This is my winter update sent out to subscribers of my email
Donegal is a big mountaneous county in a big country. Imagine my shock when I discover that it’s only the 4th largest in Ireland (after Cork, Galway and Mayo) at 4,860 km2 (1,880 sq miles). It seems even bigger as there is no railway or motorways here, so it takes a long time to travel around all the mountains. One of joys of the county is that it’s relatively empty (the 5th least populated in Ireland) with 32.6 people per km2.
There is also a lot of coastline and the landscape varies from remote mountain bogland, rocky shores to lush rolling farmland in the east. Here are three small paintings I have completed recently that reflect some of this diversity.
The first painting is the furthest north – Malin on the Inishowen Peninsula. This peninsula is the furthest north in Ireland – Malin Head is represented by the red star nearest the top of the map above. It is further north than any part of Northern Ireland! This causes a lot of confusion for my parents who have never been to Ireland despite the fact that my father’s grandparents were from Cork.
The wee House at Malin is a cave, where folklore has it that no matter how many people enter it will hold all. It predates a monastic foundation and Holy Well. The cave and holy well were originally associated with the belief in the sanctity of water and local tradition states that the original foundation was built to exorcise evil from the area. The “Saint” venerated was St. Muirdhealach. He supposedly blessed the well (located in a cavern underneath the large rock directly in front of the ruins of the church).
The second is a view from Arranmore, the largest of the many islands off the coast of Donegal. This is represented by the red star furthest to the left/west on the map above.
And finally Muckish Mountain which lies further inland in West Donegal. I notice Muckish isn’t always included in Tourist maps (like the one bolow which has a red triangle for near by Errigal), yet its distinctive flat backed shape can see seen from Arranmore in the far west and even Carrigans in the far East of Donegal.
Find out more about County Donegal here: https://www.govisitdonegal.com/brochures-and-maps
Northern Ireland’s Tourism is very impressive. At Whiterocks Beach, just along from Portrush, there is not one, not two but three small carparks and a public toilets which are all free to use.
What’s more, there’s another car parks specially for horses and their horseboxes. I will point out though, that there is height restriction barrier on the carpark closest to the beach. I watched the driver of a car with bikes propped up on its roof rack stop, consider getting them knocked off by a bar and then reverse away to park just outside the carpark.
The beach is stunning. Very, very long at three miles. It had the softest sand that made us super tired the next day.
The cliffs here are unusual as they are made of chalk – Cretaceous Chalk, which is soft – whereas most of the causeway coast is made of basalt which was spewed out of volcanoes. The basalt headlands are dark grey and contrast with the luminescence of these chalk cliffs.
If you look at the geological map (below) you can see the top right-hand corner of Ireland is coloured dark red for volcanic rock. Don’t get excited, Mount Slemish the closest volcano (near Ballycastle) is extinct. Apparently the last eruption was approximately 60 million years ago. It’s a wonderful word to roll around the mouth – Slemish or Slieve Mish, means Mis’s mountain in Irish. It is where the young St Patrick was a slave and made herd sheep. It is also where he found God.
BGS Map of British Isles
The cliffs along Whiterocks Beach are dotted with lots of interesting geological landforms – cliffs, shore platforms, caves, arches, and sea stacks. The eroding power of the pounding sea on the chlak rocks is well illustrated. It’s a living geology lesson!
You can see the rocks change at Dunluce. The soft white chalk cliffs are replaced by grey basalt rocks that plunges 30 foot down to the sea. Erosion is taking place along these cliffs too,. The north walls of the castle (that’s the far side from this angle) fell into the sea in the C18th.
Further along the beach, at Magheracross, just before Dunluce, there is a carpark with viewing platform so vistors can admire the stunning seastacks below. There are several pull-in points along this road. It makes stopping to look at the heart-stoppingly beautiful views, or take a photo, a lot less hazardous to tourists and passing traffic.
Dunluce Castle is a location which is genuiunely iconic. Yes, it’s a very over-used term but the causeway coast contains several iconic locations that are instantly recognisable including Mussenden Temple and the Giant’s Causeway itself. Both of which are looked after by the National Trust. Dunluce Castle is owned by the MacDonnell family, although it is in the care of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
If you are a fan of the epic Game of Thrones you may think there is something familar about Dunluce – it was used as Castle Greyjoy although modified with CGI.
Dunluce is a beautiful ruin. Although it was founded in C13th, what you can see is largely the remains of the castle that was mostly built in the C16th. The first documented owners of the castle were the MacQuillans but it was taken over by the MacDonnells in the 1550s, Scottish settlers descended from the Scottish Clan MacDonald, after numerous battles. The Scottish Isles are very close. On a clear day you can see across the North Channel to Mull of Kintyre and the Isles of Jura and Islay.
Sorley Boy MacDonnell developed Dunluce Castle in the Scottish style, paying for the refurbishments through the looting of the Girona, a gallion from ill-fated Spanish Armada, which was wrecked in a storm on Lacada Point, further along the coast. The cannons of the ship were kept and can still be found in the Gatehouse today.
I was intrigued to read that there used to be a town next to the castle of Dunluce but it was destroyed during the Irish uprising of c.1641. What does not survive in the present day can be as intriguing as what does survive. It had been home to maybe as many as 300 Scottish settlers. In 1642 a contingent of Irish rebels attempted to capture the nearby castle, but were repulsed and as they retreated they set fire to the town. Badly damaged, the settlement never fully recovered and by 1680 it was abandoned. There was nothing but fields there now.
Artists impression of what the 17th century town may have looked like (by Philip Armstrong and ©Northern Ireland Environment Agency)
Sadly, we did not get to visit the castle itself as the car park was full (they only had the one). It’s just an excuse to go back when it’s not a bank holiday!
Find out More
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
Here’s to a happier and healthier 2021 to everyone!
A year’s a long time in art. When I look back at my paintings from early 2019, it feels like I made them much longer ago than that! This selection of “popular” (most likes/biggest reach) is based on my Instagram account, there are many more images that I shared on Facebook, that were also popular but are not included here. The work in progress photos are often very popular, sometimes they are more popular than the final painting!
The most popular nine posts/paintings are all of Donegal, Ireland, paintings.
Here are my most popular posts/paintings of landscapes, people and animals of Gower, Wales and Stroud, England.
Finally, a selection of commissioned work. I particularly enjoyed painting the beautiful Maine Coon cats, especially as pet portraits are usually of the canine variety!
My personal favorite from 2019 is this one. There is something about the neatness of the houses on the island that I relish in this painting.
Of course, the irony is that one of my most popular posts of 2019 on social media was not a painting but a photograph that my husband took on the spur of the moment of us in woolly hats (and my new Donegal jumper) on Christmas Day!
Here’s wishing everyone a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2020!
See more of my work here
Autumn brings incredible colours to the west coast of Ireland. As the grass and bracken die off, they turn a fantastic shade of orange and pink. The pink granite rocks that litter the landscape accentuate the warm colours. They have provided me with much inspiration for my landscape paintings of Donegal, Ireland.
This series of paintings has been inspired by the Old Railway Walk which starts near Burtonport, near Dungloe in Donegal. There are no railways in Donegal anymore. There used to be. The line to Burtonport was built in 1903 as a joint venture by the British government and the Londonderry & Loch Swilly Railway Company to attempt to alleviate poverty in north West Donegal.
The trains used to carry fish from the port at Burtonport in Donegal to Derry, in the neighboring county. It also carried many seasonal workers to and from Derry and Scotland. After 1922 the line crossed from one country into another; from the Irish Free State into Northern Ireland.
In the 1940s, however, the Irish government decided to close down the railways in Donegal. I have never really found a clear explanation for why this happened but I am going to assume that the cost of running the line was an important factor. There were also concerns about the safety of the line.
In January 1925 disaster had occurred on the at the Owencarrow Viaduct when winds of up to 120mph blew carriages of the train off the viaduct causing it to partially collapse. Four poor souls lost their lives.
After the Second World War, the Irish government presumably decided it would cost too much to continue the maintenance of the line and it was closed in 1947. The Burtonport-Gweedore section closed in 1940. There is a great graphic on the Donegal Daily here illustrating the shrinkage and disappearance of the railways. Donegal became a very remote part of Ireland, with no railways and no (still) motorways. Communication with the area improved in 1986, however, when Donegal airport started operations.
It seems that for half a century nothing much happened on the old railway line. In 2009, however, there was a heavy snowfall, and some of the old railway line was cleared to access water mains that needed repairing. The remaining section was later cleared and gradually developed as a walkway with the support of the local community. A massive effort has gone into creating this beautiful and peaceful walk.
Here are some of my paintings inspired by my husband Seamas’s photographs of the railway walk.
There are many features of the old railway remaining which you can view along the way such as stations, gatehouses, accommodation crossings, lots of pillars, cuttings, embankments, a bridge and rusty gates. There are also lots of shelters for walkers to hide from passing showers to use.
Photo credit: James (Seamas) Henry Johnston
Youtube video- Siúlóid an tSean Bhóthar Iarainn—The Old Railway Walk by Ralph Schulz.
Find out more about the Railway Walk by clicking on the links below:-
Getting here: From Letterkenny and Dungloe – SITI Rural Transport – Tel 0749741644. From Dublin – Bus Eireann@ www .buseireann .ie From Scotland & Northern lreland – Doherty Travel (00353) 749521867
Inishbofin, Inis Bó Finne in Irish, means Island of the White Cow. There are two different islands off the coast of Ireland bearing this poetic name. The name suggests the importance of cows in early Irish society. This is not surprising at all as cows have been vital in many ancient human societies. The “other” Inishbofin is off the coast of County Galway further down south. The one I have painted is off the coast of Donegal, near Machaire Uí Rabhartaigh (Magheraroarty).
It was a chilly, sparkling day when we visited in late spring. We walked along the quay at Magheraroarty and watched a The Queen of Aran ferry come in and pick up some passengers for Tory Island 9 miles to the north.
Much closer than Tory Island is Inishbofin. It’s a mere 3km (1.8 miles) from the mainland. I took photos of the houses on the island with my zoom lens. They were still very small.
I originally wanted to paint this whole stretch of the island’s coastline but I realised that without a more dramatic (cloudy) sky, most of the canvas would end up being a lot of light blue and a tiny strip of land at the bottom of the painting. So I chose a section of the coastline and focused on the details of the houses that I could make out.
I get a lot of pleasure from looking at the clean lines of the old houses – I also enjoy a landscape with no cars. If you have eagle eyes you will spot a solitary caravan on the hill above the main street on Inishbofin. The island is approximately 1.2km wide and 2km long with a small seasonal population of about 50 people, who are Irish-speakers. I believe, a few hardy souls live there all year round.
Here’s a lovely video about the people who live on the island in the summer months. It’s in Irish (as they are Irish-speakers) but there are subtitles.
I get very attached to my Donegal island paintings. I’m not sure why. Maybe its because I get such pleasure at looking at those unmodernized houses. I like the length of the image too. Perhaps it because, so far, I have looked across the sea at them and had to reconstruct the landscape with care.
It’s hard to explain, but it’s like my mind has “felt” the shape of the land, the rise and fall of the shingle beaches, the spread of seaweed on the shore, the rocks and hills behind the houses. It’s usually my paintings of animals that find it hard to part with!
That house with a red front door on the right side of the painting is for sale.
Many of the islands have seasonal boats. We are planning to visit one or two of these island in the next few weeks when we are back in Donegal. My list of islands to visit include:- Gola, Inishbofin, Tory and Owey. I don’t think we will manage more than two of those this visit. It depends on the weather and energy levels.
Here are my other Donegal island paintings (I have parted with two of these).
Spring Light on Gola – Seamas’s favourite painting!
Owey Island (SOLD)
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
I am not well. I have a virus that makes me feel tired, my arms in particular feel heavy, my throat feels sore and I struggle with social interactions. The sense of illness ebbs and flows. I start off the day feeling rough but by the evening, I feel a bit better. Yesterday I felt terrible most of the day but strangely found myself defrosting the freezer at 8pm. I had fancied an ice lolly to ease my sore throat but I noticed that freezer door would not close. Obviously, the last person to use the freezer had not shut the door properly. So, I cleared the freezer of its content, switched it off, and got the steam cleaner out. Forty-five minutes later all the ice was gone and the content was back inside neat frost-free drawers.
I have struggled to write this post. I deleted my first two attempts as I kept going off at tangents (see defrosting freezer above). Thankfully, illness hasn’t stopped me painting. I started this large painting (92×73 cm) of Mewslade Bay but I made slow progress. Mewslade Bay is just round the corner from Worms Head and Rhossili Bay. There is no beach to speak of at high tide. At low tide, however, the sandy beach can be reached if you scramble down over some slippery rocks, and thick beds of seaweed that have been washed up against rocks. I had got up at 5 am to drive down to Mewslade to catch it at low tide. Although the majority of the sky was clear there was a spattering of mackerel clouds just above the horizon. The light was hazy and I had wait 45 minutes before I got a blast of bright sunshine on the cliff face.
I think I should have started with darkest parts of the image, rather than the lightest parts.
As I had to go back and darken the rocks in the distance and in the shadow of the furthest peak.
Adding the beach and shadow under the cliffs helped “intensify” the dark part of the cliffs.
Finally, adding the morning sky made sense of the blues and purple shadows on the east facing cliff faces. Some paintings seem to make sense straight away and with others, like this one, you have to wait until all the elements are in place. I particularly love the way the peak in the foreground casts its shadow on the second peak. It reminds me of a tiny Everest! The bright morning light makes the rock face look like a snow covered peak.
Who hasn’t attempted to create a photographic panorama? Back in the 1990s when cameras contained stuff called film, I remember often standing looking at some amazing view, and then slowly pivoting from left to right (and then right to left in case I’d missed something) taking a series of overlapping photographs. The hope was that I would recreate a some stunning vista; such as the Grand Canyon, the London skyline, or even the lovely Alhambra. After a long wait, the photos would come back from the developers and I’d dutifully stick them together. The results were usually underwhelming. Rather wonky. If, you tried really hard you could sum up the awe of the view that had inspired you, sort of. I don’t think the sticky tape added to the overall impact, either. I give you in evidence the example below which I found lurking in one of our crowded cupboards:-
Oh dear. Obviously I wasn’t the only one who was disappointed by their efforts to capture their holiday vistas in this way as companies like Kodac developed special disposable panoramic cameras so you did not have to tape your photos together. I will never know if they were any good because I never had one.
So, forgive me if I have pretty much spurned panoramic compositions until now. In fact, I have had a long phase where I chose portrait orientation for my landscape compositions whether rural or urban. I really liked the sense of piles of houses on houses, or field upon fields. It works well in hilly Swansea and mountainous Wales.
It’s not like I never tried narrow canvases. I did use a couple of small narrow canvases to paint Mumbles, the village at the end of Swansea Bay. The paintings turned out well but I didn’t really enjoy the experience. I didn’t really ask myself why not until now. I think it was partly because I was in a portrait orientation “groove” and partly it was because the canvases were too small, they felt mean and didn’t really convey the essence of Mumbles.
It was a client who got me using panoramic canvases again. He wanted a landscape painting of May Hill in Gloucestershire. We originally discussed using a 80x60cm canvas but then he decided he wanted a narrower canvas; 80×40 cm. This was inspired. This immediately improved the composition because instead of the landscape getting lost against too much sky, it actually balanced the composition. It gave the land in the painting more immediacy and intimacy.
Now, you might say that this is not particularly “panoramic” but it got me thinking. Narrower canvases would suit coastal paintings because too much sky often has the effect of “shrinking” the land/coast in a composition. I’ll give you a photographic example:-
So using a long narrow canvas works really well with compositions for certain scenes, such as the one of Worms Head I have shown above.
All good so far, but what about the frustrations? There are the logistical issues surrounding using longer canvases. It may sound daft, but they are long. I find it hard to store them in my small attic studio. They poke out. When it comes to painting, I found that painting of the far left or right of the canvas quite a challenge. You see, I don’t usually bother with using the clamp at the top of my easel when I am painting as I often like to rotate my paintings and paint a canvas “upside down” or even “sideways up/down”. Oh, no. I have to clamp my painting in place or else it flips away from me when I press on it to paint any part either side of the central part. Rotating the canvas becomes a hassle too. My arms are not quite long enough to adjust the clamp without standing up.
This may all sound very lazy but once I start painting I get into a groove or “flow” and can barely be bothered to move from my central position other than put my brush on my palette and then onto the canvas. This is why I usually end up drinking lukewarm tea even though it’s in a thermos-style travel mug. It’s very rare that I get up to change the station on my radio. This is how I end up listen to sports programs (even football matches) although I am definitely not a sports fan.
The satisfaction of a well-balanced composition and having less sky to paint is worth it.
Then comes the issue of how to show it on my website and social media. There is no problem uploading the image to artfinder.com – it comes up as a complete image on my page.
However, when I uploaded it to my website the thumbnail cropped the image (see below left).
So, I have to go on canva.com and create a new version of the image. I paste the image on a white background so the image will viewed whole. Thus:-
Finally, Instagram. I have the same issue with Instagram as I do with my own website in that it only shows part of the image so I decide to chop the picture into two halves and upload them separately. Only I do it the wrong way around at first and end up with a back to front image. I make a note (I draw a little diagram in fact) the right side has to uploaded first and the left second.
It looks better on my smart phone. But you see the problem, as new images are uploaded it is pushed along the feed and gets split up between the lines of images. I also don’t know if people looking say the left side of the painting will understand that it’s part of a pair. They’ll just think it a painting of a beach and won’t realise that there’s a long mountainous headland to go with it. *sigh*
Never mind, I think that the best way to show off the panoramic paintings is on this blog!
Here’s my most recent and ambitious long landscape painting. If you click on the title you can see a bigger version.