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.

 

Photo 1 of telegraph poles

 

 

Photo 2 of telegraph poles

 

 

Painting of telegraph poles

 

 

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.

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.

 

Photo of rain

 

 

Painting of rain

 

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.

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.

 

Painting by Deborah Watkins

 

 

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?

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.

 

Acrylic painting, stage 1

 

 

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.

 

Acrylic painting, stage 1

 

 

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?

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.

 

Bogland painting 1

 

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.

 

 

Bogland painting 2

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.

 

 

Bogland painting 1

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.

Inspiration – Blanket Bog

One of the most characteristic features of the landscape in Connemara is it’s blanket bogs. It is called a blanket bog because from a distance it appears to hug the ground like a blanket. It was formed in wet, upland areas where there was a lot of rainfall around 2500BC. This happened when farmers cleared the land of forest so it could be used for pasture. They chose the higher ground where the forests there were not so thick. However, when the trees were removed, the soil became waterlogged and more acidic due to the rain. By around 500BC, at the end of the Bronze age, the farmers were forced to clear the forests lower down as the land became unusable. Heather and thick grasses were able to grow in the upland areas but their debris did not decompose and so a layer of organic material or peat began to build up.
People began to cut the peat ( called turf when cut ) and use it for fuel in the 17th century. This activity continues to day and there is much debate about methods of harvesting and conservation of our bog lands for the future. However, small scale cultivation has been going on here in Connemara for centuries and has kept the population supplied with fuel for the long Winters. This must also be something worth protecting. As anyone who has ever visited this part of the world will know, there is nothing quite like the warm and seductive smell of a turf fire!
The appearance of the bog changes from season to season. In Autumn, the grasses and heathers turn from gold into a bright orange which creates the effect of a burning landscape. Spring brings new growth in the form of bright luminous green shoots. In between these seasons the bog appears on a spectrum that is sometimes awash with the pink and purple of heathers and sometimes black and dark like the moors of a Bronte novel.
I took these photos of the bog below, near Clifden. This one is on the road to Roundstone. The cut bog in the foreground has filled with water.

 

Photo of bog

 

 

This next photo was taken on the Clifden to Letterfrack road and shows the waterlogged ground with stacks of turf drying out in the back ground.

 

Photo 2 of bog

 

 

We celebrate the bog annually through music and art in a week long festival which takes place in the nearby village of Letterfrack. It is an excellently organised schedule of events based around our boglands. I have been fortunate enough to participate in the Bog week art exhibition for several years and for me it is always a welcome opportunity to return to this subject.
This next photo is of a painting I did last year for the exhibition. It is very small ( about 3″ x 4″ ) and it is done on a thick bamboo paper.

 

Painting of bog

 

 

I really enjoyed working with a dark range of colours here. In life the water on the bog surface reflects the the sky between the clouds, which is sometimes a startling blue. This is not conveyed very well in my photos above but I have used this effect here and in many other of my paintings. The blanket bog is so much a part of the beauty of this area and it is a subject that I will keep returning to in my work.

Is it finished?

This is a question I ask myself at some point with every painting. Sometimes it is easy to decide that yes, I have done enough and I should stop now. Sometimes it is not so easy.
Usually, I will allow myself to ‘sleep on it’ for a while and see the painting afresh when I look at it first thing in the morning, for example.
Occasionally, G will look over my shoulder and say – ‘don’t touch that, put your brushes down, it’s done’. One such time, I was incredulous that this was his opinion when I had thought that I was only getting started! (Btw, G is a full-time painter and gallery owner so I do put good stock in his opinions).
The thing to be avoided at all costs is overworking a painting and so the quality that I am always striving for myself is a freshness of touch. I believe that this comes with practice and confidence although it is by no means guaranteed every time, no matter how well practiced and confident one might feel! The viewer is always entitled to disagree with the results in any case and I do like to get the opinion of others. So, in this vein, I present to you the hen painting I started last week. This first photo was taken at an in between stage – I was reluctant to do much with the hen figure here and just added a little to the background.

 

Painting of hen, in progress

 

 

This is the finished painting below taken from two angles. I’ve used a 4 x 4 ” canvas which is almost 1. 5″ deep. I am enjoying working on these little blocks because straight away, the painting becomes a solid thing. I continue the background loosely around the edges, shown in the last photograph to really maximize the character of the painting as an object.

 

Finished Painting of hen 1

 

 

Finished Painting of hen 2

 

 

The question remains however, is it finished? I think so in this case but what do you think?

Clifden

This is Clifden, the town where I live. It’s known as the capital of Connemara and we are right on the edge of the West coast of Ireland.  It is a glorious place to live and work, surrounded by dramatic mountains and beautiful coastline.

 

Photo of Clifden
( photo by Bert Kaufmann)  http://www.flickr.com/photos/22746515@N02/2409325025/

 

 

Photo of Clifden bay

 

I took this next photo, just outside the town on the coast. I often go for walks along here with my family and I used this picture as a reference for the painting below.

 

Painting of Clifden bay

 

 

I mostly use acrylic paint and ink in my paintings. When I use them together, the colours bleed in to each other which can create interesting effects. You can see this in the top right hand corner of this painting. This effect particularly harks me back to the glazes of my old ceramic career. I decided to apply the paint in different ways in this piece also, thick in some areas and almost washed out in others to give the painting surface some diversity. What do you think?

Welcome to my blog!

I have been thinking (and talking) about this blog and my soon to open on line shop with etsy.com since Christmas. It is now almost the end of February and I am very excited to be here at last!
My plan is to share my thoughts about living and working in Connemara in relation to my paintings and the things that I draw my inspiration from.
It’s a big learning curve for me so I hope that the blog will develop as I go along and that some of you will stay with me.

 

 

Cleggan coast painting

 

This is my most recent painting and the one that I have used in my banner. It is based on a part of the coastline near Cleggan which is about seven miles away. The photo underneath is one I used for reference while painting.

 

Cleggan coast photo

 

 

I use photographs to help me make decisions about composition, particularly with the landscapes. I also use them as a starting point for colour choices. The work then takes on a life of its own and my intention thereafter is to evoke the atmosphere of the place, the weather and what it felt like to be there that day. I try to conjure this up in my head when I have my paints ready in front of me. This was a beautiful dry day (unusual in February!) but there was unease in the air and the promise of a rain storm. The afternoon closed in to the evening during the short time that I spent there.