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My top tips & resources for artists

Top tips for Artists_Emma Cownie

I am sometimes asked if I hold workshops or produce intructional videos, and unfortunately, the answer is that I don’t as I am usually busy painting (and blogging). There is so much already available on the internet that I don’t feel I can compete. Others have done it better already!

So I have put together, instead,  a short list of tips and links for any one who is interested to help them develop. Please feel free to comment or suggest your own.  There are no affliate links in this blog. I have included websites and video clips that I have found personally useful.

My Top TEN TIPS

  1. Paint, paint and paint some more. The more you paint, the more your work will improve. Most artists keep a sketch book and sketch and paint in their spare moments. It is important to pratice without worrying too much about the expensive canvas you are painting.  I used to work in oil pastels  on paper  when I was younger but now I try to paint in oils most days.  I have also experimented with water colours and acrylics. It is only by doing and looking that you will develop as an artist


  2.  Look at Art. Decide what you like. Look at the works of many artists. Think about what they are doing and how they do it. You don’t have to copy them but you can be inspired by them.

    Albert Marquet, Fécamp
    Albert Marquet, Fécamp, 1906

    I particularly like pre 1950s artists  (especially post impressionists like Matisse, Marquet, Derain, Bevan, Gilman) for their use of colour and portayal of light.

    The Harbor - Great Spruce Head 1974
    Fairfield Porter The Harbor – Great Spruce Head 1974

    I also like modern American artists such as Edward Hopper Fairfield Porter, Lois Dodd, Peggi Kroll Roberts, Randall Exon, Mitchell Johnson and Jennifer Pochinski.

    Edward Hopper - Hodgkin's House, Cape Ann, Massachusetts
    Edward Hopper – Hodgkin’s House, Cape Ann, Massachusetts

    There are many fascinating interviews with artists on Savy Painter that  are well worth a listen!

    Randall Exon
    Beach House by Randall Exon, 2009

    It is important to see paintings “in the flesh too”.  Van Gogh and Monet need to be seen in real life to appreciate their scale, and how they have used the paint. I once saw a Picasso in Swansea’a Glynn Vivian Museum, and its presence quite blew me away. It was very big. I got a powerful sense of an artist who knew what he wanted to achieve and knew exactly how to do it. If I had just looked at online I would got none of that.  I save  images  of work I like on my  pinterest account.

    Picasso painting Glynn Vivian
    Someone else took a photo of the Picasso and posted it on trip advisor

  3. Paint – buy the best paint you can afford. Try out different brands. A paint may have the same name but look very different depending on the brand. Only buy Artist’s oil paints. The student version are cheaper and inferior. They are fine for underpainting only. They fade. My favourite brands include Lefranc and Bourgeois Extra Fine, Lukas 1862 Finest Artists’ Oil Colour, Sennelier Finest Artist’s Oli Colour, Talens Rembrandt Artists’ Oil Colour, Schmincke Norma Professional Artists’ Oil Colour, Michael Harding Artists’ Oil Colours.  It took me a long time to really understand what colour opacity and the transparency of paint meant in terms of my painting. I am still learning how to use this knowlege.

    Transparency-Oil-Acrylic-em
    Transparency of Oil and Acrylic paint


  4. Canvas – invest in good quality canvas.  I love linen canvas as they are really strong and hard wearing. In my early days,  I painted on cheap cotton canvases that years later would tear easily. It was quite heart breaking to realise that I had wasted my creative energy on an inferior product.

    Loxley Linen canvas (clear gesso)

    I particularly like the natural ones painted with clear gesso. If you buy the white ones, it’s helpful to paint the canvas with a coloured ground before you start painting. Here’s a excellent video on how to do it.

    Cass Art Linen canvases

    They are wonderful to paint on. UK stockists: Great Art, Cass Art, Loxley Arts,  you can also get Loxley Linen canvases at Art Discount and Pegasus Art.


  5. Composition – shapes and how they are arranged,  lines and their direction.

    Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) Munster, County Kerry, Ireland, 1952
    Henri Cartier-Bresson, County Kerry, Ireland, 1952

    I like looking at how photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Vivian Maier, William Eggleston and Harry Gruyaert used light, colour and composition in their work.

    William Eggleston
    William Eggleston

    “If the arrangement of the big shapes is strong and coherent, it’ll carry the painting. You are 90 percent of the way toward achieving a composition – and consequently a painting – that will work from Mastering Composition“by Ian Roberts

Compositional Guide see here 

Painting of Irish Cottage on Gola, Gweedore
Down to the Pier, Gola by Emma Cownie (Private Collection)

6. Tonal value – The value of a color is how dark or how light that color is. It is easy to see value shifts looking to an image in black and white or in grayscale; it is a little trickier to see it in color.

Tonal values video examples here  

Gray Scale and Value finder
Gray Scale and Value finder
Painting Value Studies with Peggi Kroll-Roberts DVDs
Jana Bouc, Painting Value Studies with Peggi Kroll-Roberts DVDs

Painting of Tenby Harbour
Tonal painting of Tenby Harbour  (Emma Cownie)

7. Colour 

Colour – warmth/coolness of colours and their intensity

Get a Colour Wheel

Colour Wheel

Browns
Brown isn’t on a lot of colour wheels

There is more than way to mix a particular colour. Sometimes its a matter of trial and error. Practice mixing colours and understand why some combinations (the three primary colours for example) result in mud. Mixing “warm” and “cool” colours doesn’t work either. See an explanation here. Remember that brands vary. I have found that  not all “Vandyke Browns” are the the same.

Colour Theory video here 

Van Gogh – used complementary colours in his work to intensify his colours

Some artist restrict their palette, inspired by Anders Zorn

The many shades of the Zorn palette
The many shades of the Zorn palette

Notice how the artist holds the brush with paint up against the reference source in this video clip

Compare the paint with the reference
Compare the paint with the reference

Mixing the exact colour examples here and with acrylic paint here 

Peggi Kroll Roberts – value and colour system 

The Yellow House, Emma Cownie (Private Collection)

8. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Yet don’t forget the details!

Catherine Kehoe
Catherine Kehoe

9. Using Source Material (photographs)  

Don’t be afraid to change what is in the source photos you use, leave out things, simplify forms. Sometimes a really good photo doesn’t make a really good painting. I take photos with the express idea of using them for painting, that means they are not necessarily good photos but they have the information I need.

Peggi Kroll Roberts  – translating from a photo  

Peggi Kroll Roberts, Sharing the Sun
Peggi Kroll Roberts, Sharing the Sun

Peggi Kroll Roberts – demonstrates a “high key” painting, where values are kept at a narrow range, in the lighter shades of value.


10. Watch videos and save them – If you want to know how an artist does something, look it up. It might help, it might not. I have found that looking up a technique say “scumbling” is more useful that “how to paint clouds” because I have realised that I have to find my own way of doing something.  I save links on my pinterest account.

Tucson Art Academy Online – lots of short clips 

There is an online gallery/site called Dailypaintworks.com run by Carole and David Marine and daughter Sophie  which runs regular challenges where you can post your paintings along side other artists. They also offer tutorialsArtBytes – Affordable Byte-sized Fine Art Tutorials. Some are free ones as well as modestly priced ones

William Kemp Art Shool offers excellent advice for beginners in oil and acrylics (and a downloaded book on starting acrylics).

How to Paint a Simple Still Life using Oil Paints
How to Paint a Simple Still Life using Oil Paints (Will Kemp)

https://gaborsvagrik.easywebinar.live/registration offers a free webinar


Finally, find your own voice. Forget all of the above points and just create. Don’t copy. By all means steal good ideas. You have to have your own style, like you have a style of hand writing you have a style of painting. Let it develop. Good Luck.

Painting of Early Morning Shadows at Low Tide, Three Cliffs (Gower)
Early Morning Shadows at Low Tide, Three Cliffs (Gower)

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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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A Donegal Year

It was a year ago that I painted my first painting of Donegal. Here it is. It is a small one.
Old School, Owey Island
Old School, Owey Island
It’s quite a modest painting. You could say that I started off tentatively. I was feeling my way. The light in Donegal is very clear and the scenery is beautiful. That’s an overused word in this age of social media, but it is beautiful. My husband, Seamas (he likes counting things) tells me that I have painted over 50 Donegal paintings (including 3 commissions). That pretty much averages out at one a week. I am pleased to say that I have already sold over half of them. I discovered that I had to use a different palette from the one that I use in Wales. The greens and yellows were more yellow ochre than lemon yellow and the sea was more turquoise (but not quite as turquoise as I first painted) thanks to the clear water.  I loved the rocky landscape of the Rosses. It was a landscape like no other I’d seen before. Someone has said to me that it’s quite alien, like a moonscape in places. I love the granite rocks. We have a massive one behind our cottage in Donegal. I feel very affectionate towards it. It’s a protective presence, especially when it’s windy. Of course, when you are in a different country to the one you were brought up in, everything seems fascinating. I have loved painting both the modern Donegal houses as well as the old cottages. I will freely admit I am quite obsessed by landscape spotted with old cottages on the Donegal islands, on Arranmore and Gola in particular.
donegal painting of Gola, West Donegal.
Spring Light on Gola
I haven’t really got to grips with the mountains of Donegal. What I mean is that I need to visit them a lot more, walk up them and get to know them better. So far I have just admired the “Seven Sisters”, including Mount Errigal and Muckish from a distance.
Painting of Irish mountain
Swirling Clouds Round Errigal
Of course, the real joy of Donegal is the clouds. The changes skies. I am used to it raining, (I have lived in Wales for over 25 years) but the light is different by the North Atlantic Ocean. It is often more slivery, and more changeable.   I think about Donegal every day when I am in Wales. My husband will place his current favourite Donegal paintings in the bedroom and in the lounge so he can look at them whilst we still have them. Here’s my most recent painting Donegal painting. I am currently working on a painting of Arranmore Island, unfortunately, it rained so much here yesterday, the light went and I have yet to finish it.
Donegal painting
Back Road to Burtonport
 
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Dunmore Strand, Donegal

Painting of Donegal landscape beach,

I have been ill this week so this is a short post.

In last week’s post, Seamas, my husband and I were standing on rocks looking out towards Gola island in Donegal. This week we are looking back inland to Dunmore Strand, and beyond to Mount Errigal.

Donegal painting, a beach on a sunny day.
Dunmore Strand (with Mount Errigal in the distance)

As soon as I saw this scene I knew I wanted to paint it. I loved the dark shadow under the protruding lip of the undulating dunes.  It gave the impression that the grasses were merely a thick blanket laid across the top of the sand.

 

Scattered along the beach and in the water, were granite rocks. These were so large that they were more like massive boulders. They were a beautiful pinkish colour close up. The sand was also very slightly pinkish but closer to the shoreline it was almost white. Lines of seaweed marked the rising and falling tide.

 

The tiny white houses gave a sense of sense scale of the dunes. They reminded me a little of boats on the surface of a heaving sea; humans eeking out an existence on the edge of nature. The ocean itself was calm and benign. It was as clear as glass at the shoreline and further out was a beautiful turquoise. It is not always this smooth creature, in autumn, I have seen it roaring and thrashing the shoreline like a wild beast.

 

Mount Errigal dominates this part of West Donegal, known as Gweedore. The mountain looks close but it’s an optical illusion, it’s actually about 10 miles away to the east. The top of Mount Errigal was swathed in clouds. The mountain always seems to have clouds around its shoulders, or totally smothering it. I had to wait for about 3/4 of an hour for the mists to part for a clear view of the peak. The clouds near to me were dirtier rain-filled clouds that were building and threatening to release their burden on the land somewhere nearby.

 

Another wonderful thing about this beautiful beach is that on this chilly April afternoon is that there was not another soul there. The only people we saw were the postman in his van on the way down the long lane to the beach.

 

My next post will peer “through a glass darkly” at Seamas’s Donegal family history (it is very dark in places) and the History of Gweedore along with the controversial issue of modernizing landlords.

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My review of 2018 (part 1)

Emma Cownie's 2018 paintings

Life as an artist is a very insecure one, you never know where your next sale is going to come from. You can plan and prepare for exhibitions and work on your social media, but it’s impossible to know how many people will see and respond to them.

That’s why it’s really important to take stock, and celebrate the success you have achieved and thank all the supporters and collectors who have helped you over the year; whether it’s a positive comment on a blog post, a “like” on facebook or an instagram post, the sale of a mounted print, a greeting card, a commission or the sale of a painting. They all help keep me going! You may not believe it, but artists have fragile egos (this one has, anyway) and they need encouragement, especially if they venture off into new directions, as I so often do.

Here’s a review of some of my sales of paintings and mounted prints from the first part of 2018. Many were sold via the online gallery Artfinder but increasing I have sold direct via my own website. Each painting is a unique work. I don’t paint generic people or landscapes. They are all real people and locations. In April’s collection you can see many of the Gower painting I did as part of the Gower Coastal Path Project. Bloggers’ comments and encouragement really helped me complete that project. Thank you, all.

Paintings by Emma Cownie
January Sales 2018
Paintings by Emma Cownie
February Sales 2018

Paintings by Emma Cownie

March Sales 2018

Paintings by Emma Cownie

April Sales 2018

My next post will  complete the review. Thank you to the brilliant people who have supported me and bought my work this year, I couldn’t do it without you!

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Autumn Light on Three Cliffs Bay

Blog about painting Three Cliffs Bay, Gower by Emma Cownie

We didn’t get an “Indian Summer” in September, which when we usually get one in Wales. What we have had, instead, is a series of sunny days in late October/early November. The sparkling autumn light is stunning. From a painter’s point of view is more interesting than summer light. So last week I drove down to Three Cliffs Bay to enjoy the light. I was surprised by the dark blue of the calm sea. It was  quite a different colour from the summer sea.

Painting of Three Cliffs Bay, Gower, Wales
Three Cliffs Autumn Light

I was hoping that there would be plenty of orange bracken and there was. Not on the slope of the the Three Cliffs, as they are covered in grass, but on the slopes of Cefn Bryn, in distance.

Painting of Pobbles Bay, Gower
Painting of Pobbles Bay, Three cliffs, Gower

These colours sum up the Welsh landscape for me. In fact, I think I like the Welsh landscape in autumn/winter best. The red and the green of the bracken and the grass also put me in mind of the red and the green of the Welsh flag.

welsh_flag_wallpaper_by_magnaen-d36mhaj.jpg
Welsh Flag (an interpretation)
Painting of Great Tor, Three Cliffs Bay Gower
Light on Great Tor (Gower)

 

I find it ironic that there’s less light around but its better quality, from an artists’ point of view. I still have not adjusted to the clocks going back last month, and I am still waking at 5 -5.30am! It does not seem to matter what time I go to bed, I awake in the dark feeling ready to rise. So I get up and here I am tapping away at my computer in the dark waiting for the sun to rise. Soon I will have to get my SAD lamp out to stop the slow slide in winter gloom. Before, you ask, yes, SAD lamps work for me.

Does anyone else suffer from this problem? Does anyone have any tips for sleeping in later?

Update: I sat with my SAD lamp on for 20 minutes around 7 pm last night and it seemed to help me go back to sleep when I awoke at 4.30 am, and I didn’t get that “wake up” surge of hormones til 6.30. A definite improvement.

To buy landscape paintings of Gower click here

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Round the Rosses

Landscape painting of the Rosses, West Donegal, Ireland
Round the Rosses (SOLD)

The Rosses (in Gaelic, Na Rosa) is a region in the west of County Donegal, Ireland. The name comes from “Ros”, the Irish word for headland. It is a curiously rocky place. Not rocky, in the sense that national parks in the American west, like Utah and Arizona, are made of 100% rock, but rather the bedrock is covered with a thin layer of earth, with slabs of rocks and boulders poking through. It’s a barren but beautiful landscape, studded with a myriad of lakes and inlets of the sea.

Aerial View of the Rosses
Aerial View of the Rosses, from the aeroplane (with Mount Errigal in the background).

It may feel like the edge of the known world but this area has been inhabited “since time immemorial” according to Wikipedia. Coastal places like the Rosses, in Donegal, looked out onto a massive highway – the sea. Missionary Celtic saints were busy in this area in the 6th century AD. These saints relished a challenge and liked to travelled up and down the Celtic waterways to spread Christianity to nearby Scotland. In the 1990s it was fashionable to argue that these Irish monks  had in fact, “saved civilisation” by copying the books being destroyed elsewhere by Germanic invaders, eventually bringing them back to the places from which the books had come. Part of this movement included women like St. Crona or St. Crone (Cróine) , a female religious of royal blood. She found a monastery in Termon near Dungloe. She was a cousin of the the better known St. Columba (St. Columcille in Irish) one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland, who founded the monastic settlement at Iona.

Much later (about a thousand years or so) in the 16th century, a number of ships from the Spanish Armada sank off or landed off its coast. Some 24 to 26 Spanish Armada ships are believed to have foundered off the Irish coast in 1588 while returning from a failed invasion of England by King Philip II. This is not just local myth as the wrecks of two Spanish ships were discovered by archaeologists in shallow water near Burtonport, Donegal, in 2008/9.

Donegal Wreck
Donegal Wreck

What happened to the survivors of these wreck is unclear. We know that as many as 9,000 Spanish soldiers and sailors lost their lives off the Atlantic coast of Ireland, either through drowning or were killed by English troops or Irish chieftains after they were washed ashore. However, not all died. Some Irish who were sympathetic to the Spaniards sheltered them and some kept them on as soldiers. Local legend, credits black-haired locals as being descents of these men, but they are possibly the descents of much earlier people who came from the Iberian peninsula after the end of the last ice age.

I found this area both beautiful fascinating. Donegal manages to combine a sense of isolation with company, should you want it.  This area is littered with houses, old and modern. Many homes are built on the rocks, or have massive rocks in their gardens. People have had to work around the boulders and outcrops.The prevalence of pines dotted across the landscape gives the area a Scots or Canadian feel to it; Caledonian in fact.

Cruit Island

Cruit Island

Although in many senses there is plenty of space, houses seem to huddle together in clusters, isolated but within sight of others. A lot of them (the newer ones, anyway) face out towards the Atlantic Ocean. It seems that in many cases old cramped cottages have been replaced by larger modern buildings. Many tiny cottages, or abandoned derelict buildings are overshadowed by bigger ones. The smaller cottages ended up as holiday homes for visitors. Most of the houses are painted white, but with some older stone cottages and out-houses are left “au naturel”.

On one of the few sunny afternoons we had, we raced round taking photographs of the houses on the rocks. Each bend in the narrow road revealed different vistas. It was hard to decide which one I liked the best. Not only did these houses look out to the sea, behind them were hills and mountains. My painting “Round the Rosses” captures a typical cluster of old and new homes perched on the top of rocky landscape. The light from the afternoon sun glints in the windows of the large house, that faces out to the ocean. The older, smaller buildings look to the east; away from the force of rain and storms and towards the rising sun.

Oil painting of West Donegal Landscape
Round the Rosses (SOLD)

Round the Rosses (SOLD)

 

 

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Paintings as Emotional Creations

Paintings as Emotional Creations
Three Cliff Reflections
Three Cliff Reflections

I am delighted to have sold this painting, Three Cliff Reflections, to a collector in Scotland. As is so often the case, the collector has a connection to the location in the painting, having visited it and climbed to the top of the peaks quite recently. I hope that the painting brings back happy memories of the summer.

As a painter, I feel that I have succeeded if I my work can provoke an emotional reaction. I would feel that I had gone wrong somewhere if someone said “that’s interesting” or “it’s technically skillful”  about one of my paintings. Not that there’s anything thing wrong with being skillful, I just don’t want it to be the first thing they say.

They don’t have to be entirely happy emotions, either. I once had a friend who said a painting of mine, “Park Bench in the Snow” made her want to cry.

Park Bench in Snow
Park Bench in Snow

I am not sure why she wanted to cry, I think she said something about it reminded her of  the film “It’s a Wonderful Life”. That film always makes me cry too. Mind you, I was particularly fond of this painting and was pretty sad when I had to part with it. I didn’t cry though. I do have favourites, and this was one.

Quite a few of my people portraits have a bitter-sweet quality to them as I am drawn to the fragility or vulnerability of the sort of people who are frequently overlooked by our instagram obsessed  society.

Brief Encounter
Brief Encounter

Or amusing quality, I hope. I like observing little moments that are easily missed. Like these two children at the Uplands markets examining an old manual typewriter.

What does it do
What does it do?

I also like watching for moments between dogs and their owners, in particular.

Just a Second
Just a Second

Back to Three Cliffs Bay. This painting “Human Concern” (below) was based on a scene I observed at Pobbles Bay,  last summer. Pobbles Bay is right next the Three Cliffs Bay. The little Jack Russsell stood and watched his humans off in the sea, with such intensity. It amused me. I also found it very touching.

Human Concern
Human Concern
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Gower Coastal Walks: Whiteford Point

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I have a confession to make. This walk was done out of sequence. It was done on March 28th, on the day the clocks went forward. That seems a long time ago. It was a beautiful day but very cold. Back in March when I had only got as far as Pennard and Three Cliffs, I sort of panicked. This was because I could not make head nor tail of the bus timetables and doubted that I could make it around the coastal path by public transport. So my husband, Seamas, suggested that we drive to the most out of the way places in Gower and do circular walks and then I would fill the rest in with public transport. Another blogger has since directed to the invaluable traveline.info which helped me made sense of the bus connections, when the online bus timetables seemed incomprehensible to me.

So we decided to go to Whiteford Point. It is a mini-peninsula off the northern corner of  Gower peninsula. This is seen by many as the wildest and most remote part of Gower. We drove along the narrow lanes to the northern tip of Gower, to the village of Llanmadoc. Llanmadoc Hill is quite imposing as you approach it from the South East. I generally think of Gower as having two big hills (Cefn Bryn and Rhossili Downs) but Llanmadoc Hill at 152m is pretty high too. You get a sense of how it dominates this corner of the peninsula from Cedric Morris’s painting of it in 1928.

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Llanmadoc Hill, Cedric Morris 1928 

If you drive through the ajoining villages of Cheriton and Llanmadoc, you will come to Cwm Ivy Court Farm.

Oil painting of Cheriton Gower by Emma Cownie
Far Hill Above Cheriton, 2016 (SOLD)

On the opposite side of the leafy lane is an open gate to a field, which acts as a temporary but well-used car park. When we arrive after lunch, it is pretty full.  There is an honesty box built into the wall for walkers to put their car park fee of £1. Considering the National Trust charge up to £5 at Worms Head, it seem like a bargain.

 

We then walk down the lane past a small number of houses, the last one has a ice-cream tub of drinking water for passing thirsty dogs. Once you pass through the five-bar gate you are on National Trust land.

In 1953 it was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest as it is an internationally important feeding ground for wading birds and wildfowl. Not long after in 1965, Whiteford Point came up for sale by auction and there was great worry that it might fall into the “wrong hands”. Fortunately, the National Trust was able to buy it. This was the first property to be acquired as a result of something called “Enterprise Neptune”, which was the National Trust’s campaign to protect Britain’s coastal heritage.  So this area is a now a nature reserve owned by the National Trust.

Whiteford Point Map
Whiteford Point

If you follow the lane down hill there there is a choice.

Straight ahead is are the marshes and sands dune and eventually open beach that joins with the wide expanse of Broughton Bay, to the west. If you take a turn right through another wood gate you are then in Whiteford Burrows.

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Pine Trees

Whiteford (pronounced Whit-ford) is apparently derived from the Danish ‘Hvit-Fford’, meaning white ford. The Vikings left their mark on the outward-facing west coast of Gower, in their placenames at least. Look at left side of the map above. Worms Head, Burry Holmes and Whiteford are all derived from Scandinavian words. Perhaps, the Viking who traded and marauded up and down the Bristol Channel as late as the 11th Century, only ever gave names to the landmarks they could see from the water, but they certainly stopped by at Swansea, whose name is also Scandinavian in origin. It means “Swein’s Eye” or Island. There used to be an island at the heart of Swansea until the Victorian diverted the river. The Welsh call it “Abertawe” which means the mouth of the River Tawe.

 

Once into the the nature reserve you pass the very cute Burrows cottage, which used to be a forester’s cottage (you can rent it) and further along the path Cwm Ivy Bunk House (which you can also rent by the night). There  are no other houses on Whiteford Point. It is a very lonely place from a human point of view. It is however, full of undisturbed wildlife.

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Either side of the path are many grand pine trees, smothered with massive pine cones. They are Scots and Corsican pines. I think gives the place a Mediterranean air. They were planted from the 1930s onwards. There are hundreds them, thousands. I have read somewhere that there were 20,000 in the 1970s. They help certainly help stabilise the dunes and stop the sand blowing away.  You can see these trees from miles around.

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The pine trees as Seen from Hills Tor

I get excited when I see what I think are public toilets in a very tasteful wooden chalet on the path ahead. I am always looking for “proper” places to relieve myself instead of the inevitable bushes.

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Not toilets!

Ah, what a fool, I am. As I get closer I realise my mistake. Its not a nice artisan toilet block. It’s a bird hide for watching wildlife on the salt marsh to the right.  The door is open and we can see its empty. So we go in and peer across the flat marsh. We don’t have the patience to wait.

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Oil painting of Wood at Whitford Sands Gower
The Woods at Whiteford Sands Professional Quality Print 50×40 cm (with mount) £45.00

[wpecpp name=”Woods at Whiteford Sands Large Mounted Print” price=”45″ align=”left”]

Once we have passed the bunk houses we follow a sort of path through the pine woods, climb a stile over a wire fence and we are on the burrows.  Whiteford Burrows, or sand dunes, cover an area of three square miles. It’s bigger than it sounds. There is a vast expanse of beach on the other side of the dunes, leading out along the edge of the Loughor Estuary.

It was a long walk along the beach – it a very empty beach. Two miles of it to Whiteford Point. People are small dots off in the distance.

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Whiteford Sands (towards Broughton Bay)

The landscape here is reduced to stripes of colour: Sky-sea-beach-dunes. The tide is out and the sea is very distant.

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Whiteford Sands

I am slightly unnerved by the signs saying informing me that Burry estuary was used as a shelling range by the British army during World War Two and the unexploded bombs are still likely to turn up in the sand dunes. Yikes! I take this seriously, I remember a World War Two bomb that was recently found in the near by Loughor River although I can’t find the story online. In 2015 a family found what they thought was a “buoy” covered in barnacles on the northern side of the estuary, at Burry Port. The kids spent quite a bit of time jumping on the strange object and had their picture taken next to it.  You have probably guessed it by now. It wasn’t a buoy it was an old Second World War bomb. The beach was cleared and the “buoy” was blown up.

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That’s NOT a buoy!

Shells still turn up at Whiteford Point too. In September 2014, for example, some sixty shells were exposed at Whiteford Point, and bomb disposal teams were summoned to deal with them. The firing range was also used on a regular basis for the firing of chemical shells during the Second World War, including ones containing mustard gas.  Earlier this year there were reports of the Ministry of Defense blowing “something” up earlier this year in the Loughor Estuary so I don’t fancy taking my chances and stick to the beaches. I expect most people do the same and the dunes are left undisturbed.

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Beware Unexploded Shells!

 At Whiteford Point there is a curious cast-iron light house. It is the only wave-swept cast-iron tower of this size in Britain.

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Whiteford Lighthouse

It reminds me of a giant bird cage. The local seabirds, gulls and cormorants use it as a convenient perch. It is not close to the beach but it can be reached at low tide, although its a long rocky walk over the seaweed-covered rocks.

Oil painting Whiteford Lighthouse by Emma Cownie
Wave-Swept Iron Tower, 2018  Professional Quality Print 50x40 cm (with mount) £45.00

[wpecpp name=”Wave-Swept Iron Tower Large Mounted Print ” price=”45″ align=”left”]

It reminds me that much of the Gower coast was always hazardous to shipping. This area in particular was very treacherous and a large number of ships were wrecked at both nearby Broughton Bay (where ships used to be able to anchor in the bay until it was silted up in mid-nineteenth century) and here along Whiteford Sands.

Tragically, the lighthouse failed to prevent a one of the biggest shipping disasters in the area, which took place in January 22nd 1868. On this calm winter night 16 ships out of a fleet of 19 sailing out of Llanelli, sunk in a single night and possibly up to 30 or more lives were lost. These ships had been towed out of Llanelli by steam tugs. They had been cast off and rounded Whiteford point, aiming to clear Burry Holmes with the ebb tide. This was in the age of sail and the ship needed a breeze to power them on their way.

Unfortunately, the wind died and a heavy swell tore the ships from their anchors and drove many of the ships onto the rocks at Broughton Bay, or smashed them against each other. As it was such a quiet night, no one on shore had any idea of the disaster that was happening in the estuary. A large buoy and chain and the remains of a wooden hull near Whiteford Point are all that is left of these ships.

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Image from www.mylifeoutside.co.uk

Although the beach seems utterly deserted the air is filled with the high pitched piping sounds of little wading birds.

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They are too far off to identify with any certainly, but I think they might be oyster catchers. We are feeling tired after our long walk along the beach. We sit on the edge of the dunes for a rest and chocolate biscuits, listening to the euphoric trilling of skylark song.

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Around the tip of Whiteford Point the path reappears and winds its way along the edge of the pine woods. The path is very water logged and at many points it resembles a series of small still lakes rather than a path. So we hop from muddy patch to muddy patch.

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Looks like a lake but its the path!

Here there is lots of bird song – blackbirds, ravens, rooks and we saw linnets, larks and tiny robins. On this side of Whiteford Point, it is very flat marshland. The sea is but a distant memory. This is clearly a river estuary and the river is far off beyond clumps of pine trees. The marshes are covered in lush grass and edged by yellow reeds. There are shaggy marsh ponies, who seem very small in comparison to their cousins who graze on Cefyn Bryn and Fairwood Commons.

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Weobley Castle in the distance

As we get closer to Cwm Ivy, our starting point, we can see the village Llanmadoc spread up the hillside. We pass the late Medieval sea wall. There has been a sea wall at Cwm Ivy since the late 17th century when it was used to reclaim the marshland from the sea. The coastal path used to follow the wall round to Llanmadoc. Not any more, not since 2014 when the wall was breached by storms. The Welsh Government Shoreline Management policy stopped the National Trust from repairing the wall and breech.  This ‘No active intervention’ policy of letting nature take its course was a controversial decision at the time. So this fresh water marsh has now returned to being a salt marsh. The breach is too big to jump over, there’s no bridge so you have to take a diversion at Cwm Ivy to reach the rest of old coastal path (which we did on another day).

The walk took us three hours, but as much of it was on sand so it was pretty tiring. We only took 4 biscuits with us, thinking that our lunch would see us through. I decided that I should have taken a couple of bananas and sandwiches too as you always need more food than you think you will need. If you don’t eat them I know of two helpers who will happily finish them off for me.

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Biscuit? Yes please!

Next week: My final very long walk around the Gower Coastal Path.

 

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