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Adventures in Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint by Emma Cownie

You probably think that artists are good at creating paintings/images in all mediums; oil, watercolours acrylic paints. Many probably are, but I am not.  I need to work at it. It’s a bit like being an athlete. You might be great at football but it doesn’t automatically mean you are a great sprinter, tennis player or swimer. Although there are athletes who have successfully switched disciplines, like Usain Bolt, who started his career as a footballer; extra training is needed. I think painting is like that. Almost all of my experience up to now has been in working with oil paints but in the last six months I have been working hard at painting in acrylics.  Why? I knew that in our small house in Derry, until we got stairs put into the attic space, that oil paints and with their associated mess and fumes weren’t going to work.

Unfortunately I feel like I have been hitting my head against a brick wall for several months. I have learnt a great deal, using acrylic mediums and varnishes is very technical, but I won’t go into all the detail of what I have learnt. The strange thing is that the finished paintings looked good but the process of creating them was slow and frustrating. Here are some early examples;

Painting of fram buildings in Donegal
Shadow on the Entrance, Bloody Foreland
House in Inishbofin
House on Inishbofin

 

Stony Wall, Cnoc Fola (Donegal)
Stony Wall, Cnoc Fola (Donegal)
Painting of the view above Magheraroarty_Emma Cownie
Above Magheraroarty_Emma Cownie

This last one is my favourite but it took weeks to complete rather than days. I just don’t have the patience to spend that long on one smallish painting.

I also used acrylic paint for underpaintings for my oil painting, which worked better for me. It enabled be to paint faster, but this approach would be no good in Derry where I couldn’t use oil paints.

Boat at the Pier, Gola_Emma Cownie
Boat at the Pier, Gola (Donegal)
From Magheraroarty to Muckish
From Magheraroarty to Muckish (Donegal)

 

So why was I taking so long to complete these acrylic paintings? Acrylics don’t act like oil paints, that can be a good thing as well as a bad thing. You can correct mistakes easily. Acrylic paint is a relatively recent invention of the 1950s. It’s essentially a plastic. It is amazingly versatile but it’s origins as a polymer  presents a couple of challenges that I have struggled with for some time.  The first issue is that it dries fast. Really fast. I found that it dried on my palette within minutes. I hate wasting paint, so I made my own wet palette, so that the paint on my palette dries within days and not minutes.

It still dried very fast on the board/canvas on which I was painting. That meant that large areas, such as skies, werevery difficult to paint without looking patchy. I learnt to mix up large quantities of paint so that if I needed to, I could repaint a small area of the sky. Otherwise,  the whole sky had to be repainted.

The second big issue I had was somehing called “colour shift”. Acrylic paint dries dark. This is because most makers of acrylic paint use white binder that dries clear, so it looks light when you apply it, but goes dark as it dries. It seems to affect blues and browns particularly badly. I tried painting patches of colour to see who was the worst offender.

Colour Shift
Colour Shift (these are all dry so you cant see the colour shift but my notes tell you what I saw)

 

Although Windsor & Newton’s paints use clear blinder and have little colour shift, I didn’t particularly like them as a paint. I am not sure why I didn’t like them, possibly I just prefered to colour range of other manufacturers. Anyway, in the end I bought lots of Schminke PrimAcryl paints which also use a clear binder and results in only a small colour shift.

Finally, I decided to experiment with indirect painting. This is a method where by an underpainting in grayscale is done first and light layers of colour are applied as a glazes.

Again, its’s not as speedy as painting in oils (although I have used brown-tonal underpaintings in the past – with oil paintings, see here).

So here are two paintings I painted tonal underpaintings, and then added colour through a series of glazes.

Greyscale study of lambing Season at Fanad Head
Greyscale study of lambing Season at Fanad Head
Work in Progress - Lambing season at Fanad Head
Work in Progress – Lambing season at Fanad Head

Painting of Lambing season at Fanad Head (Donegal)Lambing season at Fanad Head (Donegal) – Final version

Greyscale study of Fanad LighthouseGreyscale study of Fanad Lighthouse – painted on a blue ground, which I left in the sky area of the painting.

Fanad Lighthouse (Donegal)
Almost done – Fanad Lighthouse (Donegal)
Lighthouse at Fanad Head (Donegal)
Lighthouse at Fanad Head (Donegal) – Final version with lightened sky

 

This approach seemed to work well for acrylics. Although I am still not as quick as I am in oils, this process enables me to produce paintings with greater depth of colour and more accurate tonal values. It is especially good for getting distant mountains right, something I have struggled with in the past. I am hoping that I have finally got the hang of working with this medium. I think it’s the end of the beginning rather than the beginning of the end. There’s always so much to learn with painting no matter which medium you use!

 

Some of my resources

Indirect painting and Glazing https://thevirtualinstructor.com/how-to-glaze-acrylics.html

Willaim Kemp’s Art School https://willkempartschool.com/acrylic-tonal-study-using-colour-strings-glazes/

UK stockist of PrimAcryl https://www.jacksonsart.com/schmincke-primacryl-acrylic

 

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Some Adventures in Paint

Some Adventure in Paint

I have been experimenting with different supports and media. The Jessica Brilli painting on wood got me curious about how it would be different from painting on canvas.

Jessica Brilli's "Cutlass" - with me holding it
Jessica Brilli’s “Cutlass” – Acrylic painting on wood panel

I could find very little information about the experience of painting on wood panels (but lots of information on how to prepare them). So I realised that I had to use trial and error to find out. I ordered some gessoed wood panels from Cork Art Supplies who delivered them very promptly.

My first effort was this painting. I painted a light ground of red ochre in oil before I laid down the painting. I found that achieving fine detail was much easier than on canvas. However, the colours didn’t behave the way I expected them too. My sky started off too dark. I found it was easy to wipe off the oil paint and repaint it a lighter shade.  I found that white areas also needed a further layer once they had dried to give them the solidity I required. The painting took much longer than I am used to to dry.

A painting of Inishbofin Donegal
A Place to Rest, Inishbofin, Donegal

I have painted in acrylics on canvas before and struggled with the speed with with the paint dries on the palette. I used to find the the paint had gone hard in the 20 minutes since I started painting. It drove me mad. However, after extensive reserach I worked out how to make a wet palette so that I could slow down the drying time of paint on the palette. I decided to use the quick-drying acrylic paint as an underpainting.

The acrylic painting was more of a sketch than a proper painting. The process forced me to simplify my images further and the final layer of oil paint gave the image a greater depth and richness of colour.

Acrylic Painting
Acrylic Underpainting
Boat at the Pier, Gola_Emma Cownie
Boat at the Pier, Gola (Donegal) – Final Painting

 

Some of the acrylic sketches really challenged me as the paint did not move and work in the way I was used to with oils. The greens and yellows were too transparent and looked messy. It was impossible to lighten colours, like the leading edge of the fence post,  once they had gotten too dark.

painting of GOla, Donegal
Fenced in, Gola – Acrylic Underpainting

The final layer of oil paint, however, enabled me to make my colours much more opaque and to to add much more detail in places, especially on the wire fence.

Fenced In, Gola
Fenced In, Gola

 

My final painting was a studies in mauves, blues and greys. I had added an additional layer of light grey gesso as a ground before I started painting.

Lighting the Way to Arranmore - Acrylic version
Lighting the Way – Acrylic version
Lighting the Way (to Arranmore) Donegal
Lighting the Way (to Arranmore) Donegal – Final version

 

I enjoyed experimenting and I ended up painting several painting at the same time, as I waited for paint to dry between layers.  The whole process forced me to confront my short-comings as a painter of acrylics. I did not enjoy that. It made me feel uncomfortable and brought out my “imposter” anxieties. I need to do much more work in this area to develop my skills.

It was also rather time-consuming and probably not a great project to undertake in the winter months, in Donegal, when good light is in very short supply. I am not sure that I would spend so much time on the underpaintings in future, as I liked my first painting the best. Although I would where there are large areas of white. I did enjoy painting on the wood panel and I will continue to experiment with them.

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Summer Newsletter 2021

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!

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100K!

100K views of www.emmafcownie.com

This week I passed an important blogging milestone. On Tuesday moring I was greeted with the message that my wordpress site had passed 100,000 all-times views!

100,000 views - wow!
Wow!

My husband, Séamas, set up this wordpress site for me over seven years ago. When I took it over full-time in 2015, I had 91 followers, now I have just over 800! Views for my site have steadily been growing but 2020-21 was a bumper year. Stats for my wordpress blog

Breaking my leg last year provoked the most comments by far!

Comments
Comments

I would like to say a great big thank you to every one who visited my website, bought my work, read my blogs and left comments!

It seems that I like animals almost as much as I like Art. Turns out that Wayne  (Barnes) of Tofino Photography is my chattiest follower.  He certainly makes me laugh! He takes wonderful photographs of the incredible wildlife of Western Canada – eagles, bears, wolves, orcas and humming birds! Take a look here.

A Candian bear catching his lunch
A Candian bear catching his lunch: Image  by Wayne Barnes

Thank you to everyone who has visited my website and blog. Whether you have just stopped by to look at my paintings, read my blogs but especially those who “like”, comment and buy my work.  Without you I could not continue to make art.

Painting of view Overlooking Magheroarty
Overlooking Magheroarty
Posted on 22 Comments

My top tips & resources for artists

Top tips for Artists_Emma Cownie

I am sometimes asked if I hold workshops or produce intructional videos, and unfortunately, the answer is that I don’t as I am usually busy painting (and blogging). There is so much already available on the internet that I don’t feel I can compete. Others have done it better already!

So I have put together, instead,  a short list of tips and links for any one who is interested to help them develop. Please feel free to comment or suggest your own.  There are no affliate links in this blog. I have included websites and video clips that I have found personally useful.

My Top TEN TIPS

  1. Paint, paint and paint some more. The more you paint, the more your work will improve. Most artists keep a sketch book and sketch and paint in their spare moments. It is important to pratice without worrying too much about the expensive canvas you are painting.  I used to work in oil pastels  on paper  when I was younger but now I try to paint in oils most days.  I have also experimented with water colours and acrylics. It is only by doing and looking that you will develop as an artist


  2.  Look at Art. Decide what you like. Look at the works of many artists. Think about what they are doing and how they do it. You don’t have to copy them but you can be inspired by them.

    Albert Marquet, Fécamp
    Albert Marquet, Fécamp, 1906

    I particularly like pre 1950s artists  (especially post impressionists like Matisse, Marquet, Derain, Bevan, Gilman) for their use of colour and portayal of light.

    The Harbor - Great Spruce Head 1974
    Fairfield Porter The Harbor – Great Spruce Head 1974

    I also like modern American artists such as Edward Hopper Fairfield Porter, Lois Dodd, Peggi Kroll Roberts, Randall Exon, Mitchell Johnson and Jennifer Pochinski.

    Edward Hopper - Hodgkin's House, Cape Ann, Massachusetts
    Edward Hopper – Hodgkin’s House, Cape Ann, Massachusetts

    There are many fascinating interviews with artists on Savy Painter that  are well worth a listen!

    Randall Exon
    Beach House by Randall Exon, 2009

    It is important to see paintings “in the flesh too”.  Van Gogh and Monet need to be seen in real life to appreciate their scale, and how they have used the paint. I once saw a Picasso in Swansea’a Glynn Vivian Museum, and its presence quite blew me away. It was very big. I got a powerful sense of an artist who knew what he wanted to achieve and knew exactly how to do it. If I had just looked at online I would got none of that.  I save  images  of work I like on my  pinterest account.

    Picasso painting Glynn Vivian
    Someone else took a photo of the Picasso and posted it on trip advisor

  3. Paint – buy the best paint you can afford. Try out different brands. A paint may have the same name but look very different depending on the brand. Only buy Artist’s oil paints. The student version are cheaper and inferior. They are fine for underpainting only. They fade. My favourite brands include Lefranc and Bourgeois Extra Fine, Lukas 1862 Finest Artists’ Oil Colour, Sennelier Finest Artist’s Oli Colour, Talens Rembrandt Artists’ Oil Colour, Schmincke Norma Professional Artists’ Oil Colour, Michael Harding Artists’ Oil Colours.  It took me a long time to really understand what colour opacity and the transparency of paint meant in terms of my painting. I am still learning how to use this knowlege.

    Transparency-Oil-Acrylic-em
    Transparency of Oil and Acrylic paint


  4. Canvas – invest in good quality canvas.  I love linen canvas as they are really strong and hard wearing. In my early days,  I painted on cheap cotton canvases that years later would tear easily. It was quite heart breaking to realise that I had wasted my creative energy on an inferior product.

    Loxley Linen canvas (clear gesso)

    I particularly like the natural ones painted with clear gesso. If you buy the white ones, it’s helpful to paint the canvas with a coloured ground before you start painting. Here’s a excellent video on how to do it.

    Cass Art Linen canvases

    They are wonderful to paint on. UK stockists: Great Art, Cass Art, Loxley Arts,  you can also get Loxley Linen canvases at Art Discount and Pegasus Art.


  5. Composition – shapes and how they are arranged,  lines and their direction.

    Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) Munster, County Kerry, Ireland, 1952
    Henri Cartier-Bresson, County Kerry, Ireland, 1952

    I like looking at how photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Vivian Maier, William Eggleston and Harry Gruyaert used light, colour and composition in their work.

    William Eggleston
    William Eggleston

    “If the arrangement of the big shapes is strong and coherent, it’ll carry the painting. You are 90 percent of the way toward achieving a composition – and consequently a painting – that will work from Mastering Composition“by Ian Roberts

Compositional Guide see here 

Painting of Irish Cottage on Gola, Gweedore
Down to the Pier, Gola by Emma Cownie (Private Collection)

6. Tonal value – The value of a color is how dark or how light that color is. It is easy to see value shifts looking to an image in black and white or in grayscale; it is a little trickier to see it in color.

Tonal values video examples here  

Gray Scale and Value finder
Gray Scale and Value finder
Painting Value Studies with Peggi Kroll-Roberts DVDs
Jana Bouc, Painting Value Studies with Peggi Kroll-Roberts DVDs

Painting of Tenby Harbour
Tonal painting of Tenby Harbour  (Emma Cownie)

7. Colour 

Colour – warmth/coolness of colours and their intensity

Get a Colour Wheel

Colour Wheel

Browns
Brown isn’t on a lot of colour wheels

There is more than way to mix a particular colour. Sometimes its a matter of trial and error. Practice mixing colours and understand why some combinations (the three primary colours for example) result in mud. Mixing “warm” and “cool” colours doesn’t work either. See an explanation here. Remember that brands vary. I have found that  not all “Vandyke Browns” are the the same.

Colour Theory video here 

Van Gogh – used complementary colours in his work to intensify his colours

Some artist restrict their palette, inspired by Anders Zorn

The many shades of the Zorn palette
The many shades of the Zorn palette

Notice how the artist holds the brush with paint up against the reference source in this video clip

Compare the paint with the reference
Compare the paint with the reference

Mixing the exact colour examples here and with acrylic paint here 

Peggi Kroll Roberts – value and colour system 

The Yellow House, Emma Cownie (Private Collection)

8. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Yet don’t forget the details!

Catherine Kehoe
Catherine Kehoe

9. Using Source Material (photographs)  

Don’t be afraid to change what is in the source photos you use, leave out things, simplify forms. Sometimes a really good photo doesn’t make a really good painting. I take photos with the express idea of using them for painting, that means they are not necessarily good photos but they have the information I need.

Peggi Kroll Roberts  – translating from a photo  

Peggi Kroll Roberts, Sharing the Sun
Peggi Kroll Roberts, Sharing the Sun

Peggi Kroll Roberts – demonstrates a “high key” painting, where values are kept at a narrow range, in the lighter shades of value.


10. Watch videos and save them – If you want to know how an artist does something, look it up. It might help, it might not. I have found that looking up a technique say “scumbling” is more useful that “how to paint clouds” because I have realised that I have to find my own way of doing something.  I save links on my pinterest account.

Tucson Art Academy Online – lots of short clips 

There is an online gallery/site called Dailypaintworks.com run by Carole and David Marine and daughter Sophie  which runs regular challenges where you can post your paintings along side other artists. They also offer tutorialsArtBytes – Affordable Byte-sized Fine Art Tutorials. Some are free ones as well as modestly priced ones

William Kemp Art Shool offers excellent advice for beginners in oil and acrylics (and a downloaded book on starting acrylics).

How to Paint a Simple Still Life using Oil Paints
How to Paint a Simple Still Life using Oil Paints (Will Kemp)

https://gaborsvagrik.easywebinar.live/registration offers a free webinar


Finally, find your own voice. Forget all of the above points and just create. Don’t copy. By all means steal good ideas. You have to have your own style, like you have a style of hand writing you have a style of painting. Let it develop. Good Luck.

Painting of Early Morning Shadows at Low Tide, Three Cliffs (Gower)
Early Morning Shadows at Low Tide, Three Cliffs (Gower)

Posted on 15 Comments

My Review of 2020

Review of 2020

 We are all glad to see the back of 2020 but I am pausing for a moment to reflect on some of my painting sales over the year. Sadly, my accident and having my leg in a cast meant that I couldn’t get up the steep stairs to my attic studio (or anywhere else) to paint any oil paintings for over three months but things have ticked over during 2020.

I would like to say thank you Rob and David who waited a very long time in the cold with me for the ambulance to come, to the paramedics and firebrigade who got me out of the woods, to NHS staff at Morriston who fixed my very broken leg and looked after me, as well as to the Physical Therapists who gave me lots of advice on exercises over the phone. I still have a way to go! 

I have to say an absolutely massive thank you to my brillant husband, Séamas, who trudged  up and down two flights of stairs with trays of food many times a day (and lost weight doing so) for months. He kept my spirits up when I got frustrated and tearful. It wasn’t that often as I was so glad to be home but it was all hard work for him in the midst of a pandemic! He also kept the show on the road by packing up and arranging the shipping my paintings. He was, and remains, utterly wonderful!

Here’s a selection of some of my sales from 2020

Some of my "people" paintings sold in 2020
Some of my “people” paintings sold in 2020

 

Some of my paintings of Wales sold in 2020
Some of my paintings of Wales sold in 2020

 

Some of my paintings of Ireland sold in 2020
Some of my paintings of Ireland sold in 2020

 

A Selection of Commission from 2020
A Selection of Commissions from 2020

 

My top four personal favourites of 2020
My top four personal favourites of 2020

 

Donegal painting of Owey Island_Emma Cownie
Owey in Late Spring – Top of my personal  favorites of 2020!

 

Here’s to a happier and healthier 2021 to  everyone! 

 

 

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Watercolour birds

Watercolour painting of a sparrow by Emma Cownie

My left leg and ankle is now at the rehab stage of my recovery (if you would like to know how I ended up with a broken leg you can read about it here). That means I can put partial weight on the leg and I have to do a series of exercises 5 times a day. My ankle is incredibly stiff and my leg is pretty weak from almost 2 months of inaction. When I try to lift my toes, I can feel the plates in my leg. It’s very wierd. It feels a bit like aliens have control of my ankle! The muscles get sore. It’s also very tiring. Actual walking seems a long way off!

In terms of practicality, it means that I am pretty much confined to my bedroom and cannot use my usual oil paints. This is due to the lack of room and the fact that oils are much too messy for a bedroom. So I have dedicated myself to spending this time with my watercolours. I have learnt a lot about the qualities of the different colours and how I can and can’t use them over the past few weeks. I have been frustrated and pleased in equal measure.

In between the exercises, I have been painting birds in watercolours. I have painted many garden birds in oils over the years. I am particularly fond of sparrows. Here’s a selection of my oil paintings to illustrate:-

I have also painted many robins, wrens, blackbirds and a few puffins too!

I have decided that watercolour is a medium that works really well for painting garden birds. It is quite possibly better than oils. Its transparency is particularly well-suited to conveying the lightness of birds. I am experimenting with tight control of the paint versus letting it bleed in parts of the painting. The results of interesting and varied.

Watercolour painting of robin
Robin #1 (SOLD)

I have been trying out different watercolour papers too. My earliest birds were painted on Etival 300g/m (140 lb) rough texture paper. It was what I happened to have in the cupboard.

Out of curiosity, I tried a different make, Bockingford. Their paper is Acid-Free, and archival quality. I tried two weights. First I tried very heavy 425g/m (200 lb) paper, rough texture. I liked the substantial thickness of this paper, and the paintings turned out well enough but the grain of the paper doesn’t photograph well. I might try scanning them instead, when I am finally up and about.

The second Bockingford paper I tried was a lighter 300 g/m rough texture paper. I think that this suited me best in terms of how the paintings look in photographs.

I have ordered some Bockingford 300 g/m cold press (not) texture paper to try out too. That should be coming early next week. So trying that out will come as a welcome break from my rehab exercises!

Stockists

On this occasion, I ordered my paper from Jacksons Art, as they had an extensive range of watercolour paper and paints on offer.

They also stock the excellent M. Graham watercolour paints. It’s not cheap and so far I have one tube of this paint but I love it more than all my other watercolour paints put together!

In the past I have also used Ken Bromley and Great Art.

Rosemary and Co also make beautiful brushes

Please note that I am not being paid to promote any of these stockists. 

Posted on 25 Comments

The Walk of Life

Perhaps I should have called this post “the invisible people”. I have a bit of a fascination with things and people that often go unnoticed. The unnoticed have now become the invisible. With the coming of the terrible coronavirus crisis, the sight of elderly people on the street is a thing of the past. They are now “self-isolating” for anything up to 12 weeks.

My confinement is more of a challenge than the “lock-down”. My broken leg has me confined to my bedroom and the bathroom. We have too many steep stairs for me to go anywhere else. I just look out the window and take satisfaction in the quietness in the street outside. As an artist, I am used to quite a high degree of isolation. Yet, I know that this level of isolation must be incredibly hard, especially for the elderly or vulnerable if they do not have the internet or can’t work messaging apps. Even if they can, it’s still hard. People need face-to-face interactions with other people, even if it’s only buying groceries at the local shops. I know my father is missing his shopping trips.

I hate how news reports of coronavirus deaths often like to report that a certain number are elderly or “had underlying conditions” as if that somehow means those people don’t matter so much. Every single one of them matters. They are all someone’s loved ones; nan, dad or sister, son.  My husband has “an underlying condition” as do my parents, my brother-in-law and many of my friends. They are sheltering indoors, relying on the fit and young to keep the hospitals and shops up and running.

So today’s gallery of my people paintings has an added significance for me. This is a reminder of all the vanished; the people you don’t see on the streets. They are still here, at home, maybe, watching TV or listening to the radio. I hope that they are chatting away on skype or messenger or maybe like me they are just peering out their windows.

Painting of Woman with Zimmer Frame_EmmaCownie
Walk of Life (Sold)

My “The Walk of Life” painting has added significance for me. When I painted it was struck by the old lady’s determination and how tiny she was in comparison with the younger people around her.  I thought the composition captured the variety of life on Swansea, Oxford Street on a summer’s afternoon.
I never thought that I would have my own zimmer frame, but I do. I have to keep the weight off my healing left leg for another 4 weeks so it is vital for getting from my bedroom to the bathroom. It’s a fantastic bit of kit. Light and simple yet sturdy and reliable. Like the lady in the painting, mine has two wheels at the front and I will sometimes carry an object like a book in a bag from one room to another. I have tried holding stuff in my mouth but it just doesn’t work.
I am delighted that the American collector who recently bought this painting is a nurse who works with elderly ladies like this one. He will understand just how liberating a zimmer frame is to the disabled and elderly. During my stay in the hospital, I watched very elderly ladies, who had fallen, broken their hips and had them replaced,  push past pain and discomfort slowly but steadily make their way up and down the ward with the help of a frame. Once they proved their mobility they could negotiate their return back home.  I have a set of crutches but I like the frame better. So although “The Walk of Life” always was a celebration of the human spirit and determination, but I now know that the old lady is just getting on with her life. She probably doesn’t want applause or pity but she certainly might want to have a good chat.

Painting Swansea people by Emma Cownie
Soldiering On

 

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A Gap in the Clouds

Great Tor, Gower painting by Emma Cownie

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!

Pennard Castle
Pennard Castle

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.

Pennard Pill
Pennard Pill

I watched the light move across the valley and the colours burst into life.

Pennard Pill in sunshine
Pennard Pill in sunshine

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.

Clouds over Pennard Golf Course
Clouds over Pennard Golf Course

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.

Ship on the Bristol Channel
Ship on the Bristol Channel

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!

Cloudy Three Cliffs Bay
Cloudy Three Cliffs Bay

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!

The three peaks
The three peaks

That doesn’t quite capture it. Here let me show you. My view of the world.

A Gap in the Clouds
A Gap in the Clouds (SOLD)

That’s more like it.

Now I could go home and eat lunch. Paint and listen to Van Morrison.

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Going large! (Scaling up a commission piece)

Commissions are usually pretty interesting because they will challenge me in some way or another. This particular commission’s challenge was about scale. Now, I don’t usually paint large paintings because I just don’t have the space to store many of them. I have a few but I am not keen to paint many more as and I find it difficult to paint in a crowded attic studio, both on a practical level (if you look at my photos carefully you can see its crowded in my studio) and also psychologically (it starts to bug me).  So if a commission requires me to go large I am quite excited by that prospect. Excited and a bit scared.

This commission was based on a relatively modest-sized painting I had recently painted of Gola Island, Donegal. This is 41x33cm, that’s 16 x 13 inches for non-metric people.

Painting of Gola, Donegal

Up from the Pier (Gola)

As you can see from the studio photo, the original fits on the seat of a chair. It is a favourite of mine. I have many favourite paintings, this is my current one.

The commission canvas size was to be 120 x 80cm (47×32 inches). Which is pretty big for my little studio. The canvas I could cope with, but the cardboard box it was arrived in is annoying me as it’s ended up by the railings by the steps to the attic. It’s in my way.

So I pondered the issues with scaling up this painting. The joy of small paintings is that you can hint at all sorts of things with a brushstroke or two and the brain will do the rest of the work. There’s no hiding place when the canvas is over a metre in size.

Painting of Gola, Donegal
Up from the Pier (in-studio)

So the first change in my approach was scale. I printed out my reference photo on a much larger piece of paper. My original photo wasn’t much bigger than 10cm (4 inches) square. Don’t ask me why. I like to print off a lot of images at one time and then ponder which one I want to actually paint. For the commission, the photo was closer to A4 size (7×11 inches) and amazingly, I could see much more detail! So I focused a lot of attention on the buildings and caravan on the horizon. I paint with a small brush get the details of the light on the houses and ruins.

Painting of Gola, Donegal
Sketching out the commission

I generally work from left to right when I am painting so as not to smudge work with my hand and the next part I worked on were the rocks and the grassy verge to the left of the track. The real joy of painting vegetation in Donegal is the many varied greens and yellows. I love picking out the different hues. I have to make sure that my colours match the colours in the reference photo as closely as possible. It sounds daft, but I hold up the paintbrush next to the photo to check I have the right tones.

The grass and bracken in the main part of the painting were carefully reconstructed. Saying that I use much larger brushes than I do for my smaller paintings. I make sure that blocks of yellow ochres and green grass or darker bracken are in the right place. There are both warm and cool greens here. There are splashes and smudges of oranges, pinks, jade and turquoise in there too. I am trying to convey not only colour but the shape of undulating land; where the grass has grown up and in some places, covered completely the old stone walls. The island is covered in lots of wooden fence posts, but I don’t want to paint in all the wires as the eye wouldn’t see them all in that much detail so I pick out just a few of them. I wanted to recreate the spirit of the smaller painting rather than create a new painting so I have to adjust a few patches of grass, on the left-hand side of the painting, so their bluish tones echo the first painting and balance the colours in the whole. The tiny golden yellow flowers that are gathered at the bend in the pinkish track are added.

The sky is painted last. Sometimes I paint skies first, especially if it is a cloudy or stormy sky, but in this case, it’s a blue powdery summer blue and it comes last. It has the effect of bringing the whole painting together.

Painting of Gola, Donegal

The commission next to the study painting of Gola

So the final stage is to sit with the painting and check that it has the same “vibe” as the smaller study painting. I think it has. I regard it as a big beast, but one I like.

I wonder what it would be like to have a massive studio where you could store bigger paintings? Would I paint larger paintings? Well, in the winter when light is short I would still paint smaller works that could be completed relatively quickly, but in the summer months when I have acres of daylight? You bet.

Painting of Gola, Donegal
The artist (*ahem*) with the two paintings
Painting of Gola, Donegal
The Commission piece finished 120x80cm