The meandering pathways of Mount Usher

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watercolor, 14″ x 20″

There are so many gardens to visit in County Wicklow. Each and every one of them is a charming response to the natural beauty of the county known as the Garden of Ireland; gardens within a garden-on-a-grand scale, so to speak. Mount Usher is a small one, an acre or two along the banks of the River Varty, but every foot of it is host to something, all adding up to a vast array of carefully planted trees, shrubs and flowers through which narrow pathways lead. You take your time along these pathways as there is just so much to see and enjoy, and the flowing river is always nearby, with reflections and floating petals creating a surface that would have Monet rooted firmly on its banks, complete with easel and a stack of canvases to capture the changing light.

My mother and I sat in a patch of bluebell-strewn grass, attracted to the carpet of flowers with light streaming through the fern tree that sheltered them. Lovely though it was, little did I know what a challenge I was taking on with that glorious fern, never having attempted one before…I particularly enjoyed the irony that I’d come all the way from Jamaica, an island with more endemic ferns that anywhere else on Earth, and set up to paint an Irish garden where Springtime  flowers were running riot, yet ended up painting a fern for the first time… But it whetted my appetite for more as in the end I realized that there’s a lot to be explored with its gentle frondy habit…

 

 

The Gardens of Kilmacurragh

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watercolor, 14″ x 20″

Over the weekend the sun shone, on Saturday from dawn ’til dusk, and what better way to enjoy the day than to head down into the heartland of the ‘Garden of Ireland’
, County Wicklow, to a property that’s now being run by the Office of Public Works, the Kilmacurragh Botanical Gardens. What a special place; acres of unusual trees, fields of narcissus, and hundreds of different rhododendrons, all blooming in the spring sunshine. Rows of them, lining ancient pathways and carpeting them in petals of pinks and purples, fringing ponds and lawns with thousands of blossoms, standing in community with tree groupings wherever you look, and all raging with bright colour!

We found ourselves a spot very quickly, and got to work. In the warm sunshine with the bees buzzing, and the sounds of children playing on the lanes and lawns of the gardens, we were very much in heaven. I enjoyed painting rhododendrons for the first time – strangely enough I had never painted them before, although they were a staple of my childhood. They grew both in our garden and in the area in which we lived, and also out in the West, and every spring and early summer they would be profuse and abundant, flanking roadways and tracks with blousy big flowers of mainly pink and purple, but also in whites and reds, and even some rare yellow ones.  The older trees grow a couple of hundred feet tall, and the shrubs grow in thick copses, making for romantic and spectacular tunnels and arbours.

And now this garden where we found ourselves on a sunny spring weekend was a host to them all, all the sizes and colours and shapes you could wish for –  a sacred place to be, as it turns out, once a monastery and later the home of a conscientious family committed to planting a beautiful garden. A high calling indeed.

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My mother settling in to paint rhododendrons in Spring sunshine!

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Garden pathway in Kilmacurragh Botanical Gardens, Co Wicklow, Ireland.

Daffodil Delight

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watercolor, 14″ x 12″

My first sketch of the daffodils, the only three daffs of this particular blossom growing in my mother’s garden. Yesterday I walked down to the centre of our little town to see if the florist had any daffodils with different colours and shapes, but alas, he said they’re almost over, and are unavailable to buy, and they’re only to be found in peoples’ gardens…. So today I will go out and peer over garden walls and see what can be found.

Springtime Daffodils

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watercolor, 14″ x 20″

Happily home in Ireland, with Spring abundantly springing everywhere you look. I realize I haven’t experienced a northern spring in almost 30 years, and what a delightful time of year it is – so glad to be back!. There’s no end of blossoming and budding, and there’s sunshine to set it all off, a splendour of glinting and glowing gardens to be enjoyed while walking the dog… and with the hour changed the light lasts ’til 8pm. Paradise on earth.

Orchid in Oils, Study #2

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oil on canvas, 10″ x 12″

This one’s a bit more free than the last one, and the one I’ve just started is freer still. They always start well. It’s keeping the freshness of stroke that’s the challenge…

It’s not the orchid that inspires me, not at all; a bright evening sky or a flowering pouie tree is a more inspiring sight to behold. But, an orchid fits in my studio, right beside my easel and paint set-up, and I can paint in quiet. And then there’s the pressing necessity of improving on my handling of brush and paint – that’s the real motivation. In painting them I’m becoming smitten, however, so impressed am I by their exquisite beauty, their shapes and colors and perfect structure. In many ways they make the ideal subject for a still life study, although you have to be quick, as the flowers are slowly moving all the time, unfurling their petals, buds becoming flowers overnight. And then there’s the shifting light that changes a petal from a dull muted plum tone to an illuminated glowing  hot-pink beacon, demanding an entirely different rendering, or not, depending on your level of patience and dedication… or commitment to the first fresh strokes, which I’m still trying to honour. My biggest failing is my tendency to overwork.

Notes to self as I journey and journal along…

 

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study #3 underway, painted quickly as the evening light was failing…

Orchid in Oils #1

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10″ x 12″, Oil on canvas

So, small it is for now, and on with the trying game, and from a wee orchid that’s blooming nicely. Sitting outside with it in the morning light is a lovely way to start the day….but more importantly, this first try has plenty of challenges that are testing me. Small doesn’t diminish the difficulty, or improve my skills for that matter, but the challenge is beginning to coax my brain into imagining how to approach this thing when I’m away from the work, and that’s a good start. Things like seeing creative and gestural marks, and how to suggest light and tone and dimension, and where to emphasize and where to ignore. If that process, that understanding  were to be more integrated when I have a brush in my hand then I’d be away on a hack, but alas, the struggle continues once I pick them up…

I was listening to the radio when painting the other day, and a classicly-trained Japanese pianist who only improvises played some beautiful pieces, but when asked by the radio host about her process, she said she’s never ever happy with her work. It seems to be part and parcel of this creativity game, always striving for something more, something better. I suppose it’s what keeps us obsessively at it…