Of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

Photography by Mark Furniss

I’ve been away from this blog for a while, caught up in catching up since my exhibition in September. Fortunately I have the Connemara Journal to bring me back to writing and this piece is in the the current November edition. It reflects what we have been seeing here in Connemara for the past few weeks, although we have had some wintry moments since. Today I’m looking out at clear skies and cool sun and I’m glad of it. I will post about my painting soon.  Continue reading

Black bog, blue hills

I’ve been working on some small paintings this week ( 5″ x 7″ ) – I really enjoy painting on this scale as I can get results quickly. It’s not just the speed factor though ( impatient as I am ) it’s the ability to make a better response to the landscape. At the moment I find this more difficult with larger work – covering the canvas takes longer so the response is less immediate. I believe that smaller works and drawings often have an energy about them that is lost in larger work. I would love to scale up in the future and get better at making bigger paintings – a bigger space, bigger brushes, more paint – it’s good to think about the possibilities. For now small is good for me.

The composition here is based on a favourite spot of mine near Oughterard. When I drive past, I want to stop the car and get out and just take it all in. Sometimes I do but it’s not always possible and it is a very fast stretch of road.

This is how this piece started out below. I’ve used large brushes and lots of colour, a little charcoal too.


First stage of painting





Here’s the next stage. I’ve played with different consistencies of paint – thick and thin layers over each other. I’ve used a sepia ink to describe the bog which is almost black at the moment. I allowed the paint to dry before continuing.


Second stage of painting





Once this first layer was dry, I used smaller brushes to add spots of colour – some green in the foreground and more red and blue on the hills behind – a little more definition overall.


Oughterard Bog




Happy with this one now and eager to do some more..

Autumn Fire

Cover image ‘Oughterard  Bog’ by Deobrah Watkins


I’ve just written this piece for the next issue of the Connemara Journal. I took the photo above on Tuesday – the colour of the landscape here in Autumn is breathtaking and this year is no exception. Never mind New England in the Fall, what about Connemara in the Fall?


October stepped in quietly this year and gave us days of unexpected sunshine and warmth beyond anything we might normally expect.  The long hot Summer has already ensured that 2013 will be remembered far into the future. I’ve always loved the colours of the landscape in late Autumn – an in between time of growth and rest. Since the bog fires in April, the grasses have changed from their luminous green shoots into fields of warm brown and again over the last few weeks into a lustrous fiery orange. When the wind is up, the now tall grasses appear to move like flames and give off an imagined heat through their colour. There’s a very particular kind of light at this time because the sun is at it’s lowest. When there’s moisture in the air, there’s a flatness to the sky that reaches around everything and blurs the horizon. It always makes me think of a theatre stage where the light is low and objects appear edgy and sharpened. Keat’s describes this aspect of the season in his poem ‘To Autumn’;


‘barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day, and touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue’


(from ‘To Autumn’ by John Keats 1795-1821). 


Bog painting as I left it

‘Land Interrupted’ by Deborah Watkins



The American poet Emily Dickinson speaks about Autumn light in her poem ‘There’s a certain Slant of light’ written in 1861;


‘when it comes, the Landscape listens –

Shadows – hold their breath –


(from There’s a certain Slant of light’ by Emily Dickinson 1830 – 1886)


Enigmatic lines appropriate for a season where colour and light are heightened briefly before they are dulled again. Keat’s poem ‘To Autumn’ is first and foremost an ode of praise while Dickinson uses the season as a metaphor for change and the difficult acceptance of ageing. I think that both poets and many like them recognise the beauty of the season as it exists poignantly on the edge of Winter but perfectly and eternally not yet Winter.


Winter's end landscape almost finished

Landscape by Deborah Watkins

Black Bog

Pike by Claire Finlay


This image of Roundstone bog inspired the painting above. It’s unremarkable as a photograph but I love the contrast in it, between the darkness of the boggy landscape and the gem like blues of the mountains and paleness of the sky.


Photograph of Roundstone bog by Deborah Watkins




This is how the painting started below.


First stage of Black bog painting by Deborah Watkins




I started at the top of the page and kept the colours clean when working on the sky and mountain shapes. Then I outlined the line of the land in a dark ink and I dragged some of the colour down using a brush to make a yellowish wash. This is the how the painting developed below.


Black  bog painting by Deobrah Watkins




I worked quickly using a combination of acrylic paint and ink together and brushes of different sizes. I like the way the paint settles when I work quickly like this, some effects are accidental but I have an idea about the overall feeling I want the piece to have. The middle and foreground dominates in this one because the marks are broad and gestural and this contrasts with the relatively careful way the sky and mountains have been painted. The richness of the colours that I have used in the landscape also make it stand out – browns, reds, golds, yellows and some dark blues. I like the way a large brush stroke gives the impression of strata, like layers of matter so the effect is being allowed to see under the earth as well as across it, to see the layers of material that have built up under ground over time.

I’ve decided to call this one finished as I’m happy with the results as they are. I’ll varnish it once the paint has dried and this will give it a protective coating as well as making the colours appear richer, as they were when they were just made and a bit like the way the colour of a beach pebble looks deeper when it is wet.

Autumn Gold

I took a trip out to Roundstone village at the week end and took some photos on the way. I travelled on the bog road which is a ribbon of tarmac that twists and bumps across the landscape. It’s spectacular at any time of the year because of the vast expanse of bog and lakes and the backdrop of the Twelve Bens mountains but it is really special in Autumn. The burnt orange colours of the grasses give off a deceptive feeling of heat and all the more striking against the blue of the mountains behind. It’s a combination that makes me think of the outback of Australia, wild and vast and hot.


Photograph of Roundstone bog by Deborah Watkins




There are few trees in this place which is something I miss but this carpet of orange heathers and grasses makes up for it. Shimmering colours against the low sun; yellows, browns, ochres, coppery reds – it’s a fiery mix and a golden time, a pause before the long Winter ahead. When the days are warm like they have been, it’s an extra gift, making long sunbeams indoors and tall shadows outside and unexpected warmth, reminding us to hold on to every balmy moment while we can and to savour it.

These grasses below are on the outskirts of the village.


Golden grasses near Rounstone village by Deborah Watkins




It’s an impressive sight and the land feels alive with movement, like hair or water, the gentle sound of it making a whisper, moving back and forward and around me where I stand. Now I have the notion that I could be in some wild prairie in America, not here in Connemara where it’s green and wet.


More grasses near Roundstone by Deborah Watkins





I liked the contrast between the fence and the grasses in this next photo.


Fence and grasses near Roundstone by Deborah Watkins




It looks bleached by the sun, not weathered by rain and wind as it has been here on the edges of the Atlantic. I want to go home now and find a sunbeam to sit in with a cup of hot tea and read about landscapes far away and bask in the last of the day.


Close up of fence by Deborah Watkins

Buttermilk Hill



The picture below is the view from my top window where beyond the back garden, the gorse and the telegraph poles you can see Buttermilk hill.  (You can also see the new hen run – almost finished, the girls playhouse – I leave the bunting out all Winter because it adds some cheer and Jellybean our ginger cat!


Buttermilk hill from my top window




Here’s a better view of the hill (below) from Clifden’s National School. I’ve looked at it from this vantage point many times in the last eight years.. it always makes me think of a sleeping giant, the curves and hollows of a turned away face, it’s nose the highest point.


Buttermilk hill from Clifden National School




In all the time I’ve lived here, I’ve never climbed to the top of the Buttermilk so I made it a project this week and I brought my camera with me. This next photo is taken about half way up. I had to watch my footing as the ground was thick with tufty grasses, gorse and heather.


Halfway up Buttermilk hill




Such a great view already. This northern side of town has shrunk and seems to nestle cosily in the hills and mountains beyond. There’s colour among the russet grasses too and when I look closely, I spot some purple flowers and a brilliant red leafed plant.


Purple plant




Red leafed plant




At last the ‘nose’ of the hill was within reach..


The top of Buttermilk hill




When I got to the top, a plain of land was unveiled ahead and the lakes that provide our house with water.


Lake and grasses on top of Buttermilk hill




The view along the Wesport Road and beyond was wonderful – St. Catherine’s nursing home with its long narrow avenue to the left and the Spire of St.Joseph’s church off to the right. I could pick out my own house and the bright green GAA pitch beyond it. The mountains looked magnificent, their peaks covered in mist and I had the feeling that they were closer at this vantage point even though this is a relatively small hill.


View from Buttermilk hill



View from Buttermilk hill




One last picture looking further north – more clouds in this one and the curling line of Streamstown bay in the far distance.


On top of Buttermilk hill




I was tempted to keep walking but my time was limited so I made a promise to myself to return in the near future.

Apple-Ripe September

Ripe apples, back to school, my birthday, blackberries, evening classes, woolen scarves, crispy air and pink skies. These are just some of the things I like about September.

We’ve been collecting apples from our trees for the last few days. We have just two – a crab and an apple blossom. The crab is still young so not enough fruits yet for jelly, but their colour brightens up the garden (below), a last hurrah before the Autumn settles in.

G likes to stew the apple right down to a pulp, then he adds molasses and pours it over yogurt. I like it barely cooked with porridge, a set-me-up for the day, delicious and all the sweeter because it’s our own. It was warm and bright this morning so I took some photos to capture them before they disappear into the kitchen.


crab apples




All this talk of September and apples brought the much loved Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh to mind. His poem ‘On An Apple-Ripe September Morning’ with its imagery of early Autumn and the threshing recalls another time. Men folk gathered together to get the crops in, neighbours and friends lending a hand or paying their dues and all the loose chatter and gossip in between. Nature soaks through the lines – mist-chill fields, wet leaves of the cocksfoot and glistening bog-holes. The last verse ends on a note of awe and admiration towards all this beauty  ‘I knew as I had entered that I had come through fields that were part of no earthly estate.’


On An Apple-Ripe September Morning


On an apple-ripe September morning

Through the mist-chill fields I went

With a pitch-fork on my shoulder

Less for use than for devilment.


The threshing mill was set-up, I knew,

In Cassidy’s haggard last night,

And we owed them a day at the threshing

Since last year. O it was delight


To be paying bills of laughter

And chaffy gossip in kind

With work thrown in to ballast

The fantasy-soaring mind.


As I crossed the wooden bridge I wondered

As I looked into the drain

If ever a summer morning should find me

Shovelling up eels again.


And I thought of the wasp’s nest in the bank

And how I got chased one day

Leaving the drag and the scraw-knife behind,

How I covered my face with hay.


The wet leaves of the cocksfoot

Polished my boots as I

Went round by the glistening bog-holes

Lost in unthinking joy.


I’ll be carrying bags to-day, I mused,

The best job at the mill

With plenty of time to talk of our loves

As we wait for the bags to fill.


Maybe Mary might call round…

And then I came to the haggard gate,

And I knew as I entered that I had come

Through fields that were part of no earthly estate.


Patrick Kavanagh

(1904 – 1967)


Land Interrupted

I got back to some painting with the photographs I took of the bog in mind (see Shifting Seasons ). I have been thinking about this notion of the cut bog as a wound. It brought to mind a passage in ‘Tinkers‘ ( a book I have already mentioned a few times! )

In this excerpt, Howard is reflecting on a woman he sees in his mind’s eye, planting flowers. He is thinking about the effect that man has on the landscape. He imagines how a consciousness of this demands some small gesture as a ‘token of redress


..the flowers were an act of resistance against the raw earth like an act of sheer, inevitable, necessary madness because human beings have to live somewhere and in something and here is just as outrageous as there because in either place ( in any place ) it seems like an interruption, an intrusion on something that, no matter how many times she read in her Bible, Let them have dominion, seemed marred, dispelled, vanquished once people arrived with their catastrophic voices and saws and plows and began to sing and hammer and carve and erect.


taken from Tinkers by Paul Harding, Chapter 1, page 61


I love the hyperbole in this piece and the fundamental truth of it. It made me think of the cut bog as an interruption in something that is much older than ourselves or our forefathers or anything we can possibly imagine. I don’t intend to make any kind of judgement about the use of the bog, it is just one way of seeing it, as an ancient observer might, like a star gazing down on all of time. I think perhaps it is this interruption or contrast that draws me to the bog lands. The swaying grasses and heathers are like hairs and goose bumps on skin, a living breathing thing which when damaged, reveals a beautiful shock of glistening tissue and muscle underneath.

This is how my painting of the bog began (below).


First stage of Bog Painting by Deborah Watkins





Next, I added some broad strokes of orange so that this colour will come through anything I put on top and hopefully make the surface glow.


Second stage of Bog Painting by Deborah Watkins





I subsequently added more paint and ink ( using different types of brushes ) to describe the heathers and grasses – greens, reds, pinks and gold. Then I used a dark brown ink to suggest the disturbed surface where the bog has been cut and driven through (below).


Third stage of Bog Painting by Deborah Watkins




It’s not finished yet but I decided to stop here before the colours became muddy. I will go back to it once this layer of paint has dried completely.

Have you read anything recently that has influenced the way that you see things?