The Clearing

Summer is always busy in Clifden and this year is no exception, in spite of the atrocious weather. There is a multitude of demands – children to be occupied, ferried around, fed and watered ( yes the basics, ) gallery business to be attended to, a new part time summer job ( teaching art at the Elm Tree Centre in Clifden which is an absolute joy for me ) and last but not least, paintings to be made. Continue reading

Return to Painting 2014


I got back to painting this month once the kids returned to school. Armed with some photos taken near Killary, I chose two largish canvas boards ( 12″ x 16″ ) and one stretched canvas ( 12″ x 14″ ) to get started. I have been working on all three paintings over the last few weeks, bringing each of them along in stages. I took photos at the end of each painting session which proved useful as I was able to use the earlier images in some cases to develop the work at a later stage. I have written about each piece separately due to the number of photos – here’s how the first piece began below. I love this initial phase of getting the fresh paint onto the board, there’s a great freedom and an opportunity to be bold with broad sweeps of colour.


Painting first stage





This is the next stage – I’ve used a good deal more paint, working from the top down. I’m happy with the blue mountains and don’t develop these much further.


Painting second stage





The middle ground is next, probably the brightest part of this piece. I’m using ink and allowing it to bleed into the paint in places.


Painting stage 3





Next I start to work on the foreground – it still lacks definition. I want to get across the effect of looking into or through the earth by abstracting this part of the painting so I experiment with some different shapes.


Painting stage 4





I try a few bold upward sweeps using a large brush and some gold and white – I also use inks ( blues and reds ) through the paint. I decide to leave it at this stage.


Painting stage 5





The paint is dry in this final photo. The colours have dulled a little but these will be lifted again once the piece has been varnished.


Last stage Connemara Loop Painting


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.


Connemara Sheep by Evie Lavelle

I’ve been working on this large landscape. It’s 12″ x 14″ x 2″ which is a large deep canvas by my standards. It began this below.


First stage of Large Textured Landscape





Then I added more colour.


Second stage of Textured Landscape





Next I brushed on some textured paste, my first time using this medium. It has the consistency of thick paint and is opaque white in colour. I worked into the paste once it was on the canvas to created different kinds of textures. It should probably be applied before this much paint has been put on to the canvas but I wanted to make the textures relevant to what is happening in the painting. I have a pet hate for landscape art that uses texture randomly.


Large canvas with texture





Here’s some close ups below.


Close up of texture medium on canvas




Second close up





Next I added more paint.


Next stage of landscape painting




Here’s the piece after a more work (below).  I’ve covered the canvas with colour now and I’ve made this corner on the left darker than I’d originally planned. I’ve also added some green and brown to the pool as I wanted it to have a more murky feel to it.


Finished painting





When I looked back at the last two images, I saw that I had removed most of the green from the clump of grasses on the front right of the canvas so I went back and put some more green back in there.


Landscape with a little more green





I’ve learnt a few things making this painting – the first is that I love working with this textured paste. It brings the piece alive for me by – a bit like modeling with clay ( ahh, I remember those days ). More than that, I’ve learnt to trust this material ( paint ) which probably sounds a bit strange or perhaps too obvious but sometimes the hardest things to grasp are the things that are right in front of our noses! It’s an acceptance of the material and the ability to really work with it, to just go for it without trepidation. I think I’m finally learning to do this and I feel happy with the way the work is progressing at the moment.



I drove to Galway city on Wednesday morning, a hundred mile round trip from Clifden town. It’s a journey I make about once a month and usually out of necessity when I have a sufficient amount of errands to run. This particular morning was beautiful – crisp  and sunny and still. Fortunately I had my camera with me so I was able to pull in at Ballinafad and take some pictures. You might think that I’ve photoshopped these but it’s the real thing and exactly as it was ( I’m not a great fan of photoshop, especially when it comes to landscape ). This is the N59 looking towards Galway with ‘Lissoughter’ and ‘Binn Ramhar’ mountains on the left.


The N59 Road towards Galway




Here’s the road looking back towards Clifden with the lower slopes of Benn Lettery on the right and Ballinahinch Lake to the left.


N59 Road looking back towards Clifden




And here’s the view south west taking in the lake and forest beyond.


Photo of Connemara in November




Facing south now and some gorgeous reflections in the lake which was as clear and still as glass – the posts supporting the new saplings, the tree line of the forest and the fisherman’s beats outside this little shed. I love the grasses too, golden like burnt caramel and warm to the eye.


Another view of Ballinahinch Lake




I find myself marveling at it all and the fact that I live in such a beautiful part of the country. I think back to the first time I took this road about twenty years ago and the thoughts that ran through my head. It was like going deeper and deeper in to the unknown, into a kind of wilderness. The water almost touches the road in places as it twists and turns around the lakes ( much narrower then ) and I remember finding this a bit unnerving. The remoteness of the landscape, which seemed to recede in to itself further and further was more than a little daunting for a city girl like me but the extraordinary beauty of the place was unmistakable. You might imagine that you would get used to it, stop seeing it perhaps and begin to take it all for granted but this simply isn’t true. Every season brings a change and each season has it’s own special kind of beauty and moments like these in Ballinafad are made for savouring.


One last photo of Ballinafad

Paul Henry

I’ve been looking at some of Paul Henry’s landscapes recently and thought I might write about them here.

Henry was an Irish artist who was known especially for his West of Ireland landscapes. He was born in Belfast in 1887 and he studied art in Paris before his return to Ireland where he lived and worked on Achill Island (1910-1919) off the Mayo coast for many years. While in Paris, Henry was greatly impressed by the modern avant-garde movement of the time and the bold colourful works of Cezanne, Van Gogh and Gaugain. Landscape painting was no longer just about realism but about colour and energy and the individual mark of the artist’s hand. I love this quote by S.B. Kennedy in his book on Paul Henry where he describes these new ideas of the time:

“Cezanne and Van Gogh saw clearly because they had cast aside all the theories and prejudices of the Schools and were looking at nature as if for the first time, and above all seeing it with emotion.”

This notion of seeing landscape with emotion really resonates with me because it seems to me that this is what painting is all about. I imagine then how Henry must have taken these new ideals and applied them to our own peculiar landscape and weather conditions, without the heat and intensity of the mediterranean sun. He recognised the singular beauty of the landscape and the light in the West of Ireland and he learned to articulate this using his own palette of muted colours. The painting above is called ‘Errigal County Donegal’ (c.1930 Image taken from ) and it demonstrates this very well. The setting seems to shimmer in a kaleidoscope of greys tinged with blue and pink against the golds and browns at the base of the painting.

This next image below is an earlier work (c.1922-23) called “The Bog at Evening’. I love the simplicity of this composition –  mountain, horizon line, turf and water. I admire the contrast that he has set up between the shadowy dark browns of the turf and purple mountain and the delicate pinks and pastels in the billowing cloud shapes. The reflections of the clouds in the bog water and the low evening light give the painting a perfect stillness where only the evidence of human activity now remains.


Image taken from D7ET website 




This next painting is called ‘West of Ireland Cottages’. Once more, the atmosphere dominates this piece, the vastness of the sky and mountains over the small settlement of cottages. The strong blues of the mountains sing against the yellow of the thatch and gold of the bog, a perfect example of how complementary colours can be used together with great effect.


Painting by Paul Henry

 Image taken from




This last painting (below) is called Bog Road. It uses similar colours but the tones are more subdued in the top two thirds of the canvas. The lightness of the sky contrasts strongly with the dark stacks of turf. The middle ground is highlighted with a streak of gold where the sun drops down between the clouds and sits beautifully against these ribbons of blue that he uses to describe the receding hills.


Bog Road by Paul Henry

 Image taken from 



Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Paul Henry’s work for me is it’s apparent simplicity. Many of his greatest paintings seem at first glance to be composed of a simple arrangement of shapes and colours. It is the degree of complexity and subtlety within these seemingly simple choices of colour, tone, shape and gesture that make them so exceptional in my opinion. As a painter, I have so much to learn from these paintings!

What do you think about them? Do you think that they are relevant to day or have anything to do with modern Ireland?









Summer Bog Painting


I got back to some painting again this week and I’ve returned to the bog in Oughterard which is fast becoming a favourite subject/obsession!

I worked on two small paintings – here’s how the first one started (below).


First stage of Oughterard Painting




I decided to set the composition up on a portrait page because I wanted to make this long water channel in the centre the main feature. This is how the painting progressed (below) after I had used quite a bit of paint and ink. While I’m happy with some aspects of it, the water channel is more out of control than I would like.


Next stage of Oughterard Bog Painting




I removed some of the wet colour in the centre of the piece with a paper towel and attempted to re-paint the pool.  This is how I have left it (below).


Last photograph of Oughterard Bog Painting




I’m happier with it now because there is a stronger sense of direction in the pool which moves downwards and out of the painting although the area to the right of the pool has lost some of the energy it had at the earlier stage. I’ll return to it once this layer of colour has dried and make a decision on what to do with it next. This is the second painting I started (below).


First stage of the next bog Painting by Deborah Watkins




This one is on a landscape page. I want to make this large area of newly cut bog the main interest here. I worked quickly with lots of paint and ink together. This is how I have left the piece (below).


Next stage of Oughterard bog Painting




I have tried to set up a contrast between the silky darkness of the cut bog surface and the green growth that surrounds it. I feel reasonably happy with how it has turned out although I need to ‘tidy’ it up a bit when the paint is dry. There are some unwanted speckles and a little bare patch that I’ve just noticed!  I’ll also need to straighten up the ‘line’ of the bog on the left of the piece as its unevenness makes it seem a bit like a black river. What do you think?

It’s a question of just the right amount of control for me so that I allow the paint and ink to move in order that the piece has some kind of energy about it but that I pull it back when it moves too far away from where I want the painting to go..

Landscape – Dark Pool

This is a landscape on canvas (5″ x 7″) that I have just finished. It is based on an area between Clifden and Roundstone known as the ‘Bog Road’ which offers impressive views of the ‘Twelve Bens’ mountain range.



Landscape by Deborah Watkins



The photograph below shows the painting after the first sitting. I have used quite a lot of acrylic paint and ink to get it to this stage. The pool in the centre is the main focus of this one as you can see.


Painting: 12 Bens 2



Here it is from a different angle – I’ve brought the painting around the edges of the canvas (below).


Painting: 12 Bens 3



I wanted to make the piece darker in terms of colour and mood when I came back to the painting. These bog pools have a bottomless watery darkness about them that I am trying to convey here. I got it to this stage (below) but now I am not happy with the sky or the mountains in the background.


Painting: 12 Bens 4



I returned to the piece when the paint had dried and attempted the background again. I decided to introduce some reds and purples to the mountain range as there is too much blue in the piece above. Here is the painting as I have left it (below).



Landscape by Deborah Watkins



In an effort to create more drama and movement, I allowed the grasses and water to spill over the front side of the canvas (below).


Painting: 12 Bens 6



I am happier with the piece now and I think that the red mountain range is an improvement. I hope that I have managed to create this dark mood I am looking for. What do you think?

Oughterard Bog Painting

I have started a series of paintings based on a bog near Oughterard where I took some photos last week. I wanted to do something that is faithful and sympathetic to this miry place and its vivid colours. I started this one by drawing a rough composition in charcoal (below). The tracks of water from this position give a lovely sense of movement and distance which I hope to keep in the final painting.


Sketch for Bog painting



This is the piece as I have left it (below). It had got to the point of being too wet to continue so I will allow it to dry before making any further additions. I’m not sure yet what those might be or indeed if I will leave it as it is. Occasionally the richness of the wet paint and ink is lost when it dries out and it can look thin and unfinished. Sometimes on the other hand, if I have applied the colour heavily enough, the richness is held and heightened with a final coat of varnish. I’ll have to wait and see with this one.


Completed Bog Painting