Sound of the Sea

 

I started a couple of small seascapes last week and instead of working from photographs as I usually do, I painted these from memory with the idea of making images that reflect the darker aspects of the sea, the power and the wildness of it.

I used small canvas boards – ( 6″ x 5″ ) and a combination of acrylic paint and ink. I used a deep red colour on the lower half of the board to give the sea blues more depth and interest. Here’s how the first piece started.

 

First stage of sea painting

 

 

 

 

I allowed the paint to dry before continuing. When I looked at it again, it seemed very dull and in need of more paint and colour. I also wanted to inject some movement into the central part of the painting. I started by adding red to the mountains in the distance and I used large brushes to create a wave in the centre of the piece, adding just a little yellow to take the eye down into the depths of the water. The whole thing was worked quite quickly, the idea being to give it a sense of movement and energy. Here’s the finished piece again below.

 

Finished sea painting

 

 

 

I worked this second seascape at the same time – I find it satisfying to pursue one idea in a few slightly different directions so there similarities. I’ve called this one ‘Sound of the Sea.’

 

First stage of 'Sound of the Sea'

 

 

 

 

Once again, I felt it needed more colour and definition – I worked over the mountains and sky and I darkened the sea, using red highlights this time to draw the eye inwards.

 

Finished painting - 'Sound of the Sea"

Hidden treasure

I realised just before dusk one night last week that one of my hens was still out, so I went searching for her with a torch. She started to make some noise and I followed the sounds, eventually finding her in a cosy little spot in the back hedge. When I reached in to scoop her out, I discovered there were some eggs tucked in behind the undergrowth.

 

Eggs in the undergrowth

 

 

 

The next morning I went to take a closer look – my hen had hidden herself in a long tunnel, a natural underground passage between the bank and a web of overhanging ivy. I reached in with the camera to take some pictures and then pried back the leaves to gather the eggs – there were sixteen in total!

All those mornings when I’d found no egg in the nest box, I’d assumed that the old girl was having an off day – not thinking for a moment that she had found a nest box of her own!

 

eggs 3

 

 

 

 

I disposed of the eggs sadly as I had no way of knowing how long they’d been there. Happy nonetheless to have found her new spot and I’ll make sure to check it on my rounds in the mornings.

Celebrate the Season at Brigit’s Garden

(I’ve written about this place before, one of my favourite places to visit in the West. I’ve recycled it a bit and it will appear again in the next issue of the Connemara Journal.)

 

Longer, warmer days are here at last. If you are looking for somewhere different to enjoy the Spring air, look no further than Brigit’s Garden in Rosscahill, just outside Galway. If you haven’t been, it’s a must at any time of the year but especially in Spring and early Summer when the wild flowers come into their own. The garden is a not-for-profit organisation and registered charity set up by Jenny Beale out of her passion for nature and the environment.  Designed by Mary Reynolds ( the first Irish person to win a gold medal at the prestigious Chelsea flower show ) it is a ‘natural’ garden in every sense of the word. There are few straight lines – paths curve and wind, circles pop up everywhere  – sunken, interlocking, a tiny moon like island and a great sundial. Wild flowers and grasses, herbs and plants are celebrated in bursts of colour that greet you at every turn.

The design is based on the four Irish seasons – four gardens that interconnect and take you on a voyage through the Irish festivals of Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtaine and Lughnasa. The journey mirrors the cycle of life from conception and birth through to old age and death.

Samhain ( Halloween ) begins on the 31st October and marks the beginning of the cycle. It is celebrated in the Winter garden which pays homage to a time for death, with a promise of re-birth. It is a period of sleep and reflection, evoked by a mound of earth that has been shaped into the sleeping body of a woman, wrapped around a pool. Another figure made of bronze rests on the ground in an island within the pool. She is listening to the earth, waiting for it to stir again and bring forth new life.

 

Winter garden sculpture in Brigits garden

The bronze woman in the Winter Garden

 

 

 

Imbolc is the Spring garden. This is the old Irish name for the festival now known as St. Brigit’s day. In the garden’s cycle of life it is a place for the young, where children can play and enjoy the basketwork swings and a wildflower meadow.

May day heralds the festival of Bealtaine which is celebrated in the Summer garden. This is a time of young adulthood, sexual awakenings and marriage. The garden tells the story of Diarmuid and Grainne, the fleeing lovers in Irish mythology. Their bed is a grassy hollow facing the sun. A path of standing stones leads to a throne where the lovers unite and sit together.

 

Photograph of the Summer Garden in Brigit's Garden

The Summer Garden

 

 

The Autumn garden marks the festival of Lughnasa which begins in August. It is a time of harvest and celebration. Spiral beds contain herbs for cooking as well as healing. Two circular lawns interlink to create a large space for dancing and a long table provides a picnic area. Three yew trees mark the exit of the Lughnasa garden which signifies the end of the cycle and the possibility of renewal which lies ahead.

There is much more to see – a woodland walk, a living willow play area for children and a wishing tree. You can round off your visit in the cafe which offers a tempting variety of home baked cakes. A treasure of a place, almost on our doorstep and well worth a visit.

Getting some Perspective

I’ve been busy for the last few weeks, doing lots of writing and not very much painting. I’ve been involved in a poetry workshop for over a year now and it’s been great. Writing has slipped into my life so quietly and unexpectedly that I find myself wondering what I did with my time before the workshops. Possibly more painting but life is always a juggling act – for me it’s a question of balance and trying to find just enough time for everything to keep some kind of equilibrium.

At the moment I am writing a business plan for our gallery as we are hoping to develop what we are doing in a new direction. It’s a different kind of writing of course but it is also exciting and I hope that I will be able to share more about that in a few months time.

For now I am going to talk about this painting. I came across it recently while sorting through my desk. I remember working on it about six months ago and leaving it aside as I was unsure whether or not it was finished. Clearly some part of me believed it was not, as it lay quietly unnoticed for all this time. When I found it, I wondered why, because it does seem finished to me now! There are blocks of colour on the right – the pink and green that might seem flat and unresolved compared to the more subtly applied colour to the left, but this gives the piece interest and balance which is something easily lost if the whole surface is treated in the same way.
The negatives seem outweighed by the positives  – there is atmosphere, something moody around that hazy purple, the way the light diffuses in the distance and those stripes of red, pink and green do work even though they are incongruous with the rest of the piece.

 

Purple Hill

 

 

 

It reminds me how useful and important it is to take some perspective on a painting  – a little distance and time have allowed me to see the piece as if for the first time, so it is easier to make a judgement.

I realise how true this is of writing and yes, so many other aspects in life – it has just taken six months and an old painting to help me remember.

Cut Bog

This painting is slightly more abstract than the previous two. The focus is a uniform well like shape in the foreground in which a pool of water reflects the blue sky. I have simplified a lot of the other shapes – the mountains and the patterns in the land and I’ve been bold with colour.

This is how the painting started – looking back, I think there is a good argument to say I should have stopped here and it’s not the first time I have thought this about my work.

 

Cut bog - first stage

 

 

 

 

Here’s the next stage. I’ve added some darker colour to create more contrast and I’ve started working on the grasses to the side of the pool using large brushes and lots of paint.

 

Cut bog , stage two

 

 

 

 

This is how it continues, more work on the grasses and I’ve brought back some of the blue in the pool.

 

Cut Bog - stage three

 

 

 

 

Here’s the finished piece. I’ve altered the line where the mountains recede from the land and I’ve sharpened up the grass shapes to the right of the pool.

Is this the better painting or should I have called it a day after the first sitting? I would welcome your response to this one.

In the meantime, I need to do some fast smaller works to loosen up my painting again.

 

Cut Bog, finished painting

Return to Painting 2014

 

I got back to painting this month once the kids returned to school. Armed with some photos taken near Killary, I chose two largish canvas boards ( 12″ x 16″ ) and one stretched canvas ( 12″ x 14″ ) to get started. I have been working on all three paintings over the last few weeks, bringing each of them along in stages. I took photos at the end of each painting session which proved useful as I was able to use the earlier images in some cases to develop the work at a later stage. I have written about each piece separately due to the number of photos – here’s how the first piece began below. I love this initial phase of getting the fresh paint onto the board, there’s a great freedom and an opportunity to be bold with broad sweeps of colour.

 

Painting first stage

 

 

 

 

This is the next stage – I’ve used a good deal more paint, working from the top down. I’m happy with the blue mountains and don’t develop these much further.

 

Painting second stage

 

 

 

 

The middle ground is next, probably the brightest part of this piece. I’m using ink and allowing it to bleed into the paint in places.

 

Painting stage 3

 

 

 

 

Next I start to work on the foreground – it still lacks definition. I want to get across the effect of looking into or through the earth by abstracting this part of the painting so I experiment with some different shapes.

 

Painting stage 4

 

 

 

 

I try a few bold upward sweeps using a large brush and some gold and white – I also use inks ( blues and reds ) through the paint. I decide to leave it at this stage.

 

Painting stage 5

 

 

 

 

The paint is dry in this final photo. The colours have dulled a little but these will be lifted again once the piece has been varnished.

 

Last stage Connemara Loop Painting

Killary

I took some photos along the roadside near Killary with a view to using them for some new paintings. I took these because certain elements attracted me – colours, the shape of the mountains in silhouette and the shape of the cut bog. I like this one below because of the warmth of the orange grasses against the blue sky – feels more like Australia than Connemara.

 

Hill near Killary

 

 

 

 

The light is still very low and it illuminates each blade of grass much like theatre lights. There is great drama too in the starkness of the mountains – they loom in the distance, great shadowy figures waiting in the wings.

This is a protected area so there are few signs of human interference save the ubiquitous telegraph poles and the road itself. You feel like you are standing in a bowl or an amphitheatre with mountains on almost all sides. I love the blue pool in this one below – it reflects the colour of the sky.

 

Killary

 

 

 

I have started a series of new landscapes based on these images which I will post about soon.

A Few Trees

Trees are a rarity here in Connemara as there are not many varieties that are able to thrive in the marshy soil or withstand the harshness of the wind and rain. I stopped to take a photo of this small copse at the side of the road near Leenane, about 20 miles northwest of Clifden. It was an unusually calm day and the rich colour of the grass and the calm pastoral nature of the grazing sheep caught my eye. I love the silhouette of the trees against the pale blue and white of the sky, also the low shaft of light at grass level in the photo above.  Here’s another photo below from a slightly different angle.

 

Trees near Leenane

 

 

 

 

This next tree was nearby on the other side of the road. I’m not sure if it is a hawthorn or a holly as I didn’t get close enough to inspect the leaves. It’s shape is typical of trees growing in exposed areas such as this, right on the edge of Killary harbour. Its has developed with the prevailing wind and it’s branches have literally swept over, forming a beautiful curve.

 

Curved tree near Leenane

 

 

 

 

This next tree was also close by and it is a Hawthorn, one of the hardiest native Irish trees. It has been adorned with pieces of cloth and is known as a rag tree. These have been placed here by people who believe that an illness might be cured by offering a scrap of clothing from the person who is unwell. Others tie the cloths in order to make a wish which they believe might come to pass as the cloth fades away.

 

Rag tree near Leenane

 

 

 

 

I’ve developed a love of trees since I’ve lived in Connemara and especially for these weather worn species that have been shaped by the harsh climate. Like the scraggy Connemara sheep that dot the hillsides, they are survivors here.

Renvyle – New Year’s Eve

Connemara was a wild and windswept place this New Year’s eve. I ventured out to the Renvyle peninsula, about 10 miles north of Clifden to meet a friend and walk along the White Strand. Passing through Letterfrack, I took note of the high tide at Ballinakill bay and sure enough the sea had overtaken the strand completely in Renvyle. The sea was washing hard over the remaining rocks and thrashing up against the dunes, no traces of sand left. The sound of it was remarkable – a kind of woosh as it pushed forward and then a roaring, crashing rumble as it pulled back over the stones.

 

The edges of White strand beach

 

 

 

 

Looking out to sea and beyond, the snow capped peaks of the Mweelrea mountains were clearly visible and then we spotted a group of black clad surfers in the water.

 

Mweelrea mountain in the distance

 

 

 

We watched them for several minutes – it was mesmerising..

 

Surfers

 

 

 

 

Surfers at White strand

 

 

 

 

A little further along the shore, we came across a rocky outcrop where we saw a shell midden. This is an ancient site consisting of shells, bone, vessel remnants as well as organic and other material. It is evidence of life here thousands of years ago where people gathered, ate, cooked and discarded their waste. My friend who is an environmentalist, informed me that this site is seven thousand years old, making it the oldest shell midden of its kind in Europe. As I take some photographs, I find it hard to conceive of this passage of time.

 

Shell Midden, Renvyle

 

 

 

 

Shell Midden - close up

 

 

 

 

One more photo as we took a last look down the beach. The sky had darkened, the cattle silhouetted against the last of the light. They seemed to be grazing on the very edges of earth here. It started to rain and invigorated by the salty air and the spray we made a dash for the car. I made a mental note to return here again soon.

 

Dark skies at Renvyle

Clifden Castle

I took a walk around Clifden castle at the week end with my family.

John D’Arcy (1785 -1839 ) founder of Clifden, built the castle for himself and his family while the town was being constructed. It dates from about 1818 and remained in the D’Arcy family until shortly after John died. Due to financial difficulties, it then went up for sale and became the source of a series of disputes that have lasted over a century. Today it is owned by several families which sadly means that it is not likely to be restored any time in the near future.

We walked to the castle via the Beach road, right to the end and then along the cliff until the castle came into view across the fields. An awkward approach on foot, it is nonetheless a dramatic one as you first see the building ( now a ruin ) as a kind of grey specter surrounded by fields and facing out towards the open Atlantic. The area is completely unspoiled and there is a wildness to these fields, a timelessness about them. There are cattle and some beautiful white Connemara ponies on the land so the ground is well trodden and lumpy underfoot. It is easy to imagine the castle in another time as it is such a commanding building on the very edges of this place. I decided to take my photos in black and white which I felt suited the atmosphere.

The colour one below gives a good impression of it’s situation. All the other photos are my own.

 

Clifden castle in colour

Clifden castle from the Sky Road

 

 

 

 

Clifden castle - front view

Clifden castle from the front

 

 

 

Here are some more photos, taken from the eastern side. I took these through the gnarled branches of the old trees. Something about these reminds me of Wuthering Heights, the ominous house in the wild moors.

 

Clifden castle from a different angle

 

 

 

Clifden castle from another angle

 

 

 

More drama on the approaching path where some sheep wool has snagged in the barbed wire.

 

Sheep wool on barbed wire near Clifden castle

 

 

 

I took several photos of the Connemara ponies but unfortunately most of them blurred. This is the best of the lot – I think the sharp movement of the animal suggests wildness again and drama.

 

Pony near Clifden castle