On 15th February I held my father for the last time in a Belfast hospital. For weeks afterwards, I lived in his home while arranging the funeral and sale of the house.
Between tasks, and to help manage the emotional fallout, I set out on journeys along the coast to swim alone and revisit places from childhood. I love the geology there — mountains, headlands, rocky coves, loughs, islands and green hills.
Before February, and the fall that led to dad’s passing at age 96, I spent periods of time in Belfast over the past two years, caring for him during bouts of illness. I’d bought art materials to keep there but it was only in the aftermath of his death that I began to paint regularly. It became a solid foundation in the midst of change and loss, a reminder of who I’d grown into whilst being surrounded by so much of the long ago past.
3 April: Co Antrim, starting at Ballygally for a swim then north to Glenarm before the homeward stretch through the achingly beautiful Antrim Glens. I could have stopped dozens of times to look at field patterns, colours and the scale and grandeur of the landscape. Antrim has a different geology to Down, though both are food for the soul. My dad was a commercial traveller for Jacob’s Biscuits (as well as being a jazz pianist) when I was a child. It meant he was away much of the time — this was before the motorways were developed — but also meant I got to hear lists of place names, look at maps and watch him sorting out his order forms into stacks by county. I helped him service the car and could drive once I was out of nappies. Of all the books in the house, the old atlas, pages falling out, is the one I most want to keep.
There is little contrast in the sky at this time of year. Clouds are often heavy with vapour, reflecting cool and warm tones depending on how they layer, or thin and let some sunshine through. Rarely the sunshine reaches us but nevertheless I find the skies’ soft pastels fascinating in November through to February. I like the challenge of remembering and creating the feeling those skies give me, of gradually, peacefully settling into the darker time of year.
There are technical issues to manage – allowing the colours to blend evenly means that the paper has to remain equally damp, but not too wet. It has to dry evenly too so preparation is essential and also I have to say somewhat satisfying. Brushwork is vigorous and the balance of pigment to water carefully judged. Too much water and the result will be patchy; too little pigment and will lose depth and tonal range.
The title came from sitting with the finished piece and reflecting on the elements in it. Often I try to express something of the deeper stories that emerge by describing the elements in relation to one another. But on this occasion, one word came to me: settlement. Settlement describes the sense of winding down, of compacting and layering like a soft blanket, but also the suggestion of humans inhabiting the landscape, of making a home there. In this space they are actively engaging in their surroundings, altering them and perhaps, one hopes, respecting the place they’ve come to inhabit. It raises the question as to how we settle on our land and what our responsibility is towards the existing, other living organisms with whom we share our space.
In this painting there’s the suggestion of the settlements along the North Wales coast on Deeside from Flint to where the coast turns sharply west at the Point of Ayr and vanishes from our sight here in Burton Marshes, Wirral. It’s not clear what they are, but in daylight there are many — industrial, farmland, open common, residential and protected natural areas. The scene reminds me of returning at dusk to my starting point after a long walk in the hills, gradually descending to meet the brightening lights of the settlement where I’ve begun. There’s nostalgia in remembering, and yet questions in the present.
If you missed us in September’s Wirral Open Studio Tour, Marcus Leon Drummond and I are opening again on Saturday 20 November 10am-4pm and look forward to seeing you. As Yule approaches, I’ll be offering plenty of watercolours at studio clearance prices and Marcus will have his finely made furniture and smaller wood items for sale too. Accessible entrance available, washroom and kitchen bar providing drinks hot and cold.
Wirral Festival of Firsts 2018 includes a theme of Open Spaces – there are over 240 across the peninsula! On Sunday 13th May I’m leading a Poetry Picnic at Royden Park, which will include walking and writing using aspects of mapmaking for inspiration. Book via this link. Continue reading →
A new video by Patrick Pinion advertising my watercolour classes, in time for this Friday’s Culture Tank event at Williamson Art Gallery & Museum, part of the BBC Get Creative initiative. Come along, pick up some information and try out materials 3-8pm. Enjoy watching! Please also note I have created a new page for general information on classes here.
Questions, queries and to book – complete form below:
Art fairs can be demanding for artists, and sometimes so vast and variable it can be overwhelming for visitors. A group of artists and makers braved the sector and formed a group to organise a new event Continue reading →
I love experimenting with watercolour as there are so many variables – type of pigment, wet or dry surface, granulation and transparency, degree of drying-ness of the painting in progress, brushes, tools and masking. Many of my sketches and experiments focus on playing with any of these, but recently I’ve been drawn to observational work. Continue reading →