This week I passed an important blogging milestone. On Tuesday moring I was greeted with the message that my wordpress site had passed 100,000 all-times views!
My husband, Séamas, set up this wordpress site for me over seven years ago. When I took it over full-time in 2015, I had 91 followers, now I have just over 800! Views for my site have steadily been growing but 2020-21 was a bumper year.
Breaking my leg last year provoked the most comments by far!
I would like to say a great big thank you to every one who visited my website, bought my work, read my blogs and left comments!
It seems that I like animals almost as much as I like Art. Turns out that Wayne (Barnes) of Tofino Photography is my chattiest follower. He certainly makes me laugh! He takes wonderful photographs of the incredible wildlife of Western Canada – eagles, bears, wolves, orcas and humming birds! Take a look here.
Thank you to everyone who has visited my website and blog. Whether you have just stopped by to look at my paintings, read my blogs but especially those who “like”, comment and buy my work. Without you I could not continue to make art.
I am sometimes asked if I hold workshops or produce intructional videos, and unfortunately, the answer is that I don’t as I am usually busy painting (and blogging). There is so much already available on the internet that I don’t feel I can compete. Others have done it better already!
So I have put together, instead, a short list of tips and links for any one who is interested to help them develop. Please feel free to comment or suggest your own. There are no affliate links in this blog. I have included websites and video clips that I have found personally useful.
My Top TEN TIPS
Paint, paint and paint some more.The more you paint, the more your work will improve. Most artists keep a sketch book and sketch and paint in their spare moments. It is important to pratice without worrying too much about the expensive canvas you are painting. I used to work in oil pastels on paper when I was younger but now I try to paint in oils most days. I have also experimented with water colours and acrylics. It is only by doing and looking that you will develop as an artist
Look at Art. Decide what you like. Look at the works of many artists. Think about what they are doing and how they do it. You don’t have to copy them but you can be inspired by them.
I particularly like pre 1950s artists (especially post impressionists like Matisse, Marquet, Derain, Bevan, Gilman) for their use of colour and portayal of light.
There are many fascinating interviews with artists on Savy Painter that are well worth a listen!
It is important to see paintings “in the flesh too”. Van Gogh and Monet need to be seen in real life to appreciate their scale, and how they have used the paint. I once saw a Picasso in Swansea’a Glynn Vivian Museum, and its presence quite blew me away. It was very big. I got a powerful sense of an artist who knew what he wanted to achieve and knew exactly how to do it. If I had just looked at online I would got none of that. I save images of work I like on my pinterest account.
Paint – buy the best paint you can afford. Try out different brands. A paint may have the same name but look very different depending on the brand. Only buy Artist’s oil paints. The student version are cheaper and inferior. They are fine for underpainting only. They fade. My favourite brands include Lefranc and Bourgeois Extra Fine, Lukas 1862 Finest Artists’ Oil Colour, Sennelier Finest Artist’s Oli Colour, Talens Rembrandt Artists’ Oil Colour, Schmincke Norma Professional Artists’ Oil Colour, Michael Harding Artists’ Oil Colours. It took me a long time to really understand what colour opacity and the transparency of paint meant in terms of my painting. I am still learning how to use this knowlege.
Canvas– invest in good quality canvas. I love linen canvas as they are really strong and hard wearing. In my early days, I painted on cheap cotton canvases that years later would tear easily. It was quite heart breaking to realise that I had wasted my creative energy on an inferior product.
I particularly like the natural ones painted with clear gesso. If you buy the white ones, it’s helpful to paint the canvas with a coloured ground before you start painting. Here’s a excellent video on how to do it.
Composition – shapes and how they are arranged, lines and their direction.
I like looking at how photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Vivian Maier, William Eggleston and Harry Gruyaert used light, colour and composition in their work.
“If the arrangement of the big shapes is strong and coherent, it’ll carry the painting. You are 90 percent of the way toward achieving a composition – and consequently a painting – that will work from “Mastering Composition“by Ian Roberts
6. Tonal value – The value of a color is how dark or how light that color is. It is easy to see value shifts looking to an image in black and white or in grayscale; it is a little trickier to see it in color.
Colour – warmth/coolness of colours and their intensity
Get a Colour Wheel
There is more than way to mix a particular colour. Sometimes its a matter of trial and error. Practice mixing colours and understand why some combinations (the three primary colours for example) result in mud. Mixing “warm” and “cool” colours doesn’t work either. See an explanation here. Remember that brands vary. I have found that not all “Vandyke Browns” are the the same.
8. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Yet don’t forget the details!
9. Using Source Material (photographs)
Don’t be afraid to change what is in the source photos you use, leave out things, simplify forms. Sometimes a really good photo doesn’t make a really good painting. I take photos with the express idea of using them for painting, that means they are not necessarily good photos but they have the information I need.
Peggi Kroll Roberts – demonstrates a “high key” painting, where values are kept at a narrow range, in the lighter shades of value.
10. Watch videos and save them – If you want to know how an artist does something, look it up. It might help, it might not. I have found that looking up a technique say “scumbling” is more useful that “how to paint clouds” because I have realised that I have to find my own way of doing something. I save links on my pinterest account.
Finally, find your own voice. Forget all of the above points and just create. Don’t copy. By all means steal good ideas. You have to have your own style, like you have a style of hand writing you have a style of painting. Let it develop. Good Luck.
My leg and ankle are recovering from my accident this springand although I can walk a faster than I used to, I still cannot walk long distances which means that a lot of my favourite Gower walks are off limits to me. I find staying indoor too much isn’t good for my mental health (especially during the Pandemic) and it is vital to get out and see different places nearby. Fresh air is good for the soul, the mind and more importantly it blows away the virus!
This blog is about a very short road trip around parts of the Penrice estate down to Oxwich Bay we did this week. My husband drove and I took the photographs. Penrice Castle was built by the Mansel Talbots. They were one of the most powerful families in South Wales and certainly one of its biggest resident landowners and MPs for Glamorgan in the Victorian era. The “new” Castle at Penrice was built by Thomas Mansel Talbot in the 1770s, as an alternative residence to the rambling old house at Margam. Thomas, who had travelled to Euope and considered himself a man of great taste had a neo-classical villa built. He also had the land around the house landscaped and a park laid out to improve the romantic scenery that had first attracted him to the place. His son, Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot, who was born at Penrice in 1803, modernised the old Aberavon Port and renamed it (modestly) Port Talbot as an industrial hub for South Wales. The house at Margam was also pulled down and a new mansion was built there between 1827 and 1830 near the ruins of the old abbey.
I will the road trip start with a map. All road trips need a map. There is an excellent map of Gower at Mapsta here. Our trip starts at the top left hand side of the map where a lane turns a sharp left from the A4118 road down a narrow single track lane. A word of warning if you fancy this road trip. This is not a trip for a large vehicle. Most of the lanes are single track and are very narrow. We spent most of it praying that we did not meet any thing coming the other way, and we drive a tiny Kia, as it would have possibly meant a ggod deal of reversing! Thankfully we didn’t.
We saw people. There were not too many but enough to watch. There was even a small wedding party having their photos taken on the beach off in the distance. It was heartening to see people managing to commit to a future together come what may! It must have been next to impossible planning their day as we have had a national lockdown, a local lockdowns and a mini-firebreak and there are rumours of another lockdown after Christmas.
On the way back home, we continue anti-clockwise on our loop back up a steep hill to the main road past Underhill Cottage. It was originally the Head Gamekeeper’s cottage. It has a lovely, sunny position overlooking the beautiful Oxwich Marsh and the sea with Nicholaston Woods behind. These days it is a holiday cottage. It is possibly one of the few sorts of holidays you could be confident of not getting cancelled these days (if you live locally, that is).
Buy my book “Footnotes: An Artist’s Walk around the Gower Coast” here
I have found that my energy is slowly but steadily returning after my operation on my broken leg in March (although painting light is shrinking with the shortening days). I spent much of the spring and early summer sitting in my chair wishing I could go outside into the fresh air or climb the stairs to my attic studio. I painted watercolours instead, and thought a lot about colour and composition. I learnt to simplify my images and edit them with more ruthlessness than I had done before.
I have attempted to carry these lessons into the compositions of my oil paintings. I suspect that I need to go further. I am always torn between a desire to accurately convey what is probably a well-known location to local people, and the need to create an effective composition. In otherwords I want to create an engaging painting, regardless of whether a viewer has visited Donegal or not.
Here’s an example of editing my composition. I used several reference photos for this painting of Bád Eddie (Eddie’s Boat) but you will see that I decide to leave out the all the lamp posts. I felt they made the picture look cluttered. I also left out the the skylights on a couple of the houses for the same reason. I did, however, decide to include a couple of series of fence posts on the right side of the painting as they lead the eye down the hill.
I have gone further with my editing of the reference image in my most recent painting of Arranmore. This is a painting of a (probably abandoned) white house that I had painted a watercolour of earlier in the year .
A lot of the compositional work is done when composing the reference photograph, but there is often a bit more tinkering to be done to clarify the image further.
Here you can see that I have again removed most of the telegraph poles, just leaving one further down the road. The fence posts as usual, get to stay. The ones on the right led the eye down the road. The central part of the painting on the right side is too cluttered for my liking too. It’s very confusing for the viewer. I have since discovered that this is because there are too many “tangents“. The word “tangent” usually just indicates that two things are touching, but in art the term describes shapes that touch in a way that is visually annoying or troublesome. This also describes those telegraph poles I removed. It all makes for an image that is easier to “read”.
I also removed a several of the buildings so that there is a clear view over to the tiny island of Inishkeeragh with its solidary summer home. Finally, I also simplied the pair of yellow buildings to the far right. I found the semi-abstract result pleasing and I felt that the lack of detail balanced the detail in mud, rocks and grasses on the near side to the left of the painting. I like to balance detail with areas of flat colour, such as the roof of the house or the sea, as I think that too much detail all over makes the head sore. The human brain doesn’t process images in this way any way. Our eyes/brains will focus on one or two areas and “generalise” other larger areas of colour.
Thus, I hope I have created a succesful painting rather than slavishly copying a photograph.
Read more about avoiding confusing tangents in compositions here
This will be a short post as I am nursing a painful left elbow on an ice pack. I developed bursitis on Friday, I am not sure why as I didn’t hit my elbow on anything but too many sun salutations in yoga is my number one suspect.
We have had a lot of really bad weather lately. We seem to be cantering our way through the alphabet of storms: Atiyah, Brendan, Ciara, Dennis, Ellen, Francis etc. This means I have rarely left the house, except to buy food, walk the dogs in our local park or to go to a yoga class, although yoga will be out of bounds until my elbow recovers now.
So, whilst Storm Ciara was blasting her way overhead, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to set up a number of still life compositions to work from. I had painted a number of largish canvases (80x60cm) and felt in wanted to paint something smaller for variety’s sake, and also something that I could complete in a short (gloomy) day.
My past forays into Still Life paintingexplored paleness/whiteness, and they were largely inspired by the work of Morandi. These were medium-sized paintings. I liked the calmness of the plain backgrounds.
Still life – cup and teapot
Still Life Painting
In this short series of paintings, I was more interested in colour. I was particularly inspired by a patterned cloth that my husband, Seamas, had found in a charity shop many years ago. I liked the warmth of the colours.
This was my first painting. I liked the way the colours of the flowers chimed with the fruit on the plate.
I think my second painting was better probably helped by better light on the day that I painted it.
Then I decided to focus on the fruit. A tiny slice of it!
Then finally a more traditional composition with a cup and red cloth. I have noticed before how I am drawn to painting reds in winter.
The bright colours in these paintings cheered me up. Having completed this short series I felt ready to return to large canvases and more muted tones.
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
Delighted to have Sold this classic “urban folk” painting “Night Jacks” to a collector in Utah in the US via Artfinder !
“The title of this expressionist “urban folk” painting takes it’s title from Hopper’s “Night Hawks” – I have “Britishized” Hopper’s painting which was set in an American diner by using a British alternative or even equivalent the ever present Fish and Chip shop instead as it seemed appropriate. The second part of the title, Jacks, refers to a name we have here in Swansea for people who come from Swansea.”
“This painting is of the straggling wisps of cloud left on the hills in the Black Mountains after a passing storm. It was an amazing scene, this steam-like vapour rising out of the backs and humps of the hills. It looked as if the hills had just had a shower and the appearing sun was drying them off. I loved how the low lying clouds combed the trees and hedges as they floated past. The sun, shining through to illuminate this effect, seemed also to grow patchworks of colours from the fields around the surrounding landscape, as if the light was a nurturing spectral beam. The colours in the Black Mountains after the weather breaks on the hills are heavenly and this is what I hoped to convey. ”
new oil painting – 80 x 60 cm, £479 – “Night Jacks”
“The title of this expressionist “urban folk” painting takes it’s title from Hopper’s “Night Hawks” – I have “Britished” Hopper’s painting which was set in an American diner by using a British alternative or even equivalent the ever present Fish and Chip shop instead as it seemed appropriate. The second part of the title, Jacks, refers to a name we have here in Swansea for people who come form Swansea.”
“This is a painting of a most enchanted wood, halfway between Ilston and the Gower Inn in the Parkmill area of Gower peninsula in Wales. These woody areas, as many artlovers will have realised by now, are a constant source of inspiration for much of my refractionist and post-refractionist work. This pine wood lies on one side of a bridge with ancient woodland on the other, the contrast between the knarled, mossy twisted ancient branches of the ancient wood across the bridge in clear contrast to the straight, textured, orderly pine trees this side of the bridge. In fact, crossing this bridge gives one a heightened sense of having moved from one region or realm to another, adds to the feeling of having been transported somewhere different.
This is the inspiration for this painting, this feeling as we view the clear late October light falling across this woodland path. I tried to catch the fact that the path is covered in layers of pine needles, mulched to make the most soft and slightly bouncy carpet of needles. It is these needles, layers heaped and heaped on each other that softens the light and gives it texture, catches the light in its soft grasp, making it almost fluffy. The carpet of pine needles fall to create a complete deadening of noise in this wood which is quite a beautiful affect, this complete silence. This adds to the wood’s sense of enchantment. The silence makes this almost a world apart, a secret quiet place to escape to and roam and explore and enjoy as a child. It is a great escape to somewhere unusual and oddly mystical. Enchanted even…”
The painting has sold but you can buy a large limited edition mounted print here
In my last post I decribed visiting the abandoned fishing village of An Port tucked away in a remote corner of the Donegal shoreline (read it here). We were inspired to seek out this very remote spot by American artist Rockwell Kent, who visited and painted the area in the 1920s. I was waiting for […]
An Port has loomed large in my imagination for a long time. It’s very remote and quite difficult to get to. To reach it, you have to drive down a very, very long single track road (it’s about three miles but it feels longer) on the way to Glencolmcille. There are plenty of sheep and […]
Rossbeg (sometimes spelt Rosbeg) is a tiny townland on the west coast of Donegal, just south of Portnua and Nairn. There is a pier and a scattering of houses, some are modern, but many are old cottages, probably used as holiday lets. The day we visited the weather was calm and sunny. It was just perfect.