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

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.


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.

Hen Paintings

Horse Study V by Debi O'Hehir

I’ve been working on a couple of hen paintings this week. I haven’t done any for a long while and we sold the last two of mine in the gallery at the week end. The subjects are our own hens and so I started by taking some pictures of them in the back garden. The two red ones are Rhode Island Reds and the grey is a Bluebell. You may remember I wrote about them during the Summer when we found our first egg.

They move around together and often imitate each others exact movements which is amusing to watch, a bit like synchronised swimming. Well not really..


Photo of hens by Deborah Watkins




I especially like the triangular appearance of their bodies when they lean over, it’s such a striking shape.


Photo of two hens by Deborah Watkins




Bottoms up girls! I love this pose too as they remind me of ladies in old fashioned bloomers..


Photo of three hens by Deborah Watkins




Here’s how the first painting started. I used a small 4″ x 4″ canvas which I think suits the nature of the subject and also makes for an affordable finished piece.


First stage of bluebell hen painting




Here’s the same piece straight on.


First stage of Bluebell hen painting from another angle




And here’s the finished painting.





I worked this in two sittings. I find the first stage easier as I am mainly concerned with getting the gesture of the hen across. The second stage is always more difficult as I tend to slow down and work more finely to get the detail right. I often find that I lose some of the energy of the pose while doing this.

Here’s the start of the second piece. I continue the painting around the sides as you can see. G will frame these in his own hand made box frames which will display all sides of the canvas, like the one underneath this image.


First stage of second hen painting by Deobrah Watkins




Framed hen painting




Here’s the second painting  after some more colour has been added.


Second stage of hen painting




This is the same stage but taken straight on.


Second stage from a different angle




And here’s the finished piece.


Finished hen painting by Deborah Watkins




This one has lost some of the brightness and liveliness it had at the earlier stage but not too much I hope. I find these a completely different experience to painting landscapes – it’s a more direct way of working so I find myself caught up in trying to get a reasonable representation of the subject. I’m less concerned with intangibles like atmosphere or mood. The hens are dear to my heart however as we’ve had the pleasure of owning our own for several years. It’s also something that has had a bit of a revival around the country so I find that people generally react well to the finished paintings.

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.

Bog Furrow


I’ve been working on this one for about a week. It hasn’t come together as easily as the last couple of paintings, I’m not sure why. Perhaps my enthusiasm has waned a little since the first and I need to change direction for a while. Here’s how it started below.







This is the next stage. This large furrow is the main interest and I’ve added a grey pool to draw the eye down and in to the painting. I’ve tried to vary the colour and texture of the grasses but I think this middle ground looks confused. I also think that the brown line following the direction of the hill downwards has the effect of slicing the picture in two..


Penultimate stage of bog painting





Here’s the painting as I have left it below.  I’ve developed the background a bit by adding some colour and definition to the sky and the mountains. I’ve tried to make the grasses interesting by varying the blocks of colour on either side of the furrow. I’ve also softened the brown line so that it doesn’t break up the composition as much. The direction of the grasses pushes against the direction of the hill, hopefully to give a stronger sense of movement. I’m still a bit unsure about this one – I can see the struggle in it and I wonder if this is obvious to the viewer. Let me know what you think.


Finished Bog 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?

Golden Bog


I usually work on a couple of paintings at a time so I can explore similar themes in slightly different ways. I began this one (above) with the last painting I wrote about here ( see Land Interrupted ).

I used these photographs (below) for reference while painting – they were taken recently on the Bog Road between Clifden and Letterfrack. It was evening and there was a lovely haze of light on the bog grasses, now turning golden. The light is special here at any time of the year but it is sometimes these in between times, between Summer and Autumn, between day and evening that it is most enchanting.


Photograph of bog taken by Deborah Watkins





Photograph of golden bog grasses





This is how the painting began (below).


First stage of golden bog landscape





Next I added more colour to the middle and foreground. I altered the mountain in the background a little as I felt that this line down the middle wasn’t working.

I used lots of gold and yellow in the middle ground and some pink to suggest the heathers. Then I outlined the bog furrow using brown ink.


Second stage of golden bog landscape





This is the painting as I have left it below. I worked on the bog furrow shape and the grasses around it in an effort to make them merge a little but hopefully remain distinct also. I’ve defined the mountain behind with some brown ink but perhaps a little too much, I think I will try to pull this back a little when I return to it again.


Third stage of golden bog painting by Deborah Watkins



Sky and Sea

The main interest in this little seascape is the sky. It started out like this (below).

I used lots of red at the base of the painting in an attempt to give the final sea colour a richness and depth. I’ve applied the paint quite thickly on the top part of the piece. I waited until this layer was completely dry before I worked on it again.


First stage of Seascape





This is the next stage below.

I’ve given the cloud shapes more definition and divided them in to dark and light areas. I then used some charcoal to mark out the rocks in the foreground and lots of blue and white paint to describe the sea. I’m happy enough not to do too much more with it at this stage and I wait for this layer to dry.


Second stage of seascape by Deborah Watkins





This is how the finished seascape looks below.

I’ve used charcoal to heighten the contrast in the clouds and give the illusion of rain falling. I enjoy using charcoal with paint like this although they are not traditional partners – what do you think?


Finished seascape by Deborah Watkins