oil on canvas, 30″ x 36″
Finished a piece today, finally. When I started this one, loosely brushed a structure onto the canvas, it was so soft and ethereal, all misty greys and soft yellow light, and a composition that really formed itself. It was lovely, and I thought all I had to do was a few touches here and there and it was done, and I imagined that I was at last getting the hang of doing something quickly and well. Many weeks later I think I may have managed to pull it together, but not before labouring up many wrong turns, losing the soft subtlety long ago… It seems I am unable to do a gentle piece, that the paint in my hands has to have drama going on…so I gave into it and let the rich reds squelch and writhe, and the golds shimmer and pop. It reminds me now of the icons I used to immerse myself in many years ago, and that’s not a bad thing… and maybe one of these years I will know how and when to stop while it’s still fresh and gestural.
I’ve been thinking I should really get out of the garden and try a different subject, but these forms are very fun to paint, challenging too, but lots going on… wouldn’t mind doing another and abstracting it some – we’ll see.
oil on canvas, 41″ x 28″
The Medinilla Magnifica is one of these magical plants that’s so exquisitely beautiful it takes your breath away. A healthy and mature plant will bear many blossoms, each a cross between chandeliers and pink grapes, and every one in varying stages of flowering. Their ergonomic leaves are a sultry green, their strong stems tinged with a pale gold. The last time I saw one in full bloom was up in Greenwich, in the Blue Mountains above Kingston, although I have one in my garden that has yet to perform its magic. It’ll soon happen, when this queen of plants is ready ~ if everyone had a garden to tend there might well be peace on earth…
Tomorrow marks the end of the first month of having all day every day to paint. I have two more to go, God willing. It’s a summer of no distractions, no commitments, no plans and no expectations other than to paint. Every morning I get up and go to the studio where it’s just me, the brushes, the paint, the canvas, and beautiful inspiring music (from RTE Lyric FM’s The Blue of the Night. One art form influencing another, the soundscapes suggesting an otherworld where every mark is intentional and beautiful and perfectly placed…) Because of this open time, progress is finally being made, and that is cause for quiet and deep gratitude. In the words of a painter who’s work I admire, Scott Conary, I’m becoming a better painter, and that’s no small thing.
I know how lucky I am to be able to do what I want to, and I don’t take it lightly. As with anything, showing up consistently has been the key thus far, as has slowing down and thinking about what I want to paint, letting it simmer within in vagueness for a while, and when it stays and makes itself clearer, I quickly sketch a wee plan on paper, and then sketch it loosely with a wash on the canvas, using a limited palette. Then I wait. Wait and see what it wants. There’s a fine line to be found between letting the paint and marks lead the way and restraining my own heavy-handedness, and when that happens there’s hope…
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…
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.
My mother settling in to paint rhododendrons in Spring sunshine!
Garden pathway in Kilmacurragh Botanical Gardens, Co Wicklow, Ireland.
watercolor, 14′ x 20′
My dear mother took it upon herself to find more daffodils for me to paint, and came home with little pale ones, a few dozen no less, and put them in vases around the house. I just love Spring! Sunshine and new life all around – it gladdens the heart.
watercolor, 14″ x 20″
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.
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.