I am just going to post the photo of this woodland painting, it seemed to take all week to paint. I kept rushing out to take photos of the woods in the glorious (but worryingly warm) February sunshine we had early in the week, so I sort of lost my usual rhythm with the painting. Still, I doubled down and worked hard and I am pleased with the final result.
The clouds of pinkish trees off in the distance are hundreds of hazelnut catkins, catching the light. What I love about this ancient woodland is that, although its managed, and trees are cut back, and paths kept clear, fallen trees are allowed to rot in place. I have painted at several fallen (and falling), trees in this composition. Three lie in the stream, the other reaches across the canvas in an arc.
I’ll let you into a secret. I have been known to hug a mossy tree. They are like nature’s sofas. they are soft and springy. They provide so much for the eco-system. Mosses, lichens, ivy, and fungi grow on their surface and the creviced bark provide homes for hundreds of insects. The dying trees send nutrients back into their roots, passing on to their neighbors (who are usually their offspring). In our urban lives, we are insulated and somewhat shut off from the ebb and flow of natural life. My visits to the woodland remind me that life and death are constantly happening and that release from one form of life provides life for others. Don’t believe all that hype about “survival of the fittest”, nature is more sophisticated than that. It is all about balance, no one species rules the woodland, thousands live, cooperate and thrive here.
Here’s a fascinating TED talk about how trees communicate.
This blog is made up of 5 photos/images that represent the stages that go into the process of creation of a woodland painting. The first photo is the most joyous. Wandering around the woods (read more about this very special place here), taking photos and marveling at the light. On this day the light was perfect. I was delighted by the way it illuminated the leaves, the moss, and the grass. I was also excited by the fact the woods and stream were flooded with light in a way I had not quite seen before. The time of year and the time of day all affect conditions. No two days are the same. Enjoying the sunshine was the easy part.
Work in Progress #1
Now for the hard work. My woodland paintings are different from my other paintings. I paint them in a different way. They are more of a semi-abstract construction and less organic than my paintings of clouds, coasts or people. I can’t exactly explain how I ended up doing this, I think it was when I was in my fauvist/refractionistphase. It sort of like constructing a giant puzzle and my head usually aches afterward! So I sketch out the basic position of the trees, stream and the main shadows.
Painting is a lot of problem-solving. I have to decide which order to paint different sections of the canvas. Some parts I want to dry and then go back and add detail. So I start by flipping the canvas “upside down” and painting in the light blues and mauves of the sky. I also need to convince myself that this painting will work so I paint in the tree trunks to “anchor” the painting. I look at the painting in a small mirror – this is a way of allowing me to see it in reverse, and trick my brain into seeing it like other people do (rather than what’s in my head). That’s day one of painting.
Work in Progress #2
On my second and third day of painting, I spend a lot of time thinking about colour and how to mix the right shades. Getting the different greens right is vital, from the fresh yellow greens to the very dark hues. The hazy trees in the middle distance are difficult to gauge as mixing green with purple makes a dreadful sludge on my palette and nothing like the colour I want. I am anxious about the dark green on the opposite river bank on the left hand of the painting. I worry about getting it right. I have to be able to represent the damp dark greens effectively, without drawing too much attention to them. I mark in the darkest part of the bank and leave them for the next day. It is slow work.
On the final day of painting, I pick up speed and tackle the far river bank. I attack the most interesting part by painting in the light on the leaves and the purple shadows at the top of the bank. The purple shadow then blends into the green and by the time I have finished with the bank I am pleased with it. The part of the painting that frightened me the most makes me the happiest. Ironically, no will notice probably it. That’s how exactly it should be.
“Path by the Stream”
The final stage of the painting is solving the showed foliage in the lower centre of the painting. This I simply into blocks of colour. I want to focus of the painting to be the hazy light at the top part of the painting and I don’t want to draw the eye to the foreground at the bottom of the canvas. In my mind, I struggle with this process. There is alot of indecision. The literal part of my head wants to paint it “as it is” but my artist’s head is trying to reduce the colours into blocks. To help in this process, I move my reference photo onto a chair so my myopic vision can no longer see the details. I push on and eventually, the canvas is covered.
I then will leave the room to make a cup of tea and return with the express purpose of “surprising” the painting. This way I can see it with fresh eyes from the other side of my studio and decide if I am happy with it. I am.
I am delighted to report that I sold “Path By the Stream” to one of my most valued collectors, who has bought many of my works, in beautiful Kent, England.
I have started my next woodland painting, if you want to follow its progress like & follow me on Facebook.
It’s that time of year again. When the slanting sun makes you believe that spring is just around the corner. Snowdrops and crocuses are flowering in parks and in the woods. We spent the last two days revisiting my favourite stretch of Gower woodland. It follows the stream that meanders from Ilston along the Ilston Cwm to Parkmill (the stream then it crosses the A4118 and winds its way into the sea as Pennard Pill). You can see it on an interactive map of Gower here .
Yesterday, we revisited the Parkmill end of the woods (you can read about the Ilston end of the woods here). These trees are technically part of Kilvrough Manor woods, although Kilvough Manor itself, is quite a distance off on the other side of the A4118. The woods have been here for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The trees are “ancient semi-natural and broadleaved, made up of a canopy of Ash, Oak, Beech, and Elm, with a Beech plantation”. They have given me years of inspiration for painting.
Very early spring is my favourite time of year because the sun cuts through the bare branches and illuminates the ground. The shadows create an exciting combination of colours; the beech leaves on the ground are an interesting orange and mauve, and the rich brown earth is almost a dark purple, that reminds me of a dairy milk wrapper.
In the past, I have usually visited this part of the woods in the morning. I feel almost stupid when I see how different it all looks in the early afternoon.
Of course, nature is a giant sundial. The trees cast shadows in different directions, depending on the time of the day and the time of the year. If you come too early the trees nearest the car park lies in darkness, as the sun has not risen above Pennard.
If you come too late the same trees are in the shadow of the hill that rises up beside the stream to the west. When the trees are illuminated it’s very exciting. It’s like an incredible show that is switched on and off, depending on the light.
As the river meanders along the valley the path crosses it by a number of sturdy bridges. I have painted many of these over the years. There’s the 1950s concrete and metal railings one, nearest the Gower Inn.
From both sides, if the light allowed it.
There is a beautiful wooden bridge, further along, that resonates with walkers’ footsteps as the stride across it.
In the summer, when the stream is low, I have waded through the water under this bridge and listened (troll-like) to the sounds of people walking above.
Yesterday was a day of epiphanies. I stood listening to the wonderful cacophony of birdsong and soaked in the sight of the light catching the leaves I realised that what made this place so special was its sheer age. People have walked along these paths (and crossed older, long gone bridges) to reach the places of worship for many many years. Over 300 hundred years ago a Baptist chapel was built by this bridge by John Miles and people travelled from miles around to reach it. At Ilston, much further along the stream, there has been a religious cell, or church since the 6th century. These woods have been a place of contemplation for centuries, and it feels like it. Modern people may or may not contemplate religious matter, but it is difficult not to get drawn into contemplating the rhythms of the natural world.
For me is the moss that marks this woodland apart from others. The moss catches the slanting light and the trees almost look like they are wearing halos.
In some parts of the wood, the moss is so thick they cover the tree like padding.
Moss is odd stuff. It is a plant, with stems and leaves, but no true roots and no flowers. It needs damp conditions to reproduce. The moss grows so thickly here because it’s very damp in South Wales, it rains a lot. The stream also creates a lot of dampness. The moss absorbs huge quantities of water. It actually helps to soak up rainfall and create a locally humid environment. There’s also lots of lichen on the trees. This is a good sign as it only grows where there is clean, unpolluted air. Lichen, apparently is not a plant, although plant-like. Its sort of fungi. Lichens amazingly are some of the longest living things on the planet. They grow very slowly and live very long lives, a bit like the ancient yew tree in Ilston churchyard.
To give you a feel for the beauty of the place I have uploaded a couple of short videos. The splashing you can hear in the first clip is my dog, Biddy walking in the water, hoping that I will throw a stick for her.
My grandfather, Fred Cownie, used to work for the forestry commission, buying up Welsh farmland and planting swaths of conifer forests. Sadly, I never knew my grandfather as he died before I was born, long before my parents were married, in fact. Apparently, he was a sociable man who was popular with the farmers and forestry workers alike and I like to think he enjoyed his work talking and with people and tramping across the Welsh landscape. Sounds like a great job working with trees and people, not stuck in an office.
I love trees. My favourite trees are the elegant beech trees, with their copper autumn leaves. I also love the scotch pines that pepper the Gower peninsula. There’s a woodland at Whiteford point and also near Parkmill, which I have returned to time and again to paint.
Scotch pines are the only truly native pines to the UK. They spread across the British Isles after the last ice age but in Wales, the trees became extinct about 300–400 years ago, due to over-exploitation and grazing. I don’t know when they were re-introduced on Gower but this section of woodlands was almost certainly planted by a local landowner, possibly the owners of nearby Kilvrough Manor. Amazingly, mature trees grow to 35m and can live for up to 700 years!
We walked the dogs here last week and took photos. I like this section of woodland as the pine needles on the ground deaden footsteps and although birdsong can be heard, it seems quieter than the surrounding beech wood. Much of the wood falls into the shadow of a the valley side and direct light does not hit the trees until late morning in the winter.
When the light hits the trees it illuminates their scaly orange-brown bark. This bark develops plates and fissures with age. The twigs are green-brown and pretty much hairless until you reach the highest parts of the tree, 20 to 30 metres high. I love to stand looking up at the tops of the trees, swaying with the wind. On the ground the tree trunks appear stock still. I like to think its a good analogy for life, you have to bend with the wind.
The great thing about Scotch Pines is that they are so quiet and light, unlike conifers forests which can be pretty dark.
The sun went in so whilst I was waiting for it to reappear I filmed this 360 degree shot, I tried to pan very slowly but I don’t think I was slowly enough! There is a stream nearby that has dried up from lack of rain over the summer. It sounds daft but when I am out walking I often ponder their stoic nature. They can’t move, they have to accept where they are in the wood. Some people believe that they communicate with each other through their roots. I’m not sure what my grandfather, Fred, would have made of that!
You can but limited edition mounted prints of Gower woodland here
This is the first woodland painting I have done for quite a while. This is a section of pine woods called Canisland Woods, near Ilston and Parkmill, Gower. The slender light refers to the beam of morning sunshine light breaking over the lip of the valley. The pine needles on the ground are soft and deaden any sound. It is a very peaceful section of woodlands.
As an artist, I am always looking how to simplify shapes/colours so that there is an semi-abstract element to them but never losing touch with realism. This is particularly true of my woodland paintings. Although I am working from photographs, I am not copying them but rather deconstructing (in my mind) and then slow reconstructing them (on the canvas). They are like a giant jigsaw puzzle.
It’s painful and I find the mid stage of these paintings a bit distressing until I have faith that it will come together and make a pleasing painting. Some paintings are easy and there is little struggle. Sometimes, the struggle will last a couple of days. I have to ignore the voice in my head that says, “it’s rubbish” and “you are wasting your time”. Thankfully, the negative voice is usually proved wrong.
With all of my paintings, I like to pursue a theme over several paintings so that I get into a “groove”. I feel that I am now in the groove with “Slender Light”.
See “Slender Light” and other available landscape paintings here
[wpecpp name=”Ford at Ilston Large Print ” price=”45″ align=”left”]
It’s still winter here in on the Gower peninsula, Wales. However, the days are starting to get noticeably longer. Instead of night arriving at 4pm, now on a clear day it doesn’t go dark until 5.30-ish. There are more sunny days now too. It’s still very cold, but sunny. Spring is round the corner. Nature has taken note. Tiny snow drops gather in little crowds along the river bank where we often walk in the woods near the ancient Ilston village in Gower. I can also see sturdy green shoots pushing their way up through the mud. Hundreds of them. There is lots of mud as it has been a very wet winter. The path is inaccessible unless you are wearing Wellington Boots (“Wellies”).
The stream is full and rushes across the Ford at Ilson. You have to be very early to catch the sunlight on the water here. For most of the day it is in shadow. I really like painting the woodlands in spring. Before the leaves have comes out there is still lots of light on the ground and reflecting on the water. Even when the bright green leaves pop out there is still plenty of light in the early morning light. Every time I visit the woods the light is different. The plants and flowers change. The blossoms will go through nature’s spectrum: white, yellow, blue and white again. The snow drops will be replaced by clumps of small yellow daffodils and primroses, then by the violet bluebells and finally by a thick carpet of white wild garlic. They each make a fantastic and hurried show before the foliage of the beech trees casts heavy shadows throughout the woods in May.
[wpecpp name=”Bridge at Ilston Large Print ” price=”45″ align=”left”]
Hi everyone, it’s been a while, a long while since I last blogged, some 4 months or so. I have been very busy. I will bring you up to date with what has been happening with my art and art business in the next few blogs.
Here I just want to mentioned that I am currently exhibiting in GalleryOMP which is at the Old Mayors Parlour, Hereford. I will exhibiting with some other great artists until the 24th April 2016.
Here are some images from the exhibition “Seeds of Change”!
This oil painting is of Ilston Cwm and the bridge, over The Killy Willy, leading to Parkmill. I have painted this bridge in a number of paintings previously sold on Artfinder but this is the first painting from underneath the bridge.
What a spectacular scene there is under bridges as the sun lights the water and this reflects on the underside of the bridge. Here it also illuminates the river bed through which we see an array of autumnal colours through the translucent, rippling water. It is a magical sight and I hope I have caught some of this visual excitement in this painting.
In my last post I decribed visiting the abandoned fishing village of An Port tucked away in a remote corner of the Donegal shoreline (read it here). We were inspired to seek out this very remote spot by American artist Rockwell Kent, who visited and painted the area in the 1920s. I was waiting for […]
An Port has loomed large in my imagination for a long time. It’s very remote and quite difficult to get to. To reach it, you have to drive down a very, very long single track road (it’s about three miles but it feels longer) on the way to Glencolmcille. There are plenty of sheep and […]
Rossbeg (sometimes spelt Rosbeg) is a tiny townland on the west coast of Donegal, just south of Portnua and Nairn. There is a pier and a scattering of houses, some are modern, but many are old cottages, probably used as holiday lets. The day we visited the weather was calm and sunny. It was just perfect.