Gower beaches

Catching the Morning Light

When I get hold of an idea I can get quite obsessive about it. Lately, it’s been early morning light. I think it sprang from a post I wrote about transposing some of the techniques I used for my “Urban Minimal” project to what I only half-jokingly called “Rural Minimal”. I think that my rural Gower houses did fulfil the spirit of “Rural Minimal” but it got me think about shadows. Now, shadows were my first love. They still are. It’s hard to find any painting of mine without blue/mauve/purple/brown shadows. I go through tubes of Lukas 1862 Mauve at a steady rate. Many of my Gower woodland paintings used early morning winter light.

 

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Enchanted Wood  Limited edition mounted print (unframed) 

And why do I love shadows so much? It’s because they act as a foil to the light. The orange next to the dark mauve positively leaps off the canvas. Perhaps, its a cheap way of thrilling the viewer? I am always very impressed by artists who capture a gloomy or overcast landscape. Plein Air painters prefer overcast conditions because they are more constant and American artist, Jeremy Sams,  demonstrates this really well in his painting. He says “The good thing about painting on an overcast day is that you don’t have to chase shadows. The light remains very constant and my acrylic paints stay wet for a good long while.”

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Jeremy Sam’s Plein Air Study

However, I love shadows. They make a composition interesting and dynamic. So, anyway, the post about Rural Minimal got me thinking about shadows in rural settings. I realised that because I have been focusing on my Gower Walks and working to bus timetables that I was mostly walking in the late morning and finishing up in the early afternoon. I was becoming increasing frustrated that my lovely walks weren’t inspiring the sort of paintings I like to make. The light wasn’t right. Midday light, especially in the summer, has a tendency to bleach out the details. This is what shadows “do”, they show us the details of the landscape.

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Light Shadow

I have always been a morning person. Each morning is like a fresh start to me. What ever happened yesterday, last night is gone.To be honest, I think that have always done my best work by 11 am. When I was writing my PhD thesis, many years ago, I’d do my best writing between at 8 and 11 am. To be honest, most of the work I did after 11 am was fact checking (this was in the days before the interest when you had to look things up in books) and faffing, but I’d dutifully stay at my desk til 5 pm.

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Bernard Street Bus Stop (Back of Brynmill Launderette)  (Oil on Linen Canvas, 33 x 41 cm unframed)

 

So I decided that I need to seek out early morning light on Gower. This long spell of hot weather meant that morning skies were often (but not always) clear. That meant getting up early.  I have been dragging myself out of bed just after sunrise. It’s summer and the sun rises just after 5 am in here Wales. It is painful getting up that early but once I have had a cup of coffee I can face the outside world, just about.

The first time I drove down to Three Cliffs Bay, 6 miles away, I was so tired that I actually forgot my camera! I felt so stupid but I got back in my car and drove back home to fetch the darn thing, delaying my “start” by 30 minutes.

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Pobbles Bay after 8am

Compare the light and shadows to yesterday morning (when I remembered my camera) and actually got there for about 6.30am.

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Pobbles Bay 6.30 am

It’s different. Not necessarily better, just different. Do you know what, it doesn’t matter. I like both conditions.  The changing tides always also variety and interest. Summer Morning light has a beautiful rich quality to it and I like seeing how it changes, the shadows shorten, darken, light break over the cliffs, as the morning progresses. I have sat down on the cliff tops and watch the light change.

Early Morning, Three Cliffs

Early Morning, Three Cliffs  (Oil ob Linen canvas, 80×60 cm, unframed)

I like seeing nature first thing. I like seeing the dew. In this very dry summer it’s a godsend. The grass on rolling fairways of Pennard golf course has turned the colour of straw except for the patches where the dew collects in the morning. There it’s a fresh green. Walking down towards the sea, along the sandy path by the golf course, I often see the white tails of wild rabbits dashing into the undergrowth. Their numbers in the UK have fallen in recent decades but thankfully, there seem to be plenty on Gower.

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Welsh Wild Rabbit

Free-range cows roam the cliffs of Pennard and South Gate as well as the valley next to Three Cliffs Bay. They are usually busily eating the grass they can find down in the marshy valley or in the shadows of the thorny gorse bushes, or even in the Golf Club car park before the golfers arrive!

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Early morning cow in Pennard Golf Club car park

 

 

Cows chewing the cud (mid morning) and cows at work, eating grass (early morning).

I delight in the long shadows and the reflections at low tide. How the reflected light is more golden than the light on the rocky cliffs.

 

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Three Cliffs Reflections  (SOLD Oil on Linen canvas , 80x50cm, unframed)

At high tide the colours all change again.

 

I have got up early and visited Rhossili, Penmaen and Three Cliffs Bay six times in the past fortnight. This includes the morning I thought the light cloud would clear but instead it thickened. A passing Jack Russell was photographed, as well as the rabbit above. So, I sat down and sketched.

 

I will keep going until this weather goes off, while may well be very soon. I will be working from this research for quite a while after it has clouded over again.

A while back, last June in fact, I read an excellent blog post by American artist Luann Udell entitled “How Long Did It Take You To Make That?” in which she discusses all time-consuming processes and skill that go into creating her pieces. It occurred to me that while the actual time it takes to paint my work may take anything from one to three days, depending on the size of the canvas, the actual thinking, planning, gestation, waiting for the weather and preparation takes a lot longer. I should also include in that waiting for the seasons to change. Just yesterday I was remarking to my husband that the heather was starting to flower and so another visit to Rhossili Downs would be in order soon. Nothing stays the same in nature, or in life! My job is to observe and attempt to capture some of those fleeting changes.

 

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15 replies »

  1. About how long it takes to make a piece of work: A poet I used to know was talking about poems that sometimes come to writers whole, or almost whole, and feel like a gift. What she said about them was that the work had gone underground.

    • Yes, a lot of thinking goes on “underground” as well as the overground stuff about weather forecasts, tide times. I am no good at predicting what the light will be light at any given vantage point – I have to go and see in person.

  2. For photography lighting is very important of course. Like you I am a morning person and plan to take all my shots by 11 AM, or even earlier.

    Three Cliffs Reflections is outstanding. Do you know if rays of sun, either at sunrise or sunset, ever go straight through that small opening in the cliff and produce a beam of light?

    • Now that’s a good question, and I am having think about direction. I don’t think so. The sun would have to be on the horizon to the south (west-ish), so I don’t think so.

  3. I love the light at the beginning and end of the day too but while sunsets are showy and spectacular , dawn is often lovelier. Something about being up and out before the rest of the world has awoken, about glimpsing a secret world of rabbits and cows and dew fall which disappears once the day begins. It’s my favourite time of day.

    Maybe there’s a case to be made for low tide landscapes rather than high water scenes too? I know that the seas are low for as long as they are high but to me somehow the tide out images are so much more interesting.

    And as to the how long does it take you question – aren’t there two times here? The number of hours it takes to apply the paint to the canvas is what people are usually asking after but they overlook the number of years of training, practice, and experimentation you have put in so that you can capture the landscape so skilfully. It’s the 10,000 hours that matters. Ceri

  4. I quite agree about dawn light and also low tide – the patterns and reflection are often more interesting. That your point about “how long”, it’s not just the 10,000 hours it took you to get good at your skill – these are the hours that went into creating the actually piece. Putting paint on the canvas is “just” the last stage of the process. Mind you I didn’t include all the hours of social media and blogging that goes into getting my work “out there”!?!

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