Gower beaches

A Gap in the Clouds

I used to like painting landscapes and cityscapes with clear blue skies. I waited for the bright sunny days of early summer to walk around, taking photos and looking for inspiration. Thus, my series of urban minimal paintings of Swansea, made the town look a bit like a Mediterranean location!

What a joke. It rains a lot in Wales. It has rained incessantly for the past two days. Since my extended visits to Donegal, however, I have become increasing inspired by cloudscapes and the silvery light along the Atlantic coast. With my “new eyes” I have started waiting cloudy days in Wales to go out looking for inspiration. Not overcast days, but days with patches of blue sky and sunshine.

I drove down to Pennard, with the idea that I wanted to paint Pennard Pill, the river that follows into the sea at Three Cliffs Bay. The BBC forecast claimed that it would be sunshine and clouds all morning. When I looked at the Mumbles and Caswell Bay webcam, one showed sun and the other was overcast. I set off, anyway. I would go for a walk, regardless. On my way there the sun came and went. As I drove past Mumbles head, I could see it swathed in a light misty cloud. I wondered whether there would be anything to see when I got to Pennard.

Thankfully, the sun was shinning at Pennard as I made down the path that runs alongside the golf club. The tide was coming in and I could just see Great Tor in the distance, through the peaks of dunes. When got close enough for a clear view the sun promptly went in! I looked up at the sky and looked for blue patches. There were quite a few. So I carried on towards Pennard Castle, which is situated on the top the of the high dunes, further inland. I hoped the sun would reappear by the time I got to Pennard Castle. I tried to work out which way the clouds were traveling. Usually, they move from Oxwich Bay towards Three Cliffs. Today they were going the other way. The sun came out a few times on my walk. Just as I was climbing up the sandy path the castle I came out and lit everything up like a technicolor Hollywood film!

Pennard Castle

Pennard Castle

The sun promptly went in again. I stood in the ruins of the castle and waited. I thought about the fairies who had supposedly destroyed the castle with a sandstorm when the lord of the castle had refused to invite them to his wedding party. Eventually, the sun broke through and lit part of the valley below.

Pennard Pill

Pennard Pill

I watched the light move across the valley and the colours burst into life.

Pennard Pill in sunshine

Pennard Pill in sunshine

I then decided to walk back towards the sea and see if I could photograph the three peaks that give the bay its name. The clouds rolled in.

Clouds over Pennard Golf Course

Clouds over Pennard Golf Course

I would have gone home at this point, as there was a cold wind and it was almost lunchtime but I could see bright light off in the distance. It was on the far side of the Bristol channel. I could see a ship on the horizon lit by this light.

Ship on the Bristol Channel

Ship on the Bristol Channel

How wide was this stretch of water? Miles. How long would it take for that shaft of sunlight to make its way over to the Gower coast? A while. So I waited. I am not very good at standing still so I walked around a bit, watching the dog walkers and small family groups vanish from the landscape.

The clumps of large mushrooms spotted about the grassy parts of the dunes, made me think of the fairies again. 

I climbed dunes, trying to decide good locations for photos for when that shaft of sunshine arrived. It was definitely coming my way. A new set of walkers was arriving on the beach. They were all optimists too!

Cloudy Three Cliffs Bay

Cloudy Three Cliffs Bay

Hunger was starting to make itself known. I slouched down against a dune. Patience. Patience. What was the point of giving up now when I had waited so long? Impatience comes from wanting to be somewhere else. I needed to be here now. I thought of a line I heard Van Morrison sing at his 2015 Live 70th Birthday Concert at Cypress Avenue, Belfast “It has always been now” (52 mins into the clip). He’s a genius. He captures the joy of being truly present in the moment. Just as I was saying that to myself when the sun arrived and the technicolor lights were on!

The three peaks

The three peaks

That doesn’t quite capture it. Here let me show you. My view of the world.

That’s more like it.

Now I could go home and eat lunch. Paint and listen to Van Morrison.

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14 replies »

  1. Your patience paid off with some dramatic photo reference material. The advantage of being an artist is that the reference doesn’t have to be perfect–just suggest enough to give the artist some clues as to which way to go. I seldom try to paint a realist version of my reference materials since I for one do not often have the patience to wait around for the perfectly lit photograph. And if I did, I would be frustrated at the painting part of it because I wouldn’t be able to reproduce it in all its photographic glory. I think your interpretations of your reference materials far outweigh their original form!

    • Thank you, Alli. That’s true. My camera is far from professional quality but its good enough for my purposes. I just need enough to remind me of what what I saw. I tend to brighten and sharpen (in some places, blurss in others) as I paint.

  2. I know that feeling, waiting for the sun to reappear, so that you can see where the shadows fall. Wonderfully dramatic pictures though at the end of the day. I love the way you have caught the reappearing sun in your painting. So transient. You just know it’s going to disappear shortly.

  3. Your view of it is sunning. That light on the water! And as for Van Morrison. I heard him in Dublin years ago. When he sand the Mountains of Morn the whole audience started to sing along quietly with him.

    • Thank you and ch lovely. That must have been a very special gig in Ireland. The first gig I ever went to was to see Van Morrison at Colston Hall, Bristol. I just love his music/lyrics/voice.

  4. What a magical journey you took us on, with the photos & art. Your painting is a gem, so lovely. I understand about the perfect visual moment, I enjoy blue skies, but I also tend to paint moody dramatic skies… Just love Van Morrison, thanks for sharing the video.

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