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Waiting for the Tide

Painting of Tenby Harbour

Before I visited Tenby, on the Pembroke coast, I had this vague idea that it was something like Barry Island, on the Glamorgan coast near Cardiff. If you have never heard of Barry Island, it was a Victorian holiday destination for day trippers from Cardiff and the South Wales Valleys. It had a “Pleasure Park” with rides and lots of shops selling rock and candy floss and it also had a Butlins holiday camp but the rides and the holiday camp are long gone now. It has a nice beach but its not as popular as it used to be.

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On Tenby Harbour Beach

Well, Tenby is nothing like that. It’s tasteful, historic, and enduringly popular.  I love Tenby’s real name. That is it’s Welsh name which is “Dinbych-y-pysgod” meaning fortlet of the fish. It still describes the old town well as as it’s solid town walls still survive as well as its harbour. Its a delightful place to visit with pretty Georgian houses and two large beaches.

Tenby has a special place in my heart because in the midst of my PTSD breakdown and recovery I painted a picture of Tenby harbour.

Painting of Tenby Harbour
Tenby reflections (2013)

I was very emotionally fragile at the time and I really I enjoyed painting the pastel colours of the harbour buildings. I get a lot of pleasure from colour. Other people got pleasure from it too because it was one of the very first paintings I sold as a semi-professional artist. The collector who bought it later told me that she was going to redecorate her lounge to match the painting! I was so touched by this. I had so little confidence at the time that it meant a great deal to me. I also sold many prints this painting. As you can see I did many paintings of Tenby Harbour but I eventually moved on to other subject matters and different challenges. I particularly focused on people portraits closer to home in Swansea and paintings of Gower peninsula, closer to home.

So last month, I decided that Tenby was overdue a visit. I had been watching the weather forecast for weeks. Eventually the forecast was for a day of wall-to-wall sunshine.  The only problem was that it was very cold with a bitter wind. Never mind. I wrapped up well with thermals and two pairs of socks and got up early to catch the 7.50 train from Swansea to Tenby, arriving at 9.30.

I had set off early because I like to catch the morning light with its long shadows. I also wanted to see the harbour at high tide with the boats in the harbour. The only problem was that as soon as arrived at the harbour I could see the the sun was in the “wrong place” and most of the boats had been pulled ashore and covered up! The previous times I had visited Tenby was in the summer, later on in the day.

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Tenby – sun in “wrong place”

So, I had to wait. So did. I waited in the way I usually do, by moving. I walked and walked. In the end I walked around Tenby for 6  hours, taking photos of the shadows and the people. Despite it being mid winter it was the school mid term break in England (not in wales) and Tenby was full of families, wrapped up, despite the biting wind, and enjoying the sunshine.

I had chips for lunch watched by three beady-eyed seagulls and a chocolate ice-cream. I had to think about that as it was so cold but in the end I gave in had one – it was delicious.  I had intended to catch the 1.40 pm train back to Swansea but i could see that the light was changing and I knew that it was low tide at 4pm so I tried and waited some more. I walked up the habour walked and climbed half way down the steps to take photos of the four or so boats that were in the harbour. It was strange waiting for the tide and light because they eventually changed faster than I thought they would. All of a sudden the tide had retreated far enough for me to walk out into the harbour and take photos of the reflections. Bingo. This was what I was after.

Tenby Harbor
Retreating Tide

And then, almost miraculously the tide revealed the sandbanks on the far side of the harbour, by the end of the harbour wall and I could gingerly climb down some seaweed-covered steps and see the harbour in it’s full glory. I don’t think I took off my fingerless gloves once in Tenby, and I did appreciate the heating on the little train back home. I just made the 4.40 pm train back to Swansea and get home in daylight.

Tenby Harbour at Low Tide
Tenby Harbour at Low Tide
Painting of Tenby Harbour
Waiting for the Tide

My day in Tenby was all about patience and waiting for things beyond my control.  Looking at this, my most recent painting of Tenby harbour I can see how much my work has changed, and hopefully how much I have recovered from those incredibly difficult times back in 2012-13. The painting is much larger and calmer and more confident than any of those I painted before. Large paintings, almost by definition require confidence. The winter tones are less vivid than the summer ones, despite the bright winter sunshine. I will be back for the summer light.

See my coastal paintings for sale here

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Anatomy of a commission

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Hudson the Poodle

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?

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Hudson sitting on the lawn

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.

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Hudson, New York

If you are interested in finding out more about a commission, click here

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International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is a worldwide event that celebrates women’s achievements – from the political to the social – while calling for gender equality. Its roots can be traced to 1908, when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding voting rights, better pay and shorter working hours. The first time there was an a “Women’s Day” it was a year later, on February 28, 1909 in New York. March 8 was suggested by the 1910 International Woman’s Conference (attended by more than 100 women from 17 countries) to become an “International Woman’s Day.” In 1911, it was celebrated for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on March 19. In 1913, it was decided to transfer IWD to March 8, and it has been celebrated on that day ever since.

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Frauen Tag 1914

After women gained the vote in Soviet Russia in 1917, March 8 became a national holiday there. It was also celebrated by the communists in China from 1922, and after founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Mao Zedong declared that ‘women hold up half the sky’ and March 8 was made an official holiday and women were given a half-day off. One can help but wonder that if it had been a international Men’s Day they’d have been given a whole day off! IWD  was finally adopted by the United Nations in 1975.

The original aim – to achieve full gender equality for women the world – has still not been realised. A gender pay gap persists across the globe and women are still not present in equal numbers in business or politics. Figures show that globally, women’s education, health and violence towards women is still worse than that of men.

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Former Cricketers

In Swansea there will be an exhibition of Swansea-based female artists’ work at Cinema & Co. It is meant to show case the work of female artists, myself included. My painting “Former Cricketers” (above) is included. It is from my “Hollowed Community” project which focused on theme of declining community and the lack of sustainability (that means families with children) in areas such as Brynmill in Swansea due to (pretty much) unchecked studentification. The exhibitions will run from March 8th to 20th. There is an opening event on Thursday March 8th 6 pm to 8.30 pm. There will be performances, paintings, films and some “extra surprises”.

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If you want to read more about the “Hollowed Community” project click here.

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Time to Call it a Night?

I woke up a bit earlier than I usually do this morning. It was just before dawn. The night was no longer inky black but had a bluish tinge to it. The light has been changing ever since. Now it is mauve. It will lighten until the light is pinkish, then finally white. Throughout the course of the winter I have been used to waking in the dark and waiting for the sun to rise. No so much recently. The days are lengthening noticeably. Instead  of night arriving unexpected at 4 o’clock it now holds off about tea time. This gradual lengthening of the day has a natural rhythm and logic.

The sudden arrival of British Summer Time (BST) or Daylight Saving Time (DST) when the clocks are turned forward an hour in late March does not. It feels like we are catapulted into the summer with more light than we know what to do with. I find it odd that I am sad at the arrival of BST because all that extra daylight means I can paint for longer. I should be happy. I am happy but the abrupt lengthening of the day feels  wrong. The “loss” of an hour is also tiring. It’s much worse in the autumn. Instead of easing into winter we are hurled into the darkness. Others feel this way too.

The EU is debating this right now. There have been calls for the European Commission to launch a “full evaluation” of the current system and come up with new plans, if necessary. In Europe, currently, EU law sets a common date in spring and autumn on which clocks must be put forward and back by one hour in all 28 member states. Supporters of the DST say it saves energy and reduces traffic accidents but critics argue it can cause long-term health problems and studies have generally failed to show significant energy savings associated with the shift.

Blue Hour on Uplands
Blue Hour on Uplands

They hate it in Finland. More than 70,000 Fins (out of 5.5 million) signed a petition asking the state to give up the practice. French MEP Karima Delli argued that moving clocks forward to summer time left people tired and led to increased accidents”Studies that show an increase in road accidents or sleep trouble during the time change must be taken seriously”, the French MEP said, adding that estimated energy savings were “not conclusive”. Belgian lawmaker Hilde Vautmans, however, said that changing daylight saving could mean either losing an hour of daylight every day for seven months in summer or sending children to school in the dark for five months over winter.

Night Walks
Night Walks

I was surprised that the USA also uses DST. I assumed that with so many time zones, nine, that they would not have wanted the added complication of DST.  It was introduced during the Second World War and most mainland states areas still have DST except Arizona (although the Navajo have DST on tribal lands). Many studies have been done in the US that show the negative effects of the biannual shift to DST. Losing that hour’s sleep in spring affects health; strokes and heart attacks are more likely, there are more traffic accidents and it affects relationships, tiredness causes more arguments.

Night on Oakwood Road
Night on Oakwood Road

Interestingly, one big country has tried life without DST. In 2011 Russia   (who have on less than 11 time zones in their massive country) first tried clocks on year-round summer time but that proved unpopular then in 2014 switched to permanent winter time or “standard time”. Russian MPs said permanent summer time had created stress and health problems, especially in northern Russia where mornings would remain darker for longer during the harsh winter months. However, I have yet to discover whether the return to permanent “winter time” is popular with the Russian people.

So if I want to avoid this biannual lurch forward and back in the day, I can move to Russia, Arizona or one of the other 70 countries that don’t bother with it including Japan, India, and China.

Night Falls on Uplands
Night Falls on Uplands
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Gower Woodland Walks

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The Ford at Ilston    Limited edition signed mounted print £45

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.

A Bridge in Ilston Cwm
Bridge at Ilston Cwm    Limited edition signed mounted print £45

For a fantastic map of Gower click here.

If you are interested in seeing more, prints of my Gower Woodland landscape paintings can be found here  or double click on any of the images in the gallery below.

The gallery was not found!

 

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Frank Brangwyn and Brangwyn Hall

You cannot miss Frank Brangwyn’s name in Brynmill, Swansea as there’s a huge hall that takes his name. These past two weeks or so I have worked as an invigilator for Swansea University. One of the venues used for exams is this beautiful hall. The murals that adorn the massive walls are stunning.

Frank Brangwn was born in Bruges, Belgium (Welsh father, English mother) in 1867. His father was a church architect and craftsman. Frank was largely self-taught but that did not stop him from becoming a painter, water colourist, engraver, illustrator and progressive designer.  In his youth, Brangwyn had joined Royal Navy Volunteers and travelled extensively including Russia and South Africa.

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Frank Brangwyn

He was an astonishingly proflic artist. As well as paintings and drawings, he produced designs for stained glass, furniture, ceramics, table glassware, buildings and interiors. He was also a lithographer and woodcutter and was a book illustrator. It has been estimated that during his lifetime Brangwyn produced over 12,000 works. His mural commissions would cover over 22,000 sq ft (2,000 m2) of canvas, he painted over 1,000 oils, over 660 mixed media works (watercolours, gouache), over 500 etchings, about 400 wood engravings and woodcuts, 280 lithographs, 40 architectural and interior designs, 230 designs for items of furniture and 20 stained glass panels and windows.

 

Known as the British Empire Panels Brangwyn spent a total of 7 years producing 16 large works that cover 3,000 sq ft (280 m2). When you see the size of the murals you can understand why they took 7 years to complete.

In 1928 the House of Lords was commissioned  Brangwyn to produce a series celebrating the beauty of the British Empire and the Dominions to fill the Royal Gallery.  Lord Iveagh tried to secure Brangwyn full artistic freedom to design and paint the commission his way. Unfotunately, Lord Iveagh died in 1927.  After 5 years of work the panels were displayed in the Royal Gallery for approvial by the Lords, but the peers refused to accept them because they were “too colourful and lively” for the place. It was worse than that. Some of them mocked his work in the national press. Lord Crawford, a Tory Peer, wrote in a “The Daily News” that the painting would be more suited to a night club than the House of Lords: “Just imagine five feet long bananas and grinning black monkeys looming over them!”

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One of the Panels that Lord Crawford criticised

It has been suggested that, this was rejection was part of a increasing restriction on artiostic expression that accompanying the birth of totalitarian movements across Europe. Fortuantely for the people of Wales and Swansea in partricular 1934 the panels were purchased by Swansea Council in 1934 and were housed in the Brangwyn Hall, Swansea. 

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Brangywn Hall, inside

The House of Lords’ loss is Swansea’s gain. These panels are absolutely astonishing. They are massive, colorful and packed to the gills with detail. Apparently, the height of the Hall’s ceiling had to be increased slightly to accommodate the tallest of the panels. They dominate the very large hall and the photographs fail the capture the huge scale of the panels. The are a true feast for the eyes.

The Glynn Vivian Gallery and Brangwyn Hall has on display quite a few of Brangwyn’s beautiful preparatory cartoons. He was a brillant draughtsman.

 

Interestingly Frank Barngwyn used modern technology to aid him; photography. The squaring up technique is one that artists have used for centuries, and is still used today by many (including me). If you look closely at the murals you can see the feint pencil lines of the grids he used.

The animals and people are incredible but the foilage of each country has also been painstakingly researched. I initally thought that the mass of green were sort of generic foliage but when I looked athe panel for England I was blown away when I realised that I recognised every type of leaf and flower; oak leaves, horsechestnuts, sunflowers, pears, apples, foxgoves, irises, blueblues. This is true for all the panels.

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The England Panel

I particularly enjoyed the details at the bottpom of the panels as they were at eye level. There were lots of tortoises, rabbits, bugs, butterfies and reptiles. The only thing thatappeared to be missiong were fish and aquautic mammals!  In the 1930s, before colour television and nature programs (and the nearest zoo in Bristol) this riot of creatures must have been quite a relevation for the people of Swansea.

Frank Brangwyn’s evident enthusiasm for the British empire was somewhat out-of-step with the increasingly introspective times of the inter-war years. Interestingly, his treatment of the different and diverse peoples of the British Empire was powerful and energetic. There are plenty of impressive female breasts but the women are strong and vital figures, not overtly sexualised. Perhaps, his celebration of empire makes for uncomfortable viewing in a post-empire world. Yet, the men and women of the Empire are depicted with dignity and sympathy, and the accent throughout is on the people, animals and plants of the conquered countries rather than on the activities of the conquerors.

Sadly, the rejection of the Panels by the Lords devasted Frank Brangwyn and it caused lasting depression in him. He became increasingly pessimistic and a hypochondriac and began disposing of his possessions during the 1930s. This is so sad as these murals are so wonderful!

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Was this grinning monkey Lord Crawford objected to?
Brangwyn, Frank, 1867-1956; British Empire Panel (14) Australia
Australia

Brangwyn, Frank, 1867-1956; British Empire Panel (9) Burma

Burma

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East Africa
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Siam

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Summer daydreams in the dark winter.

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Last Swim of the Day (Port Eynon)

I always struggle in the winter. It creeps up on me. I start to feel down although nothing particularly bad has happened. I feel myself start sliding. Then the thing takes on an almost physical shape. I can feel the edges of the thing starting to weigh heavily on me. Then, in the back of my mind, a thought dimly appears; “You Need Light”.

I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or winter depression, although I can get it during really wet summers when the days are overcast, day after day. This year has been particularly tough. I am often thinking thoughts like “Why is it so dark?”, “Oh no, is it night already?” and “How long until the sun comes up?” It seems to get worse with each passing year. Maybe it just because this winter has been particularly cold?

Fortunately, I have a couple of SAD lamps and one of those alarm clocks that will mimic a sunrise. I just have to remember to switch them on and sit next to them. I don’t always do so. So, here I am now with a lamp on and I can feel it cheering me up getting the hypothalamus in my brain to work properly. Earlier, when there was some gloomy daylight I painted a couple of summer beach scenes. I felt very happy painting the people on the beach in the blinding summer sun. I thought about the day back in the summer we visited Port Eynon, on the South Gower Coast.  The sea was glassy. It was so warm that paddling was wonderful. We had chips for tea. It was lovely. It was a day when you didn’t feel the need to “do” anything. You were quite happy just sitting in the shade watching the people on the beach.

I have long suspected that my tendency towards SAD is one of the reasons why I paint so many sunny and bright scenes. I feel much better for thinking about this wonderful summer’s day and painting these two beach scenes.

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Family Outing to the Beach (Port Eynon)  Oil on Linen Canvas 46x38cm unframed

 

See People Paintings

 

 

 

 

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Snow, snow, everywhere but here.

In the Brecon Beacons it has snowed. In Stroud, where my parents live, it has snowed. Here? Nope. We had about ten minutes of sleet yesterday morning and that’s it.  That’s what you get for living next to the sea, mild winters and damp summers.

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Winter Beacons

The last time it snowed here was about 7 years ago. I’ve been a long time waiting.

I love watching snow falling out the sky. I like to stand outside and look up into the sky and watch the flakes tumbling one after another down to the ground. I love the muffled sound and the creaking sound under foot. But its not to be *sigh*. It’s just not the same with rain!

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Wintery Mumbles c. 2010
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Glynn Vivian Open Exhibition

Christmas Shows (2 of 2)

In October 2011 the gallery was closed temporarily for a £6 million refurbishment and recladding of the 1974 extension. It wasn’t opened again until 2017. That’s almost 6 years closed.

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The Glynn Vivian looked like this for over 5 years

Then this  summer it reopened.

So when the gallery announced that it was going to hold an Open Exhibition this December there was a lot of interest from Swansea-based artists. The opening event on Saturday was super packed. We had to queue to get in.

My two paintings were “Round the bend” and “Glamour Glamour”

Seamas, my husband (James Henry Johnston) also had a self portrait in the exhibition. I thought his painting looked really good!

There was lots of really interesting work there. I really enjoyed the fact that there was a lot of variety and the walls were packed with work. The standard was very high. I intend to return when it’s not so packed to have a another look.

“Round The Bend” Oil on Linen Canvas 55 x 46 cm unframed