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Am I better yet? Almost.

I feel quite silent at the moment. I don’t have much to say. I think it’s because I am concentrating on my exercises. It has been very tiring. Recovering from a broken leg & ankle is a surprisingly long process. I have been asked a few times if my leg has healed yet. Well, yes it’s not broken anymore but it turns out there’s a bit more to it than that.

I have read that most people are able to normally walk again in three months, although the bones take quite a bit longer to fully heal.  I sort of assumed that once the cast was off, it would not be long before you could walk again. I was given a leaflet by my hospital called “Following a Broken Ankle” in place of actual physical therapy. In this leaflet it was claimed that “some people return to [their sport or activity] within a few days after the cast is removed”. I’d like to meet these miraculous people. It has been 4 weeks since I first started putting weight on my ankle and I am far from “back to normal”. 

My first experience of putting my foot on the ground was very odd. The muscles and tendons had seized up. I was like the rusted tin man. It felt like there were tight belts inside my foot stopping it move. It felt so weird that I initially thought that those were the plates in my foot. I have realized since that this a very daft notion as the plates and pins are in my leg not my foot. It was very uncomfortable putting weight on my leg and foot. My leg was weak as the muscles in my calf and upper leg were smaller and wasted. I had bought a set of resistance bands to exercise with and these were very effective at toning those skinny muscles.  I worked hard at my exercises and needed to sleep a lot.

Most of these exercises were found on the internet. Some more were kindly sent to me by a fellow artist, Nancy, who also broken her leg but gets to go to actual rehab. So here I am 4 weeks later, I can walk short distances but I struggle to climb more than a few stairs at a time.  I have made it down-stairs twice in the last week. I am currently practicing standing on one leg – the recovering leg. That was pretty scary to start with.  The tendons in my ankle are still tight and uncomfortable but my range of motion is improving. I have to concentrate hard when I am walking so that I don’t limp. My husband, Séamas, has helped with the exercises. He has watched how I walk to suggest improvements and encouragement. 

Perhaps in another 2 weeks, I will be more normal. Every day I make progress but it is slow progress. There has been no magical moment when nothing is stiff anymore and everything moves like the other foot. I suspect that day (if it exists) is still months away.

I am very grateful that I can finally stand on my own two feet again. I sometimes just stand up for just for fun, because I can. I am happy that I can carry something as I walk, as I no longer need a crutch. I feel that I will make it up those steep stairs to the attic studio soon, but not this week. Maybe next.

Free at Last
I made it down two flights of stairs to see the dogs!
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Watercolour birds

Watercolour painting of a sparrow by Emma Cownie

My left leg and ankle is now at the rehab stage of my recovery (if you would like to know how I ended up with a broken leg you can read about it here). That means I can put partial weight on the leg and I have to do a series of exercises 5 times a day. My ankle is incredibly stiff and my leg is pretty weak from almost 2 months of inaction. When I try to lift my toes, I can feel the plates in my leg. It’s very wierd. It feels a bit like aliens have control of my ankle! The muscles get sore. It’s also very tiring. Actual walking seems a long way off!

In terms of practicality, it means that I am pretty much confined to my bedroom and cannot use my usual oil paints. This is due to the lack of room and the fact that oils are much too messy for a bedroom. So I have dedicated myself to spending this time with my watercolours. I have learnt a lot about the qualities of the different colours and how I can and can’t use them over the past few weeks. I have been frustrated and pleased in equal measure.

In between the exercises, I have been painting birds in watercolours. I have painted many garden birds in oils over the years. I am particularly fond of sparrows. Here’s a selection of my oil paintings to illustrate:-

I have also painted many robins, wrens, blackbirds and a few puffins too!

I have decided that watercolour is a medium that works really well for painting garden birds. It is quite possibly better than oils. Its transparency is particularly well-suited to conveying the lightness of birds. I am experimenting with tight control of the paint versus letting it bleed in parts of the painting. The results of interesting and varied.

Watercolour painting of robin
Robin #1 (SOLD)

I have been trying out different watercolour papers too. My earliest birds were painted on Etival 300g/m (140 lb) rough texture paper. It was what I happened to have in the cupboard.

Out of curiosity, I tried a different make, Bockingford. Their paper is Acid-Free, and archival quality. I tried two weights. First I tried very heavy 425g/m (200 lb) paper, rough texture. I liked the substantial thickness of this paper, and the paintings turned out well enough but the grain of the paper doesn’t photograph well. I might try scanning them instead, when I am finally up and about.

The second Bockingford paper I tried was a lighter 300 g/m rough texture paper. I think that this suited me best in terms of how the paintings look in photographs.

I have ordered some Bockingford 300 g/m cold press (not) texture paper to try out too. That should be coming early next week. So trying that out will come as a welcome break from my rehab exercises!

Stockists

On this occasion, I ordered my paper from Jacksons Art, as they had an extensive range of watercolour paper and paints on offer.

They also stock the excellent M. Graham watercolour paints. It’s not cheap and so far I have one tube of this paint but I love it more than all my other watercolour paints put together!

In the past I have also used Ken Bromley and Great Art.

Rosemary and Co also make beautiful brushes

Please note that I am not being paid to promote any of these stockists. 

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Watercolour painting

Watercolour painting by Emma Cownie

Watercolours are not usually my thing but circumstances have changed that, for the time being. When I came out of the hospital after my operation to fix my broken left leg, I knew that I going to off my feet for at least 6 weeks. I also knew that it would probably take another 2 to 3 weeks to be fully mobile again. I had all sorts of vague ideas about oil painting again but when I got home I realised that they were hopelessly impractical. My house is full of steep and narrow stairs, so that meant I was going to pretty much confined to my bedroom.

My husband, Séamas, went to a lot of effort to set up the bedroom ready for me. He dismantled the round kitchen table and reassembled it in the bedroom. He also brought up an armchair and two dining chairs for me to sit on and rest my recovering leg on. The table is not very big so that means that the only sort of paint I can hope to use in this limited space are watercolours.

Emma Cownie at her temporary workplace
Organised chaos on the ex-kitchen table

I have a love-hate relationship with watercolours. They are portable and come in cute little boxes but they are the least forgiving of all mediums. If you make a mistake it shows. I used to dabble in them many years ago but I always prefered to use acrylics, oil pastels and oil paints, because with all of those mediums you can scrape back or paint over mistakes. Not so with watercolours. They show you up are the second-rate artist you fear you are!

Cloughcor Cottage Arranmore
Cloughcor Cottage Arranmore

 

In my first efforts with the watercolours I used them in pretty much the same way I always had done.

Whilst I was reasonably happy with the foliage and grass in the picture, I thought the sky was too muddy.

 

Crug Hywel, Brecon Beacons
Crug Hywel, Brecon Beacons

 

I decided I needed some technical help. So I got Séamas to go up to the attic and dig out my tiny Collins Gem book on Watercolour Tips by Ian King. What a marvel this book is!

It has many excellent pointers on mixing watercolour paint, making washes, the translucent nature of some colours, as well as the importance of simplifying the composition.

 

 

Four sketches of Table Moutain
Four sketches of Table Moutain

So I took these points on board, in particular the importance of simplifying the image. I realised that less is more. It changed what I painted. I was much happier to edit my compositions in a way that I don’t usually in my oil paintings. So I decided to simplify my compositions as much as possible and paint a series of studies of the houses on Gola Island.

I was cautious, however, of unintentionally taking on another artist’s style of painting. I wanted the skills but not the style. I didn’t want to paint like these watercolourists, I wanted to paint my way, but in watercolours. I also wanted to keep the paint as “light” possible to keep the painting looking fresh and airy.

It might sound odd, but I wasn’t familiar with the properties of the colours in my paint-box. Blue watercolour paints act differently to blue oil paints. I needed to experiment and learn how they were different.

In the end, to help me understand what each colour could do I painted each one on a piece of paper so I could look at it when deciding which color to use. This helped me enormously.

93600310_1434552650064840_7917932287902089216_o (1)
My watercolours

I also struggled with how to paint a “simple” wash for some time. One online artist recommended mixing up a lot of paint so that it was “like tea”.  This did not do the trick for me. I was reassured by another artist that washes were actually pretty tricky and some colours were harder to use than others. I found this reassuring. I helped me keep perservering. There’s nothing like someone saying “Oh, but it’s easy” to make you want to give up when it’s not easy!

Eventually,  after a conversation with my mother (who was a keen water colourist), I tried a different brush and also several pots of water. One to rinse my brush in, the others to dip my brush into before I put it in the watery paint mix. That seemed to work for me. I felt slightly more in control of the process and my skies were less lumpy.

I have a long way to go but I am lot happier with my paintings and I hope that I can use these skills to paint “en plein air” when my leg is better it is safe to go outside again, whenever that will be. Until then, I will keep practicing!

I would like to thank Séan Ó Domnhaill for the use of his photographs of the red-roofed Post Office on the Outer Hebrides and the Isle of Lewis.

See my oil paintings here 

For some of the tips on watercolour paintings that I looked at :-Olly Pyle’s

https://www.ourlandscape.co.uk/post/basic-watercolour-kit-where-to-start

I particularly liked Anthony’s site:-

https://watercoloraffair.com/complete-guide-to-watercolor-wash-techniques/

 
I collect lots of tips on my pinterest page here:-
 
 
As well as examples of watercolourists whose work I admire here:-
 

 

 

 

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The Walk of Life

Perhaps I should have called this post “the invisible people”. I have a bit of a fascination with things and people that often go unnoticed. The unnoticed have now become the invisible. With the coming of the terrible coronavirus crisis, the sight of elderly people on the street is a thing of the past. They are now “self-isolating” for anything up to 12 weeks.

My confinement is more of a challenge than the “lock-down”. My broken leg has me confined to my bedroom and the bathroom. We have too many steep stairs for me to go anywhere else. I just look out the window and take satisfaction in the quietness in the street outside. As an artist, I am used to quite a high degree of isolation. Yet, I know that this level of isolation must be incredibly hard, especially for the elderly or vulnerable if they do not have the internet or can’t work messaging apps. Even if they can, it’s still hard. People need face-to-face interactions with other people, even if it’s only buying groceries at the local shops. I know my father is missing his shopping trips.

I hate how news reports of coronavirus deaths often like to report that a certain number are elderly or “had underlying conditions” as if that somehow means those people don’t matter so much. Every single one of them matters. They are all someone’s loved ones; nan, dad or sister, son.  My husband has “an underlying condition” as do my parents, my brother-in-law and many of my friends. They are sheltering indoors, relying on the fit and young to keep the hospitals and shops up and running.

So today’s gallery of my people paintings has an added significance for me. This is a reminder of all the vanished; the people you don’t see on the streets. They are still here, at home, maybe, watching TV or listening to the radio. I hope that they are chatting away on skype or messenger or maybe like me they are just peering out their windows.

Painting of Woman with Zimmer Frame_EmmaCownie
Walk of Life (Sold)

My “The Walk of Life” painting has added significance for me. When I painted it was struck by the old lady’s determination and how tiny she was in comparison with the younger people around her.  I thought the composition captured the variety of life on Swansea, Oxford Street on a summer’s afternoon.
I never thought that I would have my own zimmer frame, but I do. I have to keep the weight off my healing left leg for another 4 weeks so it is vital for getting from my bedroom to the bathroom. It’s a fantastic bit of kit. Light and simple yet sturdy and reliable. Like the lady in the painting, mine has two wheels at the front and I will sometimes carry an object like a book in a bag from one room to another. I have tried holding stuff in my mouth but it just doesn’t work.
I am delighted that the American collector who recently bought this painting is a nurse who works with elderly ladies like this one. He will understand just how liberating a zimmer frame is to the disabled and elderly. During my stay in the hospital, I watched very elderly ladies, who had fallen, broken their hips and had them replaced,  push past pain and discomfort slowly but steadily make their way up and down the ward with the help of a frame. Once they proved their mobility they could negotiate their return back home.  I have a set of crutches but I like the frame better. So although “The Walk of Life” always was a celebration of the human spirit and determination, but I now know that the old lady is just getting on with her life. She probably doesn’t want applause or pity but she certainly might want to have a good chat.

Painting Swansea people by Emma Cownie
Soldiering On

 

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Woodland drama (or how I broke my leg)

While the rest of the world is on coronavirus lock-down I am confined to my bedroom with my leg in a very heavy plaster. Moving from the bed to a chair involves a lot of hopping and a zimmer/walker frame. It all takes a lot of effort to achieve simple things that I never gave much thought to before.

I broke my left leg. I have broken both lower bones and dislocated my ankle. Six days ago I had an operation to pin the bones in my ankle. My brother asked if breaking a bone is more painful than a toothache. The answer is definitely yes. I have endured 50 shades of different pain since I went for a walk with our dogs 2 weeks ago in my favourite woods, near Ilston, Gower. It was just about the worst time to break my leg, to be honest.

By Ilston River
Ilston River (SOLD)

I had walked about half a mile along the side of the stream. I had bought a new camera with me and my attention was caught by the sunlight on a mossy tree. I decided I would move closer to take a photo.  Instead, I stumbled over a muddy stick and as I put my left foot out to steady myself I felt it twist and a sickening snap. I rolled on the wet ground, hoping against hope that I hadn’t done something dreadful but the horrible pain told me that I had. My foot was bent out of shape. Just to think about it makes me feel ill, even now.

As I lay on the ground, I wondered what to do. I tried shouting “Help” a few times but felt silly/useless. What could I do? My husband was in Ireland. Fortunately, I had my mobile phone in my handbag and it was charged with credit so I rang for an ambulance and waited, and waited. The call handler told me not to move. It was cold on the wet mud. I took a photo of my bent leg. I have not looked at it since. I don’t think I can bear to.

DSC_0942-001
Ilston Cwm – Close to where I broke my leg

I assumed that the ambulance would not be too long (I was very wrong on this score) and I started to worry about my two dogs, what would happen to them?  I rang my neighbours Rob and Liz and told them what had happened and where I was. Rob said he would come for the dogs. So I waited. I lay and looked up at the sky. Blue patches and white clouds drifted by. It started to rain. Then the sun came out again. I was still lying on the ground. I don’t remember what my dogs were doing but they were nearby. I think Biddy, the collie-cross, tried to present me with a few sticks to throw for her. I clutched my injured leg, it really hurt. I rang my husband. It went to voicemail. “I am lying in Ilston Woods, I think I have broken my leg. I have rung for an ambulance. I have spoken to Liz and Rob. Rob’s coming for the dogs….” I felt bad about leaving him a message when there was nothing he could do.

Painting of Gower Woods
View From the Bridge 100 x73 cm

After a long time, a family appeared on the track, a couple with their two girls. “Help, I think I have broken my leg”. I think they were surprised by this as they walked towards me very slowly. I told them that I had called for an ambulance and my neighbour was coming. They took my phone number and said they would go down to the road and look out for Rob and/or the ambulance.  So they left me and I waited and waited. Company had distracted me from the pain in my leg and being on my own meant being with the pain. I rang my husband again and then Biddy started barking. It was Rob. Thank God. 

“How long have you been lying there?”

“45 minutes. The Call handler said to stay where I was”

“That’s stupid advice. She can’t see your situation. You will get hypothermia. We need to get you up”  So with great difficulty, Rob helped me up off the wet mud and I hopped in slow agony to a mossy tree, where I first leaned against a trunk and later sat on a low branch. He had brought a heavy hi-vis coat which he put around my shoulders. It was blissfully warm.

I wish I could say that was the end of it. That the ambulance came soon after but they didn’t. We waited and waited and rang the ambulance again. It was difficult explaining where I was to call handlers who were not local. They wanted to know the name of the church at Ilston. Ilston is the tiniest of Gower villages. There are about 10 houses. There is only one church. What did it matter what saint it was dedicated to? 

So after another long wait, I asked Rob to walk down to the house opposite the church at Ilston to ask them to ring the ambulance, perhaps they would be able to give better directions. We had often passed the people who live here, they waved in a friendly manner and I was hopeful that they would help. Rob left with my two dogs, Biddy and Mitzy, in tow.  I sat and waited. The pain was worse when I did not have any company to distract me. I looked at the mud by my feet. I was dimly aware of a robin on a branch a few feet away from me. And then like a miracle, little Mitzy appeared by my side. She was collarless. I was so glad to see her. She was not leaving me. Good loyal rescue dog to the rescue. I took her photo as a distraction from the pain.  

Mitzy
Mitzy the faithful rescue dog, to the rescue.

Rob returned with David (and Biddy on her lead). David is 73 and lives in the house opposite the church. He made several trips along the track, and brought me many very welcome items like a big blanket, gloves, hat and a hot water bottle. I was really thirsty and he also bought a bottle of water but David’s wife had said I could not drink anything, her advice turned out to be right, so I just washed my mouth out with it. He made several trips. The last one in the dark with a torch. He took quite a risk, helping us in the dark. We got excited because the beam of his light reflected in the stream and it looked like two people were coming along the track, but it was just him. It got very dark, The moon came out and a barn owl hooted. We told him to go home, we were worried about him in the cold night air. He reluctantly set off.

I started to think that no one was ever going to come. I was so cold. It would be difficult enough to get me out of here in daylight but in the dark? I kept thinking up with ideas for getting how to get me back to the road; What about a horse? A wheelbarrow? One by one my desperate ideas were politely considered and sensibly dismissed. Rob was a reassuring presence. They will come he said.  Then eventually, Rob said, says, “I think I can see lights along the track, more than one!”

At long last, the ambulance service had come. After 5 hours of waiting.  Two figures dressed in green, a woman and a man, carrying torches were coming along the path, with David and his brother-in-law leading the way. I was so relieved. Once they were there, I knew they could sort everything out. And they did. Lyndsey the paramedic was lovely and reassuring. She worked under very difficult circumstances. It was dark and very cold. She checked my blood pressure, temperature and although I felt so cold my body temperature was normal (hurray for thermal vests, I say). I was given a small dose of morphine which had me seeing stars and then liquid paracetamol. They called Sketty Fire Brigade to put me on a stretcher to carry me half a mile down the track (and over the church fence) to the waiting ambulance. It was a long journey looking up at the cold frosty stars through the tree branches from that stretcher. It was a full moon. They carried me wordlessly. There was a short snort of laughter when I said “Well Done” after they had hoisted me over the churchyard railing. 

Yew Tree in Gower
Ilston Church Yard

It was a very long night. The journey to Morriston Hospital Hospital seemed slow. Where are we now? I would ask. It was the pain that made it feel that way. We waited outside A&E in the ambulance for quite a while. Lyndsey told me her mother was the first baby born in the NHS and called was Aneira, after the Welsh founder of the NHS Aneurin Bevan. Eventually, I was taken in for my first X-ray. I was visited by a number of doctors who introduced themselves to me by their first names;  Jeremy, Mohammed, Chris there were others but I have forgotten them. After a wait, the doctors in A&E manipulated my leg (I was under light anesthetic) and put it in plaster so that the agonizing swelling could start to go down. The leg was X-rayed again. Everything was aligned nicely. Every now and then the average waiting time in A&E was announced on the loudspeaker. It started at 8 hours, later it was 13 hours and then by lunchtime the next day it was down to 2 hours. I lost track of time. I didn’t get much sleep in A&E. It was a fascinating place, very hectic. No wonder there are so many drama series set in Emergency Rooms & Casualty Departments. 

Anyway, to cut a very story short I waited a day for a bed in the trauma ward. I then spent another 7 days waiting for the swelling to go down so the ankle could be pinned. I was “nil by mouth” for 4 days in a row but never made it to the operating theatre. Thankfully, on Monday I did, finally. It was probably just as well as the ankle specialist was working that day. The coronavirus emergency meant that the ward was rapidly cleared, as they needed the beds and staff elsewhere. I was sent home on Tuesday via Red Cross Ambulance. 

All through this experience, I have been impressed by the kindness and amazing patience of medical staff as well as just how much pressure the NHS is under. The pressure has just intensified ever since. I would like to thank Rob and David in particular, who waited so long in the cold with me, and Liz and David’s wife, and anyone who I came in contact within A&E, Ward A (which then had to move upstairs to become Ward G), the operating theatre and the Red Cross. Thank you xxx

Postscript:- Biddy and Mitzy went home with Rob and slept all the next day. Seamas flew back from Ireland on a plane full of racegoers heading for the Cheltenham Races.

 

 

 

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International Women’s Day: Some remarkable women of Swansea

Painting of Mumbles Pier and lighthouse
Mumbles Lighthouse from Bracelet Bay

Today is International Women’s Day. As I drove through Mumbles yesterday afternoon I was reminded of two remarkable Swansea women and I was pondered on why we like to focus on very unsual women, rather than remarkable ordinary women. It got me thinking about other notable women of Swansea, past, and present

Here’s my list of five that came to mind:-

First comes the women of privilege:-

1. Thereza Dillwyn Llewelyn (1834 –1926). She was an astronomer and pioneer in scientific photography. She came from a wealthy family and her father was a pioneer photographer, astronomer, a botanist and a Fellow of the Royal Society. She made some pioneering telescopic photographs of the moon in 1857/8.

 

2. Amy Dillwyn (1845-1935) – She was a radical novelist, feminist campaigner, and early female industrialist. Amy was first, a novelist, and a supporter of sexual equality and  women’s suffrage. When her brother and father died in the early 1890s she found herself responsible for a workforce of 300 and a spelter business crippled by debt. Impressively, despite losing her home, she decided to run the business herself, which she did successfully. She was a strong supporter of social justice and in 1911 gave her support to 25 striking seamstresses, who worked for Ben Evan’s, a local department store. These dressmakers were demanding a living wage in return for their long hours. Amy called for a boycott of the store and encouraged her friends and family to not shop there.  Her eccentric appearance, her habit of smoking cigars and lifestyle make her appealing figure to modern eyes.

Now to some working women.

2. Jessie Ace and Margaret Wright (neé Ace) these two sisters were the daughters of the Lighthouse Keeper, Abraham Ace. In the winter of 1883, these two sisters valiantly rescued two lifeboat crewmen, in the midst of a terrible storm, by tying their shawls together to use as a rope. Margaret supposedly exclaimed: “I will lose my life than let these men drown” as she waded into the icy waters.

4. Iris Gower (1935 – 20 July 2010)- This was the pen name of Iris Richardson a prolific novelist who wrote many historical romances set in this area. I once heard her talk about her writing and was left with the impression of a resilient, hard-working woman with fiery red hair, who was a force of nature. She talked about her early days of writing, about getting up before her 4 children to write, before going to work! I don’t think she ever let up, writing about 35 novels and many articles too.

And finally (as I drove down Mumbles Road and passed her beautiful house on the hill) I was reminded of

5. Bonnie Tyler – who I once saw in Sainsbury’s on Christmas Eve several years ago. She looked very glamorous holding her wire basket in the tea and coffee aisle. I don’t think I have ever looked that glamorous, probably not on a night out and certainly on a trip to he local supermarket. Bonnie was the daughter of a coal-miner and grew up in a council house and left school with no qualifications, but talent and a lot of hard work led to a phenomenally successful musical career. Her two singles “It’s a Heartache” and “Total Eclipse of the Heart” are among the best-selling singles of all time, with sales in excess of six million each.

It’s hard not to focus on exceptional women like these. Often, we end up focusing on unusual people because we know more about them. There are newspaper articles, books, and photographs of them. I cannot find an online image for the “Ben Evans’ Girls” who went on strike in 1911. Those 25 striking seamstresses that Amy Dillwyn supported, would have been just as hard-working as Amy was, but lacking in the advantages her privileged upbringing and family connections had given her.

Ben Evans, Swansea
Ben Evans, Swansea

Interestingly thousands of Swansea people attended a mass demonstration in support of their cause. I could not find out if they had won of lost their cause for a decent wage. Iris Gower’s fictional women, may have been romanticized, but their hard lives were real enough. So here’s to all the women of Swansea (and everywhere else) the world, past and present, famous, infamous and obscure!

 

If you want to find out more:-

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thereza_Dillwyn_Llewelyn

https://www.swansea.ac.uk/crew/research-projects/dillwyn/

https://companieshouse.blog.gov.uk/2018/02/14/amy-dillwyn-lgbt-history-month/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amy_Dillwyn

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jessie_Ace_and_Margaret_Wright

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iris_Gower

https://www.fantasticfiction.com/g/iris-gower/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonnie_Tyler

 

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The Road by the Loch, Ireland

Landscape Painting of Donegal Ireland by Emma Cownie

A while back I came across a quote on the internet that has stuck in my mind:- “If I knew the world was to end tomorrow, I would still plant an apple tree today.” I was quite struck by this sentiment, especially in the light of current events.
I could not remember who said it. So I did some research. I was intrigued by what I discovered online. I found a number of statements:-

  1. It was originally said by Martin Luther, a 16th century German monk yoJyC
  2. It was originally said by Martin Luther King Jnr, the 20th century African-American Civil Rights Campaigner. NzGsK
  3. It wasn’t said by 1) or 2)!

This puts me in mind of one of my favourite internet memes by that teller-of-truth Abe Lincoln…
Lincoln-quote-internet-hoax-fake
Just joking!
The apple seed quote apparently originates in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, in the Protestant Confessing Church, which used it to inspire hope and perseverance during its opposition to the Nazi dictatorship.
To be honest, it doesn’t matter who said or when (although there’s a lesson about taking things at face value there) because I like the sentiment. No matter how dreadful things seem, they will pass. Eventually.
Here is my apple seed for this week.

Donegal Ireland landscape painting Emma Cownie
The Road by the Loch, Ireland (80x60cm/ 31.5×23.5″)

 
 

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Still life paintings

Still Life Painting
Private Conversation

This will be a short post as I am nursing a painful left elbow on an ice pack. I developed bursitis on Friday, I am not sure why as I didn’t hit my elbow on anything but too many sun salutations in yoga is my number one suspect.

We have had a lot of really bad weather lately. We seem to be cantering our way through the alphabet of storms: Atiyah, Brendan, Ciara, Dennis, Ellen, Francis etc. This means I have rarely left the house, except to buy food, walk the dogs in our local park or to go to a yoga class, although yoga will be out of bounds until my elbow recovers now.

So, whilst Storm Ciara was blasting her way overhead, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to set up a number of still life compositions to work from. I had painted a number of largish canvases (80x60cm) and felt in wanted to paint something smaller for variety’s sake, and also something that I could complete in a short (gloomy) day.

My past forays into Still Life painting explored paleness/whiteness, and they were largely inspired by the work of Morandi. These were medium-sized paintings. I liked the calmness of the plain backgrounds.

In this short series of paintings, I was more interested in colour. I was particularly inspired by a patterned cloth that my husband, Seamas, had found in a charity shop many years ago. I liked the warmth of the colours.

This was my first painting. I liked the way the colours of the flowers chimed with the fruit on the plate.

Still life with Patterned Cloth
Still life with Patterned Cloth

I think my second painting was better probably helped by better light on the day that I painted it.

Still life with patterned cloth #2
Still life with patterned cloth #2

Then I decided to focus on the fruit. A tiny slice of it!

#3
A Slice of Lemon (SOLD)

Then finally a more traditional composition with a cup and red cloth. I have noticed before how I am drawn to painting reds in winter.

Blue cup with Lemons
Blue cup with Lemons

The bright colours in these paintings cheered me up. Having completed this short series I felt ready to return to large canvases and more muted tones.

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Down the lane, Arranmore, Ireland

This is a follow on from my last post about composition and large landscape paintings. Included a small study of a view of Arranmore, Donegal. The study used a diagonal composition.

IMG_3531-002
Study 10cmx14cm (SOLD)

 

A Beginners Guide to Composition
A Beginners Guide to Composition (Diagonal Composition)

When it came to a much larger painting (60x80cm – approx 24″ x 32″) I decided on a slightly different composition. It wasn’t that I didn’t think the small painting worked, because it did, but because paintings in the “landscape” format are more popular with collectors than those in “portrait” format. It might have something to do with wall space, I am not sure. If you are not sure what “landscape” and “portrait” format is, it’s just about which round the painting is positioned. “Landscape” has the longest side along the bottom, “portrait” has the shortest side along the bottom.

Landscape format allowed me to include the sweep of the hill as it fell away from the viewpoint towards the sea. This composition used the rule of thirds, so the painting has a different energy to the study.

Beginners Guiiode to Composition (rule of thirds)
Beginners Guide to Composition (rule of thirds)

 

landscape painting of Arranmore Island, Ireland
Down the lane, Arranmore (SOLD)

The position of the viewer is slightly different, it has moved to the left and so more of the house in the foreground can be seen. The larger painting also has a red tractor in the lane, which the study did not, which draws the eye down the lane: hence the title.

Detail - Tractor
Detail – Tractor

I particularly enjoyed painting the different textures of crops and grass in the field that were not visible in the study painting. The widened composition also included the large cross on the shore to the left. I did not realize it at first but the wall in the corner of the painting is a graveyard wall. This is the graveyard of St. Crone’s chapel.  Saint Crone was a sixth-century Irish saint descended from King Niall Noígíallach (‘of the Nine Hostages’) and a contemporary of Saint Colmcille (St. Columba of Iona). Saint Crone was very active in the Rosses area. The parish of Dungloe on the mainland also takes its name from her; Templecrone.

Detail - The Cross
Detail – The Cross

So executing a study can be a useful tool in thinking about the composition of a larger work. It will show if a composition works or not but it can also suggest improvements and variations. Interestingly the study is a painting in its own right, it has a different, lighter feel to it. Small paintings often take just as much thought and effort as larger ones even if they are quicker to execute.

My PC just crashed. I am not sure if that’s a result of the effects of Storm Dennis (we had downpours all night long here) but I am going to stop here!

 

 

landscape painting of Ireland_Emma Cownie
View From Arranmore, Ireland
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The Art of the Large Landscape Painting

Landscape painting Ireland

Failures are always a challenge. When I used to be a Secondary school teacher, I always learned more about teaching when I faced a difficult class than a nice docile one. They made me go away and think about what I was doing and how I could do it better. Painting is no different.

 

I have been thinking about the composition of larger paintings. When I used to think about painting a scene I used to think in terms of  “that’s a small painting, it won’t “stretch” to a larger canvas”, or “That’s a mountain, definately, therefore, it’s subject suitable for a large canvas”. I am parodying myself somewhat but generally, I have this feeling that small birds belong on small canvases and big landscapes belong on larger ones.

My thinking was challenged by a commission I did in the summer where a client asked for a very large version (120 x 90cm) of a relatively small painting (41 x 33 cm). So I scaled up and despite my anxiety, it worked. This was important as my confidence had been dented by a previous large landscape painting that hadn’t work out for me.

Painting of Gola, Donegal
Small and Big Versions

It got me thinking about composition. I understood the basics and had looked of compositional grids in Artbooks as a teenager and thought I’d internalized them. I realized that I had got sloppy. I’ll explain.

A Beginners Guide to Composition
A Beginners Guide to Composition

I am not going to do an information dump about theories of composition here (I have added links to some good blogs on the subject below) but the “rule of thirds” is one that springs to mind here.  The idea that you should look for naturally occurring in divisions of thirds in a scene and try and locate points of interest at the intersection of the “Golden section”.


I had been influenced by ideas of composition from photography and the work of artist-turned photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson,in particular.

Rule of Thirds - Henri Cartier Bresson
Rule of Thirds – Henri Cartier Bresson

I liked his use of diagonals in particular, and this has influenced my paintings of urban scenes.

When I came to Donegal I was so blown away by the vast overarching skies and majestic landscapes. I got very excited by everything I saw. I tried to capture everything. The houses, the mountains, the sea, and the sky. Most of the time it worked.

You can probably look through these paintings and tick off the composition approaches I instinctively used; the diagonal, the pyramid, the rule of thirds and so on. They all worked.

Then, it really pains me to admit it. I lost it. I got carried away and overreached myself and painted this big beast.

Painting of Donegal Coast
Sailing By Edernish

What was I thinking? There is far too much sky in this painting. Worse than that, it was a large canvas. There are things I like about the painting, the light on the island in the bottom half of the painting, but the sky was just too vast. It pained me that I had such a large reminder of my errors of judgment. I don’t mind screwing up every now and then but I hate waste and that was an expensive canvas. It’s no coincidence that I am planning a blog post on reusing stretcher bars to stretch my own canvases.

My confidence was dented. It put me off large paintings for quite some time. It wasn’t until I did the commission I mentioned earlier, that I got thinking about what had gone wrong. I realized that I had to rigorously apply the same rule of composition to large canvases as I instinctively did to my small ones. So I tried an experiment, I took a successful composition of a medium size painting and did a much larger version of it.  This composition was based on a compound curve.

Over to the Rosses
Over to the Rosses 60x40xm
landscape painting of Ireland
View From Arranmore, Ireland 92x73cm

It wasn’t a copy of the smaller painting. It wasn’t meant to be, although it was meant to encapsulate the same feel of the smaller work, with some adjustments. I have included some more detail, changed the tree, and added a shadow and a ditch in the bottom third of the painting. I think it worked.

I have since done another small oil sketch of another composition before I scale it up. It’s another diagonal composition. Although, the larger version will not be “portrait” format but my usual “landscape” orientation.

I will add the larger version later in the week. So you will have to wait to see if that composition works as well as this smaller one. Watch this space!

 

Blogs on composition

http://photoinf.com/Golden_Mean/L_Diane_Johnson/The_Basics_of_Landscape_Composition.htm

http://www.workovereasy.com/2019/06/13/a-beginners-guide-to-composition/

https://feltmagnet.com/painting/Value-Pattern-Painting-Composition