This painting below is one I made towards the end of last year. There’s something about it, something accidental that happened that really works. I want to replicate it on a larger scale to see if I can work out what this is exactly. I also want to introduce some of the textured paste I used in my last piece which I think will lend itself well to this composition. Finally, I’m keen to find out if I can change the scale of a small piece like this ( 6″ x 8″ ) and still keep the essence of it intact. I was reading some of Seamus Heaney’s poems at the time about the bog bodies and I love this idea of the bog as a resting place, a secret tomb.


Original 'Black Bog' painting





Here’s how I began below. The canvas is 12″ x 14.5″ x 2″


First stage of painting





Next I applied some paste, scooping it onto the canvas with a brush and then working it with several brushes, sometimes with the wrong end of the brushes to make sgraffito type lines


Landscape with a layer of textured paste





Here’s some close ups of the different textures. I love the variety of marks that are possible – thick raised pieces and scratchy sinuous lines. Hopefully it will give the finished piece some real depth.


Close up of texture



Second close up




Once the textured paste had dried, I began to paint the middle and foreground of the canvas. I worked quickly with paints and inks, taking advantage of the way the two materials behave together. I didn’t pause to take pictures along the way until I was satisfied that I had the results that I wanted. This next photo was taken after a couple of days when the colours had almost completely dried. The black/brown of the bog has a leathery feel to it that I am very pleased with but was difficult to photograph without getting too much shine.


Textured landscape with colour




Here are some close ups.


Close up of Landscape




Second close up




The next part of the painting I worked on at this point was the mountain nearest the bog. I had painted it with ultramarine blue which just looks too ‘straight out of the tube’ and is too distracting. I mixed up a slightly duller colour (below), truer to the blue silhouettes that you see here. I want these mountain shapes to be flat and serene looking to contrast with the energy and life of the bog.


'Underneath' Landscape - finished piece




I am very happy with these results as I think I have hit on the essence of this piece and the direction that I would like the paintings to follow from this point. It’s the intangible nature of this place, the idea of life underneath the surface and more. The composure of the landscape on the surface versus the darkness and unrestrained nature  of the layers underneath. More work to do!


Blackberry picking is as much a part of Irish childhood as the 99 ice cream cone, watching Saturday morning cartoons and rice krispie buns. I think smeara dubha was one of the first Irish words we learnt at school and there was usually a story in the first term or an essay to be written on ‘Ag Piocadh Smeara Dubha’.

These photos were taken on a road near our home where my own girls go to collect the berries with the same excitement and pleasure that I experienced at their age. They trawl the roads and hedgerows and return with sticky purple-tinted hands, brambly clothes and plastic buckets filled to the brim. G likes to make berry smoothies with vanilla ice cream ( sieved to get the bits out ) and my favourite ( when the mood takes me ) is apple and berry sweet pastry tart served with piping hot custard. Yum.

Here’s some more pictures – this one below is a more typical bunch with it’s assortment of blacks, reds and greens and some empty stalks where the ripe ones have been nabbed.


Photograph of blackberries by Deborah Watkins





This next cluster is almost ready to bloom, each berry a strange parcel of swelling crimson lobes..


Red blackberries by Deborah Watkins





I like this next photo because it includes the berries that have just started to turn. Close up, the creeping mould looks more like sprinkled sugar than decay. Theres something lovely about it as an image of the cycle of nature, from earth to fruit and back to earth again in just a few weeks. A reminder to enjoy them while we can.



Photograph of rotting berries






Bogland – Seamus Heaney

I came across this photograph with Seamus Heaney’s poem ‘Bogland’ on the Connemara Heritage and History site. It is such a beautiful image and it mirrors the words of this poem perfectly.

Seamus Heaney is of course our very own Nobel laureate and arguably one of the most celebrated and popular poets in the world today. This poem was written in 1969 and is regarded as a milestone in Heaney’s career because it was here he first realised ‘an image for the unconscious part of Ireland through a natural part of the landscape where history reposed and was revealed’ * I love this idea of the bog as a metaphor for our psyche, our subconscious and our innermost secrets. It also brings to mind a tree with it’s outer crust and hidden rings underneath, circling time and out of sight until the surface is broken.

Heaney alludes to the ancient bog bodies in much of his early poetry, particularly the viking bodies found in Denmark in the 1950’s.  One of these is Tollund man, a male body which has been carbon dated to 230 BC. This man received a violent death like many of the other bog bodies and Heaney has used this in his poems as a political analogy to the unravelling violence in Northern Ireland. Grauballe man was found two years after Tollund man, also in Denmark. Heaney wrote a poem in his honour which begins;


As if he had been poured

in tar, he lies

on a pillow of turf

 and seems to weep

the black river of himself.


taken from The Grauballe Man


Such beautiful, tragic and human imagery. It is thick with blackness, a darkness and a beauty that feels uniquely Irish.

The poem ‘Bogland’ has a different perspective. It starts with a comparison to the vast prairies of America. Later, there is an image of ourselves ‘striking inwards and downwards’ – self searching rather than the explorative, outward search of the early American pioneers. He concludes that ‘the wet centre is bottomless’. Here too an image of blackness, like space, a romantic void of disappearing sludge that is rooted in earth and has the preservative qualities of the womb but which falls away to some vast infinite place.






We have no prairies

To slice a big sun at evening –

Everywhere the eye concedes to

Encroaching horizon,


Is wooed into the cyclops’ eye

Of a tarn. Our unfenced country

Is bog that keeps crusting

Between the sights of the sun.


They’ve taken the skeleton

Of the Great Irish Elk

Out of the peat, set it up

An astounding crate of air.


Better sunk under

More than a hundred years

Was recovered salty and white.

The ground itself is kind, black butter


Melting and opening underfoot,

Missing its last definition

By millions of years,

They’ll never dig coal here,


Only the waterlogged trunks

Of great firs, soft as pulp.

Our pioneers keep striking

Inwards and downwards,


Every layer they strip

Seems camped on before.

The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage.

The wet centre is bottomless.


Seamus Heaney



* taken from Landscape or Mindscape? Seamus Heaney’s Bogs by Diane Meredith, The University of California, Davis.

Cover image taken from Connemara Heritage and History