Here we are at the year’s end, and a right chilly one it was too. I have stayed with good friends over the Christmas period for many years, they live in the Burren in County Clare in Eire which is a spot of rare and wild beauty. Geologically the area is limestone which has been planed off by glaciers and then eroded into pavements with deep cracks, or as they are properly known “grikes”. These natural crevices harbour many rare species of plants that draw botanists from round the world. In winter the landscape has a bleak beauty that is a challenge to paint, I have more failed paintings of this place than any other to prove the point! This year was exceptional as it was transformed by frosts that built up day after day until the trees were canopied in brittle white ice. This combined with the low light and short days made for some tricky but beautiful subjects.
I had determined to do more watercolours on this visit as I have neglected the media in the past few years. This proved a good move as the unusual conditions led to subjects that were more suited to watercolour than oils. One of the particular problems with winter scenes anywhere, but on the Burren in particular is that the devil really is in the detail. The landscapes are like quilts with richly patterned parts cheek by jowl with simple untextured areas. This visit I consciously made an attempt to find analogues for the complex textures that give the land its character. There is no possibility of painting the different effects merely by observation because even if you did copy the lights and darks accurately this would give a result drained of life. So what I sought was sets of marks that would stand for each of the various stuffs, hopefully this prevents the lifeless effect that too much detail can bring.
I painted a few oils as well, but these were at the end of the day and more atmospheric allowing greater simplification. I start with a few leftovers done before I left. Some pictures can be clicked for a larger view.
This was done from my window over a couple of nights. Once done I took an intense dislike to it and put it to one side. On returning it looks fine, which
goes to show how untrustworthy your own opinions can be as to the worth of a painting are when you are too close to it.
Painting done out with the “Brass Monkeys” an off shoot of the Wapping group. The wind was bitter and though I didn’t know it I was starting a cold.
I went on to do another of Borough market which was scraped off alas as it was worse than the blank board!
To get started I painted a simple view that is very typical of the area. I thought to add some figures but decided the emptiness was best. The complex tracery
of the hedgerows is always a challenge, It’s easy to break them into simple blocks of appropriate tone but I feel that is not really facing up to the challenge
as their intricacy is very much part of their charm. So I try to hit a halfway house by painting layers of negative and positive shapes in a quite loose manner.
I started this from a photo and it just didn’t go right. The mixture of detail and simplicity just wouldn’t come into balance. Luckily the next day the
evening was very clear so I went out and reworked it in situ. I was glad the original laying in was there as it was well below zero and even half an hour
left me bitterly cold.
A smaller 10 by 7 the smaller paintings have worked better on this visit, the extreme cold at 12 below made the larger 14 by 10′s a rush to get done
before frostbite set in.
Next day, due to late convivial nights I seemed to always be painting in the very last of the light on the first few days. Here the glimmer of sun in the
distance made a wonderful counterpoint to the bleak coldness of the road. I painted in the distance in completely first as the light was going over, then
did the foreground in the last of the fading light which by chance rather helped the contrasts in the final picture. 10in by 7in
The low temperatures with zero wind produced tremendous frosts which I found very hard to capture in oils. In this picture there is no snow only frost
which doesn’t really come across. I will try again in a few studio pictures as I feel with patience and more time than you have when painting away from
base some thing that better captures the unique feel could be achieved. So in order to better catch the mood I changed over to water colours.
Here’s my first attempt in watercolour, the scene was slightly misty which helped the mood. The Burren has such distinct textures I felt I had to have a
stab at rendering them so I tried using counter shapes IE painting the spaces between the twigs rather than the twigs themselves then laying washes
over the top. This softens the whole thing which I exploit by scrubbing over with a bristle brush where I want the detail to blur off. To contrast with these
areas I tried to keep the other parts extremely simple. The palette was deliberately limited, the colours here are Ultramarine, Yellow Ochre and Indian Red.
Another quiet road, again I tried to allow the white of the paper to stand for the frost and used a set of graphic marks to describe the counter shapes.
A long frosty road. An odd thing about the icy weather was that the sun burnt off the frostonly on one side so the view behind was almost
completely white! Again I used the counter shapes but less obviously this time mixing the positive and negative shapes.
I never understand why telegraph poles enhance a picture when in real life they seem to do the opposite. I was pleased with the verges where my negative
shape method worked very well to evoke the stiff frosty clumps of grass.
A very frosty scene! The cattle had just been given feed so they ignored me entirely. I laid a wash over the whole scene except for the brights in the sky.
There are a few bits of scratching out here and there.
A moment of magical light, the hills really were that blue! A simple scene so not much to say but one of my favourites from the trip.
A trip into Dublin to see the Turners. We walked through the city as the sun was setting which was very beautiful and will spawn a few studio paintings
in due course.
A few from my little sketch book, my eyesight struggles with this 7in by 5in size these days so once this book is done I will stick to the next size up!
Dysert O’Dea castle near Corrofin, Usually you cannot get to this view due to the boggy ground and flooding, but this year it was all frozen solid.
As was I by the time I had done this.
Frost over, the Burren returned to it’s normal hues.
The skull of an ex-goat.
My friend Colin’s dog the mighty Enzo. Now an old dog so stays conveniently still…
One more of Enzo and that’s the new year started!