Here’s my summer newsletter. I am shutting up shop for a month from 20th June to 20th July. All going well, we will be safely installed and open for business (online at least) in Donegal by mid-July. I am already longing to get back to my painting routine. I can’t quite believe that after being ground so long by my broken leg and the pandemic that we will actually move house/studio to another country by then. It’s a huge step! Fingers crossed it all goes smoothly!
On Thursday afternoon I went on my first proper “Walk” with a capital W since I broke my leg and ankle last spring (read about my horrible adventure here). It’s not that I haven’t visited parts of the coast since March 2020. I took numerous short strolls along flat grassy parts of Gower (Mumbles, Oxwich and Pennard) last autumn before we were launched into the never ending autumn/winter lockdowns. Thursday was the first time I really challenged myself and ventured along tracks that I would not have thought twice about walking along before. We left the dogs at home to give our full concentration to walking (and not tripping up).
Life recovering from a broken leg and ankle is all about surfaces and angles. A lot of my walks involve looking at the ground. I make myself stop when I want to look at the scenery. Rough ground can be challenging for my ankle. Going down hill is a lot harder than going up. I often think of my ankle as being like my sewing machine foot when I try and make it sew thick fabrics! Unfortunately, my sewing machine foot has been known to fall off. I am not sure if that’s a reminder to take care or its just not a great analogy.
My ankle doesn’t just have to contend with up and down movement but side to side movement too. I have done a lot of practicing standing on my left leg and on my toes. My muscles are 90% there but not quite what they once were. I have been told that I have to keep doing the exercises until the left leg/ankle is as good as the right one.
Cefn Bryn at our backs and the “cottages” of Penmaen.
Anyway, Thursday was election day. Something I had completely forgotten. I usually get out and vote first in the morning but I had been waiting in for a delivery of paint and it had slipped my mind. That is until, we arrived as Penmaen and saw the “Polling Station” sign in the car park. “Oh, no!” I wailed. “The suffragettes will be spinning in their graves. I have to vote!” “Perhaps, you could vote here?” my husband, Séamas, suggested hopefully. “No it doesn’t work like that, you have to vote in your own area with a piece of paper and a pencil. It’s not that hi-tech, yet”. “Oh” he said.
We usually launch ourselves down an uneven track towards the coast but Séamas was worried that the uneven gravel would be too much for me. I agreed.
So I thought about it, and came up with an alternative route. We turn off the the right and along a wide grassy path across some fields. This was a nice gentle stroll. I paused and admired the view. Behind us was Cefn Bryn and the cottages that line the main road. They are hardly visible from the road, partially hidden by stone walls and trees. From here you could see that these houses all have very large windows from which to see the magnificent views. I wondered how many of them are holiday homes and how many are lived in all year around.
The waters of Oxwich Bay sparkled off in the distance. The tide was in.
Once we walked across the field I faced my first challenge as the path dropped away down hill. Gower really isn’t accessible to the disabled, is it? I thought to myself. That’s why you only see the really elderly at Rhossili where they have a massive car park and wide tarmac paths.
Our solution was for Séamas to walk right up in front of me so I could rest my hand on his shoulder for extra balance if I needed it. That worked surpingly well. I found that so long as I went really slowly, and I mean REALLY slowly, shuffling really, I was fine. We finally reached the coastal path and turned left.
Here the path enveloped in Nicholston Woods. Stretches of the path had bluebells scattered amongst the trees.
The next section seemed to plunge off into the distance and I almost lost my nerve. As I said, down hill is a lot harder than up hill for me. “We could shuffle down on our bums, if its too difficult?” I suggested. “No, it will be fine if we go slowly” said Séamas. So we did our slow shuffle again, with Séamas in front: “I can fall onto you I said”. Thankfully I didn’t need to. There are no photos of this part except the last bit where I got more confident again as it was uphill.
At the top there is a beautiful old wooden gate where you can pause and take in the view of Great Tor. Adders (Britain’s only poisonous snake) have been seen along this part of the path already this year. I saw one once many years ago near here. It wasn’t interested in us, it just moved away quickly. We didn’t see any today.
The next part of the track was easy but lengthy and I could feel myself tiring a little. I was cautious about over doing it and not being able to get back to the car. PTSD makes me conjure up the worst scenarios in mind at a moments’ notice. I briefly, I imagine the amubulance and emergency services having to rescue me all over again and me having to explain why I thought a coastal walk was a good idea. Time to rest and stop thinking daft thoughts. Séamas is with me. I am not alone. I have not broken my leg again. We find a bench and look at the view and listened to the birds singing.
Now I know I should be sensible and just turn back and go home but I really want to see Three Cliffs. It’s been so long. I have learnt that if I want to go far with this leg/ankle the trick is to go slow and steady. Speeding off does it no good at all and it start to hurt. So we carried on. A little more slowly.
Finally. This is the view I came for! I sat down and rest and looked across the bay. We watched the cloud shadows as they moved across the land. It was wonderful.
Finally, we decided to return back to the car. I decided to face the uneven track. As its uphill, it might be OK and it was.
I had to stop and rest several times, but I made it! I was disappointed to discover that I had walked less than 2 miles. I felt like a much bigger adventure than that! It was an important step to restoring my confidence again.
When we get home I staggered off to the local polling station to vote. All covid measures were in place. All the doors were open, there were big circles on the ground to tell people where to stand in socially distanced queue. Fat chance! As usual, there was me and the election people and no one else. The majority (60%) of people in my area don’t care about the suffragettes and don’t bother voting. The masked-returning officier was behind a screen, she did not touch my polling card. I went into the polling booth to cast my vote but found the usual pencil on a string was missing. This threw me. The returning officer had a collection of pencils on her table. I dug around in my bag for a pen. I noticed that one of the candidates lives in Penmaen. I wonder if we passed their house today. So at least one of those houses is lived in all year around. I cast my votes and folded up the three sheets of paper and pushed them into the large black metal box. The suffragettes can rest easy.
I waited to see if my leg and ankle would hurt afterwards. They weren’t too bad although both legs ached a bit from unaccustomed walking and that kept we awake in the early hours until I took a painkiller. I was too tired to paint. I am still feeling very tired three days later, but I think I will be back to normal tomorrow.
Here’s a footnote to Sunday’s post about waiting for gaps in the clouds. The sun was peeping over the top of the three peaks, illuminating the edges beautifully. I particularly liked the way the sea and the river, Pennard Pill, merge here. It’s not clear where saltwater and freshwater meet.
I used to like painting landscapes and cityscapes with clear blue skies. I waited for the bright sunny days of early summer to walk around, taking photos and looking for inspiration. Thus, my series of urban minimal paintings of Swansea, made the town look a bit like a Mediterranean location!
What a joke. It rains a lot in Wales. It has rained incessantly for the past two days. Since my extended visits to Donegal, however, I have become increasing inspired by cloudscapes and the silvery light along the Atlantic coast. With my “new eyes” I have started waiting cloudy days in Wales to go out looking for inspiration. Not overcast days, but days with patches of blue sky and sunshine.
I drove down to Pennard, with the idea that I wanted to paint Pennard Pill, the river that follows into the sea at Three Cliffs Bay. The BBC forecast claimed that it would be sunshine and clouds all morning. When I looked at the Mumbles and Caswell Bay webcam, one showed sun and the other was overcast. I set off, anyway. I would go for a walk, regardless. On my way there the sun came and went. As I drove past Mumbles head, I could see it swathed in a light misty cloud. I wondered whether there would be anything to see when I got to Pennard.
Thankfully, the sun was shinning at Pennard as I made down the path that runs alongside the golf club. The tide was coming in and I could just see Great Tor in the distance, through the peaks of dunes. When got close enough for a clear view the sun promptly went in! I looked up at the sky and looked for blue patches. There were quite a few. So I carried on towards Pennard Castle, which is situated on the top the of the high dunes, further inland. I hoped the sun would reappear by the time I got to Pennard Castle. I tried to work out which way the clouds were traveling. Usually, they move from Oxwich Bay towards Three Cliffs. Today they were going the other way. The sun came out a few times on my walk. Just as I was climbing up the sandy path the castle I came out and lit everything up like a technicolor Hollywood film!
The sun promptly went in again. I stood in the ruins of the castle and waited. I thought about the fairies who had supposedly destroyed the castle with a sandstorm when the lord of the castle had refused to invite them to his wedding party. Eventually, the sun broke through and lit part of the valley below.
I watched the light move across the valley and the colours burst into life.
I then decided to walk back towards the sea and see if I could photograph the three peaks that give the bay its name. The clouds rolled in.
I would have gone home at this point, as there was a cold wind and it was almost lunchtime but I could see bright light off in the distance. It was on the far side of the Bristol channel. I could see a ship on the horizon lit by this light.
How wide was this stretch of water? Miles. How long would it take for that shaft of sunlight to make its way over to the Gower coast? A while. So I waited. I am not very good at standing still so I walked around a bit, watching the dog walkers and small family groups vanish from the landscape.
The clumps of large mushrooms spotted about the grassy parts of the dunes, made me think of the fairies again.
I climbed dunes, trying to decide good locations for photos for when that shaft of sunshine arrived. It was definitely coming my way. A new set of walkers was arriving on the beach. They were all optimists too!
Hunger was starting to make itself known. I slouched down against a dune. Patience. Patience. What was the point of giving up now when I had waited so long? Impatience comes from wanting to be somewhere else. I needed to be here now. I thought of a line I heard Van Morrison sing at his 2015 Live 70th Birthday Concert at Cypress Avenue, Belfast “It has always been now” (52 mins into the clip). He’s a genius. He captures the joy of being truly present in the moment. Just as I was saying that to myself when the sun arrived and the technicolor lights were on!
That doesn’t quite capture it. Here let me show you. My view of the world.
That’s more like it.
Now I could go home and eat lunch. Paint and listen to Van Morrison.
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.
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When I get hold of an idea I can get quite obsessive about it. Lately, it’s been early morning light. I think it sprang from a post I wrote about transposing some of the techniques I used for my “Urban Minimal” project to what I only half-jokingly called “Rural Minimal”. I think that my rural Gower houses did fulfil the spirit of “Rural Minimal” but it got me think about shadows. Now, shadows were my first love. They still are. It’s hard to find any painting of mine without blue/mauve/purple/brown shadows. I go through tubes of Lukas 1862 Mauve at a steady rate. Many of my Gower woodland paintings used early morning winter light.
[wpecpp name=”Enchanted Wood Large Print ” price=”45″ align=”left”]
And why do I love shadows so much? It’s because they act as a foil to the light. The orange next to the dark mauve positively leaps off the canvas. Perhaps, its a cheap way of thrilling the viewer? I am always very impressed by artists who capture a gloomy or overcast landscape. Plein Air painters prefer overcast conditions because they are more constant and American artist, Jeremy Sams, demonstrates this really well in his painting. He says “The good thing about painting on an overcast day is that you don’t have to chase shadows. The light remains very constant and my acrylic paints stay wet for a good long while.”
However, I love shadows. They make a composition interesting and dynamic. So, anyway, the post about Rural Minimal got me thinking about shadows in rural settings. I realised that because I have been focusing on my Gower Walks and working to bus timetables that I was mostly walking in the late morning and finishing up in the early afternoon. I was becoming increasing frustrated that my lovely walks weren’t inspiring the sort of paintings I like to make. The light wasn’t right. Midday light, especially in the summer, has a tendency to bleach out the details. This is what shadows “do”, they show us the details of the landscape.
I have always been a morning person. Each morning is like a fresh start to me. What ever happened yesterday, last night is gone.To be honest, I think that have always done my best work by 11 am. When I was writing my PhD thesis, many years ago, I’d do my best writing between at 8 and 11 am. To be honest, most of the work I did after 11 am was fact checking (this was in the days before the interest when you had to look things up in books) and faffing, but I’d dutifully stay at my desk til 5 pm.
[wpecpp name=”Bernard Street Bus Stop ” price=”250″ align=”left”]
So I decided that I need to seek out early morning light on Gower. This long spell of hot weather meant that morning skies were often (but not always) clear. That meant getting up early. I have been dragging myself out of bed just after sunrise. It’s summer and the sun rises just after 5 am in here Wales. It is painful getting up that early but once I have had a cup of coffee I can face the outside world, just about.
The first time I drove down to Three Cliffs Bay, 6 miles away, I was so tired that I actually forgot my camera! I felt so stupid but I got back in my car and drove back home to fetch the darn thing, delaying my “start” by 30 minutes.
Compare the light and shadows to yesterday morning (when I remembered my camera) and actually got there for about 6.30am.
It’s different. Not necessarily better, just different. Do you know what, it doesn’t matter. I like both conditions. The changing tides always also variety and interest. Summer Morning light has a beautiful rich quality to it and I like seeing how it changes, the shadows shorten, darken, light break over the cliffs, as the morning progresses. I have sat down on the cliff tops and watch the light change.
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I like seeing nature first thing. I like seeing the dew. In this very dry summer it’s a godsend. The grass on rolling fairways of Pennard golf course has turned the colour of straw except for the patches where the dew collects in the morning. There it’s a fresh green. Walking down towards the sea, along the sandy path by the golf course, I often see the white tails of wild rabbits dashing into the undergrowth. Their numbers in the UK have fallen in recent decades but thankfully, there seem to be plenty on Gower.
Free-range cows roam the cliffs of Pennard and South Gate as well as the valley next to Three Cliffs Bay. They are usually busily eating the grass they can find down in the marshy valley or in the shadows of the thorny gorse bushes, or even in the Golf Club car park before the golfers arrive!
Cows chewing the cud (mid morning) and cows at work, eating grass (early morning).
I delight in the long shadows and the reflections at low tide. How the reflected light is more golden than the light on the rocky cliffs.
At high tide the colours all change again.
I have got up early and visited Rhossili, Penmaen and Three Cliffs Bay six times in the past fortnight. This includes the morning I thought the light cloud would clear but instead it thickened. A passing Jack Russell was photographed, as well as the rabbit above. So, I sat down and sketched.
I will keep going until this weather goes off, while may well be very soon. I will be working from this research for quite a while after it has clouded over again.
A while back, last June in fact, I read an excellent blog post by American artist Luann Udell entitled “How Long Did It Take You To Make That?” in which she discusses all time-consuming processes and skill that go into creating her pieces. It occurred to me that while the actual time it takes to paint my work may take anything from one to three days, depending on the size of the canvas, the actual thinking, planning, gestation, waiting for the weather and preparation takes a lot longer. I should also include in that waiting for the seasons to change. Just yesterday I was remarking to my husband that the heather was starting to flower and so another visit to Rhossili Downs would be in order soon. Nothing stays the same in nature, or in life! My job is to observe and attempt to capture some of those fleeting changes.
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I am very lucky to live close to the sea. I can never get over my excitement at seeing the sea, even when I live so close to it. I would say that all of the Welsh coast is pretty special. The coast along Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and the Llyn Peninsula are spectacular however, the Gower peninsula is the coast I visit most often as it’s the easiest to get to for to get to and its paintings of the Gower peninsula that work on most often.
Gower has some incredible coastlines and fabulous beaches. I have always wanted to walk its length but never got my act together to do it. I made plans to do so in 2016 but being made redundant from my teaching job in that year, sort of threw everything out of kilter for me.
The best beaches always involve a bit of a hike but its always worth it. From an artist’s point of view its always different. Whether its high tide, low tide, summer, spring or a blustery winter’s day. What’s the main difference between the seasons? The light. Whether the sun is high or low in the sky, the angle of the rays, the quality of the light. Is it sharp or is it hazy?
I have painted Three Cliffs Bay quite a few times. I am find it interesting to reflect on the different ways I have approached what is in some ways the same subject matter. In winter the sea is a grayed jade the wet sands are pinkish, the dry sand different shades of yellow. The colour of foliage is very muted; the grass on the clifftops is more yellow than green and the bracken is brown. The cliffs are warm grey in direct sunlight, a cooler grey in shadow.
Even on brighter days when the sea has more violet the colours of the cliff tops is more yellow ochre than orange.
Three Cliffs Bay at High TideWhat surprised me when I compare these winter paintings with some that I had done in the summer is that the wet and dry sand is the same ruby/pink/yellow tones, although it seems obvious that it would be now I think about it. What is different, is the sky and the colour of the grass and bracken on the cliffs. The sky is a lighter turquoise and the sea is has more jade and turquoise. The clouds reflections in the surf is still violet. The grass is wonderfully verdant, a sharp green.
This is the oldest painting and it was done in high summer when the grass is a deeper green.
Of course, looking through these paintings, I immediately wish I had done some autumn paintings when the bracken is a rusty red. I have painted Rhossili Bay in autumn but not Three Cliff. I can’t think why not. Of course, last autumn I was focusing on my “Hollowed Community Project” and painting houses. I hope that I will be able to come back and paint Three Cliffs again this autumn.
Oil Painting of Three Cliffs Bay, Gower, Wales. This is an unusual view from Three Cliffs Bay in Gower, Wales, looking back towards Parkmill from the top of granite rock monuments of one of the three cliffs.
I loved the array of colours and found it an arresting view, away from the bustle of the waves and shouting exuberance, to the calm and reflective.
However, when I came to write this post this morning, I was suddenly seized by the terrible thought that I might have been guilty of getting a Gower place name wrong. I thought so anyway. I have been calling Three Cliff Bay, Gower, Three Cliffs Bay. So what? However, I have noticed last week that a local artist and blogger called it Three Cliff Bay, with no “s”. So I decided that I had been erroneously been adding an extra “s” to the cliff part of the name. Entirely understandable because you would assume that if it’s in the plural, it would have an “s” at the end. Perhaps I not been paying close enough attention! I felt bad, that I had got it wrong. I’d be a poor landscape artist if I couldn’t get the name of the place I had painted correct!
However, I decided this need further investigation. Trying to check this on the internet, did not clear up the matter. Plenty of others also call it Three Cliffs with an “s”. The Visit Swansea Bay website for one calls this area Three Cliffs Bay as does as Trip Advisor and the local campsite, which calls itself Three Cliffs Bay Holiday Park! You think they would know what its called, as they live there?
However, I think it’s a little more complicated than that. Google Maps actually has both names. But when I studied their map a little closer – it seems that they use Three Cliffs Bay for the tidal beach and Three Cliff Bay for the sea part of the bay. The Ordnance Survey just has Three Cliff Bay for the sea part of the bay. So finally, I turn to my trusted authority on all things Gower related – a book. Wynford Vaughan-Thomas’s 1976 edition of “Portrait of Gower” which is full of facts, stories and gossip about old Gower and its people (Wynford was a Swansea-born Historian who was taught English at school by Dylan Thomas’s father).
His section on what he calls “one of the great Gower views” he calls it Three Cliffs Bay. So there. Phew! That’s good enough for me. I have worried about nothing and wasted half an hour fact checking.
It is called Three Cliffs Bay. Unless you happen to be out at sea and then is Three Cliff Bay! Unless you know better!
© Emma Cownie 2017