Thursday, 31 May 2012

Summer's here!

We have been enjoying some exceptionally fine weather here in Connemara. Temperatures reached the mid 20's and higher last week which is rare for this (or any?) time of year here.
One sign of Summer's arrival is the appearance of the Summer wild flowers and they seem (to me) to have sprung over night - clover, buttercups, pink grass heads and marguerites, my favourite of all.
Here's a photo of a clover head, such a lovely colour - somewhere between crimson, pink and purple.

I love the feathery summer grasses, the smell of them, the rustling sound of them and when you look closely, their delicate colours. Here's an example and below that a couple of seed heads.

Finally, I've included some pictures of the Marguerite, one of my all time favourite wild flowers. Their name makes them human - my daughters affectionately call them 'Big Daisies'. There is a lovely field of these flowers beside the local National school but unfortunately for me, behind a high fence ( photo below taken through the fence ). I resisted an urge to climb in to the field, deciding not to risk injury to myself or my dignity and the possibility of creating a spectacle in view of my daughter's teachers!

These close ups (below) were taken a few metres away at the roadside which is dotted with these perfect flowers at the moment. Long live Summer!

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Oughterard Bog Painting II

This morning I tinkered with the piece I posted earlier this week, nothing too dramatic but I felt that the water needed some work and the area on the top right of the painting needed to be dampened down a bit.

This is another piece based on the bog near Oughterard. It began as a sketch in charcoal (below). I struggled with this one as you will see and I think this is because it isn't immediately recognisable as a landscape.

I added some broad sweeps of colour after this. The viewpoint is closer to the ground, so the horizon line has been replaced by green growth at the top of the piece. I quite like it at this stage (below), just those three colours and the strong lines.

The brown shape has become diluted as the painting has progressed (below) and I am hoping at this point to recover it to some degree before I finish. However, looking back here I am thinking once again that I might have left it at this stage. I like the movement at the centre of the piece and that pinkish colour which is lost later.

This is the next stage (below). I am less happy with it now and leave it to dry overnight.

Here is the final painting (below). I have used lots of brown ink to create more contrast and I have tried to put the shapes back as they were - the downward and outward flow of the water and the long flank of cut bog. I have subdued the green area at the top and added more paint to make the surface richer. I've left it here and am reasonably happy to call it finished. I am wondering now how it reads to someone else - let me know what you think, I'd love to have your comments.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Oughterard Bog Painting

I have started a series of paintings based on a bog near Oughterard where I took some photos last week. I wanted to do something that is faithful and sympathetic to this miry place and its vivid colours. I started this one by drawing a rough composition in charcoal (below). The tracks of water from this position give a lovely sense of movement and distance which I hope to keep in the final painting.

This is the piece as I have left it (below). It had got to the point of being too wet to continue so I will allow it to dry before making any further additions. I'm not sure yet what those might be or indeed if I will leave it as it is. Occasionally the richness of the wet paint and ink is lost when it dries out and it can look thin and unfinished. Sometimes on the other hand, if I have applied the colour heavily enough, the richness is held and heightened with a final coat of varnish. I'll have to wait and see with this one.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Bog - Oughterard

I took some photographs of this Bog just outside Oughterard on a recent trip to Galway. This section is well managed with tidy stacks of turf drying out on the higher ground above the cut bog.

I love the colours here - that rich brown against the bright greens and pale blues of the sky.  I especially like the reflections in the water. I will enjoy using these as colour and composition starting points for some new work.

While I was there, I noticed some bog cotton in the marshy wet ground. This time it is the many headed variety ( I took some pictures of the single headed bog cotton outside Clifden recently ). I couldn't get very close as I didn't have my wellies with me (!) but I managed to take this picture below.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Inspiration - Kathe Kollwitz

I have been thinking about the importance of having access to meaningful imagery in ordinary life. There is something immeasurable about the affect of a beautiful painting or drawing and it need not be an original work. This brings me to Kathe Kollwitz, a German artist about whom I thought I would write here. I have a number of reproductions of her work in my home that continue to inspire and make an impression on me when I look at them. I am also fortunate enough to have visited the museum made in her honour in Berlin, the memory of which still lingers.
Kathe Kollwitz was a German painter, printmaker and sculptor who lived through two World Wars. She was born in 1867 and died at the end of the second world war in 1945. Her work was grounded in naturalism, that is to say that she drew her inspiration from real life around her. It developed a strong expressionistic style later as she sought to convey the plight of her people, especially through her prints and political posters about ordinary human struggle in wartime. This drawing below is called 'The Child's head on his Mother's arms' - 1900.

Image taken from else-where at

Kollwitz began her training as a painter but moved in to printmaking - etchings, lithographs and wood cuts and finally sculpture. She made drawings throughout her life. Her early drawings have a painterly feel about them and later they become bulky and voluminous, as if sculpted. Kollwitz lost a son in the first world war and a grandson in the second and she suffered serious bouts of depression throughout her life. In spite of this, she never lost the ability to transend her own suffering and portray the simple beauty in ordinary human moments. This next drawing demonstrates this well and it is called 'Mother and Sleeping Child' - c.1913.

I marvel at how she has managed to evoke such tenderness and expression with these broad sweeping marks. The next piece below is a lithograph made in 1903. It is called 'Working Woman in Profile'.

The head and the hands are the only parts of the body she has portrayed, as with much of her work. The rest of the form, in shadow here, is completed by the imagination as is the fire that casts it's glow on the woman's cheeks. I think the next piece below has a great physical presence to it. It is a crayon lithograph from 1920 called 'Pensive Woman'.

Image taken from

Finally, here is an image of perhaps the best known sculpture by Kollwitz called 'Mother with her dead Son'. This piece is in fact a copy of Kollwitz's original and it was placed is located in the New Guard house in Berlin as a memorial to all victims of war and violence. The power of the piece is intensified by the starkness of the interior of the room and its single circular roof light (not shown).

This piece is deeply moving and an apt memorial. As with her drawings and prints, the expression comes from the head and limbs - hands, legs and feet - that emerge from the bulk and folds of carved fabric. I cannot fail to be impressed by the versatility of this great artist and her ability to convey her art with equal force and eloquence through such a variety of media. However, it is the great beauty and humanity present in all of her work that continues to inspire and affect me most.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Landscape - Progression

This is a bog landscape I've been working on as it has progressed. This is how it looked after the first sitting. The colours were true in the sense that the landscape did seem a lovely pale colour when I squinted my eyes. However, I felt that the overall appearance of the painting at this stage was quite flat. I decided that it needed more contrast and I also needed to dilute the horizontal brown lines on the left which are distracting because they are parallel with the edges of the canvas.

I darkened the middle background of the canvas by adding more gold, orange and some green. Then I brightened up the sky with some blue and added more paint and detail to the foreground.

I'm calling this one finished. The golds and browns here remind me of the raku glazes I used when I made pots. There is a lovely element of surprise with ceramics (especially raku) when the glazed pot is revealed - I will write a post about my work as a potter soon. When I use paint and ink together as I have done here, I get a sense of this as the result is not entirely predictable. I love the way the colours bleed in to each other and this sometimes has a depth about it that is like looking at the fused layers of glass and colour on a glazed pot.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Bog Cotton

I noticed a few strands of bog cotton while taking pictures out on the Bog Road. It usually appears later, around June so these were just a few sparse stands. Later it can be seen in gorgeous delicate swathes between the bog heathers.

This is the single headed variety of bog cotton which likes damp ground but not ground which is completely water logged. There is a many headed form which grows in pools of water and draws up water through it's stem. This variety uses its leaves which are long and rolled in to needles, to conserve water.

I love it's hairy delicateness and the way it swishes in the breeze. It holds a promise of Summer which is welcome as May has been unusually cold and wet so far..

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

My Work Space - A Tour in Photos

I will be welcoming RTE's 'Nationwide' team in to my home and studio this week which is a fantastic opportunity - I'll post the screening date on my facebook page as soon as I know about it. With this in mind, I thought I might do a photo tour of my work space for those of you who read this blog..
I converted our guest room in to a work room for myself about four years ago. I had been using the kitchen table before this and clearing up after each session which was often more trouble than it was worth! Creating a space where I can come and go as time allows was the best decision I have made in recent years.
It is a small room as you can see - there was just enough room for a double bed and two bedside lockers in it's old life. However, it is perfectly suited to my needs at the moment and I feel very lucky to have it.

This is my painting desk (above). It gets great light in the morning, as the window to the left is East facing and this happens to suit my morning work schedule when my daughters are at school. I've pinned up some old work, photographs, postcards and things I've collected overhead. I change these images around from time to time and add bits and pieces as I find them. Here's a close up of the board below.

These are my materials - inks, paints, charcoal and my palette which is a flat plastic container with a lid. I am very unfussy about my brushes and I sometimes think the really worn ones make the most interesting marks.

I use this desk (below) which is to the right of my painting desk, for sewing. I keep the materials separate and swivel my chair around if I am using my sewing machine. I do a bit of dress making for pleasure and I also do some machine embroidery from time to time. Perhaps some day I will figure out a way of combining the painting and the sewing..

This last photograph is a storage cupboard that I have covered with more collected imagery and old work.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Bog Pool

Here is another photograph taken from the Bog Road, between Clifden and Roundstone. The road itself is like a ribbon of tarmac that bumps over the surface of the Bog ( top right of photograph ).
I've used the pool in the front of this picture as the inspiration for the painting below.

This piece is similar to one I finished recently but I've made the water a stronger feature in this one - I am going to do several more paintings about this area because there is much to work on. I've used straight lines to delineate the pool in the foreground where the cut earth has been flooded. I love this play between the uniform lines or human marks left by the bog cutting and the wildness of the place which ultimately takes over.

I worked this in one sitting while paint and ink were wet. I really enjoy the way that these two materials interact with each other and I feel that they lend themselves well to this subject.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Tales from the West - Exhibition

This week, I attended the opening of a joint exhibition of work by two artists from Connemara. The title of the show is 'Tales from the West' and it takes place in the Peppercanister Gallery in Herbert Street in Dublin.

The first artist is my husband Gavin Lavelle and so I have watched the progress of his work for this show at first hand. Gavin studied fine art painting at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin from 1986 - 1991. He paints full - time as well as running his own gallery (The Lavelle Art Gallery) in the old family home here in Clifden.
His work is a mixture of collage and paint, sometimes applied on flat surfaces but also on wooden discs, icon shaped panels of board and specially formed domes of wood. The cut outs come from a multitude of sources - maps, printed work, texts, architecture, art history and religious imagery. These blend with paint and ink to form strange worlds of the imagination where opposing themes, histories and influences merge.
Here's an example below simply called 'Large Triptych Box'.

Rosie McGurran is also living and working in Connemara in the village of Roundstone. Rosie grew up in Belfast and studied fine art at the University of Ulster. She is a member of the Royal Ulster Academy of the Arts and she has worked in residencies in Rome, Australia, Iceland and New York. She discovered Roundstone and the island of Inishlacken in the late 1990's and this ultimately led her to move here permanently, establishing Connemara as her home and also as the inspiration for her work. Rosie's paintings describe the landscape, buildings, winding stone walls and field formations that make Connemara unique. A female figure commands the presence of some of these - she gazes outwards with a thoughtful, questioning look and she seems to gather houses and ruins in her skirts or on her head. These paintings are a response to the communities who live here and to those who are long gone. Rosie has a special affinity with the abandoned island of Inishlacken just off the shore of Roundstone. This was once a lively community which thrived from its own natural resource - the sea - but now it is a shadow of that time, it's people dispersed, it's houses abandoned except for a few Summer homes.
This painting of Rosie's below is of Inishlacken.

The opening night was very enjoyable and there was a lively and welcoming atmosphere thanks to gallery owner Bryan Murphy and a thoughtful and eloquent introduction provided by Mr. Frank X Buckley. The show runs until June 2nd 2012. Go see it if you can.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Bog Paintings Series

I'm working on a series of paintings of the bog at the moment. This is a photograph I took out on the Bog Road, between Clifden and Roundstone. I like the strong direction of the Bog furrows across the land. Also, the combination of the Twelve Bens mountain range in the distance with the water in the middle distance, make for a rich composition.

I've used all of these features in the painting below.  This one is done on a heavy weight acyrlic paper. I forgot to take a picture at the early stages so this is how it looks after quite a bit of work.

As you can see, I've deepened up the colours considerably ( these rusts and reds are truer later in the year ). I've also allowed the lake to bleed in to the bog, washing it away visually. I'll come back to this one when the paint has dried but it doesn't need too much more work.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

New Bog Paintings

A supply of paint and canvas arrived in the post last week and so I began some new work enthusiastically with my fresh supplies. I have been thinking about some of my old paintings of the bog which I worked quite heavily with paint, something I haven't done for a while. I decided therefore to apply as much colour as possible at the first sitting and try to build up several layers.
This piece is on a 5 x 5 inch canvas. The composition is based on a section of road that connects Clifden to the village of Roundstone called the 'Bog Road'. I applied the paint thickly and loosely once I had sketched in a rough compostion with charcoal.

Once the first layer of paint had dried, I added more colour, especially to the foreground on the right (below). I felt it needed red but less roughly applied. I also added more green and gold here in small strokes to descrice this little gully at the side of the road. Then I altered the line where the land meets the sky slightly and added a touch of colour to the clouds as they seemed a bit flat..

I left the rest of the painting much as it was. I was keen to strike a balance with this one - not to overwork it (as I am inclined to do sometimes) and to use plenty of paint in layers, in sympathy with the subject.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Favourite Blog

I have taken this idea from Elettrarossa, a follower of this blog, a jeweler, creative person, 'Etsian' and blogger herself. The idea is to promote blogs with less than 200 followers and spread the word!
It has not been an easy task but here are my top five - click on the titles to go straight to these blogs.

I discovered this blog recently and enjoy reading about Geninne's latest projects and also her inspiration, which is drawn from her surroundings in Sunny Mexico. The sunlight and colour that breathe through her photographs and imagery make me want to visit this beautiful country.

I met Catherine several times before I discovered that she is a fellow blogger. She spent some time here in Clifden with a mutual friend and taught a series of very successful art classes to local children, mine among them! Catherine also exhibited her paintings while she was in Clifden and we are now the proud owners of two of her wonderful pieces which we all enjoy very much. I am delighted to follow Catherine's blog and would recommend it to anyone interested in contemporary Irish Art.

This blog is written by my sister in law who is living in Brisbane, Australia. It is about her latest project which is the furnishing and decoration of her new house. Tina is Greek Australian and she has taken the Greek word 'Koukla' or pretty thing as a goal for her new home. Following Tina's blog is a way of staying in touch with family and I find her journey an interesting one as a keen home maker myself. Plus we girls like to support each other!

I have just discovered this blog through Shelley Martin is the artist/potter and she was the featured seller on etsy's front page recently which is how I connected with her blog. I love her simple clean style and the purity of her work. It is a great pleasure for me to read about a potter's life as I too made pots for many years.

This is another beautiful blog that I have stumbled upon. Bridget is an artist/printmaker who is originally from Northern Ireland but now lives near Melbourne in Australia. I admire her blog for it's style and the interesting way that she talks about her processes. I especially like her bird prints and the way that she uses line in such a loose and expressive way.

So, that's my list. I hope you enjoy it and thanks again to Elettrarossa for sharing the idea and also for her support. Now it's over to you to play the game if you like. Just download the banner, nominate your own top five bloggers (with under 200 followers) and notify them of their inclusion in your list via a comment in their blog.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Wild fuchsia and Nature's Colours

I took some more photographs of the wild fuchsia flower on a recent walk near my home in Clifden. This pale pink variety is not as commonly found as the bright red strain that adorns most hedgerows here. I love it's delicate colours - barely pink and pale purple against the vivid greens of the leaves and hedgerow, the colours of early Summer.

I find it interesting how certain unexpected combinations of colour and tone work so well in Nature. I can imagine this mixture in a fabric print or perhaps some knitwear. Now I'm wondering if I can use it in a painting - it might be worth a try in this case.