Category Archives: plein air

Sunsets are loved because they vanish

photo of sun setting into the sea as seen from the garden of a cottage in Cornwall
The sun setting into the sea, taken from the garden behind the cottage

For six nights the sun set into the sea, sometimes fiery enough to reflect into two suns. Oranges, yellows and pinks were lurid and impossible to paint, fading into crimson when there wasn’t much light left and it was too cold to stay outside. Still, it was difficult to go indoors, even to watch through the window. There was a strong urge to cling to a rock until it all went dark. By the end of the week I had cracked and attempted to paint it all. Attempted is a good word because the painted canvas may not reveal much to anyone who wasn’t there. After being there, there are enough reminders in the colours and shapes to take me back to the scene.

Every morning the sky and sea were the purest blue and the vegetation sparkled with warmth. It was as if each day started by being perfect and it was an enchanted time – maybe even outside normal time, and made so significant because we knew we had to go back.

Blue sky and sea, green grass as seen through a window, colour photo, Cornwall
Blue through the window

Everywhere there were mining ruins perched around the cliffs. Many looked like roadside chapels but I didn’t see anyone praying inside them. Opportunities to thank the nature gods and ask for more, scattered around but not being used.

photograph showing a ruined mine building on a Cornish cliff
A ruined mine building resembles a broken chapel

A dangerous path that clambered over a frightening rock, exposing humans to the sea below, led to the Loud Cliffs. On the Loud Cliffs it was possible to sit comfortably on springy grass and listen to the booming and bashing of water attacking the rocks. Every now and again a thunderous crash would reward waiting ears, vibrating the entire cliff mass and resounding across the water.

A photo of waves crashing into cliffs
Waves batter the Loud Cliffs
On the Loud Cliffs, plein air painting in oils, 6x8 inch canvas
On the Loud Cliffs, 6×8 inches, plein air, oil on canvas

Just before the very dangerous entrance to the Loud Cliffs was a secret fjord, which looked at its most mysterious in the hazy mist that swirled across the sun one afternoon.

A Cornish inlet, seascape photo
The ‘fjord’ in moody weather
Cornish Fjord, oil on canvas, plein air, 6x8 inches
Cornish Fjord, oil on canvas, 6×8 inches

Years ago we had visited a different part of this coast, a more gentle cliff edge with seats made out of stone for weary painters to rest their palettes on. We made our way there one hot afternoon and the Brisons cried out to be painted again, their siren song luring my brush over the waves. Fortunately there was no wreck this time.

Oil painting of The Brisons in Sun, 6x8 inches plein air sketch on canvas
The Brisons in Sun, 6×8 inches, oil on canvas

Further round, another stone bench surrounded by flowers led to a second painting.

Oil painting on canvas, View from the Chough Cliff, plein air, 6x8 inches
View from the Chough Cliff, oil on canvas, 6×8 inches

On another day a walk to Cape Cornwall challenged our ancient dog as she scrabbled across stones and streams, falling in and out of both but always happy.

photo of Kenidjack valley with Cape Cornwall in the distance
On a walk to Cape Cornwall
Cape Cornwall oil painting on canvas, small, 6x8 inches plein air
Cape Cornwall from Kenidjack, oil on canvas, 6×8 inches

Back at Botallack, in the evening some clouds arrived to silver the view. It was too breezy and cold to paint so I went back on a warmer, bluer evening.

Botallack View with Brisons in the distance, photograph, Cornwall
View of a silvery sea, Botallack, with Brisons near the horizon
plein air painting in oils on canvas from Botallack with Brisons in background
Botallack View, Brisons in the distance, 6×8 inches, oil on canvas

The coast around Botallack is eerie and strange because of the abandoned mine buildings. Built both high and low, many are dank and dark inside and their spirits seem to own the landscape.

Cornwall, view of mining ruins on the cliffs, looking down, photograph
Looking down …

The old chimneys appear to guard the cliffs while the metal constructions seem as if they might walk around when you’re not looking.

mining remains, chimneys and St Just church in the distance, Cornwall photo
A strange landscape

Walking by the newer mine the scene reminds me of old Doctor Who programmes from the 1970s, with that visual mixture of futuristic metal shapes and stone quarries.

Old mine at Botallack, colour photo, Cornwall
Industry and nature, metal and stone

The scene around the Arsenic Works is the spookiest of all. I imagine faceless figures emerging from the shadowy openings. We do not head this way when it’s going dark.

mining ruins on the cliffs at Botallack, Cornwall, photograph
City of the dead?
Cliffs at Botallack, chimneys and ruins with a dog in the foreground, photo
Chapels for the nature gods
oil painting, view towards Botallack from Kenidjack, small, 6x8 inches on canvas
Looking towards Botallack from Kenidjack, oil paint on canvas, 6×8 inches

At the end of each day the sun carries out its show. We are very grateful as we absorb the colours and store them for the winter months.

plein air oil painting, Yellow Sun, Cornwall, 6x8 inches
Yellow Sun, oil on canvas, 6×8 inches
Cornwall painting, Red Sun, oil on canvas, 6x8 inches
Red Sun, oil on canvas, 6×8 inches
evening sunset view from a cottage on the cliffs, Cornwall
Goodnight

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)