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Donegal Blues

I warn you now that this is a blog post about paint; about one shade of blue in particular. It might even involve watching paint dry. Which, unless you are an artist, probably isn’t very exciting.

Paints represent a sort of non-verbal language for me. I actually find it hard to put into words how I feel about paints. I have a “feeling” in my stomach and I want to wave my hands about a bit to express those feelings, but it all seems very inadequate. I don’t know if other artists are like this. I see colours in life and think of the paints I might use to represent them on the canvas. There is a particular warm shade of brown that I am yet to satisfactorily find in a paint. For a long time, I struggled with particular shades of green, until I found that mixing turquoise produced the right level “zing” in my summer greens. In Donegal the greens need yellow ochre to make them ring true.

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The Madonna’s ultramarine cloak

I am particularly obsessive about a particular colour that until yesterday, I was even sure how it was pronounced. This is phthalo blue. I doubt you have ever heard of it. It’s not like Ultramarine blue, made from lapis lazuli stone, which was was famously so expensive it was solely reserved for painting the Virgin Mary’s cloak.

Now, I am absolutely no good at saying words I haven’t heard someone else say out loud. That “ph” at the beginning really confused me and I used to call it “p-th-al-ff-oo” blue, deliberately tripping over the syllables because I’d never heard it said out loud. Until yesterday, when I realised I could look it up! So it did.

What! It’s pronounced “thalo”!! Why don’t they just call it Thalo Blue? I noticed in the comments below the video that someone else said ” I say it as pfthpfthpfthpfthpfthpfthpfthalo blue”. I don’t recommend, however, that you listen to the Russian pronunciation of “пхтхало блю” on google translate because it’s sort of like my original managling of the word!

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Phthalo blue pigments

You are probably thinking, who cares? Well, I care because I am passionate about Phthalo blue. No, that’s not true I am obsessive about it. It is very useful colour in my messy box of paints. I particularly like the version made by French paint manufacturers Lefranc & Bourgeois.

 

Phtahlo Blue paint
I love you!

It’s not cheap but it a very useful colour. Its very strong. It’s very dark and I love it for creating really dark blues, blues that mixed with Van Dyke Browns and make wonderful dark clouds.  I don’t like to use black for dark shades as it has a tendency to “kill” a colour.  I have found that its essential for both the massive white Cumulonimbus clouds and the really filthy rain clouds of Donegal. It’s actually a synthetic pigment from the group of phthalocyanine dyes. When it’s mixed with Titanium white it makes a delightful light blue that’s also very useful for skies.

Painting of Errigal
Swirling Clouds Round Errigal
Paint
Phthalo Blue with titanium white

Oil paints are in essence pigments carried in oil (once upon a time vegetable oil was used) usually linseed today. The pigments were originally derived from mineral salts, a few from organic materials such as roots.  Many of the historical pigments were dangerous, such as the wonderful greens called Paris Green (copper acetoarsenite) and Orpiment (arsenic sulfide), which were highly toxic.  Happily, these pigments are no longer used. Later, man-made or synthetic, pigments increased the range of colors available, phthalo or phthalocyanine blue is one of these modern colours.

Chemists first developed this blue pigment in the late 1920s and it was sold under the trade name “Monastral in 1935. This list of alternative names is bewildering. Here are some of them; monastral blue, phthalo blue, helio blue, thalo blue, Winsor blue, phthalocyanine blue, C.I. Pigment Blue 15:2, Copper phthalocyanine blue, Copper tetrabenzoporphyrazine, Cu-Phthaloblue, PB-15, PB-36, C.I. 74160.  I want to add to this long list of names Hoggar blue. Surprisingly, this colour is also used in Lidl’s Dentalux Total Care Plus toothpaste!

Now, I am sometimes faced with the situation that I have used up all the paint in a tube (and I really do get all the paint out of the tubes) but I can’t read the name or number of the paint to reorder the right one. I might be able to work out the manufacturer but its name or number. Here’s an example of what I mean.

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What’s your name?

 

 

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Still a bit of paint in here!

Lefranc & Bourgeois are the oldest artists’ quality colourmen in France. They share the same parent company as Winsor & Newton. This is why, it difficult to get their paints in the UK most stockists carry Winsor & Newton paints instead. A while back they decided to have a rebrand and they changed their labels and the names on the labels. This caused me great confusion because neither of the two suppliers where I usually ordered this great colour listed “phthalo blue” anymore. I’ll show what I mean. Here’s the Lefranc & Bourgeois page from the Great Art website.

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And here’s the page from L. Cornelissen & son in London:-

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So I ordered a Phthalo blue made by another paint maker, Lucas 1862. It was OK but not half as good as the L&B version. It didn’t feel the same, and it didn’t mix with other colours in quite the way I wanted.

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Left L&B and Right Lucas 1862

Looking back now, I can see that Hoggar Blue and Phtalocyanine Blue are actually the same colour, phthalo blue. The colour I thought they had stopped making. This meant I spent weeks eeking the last drop of paint out of the what I thought was my last tube, thinking that this colour was no longer to be had in the UK. Then I realised that I had another tube in a drawer so I got it out and studied the label carefully.

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All those different names

I realised that the names for this paint in other languages used Hoggar a lot (the Hoggar mountains are in Algiers, once a French colony); Blu Hoggar /Azul Hoggair /Hoggarblau so I went back and looked at the Great Art online catalogue and worked out that my phthalo blue was actually now listed as Hoggar Blue. So I ordered this Hoggar Blue and it was the same colour as Phthalo Blue. I was so happy! It meant that a part of my vocabulary was restored to me and I wasn’t going to run out of words!

So, you can see that I wasn’t exaggerating when I said I was obsessive about colour. Who else but an artist has a celebration over a particular shade of blue? The moral of the story is that all paint is not created equal and it’s always worth being obsessive about colour.

Painting of Errigal, Donegal, Ireland
Brooding Clouds Over Errigal

Oh yes, if you want to watch the video about paint drying, be my guest. I have watched and actually found it interesting (OK I actually skipped the drying bit to see the different colours)!

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Painting Bunbeg Donegal

Painting of Errigal

Bunbeg. The word has a pleasing sound to it. It’s short, easy to say and has a nice rhythm to it. Most place names in the British Isles are simply descriptions of locations, or who used to own it. That is not always obvious to modern English speakers because the descriptions originated in Anglo-Saxon, Welsh,  Gaelic (Scots) or Gaeilge (Irish). Therefore, when speakers of the Celtic languages use a place name they have a ready made description of the place. It’s the same with Bunbeg. Bunbeg is the anglicised version of “An Bun Beag” which means the “the small river mouth”.  I know very little Gaeilge but once you start picking up words you see them everywhere. Beg meaning small – there’s Derrybeg (Doirí Beaga) just round the corner which means small oak.

Bunbeg is located in an area of Donegal known as Gweedore (Gaoth Dobhair), known as a bastion of Irish music, language and culture and home to legendary bands such as Clannad and Altan. If you are as old as me you may well remember Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” which was a hit in the UK way back in 1989 and seemed to be played everywhere. Enya was originally a member of Clannad.

Gweedore is the largest Irish-speaking parish in Ireland with a population of just over 4 thousand people. I enjoyed listening to two fisherman having a good gossip in Irish at Bunbeg harbor round the corner from here. I no idea what they were saying but the conversation went at a good pace. I enjoyed just the sound of the language and comparing it to the sound of Welsh which I am familiar with.

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Fisherman (not gossiping) in Bunbeg Harbour
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“Eddie”

Anyway, back to Bunbeg. The vast tidal sands that stretches across the indent in the coastline is known as Magheraclogher beach. When I say, vast I mean vast. It is one of the best known beaches in Gweedore, largely in part because of the distinctive shipwreck that’s been there since the 1970s.

It is known locally as ‘Bad Eddie’ or Eddies Boat. It has regularly appeared in Music Videos as well as providing the backdrop for countless wedding photographs and instagram posts. That mountain in the distance is Errigal, which also features in countless music videos, photos and paintings.

Photo of Bunbeg with Errigal in the distance

“Eddie” with Bunbeg and Errigal in the background

Usually photographers shoot him at low tide. Here’s the photo they use on Wikipedia.

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Bunbeg – Wikipedia image

I decided to paint a different view of Bunbeg, without “Eddie”, because I liked the reflections of the clouds in the shallows, I thought it made for a more dramatic composition.  I thought the rain clouds also gave a better sense of the mercurial nature of weather of Donegal. It was also windy when we were here although, I would say that wind is a pretty much a constant feature of the “Wild Atlantic Way”.

Painting of Bunbeg Harbour, Gweedore, Donegal, Ireland.
From Magheraclogher Beach

This beach is popular with dog walkers and tourists as it is easily accessible, with a car park. Yet, I say “popular” the other people we saw were dots off in the distance.

For information on the history of Gweedore area click here 

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Over to Owey Island

Blog about Owey Island Donegal, Ireland

I love painting the coast, particularly if it’s rocky. Owey Island, lies just a short distance off Cruit Island near Kincasslagh in west County Donegal. Strictly speaking there have been no permanent residents since the 1970s. [Photos from http://www.welovedonegal.com/islands-owey.html]

There is no electricity or mains water, yet plenty of people visit and many visit during the summer months. If you want to visit, there is a ferry service run by Dan the Ferryman.

View of Ireland From Owey Island: Ian Miller
View of Ireland From Owey Island (Ian Miller)

The name Owey, in Irish Gaelic “uaigh”, means cave. The island is a cavers, kayakers and rock climbers’ paradise.

The island is encircled by massive rock stacks and it also has an underground lake. As I am cave-phobic this video is the closest I will ever get to it!

I am fascinated by rock stacks and Donegal has plenty of them. I like to think of how these massive structures have gradually been eroded by wind and waves over thousands of years, forming first sea arches and then stacks.

I also love the colour of the rocks and the wild Atlantic Ocean. The ocean is incredible shades of blues, greens and mauves, mixed in with browns and frothing surf. Although I feel I am getting better at representing the layers of Donegal sky and clouds, but capturing the movement of the seas is still frustrating me.

Painting of Owey Island, West Donegal, Ireland.
Over to Owey Island (SOLD) 

 

If you to find out more about Owey Island see Ian Miller’s Unique Ascent’s website for detailed descriptions and incredible videos.

Just thought I’d add a post script about the “Holy Jaysus Wall”. I think if you look at photo of it you will understand the name. It makes me feel ill just looking at it!

Holy Jesus Wall, Owey Island
Holy Jesus Wall

Irish climber and alpinist John McCune, climbed it in 2014.

Here’s a fascinating film clip from the 1970s about Owey Island’s postman, Neil McGonagle, who used to visit the dwindling population on Owey Island by small boat four times a week to maintain the island’s contact with the outside world.

https://www.rte.ie/archives/2018/0205/938419-owey-island-postman/

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On the Way to ArranmoreArranmore

Painting of cottage near Arranmore, West Donegal, Ireland
Painting of Irish cottage, Arranmore, Ireland
On the Way to Arranmore

I wonder whether the post to Arranmore Island, Donegal, goes astray a lot. There are two other islands with similar names off the coast of Ireland and Scotland. There are the Aran Islands off Galway Bay to the south as well as the Scottish Isle of Arran. Arranmore or Árainn Mhór, in Irish Gaelic.

Map of Arranmore, Ireland
Map of Arranmore, Donegal

It lies off the west coast of County Donegal, Ireland. It is the largest inhabited island off County Donegal, with a population of 514 in 2011, down from 528 in 2006, 543 in 2002, and over 600 in 1996. The island is part of the Donegal Gaeltacht, with most of the inhabitants speaking Ulster Irish.

Painting of view from Burtonport to Arranmore, Donegal, Ireland,
From Ferry Coll

There is a frequent ferry service from Burtonport and this old cottage was spotted nestling into the rocks of one of many islands, Inishcoo, en route to Arranmore. There is no ferry service to the many little islands scattered off the coast of West Donegal. People get to these remote islands in their own little boats. There are landing stages and steps down to sea cut into the rocks. Of course, you could always swim to Inishcoo. Amazingly, the local cows do.

To buy any of my landscape paintings click here

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The Old School, Owey Island

I sounds mad, but I didn’t have a map when I was driving around Donegal. I sort of hoped I could buy one in a petrol station but I never did. The Hire Car people lent us a Sat Nav but I could not be bothered to plug it in and it stayed in the boot the whole week.

I am very lackadaisical when it comes to planning holidays, I think all my energy goes into the logistics of getting there. Anyway, I assumed that my husband would tell which places were worth visiting. Afterall, he had spent hours “flying” up and down the roads of Donegal on StreetView. I sort of knew where I wanted to go; Bunbeg, Bloodyforeland, Falcaragh, Dunfanaghy, Derryveagh,  Kincasslagh and Dungloe and the distances between them were not very great.

Donegal Islands Map
Donegal Islands Map

On the only properly sunny afternoon we had in Donegal, I took a left off the road from Dungloe to Kincasslagh. The sign said “Cruit Island Golf Club”.  I reasoned that golf clubs are usually located in beautiful places, near the coast. So I followed a single track road and over a small concrete bridge on to Cruit Island. If you look at the map above, you can see that Cruit Island is long, three miles long, in fact.

Bridge to Cruit Island
Bridge to Cruit Island

Cruit Island at Low Tide

Cruit Island at Low Tide

After a pleasant drive along a single track road, and passing what can only be called mansions at the north end of the island, we reached the golf club. Now in the UK golf clubs can be funny about other people coming onto their property, but there was nowhere to turn the car so I kept driving. Eventually we reached the golf club car park which looks out across wild waves to an island. This was no calm inland lough. This was the Wild Atlantic. The wind was fierce and the waves crashed and boomed.

Owey Island, Donegal.
Owey Island, Donegal.

It was mesmerising. The island was just across the turquoise water. It was dotted with houses, some clearly derelict, others in good order. I didn’t know it at the time but this was Owey island.

Quay on Owey Island
Quay on Owey Island

It turns out that Owey island is uninhabited for much of the year, having no permanent residents, but people do live there in the summer months. It was last inhabited on a full-time basis in the mid 1970s. The last residents were three old boys who were moved to the mainland of Donegal, or as the islanders call it, Ireland. All the houses were built on the south side of the island, facing Cruit Island Golf Club. The north of the island is too rocky and too exposed to the north Atlantic Ocean gales.

Buildings on Owey Island
Buildings on Owey Island

My eye was drawn to one building in particular. Standing on the brow of a hill, its missing roof caught my attention. It had also had a walled yard behind it. I was too far away to be able to tell whether this was a derelict old building or an incomplete new one. There are many incomplete “new” buildings littering the Irish landscape.

Painting of the old School, Owey Island, West Donegal
Old School, Owey Island

This turned out to be the old school. The walled yard was the play ground. It was a tiny school with just one teacher who would have to teach all ages of the small number of island children.  It was a school for the younger children, and when they were old enough the children would then be sent to the mainland for their secondary school education.

Apparently, the school children had to bring a sod of turf to school each morning. The turf was fuel for the fire and the idea was that they provided the heating for the school room in the cold months. It has been pointed out that as the teacher’s table and chair were at the front of the room, they would usually sit right in front of the fire. When I used to be a teacher, I used to teach in a “temporary” demountable  classroom (it had been there for 40 years) and in winter, I would often stand next to the gas fire, myself. So I liked that idea!

Available landscape paintings can be seen here: https://emmacownie.artweb.com/available-paintings-donegal-ireland

To read more about life on Owey Island see: http://www.welovedonegal.com/islands-owey.html

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Under The Shadow of Errigal

Oil painting of Mount Errigal, Donegal, Ireland
Under the Shadow of Errigal (SOLD)

In Steven Spielberg film “Close Encounters” (1977) Richard Dreyfus experiences a close encounter with a UFO and subsequently becomes increasingly obsessed with subliminal, mental images of a mountain-like shape and begins to make models of it, including one made from his mash potatoes.

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Richard Drefus’s dinner is about to turned into a mountain

I bring this up because my husband got a bit like that with Mount Errigal. It has a very distinctive shape and it can be seen from miles around. My husband was always pointing it out to me. His father used to help run a boxing gym called Errigal in Derry, Northern Ireland, so it has an added resonance for him. Again and again he’d announce “There’s Errigal” to me.

It looks like it should be an extinct volcano, but I’m not sure entirely that it is. We saw it when we flew in from Dublin, from the runway at the airport, from the beach at Carrickfinn, From Bunbeg beach, from the Rosses, from Gweedore. Its barren surface is rather moon-like, but when the sun catches its slopes its quite mesmerising. When it was hidden by cloud you knew the sun wasn’t going to come out for some time. The surface isn’t covered with snow but light-coloured quartzite scree that glows pink in the sun.

I would like to climb it one day. I have been told it only takes a couple of hours (from the other side). In the meantime there is a nice time-lapse film of clouds floating past Errigal for you to watch.

You can purchase my Donegal landscape paintings here

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Round the Rosses

Landscape painting of the Rosses, West Donegal, Ireland
Round the Rosses (SOLD)

The Rosses (in Gaelic, Na Rosa) is a region in the west of County Donegal, Ireland. The name comes from “Ros”, the Irish word for headland. It is a curiously rocky place. Not rocky, in the sense that national parks in the American west, like Utah and Arizona, are made of 100% rock, but rather the bedrock is covered with a thin layer of earth, with slabs of rocks and boulders poking through. It’s a barren but beautiful landscape, studded with a myriad of lakes and inlets of the sea.

Aerial View of the Rosses
Aerial View of the Rosses, from the aeroplane (with Mount Errigal in the background).

It may feel like the edge of the known world but this area has been inhabited “since time immemorial” according to Wikipedia. Coastal places like the Rosses, in Donegal, looked out onto a massive highway – the sea. Missionary Celtic saints were busy in this area in the 6th century AD. These saints relished a challenge and liked to travelled up and down the Celtic waterways to spread Christianity to nearby Scotland. In the 1990s it was fashionable to argue that these Irish monks  had in fact, “saved civilisation” by copying the books being destroyed elsewhere by Germanic invaders, eventually bringing them back to the places from which the books had come. Part of this movement included women like St. Crona or St. Crone (Cróine) , a female religious of royal blood. She found a monastery in Termon near Dungloe. She was a cousin of the the better known St. Columba (St. Columcille in Irish) one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland, who founded the monastic settlement at Iona.

Much later (about a thousand years or so) in the 16th century, a number of ships from the Spanish Armada sank off or landed off its coast. Some 24 to 26 Spanish Armada ships are believed to have foundered off the Irish coast in 1588 while returning from a failed invasion of England by King Philip II. This is not just local myth as the wrecks of two Spanish ships were discovered by archaeologists in shallow water near Burtonport, Donegal, in 2008/9.

Donegal Wreck
Donegal Wreck

What happened to the survivors of these wreck is unclear. We know that as many as 9,000 Spanish soldiers and sailors lost their lives off the Atlantic coast of Ireland, either through drowning or were killed by English troops or Irish chieftains after they were washed ashore. However, not all died. Some Irish who were sympathetic to the Spaniards sheltered them and some kept them on as soldiers. Local legend, credits black-haired locals as being descents of these men, but they are possibly the descents of much earlier people who came from the Iberian peninsula after the end of the last ice age.

I found this area both beautiful fascinating. Donegal manages to combine a sense of isolation with company, should you want it.  This area is littered with houses, old and modern. Many homes are built on the rocks, or have massive rocks in their gardens. People have had to work around the boulders and outcrops.The prevalence of pines dotted across the landscape gives the area a Scots or Canadian feel to it; Caledonian in fact.

Cruit Island

Cruit Island

Although in many senses there is plenty of space, houses seem to huddle together in clusters, isolated but within sight of others. A lot of them (the newer ones, anyway) face out towards the Atlantic Ocean. It seems that in many cases old cramped cottages have been replaced by larger modern buildings. Many tiny cottages, or abandoned derelict buildings are overshadowed by bigger ones. The smaller cottages ended up as holiday homes for visitors. Most of the houses are painted white, but with some older stone cottages and out-houses are left “au naturel”.

On one of the few sunny afternoons we had, we raced round taking photographs of the houses on the rocks. Each bend in the narrow road revealed different vistas. It was hard to decide which one I liked the best. Not only did these houses look out to the sea, behind them were hills and mountains. My painting “Round the Rosses” captures a typical cluster of old and new homes perched on the top of rocky landscape. The light from the afternoon sun glints in the windows of the large house, that faces out to the ocean. The older, smaller buildings look to the east; away from the force of rain and storms and towards the rising sun.

Oil painting of West Donegal Landscape
Round the Rosses (SOLD)

Round the Rosses (SOLD)

 

 

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Donegal

Mount Errigal from Ballymanus Beach, Donegal

The night before last, I woke up in the dead of night, not sure if I was in Ireland or Wales.  It’s now five days since we returned from our week in Donegal, in the Republic of Ireland.

It’s taken that long to recover my energy levels. I hadn’t fully recovered from the virus that keeps coming back, and it was adrenaline that powered me round the place. I don’t get out much, to be honest, and everything was exciting to me; the airport in Cardiff  (on 4 hours sleep), the flight over Wales, looking down at our house, even the long wait in Dublin Airport for the connecting flight to Donegal was interesting. I hadn’t been to Dublin for years (and by years, I actually mean a couple of decades) and it had changed beyond recognition. I enjoyed watching how things are organised and how they connect (when I am not in charge of them, that is).

The final flight into Donegal airport was stunning. Most of Ireland is a patchwork of small green fields until just before you reach the approach to Carrickfinn Airport. Then the fields melt away to be replaced by an expanse of mountains and rusty red boglands.

Donegal is at the north-western corner of the Republic of Ireland. Facing out towards everything the Atlantic has to throw at it. It is very big, very beautiful and very empty. More people live in the city of Swansea (241,300), than in the whole of Donegal (158,755). Swansea is 380 km² and Donegal is 4,861 km². No wonder Swansea feels very crowded.

View across the sea to Owey Island
Owey Island from Cruit Island

The stunning landscape is immediately apparent, but what took a little longer to dawn on me was just how really friendly and well-mannered people are. People wave and say hello when you pass them in the street, when crossing a road cars pause and stop to let you cross, when driving, its a battle of “who’s the politest” at junctions. When people stop for a chat, they chat for 20 minutes or even more.

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A straight road

I love driving around Donegal because the roads were pretty empty. I am not a fast driver, and wiggly roads without crash barriers are certainly not on my list of favourite things. Add a drop down a steep hill, and you have me driving at a snails’ pace. So what a joy it is to crawl along these hairy roads with no one behind my car. In fact, at Horn Head, I was getting nervous about sheer drops and bends so I pulled over and left my car to walk the last few  bends to the viewing point. No cars passed us, either the way up or on the way down. It was a joy.

flock-of-seagullsI think I was happiest walking along the wind-swept beaches looking at the sea. The wind was always blowing. We quickly developed “Donegal-hair”, from the wind. My husband’s hair started to look that guy from the 1980s band Flock of Seagulls. On some beaches, the sand was almost white. I loved the Atlantic Ocean. It was a strong dark blue, but where the waves lifted, green showed through. The sea was so clear that the shallows, were green too.

 

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Ballymanus Beach

One of my favourite beaches was Ballymanus, which is just round the corner from Carrickfinn Aiport. From the rocks you can see Mount Errigal, the highest peak in Donegal. It’s a curious dome-shaped mountain and looks like it should have been a volcano, but I don’t think that it was. In this painting I tried to capture the deep blue of the Atlantic and the ever-changing cloudscape. The colours of Donegal are very different to South Wales. There are more purples and greys and the light is cooler, less golden. Painting this picture has helped “embed” Donegal for me. It will be in my dreams for a while longer, I think.

Landscape painting in Oil of Mount Errigal, Donegal, Ireland
Mount Errigal from Ballymanus Beach, Donegal (SOLD)