Category Archives: landscape

A New River Daemon

a photo of the view upstream where the river falls through a rocky cleft

the view upstream, looking into the river ‘grotto’

This summer we found the river had created a new daemon …

sculpted by the river, some grass has a monkey-like form

the new river daemon

nature sculpture - a small form created by the action of river water on grass

the daemon stares from its rock

a dog staring

the dog stares back

The new daemon appeared in the special place up the river, where rocks have faces and cliffs grow trees and flowers. This was a small daemon, a bit monkey-like and perched above the waterfall, very difficult to reach. I felt it might have been a bird in spirit and, sure enough, my mother produced a suitable skull that she just happened to have been keeping safe (for such an occasion?)

photo of a river daemon sitting above a waterfall, an assembled form made out of natural materials in the environment

a new river daemon perched above the waterfall

bird daemon, river god, assembled from natural forms in the landscape

a closer view of the strange bird daemon as it perches over the rushing water

The waterfall is usually impossible to climb because the rockface is covered in slime and there is nothing to grab hold of within reach. As if by magic, when my mother was visiting and had brought the skull the weather became very dry. The once-slimy rocks were bare and easily scalable. Once on top of the waterfall I discovered another way in and out of the roofless grotto via a natural staircase in the rocky cliff. My dog looked on, unwilling to join me. She decided that she preferred to stay in the magical pool below the waterfall – the place I always expect to find a golden crown one day …

ripples and sunlight

the magical pool below the waterfall

dog looking up

daemon watching

river daemon made from hay and bone, an art in nature piece

startled by my dog, the river daemon turns its head

There’s a beautiful tree that somehow grows in the sky to form a roof for the grotto.

photo of a tree with rocks and sky

the beautiful tree

The beautiful tree reminds me of my sister, once photographed drinking tea.

a photograph of my sister sitting in a tree drinking tea

Clare sitting in a tree with a cup of tea, an old photo from the 1980s

Further afield, we travelled to Scotland and I did some oil sketches, some more successful than others. At first there was the compulsion to be too relentless in pursuit of the wave forms, daubing away until they were deadened. Then there was the trap of getting carried away by the sunset colours and losing some tones here and there. In spite of it all some hints of the sea eventually crept in, as if nature finds its way into your paints no matter what. This is heartening.

plein air painting of Culzean beach, 6x8 in oils on canvas

light fading over the beach at Culzean, plein air, oil on canvas, 6×8 inches

small oil sketch, plein air, of Culzean beach during sunset

the sun well into setting with deep, rich hues – a plein air sketch from Culzean beach, 6×8 inches, oil on canvas

Culzean beach and Arran at sunset, quick oil sketch, plein air, 6x8 inches on canvas

Culzean beach and Arran in the distance. A quick oil sketch carried out at sunset, 6×8 inches, oil on canvas.

small plein air sketch of waves at Culzean, oil on canvas

rusty attempt at a wave study, Culzean beach, 6×8 inch oil painting on canvas

small plein air sketch of the sea at Culzean, oils on canvas, 6x8 inches

the sea and sky at Culzean in a pale light with Arran looming blue on the horizon, small oil on canvas, 6×8 inches

My sister Clare in the 80s, staring out to sea on the Isle of Skye

An old photo from the 1980s showing Clare looking out to sea (and I have no idea what she’s carrying)

Visiting the Spriggans

a brick column on the edge of a Cornish cliff

mysterious column perched on the cliff edge

In Cornwall where the landscape seems filled with the energies of invisible beings there are some strange sights to be seen, especially on the cliffs. Recent man made structures, tin mines and the like, have been weathered by nature into something resembling an outdoor sculpture park for modern art. Older man made structures such as burial mounds, also tumbled about by the elements, sometimes stand quite close by, as if all of these constructions are part of one great puzzle. It creates a dramatic, slightly alien and menacing scene, as if a civilisation abandoned its weird cities on the Cornish coast. Only the Cornish nature spirits, the Spriggans, are left to skip about amongst the ruins and scare the imaginative and unwary.

mining ruins near Botallack, joiner photograph

joiner photograph of the strange cliff landscape near Botallack

Many years ago I had an encounter with the Spriggans when staying in an old farmhouse in Cornwall near the sea. A group of us had booked the house but myself and a friend were the first to arrive that winter’s evening. We entered the house, had a quick look round and then, while in the kitchen, heard a sturdy knock on the door. Expecting others from the group had arrived we rushed to let them in, only to open the door into nothing but stillness and dark. We suspected our friends were playing a trick on us so sneaked around the outside of the house hoping to find them in hiding. No-one was about and there was no sign of any car apart from the one we arrived in. Much later, the first of our friends did arrive. We heard the car clearly that time. In the visitors’ book several entries attested to the ‘welcome’ of the Spriggans on first entering the house.

painter's backpack, Cornwall trip

carrying painting gear across the Cornish landscape

This time we were visiting Cornwall to scour the cliff paths for painting opportunities. I had brought my pochade box and a total of nine canvases in the smaller 6×8 inch size. The end of an eventful 2016 had left me a bit thrown off my painting stride so I was hoping to get back into painting out of doors, which should help to loosen up my slightly rusty skills.

A rocky beach at the end of the valley led to the coast path and cliffs in both directions. Turning south I could walk up onto a narrow ledge path that teetered high over the sea with dark mining tunnels leading deep into the rock. The feeling of foreboding was lifted by flowers growing all over the cliff tops, comical red-footed screeching birds known as choughs and many helpful benches carved out of the rocks, perfect for sitting and staring at the waves crashing below. In the distance two ship-wrecking islands, the Brisons, came and went in the mist, shredding the sea into spray as it cannoned into them.

The Brisons, plein air, oil on canvas, 6x8 inches

sitting on the coast path high above the waves, looking at the Brisons in the distance, oil sketch on canvas, 6×8 inches

Taking the cliff path in the other direction led up past many mine shafts and an ancient barrow to Cape Cornwall where the waves seemed to be taller than anywhere else. I scrambled down from the cliff edge onto a rock and set up my pochade box, managing two quick sketches before the last light disappeared. I had to hurry back to the house but made it well before dusk settled in. Disappointingly, there were no spirits dancing around the barrow as I passed.

Cape Cornwall plein air sketch in oils on canvas, 6x8 inches

oil study of Cape Cornwall painted from a clifftop perch on small 6×8 inch canvas

oil study of Cape Cornwall waves, small 6x8 inches canvas

plein air study of waves at Cape Cornwall, oil on canvas, 6×8 inches

The trip was shrouded in mist a lot of the time so I attempted to paint it. This wasn’t very easy but I thought it was probably good practice for sharpening up my skills.

oil on canvas sketch of a view from the Cornish coast path near Cape Cornwall

view from the coast path painted in misty conditions, small 6×8 inch canvas, oils

At the end of the holiday the mist became rain but I had become a bit crazed by then and ended up out on a cliff edge trying to shelter behind a rock (horizontal wind and rain gives you more sheltering options) and painted a pile of stones nearby that looked, under the influence of impending hypothermia, a bit like a giant and slightly ominous king sitting looking out to sea.

peculiar rock formation, Cornish cliffs on a rainy windswept day, oil study on canvas, 6x8 inches

painting on the cliffs in the wind and rain, a brooding and strange rock formation looms over the waves below, oil on canvas, 6×8 inches

Back at the house it was dark but there were still jugs waiting to be painted, arranging themselves nicely on the windowsill.

three jugs, Cornish room at night, oil study on 6x8 inch canvas

old Cornish jugs by the window at night, oil on canvas, 6×8 inches

Now we’re home again I miss being out on the cliffs.

plein air sketch from Cornish cliffs, oil on canvas, 6x8 inches

view painted from the cliffs near the Count House, Botallack, oil on small 6×8 inch canvas

But the sea and the peculiar landscape above it will wait for another visit.

chimneys on the cliffs, Cornwall

remains of a strange civilisation or tin mine chimneys on the cliffs

sculptural mining ruins in Cornwall

strange modern sculptures on the cliffs or mining remains?

mining ruins on a Cornish cliff

nature makes modern art from ruined mines

Cornwall, columns on a cliff top

cliff sentinels guard the view

setting sun over the sea with distant Brisons, Cornwall

sunset over the Brisons, Cornwall