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Glenlough Bay, Donegal

Glenlough Bay _Emma Cownie

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 a book on the artist to write this post but it only had a couple of sentences about his visit to Ireland so the delay was unwarranted.

https://www.wikiart.org/en/rockwell-kent/sturrall-donegal-ireland-1927

Sturral, Donegal by Rockwell Kent
https://www.wikiart.org/en/rockwell-kent/sturrall-donegal-ireland-1927

Annie McGinley's House at Port (from the far side of the cove)
Annie McGinley’s House at Port (from the far side of the cove)

 

Rockwell Kent enjoyed Donegal and had originally intended to stay longer. He stored his larger paintings in Annie McGinley’s family home in Port (see my previous post about Port) but  he actually spent most of his time in the neighbouring valley of Glenlough. He rented a old barn (byre) from hearing-impaired farmer Dan Ward. He lived in it with his second wife, Frances, and used it as his studio. The paintings of the views from Glenlough, especially of the bay and the giant sea stacks, are quite remarkable.

Welsh poet Dylan Thomas later stayed in Glenlough in the summer of 1935.  His stay didn’t go too well, he found the soliditude difficult to bear and he described himself as “lonely as Christ”. He left without paying his bills (although his editor later paid them).

Glenlough Bay - Rockwell Kent
Glenlough Bay – Rockwell Kent

 

When the Sunshines, Rockwell Kent
When the Sunshines, Rockwell Kent

 

Following in Rockwell Kent (and Dylan Thomas’s) footsteps is easier said than done. For a man who loved to visit and paint inacessible and elemental places in Newfoundland, Alaska, Terra Del Fuego and Greenland, maybe this should not be a surprise; even a century later.

The Road to Port
The Road to Port

 

Glenlough is an anomaly in this modern world. It is a lost valley. It’s located on the lip of a gale-swept edge of north-west Ireland. It’s an inacessible part of a very remote county. No one has lived there for more than 30 years. There is no road in and no road out. There isn’t even a footpath. The local farmers ride the curves of the rough landscape on their quad bikes.

There is a song “The Road to Glenlough” by fiddler, James Byrne, from near by Glencolumbkille, Donegal. The title must be some sort of joke as there is definately no road to Glenlough. I know, I have looked very hard for it. You can find Glenlough Bay on a map. Here. Where that red tag is.

Map of the North of IrelandMap of the North of Ireland – the red tag marks Glenlough Bay, Donegal

Map of an Port and Glenlough Bay
Map of an Port and Glenlough Bay – its all rock and blanket bogland

Google confidently suggests that route to Glenough Bay is quite straight forward. The straight white dotted line should immediately suggest wild over-confidence on the part of AI. Compare it to the dotted blue line, which is the single track road to An Port.  This road/track does not exist. Road to Glenlough

We decided to (sort of) follow the coastline from Port and climb up the very steep hill to Glenlough. The map only gives you a hint at how truly rough and rugged the terrain is. Its all elevated upland bog with and massive bolders dropped by glaciers thousands of years ago. The first part of our “walk” invovled a scramble up a steep path strewn with rocks (see photo below). I had my walking poles with me and I clambered  up this section like a weird four legged beast. I have a lot of pins and screws in my left leg from a bad break I had two years agao, and this section terrified me. I would not have done it without the additional help from the poles.

View of Port from above
View of Port Bay from above

 

We first passed the remains of the village of Port.

Ruined house at Port

With walking Poles: Photo credit: Seamas Johnston
With walking Poles: Photo credit: Seamas Johnston

 

The climb up hill seemed to go on for ever. Up and up. First we followed sheep tracks upwards. The sheep aren’t very interested into getting to Glenlough and so we were on constant lookout for ways upwards in the right sort of direction. The sheep track kept vering off to the left and right. I had never walked somewhere where there was no human path before. I found it quite exhausting looking for a way up. The ground was springey underfoot. It’s bogland. It was mostly dry. It was one of those cimbs where you keep expecting to reach the brow of the hill but there’s just more boggy incline, going up and up!

It's a long way up hill
It’s a long way up hill

Eventually, there were spots where we could pause and take our bearings. The view was something else.

View from ridge above Port
The view from ridge above Port

I haven’t mentioned that it was very windy too. We stayed away from the cliff edge. He sat in the shelter of a dip in the landscape to eat our sandwiches and look at the view towards An Port.

Fence to stop the sheep getting blown off the cliff top
The fence is to stop the sheep (and daft tourists) getting blown off the cliff top

 

A painting of sea stacks From Port to Glenlough (Donegal)
From Port to Glenlough (Donegal) Emma Cownie

Dont go too near the edge!

Dont go too near the edge!

Donegal Ireland, Rockwell Kent
Donegal Ireland, Rockwell Kent

Finally, after a lot of walking when we were thinking of turning back, it appears. Our view of Glenlough Bay. We stand and gawp at it in wonder. It is vast and the colours are vivid. The colour of grass on the stacks is an intense green, the colour of the sea is a cold blue. The sea water is very clear and you can see the massive boulders on the raised beach from up here. It is hard to covey how stunning it is in a photo or a painting. We watched the shadows cast by the clouds pass over the landscape. It was mesmerising. The last time I starred at a landscape in such wonder when was when  we visited the incredible Grand Canyon.

Glenlough Bay
Cloud shadows over Glenlough Bay: Photo credit Emma Cownie

I wish we could have got closer but we were already very tired and decided to come back another time to go down to valley of Glenlough itself. I am not sure I am able bodied enough to make it down to the beach (see the video by Unique Ascent below) but we could come back with a drone camera and take photos. I just want to see the buildings where Rockwell Kent and Dylan Thomas stayed all those years ago.

Glen Lough - One of Rockwell Kent's "Missing" Irish paintings
Glen Lough – One of Rockwell Kent’s “Missing” Irish paintings

 

The Cottage , Rockwell Kent
The Cottage , Rockwell Kent

 

Unique Ascent’s video makes the visit to the shore of Glenlough Bay look so easy!

 

Over Glenlough Bay, Donegal-Emma Cownie
Over Glenlough Bay, Donegal-Emma Cownie

 

The Rock Climber’s Guide by Unique Ascent 

https://uniqueascent.ie/glenlough-bay

Glencolmcille the rugged soul of Donegal

For more on Rockwell Kent

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/searching-for-the-road-to-glenlough-1.1155107

http://bellender.com/an-port-annie-mcginleys-rabbit-pie/

Click to access The-Missing-Irish-Kent-paintings.pdf

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/art-and-design/visual-art/before-cong-got-john-wayne-glencolmcille-got-rockwell-kent-1.3539050

IRISH ARTWORK BY ROCKWELL KENT AT SOTHEBY’S NEW YORK

For Dylan Thomas’ visit to Glenlough

https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/local-news/im-10-miles-nearest-human-2404375 

 

Click to access The-Missing-Irish-Kent-paintings.pdf

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Errigal from Cruit Island, Donegal

Errigal From Cruit

There is a definite shift in the seasons.  In summer here, the light seemed to stretch on for eve;  well past 11pm. Suddenly the days have started shortening fast. It is now dark before 9pm.   It has rained solidly for the last two days. In typical Donegal fashion, the sun has come out and everything is bright and fresh.

Artimus (aka Artie) our Donegal rescue cat has just passed me to go outside in the catio to smell the breeze.  He used to be a stray. It’s hard to believe as he’s so beautiful and such a softie. He now enjoys the warmth and comforts of indoor life (especially hiding under the towel rail)  but he still enjoys the smells and sounds of rural life outside. We lost three pets in the last year (two cats and a dog) and I am not letting him outside when there’s a busy road at the bottom of the garden. I cant face the heartache, if I dont have to. So Séamas, built a catio. Or the cat veranda as I like to call it. Both of our cats, enjoy it but Artie, especially so but not when it’s cold. He’s been in and out of it four times in the last twenty minutes. I think he wishes it was warmer. He must have found life as a stray really tough!

Artie in the Catio (through the window)
Artie in the Catio (through the window)
Catio - aka cat veranda
Catio – aka cat veranda
Artie - indoors
Artie – indoors

Errigal from Cruit Island, Donegal:-This was one of a pair of large paintings I started before I got ill. It sat in it’s greyscale state for over a month and a half until I recovered enoungh stamina to complete it! Large painting require a lot of strength as you lift your arms/hands above your head, even if you are just moving the canvas.  I was very glad to finish it.

Donegal Greyscale #1
Donegal Greyscale #1

I enjoyed painting the rolling landscape; splattered with rocks. I took great pleasure in adjusting the colours in oil paint and “tightening up” the details. The rash of rocks amongst the boglands is quite unique to this part of Donegal. Further south towards, Glencolmcille, there are far fewer bolders and rocks. There the bogland blankets the landscape uninterupted. There are far fewer houses there too. This area of Donegal, the Rosses, however, is dotted with houses old and new. I like that the old houses nestle in the nooks and crannies of the landscape; keeping out of the prevailing westerly winds and showers.

Painting of mountain Errigal from Cruit Island. Donegal _ Emma Cownie
Errigal from Cruit Island. Donegal _ Emma Cownie

 

Buy the painting here

Gentle Artie came from AnimalsinNeedDonegal – They found him a home because long-haired stray cats don’t live long lives outside in Donegal, their long coats are hard to keep fully dry.

Here’s their facebook page here  They also have a charity shop in Donegal Town and you can make donations here. You can also follow them on Instagram

Artie - He a wee dote
Artie – He’s a “wee dote”

 

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Back in Donegal

I have decided that perfect is the enemy of good, and I need to give up on the idea that I should write lengthy blogs posts, as I end up writing nothing! So here goes,

Donegal Paintings
Two grey scale paintings

One of the many great things about being back in West Donegal is that I can paint much larger paintings as my art studio is much bigger here than in Derry. So I now have two on the go!

Donegal Greyscale #1
Donegal Greyscale #1

These are both painted in acrylic paint. I find it easier to make adjustment in the value/tones in acrylic before I move onto a layer of oil as a final layer. Acrylic can act as a foundation layer for oil, but not the other way around. I had forgotten how physically tiring painting a large painting is.  My arms are tired!

Donegal Greyscale #2
Donegal Greyscale #2

 

If you want to know about Greyscaling and why I have adopted this technique since moving to Ireland please see my post “Adventures In Acrylic Paint” 

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On the cover – Eugene Vesey

Eugene Vesey
I was delighted to give permission to Eugene Vesey, poet and author, to use my artwork on the back of his book “Opposite Worlds”.  In the story, the main character Frank spends his honeymoon with Mary on Gola island.
My painting,  “Up From the Pier, Gola” looks great on the back of this edition -You can get a print of my painting here https://www.artmajeur.com/…/12510206/up-from-the-pier
Eugene sent me two copies of the book, which I am half way through and enjoying a lot. See the book on Amazon here https://www.amazon.co.uk/Opposite-Worlds-Eugene-Vesey/dp/1461075874 and on Barnes and Noble https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/opposite-worlds-eugene-vesey/1104007157
Back Cover of Eugene Vesey’s book with my painting on it.
Me in front of the study and large scale version of “Up from the Pier, Gola” in my old Swansea studio
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Studies of Inishbofin

Last Thursday morning Bingo, one of my two cats,  collapsed in the front garden under a hedge and we had to take him on the long drive to the vets to end his suffering. It broke my heart. I had had him for over a decade and loved him dearly. Hattie, his cat companion of the last 6 years, misses him too and she has been outside looking for him. That’s even sader. We are keeping her indoors for now.

Bingo
Bingo

 

So my concentration hasn’t been great. I have struggled to write anything, although I had almost finished another blog. Every time, I looked at images, trying decide what painting to start next, I am crippled by indecision. So I have been painting instead a series of small studies. Playing with composition, and simplifying images. The idea is to reduce detail to the minimum.

Caravan at Magheraroarty
Caravan at Magheraroarty 24x18cm

 

Inishbofin #2
Inishbofin #2 24x18cm SOLD

 

I then moved on to slightly larger canvases. The photographs of the paintings don’t quite capture their colour. Unfortunately, they have a blueish cast to them.

Inishbofin #3

Inishbofin #3  30x24cm

Inishbofin #4
Inishbofin #4  30×24 cm

 

Inishbofin #5
Inishbofin #5  30 x34cm

 

Inishbofin #6
Inishbofin #6 30x24cm

 

Inishbofin # 7
Inishbofin # 7 (SOLD) 30x24cm

 

Inishbofin #8
Inishbofin #8 30x24cm

 

I will continue with these and hopefully I will find it within me to paint some much larger versions. In the meantime, we have a large rescue cat we have named Tadhg (pronunced “Tag”) from Burtonport Animal Rescue, in the office. He is named after a famous Irish rugby player,  called Tadhg Furlong, on account of his robust physique.

Tadhg Furlong
Human Tadhg,  the rugby player

 

Unfortunately, Hattie hissed  at him when she first saw him, so we are introducing them very, very slowly. Swapping scents and feeding them on opposite sides of the same door etc.  Tadhg was a stray and hasn’t had much experience of the indoor life, so he’s getting used to things like doors (they move when you rub up against them, you know) and mirrors (there’s a big black and white cat in window thing in the bedroom next door he’s worried about). He also loves carpets and heating. When he wants a break he sits under the chair in the corner of the room. I hope we can successfully integrate Tadhg into our animal family!

Tadhg liks his basket
Cat Tadhg likes his basket

 

See all the studies here

 

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Summer Newsletter 2021

Here’s my summer newsletter. I am shutting up shop for a  month from 20th June to 20th July. All going well, we will be safely installed and open for business (online at least) in Donegal by mid-July. I am already longing to get back to my painting routine.  I can’t quite  believe that after being ground so long by my broken leg and the pandemic that we will actually move house/studio to another country by then. It’s a huge step!  Fingers crossed it all goes smoothly!

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Gola Staycation (2021)

Gola Staycation

Caravans tucked away on coastal inlets and islands are not an unsual sight in Donegal.  I am always impressed by their presence as there are no roads for lorries and it must have taken a good deal of effort and ingenuity to get it there. Getting to have a “Staycation” in 2021 amidst all the uncertainty of vaccine rolls out & third (or is it fourth?) waves looks like it will take an equal amount of effort! So instead join me in imagining the view from the static caravan’s wide window across the rugged terrain of Gola Island on this late spring morning.

Painting of caravan on Gola island, Donegal
Gola Staycation (2021) 100×65 cm
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Spring Newsletter 2021

Newsletter Cover

Here’s my spring newsletter which you will see is heavy on the visual and very light on the text!

Spring Newsletter 2021 Page 1
See more Gola paintings 

 

Spring Newsletter 2021 Page 2
See Large paintings 
Spring Newsletter 2021 Page 2
See  All Recently Sold Work 

 

See! That was easy to look at. If you wish to get regular (no more than once a month) updates about my work and news about exhibitions sign up here

 

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My Review of 2020

Review of 2020

 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

Some of my "people" paintings sold in 2020
Some of my “people” paintings sold in 2020

 

Some of my paintings of Wales sold in 2020
Some of my paintings of Wales sold in 2020

 

Some of my paintings of Ireland sold in 2020
Some of my paintings of Ireland sold in 2020

 

A Selection of Commission from 2020
A Selection of Commissions from 2020

 

My top four personal favourites of 2020
My top four personal favourites of 2020

 

Donegal painting of Owey Island_Emma Cownie
Owey in Late Spring – Top of my personal  favorites of 2020!

 

Here’s to a happier and healthier 2021 to  everyone! 

 

 

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The Art of Composition (or how to avoid going off at a tangent)

Art of Composition

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.

Gola Island
Gola Houses (watercolor)

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.

Painting of house on Gola, Donegal, Ireland
Blue Door, Gola (oil on canvas) SOLD

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.

Bad Eddie at Bunbeg
One of the reference photos for Bád Eddie at Bunbeg
Painting of Bad Eddie, Bunbeg,Ireland
Bád Eddie, Ireland. (Oil on canvas) SOLD

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 .

Watercolour of Irish cottage, Donegal
The White house, Arranmore, Ireland (watercolour) 

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.

Landscape painting of Arranmore by Emma Cownie
The White Bridge, Arranmore, Ireland (100cm x 65cm) (Oil on canvas)

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”.

Tangent Chart – From emptyeasel.com

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.

White Bridge Arranmore, (in situ)
White Bridge Arranmore, (in situ)

Read more about avoiding confusing tangents in compositions here  

and also in this article Compose: A Touchy Subject 

or watch this youtube clip