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.






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

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


I went out to the Bog Road between Clifden and Moyard last week. It was about 5.30pm and the light was really beautiful, low and clear. The colour of the bog grasses was striking – rich metallic shades of gold, copper and bronze. There was still some warmth left in the sun but the wind had a bite to it which isn’t evident in these pictures – the colours are so deceptively warm, it could be some hot and arid place..


Photograph of bog by Deborah Watkins





I wandered down this road to get a better look – a typical Irish side road with impressive pot holes..


Road with pot holes





Mmmm, need a tractor to get through this next bit, good job I brought my wellies..but just look at the blues reflected in this pool.


Photograph of flooded road by Deborah Watkins





One last picture, I like the way the hill peaks over the top of the road in this one.


Road through bog by Deborah Watkins


Winter Waits

Cashel by Marianne Chayet

The first week of November has come and gone with more dry days than wet. It’s a remarkable thing here in Connemara where the rain is never far away. We feel grateful when we get a whole day of dry weather, even more grateful when we get two in a row. I find an excuse to go outdoors when it’s like this, everything else can wait; housekeeping, book keeping, laundry, shopping, even painting is put on hold. If I’m really organised I’ll put some washing out to dry first thing, so that I can leave guilt free.

I took these photos out on the bog road between Clifden and Roundstone. October’s gold has deepened to these Wintry hues, it’s brown all over and under – russety, chocolatey, chestnut brown. The light is low, shining across rather than above and making the brighter grasses glint like shards of coloured glass or metal.



Brown Bog at Roundstone



The water makes a silvery stripe against the bog and there’s an inky blackness at the edges where the grasses are reflected. It makes me think of a pool of mercury sliding through the landscape.


Photo taken at Roundstone Bog




There’s a stark kind of drama about it all, a bareness from the flat grey light of the sky that seems to muffle colour like sound. I like to track down the words, sometimes a verse to match the way the land looks. That’s how I stumbled across these lines from the poem ‘November‘ by John Payne.  I think they fit the mood well – the setting is an empty stage and there’s more than a hint of darkness in the shadowy figure of Winter, laying in wait.



The tale of wake is told; the stage is bare,

The curtain falls upon the ended play;

November’s fogs arise, to hide away

The withered wrack of that which was so fair. 

Summer is gone to be with things that were.

The sun is fallen from his ancient sway;

The night primaeval trenches on the day:

Without, the Winter waits upon the stair.



taken from ‘November‘ by John Payne ( 1842 – 1916 )

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

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.



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



I often find returning to a painting more difficult than starting out. When I begin something, I usually have a fairly clear idea about what I want to do and there is a sense of urgency in getting that down. When I return to a painting, it is different because now there is something there and while there is a desire to keep going, there is also a certain anxiety not to mess it up. The danger is to tread too cautiously and drain the life out of the piece with tentative brush strokes and lack of experiment. Since these two pieces were near completion when I left them last, this fate was less likely although perhaps that is ultimately for you the viewer to decide..

This is the first painting as I left it below. You can compare it with the finished version underneath. I’ve added more detail to the grasses in the middle ground using a combination of green and red inks and a bristle brush. I’ve also tidied up the mountains in the background and darkened the left foreground with more green ink. Finally, I mirrored the white grasses on the right of the brown furrow with a broad stroke of white and gold paint.


Bog painting as I left it




Finished bog painting




Here’s the second painting I worked on with it’s finished version beneath.


Golden Bog by Deborah Watkins




Finished Bog Painting



I’ve changed this one quite a bit so hopefully it hasn’t lost too much of the clarity that it had.

I decided to darken the mountain in the background to make it recede more and I’ve added lots of colour and texture to the grasses in the foreground. I wanted to bring some green back in to the piece and I also wanted to define the cut bog so I straightened some of the dark brown lines. Finally, I added a wash of ink to the sky to give it a little more depth. I’m calling it finished. What do you think?

Shifting Seasons

I went out to the Bog Road between Clifden and Letterfrack to take some photographs this week. It was a clear evening and I expected to be able to see the Twelve Bens Mountain range beyond the bog and heathers but I found something else instead – the landscape seemed  to shimmer, suspended between Summer and Autumn in the evening light. The heathers still abound in gorgeous clumps of pink but the grasses are turning from green to a tawny orange colour. In a couple of weeks they will look like they are on fire in spite of the lower temperatures.

Here are some more pictures below. It was windy so the images are a little blurred but I think this captures the atmosphere.


Bog and heathers





It may sound strange but I like this next one because the cut bog reminds me of a wound. The grasses are like a layer of skin over the marrow and bones of the black bog.


Boglands between Letterfrack and Clifden





I stood on a mound to take this one – the neatly stacked turf dries in the evening breeze and is almost ready to take in. The changing colour of the grasses is palpable, I love it’s coppery glow.

If you click on the image, you will get a better sense of it. I am really looking forward to using these images and getting back to some painting soon.


Stacks of turf

Water, Snow and Ice

I’m reading a book that most of the world has read and enjoyed but which I am just discovering. It is ‘Tinkers‘ the novel by Paul Harding that won the Pulitzer prize in 2010. It is simply the most beautiful thing I’ve read in a long time and I am savouring every page. I decided that I would try to make some paintings to describe one lovely passage.

This part of the book describes the failure efforts of the protagonist’s salesman father to sell small pieces of jewelry to peasant women on his travels. The land is frozen and the women are too caught up in their own hardships to allow themselves this small pleasure.


‘He thought, Buy the pendant, sneak it into your hand from the folds of your dress and let the low light of the fire lap it late at night as you wait for the roof to give out or your will to snap and the ice to be too thick to chop through with the ax as you stand in your husband’s boots on the frozen lake at midnight, the dry hack of the blade on ice so tiny under the wheeling and frozen stars, the soundproof lid of heaven, that your husband would never stir from his sleep in the cabin across the ice, would never hear and come running, half-frozen, in only his union suit, to save you from chopping a hole in the ice and sliding in to it as if it were a blue vein, sliding down in to the black, silty bottom of the lake, where you would see nothing, would perhaps feel only the stir of some somnolent fish in the murk as the plunge of you in your wool dress and the big boots disturbed it from its sluggish winter dreams of ancient seas. Maybe you would not even feel that, as you struggled in clothes that felt like cooling tar, and as you slowed, calmed, even, and opened your eyes and looked for a pulse of silver, an imbrication of scales, and as you closed your eyes again and felt their lids turn to slippery, ichthyic skin, the blood behind them suddenly cold, and as you found yourself not caring, wanting, finally, to rest, finally wanting nothing more than the sudden, new, simple hum threading between your eyes’.

 taken from ‘Tinkers’ by Paul Harding, Chapter 1, pages 24/25 


This is how I started the painting below.


First stage of painting





The largest part of the painting is under water. I wanted to have a central shape plunging downwards and water gushing back upwards and in to the air. This is the next stage below.


Second stage of painting





I used lots of colour for the plunging shape – pinks, golds, browns, some red. I made several attempts to get this sense of movement using large brushes and lots of colour – blues first and then splashes of white for the water. It’s coming together here but I’m not happy with the top part. It doesn’t feel like a cold place yet. The next image below is the piece as I have left it.



Finished painting by Deborah Watkins




I used a broad brush, some white paint and some charcoal to work up the sky and I’ve darkened the water at the base of the painting. Now I think it feels like snow and the depths feel like murk. I’ll let the paint dry before I decide whether to add any more to it. What do you think?