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Poll Na Mbadaí (Harbour of the Boats), Arranmore Island

Poll Na Mbadaí (Harbour of the Boats), Arranmore Island
Poll na mbadaí (Harbour of the Boats) Arranmore, Ireland.
Poll na mbadaí (Harbour of the Boats) Arranmore, Ireland.

 

Here is my latest Donegal painting. I am delighted that it will be going to its new home in California, USA, very soon. 

A narrow lane curves down to a shining white cottage and outbuilding and to the right.  This is not a public road but a lane to the house, just around the bend. Here it is bathed in glorious winter light. The low sun creates long dark shadows along the lane. The sheep look up, they are not used to strangers (not like the sheep on the Gower that barely give visitors a second glance). On the horizon, you can make out the tiny but distinctive shapes of Muckish and Errigal mountains . You can just make out a line of fence posts that lead down towards the small natural harbour that gives its name to this place: Poll Na Mbadaí or Poolawaddy. The meaning of Poolawaddy (also spelled Pollawaddy) is often disputed.  In irish Poll a Mhadaigh, could mean Poll – the harbour, a Mhadaigh – of dogs or Poll na mbadaí, Poll – the harbour, na mbadaí – of the boats. I suspect that the harbour of the boats is more likely, as it is a natural harbour and pier, but I could be wrong. I only have a basic understanding of Irish but I like to try and read it because place names are very descriptive (as they are in Welsh too) and often poetic. A harbour of dogs is just as possible, after all, there are tiny islands nearby named Calf, Duck and Gull Island.

Arranmore Island map

It feels like it has taken me 7 months to get here. The last painting I finished just before I broke my leg in eraly March was also a painting of this area (see below). It has taken me so long to recover my “painting stamina” and gradually paint larger canvases (although some artists would not consider 80×60 cm “large”). I don’t think I will go any larger for now. I feel exhausted after finishing a large painting these days.

Landscape painting Donegal
View From Poolawaddy (Private collection) painted in early March 2020
 

I like to understand what it is that I am painting, to get a sense of its history and the people who live/d there. I might call a building an “outhouse” for example but very often that building was once a family home, a newer bigger one having been built next to it. It matters to me to know that. It helps me make sense of a place.  I only know only a little about the History of Arranmore, however, so what I have written here has been taken from articles I have found online (I have included links and a list of websites at the end). 

Life on the east side of Arranmore Island, where Pollawaddy is located, is marginally easier than on the west side. This is because Cnoc an Iolair, the highest peak on the island (reputedly once home to golden eagles), provides relative shelter from the prevailing westerly Atlantic winds.  This side of the island certainly seems more sheltered, gentler. 

Poolwaddy,Arranmore, Ireland
Poolawaddy, Arranmore, Ireland (from the other side of the bay). Calf Island is to the right of the bay.

 

After the Protestation plantation in the 17th century, Arranmore Island, Donegal’s largest island, like other large parts of West Donegal, had been given to the English Lord Conyngham. However, when the terrible potato blight leading to the Great Hunger (“an Gorta Mór”, in Irish) spread during in the mid-1840s he declared the island, which he had never set foot on in his life, as unprofitable and sold it to a Protestant man John Stoupe Charley of Finnaghy, Belfast on 29 June 1849. The new landlord came to live on the island, building a “Big House” (now the Glen Hotel) after 1855 just down the road from Poolawaddy. Very near Poolawaddy, RIC police barracks were built, presumbably built around at the same time to protect the landlord’s property. Interestingly, the RIC left the island after about 40 years and there is still no police station on the island (although the Guards do visit on a regular basis). 

Ruins of the RIC barracks: Image from thearranmoreferry.com

 

Landlord Charley decided to clear as many starving tenants off the land, so he demanded them to present the receipts of their rent payments or face eviction. Of course, few if any had been given written receipts, let alone kept them since most of them could not read or write. The choice they were faced with was either the poor house in Glenties or to emigrate to America in a ‘coffin ship’.  Many of these subtenants were evicted in 1847 and 1851. Many who made it into the new world settled on ‘Beaver Island’ (Lake Michigan, USA ). The two islands are twinned. The Árainn Mhór & Beaver Island Memorial, built in 2000, and the sign that Beaver Island is 2,750 miles away, is a memorial to this link. Many of the first islanders who emigrated to Beaver Island were from Poolawaddy.  Evictions carried on after John Charley’s death in 1879, when his widow Mary and his brother Walter Charley MP were left to manage his lands. The British government even sent a gunboat, “Goshawk” in 1881 to “assist … the serving of ejectment processes on the tenants in the island of Arranmore”!

Poolawaddy Pier, image from thearranmoreferry.com

 

The Islanders who left for America emigrated permanently, but seasonal emigration was a more common feature of island life, with many young people working as labourers for farmers in the Lagan, a fertile area in northwest Ulster, and also in Scotland as ” tattiehokers” for the summer.  Rósie Rua was one such youngster. She was born in 1879 and was reared on Aranmore Island by her mother and her step-father, the Butcher. In adult life, she gained renown as the best traditional singer in Aranmore and wrote a memoir of her life with the help of Padraig Ua Cnaimhsí. Unfortunately, the memoir seems to be out of print, but I could read some sections of it on google.books.

Róise Rua

In her memoir she describes how at aged nine she was hired out to farmers in the Lagan.  Her family home was not far from Poolawaddy and she describes catching the boat to Scotland to work as a farmworker or ” tattiehoker” for the summer.  She wrote that “the steamer had dropped anchor off Calf Island, and we saw the boats pulling out from the shore with their passengers. In no time at all, we were all down at Pollawaddy ourselves and one of the small boats brought us out. Lily was the name of the steamer.I was amazed at the size of her…just about a hundred passengers in all boarded the Lily at Calf Island.”

Róise Rya’s Home:Image thearranmoreferry.com

 

Rósie Rua has a singing festival, Féile Róise Rua held in her name on Arranmore. The first was held in 2019. Sadly the pandemic distrupted the 2020 festival. The festival went online on facebook and you can watch some of the performers here.  Fingers crossed the next one can go ahead in 2021!  I will leave you will a clip of Jerry Early singing “I’ll Go” (5.55 onwards). Just look at the view out of his window!

 

To find out more about Arranmore

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

http://www.welovedonegal.com/islands-arranmore.html 

https://thearranmoreferry.com/local-attractions  

http://www.grassroutes.ie/why-you-should-experience-arranmore-island-by-bike/  

http://www.oileanarainnmhoir.com/TheTownlands.htm 

About Róise Rua https://www.drb.ie/essays/augmenting-memory-dispelling-amnesia

A website showing the harbours in the area https://eoceanic.com/sailing/harbours/291/arranmore_island

Getting there from Burtonport:-

https://thearranmoreferry.com/ (blue ferry) 

https://arranmoreferry.com (red ferry)

See also a German site (google will translate into English) https://irish-net.de/Entdecke-Irland/Irische-Inseln/Arranmore-Island/ 

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Back in the studio!

Finally, I managed to scale the steep steps to my attic studio! One step at a time. Holding on the handrails.

Ah, what pleasure it was to be back in the attic. It has a view out the back of the house. It is a great pleasure to look at the wooded parks and hills of West Swansea instead of the unrelenting concrete streets and terrace houses out the front of the house. I have a number of commissions to fulfill but I wanted to “warm up” with some small paintings first as I have been working with watercolours for the past two months. Here’s a selection:-

My first reaction to oil paint was how slow it all is in comparison with watercolours. With watercolours, most of the effort goes into planning and preparation and then the execution of the painting itself is quick. Putting oil paint on the canvas was more laborious that watercolours. I also had to rummage around for looking for the right sort of paintbrushes, a few times. I could not quite lay my hands on what I needed. But,  ah! The paint did what I thought it was going to do. What joy! If I changed my mind about a composition or decided that something did not work I could wipe it off the canvas. It did not reproach me for making a mistake by showing it to the world for ever! Nice!

Anyway, I sat down and started a series of new Donegal paintings. Here they are.

Painting of Donegal Cottage
Wee House on Gola, Donegal (SOLD)
Painting of Storm Clouds Over Inshbofin, Ireland
Storm Over Inshbofin, Ireland (SOLD)

Painting of The Two Tin-Roofed Sheds, Ireland

The Two Tin-Roofed Sheds, Arranmore, Ireland

Painting of house on Gola, Donegal, Ireland
Blue Door, Gola (SOLD)

Landscape Arranmore Ireland

The Old Stone Shed Arranmore Ireland

These paintings are from the past few weeks. I have also worked on two commissions. It has been slow work at times as I often need a lunchtime nap to keep my energy levels up. I do my rehab exercises several times a day which can be very tiring. On a positive note, I finally got to speak to a physiotherapist, Josh, who has been very helpful. He has posted exercises to me and giving me guidance on how much to do.  I can walk upstairs reasonably well, but downstairs one step at a time. When I get tired my ankle gets sore and I limp. I try and avoid that if I can.

What did I learn from watercolours? That I can and should edit and play around with compositions more. I simplified my images as much as I could. I changed the skies or left out an inconvenient house. I found this freeing and I brought an element of this to my oil paintings. For some reason, I have felt to need to be truthful to the real-life locations I painted. I realise now that I don’t have to. I can happily leave out a telegraph pole or a lamp post if it confuses the composition.

What do I miss about watercolours? The tidiness. Clean clothes and hands. The lack of chaos. The speed. The brushes that don’t wear out by the time you have finished a large painting. The lightness. They convey the lightness of birds better than oil colours. Also the convenience, I could pack away all my paper, paints, and brushes in one big bag. I am looking forward to using them outside when I can walk much longer distances!

Emma Cownie Artist
Painting in the studio with my leg up!

 

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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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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

 

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The Burtonport Old Railway Walk, Ireland

Paintings of Ireland

Autumn brings incredible colours to the west coast of Ireland. As the grass and bracken die off, they turn a fantastic shade of orange and pink. The pink granite rocks that litter the landscape accentuate the warm colours. They have provided me with much inspiration for my landscape paintings of Donegal, Ireland.

Painting of Donegal Ireland
Autumn in the Rosses, Ireland

This series of paintings has been inspired by the Old Railway Walk which starts near Burtonport, near Dungloe in Donegal. There are no railways in Donegal anymore. There used to be. The line to Burtonport was built in 1903 as a joint venture by the British government and the Londonderry & Loch Swilly Railway Company to attempt to alleviate poverty in north West Donegal.

Steam train at Burtonport, Donegal
Steam trains at Burtonport, Donegal

The trains used to carry fish from the port at Burtonport in Donegal to Derry, in the neighboring county. It also carried many seasonal workers to and from Derry and Scotland.  After 1922 the line crossed from one country into another; from the Irish Free State into Northern Ireland.

Donegal Railways in 1906
Railways in 1906: Credit: Donegal Daily.com
Gweedore train station (Mount Errigal in the distance)
Gweedore train station (Mount Errigal in the distance)

In the 1940s, however, the Irish government decided to close down the railways in Donegal. I have never really found a clear explanation for why this happened but I am going to assume that the cost of running the line was an important factor. There were also concerns about the safety of the line.

Owencarrow Viaduct, Donegal
Owencarrow Viaduct, Donegal

In January 1925 disaster had occurred on the at the Owencarrow Viaduct when winds of up to 120mph blew carriages of the train off the viaduct causing it to partially collapse. Four poor souls lost their lives.

Owencarrow Viaduct
Owencarrow Viaduct

After the Second World War, the Irish government presumably decided it would cost too much to continue the maintenance of the line and it was closed in 1947. The Burtonport-Gweedore section closed in 1940. There is a great graphic on the Donegal Daily here illustrating the shrinkage and disappearance of the railways. Donegal became a very remote part of Ireland, with no railways and no (still) motorways. Communication with the area improved in 1986, however, when Donegal airport started operations.

Painting of the Rosses, Ireland
The Railway Walk, Ireland

It seems that for half a century nothing much happened on the old railway line. In 2009, however, there was a heavy snowfall, and some of the old railway line was cleared to access water mains that needed repairing. The remaining section was later cleared and gradually developed as a walkway with the support of the local community. A massive effort has gone into creating this beautiful and peaceful walk.

The Burtonport Old Railway Walk
The Burtonport Old Railway Walk

Here are some of my paintings inspired by my husband Seamas’s photographs of the railway walk.

Painting of Donegal landscape, Ireland
Roshin Acres, Ireland
Ireland landscape painting
Long and Winding Road, Ireland

There are many features of the old railway remaining which you can view along the way such as stations, gatehouses, accommodation crossings, lots of pillars, cuttings, embankments, a bridge and rusty gates. There are also lots of shelters for walkers to hide from passing showers to use.

Photo credit: James (Seamas) Henry Johnston

Youtube video- Siúlóid an tSean Bhóthar Iarainn—The Old Railway Walk by Ralph Schulz.

Find out more about the Railway Walk by clicking on the links below:-

http://www.therosses.ie/walking.html

https://www.ireland.com/en-gb/what-is-available/walking-and-hiking/walks/destinations/republic-of-ireland/donegal/burtonport/all/1-94786/

http://www.walkingdonegal.net/article/walking-the-line/

http://magherycoastaladventures.ie/sli_na_rossan.html 

Getting here: From Letterkenny and Dungloe – SITI Rural Transport – Tel 0749741644. From Dublin – Bus Eireann@ www .buseireann .ie From Scotland & Northern lreland – Doherty Travel (00353) 749521867

https://www.donegalairport.ie/  There are twice-daily flights from Dublin and Glasgow to Donegal airport via Aer Lingus and Logan AirDonegal Airport : 00353(0) 74 95 48284.

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