I like to explore nooks and crannies and I usually use a map to help me. This way I can find interesting scenes to paint. I love looking at maps but I didn’t have one in Donegal. I thought I’d get one with the hire car but instead we were given a Stat Nav (Satellite Navigation). You can’t spend hours looking at the lay of the land on a Stat Nav. It spent the holiday in the boot of the car. I thought we’d get one in a filling station but in Ireland you don’t fill up your own car and wander into the garage shop to look at car related stuff and packets of sweet, you have a friendly young chap filing your car up for you! We sort of knew where we were going. My husband, Seamas, had spent hours “driving” down the roads and lanes of Donegal on Street View Google.
So, in the spirit of adventure I turned off the coast road, which runs from the airport to Dungloe, in search of the sea. The roads are narrow but fortunately we didn’t meet anyone coming the other way. After following an undulating single track road, it widened out and then seemingly vanished over a hill into the sea. I didn’t fancy doing a lot of reversing so I parked up to explore on foot. Over the other side of the rise was the beach. It was low tide. The track I’d been on ran down to beach and then started up again on a island on the other side of the beach.
This is Fall Island and it is only 300 metres long. There is only one lone house on the island. The house was shut up for the winter.
I was fascinated by the rocky landscape and the houses perched on the rocks. These rocks are made of granite. Granite is an igneous rock which it was once magma which crystallised as it cooled down. It’s a dense and useful rock. It can be cut, carved and shaped. It is also resistant to water and pollution.
The granite rocks along the coastline are massive. Monumental. Their edges smoothed by the sea and the wind.
“May the friendships you make, Be those which endure,
And all of your grey clouds, Be small ones for sure” – Extract from an Irish Blessing
“Behind every cloud is another cloud” – Judy Garland
I have had an ambivalent relationship with clouds. I prefer bright sunshine. I In fact I have obsessively looked for bright sunshine and shadows to paint. I have found the relationship between objects and their shadows exciting.
This can be difficult in Wales where we can get days or even weeks of overcast or wet days. So when the sun is out I go mad, rush all over the place taking reference photos to paint later in my studio. I have been guilty of often portraying Swansea only in its best light. Someone once said I made Swansea look like a Mediterranean country.
Don’t get me wrong, on a sunny day it’s beautiful place and I have painted dark and rainy scenes too (see below) but not the rain clouds as I prefered painting bright blues skies.
I have never really been happy with how I painted clouds. They never quite came off the way I wanted them to. The paintings looked fine but I had not enjoyed the process of painting them. For a long time I could not quite put my finger on what it was that I was finding dissatisfying about the experience.
So I did a bit of research and read up on something called “scumbling” and watched a video on youtube demonstrating the technique.
This is a way of applying paint with a dry brush to painted canvas. This way a broken layer of paint is added allowing the colour underneath to show through. J.M.W. Turner was the king of scumbling. Think of that painting of his “Rain, Steam and Speed” where the steam train is emerging out of the clouds of rain and steam. This is my humble effort at scumbling.
I was quite pleased with it but it did not pass the “praise test” with my husband, Seamas. He’s my most valued audience and source of feedback. It’s not that he didn’t like the painting, he just didn’t say anything at all about it. So I decided this technique wasn’t quite working for me.
I watched a few more videos on Youtube where artists knocked off beautiful clouds in a matter of minutes.
This just seem to make things worse. I swirled the paint around on the canvas and it all just felt “lumpy” to me. I scrubbed the canvas. Humph. I decided Youtube videos were great for tips on mending jeans or adjusting security lights but not for painting techniques. I had to find my own way. Or truth be told, I forgot about it for a while.
Finally, I think I have started to make a break-through. It came from being in another country, Ireland, where the skies are full of constantly changing clouds. This was something quite different to the light of Wales. To start with I tried to painting bright sunshine, as I do in Wales.
I like the light in these painting a lot. Then I was tempted by the landscape to explore the changing skies too. You can’t paint Mount Errigal without a swath of clouds around its shoulders.
I started to get sucked into the drama of the Donegal skies. I slowly discovered the key, for me anyway, is very thin layers of paint. After all, clouds are just water vapour. They are made of tiny fine particles of water. They are not solid things and this was where I had been going wrong, making them solid things. They are not.
Ironically, this is what exactly what the Youtube videos were showing me but I needed to find my own way of doing it. I didn’t like painting a layer of opaque blue and then adding cloud on top. I prefered a number of very thin layers of paint. The natural colour of the linen canvas I use, actually helped contribute to the colour of the “dirty” rain clouds.
So my clouds got thinner and finer.
So that a puff of wind would move them along. Or light luminate them.
So, I have started painting “overcast” pictures where the light is slivery rather than golden. I can be a challenge because the light affects all the colours, the greens are flater and duller and I am using yellow ochre and naples yellow far more than I do painting sunny Welsh landscapes.
Finally, my favourite recent painting is the one I did of Muckish mountain. I loved the massive rounded clouds that seemed to be echoing the humped shape of the mountain.
I have only started feeling confident painting clouds and I think I have some way yet to go. Fortunately, I won’t be short of clouds to paint in Wales and Ireland.
I am fascinated by rock stacks and Donegal has plenty of them. I like to think of how these massive structures have gradually been eroded by wind and waves over thousands of years, forming first sea arches and then stacks.
I also love the colour of the rocks and the wild Atlantic Ocean. The ocean is incredible shades of blues, greens and mauves, mixed in with browns and frothing surf. Although I feel I am getting better at representing the layers of Donegal sky and clouds, but capturing the movement of the seas is still frustrating me.
If you to find out more about Owey Island see Ian Miller’s Unique Ascent’s website for detailed descriptions and incredible videos.
Just thought I’d add a post script about the “Holy Jaysus Wall”. I think if you look at photo of it you will understand the name. It makes me feel ill just looking at it!
Here’s a fascinating film clip from the 1970s about Owey Island’s postman, Neil McGonagle, who used to visit the dwindling population on Owey Island by small boat four times a week to maintain the island’s contact with the outside world.
I wonder whether the post to Arranmore Island, Donegal, goes astray a lot. There are two other islands with similar names off the coast of Ireland and Scotland. There are the Aran Islands off Galway Bay to the south as well as the Scottish Isle of Arran. Arranmore or Árainn Mhór, in Irish Gaelic.
It lies off the west coast of County Donegal, Ireland. It is the largest inhabited island off County Donegal, with a population of 514 in 2011, down from 528 in 2006, 543 in 2002, and over 600 in 1996. The island is part of the Donegal Gaeltacht, with most of the inhabitants speaking Ulster Irish.
There is a frequent ferry service from Burtonport and this old cottage was spotted nestling into the rocks of one of many islands, Inishcoo, en route to Arranmore. There is no ferry service to the many little islands scattered off the coast of West Donegal. People get to these remote islands in their own little boats. There are landing stages and steps down to sea cut into the rocks. Of course, you could always swim to Inishcoo. Amazingly, the local cows do.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I sounds mad, but I didn’t have a map when I was driving around Donegal. I sort of hoped I could buy one in a petrol station but I never did. The Hire Car people lent us a Sat Nav but I could not be bothered to plug it in and it stayed in the boot the whole week.
I am very lackadaisical when it comes to planning holidays, I think all my energy goes into the logistics of getting there. Anyway, I assumed that my husband would tell which places were worth visiting. Afterall, he had spent hours “flying” up and down the roads of Donegal on StreetView. I sort of knew where I wanted to go; Bunbeg, Bloodyforeland, Falcaragh, Dunfanaghy, Derryveagh, Kincasslagh and Dungloe and the distances between them were not very great.
On the only properly sunny afternoon we had in Donegal, I took a left off the road from Dungloe to Kincasslagh. The sign said “Cruit Island Golf Club”. I reasoned that golf clubs are usually located in beautiful places, near the coast. So I followed a single track road and over a small concrete bridge on to Cruit Island. If you look at the map above, you can see that Cruit Island is long, three miles long, in fact.
Cruit Island at Low Tide
After a pleasant drive along a single track road, and passing what can only be called mansions at the north end of the island, we reached the golf club. Now in the UK golf clubs can be funny about other people coming onto their property, but there was nowhere to turn the car so I kept driving. Eventually we reached the golf club car park which looks out across wild waves to an island. This was no calm inland lough. This was the Wild Atlantic. The wind was fierce and the waves crashed and boomed.
It was mesmerising. The island was just across the turquoise water. It was dotted with houses, some clearly derelict, others in good order. I didn’t know it at the time but this was Owey island.
It turns out that Owey island is uninhabited for much of the year, having no permanent residents, but people do live there in the summer months. It was last inhabited on a full-time basis in the mid 1970s. The last residents were three old boys who were moved to the mainland of Donegal, or as the islanders call it, Ireland. All the houses were built on the south side of the island, facing Cruit Island Golf Club. The north of the island is too rocky and too exposed to the north Atlantic Ocean gales.
My eye was drawn to one building in particular. Standing on the brow of a hill, its missing roof caught my attention. It had also had a walled yard behind it. I was too far away to be able to tell whether this was a derelict old building or an incomplete new one. There are many incomplete “new” buildings littering the Irish landscape.
This turned out to be the old school. The walled yard was the play ground. It was a tiny school with just one teacher who would have to teach all ages of the small number of island children. It was a school for the younger children, and when they were old enough the children would then be sent to the mainland for their secondary school education.
Apparently, the school children had to bring a sod of turf to school each morning. The turf was fuel for the fire and the idea was that they provided the heating for the school room in the cold months. It has been pointed out that as the teacher’s table and chair were at the front of the room, they would usually sit right in front of the fire. When I used to be a teacher, I used to teach in a “temporary” demountable classroom (it had been there for 40 years) and in winter, I would often stand next to the gas fire, myself. So I liked that idea!
In Steven Spielberg film “Close Encounters” (1977) Richard Dreyfus experiences a close encounter with a UFO and subsequently becomes increasingly obsessed with subliminal, mental images of a mountain-like shape and begins to make models of it, including one made from his mash potatoes.
I bring this up because my husband got a bit like that with Mount Errigal. It has a very distinctive shape and it can be seen from miles around. My husband was always pointing it out to me. His father used to help run a boxing gym called Errigal in Derry, Northern Ireland, so it has an added resonance for him. Again and again he’d announce “There’s Errigal” to me.
It looks like it should be an extinct volcano, but I’m not sure entirely that it is. We saw it when we flew in from Dublin, from the runway at the airport, from the beach at Carrickfinn, From Bunbeg beach, from the Rosses, from Gweedore. Its barren surface is rather moon-like, but when the sun catches its slopes its quite mesmerising. When it was hidden by cloud you knew the sun wasn’t going to come out for some time. The surface isn’t covered with snow but light-coloured quartzite scree that glows pink in the sun.
I would like to climb it one day. I have been told it only takes a couple of hours (from the other side). In the meantime there is a nice time-lapse film of clouds floating past Errigal for you to watch.
You can purchase my Donegal landscape paintings here
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.
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.
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.
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.
Everybody loves the Georgian Houses It seems like certain styles never go out of fashion. Last year Georgian-style houses topped a poll of the most popular home styles. I suspect that people like scale of the house as well as the the pillars and generous sized windows. Nothing says lord of the manor like a […]
Northern Ireland’s Tourism is very impressive. At Whiterocks Beach, just along from Portrush, there is not one, not two but three small carparks and a public toilets which are all free to use. What’s more, there’s another car parks specially for horses and their horseboxes. I will point out though, that there is height restriction […]
We recently went to see Helen Merrigan Colfer’s solo exhibition at the Alley Gallery, Strabane. She is a sculptor & painter. She lives & works on the tip of the Hook Head Peninsula, County Wexford, Ireland. She works with resin & steel. Her work is quite incredible and very engaging. This exhibtion included paintings, many resin […]
I spent almost a month in the Cotswolds visitng with my parents recently and had a bit of time to explore. They live near Stroud which TV programmes like “Escape to the Country ” tell me is the “poorer part of the Cotswolds”. I think “poor” may well be in the eye of the beholder. […]
New Work & Recent Sales
Abanoned (Glentornan, Donegal) -Emma Cownie
Towards Bloody Foreland (Donegal) _ Emma Cownie
Across Whiterock Beach, Portrush
Low Tide, Summer Morning on Three Cliffs – Emma Cownie
Dunluce Castle from Whiterocks Beach
Boat on Inch Island Donegal
Houses at Port na Crin, Gola
Washing Line, Arranmore _Emma Cownie
An Port, Donegal_Emma Cownie
Over Glenlough Bay, Donegal-Emma Cownie
Still, On Gola (Donegal)
Inishcoo (To The Fore of Arranmore) – Emma Cownie
A Road through Chalford (Cotswolds)
Painswick Yews (Cotswolds)_Emma Cownie
Kinnagoe Bay (Inishowen, Dongal)
House on Ishcoo, Donegal-Emma Cownie
Errigal reflection (Donegal) _Emma Cownie
On Rutland Island, Donegal -Emma Cownie
Sun on the Reeds (Glentornan, Donegal)-Emma Cownie
View from the Pier (Portnoo)-Emma Cownie
From Port to Glenlough (Donegal)
Errigal from Cruit Island. Donegal _ Emma Cownie
Spring on THree Cliffs Bay, Gower_Emma Cownie
Fishing Boat at Port Donegal-Emma Cownie
Portnoo Pier, Donegal_Emma Cownie
Down to Rossbeg Pier, Donegal
Over to Fanad Lighhouse (Donegal) _Emma Cownie
Errigal painting – A Commission 2022
From Arranmore (Donegal)- Emma Cownie
Ferry Home (Arranmore, Donegal) by Emma Cownie
Summer Morning on Pobbles Bay
On the Way to Kinnagoe Bay (Drumaweer, Greencastle)
Down to Doagh Strand (Donegal)-Emma Cownie
Lambing Season at Fanad Head
Fanad Lighthouse (Donegal)
Down to the Rusty Nail
Carrickabraghy Castle, Inishowen
Upper Dreen_Emma Cownie
Portmór Beach, Malin Head, Donegal
Down to the Rusty Nail, Inishowen
The Walls of Derry
Painting of Derry City
Derry Walls by Emma Cownie
Shipquay Gate by Emma Cownie
Over to Owey Island (Keadue) Donegal
Lighting the way to Arranmore
Old Stone Cottage in front of Errigal (Donegal
Boat at the Pier, Gola
House on Inishbofin, with distant Seven Sisters (in studio)