I think that I have enough paintings for my “Hollowed Community” Project, for the time being. So now I am walking further afield to find new subjects. I walked up hill to Sketty, parts of which have fantastic views across Swansea Bay. I loved this large white house on the corner of a quiet street, Grosvenor Road, because I think there is some of the “sea-side” light on this building although it’s further inland and Brynmill, where I live.
The magnificent red brick building at the end of our road used to be called the Rhyddings Hotel but in recent years has recently rebranded itself as “The Rhyddings at Swansea”. I have always admired it’s generously arched windows which look out north and west from the bar and the lounge bar.
Local legend has it that it used to be a coaching house. Presumably, the current building was constructed in the late Victorian period, as it is built from similar red brick to that of the Brynmill Junior School which was built in 1986.
Writer Kingsley Amis (of “Lucky Jim” fame as and father of Martin Amis) later drank here in the late 1940s when it was run by ex-professional footballer Jack Fowler. I was would amazed if Dylan Thomas hadn’t drunk here too but I have yet to come across a reference to him doing so. He is known to have been keen on the Uplands Tavern and the pubs in Mumbles.
For some reason, locals use an Anglicised pronunciation of the name “Rhyddings” (with a hard “d” sound instead of the soft “f” sound that would be used in Welsh pronunciation. Perhaps this is simply a sign that Swansea is a very Anglicised town and sadly, Welsh is not often heard here. Medieval Swansea had an English community and much later the English from Devon and Cornwall came here in the 18th and 19th centuries came to work in the copper and tinplate industries.
The white building on the opposite corner to the Rhyddings is the Park Fish Bar which claims to be the oldest fish and chip shop in Swansea (running since 1974 since you ask). It is unusual to see the road outside The Rhyddings pub empty. There are usually cars parked there. The absence of cars illustrates how the community of Brynmill has been hollowed out by an imbalance of student houses. In many streets in this area, 80%-90% of houses are empty in the summer. It makes for an eerily quiet summer. It’s like a ghost town. It’s very sad.
The imbalance also affects local businesses. Not only because the area is very empty in the summer months but even when they are here students tend not to drink in the local pub or eat chips from the chip shop. They drink at home and order their food from Adsa & Tescos or have takeaways delivered by some poor Deliveroo rider who struggled up the steep Swansea hills to deliver their food. Some do, of course, but Jeff, who used to run the Park Fish Bar, used to tell me tales of the days before the student houses swamped the area when families regularly bought fish, chips, and pizzas from his shop and the queue reached out the door and around the corner. This is a shame as students undoubtedly bring youth and energy to the area but when there is such an imbalance it no longer feels like a healthy and varied community but instead some sort of annexe to the University Campus.
Note: Not to be confused with Rhyddings House, which is at the corner of Bernard Street and St Albans Road. I’ll be coming to that ghost of a house next.
“Urban minimal” paintings of Swansea
Swansea is full of hills. It’s why there are so many great views in this town. It helps keep you fit. We live on top of a hill that -gave its name to the area – Brynmill (Lit. “Mill Hill” in Welsh).
Bernard Street is a long tree-lined avenue that “hangs” between two hills. It leads from the uplands of busy Gower Road down a long slope past a small parade of shops and then uphill again to St Albans Road, which runs parallel to the north side of the ridge of Brynmill. This land was once part of the grounds of a country mansion called “Pantygwdyr” (Lit. “Stream of Glass” in Welsh) that longer exists, that was once owned by a John Richardson, a ship owner.
Bernard was, apparently, a family name that was given to this street that was built around the turn of the 19th century. The north end of Bernard Street is lined with elegant large Edwardian red brick houses. It is one of the red-brick houses I have painted. I love the fiery colour of the hard brick. Not at all like modern bricks. These are smooth edged and a reddish orange.
I also love the trees on this road. They are periodically pruned so that the branches are reduced to stumps but they always burst forth with verdant abundance in the spring. It hard to be minimal with such lush greenery! It is usually rare to find parking spaces at this end of the street. The summer and the absent students have left gaps. The shadow of the house opposite, encroaches into the sunny scene, possibly a hint of something ominous.
More on Brynmill
© Emma Cownie 2017
Commissions for Oil Paintings
I am currently working on a commission piece at the moment and have two more in the pipeline. I really enjoy doing commissions for three reasons: Firstly, you’ve “sold” a piece of work before you’ve completed it. Secondly, it’s quite a compliment and boost to the fragile painters’ ego: someone likes your work enough to ask you to paint something especially for them. Finally, it’s a challenge – often you are asked to paint subjects you would not have normally chosen to paint but the results can be very pleasing. Subjects I have painted range from beloved pets (many more dogs than cats), a holiday scene, a family home, a golf course in Australia, a CD cover as well as revisiting subjects that I have painted before which as woodland scenes and Welsh landscapes.
My 6 Tips on Commissions
1. Price – make it clear how much it is likely to cost. I have a page on my website that sets out the sizes and prices. We can negotiate on details such as shipping, packaging (do they want it gift-wrapped, a card with a message included?). Generally, I charge according to how long the work is likely to take and how detailed it is.
2. Deal direct with the collector – I used to do commissions via online galleries but I have found that galleries have interfered with the negotiations too much, and that has discouraged me. Some online galleries even stipulate that if you do a commission through them then the customer retains the copyright to the work. I believe that the artist retains the copyright, whereas the collector has bought for the artwork
3. Turnaround time – make it clear how quickly you can paint the piece (including drying times which can be quite lengthy). It is important not to take on too many projects at the same time. I generally, limit myself to three at any one time.
4. Ideally, secure a deposit before you start working. If nothing else, it helps ensure that the customer is serious about this commission. This gives me peace of mind of knowing that my buyer is serious about commissioning without me being left empty handed.
5. Know your limits. If you are working from a photo, make sure it is of good quality and better still, make sure you have several images of the subject to chose from. The photos need to have been in good light. If the image is not good enough, don’t be afraid to ask for better ones. If none are available, be prepared to turn down the commission. You don’t want to produce a poor quality artwork. No one will be happy with that outcome.
6. Communication – let the customer see the finished painting before it’s dried and communicate about shipping details, when it’s sent, tracking number and check that it’s arrived safely and the customer is satisfied.
© Emma Cownie 2017
Oil Painting of Three Cliffs Bay, Gower, Wales. This is an unusual view from Three Cliffs Bay in Gower, Wales, looking back towards Parkmill from the top of granite rock monuments of one of the three cliffs.
I loved the array of colours and found it an arresting view, away from the bustle of the waves and shouting exuberance, to the calm and reflective.
However, when I came to write this post this morning, I was suddenly seized by the terrible thought that I might have been guilty of getting a Gower place name wrong. I thought so anyway. I have been calling Three Cliff Bay, Gower, Three Cliffs Bay. So what? However, I have noticed last week that a local artist and blogger called it Three Cliff Bay, with no “s”. So I decided that I had been erroneously been adding an extra “s” to the cliff part of the name. Entirely understandable because you would assume that if it’s in the plural, it would have an “s” at the end. Perhaps I not been paying close enough attention! I felt bad, that I had got it wrong. I’d be a poor landscape artist if I couldn’t get the name of the place I had painted correct!
However, I decided this need further investigation. Trying to check this on the internet, did not clear up the matter. Plenty of others also call it Three Cliffs with an “s”. The Visit Swansea Bay website for one calls this area Three Cliffs Bay as does as Trip Advisor and the local campsite, which calls itself Three Cliffs Bay Holiday Park! You think they would know what its called, as they live there?
However, I think it’s a little more complicated than that. Google Maps actually has both names. But when I studied their map a little closer – it seems that they use Three Cliffs Bay for the tidal beach and Three Cliff Bay for the sea part of the bay. The Ordnance Survey just has Three Cliff Bay for the sea part of the bay. So finally, I turn to my trusted authority on all things Gower related – a book. Wynford Vaughan-Thomas’s 1976 edition of “Portrait of Gower” which is full of facts, stories and gossip about old Gower and its people (Wynford was a Swansea-born Historian who was taught English at school by Dylan Thomas’s father).
His section on what he calls “one of the great Gower views” he calls it Three Cliffs Bay. So there. Phew! That’s good enough for me. I have worried about nothing and wasted half an hour fact checking.
It is called Three Cliffs Bay. Unless you happen to be out at sea and then is Three Cliff Bay! Unless you know better!
© Emma Cownie 2017
Art Exhibition in Brynmill Swansea
My exhibition of Gower seascapes and scenes from life in Brynmill, Swansea.
There were some last minute discussions about what should be included. A late addition quickly had “D'” hooks and string attached this morning. The bubble wrap was rolled out and the paintings were carefully rolled into several parcels for the very brief car journey to the venue, Brynmill Coffee House, Langland Terrace, Swansea. When we arrived, the paintings were swiftly arranged around the room. One painting was almost left out, but some rearrangement of paintings and the arrival of an extra hook meant everyone made onto the walls. No one was carried back home. Photos were taken of my husband, Seamas, putting up the paintings, the final arrangement of pictures and then me with the paintings.
It’s great to see my work up on some else’s walls. The dark blue on the cafe walls really complements the paintings well. I can reflect on the themes I have followed over the course of the last 6 months. Whether its a determined shopper at the once-monthly Uplands Market, families outside Singleton Park or the waves on Gower beaches, it’s always about colour and light for me. I can see similar tones of blues and greens that I favour; royal blue, and yellow ochres in particular. It’s satisfying to think these paintings “belong” together. I think cafes and restaurants are a great place to exhibit paintings. White-walled galleries can be so intimidating. They really should have lots of sofas for people to sit on too. In a cafe or restaurant, people can take their time to look at the artwork on the walls in a relaxed environment. I hope that my art will bring people pleasure. I hope that by recognising places they know well, like the cafe they are sitting, in an oil painting, it will give them a small thrill. A shock of recognition. I think oil paintings have the power “elevate” quite ordinary things.
So now my exhibition is up and ready to be visited during the month of August. Pop by and enter the draw for the print of Brynmill Coffee House, worth £45, all proceeds will go the Swansea charity supported by Brynmill Coffee House.
© Emma Cownie 2017