Miry Place

I’ve started a couple of paintings based on some photographs I took out near the coast at Aughrus recently. This is how the first one began.


First stage of 'Miry Place' painting by Deborah Watkins




I want the main part of the painting to have a golden glow (this is how the grasses appeared when I saw them) so I’ve used lots of gold paint in broad strokes across the page. I’ve sketched in the sky using a combination of blue and white paint and I’ve left a space for the bog pool in the centre of the piece. Here’s the next stage below.


Second stage of 'Miry Place' painting by Deborah Watkins




I’ve played with different consistencies of paint and ink and I’ve used brushes of different widths to vary the effects. I like the movement that a large sweeping brush stroke gives and I also enjoy the way watery paint pools around thicker clumps of colour. I’ve tried to keep all the colours as fresh as I can, not allowing them to muddy too much and washing my brushes often between applications. I want this dark bog pool to be the focus so I’ve used dark blue and brown inks for the central shape and surrounded it with light and metallic shades to describe  the grasses.

Here’s how the second painting started below.


First stage of second bog painting by Deborah Watkins




I’ve used blue, purple and white paint to sketch in the sky and clouds and I’ve outlined a broad shape in red to describe the russet coloured ferns I saw in the bog that day. Here’s the next stage.


Next stage of second bog painting




Oooo I like it here! Something about that red and green together – these colours appealed to me when I took the photographs in Aughrus. I love the way the blue ( a watery pool ) has bled in to the cream and pink paint. I’m sorry in a way not to have left it here as the colours are lovely and fresh and true to how they were. It does look very unfinished however and so I continued working on it as you can see below.



Last stage of Miry place painting by Deborah Watkins



I’ve gone in with lots of colour to the extent that I’ve had to stop at this point so that it doesn’t become too sludgy. I’ve tried to give the area on the left of the piece a vertical direction to suggest some tall grass shapes. The dark blue shape across the centre describes a wet pool and beneath that some green plants. I’ve more to do on both of these paintings but I’ll have to wait a day or two until the paint has dried completely.



Paris & Painting

We had a magical time in Paris with the kids last week. It was a dream for us to be able to take them to this beautiful city and share in their excitement as they saw some of it’s treasures for the first time. It’s been more than twenty years since my last visit so the excitement was just as real for me too. We tried to make the trip as family friendly as possible and included trips to the wonderful Cite des sciences et de l’industrie ( Science museum – full of interactive games and challenges for kids ) a night time visit to the top of the Eifel Tower and a day trip to Euro Disney. We also wanted them to see the Musee d’Orsay, more child friendly perhaps then the Louvre and full of original paintings that they have seen reproduced in print and modern media in their own lives. They immediately recognised Van Gogh from his self portrait below.


Vincent Van Gogh Self Portrait

 ‘Portrait de l’artiste’ ( Self Portrait ) by Vincent van Gogh




I remember being struck by the vividness of the colours when I saw these paintings in the late 1980’s. They are so clear and bright that it’s hard to believe that they are real and I imagined that perhaps the hazy originals lay in a dark vault somewhere, the worlds best kept secret. This radiant, vibrant, intense colour takes your breath away and each mark sings out against the one beside it. The texture of the paint really made an impact on me this time, the depth of it and the clear impression of each stroke, as if the weight of the hand behind it had been taken away just a moment ago, the shadow of it still there like the  presence of someone having just left the room.


Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

‘La Nuit Etoilee’ ( Starry Night ) by Vincent van Gogh




Close up of Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

Detail of Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh




I was also greatly moved by the paintings of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Unlike Van Gogh, the paint is sketchy and thin but nonetheless full of vigour and energy. This one below is called ‘Le Lit’ ( The Bed ). It is such an intimate scene and must have been quite shocking at the time as it appears modern even to our eyes.


Le Lit by Toulouse-Lautrec





I love the roughness of the lines and the sweeps and smudges of paint that he has made with such conviction. He seems to have cast all convention aside, all notions of what a painting should look like and lost himself in the desire to bring this scene to life with all it’s nuances of tenderness, sleepiness, attachment and warmth. It is so wonderfully human and surely made by a man who knew this moment himself, really felt it so that he was able to put it down so earnestly and faithfully.

I also loved this next painting called ‘Seule’ ( Alone ).


'Seule' by Toulouse-Lautrec




It’s a study made on cardboard of a woman lying on her back across an unmade bed, her long limbs in a pose of complete collapse and abandon. I’m wondering who she was – her black stockings and light dress suggest that she might be a prostitute and we know that the artist liked to go to brothels. He moved in permanently at one point so that he could observe and capture the women where they lived and worked. He makes no judgment on her however and she might just as well be a worker or any other ordinary person captured at a very private moment.

The overriding feeling in all of these paintings is the sense of them having been made by a human hand. The magic of this wonderfully versatile material and the relationship between it and the artist is paramount. The energy and the will behind each stroke is clearly visible and I think there is enormous value in being able to read this expression. It makes me question the point of photo realism and any other technique of painting which disguises the material. Really, what is the point? There is so much humanity and feeling in these works because of the way that they were made and it was a huge pleasure and an inspiration to see them again.

What do you think about this point of view?



Cover image ‘Church at Auvers’ by Vincent van Gogh taken from John Brody Photography

Returning – Coastline Bog

Close up of stampler stapler

It’s good to be back. We’ve had a wonderful holiday in the magnificent city of Paris, a special family treat that we have enjoyed immensely and which was as exciting and fun as we could have imagined, but more about that in my next post..

There’s truth in the adage that travel that makes the return home all the sweeter – the first sight of the Twelve Bens felt like a welcome home party after our long journey, all hazy and blue in the evening sun.

Feeling full of enthusiasm, I got back to work at the week end and went out with my camera to Aughrus Mor, just North of Clifden. It is a flat low lying area of rock and bog that stretches right out to the sea. It’s always windy here and the breeze seemed to accelerate as I moved closer to the water. Although I went out with the intention of taking pictures of the sea and islands off shore, I found myself looking at the ground at my feet – a lovely combination of stone, bog and some wonderful cushiony soft grasses. I love the feel of these spongy plants, a mantle of spongy softness under every step.


Photo of Bog





The earth was broken by a number of  bog pools, each one a different  combination of curling edges and the stillness of the water contained reflected the colours in the sky.


Photo of Bog Pool by Deborah Watkins





This small one was eerily hidden and reminded me of the mythical bog holes that people warn you about, the kind through which people are supposed to disappear after dark, never to be seen again ‘beware of the bog holes, you never know how deep they are..’ Is there any truth to this I wonder? I wasn’t about to find out for myself on this occasion..


Photo of small hidden bog hole by Deborah Watkins





This low lying area was difficult to cross as the ground was so wet but such a rich combination of plants and colours. The vividness of some of the tiny water plants was striking and those russet red ferns seem like the perfect complement to all those greens.


Photo of bog and plants by Deborah Watkins





I discovered to my dismay that my new boots are not waterproof, should have brought my wellies..


Wet boots by Deborah Watkins





Nonetheless, I came away feeling satisfied that I have some rich source material for a new batch of bog paintings.


Photo of coastline bog by Deborah Watkins

Time Out

I booked a holiday earlier this year when the Autumn seemed like a very long time away. It’s been a long and full Summer and now that the month of October is almost here, I’m ready for a break and a change of scene! I won’t be posting while I’m away so you’ll hear from me again, revived and refreshed on Monday October 8th.

I’ll leave you with a song from The Dubliners who played here last week for the Clifden Arts festival. This one’s a favourite of mine and I think the perfect blend of writing and melody, with words by Patrick Kavanagh and music from the traditional song ‘The Dawning of the Day‘. As the story goes, the song was born when Luke Kelly of the Dubliners met Kavanagh in a pub in Dublin and it was agreed that Raglan Road should be sung as a ballad.




On Raglan Road


On Raglan  Road on an Autumn day I met her first and knew

That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue;

I saw the danger, yet I walked along the enchanted way,

And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.


On Grafton Street in November we tripped lightly along the ledge

Of the deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion’s


The Queen of Hearts still making tarts and I not making hay –

O I loved too much and by such, by such, is happiness thrown



I gave her gifts of the mind, I gave her the secret sign that’s known

To the artists who have known the true gods of sound and stone

And words and tint. I did not stint for I gave her poems to say

With her own name there and her own dark hair like clouds over

fields of May.


On a quiet street where old ghosts meet I see her walking now

Away from me so hurriedly my reason must allow

That I had wooed not as I should a creature made of clay –

When the angel woos the clay he’d lose his wings at the dawn of



Patrick Kavanagh  (1904-1967)






Cover image taken from a thrifty mrs.


Small and Large Notebooks and Pencils


I’ve been asked to submit a couple of paintings for this year’s Sea week group exhibition. This annual event takes place in the nearby village of Letterfrack and is a celebration of the sea through music, word and the visual arts.

This year the theme is the Island. I’ve been thinking about how I see the islands ( in a literal way ) as a shape on the horizon line from the mainland, as a two dimensional shape on a map and sometimes as coloured images from space ( with the help of google earth ). I wanted to combine these ways of seeing so I took some photographs of the islands from the mainland and then looked at maps and other imagery (below).


photographs and map collected by Deborah Watkins





I love this map by Tim Robinson – every town land, hill, island, inlet, mound and tomb is here. Every scaled inch is marked and has a name. I am drawn to the familiar shape of Omey island which is connected to the mainland by a strand at low tide.



Photograph of map by Tim Robinson





I begin by sketching an outline of the island as a shape on the horizon and then I flatten the perspective so that the shape extends underneath as if viewed from above. I like the resulting image as it also looks like a shape that is under the water like an iceberg.


Outline of Island shape by Deborah Watkins





I used a broad brush to fill in colour – paint for the island shape and strand and blue inks for the water. The composition is similar to a painting I made called ‘Tinkers‘ after the novel of the same name. The choice of colour is similar and both allow the viewer to see water from different perspectives..


Second stage - Island painting by Deborah Watkins





This is the piece as I’ve left it below. I filled in some details as if we are now seeing part of the island from the above. I put in Lough Feichin ( wonderful name! ), the large lake in the middle of the island and Tra Rabhach above it as well as some of the other beaches. I used brown ink to darken the water in places, I enjoy the way the inks react with the paint, especially where it has been thickly applied. I’ll return to it in a couple of days and see if it needs anything more.


Finished Island Painting by Deborah Watkins




Looking at the painting now I think that choosing this removed perspective is appropriate for me as someone from the mainland. I love to visit the islands when I can but I know that there is something about the isolation and the restriction of movement that I would find difficult..


The Crossing


This short film was made by Clifden based photographer Kevin Griffin. It portrays the crossing of cattle from the mainland to a nearby island by the Bourke family who have been doing this for hundreds of years.

I think that the film faithfully captures something of the essence of this place – it’s traditions, the physicality of farming life, the quiet resilience of the people and the breathtaking beauty of a landscape that is impossible to take for granted.





The Crossing‘ will be shown in Ohh! By Gum, Station House Courtyard, Clifden during Clifden Arts Week 20th – 30th September 2012



Cover image taken by Kevin Griffin

Captivating Brightness



So we stopped and parked in the spring-cleaning light

Of Connemara on a Sunday morning

As a captivating brightness held and opened

And the utter mountain mirrored in the lake

Entered us like a wedge knocked sweetly home

Into core timber.



taken from Ballinahinch Lake a poem from the collection entitled Electric Light by Seamus Heaney



The 35th Clifden Arts week  festival is upon us and there is a rich and varied programme that encompasses the visual arts, poetry, music, dance and performance. It is one of the very best times to be in Clifden and because it is a community arts week no section of our population is excluded as the artists visit and perform in our schools and throughout the community. The ten day festival concludes on Saturday night next with a lantern-lit costume parade and aerial dance performance. This is always a spectacle and involves local national and secondary school children under the guidance of the multi disciplinary ‘Fidget Feet’. This year we are honoured to welcome President Michael D. Higgins who officially opened the celebrations last night.

‘Captivating Brightness’ is the title of an exhibition that was specially curated by IMMA ( The Irish Museum of Modern Art ) to celebrate the festival and to pay homage to Irish artists in the last century who have drawn on the West of Ireland for their inspiration. The title for the show was taken by kind permission from Seamus Heaney’s poem ‘Ballinahinch Lake’ (above). This impressive exhibition includes paintings by Jack Yeats, Paul Henry and Mainie Jellett alongside contemporary works by artists such as Dorothy Cross, Barrie Cooke and Sean McSweeney.  I went along to the show which was launched by Mary Banotti. Speakers also present were Christina Kennedy – Senior curator and Head of Collections IMMA, Desmond Lally – Arts Committee, Clifden Community Arts festival, our very own Brendan Flynn who is founder and leading light of Arts week and Eamonn McLoughlin.

Mary Banotti spoke about the ghosts in the room – a century of artists brought together and bound together directly or indirectly by the landscape of the West. Paul Henry’s ‘Lake and Blue Mountain’s of Connemara’ (above) depicts the landscape sensitively and just as it is. Other artists such as Louis le Brocquy and and Mainie Jellet spent time here while others such as Gerard Dillon made Connemara their home.

Christina Kennedy talked about this exhibition as part of IMMA’s wish to bring art back to the people. There is an enormous sense of this and I had to remind myself that I was standing in the old Supervalu in Market Street ( now a transformed space ) and not in a gallery in our capital city. It’s proper place you might say, where it all began and now returns. Yet it is still a remarkable thing and a credit to the Arts week committee and the high esteem with which this Clifden festival is held Nationally and Internationally. Enjoy it while it’s here.


Megaceros Hibernicus by Barry Cooke


Megaceros Hibernicus by Barrie Cooke




Saddle by Dorothy Cross


Saddle by Dorothy Cross


First Egg

We have three new hens in the family – two Rhode Island Reds and a Bluebell chosen by each of our three girls. Sadly, we lost our last two hens to the fox but we’ve added some extra security measures so that hopefully this won’t happen again.

The new arrivals are only a few months old and not yet laying or at least that was the case until a few days ago. I was taking some pictures in the garden when I heard the familiar sound of a nesting hen ( lots of noise, poor girl ) so I had my camera in my hand when I went to take a look. Sure enough, the bluebell was in the nesting box. One of the other hens was keeping her company and feeling a little camera shy..


Nesting hen





Our girl got up just a few seconds later and turned around to see for herself just what had happened!


Photograph of hen examining egg





Job done, she followed her pal out of the coop..


Hen leaving the coop





and down the ramp for a well deserved drink of water. Well done Missie!


Hen drinking water

Night Bog

I found this painting (below) in a drawer of old works. It’s very small, about 4″ x 3″ and I’d started it about two years ago for a group exhibition. I was unhappy with it at the time and decided to put it away. Sometimes these discarded paintings don’t seem so bad later on so when I came across this one recently, I thought I might rework it a little. The white patch in the middle ground is a damaged area where something stuck to it and then the paint was removed. While I like the colours in the piece, I think it lacks definition.


Found painting by Deborah Watkins




This is the finished piece below. I’ve given the sky more interest and direction using some white paint and a little charcoal. I’ve also added a fine wash of gold and blue. I tidied up the white patch with some brown ink and then I put some gold grasses in the foreground. I’ve pushed the grasses diagonally across the bottom of the image to give a sense of atmosphere. Finally I added some tiny gold highlights in the middle ground where the light of the moon might be catching the tips of the lighter bog grasses.


Finished painting by Deborah Watkins



Blackberry picking is as much a part of Irish childhood as the 99 ice cream cone, watching Saturday morning cartoons and rice krispie buns. I think smeara dubha was one of the first Irish words we learnt at school and there was usually a story in the first term or an essay to be written on ‘Ag Piocadh Smeara Dubha’.

These photos were taken on a road near our home where my own girls go to collect the berries with the same excitement and pleasure that I experienced at their age. They trawl the roads and hedgerows and return with sticky purple-tinted hands, brambly clothes and plastic buckets filled to the brim. G likes to make berry smoothies with vanilla ice cream ( sieved to get the bits out ) and my favourite ( when the mood takes me ) is apple and berry sweet pastry tart served with piping hot custard. Yum.

Here’s some more pictures – this one below is a more typical bunch with it’s assortment of blacks, reds and greens and some empty stalks where the ripe ones have been nabbed.


Photograph of blackberries by Deborah Watkins





This next cluster is almost ready to bloom, each berry a strange parcel of swelling crimson lobes..


Red blackberries by Deborah Watkins





I like this next photo because it includes the berries that have just started to turn. Close up, the creeping mould looks more like sprinkled sugar than decay. Theres something lovely about it as an image of the cycle of nature, from earth to fruit and back to earth again in just a few weeks. A reminder to enjoy them while we can.



Photograph of rotting berries