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Recent work (of Derry and Donegal)

Recent work - Emma Cownie

We are about to decamp to Donegal for the summer/early autumn. I have mixed feeling about returning to oil paints. It’s been a quite a steep learning curve getting comfortable with acrylic paint but I feel like I finally got there. I am not sure what it will be like to paint in oils again; oh the the joy of easy blending! I am looking forward to being able to paint larger canvases. I will continue my practice of laying down an underpainting in grey-scale paint, regardless.

Here are some of my recent acrylic paintings, mostly of Inishowen Penisula (Donegal)

Kinnagoe Beach - Emma Cownie
Kinnagoe Beach – Emma Cownie
Down to the Rusty Nail, Inishowen_Emma Cownie
Down to the Rusty Nail, Inishowen_Emma Cownie
a painting of Fanad Head and lighthouse
Fanad (SOLD)
On the Way to Kinnagoe Bay (Drumaweer, Greencastle)
On the Way to Kinnagoe Bay (Drumaweer, Greencastle) (SOLD)
painting of Doagh Strand, donegal_Emma Cownie
Down to Doagh Strand, Donegal

Painting of Lambing season at Fanad Head (Donegal)

Lambing season at Fanad Head (Donegal)

Carrickabraghy Castle, Inishowen
Carrickabraghy Castle, Inishowen
Acrylic painting of Portmór Beach, Malin Head, Donegal
Portmór Beach, Malin Head, Donegal

 

Also of Derry city – what a great little city.

The Walls of Derry painting by Emma Cownie
The Walls of Derry

 

The Sperrinspainting Upper Dreen_Emma Cownie

Upper Dreen_Emma Cownie

And finally a few also of my favourite, Gola Island.

painting of house On Gola (Donegal)
Still, On Gola (Donegal)
The Turn in the Road, Gola - Emma Cownie
The Turn in the Road, Gola – Emma Cownie
A Sandy Road Through Gola-Emma Cownie
A Sandy Road Through Gola-Emma Cownie

The weather forecast is for cool weather, so I will be packing some light jumpers. I have found, however, that forecasts are pretty unreliable for Donegal so it could be very pleasant. I am looking forward to the sweet breezes!

 

 

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Adventures in Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint by Emma Cownie

You probably think that artists are good at creating paintings/images in all mediums; oil, watercolours acrylic paints. Many probably are, but I am not.  I need to work at it. It’s a bit like being an athlete. You might be great at football but it doesn’t automatically mean you are a great sprinter, tennis player or swimer. Although there are athletes who have successfully switched disciplines, like Usain Bolt, who started his career as a footballer; extra training is needed. I think painting is like that. Almost all of my experience up to now has been in working with oil paints but in the last six months I have been working hard at painting in acrylics.  Why? I knew that in our small house in Derry, until we got stairs put into the attic space, that oil paints and with their associated mess and fumes weren’t going to work.

Unfortunately I feel like I have been hitting my head against a brick wall for several months. I have learnt a great deal, using acrylic mediums and varnishes is very technical, but I won’t go into all the detail of what I have learnt. The strange thing is that the finished paintings looked good but the process of creating them was slow and frustrating. Here are some early examples;

Painting of fram buildings in Donegal
Shadow on the Entrance, Bloody Foreland
House in Inishbofin
House on Inishbofin

 

Stony Wall, Cnoc Fola (Donegal)
Stony Wall, Cnoc Fola (Donegal)
Painting of the view above Magheraroarty_Emma Cownie
Above Magheraroarty_Emma Cownie

This last one is my favourite but it took weeks to complete rather than days. I just don’t have the patience to spend that long on one smallish painting.

I also used acrylic paint for underpaintings for my oil painting, which worked better for me. It enabled be to paint faster, but this approach would be no good in Derry where I couldn’t use oil paints.

Boat at the Pier, Gola_Emma Cownie
Boat at the Pier, Gola (Donegal)
From Magheraroarty to Muckish
From Magheraroarty to Muckish (Donegal)

 

So why was I taking so long to complete these acrylic paintings? Acrylics don’t act like oil paints, that can be a good thing as well as a bad thing. You can correct mistakes easily. Acrylic paint is a relatively recent invention of the 1950s. It’s essentially a plastic. It is amazingly versatile but it’s origins as a polymer  presents a couple of challenges that I have struggled with for some time.  The first issue is that it dries fast. Really fast. I found that it dried on my palette within minutes. I hate wasting paint, so I made my own wet palette, so that the paint on my palette dries within days and not minutes.

It still dried very fast on the board/canvas on which I was painting. That meant that large areas, such as skies, werevery difficult to paint without looking patchy. I learnt to mix up large quantities of paint so that if I needed to, I could repaint a small area of the sky. Otherwise,  the whole sky had to be repainted.

The second big issue I had was somehing called “colour shift”. Acrylic paint dries dark. This is because most makers of acrylic paint use white binder that dries clear, so it looks light when you apply it, but goes dark as it dries. It seems to affect blues and browns particularly badly. I tried painting patches of colour to see who was the worst offender.

Colour Shift
Colour Shift (these are all dry so you cant see the colour shift but my notes tell you what I saw)

 

Although Windsor & Newton’s paints use clear blinder and have little colour shift, I didn’t particularly like them as a paint. I am not sure why I didn’t like them, possibly I just prefered to colour range of other manufacturers. Anyway, in the end I bought lots of Schminke PrimAcryl paints which also use a clear binder and results in only a small colour shift.

Finally, I decided to experiment with indirect painting. This is a method where by an underpainting in grayscale is done first and light layers of colour are applied as a glazes.

Again, its’s not as speedy as painting in oils (although I have used brown-tonal underpaintings in the past – with oil paintings, see here).

So here are two paintings I painted tonal underpaintings, and then added colour through a series of glazes.

Greyscale study of lambing Season at Fanad Head
Greyscale study of lambing Season at Fanad Head
Work in Progress - Lambing season at Fanad Head
Work in Progress – Lambing season at Fanad Head

Painting of Lambing season at Fanad Head (Donegal)Lambing season at Fanad Head (Donegal) – Final version

Greyscale study of Fanad LighthouseGreyscale study of Fanad Lighthouse – painted on a blue ground, which I left in the sky area of the painting.

Fanad Lighthouse (Donegal)
Almost done – Fanad Lighthouse (Donegal)
Lighthouse at Fanad Head (Donegal)
Lighthouse at Fanad Head (Donegal) – Final version with lightened sky

 

This approach seemed to work well for acrylics. Although I am still not as quick as I am in oils, this process enables me to produce paintings with greater depth of colour and more accurate tonal values. It is especially good for getting distant mountains right, something I have struggled with in the past. I am hoping that I have finally got the hang of working with this medium. I think it’s the end of the beginning rather than the beginning of the end. There’s always so much to learn with painting no matter which medium you use!

 

Some of my resources

Indirect painting and Glazing https://thevirtualinstructor.com/how-to-glaze-acrylics.html

Willaim Kemp’s Art School https://willkempartschool.com/acrylic-tonal-study-using-colour-strings-glazes/

UK stockist of PrimAcryl https://www.jacksonsart.com/schmincke-primacryl-acrylic

 

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The Walled City

The Walled City (of Derry)

What’s in a name? It’s complicated

The name of the city I am living in right now is contentious.

It’s official name is Londonderry but no one here seems to call it that, not even the council. Most people in the city itself, Protestants as well as Catholics, call it Derry. This suggests it is more of a contentious issue outside the city that in it. In 1984 the council changed its name council changed its name from Londonderry City Council to Derry City Council. 

Generally, nationalists/Republicans/Catholics/the council and locals favour using the name Derry, whereas, wider afield, unionists/Loyalists/Protestants use Londonderry. Derry is also in the County of Derry or, as it is known offically, and mainly by Protestants, Co. Londonderry.

A suggested compromise dual naming of “Derry/Londonderry” (read “Derry stroke Londonderry”) has given rise to the jokey nickname “Stroke City”, as popularised by the local  radio and television broadcaster, Gerry Anderson. When the city was made UK City of Culture for 2013 and the organising committee’s official logo read “Derry~Londonderry”.  Another attempt to circumvent controversy is to call it “L’derry” or “L-Derry.

Walled City Sign Derry
Walled City Sign

 

You will also see the city refered to as “The Walled City” or “The Maiden City”.

 

Walled City
From the visitderry.com website

 

This last name alludes to the city’s having resisted capture in the siege of 1689.  The walls were never breached.

The closer you get to the city the more likely roadsigns for Londonderry will be “altered”.  There have been requests by a local politician to have signs which have include both Derry and Londonderry, but they have so far gone unheeded.

An exmaple of a graffitied sign post (Strabane)
An exmaple of a graffitied sign post (This one is near Strabane)

 

The opening credits from Channel 4’s Comedy popular show Derry Girls, which is set in Derry in the 1990s before the Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement, starts with a “Welcome to Londonderry” sign being graffitied as an army patrol passes by. The city walls also feature at the start of the first episode. You can see it in this Youtube clip here.

The local council, Derry City, however, is at great pains to be inclusive. In a recent film about the city’s History and Heritage they labelled it “Everyone’s City”.

Just as an aside, there are many towns and cities around the world called Derry (10) and Londonderry (9). In New Hamphire, USA, both a Londonderry and Derry next to each other.

So where did the two names come from? You might assume that Derry is just a shortened form of Londonderry but that is not so. The name Derry existed long before that of Londonderry (and for much longer).  The name of the settlement on the banks of the River Foyle, was originally called Doire from Daire Calgaich (oakwood or oak grove of Calgach) where a christian monastery was founded  by St Columba in the 6th century.

This actually is one of the longest continuously inhabited places in Ireland.

This oak grove was located on a small hill which was formerly an island in the River Foyle. The river which flowed past the western side of that island gradually dried out leaving a marshy, boggy area. In time this area became known as the Bogside (for more on the Bogside see here).

Early map showing the River Foyle flowing around the island of Derry and creating the Bog to the west of the walled city.
Early map showing the River Foyle flowing around the island of Derry and creating the Bog to the west of the walled city (from the Museum of Free Derry website.)

 

By the 11th century it was known as Daire Coluimb Chille (oakwood of Columba). In late Medieval times the name had been shortened to just Doire, and was later anglicised to Derry. (You can read about Derry’s  Medieval History here). In 1604, the fortified settlement of “Derrie”, had recently been taken over by the English,  was granted its first royal charter as a city and county corporate by James I of England.

So that seems pretty straight forward.

Well, no.

At the start of the 17th century this settlement was partly destroyed by the Irish and then rebuilt by English and Scottish settlers as part of the James’s Protestant plantation (or conquest) of Ulster.

This was organised by The Irish Society, a consortium of the livery companies of the City of London. They built massive stone and earthen fortifications around their new city. It was the last walled city built in Ireland and the only city on the island whose ancient walls survive  to this day.

In recognition of the London investors, an 1613 charter stated “that the said city or town of Derry, for ever hereafter be and shall be named and called the city of Londonderry”.

Thus, the walled city  of Londonderry was mainly a creation of the Protestant plantation. The name itself Londonderry, in the eyes of some, Catholics mainly,  represents English (and British) Imperialism.

The walls, remarkably, are still owned by The Honourable The Irish Society. They put the walls into formal government guardianship in 1955. This means that the state looks after the walls but doesn’t own them. 

Map of the city walls from https://discovernorthernireland.com/

Map of Derry city walls from https://discovernorthernireland.com/

Derry’s walls are a massively popular tourist attraction. In 2019,  466,000 people took the mile-long walkway around the inner city. The walls are massive and in excellent condition. The greenish grey stone, is called Derry Schist, and it came from local quarries to the South West of the city on the far side of the River Foyle from a place called Prehen.

Map of Derry
Map of Derry and regions from Wikipedia by OpenStreetMap

 

Map of Derry
Map of the Walled City in C17th from https://www.ria.ie/digital-atlas-derrylondonderry

 

The walls are just under a mile in length and they varies in width from between 12 and to 35 feet. I am still learning the names of the gates and streets of the city. When it was first built, there were four gates – Bishop’s Gate, Ferryquay Gate, Shipquay Gate and Butcher Gate. These were later rebuilt and additional gates cut into the walls – Magazine Gate, Castle Gate and New Gate (you can read more about the gates here).  It’s a relatively easy walk to do for a fit and abled bodied person.

The Wall near Magazine Street, photogrpahy by Emma Cownie
The Wall near Magazine Street, photogrpahy by Emma Cownie

 

Painting of houses besides the walls of Derry
Derry Walls –  acrylic painting by Emma Cownie

 

The walkway along the top of the walk is paved and wide, although it does underdulate in places.This is  especially true where gates were later inserted into the walls. The main problem for those with mobility issues would be the steps up to the walls and some sections on the west end have a lot of steps along the top, but the good news is that there are two sections of the walls that have ramped, step-free access, so sections of the wall are accessible, just not all of it. I have seen many families with prams on sections of the walls.

http://www.backpacksandbunkbeds.co.uk/ireland-2/view-historic-derry-city-walls/
Map of the Walled City taken from http://www.backpacksandbunkbeds.co.uk/ireland-2/view-historic-derry-city-walls/
Steps over Bishop Gate: Photogrpahy by Emma Cownie
Steps over Bishop Gate: Photography by Emma Cownie

 

The walled City, photography by Emma Cownie
The walled City (and pigeons), photography by Emma Cownie

It took me over an hour and a half to walk a complete ciruit.It should be borne in mind that I was meandering at a snail’s space, taking photos and enjoying the view.

On day trips to Derry, in the past I have just walked along the section near the Foyleside Shopping Centre and the big Primarks, rather than doing the whole loop.

There are some great views:

View to the north from the city walls, photogrpahy by Emma Cownie
View to the north from the city walls, photography by Emma Cownie

 

Wall near Ferryquay Gate: photogrpahy Emma Cownie

Wall near Ferryquay Gate: photography by Emma Cownie

The Guildhall, Derry
Magazine Gate and the Guildhall, Derry, photography by Emma Cownie

 

Derry is famous for its murals (here’s a pictorial tour of some of them here). So, it is very appropriate that Channel 4 commissioned a mural of the Derry Girls right next to the walls.

Derry Girls Mural, seen from the city walls, photogrpahy by Emma Cownie
Derry Girls Mural, seen from the city walls, photography by Emma Cownie

 

It’s an incredible piece of art. They are a tourist attraction in thei own right. Lots of people pose in front of the mural!

Emma Cownie and the Derry Girls
Me and the Derry Girls Mural last year: photography by James Henry Johnston

 

Shipquay Gate by Emma Cownie
Shipquay Gate acrylic painting by Emma Cownie

Find out more about the History of Derry and its walls:

A short tourist information leaflet for Derry city walls (click on the text)

See a digital Map of Derry-Londonderry c.1831 here

Visit Derry Tourism website – including 1 and 2 day vistor passes to 11 attractions here 

How the Derry Walls came about

You can do a virtual tours of the walls here:-

https://discovernorthernireland.com/things-to-do/17th-century-city-walls-p685431

Pocket History of Londonderry

 

Foot Note – Style guides for referring to Derry/Londonderry (taken from wikipedia)

Australian Broadcasting Corporation: Londonderry, Derry: In news stories, first reference for city and county: Londonderry. Second and subsequent, if you like: Derry.

BBC News “The city and county are Londonderry. The city should be given the full name at first reference, but Derry can be used later.” Account may be taken for the context.

The Economist Derry/Londonderry (use in this full dual form at least on first mention; afterwards, plain Derry will do) Londonderry (Derry also permissible).

The Guardian and The Observer: Londonderry: use Derry and County Derry.

The Times Londonderry, but Derry City Council;  and Derry when in direct quotes or in a specifically republican context (this latter rarely)

Ulster University The style guide, updated in 2015, states: Derry~Londonderry is the official name of the city and is the preferred form of use for the University in all written materials. Where it is not practical to use the Derry~Londonderry form, e.g. on social media posts or in media interviews, a limited number of variations may be used. “County Londonderry” is used in giving the address of the campuses in Coleraine and in Derry city. The university’s 2012–2015 guide specified “Derry~Londonderry” for both city and county, except “Londonderry” for each in the addresses of its campuses. The 2010–2012 guide cited the BBC guidelines. The nicknames “Maiden City” and “Stroke City” were specifically prohibited.

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Illuminate Festival, Derry

Illuminate Festival Derry

We have now moved to our permanent home in Derry. We will return to Donegal when it is warmer.

The winter weather wasn’t the problem as such, as I enjoyed the storms and changeable skies. It was living in a draughty cottage without central heating, just storage heaters and a wood burning stove.  We were living on biscuits to keep us warm! The cats and dog just LOVE the radiators in our house in Derry. So do we.

We also love exploring the Historical City of Derry.

The ‘Illuminate’ festival is running over two weekends in Derry, 17th – 20th and 24th – 27th February, from 6pm – 9pm. We visited it on Thursday night. It was very cold (double socks and thermals weather) but mostly dry. This was important was all the sites we visited were out of doors.

We followed a “magical illuminated trail” which told the story of the city. At each of the locations were live projection shows, cast upon the wall and facades of the ancient buildings. They were accompanied by soundtracks, music, singing and narration. They were very affecting at times.  It might have helped if we had taken the map below with us because we started at the Guildhall, which I think is towards the end of the series of six sites. It didn’t matter too much, as we looped around and visited it a second time. We also missed a couple of sites and will have to go back to see them.

Map of Live Projection Shows
Map of Live Projection Shows

 

The route along the 400-year old city walls is about 1.5km long but can be walked at a leisurely pace, and there is plenty of time between each light show.  These were a mix of audio-visual, digital media and outdoor projections. On Thursday night there were lots of families with small children  with prams (although many toddlers ended up  riding piggy-back style on dads’ shoulders)  and dogs on leads.

Illuminate Derry 2022
Illuminate Derry 2022 – outside the walls, the monastic legend Colmcille and his followers

 

Illuminate Derry 2022 - on the walls of the city
Illuminate Derry 2022 – on top of the wall looking out towards St Eugune’s Cathedral

 

Illuminate Derry 2022
Illuminate Derry 2022 – St Columb’s Cathedral

 

Here’s a flavour of one of the Projection shows – in two parts.  Seamas filmed it and wouldlike me to explain the wobbly camera work at the beginning is because Biddy our dog was pulling on the lead. The barking along to Amazing Grace in the second clip, also thanks to Biddy! I had to take her on a quick walk at this point.

Illuminate Derry 2022
Illuminate Derry 2022 – History of the Civil Rights movement and the pathway to peace

 

Illuminate Derry 2022
Illuminate Derry 2022 – The Guildhall

 

Illuminate stilted people
Illuminated stilted people

There are also a numbers of intimiate music gigs (read more here) and street performers. I never thought I would have been so pleased to see fire jugglers as on a cold February night in Derry!

All in all, it was a brillant introduction to Derry, its History, people and its creativity. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and even better, its running next weekend too so we can do it all over again. Oh, and I forgot to mention. The Live Projection shows and The Sound and Light Trail are free too.

Find Out More

https://www.visitderry.com/illuminate

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Ramelton, Donegal (The town with two names)

Ramelton- a Blog by Emma Cownie

We visited Ramelton several times in this summer. It is a fascinating and historic town tucked away in the north-eastern corner of Donegal.  Ramelton, (Irish: Ráth Mealtain)  is also known as Rathmelton, this caused me great confusion when map reading.  Yes, we have a sat nav but I am an old-fashioned girl and I like the immediacy of the map book. I thought Ramelton and Rathmelton were two different places. It is also not too far from another village called Rathmullan. I got very confused. We also didn’t know how to say the name properly to ask directions; we put the emphasis on the first syllable “RAMelton” but it’s said “RamELton”, if you look at the Irish Ráth Mealtain (bearing in mind you don’t say “th”s in Irish) it makes more sense.

Map of Fanad
Rathmelton/Ramelton
Bridge over the River Lennon in Ramelton
Bridge over the River Lennon in Ramelton (wikipedia)

 

Ramelton is a pretty and interesting place to visit. We entered from the north end, over the narrow stone bridge that crosses the flat, slow-flowing River Lennon. There are many fine Georgian-era houses to look at.  The Mall runs along the south side of the river from the Bridge to Gamble’s Square. We enjoyed a very pleasant walk along the Mall towards the old buildings that form the Quays.

The Mall, Ramelton_Emma Cownie
The Mall, Ramelton_Emma Cownie

 

Gamble's Square, Ramelton - Emma Cownie
Gamble’s Square, Ramelton – Emma Cownie

 

Ramelton, Donegal
Ramelton, Donegal – looking towards the Quays – Emma Cownie

Further to the east lie the the Quays and the old warehouses, once commercial buildings, some of which are quite neglected, once formed the historic commercial centre of the town.

Old Warehouses, Ramelton-Emma Cownie
Old warehouses, Ramelton Quay – Emma Cownie

The town was founded in the early 1600s as a plantation settlement, on the site of an O’Donnell Castle by William Stewart of Ayrshire.  Stewart was professional soldier (in otherwords, a mercenary) who had fought for kings of Sweden and Denmark before coming to Ireland for James I (VI of Scotland). He built and gave his name to fortications at Fort Stewart and Newtownstewart. In 1623 he was made a baronet and granted the castle of Ramelton, becoming the biggest landowner in the town. He also gained valuable fishing rights on Lough Swilly.

Ramelton, Donegal
View towards the Bridge – Emma Cownie

The word plantation has a special meaning in Ireland. This may cause confusion for some North American readers. In the South States of the USA the term is used to mean a large farm. In Ulster, the northern most province of Ireland, however, the plantation was the mass conviscation of land from the  native Catholic Irish by the crown mainly under King James, from c.1609 onwards, and continued under Oliver Cromwell. The conviscated land was “settled” or colonised by Scots Protestants, like William Stewart’s followers.  In this sense Ramelton, was a town planned and “planted” by Scots and English settlers.

A sailing ship on the River Lennon, Ramelton
A sailing ship on the River Lennon, Ramelton

Ramelton was built where the River Lennon flows into Lough Swilly. We approached the town from the north, over the narrow stone bridge.  Unlike many other Irish towns, who seem to turn their backs to their rivers, Ramelton is focused on the River Lennon. In fact, the town is dominated by the wide flat river, with a good part of the  old town being built along its shore.

Map of Ramelton, donegal Map of Ramelton, donegal

The location of the river helped the town develop into an important port and a prosperous centre for industry, trade and local government. In the 18th and 19th centuries Ramelton became the biggest linen bleaching town in County Donegal. Linen was a booming industry in Ulster. By the 1720s flax growing and linen weaving replaced food crops as the staples of Ulster agriculture. In the 18th century the domestic linen industry had expanded so rapidly that annual exports of linen cloth increased 40-fold! The peak period of flax cultivation was the decade of the 1860s (when there was a “cotton famine” in England) during which more than 200,000 acres were grown across Ireland. In the second half of the C19th Ulster produced at least ninety per cent of the national crop. Boats from all over the world docked in Ramelton to trade their wares in return for the Irish linen.

Workers harvesting flax, 1897
Colourised photo of Irish workers harvesting flax, c.1897

The flax for the linen was grown locally and then treated at the tanyard. Some of the linen was fed into voracious shirt-making industry based in nearby Derry City. The booming trade in linen for the export market helped provide much of the money needed to knock down old plantation houses and replace them with impressive new town houses. These spread westward and eventually grew into a riverside promenade lined by trees, known as The Mall.

Unfortunately, for Ramelton, there was a decline in the linen industry in the 1840s due to competition from Belfast. Although Belfast became firmly established as the linen capital of the world, the bulk of the raw material, however,  was no longer produced in Ulster but imported from Belgium and Russian the majority of its production was destined for export too.

The Bridge, Ramelton
The Bridge, Ramelton

In the 1850s the town decline began in earnest as as the port began to silt up although a steam boat would leave from Ramelton to Derry and on to the emigrant ships that left from Derry. Later a new railway line was built in Letterkenny in the early years of the 20th century. This all  contributed to the decline in industry in Ramelton. Its role as a centre for local government also ended with the abolition of the Grand Jury system in 1898.

Riverside Promenade, Ramelton - Emma Cownie
Riverside Promenade, Ramelton – Emma Cownie

 

Map of Ramelton (Ramelton Action Plan pdf)
Map of Ramelton (Ramelton Action Plan pdf)

The town is home to McDaid’s, a soft drinks manufacturer, whose drinks are sold throughout Donegal and further afield.  Its most famous drink is the Football Special which was originally produced to celebrate the successes of Swilly Rovers Football Club.

Painting of Mc Daid's Football Special Building, Ramelton Donegal
Drink Football Special, Ramelton Donegal – Emma Cownie

 

The quays, Ramelton
The quays, Ramelton – Emma Cownie
Outdoor cafe, ramelton
Outdoor cafe, Ramelton – Emma Cownie

 

Ramelton, Donegal
Ramelton, Donegal – Emma Cownie

We ambled passed the end of the Quays and then looped around and  then past some very derelict buildings in sore need need of rescue, to walk back up Castle Street past the old centre of the town. The space which once formed the very centre of the town, is completely given over to a large tee-juntion and cars. Ramelton was also once a “Market Town” with a market cross, which signified the right to hold a market granted by the monarch, or local barony. In Ireland, market crosses were often located in a space, mid-way between church and castle. this was once the case at Ramelton but the market cross itself is long gone.

Market Square, Ramelton
Market Square (with the market cross to the right of the image), Ramelton

 

View from the former Market Square
View from the former Market Square (looking north) – Emma Cownie
Conway's Bar, Ramelton
Conway’s Bar, Ramelton – Emma Cownie
Oil painting of Ramelton Donegal by Emma Cownie
All Roads Lead to Letterkenny (Ramelton, Donegal) – Emma Cownie. This is the west view from the former market square

 

Painting of shops in Ramelton (Donegal)

Open for Business, Ramelton (Donegal) – Emma Cownie

Postcards, drawings and numerous photographs from the 19th century show how prosperous and picturesque the setting of the town was. The town retained its importance as a rural business and market centre into the twentieth century.

Ramelton, Castle Street, Old Postcard View
Ramelton, Castle Street, Old Postcard View

 

The Mall, Ramelton circa 1900 Donegal County Museum
The Mall, Ramelton circa 1900 Donegal County Museum

 

Old Meeting House, Ramelton
Old Meeting House, Ramelton

 

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Ramelton had seven churches which is pretty impressive for such a small town. It was known as ‘The Holy City’ due to the religious diversity found in the town. These days there are just three churches. Crime writer Paul Charles, used this diversity as a backdrop for one of his Inspector Starrett detective novels “Dust of Death”.  which is based in Ramelton. I read this book, hoping to find out more about the town but apart from the odd mention of the Conway’s Bar and Bridge Bar, there was little background information.

Painting of house on steep hill (Ramelton, Donegal)
A Cute Disposition (Ramelton, Donegal) – Emma Cownie

 

We passed a very modest old end terrace cottage on Bridge Street in Ramelton, Donegal. We didn’t realise it at the time buy this the house where Patsy Gallacher (1891–1953) (also spelt Gallagher), Celtic legend, known as “the Mighty Atom” lived as a child. Patsy’s family were desperately poor, he had been born in the workhouse, and later they moved to Scotland.

Patsy Gallacher, Celtic legend, aka “the Mighty Atom”
Patsy Gallacher, Celtic legend, aka “the Mighty Atom”

 

Ramelton, Donegal
Ramelton, Donegal – Emma Cownie

On the north side of the river, Bridge End was developed around the large mill sites and bleaching green which is County Donegal’s largest surviving industrial heritage site associated with the linen trade. Although we passed Bridge End on the way into the town, we didn’t cross back over the river to visit this area. If I had known about the mills and bleaching green, I would have made the effort to see it. Next time we certainly will.

 

View towards The Green (From Ramelton Action Plan pdf)
View towards The Green (From Ramelton Action Plan pdf)

 

Find Out More

Most of the information about the History of Ramelton was taken from “Ramelton Action Plan for Donegal County Council” here  .

More about Ramelton here and Rathmelton here  (yes, it’s the same place but there are two entries)

Look up individual buildings here

Read more about the Irish Linen Industry 

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

https://www.culturenorthernireland.org/features/heritage/shirt-industry

Chapter on Flax in Ireland here

A History Of Irish Linen In 1 Minute

Find out about the people who used to live in this parish in 1901 and 1911 census information here  

http://www.welovedonegal.com/ramelton.html

Read more about Football Special here 

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Some Adventures in Paint

Some Adventure in Paint

I have been experimenting with different supports and media. The Jessica Brilli painting on wood got me curious about how it would be different from painting on canvas.

Jessica Brilli's "Cutlass" - with me holding it
Jessica Brilli’s “Cutlass” – Acrylic painting on wood panel

I could find very little information about the experience of painting on wood panels (but lots of information on how to prepare them). So I realised that I had to use trial and error to find out. I ordered some gessoed wood panels from Cork Art Supplies who delivered them very promptly.

My first effort was this painting. I painted a light ground of red ochre in oil before I laid down the painting. I found that achieving fine detail was much easier than on canvas. However, the colours didn’t behave the way I expected them too. My sky started off too dark. I found it was easy to wipe off the oil paint and repaint it a lighter shade.  I found that white areas also needed a further layer once they had dried to give them the solidity I required. The painting took much longer than I am used to to dry.

A painting of Inishbofin Donegal
A Place to Rest, Inishbofin, Donegal

I have painted in acrylics on canvas before and struggled with the speed with with the paint dries on the palette. I used to find the the paint had gone hard in the 20 minutes since I started painting. It drove me mad. However, after extensive reserach I worked out how to make a wet palette so that I could slow down the drying time of paint on the palette. I decided to use the quick-drying acrylic paint as an underpainting.

The acrylic painting was more of a sketch than a proper painting. The process forced me to simplify my images further and the final layer of oil paint gave the image a greater depth and richness of colour.

Acrylic Painting
Acrylic Underpainting
Boat at the Pier, Gola_Emma Cownie
Boat at the Pier, Gola (Donegal) – Final Painting

 

Some of the acrylic sketches really challenged me as the paint did not move and work in the way I was used to with oils. The greens and yellows were too transparent and looked messy. It was impossible to lighten colours, like the leading edge of the fence post,  once they had gotten too dark.

painting of GOla, Donegal
Fenced in, Gola – Acrylic Underpainting

The final layer of oil paint, however, enabled me to make my colours much more opaque and to to add much more detail in places, especially on the wire fence.

Fenced In, Gola
Fenced In, Gola

 

My final painting was a studies in mauves, blues and greys. I had added an additional layer of light grey gesso as a ground before I started painting.

Lighting the Way to Arranmore - Acrylic version
Lighting the Way – Acrylic version
Lighting the Way (to Arranmore) Donegal
Lighting the Way (to Arranmore) Donegal – Final version

 

I enjoyed experimenting and I ended up painting several painting at the same time, as I waited for paint to dry between layers.  The whole process forced me to confront my short-comings as a painter of acrylics. I did not enjoy that. It made me feel uncomfortable and brought out my “imposter” anxieties. I need to do much more work in this area to develop my skills.

It was also rather time-consuming and probably not a great project to undertake in the winter months, in Donegal, when good light is in very short supply. I am not sure that I would spend so much time on the underpaintings in future, as I liked my first painting the best. Although I would where there are large areas of white. I did enjoy painting on the wood panel and I will continue to experiment with them.

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Trading Paintings with Jessica Brilli

Jessica Trade

I was delighted a while back to be asked by one of my very favourite artists of all time, Jessica Brilli, to trade paintings. Jessica has been a big influence on my own style of painting so I feel very appreciated and validated by her contacting me to say she loved my work and wanted to own some and have my work in her home.

I have always have found myself drawn to and influenced by painters who have a special relationship with colour and light and Jessica Brilli’s work is full of sunshine and nostalgia. She combines American realism with graphic design elements, simplifying elements and focusing on everyday scenes and objects. She was Jessica was also awarded as Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant in 2021!

Jessica Brilli's works
A selection of Jessica Brilli’s works

 

The paintings we traded: – My painting of Gola Island called “With A Road Running Through It” a rural minimal oil painting.

With a Road Running Through It _ Emma Cownie
With a Road Running Through It
With a Road Running Through It – me posing with my painting on a blustery Donegal afternoon.

 

With a Road Running Through it - with Jessica Brilli
“With a Road Running Through It” in the USA  with Jessica Brilli

 

In return, Jessica sent her painting “Cutlass” of a vintage American car – acrylic on wooden panel. I was very excited to open up the packaging and see one of her paintings in the flesh. I didn’t realise that it was painted on wooden panel rather than canvas. I really liked the weight and solidity of the wooden panel. It was also a real pleasure to see the brush stokes and the layers of paint close up. You cannot get a sense of these things in photos at all. So I have been quietly obsessing about how this painting was made as well as the elegance of its composition. There  is a pleasing tension in the slight unbalance of shadows and tiny brush marks that suggest great confidence in the artist’s execution. I really enjoy looking at it.

Jessica Brilli's "Cutlass" - with me holding it

Jessica Brilli’s “Cutlass” – with me holding it

Cutlass on the wall in our Donegal cottage
Cutlass on the wall in our Donegal cottage
Painting of Vintage car
Cutlass- Jessican Brilli

 

"Cutlass" with one of my husband's self portrait and one of my Gola paintings
“Cutlass” with one of my husband’s self portrait and one of my Gola paintings

 

Vintage tape measure
The Vintage tape measure – also sent by Jessica as part of her trade

 

I was fascinated by the vintage tape measure Jessica also sent me – it was a weighty object. I was quite struck by its solidity. I think I am too used to plastic tape measures that have beeb made in China. It also only measured inches – not cm. I am only used to tape measures with both inches and cms on them. It amde me realise that despite all the American culture we are exposed to in filsm amd TV shows, we have very few American goods here on this side of the Atlantic. It felt quite exotic and exiting.

I would like to thank Jessica once again for agreeing to trade paintings with me. I am honoured to have her painting in my home. It has given me a real boost. I am now exploring the world of wood panels!

 

https://www.instagram.com/jessica_brilli_artist/

https://www.facebook.com/jessicabrilliartist/

http://www.theniceniche.com/this-week/jessica-brilli-artist

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On the cover – Eugene Vesey

Eugene Vesey
I was delighted to give permission to Eugene Vesey, poet and author, to use my artwork on the back of his book “Opposite Worlds”.  In the story, the main character Frank spends his honeymoon with Mary on Gola island.
My painting,  “Up From the Pier, Gola” looks great on the back of this edition -You can get a print of my painting here https://www.artmajeur.com/…/12510206/up-from-the-pier
Eugene sent me two copies of the book, which I am half way through and enjoying a lot. See the book on Amazon here https://www.amazon.co.uk/Opposite-Worlds-Eugene-Vesey/dp/1461075874 and on Barnes and Noble https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/opposite-worlds-eugene-vesey/1104007157
Back Cover of Eugene Vesey’s book with my painting on it.
Me in front of the study and large scale version of “Up from the Pier, Gola” in my old Swansea studio
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Studies of Inishbofin

Last Thursday morning Bingo, one of my two cats,  collapsed in the front garden under a hedge and we had to take him on the long drive to the vets to end his suffering. It broke my heart. I had had him for over a decade and loved him dearly. Hattie, his cat companion of the last 6 years, misses him too and she has been outside looking for him. That’s even sader. We are keeping her indoors for now.

Bingo
Bingo

 

So my concentration hasn’t been great. I have struggled to write anything, although I had almost finished another blog. Every time, I looked at images, trying decide what painting to start next, I am crippled by indecision. So I have been painting instead a series of small studies. Playing with composition, and simplifying images. The idea is to reduce detail to the minimum.

Caravan at Magheraroarty
Caravan at Magheraroarty 24x18cm

 

Inishbofin #2
Inishbofin #2 24x18cm SOLD

 

I then moved on to slightly larger canvases. The photographs of the paintings don’t quite capture their colour. Unfortunately, they have a blueish cast to them.

Inishbofin #3

Inishbofin #3  30x24cm

Inishbofin #4
Inishbofin #4  30×24 cm

 

Inishbofin #5
Inishbofin #5  30 x34cm

 

Inishbofin #6
Inishbofin #6 30x24cm

 

Inishbofin # 7
Inishbofin # 7 (SOLD) 30x24cm

 

Inishbofin #8
Inishbofin #8 30x24cm

 

I will continue with these and hopefully I will find it within me to paint some much larger versions. In the meantime, we have a large rescue cat we have named Tadhg (pronunced “Tag”) from Burtonport Animal Rescue, in the office. He is named after a famous Irish rugby player,  called Tadhg Furlong, on account of his robust physique.

Tadhg Furlong
Human Tadhg,  the rugby player

 

Unfortunately, Hattie hissed  at him when she first saw him, so we are introducing them very, very slowly. Swapping scents and feeding them on opposite sides of the same door etc.  Tadhg was a stray and hasn’t had much experience of the indoor life, so he’s getting used to things like doors (they move when you rub up against them, you know) and mirrors (there’s a big black and white cat in window thing in the bedroom next door he’s worried about). He also loves carpets and heating. When he wants a break he sits under the chair in the corner of the room. I hope we can successfully integrate Tadhg into our animal family!

Tadhg liks his basket
Cat Tadhg likes his basket

 

See all the studies here