Dylan Thomas, the poet, grew up in Swansea and he descbed it as “An ugly, lovely town … crawling, sprawling … by the side of a long and splendid curving shore”.
About 5 years ago I went through a phase of painting a number of intricate paintings of Swansea. I loved the layers of Victorian and Edwardian houses with their high pitched roofs. I went to great effort to walk out onto the quay and the beach to take photos with a zoom lens. The quay is no longer accessible, as part of the walkway has since collapsed.
I recently reworked a couple of these paintings that I still had.
The Old Observatory, Swansea
Over to Bernard Street, Swansea
I was recently commissioned to paint another painting from this series. The commissioned work would be similar, but the composition and the execution of the work would be slightly different. I had mixed feelings about the project because I knew how fiddly these paintings are. These paintings take a great deal of concentration! I use a small brush for all the work on the buildings and they take several days of very focused effort to complete. Still, I hadn’t painted one for many years so I decided to paint one again. Perhaps it’s like a transatlantic flight, something that you can endure once a year but no more often than that. So here it is.
Still, for all my wingeing I can’t help but say that I was really pleased with the final painting. My head hurts from all that focusing on the small houses with their white gables and red chimneys. However, I did like thinking about the different places in the painting as I painted them. The perspective squeezes the buildings together in a way and makes them look closer to each other in a way they are not in real life, by that I mean, on the ground.
On the far right of the painting, on the beach, is what used to be the 360 Café and is now called The Secret. Next to that is the green building know as the Patti Pavilion, the trees behind it belong to the beautiful Victoria Park. They look so close to each other but in reality, the Patti Pavilion is on the other side of the busy Oystermouth Road.
The square building that stretches across the rest of the painting is the Guildhall, which contains the beautiful panels painted by Frank Brangwyn. Rising up behind these buildings is are the parts of Swansea known as Sandfields, Brynmill, and Townhill.
Once upon a time, they were villages or rolling farmland, but now they are all merged into the sprawling City of Swansea. As Dylan Thomas aptly described it “The town of windows between hills and the sea.” On rainy days the clouds descend on Townhill and it can no longer see or be seen!
I am now working on a medium-sized much “looser” Donegal landscape painting, before making a start on two more commissions.
You can now buy a print of this painting here. Click on “reproductions” tab to see your options.
To follow in Dylan Thomas’s footsteps you can visit his favourite places around Swansea:-
I was recently commissioned by a collector to paint a version of a painting by Paul Henry. This was quite a daunting request. At the moment, my top three favorite (dead) painters of the Donegal landscape are Paul Henry, and William Hubert Craig and Letitia Marion Hamilton.
Born in Belfast, Paul Henry studied art in Belfast and then Paris. He lived in London briefly, and then moved to Achill Island on the West coast of Ireland in 1910, with his artist wife, Grace. They lived here until 1919 when they moved to Dublin. His paintings depict the West of Ireland landscape in a beautifully spare post-impressionist style.
Paul Henry’s paintings portray the rugged mountains, wind-swept trees, dark boglands and towering clouds of the west coast of Ireland. His images of Ireland are genuinely “iconic”. This is because in 1925 he was commissioned by the London Midland and Scottish Railway Company to design a travel poster.
This poster for Connemara was distributed throughout the world (mostly in North America) to encourage tourists to explore the west of Ireland. The Irish Times commented in that year: “If thousands of people in Great Britain and America have been led this summer to think over the claims of Ireland as holiday ground it is largely through the lure of Mr Paul Henry’s glowing landscape of a Connemara scene.”
Many people bought reproductions of the poster and more posters followed.
This travel poster was produced for the London Midland and Scottish Railway Company c1920s. It shows Mount Errigal in Donegal which is the tallest peak in the Derryveagh Mountains and has been voted as ‘Ireland’s Most Iconic Mountain’ in the past. Some small country cottages at the foot of the mountain by the lough side can be seen in the foreground. Artwork is by Paul Henry (1876-1958), who was famous for his paintings of clouds and rugged Irish landscapes. During the 1920s several of Paul Henry’s works were reproduced as posters or print. These helped to establish the standard scenic view of Ireland in tourist literature and in government publications and this poster is a prime example of his outstanding, unique talent.
Many of Paul Henry’s landscape paintings are in public galleries and museums but they also turn up at auction on a regular basis and almost always do “very well”.
The small painting that was auctioned this July, was the one I was commissioned to interpret. This was “Claddagh Village” painted in 1928. I do not know what the painting sold for, but the estimate was for a whopping €40,000 – €60,000
I had to think quite a bit about this painting and Paul Henry before I started work on my own version. I have never done versions of other artists’ works, although I have seen artists sketching famous paintings in art galleries. I am the sort of artist who peers very closely at the surface of a painting in a gallery, to try and get a sense of how a painting was made.
I suppose I approached this task in a similar manner. I peered carefully at the impasto brushwork in the photograph of the painting. I looked at how he had laid the colours down. Although the paint was thick in places, in others it was applied thinly and the colour of the canvas/grounding showed through the paint. There was something about Paul Henry’s paintings that bothered me. I could not quite put my finger on it. How can I put it, they were all very blue, even when they had red in them. Indeed, “Claddagh Village” had curious splashes of red on the right-hand side of the painting, and I wasn’t sure what they were meant to represent. Was the hedge on fire? Surely not.
Part of the answer it turns out that Paul Henry was mildly colour bind. So when he used red it was probably squeezed neat from the tube. Greens, warm, cool, or otherwise, are often absent from his paintings. This caused me to pause. Should I copy Paul Henry’s colour scheme or use my own palette of colours? I decided I needed to know more. So I research the subject matter a bit more.
Claddagh was a fishing village in County Galway. It’s thatched cottages were pulled down in the 1930s, but old photographs of the original houses still survive.
These photos gave me a good sense of the chunky shape of these very old houses but not their colours. So I looked for modern photos of Galway thatched cottages for the colour. I finally, found some images of puffy clouds over Connemara and put together a reference sheet for colours and shapes. I decided although I would use Paul Henry’s composition I would not copy his colours, as such, use the reference images in the way I usually paint pictures.
Once I had settled these questions in my mind, I put them to mind and painted. My canvas was about the same size (24x30cm) as the one he used (23x30cm). My choice of blue for the sky was very different from the beautiful (almost) duck egg blue Paul Henry used. My cloud was a summer cloud.
My shadows had more blue and mauve in them, that Henry’s which had a lot of grey/brown in them. Interestingly, had I been painting a watercolour version I probably would have copied his choice of colour for the shadows.
I dithered over the russet-coloured bush. I wondered if it had been green in real life or if the painting was done in autumn. In the end, I left it russet. I don’t think I conveyed the thickness of the thatch as well as Henry did. My thatch looks too new.
Right at the end as I painted the grey stone wall, I realised with an oddly blinding clarity that the smudges of red could only be a rain shower! How stupid was I to think that the bush was on fire? The whole painting was about a pair of small rain clouds producing a tiny gust of rain, whereas my version was about a hot sunny day.
Paul Henry’s painting is an infinitely superior painting to mine as it has movement too; in the rain shower, how he has painted the road, the depth of the shadow/reflection on the gable ends of the houses. He handles the paint so confidently. It tells a story, about a sudden shower, whereas mine is about space and empty street. I always thought that Paul Henry was the master of simplifying a scene, I just had not appreciated how effective his use of impasto paint was. I found that very appealing.
Claddagh Village, Paul Henry
Now I understand why artists will make copies of the great masters, because you cannot truly understand how a painting is made until you try and put together your own version. Looking at the surface of a painting will only get you so far in understanding it. I was not attempting to copy “Claddagh Village”, although that would have been interesting, but reimagine it. As many husband joked, it’s Claddagh village, just on a better day.
How to commission a painting. This for all you collectors, decorators, and art enthusiasts who are intimidated by the thought of commissioning a painting, but thrilled at the prospect of working with an artist on a piece of your own. It’s easy.
Here are my 5 steps.
1. The Brief – send me an outline of what you are looking for in your commission; i.e. size, subject matter, and include as many good quality reference photos as you can. I can edit or combine images on request. Here’s an example of a projectwhere I did this last year. If its a pet portrait, what sort of background would you like?
2. Size of the Work – This has a bearing on the price. Here are some guidelines. These prices include free packing & shipping. Most canvas sizes can be ordered to suit commission requirements.
60×50 cm – £295 (Approx 19.68 x 23.6 inches – US $380)
70×50 cm – £345 (Approx 19.68 x 27.5 inches – US $445)
80×60 cm – £450 (Approx 31.49 x 23.6 inches – US $582)
100×80 cm – £650 (Approx 39.49 x 31.49 inches – US $840)
3. Logistics – Timescale, is this work a present for a special event? A custom painting can be a unique gift for a loved one. I will need to know special dates well in advance so there is plenty of time for the work to thoroughly dry before it is packed and shipped.
4. Deposit – I will need a deposit usually 25% of the final price, this is to cover the materials and any design work, such as sketches or other mockups.
5. Final review – You will be sent images of the final painting. I finish my work by painting a neutral colour around the edges so the painting is ready to hang. Your work will be shipped and a tracking number provided.
That’s it. Sit back and admire your painting for years to come.
Get in touch to discuss ideas. Email email@example.com
Here’s Hudson the black poodle. He’s a handsome chap. I was asked to paint a picture of him. Pretty straight forward, eh?
Well, the challenge was that the commission required that Hudson was to be portrayed not in this rural idyll but in New York City, waiting outside Malecon coffee shop where his owner popped by every morning for her coffee. Hudson is one of those super cool dogs that will just wait. He does not need to be tied up.
I was provided with a couple of photographs of the said restaurant but there were a couple of issues that needed dealing with. Take a look.
Firstly, there were signs and bicycles in the way of the front of the shop. There was no clear view. So I googled the restaurant in the hope that I might find some more useful photographs online.
Several photos of Malecon restaurants in different locations in NYC. The second problem is that Hudson in the original photos was sitting in grass and I could not see what sort of tail he has and what happens to it when he sits down, whether he tucks it under or not. So I searched for some poodles images. Did he have a long or short tail?
So I spent a morning using a photo editing program called Gimp (an open source version of Photoshop) and adding poodle tails, taking out bicycles and playing around with compositions.
I finally decided that I lived the photo with the lit interior best. I thought the lights would make a more interesting image. I had a problem deciding where to place the dog as he was black and would not stand out against the dark background. Initially I placed him to one side in front of the plant container but finally settled on in the foreground so that he was the main focus of the picture.
So I send this final image to the customer to check that she’s happy with the composition and I have the right sort of tail for Hudson before I make a start painting. I also got her to agree to a rectangular canvas, rather than a square one, that way I could fit the dog and all of the shop front in easily.
My final problem is that I added a shadow to the dog to give the picture a more dynamism but there were few, if any shadows in the photos I had. I so searched the internet again for reference images.
So I did a lot of thinking about the likely direction of shadow that the awning would likely cast and the length of the shadow, drawing lines on the image I’d sent to the customer. So once, I decided on these things and also kept in mind the information I had in the original photos I got started. I began with the letters of the restaurant name as I this was the element that I was most concerned to get right. Once I had painted these in, I relaxed and enjoyed the work. As I was using a small canvas (41 x 33 cm) it was easy to turn and paint upside-down, side to side as well as right side up. Overall, allowing for dying times, the work was done over three days.
This is what I painted.
If you are interested in finding out more about a commission, click here
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What’s in a name? It’s complicated The name of the city I am living in right now is contentious. It’s official name is Londonderry but no one here seems to call it that, not even the council. Most people in the city itself, Protestants as well as Catholics, call it Derry. This suggests it is more […]
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