This will be a short post as I am nursing a painful left elbow on an ice pack. I developed bursitis on Friday, I am not sure why as I didn’t hit my elbow on anything but too many sun salutations in yoga is my number one suspect.
We have had a lot of really bad weather lately. We seem to be cantering our way through the alphabet of storms: Atiyah, Brendan, Ciara, Dennis, Ellen, Francis etc. This means I have rarely left the house, except to buy food, walk the dogs in our local park or to go to a yoga class, although yoga will be out of bounds until my elbow recovers now.
So, whilst Storm Ciara was blasting her way overhead, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to set up a number of still life compositions to work from. I had painted a number of largish canvases (80x60cm) and felt in wanted to paint something smaller for variety’s sake, and also something that I could complete in a short (gloomy) day.
My past forays into Still Life paintingexplored paleness/whiteness, and they were largely inspired by the work of Morandi. These were medium-sized paintings. I liked the calmness of the plain backgrounds.
Still life – cup and teapot
Still Life Painting
In this short series of paintings, I was more interested in colour. I was particularly inspired by a patterned cloth that my husband, Seamas, had found in a charity shop many years ago. I liked the warmth of the colours.
This was my first painting. I liked the way the colours of the flowers chimed with the fruit on the plate.
I think my second painting was better probably helped by better light on the day that I painted it.
Then I decided to focus on the fruit. A tiny slice of it!
Then finally a more traditional composition with a cup and red cloth. I have noticed before how I am drawn to painting reds in winter.
The bright colours in these paintings cheered me up. Having completed this short series I felt ready to return to large canvases and more muted tones.
This post has been prompted by the response & comments I got on Instagram when I posted a photo of a painting I had reworked.
I came across this early painting when I was sorting through my crowded attic studio. I had forgotten I had it. It took a while to work out how long ago I painted it. It was 4 years ago! It was part of a series of night-time paintings of Brynmill, Swansea, I did in the course of winter of 2015-6. I later went on to develop a series of daytime paintings in the summer of 2017, which formed by the “Hollowed Community” exhibition as part of the Made in Roath, Cardiff, Arts Festival of that year.
I looked at my painting with my 2019 eyes. Sometimes a period of separation enables you to see the painting the way others do. Often this is a happy experience. Not in this case. I liked the light and the shadows but I thought it was a little untamed. The red brick pub opposite the chip shop, The Ryddings pretty much worked. The sky, however, was a bit too messy for me. I don’t usually rework my paintings but this one was bugging me. I nearly worked beautifully, but it didn’t. So I set about to repainting parts of it. Some window sills also needed straightening. The double yellow lines at the bottom of the painting certainly did. The sky then needed “flattening” to create a calmer and tighter painting. After I had done this, I felt a lot happier with the painting. It still has some of the exuberance of the original but it was more disciplined. It has more presence.
This chip shop has a long history; much longer than I realised. The Park Fish Bar used to have a sign out the front that says it’s Wales’s oldest chip shop (I’ll have to check it see if it’s still there the next time I pass it). It think it said “Since 1977” When I posted a photo of the reworked painting on Instagram Matt (@seamatt79) wrote that it had been a fishmonger or fish shop called “Park View Fisheries” since 1918. Apparently, they sold fish during the day and cooked the fish with chips in the evening. That’s a century of fish and chips in Brynmill. I don’t think there was a centenary celebration last year, which is a shame.
Matt said that he was there in the 1990s the Waterloo Place-side window was replaced (window on the far left of the white building in the painting). An old man who lived in Trafalgar Place came by and told the story of how he helped put the window in as a young boy when during World War Two a German bomb “landed on the corner of Marlborough Road and blew out all the glass”. The corner of Malborough Road is just to the left of the painting. A lot has happened since I painted the original in 2015. Jeff who ran the chip ship since the 1980s had retired and the shop has had two different managers since then.
I was also asked on Instagram by James Potter, another Swansea artist, what the original painting looked like. There are some things you just can’t explain properly on Instagram, so here it is on my WordPress blog!
Happy Christmas to all my fellow bloggers, followers, and readers alike!
My career as a student activist was a decidely inglorious one. I was a lazy student when it came to protests and demonstrations. I think I may have gone on maybe three or four demos in all my time as a student. Some of them were protests about against introduction of student fees and a later one was against the building of the Cardiff Barrage. I caught a bad chill after getting soaked at one demo in London and was ill in bed for a week. Sadly, I never had the courage/organisational ability to make my own poster or banner. That takes thought and effort. So I’d end up holding a boring printed poster made by some radical left-wing organisation that didn’t quite sum up my sentiments. So I am always very interested in what people put on their home made posters. I wrote a some blog posts about Art and Protest in Art of the Protest(also in Germany & China) quite a while ago, but this is about a homemade protest.
On Friday there was the global Climate Strike to protest about the climate crisis. I had no thought of going along until I heard the day before that adults were asked to attend too. There were hundreds of people of all ages in the centre of Swansea. The fact that it was a hot sunny day in late September, just seemed to illustrate what is going wrong with the climate. Extinction Rebellionhad a big presence, many of its supporters were carrying homemade drums (made from plastic washing up bowls and dustbins). They have a clever logo which is a clever play on the “X” in Exctintion and an hour glass, implying that we are running out of time.
I know a Swansea artist, who has given up painting to direct all her energies into working for this environmental group that believes in non-violent protest. They divide opinion, even amongst environmentalists, who say that their activities may be cause the government to increase anti-protest legislation rather than focusing on tackling climate crisis. Yet, they were only one of many organisations that came to their protest. There were people from political parties, trade unions, the Quakers, the Wildlife Trust, as well just ordinary people. One of the student organisers, who was one of the stewarts, worked with Swansea Trades Council. He said they’d been planning this protest for months and he was delighted at the numbers who had turned up.
Here are a selection of the wonderful homemade posters. I particularly liked the ones made by children. They had clearly spent a lot of time designing and making them.
Made on a pillowcase
Teenagers’s posters tended to be simpler with clear and heart-felt statements
The rally then morphed into a march that wound its way through the busy shopping streets of Swansea.
Stopped some traffic…and ended up outside the guildhall where anyone in the crowd was invited to step to say a few words. So they did. Young and old.
Although it wasn’t planned the march ended up inside the Guildhall inside the Council chambers. I think the protesters just asked to be let in and the security guards let them. This was later reported in the local newspapers as the protest “occupying” the council chambers and the police removing them. It was hardly, that. It was a bunch of well-behaved kids, and a few adults. Some of the adults and kids said a few words including part of a speech by climate activitst Greta Thunberg. Although we probably had all had heard her say those words before, they were still moving. We all then filed out, chanting and druming all the way. There were some police near by, chatting to each other, in their van. It was very benign. You can watch a clip of it on the BBC website here. It was much more fun than my student day protests!
So it seems that protests and posters are like a good party. They need a fair bit of preparation. You hope people will turn up. Finally, you probably enjoy other people’s far more than your own!
On a grey overcast day, when the clouds seemed always about to descend on us, we drove to a smart red Georgian house by Lough Gartan, near a place called Churchill (Irish: Mín an Lábáin). This is Glebe House.
It had been the home of the English-born artist Derek Hill, who died in 2000. He had bought this massive estate in the 1940s for the bargain price of £1000. There was a sign in the car park, I wish I had taken a photo of it now, which pointed out the guests who were planning to explore the extensive grounds to be well-prepared as “Winter weather can happen at any time of the year in Donegal”.
We had a tour around the house. There were about 10 of us in our group. What a house! It was a riot of colour and packed with fascinating objects and artworks. I loved the design and feel of the house.
If was an interior designer, I’d use it as a source of inspiration. I spent a lot of time, thinking, I’d love a chesterfield sofa like that, or the patchwork quilt is to die for! It was beautiful, artistic and decidedly a home too.
We were, unfortunately, hurried around the house and asked not to take photographs (I took a few before this message got through to me). The explanation given for this was there were plenty of good photos on the website. It wasn’t about flashlight damaging the artifacts, as no one was using flash photography. I suspect, however, it was so that they could speed us around the house as quickly as possible. I went to the website, afterward expecting a feast of photographs, but was disappointed by the limited number of images. There was nothing wrong with the photos, it’s just that there were not enough of them. There were so many fascinating objects and paintings in the house that weren’t properly documented on the website.
At the end of the tour my head was buzzing with the names of so many artists, whose works hung on the walls of the house (Picasso, Victor Passmore, Francis Bacon, James Dixon, Edward Landseer) and stories about the rich and famous friends of Derek Hill’s who came to visit, including Hollywood star Great Garbo who only ate slice apples. Actually, little is known about her 1967 visit and that gap was filled by writer Frank McGuinness’s play “Greta Garbo Came to Donegal“.
Derek Hill came from a very wealthy family and (based on this tour) never seemed to struggle much in life – there were famous friends and artists aplenty. The house was richly decorated in William Morris prints, wallpaper, and carpets. I really liked the richness of the colours of his house but was disappointed that were not given more time to take it all in. Sadly, there isn’t a photograph of his richly wallpapered bathroom on the site.
Photos OPW from Glebe Gallery website.
I wondered if he was gay on the basis of his taste for lavish decorations and he didn’t have any girlfriends, or wives, just female friends – the snakeskin slippers under the bed, the flashy cravat collection also gave me a strong hint in that direction. Maybe there was a hidden struggle in Derek Hill’s life, after all. Homosexuality was illegal for much of his life in the UK and Ireland (it was decriminalized in the late 1960s and early 1990s respectively), and general social acceptance is a relatively recent phenomenon. There were creative men who risked prosecution, such as Francis Bacon and Cecil Beaton, by persuing sexual/and romantic relationships, but it was emotionally difficult for them and their lives were often fraught with guilt and shame. Others, like Hill, probably avoided the complications by becoming what was known as “confirmed batchelors.“
His jacket hanging in his wardrobe was very poignant as it still held the shape of his body, 19 years after his death. It reminded me of Dylan Thomas’s suit that hangs in the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea, in Wales. Derek Hill made his living from painting portraits of rich and important people. None of those paintings were here. His portraits of Donegal people are excellent. They were the best paintings in the house by far. The portrait of his head gardener (Below) caught the wiriness and strength of his physique well.
There is a great little coffee shop in a courtyard near the house. Its walls were also covered in original paintings, some by Derek Hill, others by the artists from Tory Island that he befriended and encouraged on his regular summer visit to the island.
With more research that I discover that there was a lot of “emptiness and disappointment” for Derek Hill. The British artistic establishment and critics dismissed Hill’s landscapes as out of date because they were too representational. Welsh artist Kyffin William’s work was dismissed on similar grounds. British galleries refused to buy his portraits, although the best of them (see below) are powerful works.
It is clear that Derek Hill loved Ireland and Donegal and its people, in particular. In 1981, Derek Hill donated Glebe House, its contents and the gardens to the people of Ireland. His studio and guesthouse were transformed into the Glebe Gallery displaying items from the Derek Hill Collection. He moved into a small cottage on the estate for the remaining 19 years of his life. It is clear that Ireland loved him back. In 1998 he was granted honorary Irish citizenship. in 1998, President McAleese told him that he had become “more Irish than the Irish”.
Here’sanother footnote to last week’s post about the inspiration provided by markets. It’s the last, I promise.
Sometimes, I feel the need to take a break from one sort of subject matter to paint another. I’ve painted quite a few landscapes lately and so I relished painting what I call “people portraits”, or paintings with people in them. Unfortunately, these sorts of paintings they don’t sell so easily as landscape paintings, I don’t know why. So painting people paintings is a bit of an indulgence. Saying that sometimes I need to change what I am painting to keep my style fresh. Too much of the same subject and my painting goes off a bit.
It was the bottles that called to me. So many of them in the sunshine. I was attracted to the light and colours in this composition. Painting all those bottles was wonderful, slow, self-indulgent joy. It took quite a while and I swear that everything bottle is slightly wonky but it still works as a painting because its about light and colour, not perfect bottles.
The stallholder looks slightly embarrassed to be sneezing, surrounded by a colourful forest of bottles. I liked the stallholder’s green top too as it nicely complemented the colours of the bottles. There’s also a green jacket on a chair back, to the left of her, repeating this theme. I simplified the composition, removing certain element that distracted from the bottles and shadows on the purple table cloths.
I have a great deal of sympathy for the stallholder in the picture as I have developed hay fever this year. I may have had it before. I assumed that hay fever meant you sneezed and had runny eyes when you went near the grass. How little did I know! I had sneezing, itchy eyes, itchy throat and felt altogether rotten and very fatigued. It made me very ill. I thought I had a virus or a horrible cold. Eventually, my mother suggested it could be hay fever. I bought some over-the-counter antihistamines. Miracle Cure!
So now, I consciously head for the coast to avoid the tree pollen, grass or whatever is out there that I am allergic to.
I love markets. I love outdoor markets and indoor markets alike. A busy market is fun to visit as a shopper, but even better for an artist. To be honest I often just look at the people and stalls and don’t buy a lot. It provides inspiration. There are lots of things to look at, the light, in particular, is what attracts me, whether it’s indoors or outside, there is always lots of natural light at a market. I also like the distracted people, and also the bright colours of the stalls and the people shopping or sitting outside at cafes (both in summer and winter).
Swansea has a cracking indoor market that was rebuilt after the original market was blitzed during the Second World War. It has a wonderful barrel-shaped roof. The light is a combination of natural light and artificial light. The light in the painting below is natural sunshine that was streaming in from the roof.
Outdoor markets are more variable, the rain can make them rather sad places to be in but in the sunshine, they are great fun. The Uplands, in Swansea, has a monthly market.
I particularly like the dogs that come along too. They are usually on leads but also sitting with their owners at outdoors cafes at and near the markets. The strong winter shadows make for a dramatic composition.
I also like the little “unobserved” vignettes, such as these children playing with a typewriter. I like to imagine the conversation this smart-phone generation might be having about this relic from the last century.
There is a Victorian indoor Market in Cardiff too. It reminds me of a railway station, with its steel fixtures, supports, and arches, the huge glass, skylit, two-tone ceiling. They have a record shop upstairs and several cafes.
There is a fish stall by one of the two entrances, it gets natural light from the left side. This stall is particularly expansive, the fish and crabs are displayed in a generous display shelf. There is plenty to choose from. Again, it was the light that drew me to this composition. Although we cannot see the customer’s face, only his back, I am speculating on the conversation he is having with the fishmonger. I love that word “monger”. Its a wonderfully old-fashioned word (probably Anglo-Saxon) for someone who deals in a particular trade, there are others like an ironmonger, cheesemonger and more unsavory ones like fleshmonger, scaremonger and warmonger.
My parents live near Stroud, in the Cotswolds and I sometimes visit markets, there’s an indoor market most days of the week as well as an outdoor farmers market on Saturdays. I visited the market last Saturday.
Again, its the dogs that catch my eyes. There are lots in Stroud of different shapes and sizes. You can tell a lot about an area by its dogs. Fashions come and go in towns and cities like Swansea. Huskies used to be all the rage, then smaller dogs like French Bulldogs became popular, more recently cockerpoos are everywhere. When I visit Cirencester I see lots of dachshunds, in Stroud, there’s more a mix from larger lurchers, Jack Russells (my favorite dog), and very cute Chihuahua-mixes with Jack Russells. In Ireland, the towns also favor smaller dogs but in rural Donegal, it’s larger collies and black Labradors that are very popular. So as we drove the length of Ireland, I noticed that little Mitzie (our Dashund/Jack Russell cross) got admiring looks in Wexford but it was Biddy (our Collie cross) who was more popular in Donegal.
Again, it’s the “unobserved” that I am interested in. A dog on its own isn’t as interesting as one with its owners unless it’s looking “out of shot” at its owner. In “Just a Second” the dachshund is obviously hoping its owner is going to produce a treat from her bag. I doubt it somehow.
In “Table for three”, my most recent painting, the little pooch looks very much loved by its family, after all, as she has the best seat. I would not be surprised if she has been fed a biscuit or two or a slice of cake. Look, there is a knife, and a stack of plates under the coffee cup on the left, evidence of food eaten. There is a clearly comfortable vibe between the two women, whom I am guessing have been in a relationship for a long time. There are no smartphones to interrupt their revery in the sunshine. The woman on the left has difficulty walking as she has a walking stick in her hand. I love the rich red color of her hair, catching the sunshine. That color says to me I am still young at heart. It chimes with the red stripes of her partner’s top. This painting has caught a moment. It may an illusion. For all I know, they could be having a row, but I really don’t think so. I enjoy looking at the details in the picture and speculating and writing a story about them.
If you want to see more of my people and or animal paintings please click here.
Last night I received a lovely present from one of the pupils of Brynmill school who was inspired, after my talk with her class, to paint one of my paintings. I was absolutely charmed and delighted by this gift.
Nia told me in her accompanying note that “instead of paint, I used Sharpie (felt tip pen)”. What really tickled me is that she then added “when you came to my school your advice when doing art was to sketch it first and then continue”. She had followed this advice brilliantly. She’d had sketched the figures in pencil and then added colour in Sharpie pen.
I was really impressed that she had caught the shadows on the men’s jacket & coats. I liked her use of flat colour and the relationship between the figures. There was something “Hockneyesque” about her work! I hope she keeps on creating. An excellent painting from a budding young artist. Great to see!!
My Top 10 tips for selling art online. I am sometimes asked for advice on how to sell art online. To be honest, I feel like there is so much I don’t know about Art marketing, but I did sell over 200 pieces, originals and prints last year and half of these were direct sales to collectors so something’s working. Marketing and selling art takes an enormous amount of time and effort. At least 50% of my day is spent on marketing. The great thing about it all is that the longer you do it the more followers and fans you will gather. It’s an investment of time – but it cuts both ways. You will spend hours at the keyboard, posting away (sometimes wondering if it’s worthwhile) but you will develop a following. Some of it casual, some of it very loyal and dedicated indeed. You need to remember that it may take months or even years of following an artist’s work and career before a collector buys your work. Your fans are invested their time in your you and your “journey” too so you need to keep them with you.
So here are my top 10 tips (BTW there is no affiliate marketing in this blog post and there’s so much more I could say but I’m sticking to 10 tips for starters).
Your story – Be positive. Nothing succeeds like success. There’s enough depressing news out there and your art is (hopefully) an escape from all that unpleasantness. So it’s important to celebrate all your successes no matter how small; every sale, exhibition, painting-in-progress is a cause for celebration. Don’t ever be tempted to say that you aren’t selling or you hate online galleries. Instead talk about your latest project. Explain WHY you make your art. How does it make you feel?
Have your own website – don’t build your house on someone else’s land. There are many different hosting platforms out there. There are some that specialise in hosting artists such as artweb, fasco and artmajeur or the very popular wordpress. They will all charge an annual fee (update: Artmajeur’s free plan now allows unlimited artworks to the site). You need to make sure that your site has ecommerce facilities. That means it doesn’t just function as a gallery but also as a shop where collectors can buy work.
Start blogging – a great way to tell your story is to write a blog. I use WordPress but there are other blogging sites like blogger and many websites will have a blog page integrated into the site. Your blogs don’t have to be great long essays but the important thing is to blog regularly. Some bloggers blog once a day, others once a week. Don’t be an occasional blogger. There’s nothing more frustrating than a blogger who only blogs three times a year. You will lose followers if you are inconsistent. Keep focused. Blog about your art and inspiration or art in general. Why do you make your art? How does it make you feel? Don’t blog about the news, your family, what you had for tea, latest fashions unless it’s directly related to art, and what inspires you. Which brings me to…
Social Media – there are lots of outlets, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Youtube, etc. You don’t have to do them all (I dropped Tumblr, for example as it was a bridge too far) but make sure whichever platform you choose to be, do it well. To honest no one platform is necessarily better than the others for promoting your work, all of them will do something to help. Don’t post twenty times a day – it will seem like you are spamming people and they will unfollow you. Once or twice a day is enough, maybe three times on twitter. Hashtag your own name too #emmacownie so people can follow your work across the platform. The important thing to remember is that it’s called social media for a reason. You have to be sociable. If someone comments on your post it’s good manners to respond, with a “like” and a “thank you”. It’s important that you support other social media users and follow other artists, photographers of any supporters who like, comment on, and share your posts and return the favour. We all need encouragement. It’s important to encourage others. I have made many good friends out there in the online world. Again. like the blogging try not to mix business and personal stuff on your Art pages/sites – have a separate one for your own family stuff and stick to art-related things on your Art accounts.
Pinterest – It’s not just for recipes! It has 250 million users every month, with 25 million users in the US and about 80% are female. It’s not a social media platform but a search engine. It’s well worth joining to get your work seen and develop a following. It also a really good source of information about art marketing. I have learnt a lot about blogging, pinning, marketing, and websites from pins on Pinterest. If you want to see a selection, I have saved my Buying and Selling Art pins here.
Canva – is great for creating professional-looking blog covers, Pinterest graphics, and so on. I use it all the time. There’s also Pablo and Visme which does some pretty awesome infographics.
SEO– Use Key Words in your posts so that search engines like Google and Safari can find you. A website that is well optimized for search engines “speaks the same language” as its potential visitor base with keywords for SEO that help connect searchers to your site. I find this a vast subject but there are pins on Pinterest and sites like Moz.com will help you improve your SEO. Make sure that when you post your pictures on your website that you filling all the boxes.
Newsletters – build a list of email addresses on your website. These are your fans, collectors and interested artists. Some collectors watch your progress for years before they buy. This is how you keep them in touch with what going on with you. Not every one uses social media, especially older collectors but they read their emails. Again send out your newsletter on a regular basis, say, every fortnight or once a month. Mailchimp is a marketing platform that offers a free (if your list is under 2000 names) sign up forms and newsletter service. There are others here
Finally, Online Galleries – there are loads and loads to choose from. There is a very long list of online galleries here. It’s a bewildering choice. Some work better than others. There are massive ones like Saatchionline where it is difficult to be seen and smaller ones like Artbazzar that have less of a budget for advertising, there are others that charge to be on them like Artfinder and Artgallery. Others are still free to be on them such as Singulart, but they charge higher rates of commission. It makes sense to have a presence on several sites. Online galleries can be good for sales if they promote you.
Just remember that putting all your energies into one website or social media site is foolish, as it’s like building your house on someone else’s land. They all change their algorithm, pricing policies, curators, and what might work for you one year may not the next. I’ll give you an example, last year Facebook shut down my Emma Cownie Artist Business page with no explanation. This is not uncommon on Facebook. I tried in vain to find out why it had happened and to get it restored, to no avail. I lost thousands of followers and their contact details. I was devasted. That’s not a story I usually share as it’s not a positive one but let that be a warning not to put all your eggs into one social media basket (thankfully, I hadn’t, but it still hurt).
It’s always sensible to be on several platforms and sites and encourage your followers to follow you on different platforms. You can do within many ways such as an email signature with links to your social media platforms. There’s so much to learn and there are plenty of people out there who will offer tempting online courses on Art Marketing but I prefer to teach myself. I hope that this post will help other artists get seen. I welcome any comments, suggestions from other artists or commentators
I paint commissions. Most commissions requests are pretty standard, say a beloved dog, a favourite landscape or the owner’s house. Some commissions, however, are different. I recently painted two commissions that quite different from the typical paintings of animals/landscapes. My client sent me two images, both were photographs cut out of the New York Times, with little or no explanation. They were both clearly political in nature. I was given free rein to interpret them as I liked.
I find these commission interesting as these are not my usual subject matter. I *usually* paint landscapes or observational people portraits. However, in painting these images I am forced to look at them carefully and consider the wider implications of what I am observing. I don’t research the image beforehand only afterwards, I just observe.
The first image I painted was of an internment camp. So with “Suffer the Children”, the tents reminded me of the 1970s medical comedy/satire M*A*S*H which was set during the Korean War. In its early years, M*A*S*H was clearly a commentary on the Vietnam War but later on the Cold War in general. It often questioned, mocked, and grappled with America’s role in the Cold War. It was funny and thought provoking.
I knew that the figures lined up in my source photograph were minors. Teenage boys, I guessed from their size. I didn’t know where they were, but I guessed that they were somewhere in the USA near the Mexican border.
It eventually dawned on me that the white squares on their colourful T-shirts were actually I.D. tags, a bit like those luggage labels evacuees wore during Britain in the Second World War. Turns out that these were teenage boys who had entered the USA illegally. This is, in fact, is a secret internment camp at Tornillo, outside El Paso, Texas. I call it secret because no reporters have been allowed to visit although the New York Times wrote an onion piece on its existence. The photos were presumably taken with a drone.
When I painted this image and shared it on social media there were the usual “likes” but little commentary. Few comments. No one said how terrible it was that children were held indefinitely in these camps, in the “free” west. Or that similar “immigration removal centres“ also exist in the UK, where people, men women and children, are locked up without time limit. Perhaps, they think “immigrants” and then lose interest. Perhaps people missed the satire of the title “Suffer the Children”?
I drew a very different reaction with the second commission. This was a photograph of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un standing on a bridge. I know plenty about the North Korean leader and I think that North Korea must be a dreadful place for its citizens to live in, as they are lied to, starved and any disent is swiftly punished with time in work camps. Also know that that we in the west are told a lot of nonsense about the Korean, such as North Koreans only being allowed a choice of 15 “official“ hair cuts. It all needs to be taken with a pinch-of-salt.
I initially thought this image had been photoshopped. The two figures either side of Kim didn’t look real. In fact they sort of reminded me of a Pink Floyd Album cover, “Wish you were Here”. If you are not familiar with it , it shows of two men in suits shaking hands. One of the men is one fire. As the image was made in 1975, those are real flames. Not photoshopped. Which makes the image especially mesmerising.
As I looked athe Kim Jong Un, photograph I realised that two suited men were his security detail. The image was as “real” as the Pink Floyd one, but also just as staged. All photography and images of Kim have to be officially sanctioned. North Koreans can’t draw or paint him unless they are official state artists.
This photograph, then is how Kim wants to be seen. As a relaxed and smiling leader on a modern railway bridge. There are no ordinary North Koreans in sight on the train platform in the distance. If I was a North Korean citizen, the act of making this painting, however, may lead to me and my family spending time in a prison camp, Hence the title “Wish You Were Here” (no question mark) is ironic.
Turns out that this was a new railway bridge in Gwangwon Province and photograph was taken less than a day after Donald Trump called off his planned meeting with Kim. North Korea had said that Kim was still willing to meet Trump “at any time”, so the title is doubly appropriate.
Wish You Were Here
When I posted this image on facebook and twitter, hashtagging it #statire, it was met with a storm of outraged comments from people who assumed that it was some sort of endorsement of the North Korean state. I was bemused. I wasn’t expecting this sort of reaction. Is it really very likely that a western artist would paint a fan portrait of a dictator?
There were many outraged comments on how Kim Jong Un killed people in work camps and was an evil man. These came mostly from American and Asian commentators. Interesting, in the light of the fact that Trump’s government imprisons children indefinitely and China also detains muslim uighur peoplein Xinjiang province. I could go on. Hypocrisy is rife. It’s also interesting, it was only British commentators who got the joke or just commented that it was “bizarre”. I’d be interested to see what sort of reaction I’d get if I painted a portrait of Donald Trump or Putin.
There is a long tradition of satire in Britain and Ireland. Although satire is usually meant to be humorous, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit to draw attention to both particular and wider issues in society. Hence Jonathan Swift’s famous ‘A Modest Proposal’ which he published in 1729 in which he suggested that the people of Ireland sell their children as food. This outrageous idea was never meant to be taken as face value. Satire is never meant to be taken at face value yet in this social media era things often are, which is why we are all such suckers for fake news, no matter how outrageous it is.
We can scoff at Trump supporters who believed his lies about Clinton and the pizzagate conspiracy but just yesterday a lot of people on twitter in the UK got worked up about a supposed protest by the far right against the new vegan sausage rolls. These sausage rolls had been introduced by Greggs the Bakers. It’s a long story, but a right wing TV commentator Piers Morganhad started the “controversy” when he called the company out on Twitter calling them ‘PC-ravaged clowns’ writing: “Nobody was waiting for a vegan bloody sausage.”
This tweet appeared in my feed yesterday. So as you can see the tweet was “liked” thousands of times and there were many outraged and puzzled comments about how the far right were pathetic and stupid.
Five hours after the original tweet the person who posted it tweeted, backtracked, presumably after realising he’d got it wrong and another tweet claiming it was a “joke” or “banter”, as he called it.
“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 have recently been spending time with my parents in the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire. On a bright sunny Sunday morning I explored some of the winding tracks of a near by village called Chalford and Chalford Hill. Where is that? In the South West-ish of the English Midlands ( see map below). The Parish of […]
I was absolutely delighted to spot Claire Keegan’s “Foster” (and my painting on the cover) at the BBC’s screen of this year’s British Academy Film Awards, known as the BAFTAs. The Irish language film “The Quiet Girl” was nominated for Best Screenplay (Adapted) catagory. The film’s director Colm Bairead wrote the screenplay, adapted Claire Keegan’s beautiful novella. The moving film was also nominated for the Best Film Not in the English Language.
I am very excited to have an article in today’s Irish Independent on Sunday about me and work by Niall McMonagle. Below is my expanded Q & A interview that was much edited to feature in Niall McMonagle’s What Lies Beneath feature . It’s interesting to see that the online version had a different […]
New Work & Recent Sales
Washing Line, Arranmore _Emma Cownie
Inishcoo (To The Fore of Arranmore) – Emma Cownie
Kinnagoe Bay (Inishowen, Dongal)
Over Glenlough Bay, Donegal-Emma Cownie
Still, On Gola (Donegal)
An Port, Donegal_Emma Cownie
House on Ishcoo, Donegal-Emma Cownie
On Rutland Island, Donegal -Emma Cownie
Spring on THree Cliffs Bay, Gower_Emma Cownie
Sun on the Reeds (Glentornan, Donegal)-Emma Cownie
View from the Pier (Portnoo)-Emma Cownie
From Port to Glenlough (Donegal)
Fishing Boat at Port Donegal-Emma Cownie
Portnoo Pier, Donegal_Emma Cownie
Down to Rossbeg Pier, Donegal
Errigal reflection (Donegal) _Emma Cownie
Errigal from Cruit Island. Donegal _ Emma Cownie
Over to Fanad Lighhouse (Donegal) _Emma Cownie
Errigal painting – A Commission 2022
From Arranmore (Donegal)- Emma Cownie
Abanoned (Glentornan, 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)