Tavistock Abbey Copper Beech

I made this little sketch sitting outside in the sun today, at Cafe Liaison in Tavistock, looking out across the churchyard to the remains of the old Abbey building.  This huge beech with its wide shady branches usually has children playing or people sitting around it, so I tried to record a few of them, though it’s hard work painting figures direct from life when they are all moving about and have no idea someone is scribbling away trying to catch their movement.

Paintings from a visit to Essex

I was visiting Maldon last week, where my mother grew up. Living in Cornwall, I’m not used to a flat landscape full of wide fields of wheat and barley, and I was delighted to see corn poppies, too, growing among the barley. So I had to paint them.

I also liked the tall forms of oats – presumably left behind by a previous crop – that had popped up here and there among the barley. I painted this one very quickly, sitting in the sun, using inktense watercolour pencils:

In Maldon, I visited the famous causeway across the River Blackwater where the battle of Maldon is thought to have taken place, more than a thousand years ago, and here it is!

Daughters of the Rivers

I painted this set of four small images for the Tavistock Group of Artists exhibition, which takes place 18th-22nd June in Tavistock Town Hall. Opening hours are 10am to 6pm.   Each of these is 10 inches by 7 inches.

Lynher
Lynher is standing on one of the many quays on the river that were used to launch craft for the D-day landings: she is remembering the military history of the place, as shown by her armlet of rusty chainmail.
Tamar with a seal: the background the Tamar Bridge
Tamar is eating an apple: perhaps the variety ‘Tamar Beauty’ and she is accompanied by one of the grey seals that visit the Tamar and sometimes travel up stream as far as Gunnislake.
River Tavy before the Tavistock bridge
Tavy : her feet sparkle on the water, because she is a river with energy to spare, and her own hydro-electric plant! She is wearing a hat she might have bought in Tavistock Pannier Market.
Walkham
Walkham is a playful young river who dances over the stones, but never really grows up, because she flows into the river Tavy, which in turn flows into Big Mama Tamar.

Falmouth River-views

I had a week’s holiday recently beside the Fal River, a little further west in Cornwall than my usual haunts.  It was lovely to wake and see the tide from the window.  This first image I painted from life, first thing in the morning,  before the early clouds cleared, when everything was silvery-blue  with  just a hint of pink.

This is an early morning scene too, but it was SO early that I took a quick photo of the wonderful sky and the leaves outlined dark against it, and then painted it later. The result was more polished, but I’m not sure I don’t prefer the first and more subtle image above. (My husband likes the bright colours better though!)

Swimming with a Friend

This painting was inspired partly by the work of Joaquín Sorolla, ‘Spanish Master of Light’ whose work is being shown in a major exhibition in London this year, and partly by a photo that I took while I was canoeing on the Helford estuary in Cornwall.  The Helford river is rather lovely because the water is very clear and green, unlike my local river, the Tamar, which tends to be a bit brown in her upper reaches.   I added a seal and a swimmer : the seal is a grey seal, but I’m not sure what their story is!

This is a larger painting than usual: A2 size, and it’s on a box canvas so I finished it by wrapping the paint around the edges.

Narcissus by the Lynher

I painted this image of the upper Lynher river in early spring, and then decided to add narcissus poeticus, or the pheasant’s eye narcissus, which has by far my favorite of all the many daffodil / narcissus flowers, and is also one of the more ancient varieties.  I painted the flower, and then decided to add the  reflected face of Narcissus, from the ancient story about the young man who fell in love with his own reflection and was transformed into a flower.

Tavistock Canal Ghosts

A3 acrylic painting of the Tavistock Canal, with the ghosts of a bargeman and horse lingering.

I walked this way in early spring a couple of years ago and tried to take a picture of the white wood-anemones and yellow celandine flowers along the banks, but they didn’t really show up at all in the photo, so I thought I’d try painting them. Then I added a pair of ghosts, because I thought it would be interesting to reflect the past more graphically.

The canal was built in the early 19th century, to carry goods, and particularly the products of the mines, down to the Tamar River and on to Plymouth. As so often with mining projects, it ran into difficulty at the point where the builders had to drill a tunnel through some unexpectedly hard rock, and by the time the tunnel was completed, the price of the copper that it was designed to carry was already falling. It was built to have an unusually high flow rate, the idea being that this could power water wheels used by industry along the canal, creating further products for the canal-boats to carry, and also power the inclined plane rail to transport goods from the canal down to the river 72 feet below it.

The canal is still not just decorative even now. It powers a hydro-electric power station, and has done with quiet efficiency since 1933.

The railway that runs over the viaduct above was completed in 1859, and quickly killed off the canal as a working waterway. Now the railway is gone too: the line that ran above this canal is closed now, although there are apparently now plans afoot to re-open it.

Wið færstice

The Anglo-Saxon period of British history is really interesting, and I find one of the particularly interesting things about it is the few tantalising remnants of old beliefs that have now almost vanished.

I decided I’d like to practice a sort of portrait / still life type painting, and so* I painted an old lady preparing to practice the healing charm Wið færstice ‘against a sudden stabbing pain’. It’s a bit of a mish-mash of ideas : her clothes and beads and knife are from Anglo-saxon Wessex, I think, but the bottle, candle and the glass globe full of melted butter are clearly more or less modern. I think the cat could be from any period. There’s no dating cats. She also has feverfew, red deadnettle and some plantain plants, though you can’t see them very clearly through the steam.

*I’m aware this is a non sequitur but I’m hoping if I type it really fast you won’t notice

Cornish Ghosts

Balmaiden Ghosts

The ghosts of two Balmaidens (female mine workers) haunting the ruins of Gunnislake Clitters Mine, not far from my house!  Balmaidens often started work as children.

This was inspired by a challenge to paint inspired by the words  ‘zeitgeist’, ‘ephemeral’ or ‘subliminal’.  I thought of approximately 999 very depressing things I could paint for those words, but I wanted to paint something more cheering, so in the end I went for ‘Ephemeral’ and painted one of our old copper & arsenic mines which were once both deadly and blighting, but now are overrun with plants and beautiful in their own way.

Then I decided to push my luck and added a pair of balmaidens for ‘zeitgeist’ – either literally as time-ghosts, or in the sense of ‘well, things may not be perfect now, but at least girls are not routinely expected to take jobs working in arsenic mines at the age of 7 or 8 years old’.   I used some of the photos on http://balmaiden.co.uk/ for clothing/ tools reference.

This is an A3 painting in acrylic on artboard.