Ink Dark Sea

I have been working on two small seascapes over the last number of days. The surface is a heavyweight paper, prepared with gesso and mounted on canvas board. They each measure 15.5 cm x 10.5 cm. There is something satisfying about working on paper, its texture is fine and chalky compared to canvas and the surface holds the colour very well.

I approached these two paintings differently in that I finished them in one sitting, alternating between the two. I worked with the material in a more deliberate way, playing with the fluidity of the paint – sometimes thick, sometimes very thin. I allowed the inks to react with the paint, moving the imagery around until I arrived at something close to the effect I was looking for. This method reminds me of working with clay – creating a vessel on the wheel and then distorting it, trying to capture the fluidity of the material while it is wet. In these paintings, I tried to capture the energy and movement of the sea but also it’s darkness and it’s danger. I’ve called the first ( pictured again below ) ‘Ink Dark Sea.’

 

Ink Dark Sea

 

 

 

The second painting is titled ‘ Steel Blue Swell.’ I’ve indicated a hint of land in the distance but I did not worry too much about a horizon line.

The use of red and a hint of gold breaks the dominance of the blue.

 

Steel Blue Swell by Deborah Watkins

 

March Steel

It’s the first week of March and temperatures have dipped again with no real sign of spring in Connemara just yet. This week saw our first real snowfall with spectacular drifts on the mountains and a heavy smattering of white along the valleys and roads. We’ve been hearing about the icy weather around the country for a while but our proximity to the coast has kept us just above freezing point.  Continue reading

Blue Pool

I got back to this piece recently, having started it before Christmas. Here is the painting as I found it below – the main shapes have been loosely defined with blocks of colour, mostly blues and yellows.

 

First stage of January Landscape

 

 

 

I looked up the photograph I had been using for reference – it was taken out along a road near Killary, about this time last year. I love the complimentary colours – the blue of the water and mountains against the orange landscape and I used this in the painting. The pool is the focus and this lovely dark blue that reflects the sky. I decided to leave out the poles.

 

Road near Killary by Deborah Watkins

 

 

 

Next I applied some coloured inks with another layer of acrylic paint to add more depth.

 

Second stage of January Landscape

 

 

 

I added more colour around the pool shape in the foreground at this next stage below. It has become a little muddy and there is too much blue in the painting. I leave this layer to dry before continuing.

 

Third stage of January Landscape

 

 

 

Here’s the finished piece after a little more work. I’ve defined the grasses with clearer brushstrokes to make them seem more fiery and I’ve changed the colours of the road.

This piece is available to purchase on our gallery website at lavelleartgallery.ie

 

 

Blue Pool by Deborah Watkins

 

 

Looking at Matisse

I’ve been looking at the work of Henri Matisse and particularly the way that he uses colour and pattern. I like the contrast in his paintings  – where he uses dark colour ( almost black ) to outline shapes. This still life ( below ) for example is vivid and bright but full of contrast.

 

Blue Still Life by Henri Matisse

Blue Still Life by Henri Matisse

 

 

 

I also like this one – the green vase at the centre with it’s delicate pink flowers are framed by a bold use of primary colour (red, yellow and blue) – it’s such an unusual combination. There’s lots of dark areas too on the table and in the sleeping figure.

 

Still Life by Matisse

Still Life with figure by Henri Matisse

 

 

 

I have much to learn! This landscape of mine below is influenced by elements of Matisse’s style – the strong colours and the use of pattern in the foreground to describe the gorse bushes.

 

Landscape influenced by Matisse

 

Lakeside Gorse by Deborah Watkins

Rest while Winter Rages

Cover image and poem reproduced with kind permission from Angelica Dooley, Brigit’s Garden

 

 

Anyone familiar with my this blog will know that I am a great fan of Brigit’s Garden, the Irish wildflower sanctuary founded by Jenny Beale and designed by Mary Reynolds. Consisting of four interlocking gardens inspired by four celtic seasons – samhain (winter), imbolc (spring), bealtaine (summer) and lughnasa (autumn), the gardens incorporate a myriad of native Irish plants, a woodland area, lake, wild flower meadows as well as specially commissioned sculpture by Irish artists. It is a beautiful place to visit at any time of year but I think it is exquisite in early summer ( when the wild flowers are in full bloom ) and also in winter.

There is something about the winter garden that is compelling and moving. The image of the sleeping woman formed out of the earth and the bronze figure ( made by Linda Brunker ) at rest on the island have I believe helped me to appreciate the beauty of this season. I should explain that I have not always appreciated winter, especially since moving to Connemara almost twenty four years ago. Growing up in Kildare and the suburbs of Dublin, I had a fairly indifferent attitude towards the winter months but this is simply not possible in Connemara, where the climate has a kind of physical, elemental force. I struggled with it for many years, particularly as a young mother battling with the practicalities of moving small children around in bad weather.

 

The Winter Garden in snow

 

 

 

Bronze figure in the winter garden

 The winter garden under snowfall reproduced with kind permission from Brigit’s Garden

 

 

 

What is it about this sleeping woman  – rendered out of the earth and so delicately portrayed in bronze – that is so captivating? When you walk out onto the island, she seems so peaceful by the curve of the water, under the simple lines of the trees that for an instant you worry, in case she might be disturbed.

 

Photo of Sculpture in Brigit's garden

Close up of sleeping woman from Stream

 

 

Perhaps it is simply that she reminds us that there is a time for rest, in nature and in life and that this is natural and necessary. There is comfort in this tranquil interpretation of winter because it offers us calm and reassurance.

Thank you to Angelica Dooley who had given me permission to reproduce her beautiful haiku.

You can visit the garden website at www.brigitsgarden.ie

 

 

Lay down your sweet head

and rest while winter rages.

Charge your weary soul.

 

(Angelica Dooley)

 

December Cliffs

It has been too long since my last post and too long since I have had some time to paint. For the last month or so, my time has been completely taken up with the final stages of our gallery project, which has seen the restoration of an upstairs room in our gallery building here in Clifden. The truth is I have been doing a lot of painting in the last couple of weeks, but it has been of the interior decorating variety, involving skirting boards and architraves, new walls and old floor boards. The trouble with an old building such as ours is that when you start to clean/restore one section, the neighbouring wall or floor looks shockingly bad by comparison so you just have to keep going! Finally, finally, finally, it has come to an end and the results are worth more than the effort – I will post some photos of our new space here soon.

Today, I got back to some seascapes I started in October. This one was based on some photos I took of the cliffs at Inishturk, taken from the water – the chain you see in the foreground is from our boat. They are not very good photos in themselves but there was enough information there for me to make this painting. I am especially interested in the direction of the rock but also the inky blackness of the water as I remember it and the way the land clings onto and over the rock.

 

DSCF5629

 

 

DSCF5350

 

 

 

 

I began this painting with the texture or skeleton of the image, using some textured paste. I’ve simplified the details for dramatic effect. This was allowed to dry overnight before any colour was applied.

 

Initial work on Cliff painting

 

 

 

 

I applied a layer of colour to this straight afterwards ( but forgot to take a photo ) and the rest of the piece was worked today ( below )

 

Cliff by Deborah Watkins

 

 

 

 

I’m going to leave this to dry and return to it with a fresh eye. I think that certain elements work here but that others seem clumsy – the red and green in the middle ground for example seem a little harsh compared with the softer tones in the rest of the piece. What do you think?

 

Post Script

This morning I returned to the painting which is now completely dry to find the colours much subdued, as is often the case – below and cover image above. I’ll leave it now for a few days before deciding what to do next and move on to the next piece.

 

cliff 2

Poetry, Painting and the President – Sea week 2014

This piece was written for the current issue of the Connemara Journal, out now.

 

The 2014 Sea Week Festival celebrated its 30th year this year with a series of events that brought the village of Letterfrack on to the national stage. It began on the 17th October with a visit by President Higgins who opened the Letterfrack Poetry Trail and Small Works Exhibition in the National Park.

 

President Higgins launches the poetry trail

President Higgins and his wife Sabina at the launch of the Poetry trail with Leo Hallissey and David Keane, photo by Aoife Herriot.

 

 

 

The Connemara Environmental Education and Cultural Centre commissioned nine poems by nine of Irelands most eminent poets for the occasion. The poems are carved onto plaques made of native larch, designed by Conservation Centre Letterfrack. They are mounted on slate from the old industrial school and strategically placed around the National Park, Connemara West centre and village of Letterfrack. Some of the poems are specific to their site while others are more general in nature. Together they make for a most enjoyable and thought provoking walk for the community and for our visitors. The poets are Theo Dorgan, Paula Meehan, Rita Ann Higgins, Joan McBreen, Moya Cannon, Michael Gorman, Louis de Paor, Mary O’Malley and Eva Bourke. Letterfrack is a thriving centre of education today but it has always acknowledged its troubled history in a spirit of openness that is respectful to those who lived here in less happier times. If you haven’t been on the Poetry Trail yet, go out and enjoy it soon, it is well worth a visit.

 

President Higgins with David Keane

President Higgins views the work with David Keane, photo by Aoife Herriot

 

 

 

The Small Works Exhibition is an annual event that is a gem of an idea brought into fruition by Leo Hallissey, the driving force behind this festival. It has become an integral part of Sea Week and it is unusual because the artwork is shown anonymously, allowing the viewer to decide what he or she likes without being influenced by a name. It is also unusual because each painting is made available for sale by the artists at the knock down price of €90.00 or €120.00 for a framed piece. The generosity of spirit at the heart of this collective makes it special and this is shared by the artists and by everyone who purchases an art work.

 

Art work at Sea week 2014

 One of the artworks at the Small Works Exhibition

 

 

 

The Move away from the coast by Mary Hession

‘The Move away from the Coast’ – painting at the Small Works Exhibition

 

 

 

David Keane prepared this years brief which was entitled ‘Time and Tide.’ Artists living in the community were asked to reflect on the fragile nature of existence on the edge of the Atlantic, bearing in mind the impact of last Winter’s storms. The show was skillfully curated by visual artist Mary Hession and artist and wood turner Angie Williams – no easy task with literally dozens of artworks encompassing a wide range of styles. President Higgins took time to view each piece before he shared a few words with the assembled crowd. The president and his wife Sabina were presented with a hand bound copy of poems from the trail, transcribed by the poets themselves as well as two beautiful productions from Artisan House and a wooden bowl made by Angie Williams.

 

President Higgins with Angie Williams

President Higgins and his wife Sabina with Mary Ruddy from Artisan House and wood turner and artist Angie Williams, photo by Aoife Herriot

 

 

These two events were highlights for me but they were just part of a rich and varied programme that celebrates the sea through music and dance, walks, workshops, a spectacular ‘After the Light’ parade and much more. Congratulations and thanks to all those involved for making this years festival such a great success.

 

 

Wound

This is another painting in a series based on the sea. I used a photograph I took last year of a cliff for reference, as it is viewed from the water. It has a cleft shaped by the formation of the rock that has been deepened by the corrosive action of the sea. I begin by looking at texture and the directions in the layers of rock, so I am starting with a skeleton of the image, made in textured paste.

 

First stage of 'Wound' painting

 

 

 

Once this layer is dry, I add colour – lots of purple and grey for the cliff and tones of blue for the sky and sea.

 

Second stage of 'Wound' painting

 

 

 

 

Next I add browns, greens and yellow and just a touch of red at the heart of this cleft. I am thinking about the storms in Connemara and the destruction that took place earlier in the year. I am playing with the notion of the land as something human that can be hurt but I use the colour sparingly so that just the suggestion is there.

 

'Wound' painting with more colour

 

 

 

 

The colour settles once it has dried and I add just a few more details and another touch of red at the centre that I allow to bleed into the blue and the white paint of the sea. I decide to call the piece ‘Wound.’

 

'Wound' by Deborah Watkins

 

 

 

I am curious to know what people might feel about this painting? Does it make sense as an image? Please feel free to leave a comment if you feel like it.

The Edges of the Land

I’ve been working on a couple of paintings based on the Connemara coastline. I used some photos I took off the coast of Inishturk for reference. I started out with some texture in the form of paste which I applied directly onto a canvas board, in an effort to get some movement into the piece as well as surface texture. I had last winter in my mind and the destructive nature of the water which changed some parts of our coastline dramatically.

 

Textured paste on board

Textured paste on board 

 

 

 

Next some colour – new greens just purchased ( mixed with a little brown ) blue, gold and white. I left the canvas to dry overnight at this point and continued working on some other boards.

 

First layer of colour applied to painting

 First layers of colour

 

 

 

Here’s the finished piece. I’ve added more colour in the form of paint and acrylic ink. This one took only two sittings after which I felt it was ready to varnish. I developed the next two canvases a little further as you will see in the next post.

 

Margin painting finished

Finished paining

Looking back at Clifden Arts Week

I wrote this piece for the current issue of the Connemara Journal, out now.

It is hard to believe that October is here, having enjoyed so many warm bright days last month. Such an extraordinary beginning to Autumn and such a rich month of festivities in Clifden. Like others, I feel sustained for weeks to come with the memory of many special events. Each person retains their own corner of arts week – for some it is the spoken word, for others it is music – raucous in the cosy underbelly of Mullarkeys bar or tranquil in the stone clad surrounds of Christ church.

My own favourite events this year include the work of visual artist Joe Wilson, whose drawings and paintings ( displayed in the Station House complex ) describe both the energy and delicacy of the connemara landscape and mountains. The exhibition was captured in a beautiful limited edition book titled ‘Into the Mountains,’ published by Occasional Press and organised in collaboration with Ballynahinch castle. I also mention the work of artist and wood turner Angie Williams from Letterfrack, a true master of her craft who created a series of wood turned vessels made from native holly and sycamore trees. Some are adorned with gold leaf, others are delicately pierced and fine as lace.

Vessel by Angie Williams

Sycamore bowl by Angie Williams

Sycamore bowls by Angie Williams

Artisan House Editions also from Letterfrack, launched two productions as part of the programme –  the first is called ‘The Works’ by visual artist Joe Boske whose work is synonymous with the festival over the years. This book is dedicated to Joe’s work as a painter and illustrator in the forty five years that he has lived in Ireland. The second is simply titled ‘Connemara’ by sculptor Dorothy Cross. This launch took place in the gallery space that was the old supervalu in Clifden, transformed once again this year to house just some of the incredible art collection of Pat Murphy. A fitting venue for a celebration of one of Ireland’s most prolific contemporary artists. The book itself contains a thought provoking introduction by academic Robin Lydenberg, some fascinating insights into the artists work and many beautiful colour plates.

'Connemara' by Dorothy Cross

‘Connemara’ by Dorothy Cross

Another special event for me was the readings by Paula Meehan and Theo Dorgan. I was especially thrilled to meet Paula afterwards and was touched by the few words she shared so generously as she signed my book after the event.

Theo talked about how remarkable it is for a small town such as Clifden to herald the arts so veraciously and so consistently, particularly in the current climate when our leadership seems to want to strangle the arts at every turn. Such an example we set for our country if only it would sit up and take heed.

With three children attending school in the area I was made aware of the variety of workshops and activities available to school children during the week. I can think of no other place in the country that has such access to the arts and which celebrates artistic endeavour so fully at every level. I am left with an enormous sense of privilege to be able to live here and to educate our children in this environment. Sincere thanks to the artists and the organisers, especially Brendan Flynn who is at the heart of it all and the arts week committee whose hard work and commitment have made this years festival another resounding success.