We are in the midst of lockdown in Wales, the schools are shut and the good news is that the covid numbers are falling. They need to fall a lot further because when the schools and the university students come back they will shoot up again. I had in a mind a longer blog post, but I find that after I have got up, done my yoga/ankle exercises and painted in the morning light, that I am too tired for much else. That post will have to wait a little longer.
So I have decided to show you my most recent work. I have been painting Tenby, which I can only visit in my imagination.Tenby is a harbour town and resort in southwest Wales. It’s known for its 13th-century town walls and its stretches of sandy shoreline, including Castle Beach.
I have been working on a triptych (which is three paintings) but I have only finished two of them, so its a diptych (two)! I will add the third one when I have completed it. I was trying to find unusual angles to paint. As much as I love painting Tenby and its colouful houses and boats, I need a fresh angle to present my brain with a new set of challenges to solve. This first painting, the challenge lay in how to paint the headland off in the distance and balnce it with the very dark shaows in the foreground. In the end I simplified the details and make sure that the tone was cool with warm grey and mauve. I was particularly pleased with the shadows on the beach and the blue house.
My second painting is a view of the pier or quay from Castle Hill. This is a headland on which the ruins of Tenby Castle overlook the harbour. I liked the fact that this was the “underside” of the view we usually see of the harbour. The pier is a working pier as can be seen from the lobster pots stacked at the far end. It’s also where the Caldey Island boat picks up supplies for the islanders and the abbey every day (so long as the wind is not from the South West or over 20mph). Apparently royal mail has continued to visit throughout the pandemic, so that the monastery shop has been able to continue to operate. The boat that takes visitors to the island leaves from Castle Beach round the corner. The island is usually open from Easter to September for visitors, I don’t know whether that happended this year. A visit to Caldey in the boat was a pretty outdoor affair in ordinary times, so maybe they will start again in the summer, who knows.
I will add my third painting when I have completed it.
Update:Here’s the third and final painting of the three.
You may well have noticed, that I like to explore different subject matters. I find it impossible to paint any one thing, be it landscapes, seascapes, animals or streetscapes all the time. I like to pursue a theme for a while and then switch to a different subject or work on small canvases to a large one. They all present different challenges. I sometimes wonder why I like to make myself slightly uncomfortable but again and again, I do.
I was ill over Christmas with the cold from hell which developed into a nasty cough that sprang into action with any drop in temperature. Just before I gave up everything and just sat in front of the fire, I painted a painting of Tenby Harbour. I hadn’t planned to, but I was looking through my photos and I came across a photograph I had taken last spring. I was struck by the light on the lobster pots. So I painted it.
I then gave up painting for a while, as the cold air in my studio set off my cough, and coughing and painting don’t go well together. Sitting in front of the fire, I was aware that I wanted to paint a boat. The small boats in the “Early Morning Tenby” painting hadn’t quite satisfied me. So I decided to paint a boat called “Mistress II” moored up at the quay at Tenby Harbour. I was quite nervous before I started the painting.
I was concerned that I would get sucked into painting the detail of the building in the distance so I decided to sketch a tonal painting before I added colour. What I mean by a tonal underpainting – is just using thinned red ochre and raw umber to sketch out the light and shade in a composition. In this way, it would help me simplify the buildings in the distance and so focus the viewers’ eye on the boats in the foreground. They also helped me solve the “problem” of the lobster pots on the “Mistress II” which were in shadow. I think the tonal under-painting helped the final painting.
Unfortunately, I was so nervous about this painting I didn’t think to take a photograph of the tonal sketch so I can’t show it to you!I made a point of taking a series of photos to show the work-in-progress of my next Tenby painting. This composition was interesting to me as a third of the town of Tenby and half of the harbour and was in shadow. The harbour wall and half of Castle Hill, however, were in bright sunshine.
Under-painting of Tenby Harbour
This painting took most of the week to complete as the light was so poor. I could only work for a few hours at a time. I resisted the urge to push on once the light went.
Sometimes, I like the early stages of a painting the best, as it’s still all potential!
Painting of Tenby Harbour
Painting of Tenby Harbour
When I looked at the finished painting, I found pleasure in the curves of the harbour wall on the right side of the painting. As it was in shadow, I had not really paid it much attention before.
You may recognise the lobster pots on the quayside to the right of the painting that were such a big feature in the first Tenby painting in this series. On the left, there is the tiny turquoise boat alongside the quay. This is the Mistress II, which was in “Hazy Tenby”. That makes me smile. In a weird way, it reminds me of the many novels of Anthony Trollope in which he created a world in which a person may be the central character in one book and a minor figure, who only gets a passing reference, in another. Once I have painted an object or person they become quite fixed in my memory, largely because I had studied them so closely. The lobster pots had their moment in “Early Morning Tenby” and tiny turquoise boat in “Hazy Tenby”, and now are supporting characters in “Tenby Panorama”.
Before I visited Tenby, on the Pembroke coast, I had this vague idea that it was something like Barry Island, on the Glamorgan coast near Cardiff. If you have never heard of Barry Island, it was a Victorian holiday destination for day trippers from Cardiff and the South Wales Valleys. It had a “Pleasure Park” with rides and lots of shops selling rock and candy floss and it also had a Butlins holiday camp but the rides and the holiday camp are long gone now. It has a nice beach but its not as popular as it used to be.
Well, Tenby is nothing like that. It’s tasteful, historic, and enduringly popular. I love Tenby’s real name. That is it’s Welsh name which is “Dinbych-y-pysgod” meaning fortlet of the fish. It still describes the old town well as as it’s solid town walls still survive as well as its harbour. Its a delightful place to visit with pretty Georgian houses and two large beaches.
Tenby has a special place in my heart because in the midst of my PTSD breakdown and recovery I painted a picture of Tenby harbour.
I was very emotionally fragile at the time and I really I enjoyed painting the pastel colours of the harbour buildings. I get a lot of pleasure from colour. Other people got pleasure from it too because it was one of the very first paintings I sold as a semi-professional artist. The collector who bought it later told me that she was going to redecorate her lounge to match the painting! I was so touched by this. I had so little confidence at the time that it meant a great deal to me. I also sold many prints this painting. As you can see I did many paintings of Tenby Harbour but I eventually moved on to other subject matters and different challenges. I particularly focused on people portraits closer to home in Swansea and paintings of Gower peninsula, closer to home.
So last month, I decided that Tenby was overdue a visit. I had been watching the weather forecast for weeks. Eventually the forecast was for a day of wall-to-wall sunshine. The only problem was that it was very cold with a bitter wind. Never mind. I wrapped up well with thermals and two pairs of socks and got up early to catch the 7.50 train from Swansea to Tenby, arriving at 9.30.
I had set off early because I like to catch the morning light with its long shadows. I also wanted to see the harbour at high tide with the boats in the harbour. The only problem was that as soon as arrived at the harbour I could see the the sun was in the “wrong place” and most of the boats had been pulled ashore and covered up! The previous times I had visited Tenby was in the summer, later on in the day.
So, I had to wait. So did. I waited in the way I usually do, by moving. I walked and walked. In the end I walked around Tenby for 6 hours, taking photos of the shadows and the people. Despite it being mid winter it was the school mid term break in England (not in wales) and Tenby was full of families, wrapped up, despite the biting wind, and enjoying the sunshine.
I had chips for lunch watched by three beady-eyed seagulls and a chocolate ice-cream. I had to think about that as it was so cold but in the end I gave in had one – it was delicious. I had intended to catch the 1.40 pm train back to Swansea but i could see that the light was changing and I knew that it was low tide at 4pm so I tried and waited some more. I walked up the habour walked and climbed half way down the steps to take photos of the four or so boats that were in the harbour. It was strange waiting for the tide and light because they eventually changed faster than I thought they would. All of a sudden the tide had retreated far enough for me to walk out into the harbour and take photos of the reflections. Bingo. This was what I was after.
And then, almost miraculously the tide revealed the sandbanks on the far side of the harbour, by the end of the harbour wall and I could gingerly climb down some seaweed-covered steps and see the harbour in it’s full glory. I don’t think I took off my fingerless gloves once in Tenby, and I did appreciate the heating on the little train back home. I just made the 4.40 pm train back to Swansea and get home in daylight.
My day in Tenby was all about patience and waiting for things beyond my control. Looking at this, my most recent painting of Tenby harbour I can see how much my work has changed, and hopefully how much I have recovered from those incredibly difficult times back in 2012-13. The painting is much larger and calmer and more confident than any of those I painted before. Large paintings, almost by definition require confidence. The winter tones are less vivid than the summer ones, despite the bright winter sunshine. I will be back for the summer light.
This is quite an unusual painting of Tenby into that the tide is fully in, and the boats bob on the lapping multi coloured strips of water, which add a crispness to the West Walian light and a rich vibrancy to the coloured Tenby terraced houses, which cwtch the Harbour and lighten the spirit with a sea-salted breathiness.
Buy mounted limited edition print here (free UK postage)
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