Tag Archives: paintings of mysterious landscapes

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

Into the woods and out again

photo of figure striding into trees

heading into the heart of the woods on the path to the black tower

Sometimes you have to leave the sunny meadows and breezy hillsides and head into the woods. It can be terrifying in there because of the shadows and you are never quite sure whether or not someone else is around. When you are younger it is easier and you are always curious about what you might find around that next bend in the track.

At the age of 15 or so I thought nothing of heading into the woods and went there regularly, often climbing up to a sinister black tower that loomed on the horizon. Once up there, above the trees, you felt almost as if you were in a strange version of heaven, or on some kind of woodland shelf above the world, closer to the sky and clouds than to the trees below.

photo of a figure looking out across a wooded landscape

looking out over the woods from the black tower

photo of the artist when young

the artist as a youngster

The woods spoke to me strongly at that age, with their pleasing slight scariness and their ability to encompass the unknown, and I painted a picture of them, with myself in the foreground striding off towards the tower. Maybe the power of the woods infiltrated the painting because, when entered in a national competition, it won the prize for my age group. Perhaps fittingly it was later destroyed in a house fire, becoming truly mysterious for ever.

watercolour painting of a lonely tree

the lonely tree, small plein air watercolour sketch on paper,

Now it seems that going into the woods is a midlife thing. Some Jungian analysts see the woods as a symbolic place where people go to learn about themselves in middle age. It is difficult to go into that dark unknown but well worth the risk, they say. The alternative, to stay on the surface of life, in the easy meadow, is actually more dangerous in the long run as you could miss out on everything that matters.

photo of leafy lane

road through the trees

When painting I find myself drawn to compositions that lead towards a place you can’t quite see. It’s like going into the woods. You’re entering a landscape and heading for the hidden part. Something momentous will be there. Your courage will be rewarded.

Even urban places have their ‘woods’. From my kitchen window in Salford I could see the way that led into town, into the centre of Manchester where the unexpected, the glamour and the grime were waiting to be encountered. I tried to paint that route, which disappeared into the shadows between tall buildings.

painting of manchester view, oil on card

a view of central Manchester painted from my top floor kitchen window, oil on card with driftwood frame, approx 12 inches square

Back in Lancashire, there was a small wood where a wooden circle once stood. I visited it a few times and wondered why it felt magical there. Was it because I expected it should be or was there really something extraordinary there?

photo of Bleasdale circle

where the wooden circle at Bleasdale once stood, with Fairsnape (was there ever a lovelier name for a hill?) fell in the background

In the Lancashire hills I used to cycle through I sometimes saw lonely valleys running off into the heathery distance, with no footpaths in sight. I painted one such scene, with a house that is cut off from the world and some trees which, settling themselves here and there, seem to have positioned themselves on purpose to obscure the view of a distant valley. I think the house that ended up in my painting is derelict. I will probably never visit it and it still haunts my mind, symbolising unexplored territory and inaccessible places.

oil painting of hills and valley in oils on hardboard

The Hidden Valley, painting in oils on hardboard, approx. 40cm x 60cm

large painting in oils of trees in mother's garden

trees close to my mother’s house, large oil painting on canvas

oil on hardboard, painting of trees in a southern garden

trees lurking in a southern garden, oil on hardboard, approx. A4

woodland study, charcoal on paper

sketchbook charcoal study of light in a wood