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..

Green Way – Progression


I finished this painting of the ‘Green Way’ ( Inishbofin ) recently. This was a commission and I was given a photograph (below) on which to base the painting.


Photo of the Greenway, Inishbofin





I chose to adhere to the photo quite closely for the composition as this is a well known spot and the clients know the area. This is how it began below.


First stage of Green way painting




I filled in more colour next. Yes lot’s of green in this one.


GW 2




Next I added some textured paste.


Next stage of Green way painting




Now more colour. This time I’m using paint and ink together to get the effects I want.


More colour added - Greenway painting




Just a bit more colour and I’m almost happy with it. Time to send an image to the client. This can be tricky as each photo is slightly different – some images have a blueish tinge while others are more yellow – depending on the time of day and the lighting conditions ( and taking my limited photography skills into account ). Also, viewing a painting on a computer screen is a completely different experience to viewing a painting in life.


Is this to be the final stage?




I send off a photo and some adjustments are requested. There’s a bit of to’ing and fro’ing and finally the painting arrives at this point below. It’s an interesting one – where does the control begin and end? I believe ultimately with the client when a painting has been commissioned but it is a fine line and one which must be travelled carefully in order to protect the integrity of the artist/painter. There is also the element of challenge for the painter – having certain restrictions focuses the mind and a deadline always helps produce results.


Green Way finished painting

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

Keelin Kennedy – Painting with Thread

Cover image ‘Mountain Scene’ by Keelin Kennedy


I wrote this piece for our local newspaper the Connemara Journal a few weeks ago –

Keelin Kennedy is a visual artist and a native of Connemara. She is also a therapist, having almost finished an intensive three year course in Art Therapy. The strong practical element of this course has meant that Keelin has been able to continue and develop her own work throughout her studies. The quality that makes Keelins art unique in my view is the way in which she combines different materials to convey her subject.


Foggy Day by Keelin Kennedy

‘Foggy Day’ by Keelin Kennedy


When I studied art ( a long time ago ) there was a perceived divide between the disciplines of fine art ( painting, printmaking and sculpture ) and  craft design ( ceramics, metalwork, glass work and embroidery ). Fine art painting was considered to be a higher cause, attracting artists who ‘had something to say’ as opposed to the craft subjects which were often perceived as the option to take if you didn’t get accepted into painting. Of course this is utter nonsense and it vexes me now just to think about it.

Keelins work seems to effortlessly combine the separate skills of painting and embroidery. She manages to blend paint and thread seamlessly in her delicate and subtle depictions of the Connemara landscape with all it’s contradictions and nuances, it’s fierceness and it’s muted beauty. The landscape is Keelins main concern but she is also interested in abstraction so there is often a playfulness about the way her paintings are composed. She draws her inspiration from her surroundings but she often allows her materials to direct the work – objects and textiles that she has collected become starting points or are incorporated into a painting. Keelin works from a studio in her own home but says that she often ends up working on the kitchen table when her desk becomes too cluttered.


'Untitled' by Keelin Kennedy


Keelin enjoys reading fairytales and watching films with an element of fantasy and magic, she mentions Wes Anderson’s ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ and Matthew Vaughan’s ‘Stardust’. The beguiling and sometimes hynotic nature of  fairytale is a quality that is very present in her work in my view.

When I ask Keelin what advice she would give to an aspiring artist, she tells me that art is something that she has always wanted to do, in spite of what others have advised her in the past. ‘Never stop playing and experimenting’ she says – it is this kind of openness to learning and creativity that inspires great work.

You can read more about Keelin and view her work at


Keelin Kennedy


Return to Painting

Cover image ‘The Green Road, Inishbofin’ by R. Byrne


It’s been a great Summer and a busy one mainly due to my temporary job in the Elm Tree centre, a local mental health clinic. The Elm Tree is a truly wonderful place to work and a very special environment where staff and clients are respected and appreciated equally and where the well being of the people who attend is paramount. While I was there I cooked dinner ( for twenty to twenty five people ) during the mornings and for two afternoons a week we crafted, sewed and painted together. I enjoyed every minute of the time I spent there and I’m glad that I’ll be able to see some of the staff and people from time to time as the centre is very close to where I live.

I spent most afternoons during the Summer with my three daughters during their long school holiday, trying to balance a mixture of fun, outings, play dates and plain old rest. Now I find myself at home again with the Winter stretching out ahead and with some real time on my hands. The kids are back in school so I have my precious mornings to paint, something I haven’t been able to do since May. As luck would have it, I received an email about a painting commission just after my contract came to an end, so I’ve got an exciting project to tackle straight away.

The subject is Inishbofin ( just off the coast at Cleggan about seven miles from here ) and I’m starting with the Green Road on the West quarter of the island. It’s a spot I know very well, a stunning blend of hill, rock and heart stopping cliffs. I remember being told about how special the islands are before I visited them for the first time. It doesn’t take long to figure this out once you go – it’s like an assault on the senses. The sea is so powerfully present everywhere, the sound of it, the sight of it at every turn, the smell of it and the taste of it in the air, quite a heady thing.

My first step is to do some loosening up as it’s been a while, so I’m starting with some small sketches. I’m using the photo above for reference .







I need to work out the composition  – what is important, what is not. I decide that the cliff in the background is where the eye should be led as it is the destination of this Green road and the most dramatic part of the island. I want to heighten it a little to make it stand out. I’m changing the horizon line also, to make the sea peak out at the other side of the cliff. This ‘being surrounded’ by water is very important  for the finished painting and I feel that it is lacking in the photo where it looks more like a piece in a jigsaw puzzle.


Composition sketches




So far, this little sketch seems closest to how I want the painting to look – plenty of movement in the landscape and lots of bright colour – but I’m conscious that I’ve lost the sharp incline to the right in this one. I may push the whole image to the left in the next few sketches so I can suggest this better. It’s a start but there’s more work to do before I start painting on canvas..


Sketch of the Green Road







Interview with Rosie McGurran

Cover image ‘The Black faced lamb’ by Rosie McGurran


Rosie McGurran is a painter who lives and works in the village of Roundstone in Connemara. Originally from Belfast, Rosie studied fine art at the University of Ulster. She has received many awards including the Conor prize for figurative painting at the Royal Ulster Academy of which she is now a member. Rosie has her own gallery in Roundstone ‘The Northern Star.’ I met up with her recently to talk about her work and her practices.



Why did you decide to live in Roundstone?

I was always fascinated by the light and landscape of Roundstone. I was invited to the Arts Week residency in 2000 and I decided to stay to see what it was like in the Winter.  Twelve years later and I’m still here. I was also aware of the legacy of all the artists who had spent time in Roundstone in the past and I wanted to find out more.



What are your favourite subjects? What do you paint?

My main focus in on people, I like to tell stories in the work and set the figures in the local landscape like a parallel world that we can’t see all the time.


'Blue faced doll' by Rosie McGurran

 ‘Blue faced doll’ by Rosie McGurran




Where do you get your inspiration? What other artists have influenced you?

When I was at art college I was primarily interested in painting the human figure, I also had a strong idea that I wanted to create a figurative language that was not quite literal or totally realistic. I was influenced by Stanley Spencer at that time and the Glasgow painters of the 80’s/90’s.



Do you see your work as autobiographical at all?

There is a definite autobiographical thread to my work. I use elements of things I see every day. Sometimes I have a very strong idea of what it means, sometimes I have no idea. I think it is important for me not to over explain the work as the act of making it is explanation enough.


Photo of Rosie

 Rosie with one of her paintings




What mediums do you use?

I work in acrylic on canvas, pastel, watercolour and charcoal, not all at once though. I love drawing – it is my favourite way of working. I always work on a dark surface, I paint on a very dark red canvas, it makes the colours more vibrant. When drawing, I work on brown paper – I enjoy drawing the images out of the darkness.



What themes crop up in your work? Do these themes re-occur?

Recent recurring themes would be the sea and the landscape, water has always been a strong theme. I love the sea and I don’t like being away from it.


'Spring - Inishlacken' by Rosie McGurran

‘Spring Inishlacken’ by Rosie McGurran 




What are you reading, looking at or listening to at the moment to feed your work?

I have just finished reading ‘Art in America’ by Ron McLarty – it is a hilarious story about an unpublished writer who ends up in the depths of the Mid-West trying to write a play. I listen to BBC Radio 4 constantly – I enjoy the arts coverage and the documentaries and plays. I saw a lot of art recently in New York and I went to see the Government collection in the Ulster Museum in Belfast last week. That was an amazing exhibition, a mixture of traditional painting and contemporary art – it was probably one of the most inspirational shows I have seen.



Where do you work and how do you make the space work for you?

I work in my studio at home, it is very private and the phone doesn’t work so I can really shut myself away. I need plenty of space and I use a large piece of glass as a palette and set out the colours in sequence. When I finish a body of work I scrub down the palette to start again fresh.



What are you working on at the moment? Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events?

At present I am working towards an exhibition with Gavin Lavelle for Bog Week in Letterfrack. I will also be showing in Clifden Arts Week. I am hosting an exhibition by Margared Iriwin as part of the Bealtaine Festival in May. Also I will be holding the Inishlacken Project residency in June. In November I am going to Rome to spend six weeks preparing a solo exhibition.




What is the best piece of advice you have been given? What advice would you give to an aspiring painter?

The best piece of advice I was given – someone once told me if you don’t get out of bed in the morning and go in to your studio no one will care. It is your own personal responsibility to make the work and I would tell any aspiring artist that.


Winter’s end landscape

I’ve just finished this painting. The canvas is 12″ x 16″ and it’s based on some photos I took last month. The landscape had a bleached look to it that is only starting to change now. It’s unusual not to see more Spring colour here at this time of year but we’ve had a very long spell of unseasonably cold and dry weather which has delayed the new growth.

Here’s how this painting began. I’ve roughed in the composition and I’ve added some textured paste to the foreground.


First stage of Winter's end landscape





Next some more colour. I decide to leave the background more or less as it is.


Second stage of Winter's end landscape




Next I concentrate on this gorge in the foreground. This represents an area of cut bog and I want it to contrast with the lightness of the grasses so I go in with lots of darks – sepias and earthy reds.


Third stage of Winter's end landscape





Here’s a couple of close ups below.


Close up 1





Winter's end close up 2





At this point I decided to add a little green to the piece. I chose a pearlescent silvery green below.


Winter's end landscape almost finished






Now a bit of tidying up and just a little more green, this time it’s a sap green.


Finished landscape by Deborah Watkins

March Landscape

This landscape is probably more true to how the landscape actually looks at the moment than others I’ve done recently. Along with the richness of some of the colours, theres a bleached out feeling to the old growth which has been touched on in this piece. It started out like this below.


March Landscape - first stage





Next I added some textured paste to define this long gully that disappears into the distance and the movement of the grasses on either side of it.


March Landscape - Second stage





Here’s a close up of some of the marks below.


Second stage - close up





Next, I’ve loaded the canvas with colour. I’ve left the mountains in the background as they were – just a simple wash of colours as I want them to recede behind the ‘action’ in the foreground.


March Landscape - Third Landscape





Another close up below. I’ve applied the paint thickly and in layers, sometimes wet on wet.


Third stage - close up





Here’s the finished piece. I’ve left this small area of white at the point where the gully fades into the background. The eye is drawn to that point so it seems right that it should be the brightest patch. I’m happy with this one – the swirling energy of the grasses and the landscape against the cool austerity of the hills in the distance. I like the brighter tones in this piece too which I’m going to try to keep for the next few paintings. What do you think?


Finished March Landscape

Return to Painting

It’s always hard to get back to painting after a break. I’ve had a couple of false starts since Christmas but I have resolved to try to develop the work in a number of ways. I want to make some larger work this year for one and I also want to make my painting looser, less busy, and more expressive somehow. Yes, quite the tall order I have for myself indeed. This will all take time and it’s frustrating to begin with clear ideas like these in mind and then to find that it’s not so easy to translate into something actual straight away. It’s a process of course and it will take time.

So, here’s how my first painting for 2013 began – it’s really more of a sketch because it’s on quite a lightweight paper.  It’s similar to some bog paintings I made at the end of last year although this was not my intention exactly. I used an easel for the initial part of the painting in an effort to keep the composition loose and energetic.


First stage of painting





Now for some more paint..


Second stage of painting





I’m still using the easel at this next stage but I’m finding that the ink is dripping vertically ( of course! ) which is not necessarily where I want it to go.


Third stage of painting





I finish it on the table and I darken the whole piece with more brown and blue. I discover about now that if I use any more paint or ink the page will dissolve in front of me so this is my main reason for stopping!  I’m reasonably satisfied with it at this stage in any case – my problem with it is that it does seem a bit of a muddle in terms of composition. I like the colours and the diagonal thrust of it but it did seem to work better earlier on. What’s your view?  I think I’ve more work to do..


Fourth stage of painting


Hen Paintings in Progress

Here’s a couple of hen paintings I’ve been working on. They are at various stages of completion. The one above is the one I’m most happy with but it’s not quite finished yet. Here’s how it began below.


First stage of hen painting




Here it is after a bit of work.


Second stage of hen painting




and after a little more work.


Third stage of hen painting




Just a small bit of detail needed, not too much or it will become fussy. Here’s two more paintings as they progressed.


Second hen painting - first stage




Second hen painting - second stage




Second hen painting - finished




Third hen painting - first stage




Third hen painting - second stage




Third hen painting - finished




I’ve overdone this one a bit and it is fussy – I still find it hard to get that balance right, between a lightness of touch – enough to express the movement and energy of these creatures with enough detail to justify calling it a painting ( not just a sketch ) but not so much that they become fussy and drained of energy and life. Still learning.

Maybe time for just one more post before Christmas, I have something seasonal in mind and then a couple of weeks of rest, glorious rest – school holidays and lies ins and rest. Lovely.