Friday, 24 October 2014

The Green Pool

This morning I decided to pay a short visit to a little pool I know to do a some fishing. I was not intending to write a blog today but because of the weather I have returned home early. So to fill the gap between fishing & making dinner tonight here is another blog.

Arriving at the waters edge at the start of a days fishing has to be one of the most exciting moments for an angler. It is for me & as so much in my life is about observation & study, it is the same by the water. As the Summers growth slowly decays, the reeds bow & droop & all around leaves are displaying the most beautiful shades of rust, crimson & yellows. Gently they drop onto the glassy surface spooking the Carp that swim lazily below. Summers luxurious verdant growth has faded now & the pool that I call green for most of the year is clearing, revealing its hidden depths once more.
As the rain fell in stair rods I patiently watched my tiny float for any little tremble or bob. For two hours it didn't dip into the depths even once.
Fishing can be like that sometimes & rather than stand in the rain getting soaked to the skin I retreated back home for a hot cup of tea, but not before doing a little fish watching. At another lake that is stuffed full of beautiful golden flanked bejewelled Rudd, I like to stand in the water up to my waist watching these little beauties swim all around me. Its especially good on a Summers day so as a treat heres a pic I took last year of those fish on just such a Summers day.

Watching Rudd in Summer, a lovely way to pass some time.

But today is not Summer. It is wet, sodden & dark so here is a few words about an afternoons fishing at my favourite little green pool back in August. It is not just fish that us anglers seek, it is also a way to connect with nature & enjoy the beauty that she offers us.

August 11th 2014.
I went down to the green pool today with its olive & khaki hued weedy richness. Saturated & heavy, the air thick with the promise of late Summer rain, hanging like the pause before a secret is shared. It soon came, short & sharp as lemon bursts of pencil thick rain sploshed down from the heavens sending the surface into a shimmering haze, erupting with thousands of bubbles the size of marbles & just as shiny. The surface pimpled for what seemed seconds & then as if by the turn of a tap, stopped instantly. Calm & coolness restored. Colours wiped clean with the bright sun, once more dappling the surface with sunbeams & shadows.
First cast & within moments, my polystyrene sphere twitches then slides into the soupy depths. As I connect with a solid resistance, the old cane & greenheart rod ( the rod is old & has a kink at the thin end which personally I feel gives it more character & for £6 at an antiques place it has already proved itself against some rod bending beasts ) arcs pleasingly.

An old cane & greenheart rod given another chance to relive the glory days.

A couple of minutes later a fish of such an intensity of colour is in the net. I look upon it in wonder, looking like its made of polished metal & magic. Its flanks bright brassy yellows & hints of rust & sap green, its pectorals made of rubber & sherbet yellow in hue. Quickly I slip it back before it bewitches me & i'm under its spell forever.

Not a monster but a beautiful fish in anyones book.
After the rain the surface seemed more glassy, resembling olive oil. A whole pool of extra virgin, if only I had some good bread to dip into it.
Wasps buzzed about in their jackets of black & yellow, smart & dapper. Attracted to the mussels that I was using for bait. For awhile I watched them as they clambered about on mussels ten times their size with excited jerky movements. Seeing through their eyes for a moment I realised that it must be like me finding a prawn the size of a car. Fascinating little creatures. I sacrificed one of the mussels for the wasps & the rest I put safely away, & in doing so I could feel the tiny whoosh of air as their wings invisibly beat, like minute fans as I moved the giant seafood buffet away.
The one mussel I gave them I placed upon a mossy stone, carpeted in splendid greens & over the course of the next few hours it was whittled away, piece by piece, each morsel airlifted away putting me in mind of an air sea rescue.

The afternoon drifted by, lazily but punctuated at times with rod bending action & the creak of cane. Each fish was admired & gazed upon in utter respect before being slipped back into their watery world.

A hard fighting Carp puts up a struggle.

Such lovely yellows.
I caught some beautiful small Rudd too. They have to be one of my favourites & whatever size they are you cannot deny their stunning simplicity & beauty.

Simply stunning.
As the afternoon descended into an evening of glorious dancing green gold reflections & dimpled insect surface I realised I was content. Light faded & colours drained & as the pool turned into a soup of raw umber with a hint of fresh cow pat it was time to pack up. As I did so Carp rolled on the surface, Rudd fed on drowned insects & bats flittered about on membraned wings. I sat there until night clothed me in its dark blanket & drank it all in.

The sinking sun reflected in the glassy surface.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Painting the underwater world.

Painting underwater, trying to capture the light & atmosphere & the creatures that inhabit the sub surface world is one of my greatest joys. The reason is simple, to experience first hand this watery world, its inhabitants ( not always easy to get close to ) & the hauntingly beautiful sub surface landscapes ( or should that be waterscapes ) & the light, always the light. It is a privilege & a necessity to actually get in, get under & observe if you are going to have any hope of portraying what you are seeing with any heart & soul.
In the early days, by which I mean my first efforts at underwater subjects, I did not gather reference from first hand experiences. Instead I sketched from programmes from the TV or used photos i'd seen in fishing books as reference material. One of my first efforts was a painting of a Pike which I'd taken from an old photo from a fishing book. I obviously didn't want to copy the photo as it was in black & white for one thing & I also wanted to change the light on it so it would fit into the surroundings that I had planned for it. It was a hideously ugly painting & never even got as far as being framed. The problem was that I hadn't had any actual experience of seeing Pike underwater & personally I think the painting failed because of me trying to run before I could walk. I have some slides somewhere of another Pike painting that did make it into a frame but as it was such along time ago I look back on that one & cringe with embarrassment.
Many moons ago I used to exhibit in Fountain Fine Art gallery in Llandeilo. It was when Gillian Still owned & ran it, the glory days of the gallery & some very happy memories of those times. Gillian put on a themed exhibition one year, the theme being water. This was my first opportunity to paint a series of paintings underwater. I chose this as I knew that all the other Artists would be painting above the surface & taking a more traditional view. Its still one of my favourite exhibitions that i've ever taken part in & although technically i'm a much better painter now, I think for ideas & subject matter & composition then it was one of my early successes & people seemed to enjoy the unusual little paintings that I did for that show. Some were of Ducks & Grebes diving, many were of stones falling through water, twisting & turning as they fell, leaving a trail of mercury like bubbles behind them & the others were of views through water into rock pools.
It may surprise many of you that know my paintings, the way I try to portray realistically the subjects that I choose & how I like to ( if I can ) infuse my paintings with light, that I do enjoy other forms of painting. I used to paint in a number of different styles & over the years I have honed my skills & the paintings you see today have developed over time to become identifiable to me. Although I don't always see it, people will often say when viewing a painting something like " thats a classic Cowdry painting." So I must be developing an identifiable style. This little painting below is an early one & was a painting loosely done, quickly with no emphasis on light or detail but rather to just get an impression of the scene. Its of a diving Grebe which I sketched from a TV programme & although it would never win a prize, I still like it & it hangs on my own wall.

A very early impressionistic Grebe diving underwater.

Over the years I have been getting in & under the water more & more & the experiences are increasing especially as my collection of gear to aid me in my underwater quest grows. A good friend sadly died a few years back & in his Will he left me a little money. I was determined to get something with it that he would have approved of & being very fond of wildlife himself & always supporting me in my own career I decided to buy a waterproof housing for my camera. Its a great piece of kit & slowly but surely I am gathering a good set of pics to aid me in my underwater paintings. Its a very slow process though gathering reference for paintings. One thing i've learnt is to take your time with the underwater stuff. I don't mean the painting itself as I like to paint fairly quickly as this helps to keep it fresh. What I mean is to let the ideas literally swim around in your head for however long it takes to gather the reference needed. Some of the paintings that I want to do have been forming in my head for years & I know that it will take even more years before I can even start them. This doesn't worry me at all, i'm a patient person & love a challenge. There are some though not many artists that specialise in underwater paintings & personally I don't wish to specialise in one area, preferring instead to dip in & out of the many subjects that interest me. Occasionally I will want to paint an underwater scene & when I do ( we are talking in the future now ) I want to paint it in such a way that although the subject matter may be the same as other artists are doing, the painting will ultimately be ' classic Cowdry '.

'Curious Perch' oil on linen
This smallish painting is of one of my favourite fish, the Perch. I have some big ideas for some Perch paintings, full of atmosphere, light & space but it will be sometime before anyone sees them because of the slow process of collecting the reference material. But thats all good as it lets my ideas develop & to hopefully get even better. These paintings that I have planned are purely for me to indulge myself in as I do find it harder to sell my larger underwater scenes although personally it is I feel some of my best work. Somebody will love them & give them homes one day. The one below is one of my best but it still hangs on my own wall.

'Sunlit pool, River Sawdde' oil on canvas
Otters are such lovely creatures but not many artists have attempted to capture them in their element. A couple of years ago I tried just that with varying degrees of success. Using photos i'd taken at an Otter sanctuary in Dartmoor & tying these together with photos i'd taken in my local rivers I managed to paint quite a few different underwater Otters. Great fun & I plan to do lots more. Heres a small selection of them.
'Into the depths, diving Otter' oil on canvas

'Playful Otter' oil on board
Like I said earlier, its the being in & under the water for me thats the big attraction & none more so than when i'm in the sea. Below is two paintings, both painted in the same week after a day trip to Skomer island. One is a little more detailed than the other & one a little looser & more quickly painted.
A painting of diving Guillemots & a Razorbill in the beautiful emerald & turquoise waters around Skomer island. I love this painting, not because I think its fab or anything like that but rather for what it represents for me, how it makes me feel. So many magical, delightful hours spent hanging around, bobbing & floating in the salty water watching these graceful birds doing their thing. On land they are not so full of grace, looking more like a drunk negotiating their way back to the bar, but in the water... Wow! thats the element they were born to. As I hang in the sea gazing in awe at these birds I find myself feeling somewhat self conscious having just about squeezed into my wetsuit & flailing about like a one legged Frog. As the birds become bolder they swim nearer & at times they dive all around you, enveloping you within a cage of silver bubbles & each bird jacketed in mercury. As they dive down below & out of sight they have to beat their wings much harder in order to stay down to find some food. Slowly & with lazier wing beats they spiral back to the surface.
I do like this painting for some of its other merits too. The illusion of space & depth I feel has worked ok & the light below the water i'm happy with. Cant quite believe that I painted this over six years ago.

'Diving Guillemots & a Razorbill' oil on canvas
'Diving Razorbill' oil on canvas
Among all the subjects that I like to paint its the underwater ones take me to another world & I love spending time there. When I do get around to painting some of the ideas that are floating around in my head, they will be some of the best that i've ever painted but i'm sure that they will still be tricky to sell, after all who wants a 6ft painting of a shoal of marauding Perch. Well I do for one. Oh & before I go, I have had first hand experience of Pike now & the idea for that one makes me drool every time I think about it so watch this space. Its going to be a cracker.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Is it any good? Looking with a critical eye.

Working out if a painting is what you want is a relatively simple task for a non artist. Does it please you to look at it? Does it take you somewhere or make you feel a certain emotion? Is it of something or somewhere that you are connected to? Will the colours go with my sofa or curtains? ( believe me, this reason for buying a painting has cropped up again & again ) Or does it just look nice?
Working out from an artists point of view if a painting will be desirable to others is a whole different kettle of fish. I'm not good with kettles of fish so I don't think about whether a painting is saleable or not, rather just trying to paint something as well as I can, with heart & soul. Fortunately, so far people have generally liked what I paint so i'll keep my eye off the market & continue to paint what I want.
Many years ago I painted a dead guillemot in a rock pool, its body caught up in the rings of plastic that go around the top of a four pack of beer cans. Not a saleable painting you may think but I found a home for it. Out there somewhere is a customer for every painting, its just a question of getting the two of them together.
Looking at my own work & believe me I do this a lot, often beating myself up in the process, agonising over if i've done ok or not. Often I don't like my own paintings, preferring to enjoy the paintings of others while being very critical of my own. The problem is, & I think many artists will concur with this, i'm too close to my paintings to see them as others do. Instead I see the bad bits, the areas on the canvas where I feel I have failed or could do better or where I know I haven't painted as well as I can. This may sound like i'm being down on myself but i'm not. I'm happy to be this way as it means I will always look with a critical eye & seek to improve. I know of a few artists who have been in awe of their own talent & between you & me they are not usually very good, I think because they lack the critical eye.
How I paint & why I paint are discussions for another day. Today I'm going to share a couple of paintings that I feel I have done ok on & the reasons why. Is that someone snoring at the back there?

'Swallow & window'. Oil on canvas 90cm x 90cm ( I think )
This painting above of a Swallow in an old derelict barn is one of the few paintings that I still like. Maybe its because I achieved ( or think i've achieved ) several of the elements that I strive for when painting.
Firstly the composition, with the Swallow not immediately obvious but almost blending in with the stonework & about to fly out of the picture. Many artists will tell you that a bird needs to be flying into space. Sometimes I will agree with this but more often than not I find that a bird flying out of the painting will be far more interesting & dynamic & for me it lets my imagination wander a bit more, outside of the frame & into the interior of this big old barn. I like my paintings to live beyond the frame if possible, to give the feeling that you'd like to climb in & have an explore. 
Secondly, the muted palette. No rich, bright or saturated colours here other than that smudge of red on the Swallow. All those muted tones work well with each other, no arguments here.
Thirdly, the light ( probably what I try to capture more convincingly than anything else ). Soft but still bright, it helps to pick out the texture of things, the cobwebs, stonework, the debris on the windowsill & it helps to describe the space in the painting. Also there is the reflected light from the room beyond casting a warm glow onto the dark walls.
Fourthly, the subject matter. One of my favourites, old windows in crumbledown houses & barns. I'll never tire of this sort of subject to paint. Windows do seem to be popular with people & for me they are special to paint. I enjoy the different light sources, the separation of the world outside from that within. The outside, inside & reflected light all captivate me. How nature takes over again, her fingers scratching away, taking hold once more. There are so many places like this in Wales, abandoned farm houses, barns & old sheds. Some I visit now & then to see how nature is getting on with their slow demolition. Some have been saved & are being turned into dream country homes, rescuing them from natures grip just in time. Its odd to see these once empty & decaying buildings at night with a cosy glow shining through the windows. With others, all that is left is a pile of rotting timbers & a scattering of stones. The Swallow is here to give narrative, some life also, a contrast to the other elements in the painting. The painting is not about the Swallow, it just happens to be there.
The last reason I think i've done ok with this one is the way it has been painted. It was painted quickly & economically, taking two days to complete & although it appears fairly detailed, it is not. I don't like to spend ages on a painting because I will end up losing any freshness in the paint. I have in the past ( & no doubt in the future ) worked on some paintings far longer than I should & always end up killing them. Over the years I have learnt to paint a kind of shorthand detail if you like, just putting enough paint on in the right places so the brain will fill in the rest & make up for any shortcomings on my part. Impressionist realist I call it. People will tell me that they can see every hair to blade of grass but thats just their brain telling them that, I certainly haven't painted every hair but I have suggested them. Less is more as they say. 

The next painting is of a doorway leading out from a derelict farmhouse. Its another one of my favourite places to paint & have painted quite a few over the years in & around this group of farm buildings.

' Doorway, derelict farmhouse ' oil on canvas
Much of what I said about the other painting applies to this one so I won't keep you much longer. I think one of the aspects as to why this painting was popular has little to do with how i've painted it but in the promise that it gives. There is space & light & texture which are all nice & tickety boo but its whats beyond where I think it works. The realisation of a world beyond the interior of the farmhouse. That slim vertical gap revealing the barn outside teases us & beckons us to let our imagination wander. When I was a little boy there was a board game which I think was called Haunted House. I never saw the game for real, only pictures of it, but when I looked at those pictures it showed a cardboard frontage of a haunted house with some steps that led up to a door. This is the point where my imagination kicked in & I wondered what it would be like going through that door & exploring that house. I would get hugely excited imagining all the corridors & rooms to explore & to this day I have never seen nor want to see that game because then the magic will be lost. Similarly there is a beautiful looking valley that I see when I drive through the Brecon Beacons. I have never visited this valley & probably never will because the interior of that valley is a place that my imagination has described for me & by visiting it my dreams may be shattered.  I think the point i'm trying to make ( & making a bit of a pigs ear of it, well we can't all fire on all cylinders everyday can we ) is that imagination can play a very important role when viewing art work & with this painting, because of that narrow view of the world beyond the doorway our imagination can go to places outside of the painting.                                                                                                               Purposely I have decided to omit any wild creature that in other paintings I will often find a place for.
The palette is warm & comforting & on a subconscious level I think this too plays its part.

If these two paintings are any good or not is not for me to know or tell but they have both found homes & i'm happy with that. I could of course give you a much deeper critique of these paintings but I feel like being kind to myself today so i'll leave it at that. If any of you having read this far want to know about any other aspects of my painting life in future blogs, then let me know & I can then see if I have anything interesting to tell you.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

A Curry for my sweetheart.

This morning when I woke the land was damp after the rain that fell during the night, everywhere sodden & refreshed. There was a light pitter patter upon the slowly turning leaves as droplets from the large Oak in the corner of the garden continued to fall.
I'm cooking for my sweetheart tonight & was at a loss as to what to cook her. I pondered on a few ideas but rejected them all & taking my morning coffee out into the garden to ponder some more the answer was about to reveal itself. The path which cuts the garden in two was slippery & I needed to steady myself on the green house at one point, looking like someone who is trying ice skating for the first time. ( Not easy with a mug of coffee in your hand ) My attentions over the last few weeks has not been of whats growing in the green house, instead thinking that my home grown produce was over for another year & I have been doing other things which have diverted my attention from the garden. I peered in & to my surprise there was a small but lovely bounty to be had. Beautiful red & orange striped tomatoes, some small gardeners delight, just a handful & a large shiny courgette, plump with stripes of lime & sap green. With a few of my earlier harvested onions, some garlic, ( whenever I mention garlic I hear my dad wince & see him screw up his face in horror at the very thought of it ) a little Welsh lamb & a small crowd of carefully chosen spices & thats a combo which speaks of a yummy comforting early Autumn curry.

A bounty enough for a curry for two.
 I adore cooking & when i'm not painting or fishing or outdoors enjoying nature, more often than not i'll be cooking. Although I have many cookery books & like to dip into them now & again I almost never follow a recipe, instead I prefer to make the dishes my own or to just be inspired. As in most things I do, I am instinctive in what or how I cook.
Cooking for others, especially for those you love, to seek out the ingredients, prepare them & to make a tasty plate of food to put in front of them after they have had a long hard day at work brings me an awful lot of joy. The bonus of being able to sit with them & eat too cannot be underestimated either.
Cooking for my lady is always a pleasure & never a chore & in turn she loves to cook for me & I love to be cooked for. So all in all we are the perfect culinary couple.

As I type this the Welsh lamb is marinating in a bowl of comforting & warming spices. Cinnamon & ginger, turmeric & black pepper, crushed garlic & some chilli for heat. The little bowl with a crowd of spices is for later, to be added to a quiet sizzle of oil, cumin, clove, cardamon, coriander & mustard seeds. Followed by sliced onions gently fried in the spice infused slick until soft & almost transparent like the flesh of a grape.  In with the lamb & let time do its thing for awhile before more garlic, the bounty from the green house & a half glass of lamb stock. I'll pop a heavy lid on & let the gentle heat work its magic.

A crowd of spices.

Garlic is such a great ingredient & one of the most comforting flavours to be found in the kitchen. A head of garlic round & plump, the papery skins of each clove flushed with pink. I think garlic would be my desert island number one spice to have, no contest really.

My dad may think this is the stuff of nightmares but I love it.
With saffron rice & a simply made flatbread of flour & water & shown a scorching hot pan it will be a fine feast for such an Autumnal day as this. The heavens have opened again & the rain rushes towards  the ground. Soon my sweetheart will be heading home & dinner will be waiting.

Whenever I spend time in the garden my cat, Nutmeg likes to join in with whatever I am doing. Today while taking photos of veg she wanted a close up. I'd better get going or this curry will only exist in a blog.

My cat helping me to photograph.