the frame and Market Street on the right. It was taken during last years St. Patricks day parade. It is an image bursting with colour, celebration and community and to my mind, shows Clifden at its very best. Note the brightly colored buildings - this is very characteristic of the town - each year the ladders come out and shop fronts are given a fresh coat of paint for the tourist season ahead.

Image from the Clifden 2012 website and courtesy of Terence O'Toole

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Spring flowers in Connemara

I took some photographs in the old graveyard in Clifden last week and among them several close ups of the wild flowers on the woodland floor. I included a photograph of the bluebells in a recent post but these were just the most visible plants. On closer inspection, I found a medley of colour and just at my feet!
This first picture is of the wild fuchsia, a plant that is truly synonymous with Connemara and far superior in my opinion, than its cultivated equivalent. I searched for an open flower and found only buds, but how beautifully they hang like ruby earrings. This amazing plant is the longest flowering of all and is found in hedgerows all over Connemara from early Spring right through Summer until the early Autumn.

The next photo is of the Celandine, the Lesser Celandine to be precise. This is a personal favourite, more delicate and humble to me than the buttercup or the primrose.

And one more picture of the bluebell, just to complete this trio of primary colour.

Lastly I have a picture of a dandelion clock, still perfectly intact and below that, a delicate white flower that I was unable to identify - help me out if you can!

Monday, 9 April 2012

Woodland in paint

I took some photographs in the old graveyard in Clifden on Friday which I had a look at over the week end. I wanted to use them for a painting, but not too literally. I decided to focus on the trees and woodland floor and omit the gravestones and the old church ruin. Perhaps I will include them in another image but this time I wanted to focus on the upward reach of the trees, from the richness of the earth and the woodland floor right up in to the light and the sky.

I chose this photograph, not because it is a good photo in its own right, but because of the arrangement of the trees and because it could be a woodland anywhere and not necessarily part of a graveyard in the middle of town. Here's the first sketch below. I used acrylic paint, charcoal and a little oil pastel.

The bluebells are suggested with some blue paint in the lower part of the piece. 

I turned the page around for this one, to emphasize the length of these spindly trees.