Sky and sea

Not an art post today but a tribute in celebration of the start of summer and a day’s sailing under sunny, cloud-streaked skies on Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland.

The most relaxing sounds in the world

Gentle winds, no real agenda, just a vague plan to head up the Lough, enjoy the sights and sounds and snacks and company.

I’ve painted the skies over the Lough before – my painting “Smell the Sea and Feel the Sky” (Van Morrison fans on high alert) was painted here, on a day when the clouds looked dramatically extraterrestrial.

Smell the Sea and feel the sky

Gentler skies this time, with the sun clearing the haze to leave steaks of white across blue and to reveal the Mourne Mountains in the distance.

A glorious day. This is Northern Ireland, so we don’t take the weather for granted. But for today, summer is here.

racing fleet in the background
Hazy Mournes
Not the windiest day!
Trasna Island – from which i randomly helped heard rare breed cattle earlier in the year (!)


I’ve spent my weekend in Dundrum doing a couple of art projects designed to blend the boundary between outdoors and indoors and bring the smell of the ozone and the cries of the seabirds inside.

First was a series of Arctic terns painted directly on a bedroom wall. These birds are such light and dainty, delicate beauties. But watch them do their kamikaze death dives when fishing and you’ll see that they’re actually delicate little killing machines. But here they are swooping around the room, just as they swoop around the skies outside the apartment.

It was typical April weather – albeit in Last May, with sunshine and showers constantly transforming the Bay.

But I did manage to enjoy some plein air painting on the balcony for my second project, which was upcycling this plain console table to a piece of coastal- themed furniture, which now provides the perfect setting for displaying this beautiful model yacht.

finished piece in situ

Seabirds at Dundrum

I have to admit, when I started this set of seabirds in late February I didn’t expect to still be painting them in mid May. But they’ve seen through the end of winter to the start of the warm weather.

I usually feel a mix of elation, excitement and sadness when I come to the end of a painting project – in the same way you do approaching the end of a book that you’ve loved.

This time is with relief, and a little satisfaction, that I get to set down my pastels and step back. I am tired. And the egret in particular has been a challenge to capture.

However I am pleased. There’s something in each one that I’m proud of. I love the sunlight catching the long shafts of the egret’s feathers; I love how light and delicate the avocet looks against the blurred background; i love the power of the heron; and the luminescence of the cormorant’s plumage.

I have my favourite; what’s yours?

Egret, pastel on card, 50 x 50cm
Taking off, heron, pastel on card, 50 x 50cm
Avocet, pastel on card, 30cm x 30cm
Cormorant, the sun worshipper, pastel on card, 30 x 30cm
The full set
Work in progress

The home strait….

Those of you who have been following will know that I’ve been working (slowly and with multiple interruptions and distractions) on a commissioned series of four seabirds, based on the local seabirds of Dundrum Bay, County Down in Northern Ireland (which you’ll also have picked up is my favourite place – and for good reason).

from Keel Point, Dundrum – a very cold April morning

Dundrum is a small coastal town with its roots steeped in history as evidenced by its ruined castle, set high on a hill, overlooking the Bay (I THINK this is Norman, possibly built by John de Courcy, but it’s Sunday morning and I’m too lazy to fact-check – sorry).

The Bay from the castle

Dundrum is special, the Bay empties out completely and refills with each tide and sunlight and shadow on the sea and the Mourne Mountains is an assault (in the nicest sense) on your visual senses, with never the same view twice. The beautiful Murlough Nature Reserve edges the Back Beach, with miles of sand dunes, roaming grazing ponies, a resident seal colonies, underground cities of rabbits and ancient towering Scots Pines.

I honestly love this place. But best of all are the birds – in winter we welcome colonies of geese from Canada wintering out the harsh weather. But we are also home to such an array of local seabirds, nesting in those tall Scots Pines – herons, egrets, avocets and cormorants. There are so many other species, but these are the fou who make up my seabird series.

I’m in the home strait- last night I finished my third bird, the cormorant and I’m now turning to my final (and favourite) bird, the beautiful and elegant egret. Here’s the story so far….

Lift off – grey heron 50 cm x 50 cm, pastel on card
Wading-in- avocet 30cm x 30cm, pastel on card
The sun worshipper – cormorant- 30cm x 30cm, pastel on card
Work in progress
Work in progress, egret, detail

Wading in…

I feel like a naughty school child waiting outside the principal’s office to give an account of myself. It’s been at least 6 weeks where painting sadly has been abandoned whilst I have focused on transforming the bottom of my garden from jungle to fairy-lit patio.

Lockdown garden transformation #2

I’m so pleased with the results, but now it’s time to re-embrace art.

Thankfully rainy Bank Holiday Mondays were invented for singing along to 80s pop hits in my attic studio whilst tackling number 2 in my 4-seabird series – ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Avocet.

Avocet, pastel on card, 30cm x 30cm

So I’ve completed the large heron and a smaller avocet. Next up is my current work in progress, the cormorant, wings outstretched, drying in the sunshine, before we finish off with the heron’s companion painting, the beautiful white egret, still to come.

Take off

After a LOT of procrastination I’ve finally finished the first in my seabird series, the beautiful grey heron taking off.

Taking Flight, grey heron. Pastel on card; 50cm x 50cm

Honestly, these are my favourite birds. I’ve painted them a lot but this is the first time I’ve captured one in flight. I love their patient poise – with a hint of mystique; and then the epic flap of those massive wings as they take off. They are fabulous creatures.

Grey heron on Dundrum Bay

I’ve said before that i associate these birds with Dundrum Bay in Northern Ireland. This is my happy place – the light, the air, the shore, the mountains – it’s magical. So here’s another gratuitous video clip of Dundrum Bay at evening.

And finally, because this IS an art blog after all, here’s some up- close video footage of my painting

Taking Flight, pastel on card, 50 x 50 cm

So that’s one down, four to go. Next up will be a stunning egret, who I always think of as the companion bird to the heron. These two will be the two outside paintings of the set, bracketing a cormorant and an avocet in between. Stay tuned….

Taking flight – Work in progress

As I mentioned before I’m working on a series of sea birds that will all share space together – two large paintings of a heron and an egret that will bracket two smaller (but still pretty substantial) paintings of a cormorant and an avocet.

These are all birds that you can see in Dundrum Bay, Northern Ireland which, if you follow me, you’ll know is favourite place of all time ❤.

Cormorants coming out of the Bay.

It’s taking longer than i had imagined to make progress with the set – mainly because of other life distractions. But I’m enjoying seeing the heron come to life. I’ve almost finished the wing in the foreground now and hope to get much of the rest of the detail finished this weekend.

I’m chomping at the bit to tackle the iridescent plumage of the cormorant but for now need to focus on helping this boy to soar.

Here’s the story so far….

Paint what you love

I’m very excited to be about to start a new themed series of paintings of local #seabirds for a client.

original pastel painting of #greyheron #waterfowl #heron #seabirds #waterfowl #bird #nature #wildlifeart #wildlife #spring #woodland #irishartist pastels on Clairefontaine Pastelmat card 30cm x 30cm

I’ve just finished an architectural commission of an old family home which i know has meant so much and brings so many memories back for that client. Seeing how my paintings impact on clients really means a lot to me and I feel a huge responsibility when i am trying to capture other people’s memories.

However i am excited for this new series.

Birds are some of my favourite subjects to paint – I love the challenge of trying to capture their lightness and “flightness” and the luminescence of light on feathers.

original pastel painting of #bluetit #bird #nature #wildlifeart #wildlife #winter #woodland #irishartist pastels on Clairefontaine Pastelmat card 20cm x 20cm

Better still, this series will feature all  the birds i can see in my beloved Dundrum (County Down, Northern Ireland), where i spend my #summerholidays every year with family.

Large original #seascape painting of #DundrumBay with #Mournes and dramatic #sky and #sea in soft pastels on Clairefontaine pastelmat board. 100cm x 70cm. #seascape #clouds #sea #ocean #NorthernIreland #CountyDown #Mournes #Dundrum #Newcastle #SlieveDonard #Donard #Murlough #summer

Dundrum is definitely my happy place – a peaceful, beautiful and back-to-basics-sand-in- your-toes-in-tune-with-nature haven. I LOVE IT

Anyway,  I’m just on the brink of starting the series,  so watch this space and in the meantime here are some of my favourites from the birds I’ve already painted – you can see more on my portfolio page, with limited edition prints available to buy in my online shop. I hope you enjoy.

Home improvements

During lockdown #1 i struggled to focus on my pastel painting and started to turn my house into a (no longer) blank canvas to save my sanity.

It started with just tidying my garden fence which had become a shameful, green-covered dilapidated mess.

Then i painted a little fox on my garden gate.

Suddenly I realised that art can be anywhere and doesn’t need to be constrained to a frame.

I was dazzled by the possibilities and the challenges of upscaling.

Soon there was a giant fox mural on the previously grey and mundane wall of my yard…

….a heron on my bedroom wall…

(please disregard my unmade bed)

… and i had a koi carp pond where my dining room table used to sit.

Along the way, with a little (lot) of help from others I’ve reclaimed my garden from chaos; designed a pebble patio (the garden furniture was my dad’s lockdown project)…

And treated myself to a new balcony as a birthday present to me! From this….

To this….

Now they’ve announced a further 4 week extension to lockdown and i feel another DIY frenzy brewing.

Next up is going to be a giant peacock on the wall of my dining room….

I caught myself dreaming about painting blue skies and cherry blossoms on the ceiling in my hall but have given myself a stern taking to… sometimes less is more 🙂

I need the world to return to normal before my house turns into a theme park. Meanwhile stay tuned for the peacock dining room wall.

The Kelpies

The Kelpies – pastel on card, 50cm x 70cm

2021 has started more with a whimper than a bang. I’ve been laid low and in some considerable pain. I am thankful for antibiotics which are taking the edge off the pain and (I hope) turning the curve on the infection. But it’s thrown a spanner into the works in terms of making progress with painting. Finally this week I’ve had enough energy to go up to the studio to put the finishing touches on my newest painting “The Kelpies”.

If you’ve seen any of my recent polar bear paintings you’ll know that I’ve been loving painting light filtering through underwater. I wanted to try to capture it through a seakelp forest.

I remember standing mesmerised and swaying whilst watching seakelp drift back and forth in @2oceansaquarium in Capetown years ago – I’ve been a fan ever since and love how it catches days of light with such a range of colour tones from dark brown to ochre to acid greens.

If you look you can see the shape of a horse head in the shadows of the sea kelp.

Separately I’ve been reading about #celtic #kelpies – proper horror stories – beautiful but deadly #shapeshifters that usually take the form of horses – sometimes beautiful women – to lure you into the deep. This is absolutely the dark side of celtic mythology and truly haunting. You can read more about the tales here

I am completely in awe of Andy Scott’s sculpture of the kelpies at #falkirk – it’s amazing

For this painting I wanted to try to convey something more ethereal, but still dark and threatening, to combine with the seakelp.

The end result is a very different painting to my usual style, leaving behind the purely literal (for this one anyway) to embrace magical realism. I hope you like it.

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