I’ve just returned from two weeks in the mountains of North Wales, collecting visual information for paintings and sketch books. It’s one of my favourite places and is a recurring theme in my work – it’s rugged, beautiful and a complete drama-queen!
I stay in the Rhinogydd hills behind Harlech and Talsarnau, in the hamlet of Llandecwyn. It’s remote and it’s rare to see another person on the track that runs past the house.
I went out every day to soak up the unique atmosphere of the place. When studying en plein air, if you stay quiet, wildlife emerges and the sounds and details of the countryside reveal themselves. This creates more evocative and emotional paintings that trigger richer memories for me than a photograph ever could.
Day 1: Rain
It chucked it down on day 1, but this intrepid artist decided to go out and paint anyway! I got soaked, as did my paper, but the rain did interesting things to the paint and created textures I’d never have managed without it. I really love the marks and the barely-controlled chaos of this painting.
Day 2: Cuckoo
The sun came out and the colours were clear and bright. I decided to exaggerate them, to pick out the pinks, golds and burnt orange colour I could see. A cuckoo called from the wood below me.
I went to the lake just down from the house to paint the hills while Ian went boating. The reeds reflected in the water. I painted from an upturned boat, using the same exaggerated palette.
Day 3: Distance
Another lovely day and Snowdon showed its head. I studied the colours in the distance, using a ‘figgy’ palette to describe the sense of softness and depth of the view. I painted these from my favourite little perch on top of a small hill near the lake.
Day 4: Cloud blanket
This was a day of soft horizons as the cloud hung over the tops of the hills. I wanted to capture the effect of being covered by a duvet of cloud while the low pastures remained sharply in focus, dark and bright.
Day 5: Sand banks
The next day, I studied the view from Ynys, looking towards Ynys Gifftan. It was low tide and Ian walked across the sands to the island. The grasses growing on the sand banks and salt marsh were bright. It was a soft day, and the distant hills were shades of purple, lilac and airforce blue.
Day 6: Pink
The sun was stronger and I decided to study the hills from a spot down the track near the house. Today, I could clearly see the exposed soil, pink in the sun. The distant hills were soft and I experimented with using bright tones over greys to create the sense of distance. Blue-purple slate lends a distinctive hue to the area.
Day 7: Low tide
We walked along the coast from Borth y Gest to a magnificent, bright bay. The tide was out again and the sun sparkled on the water. There was a house on the headland, looking out to sea and the fabulous views towards Harlech and the mountains and to the very tip of the Llyn Peninsula. I decided I’d like to live there!
From here, you can walk over the sands to Criccieth at low tide (if you’re quick and wear your wellies).
Day 8: Pastel
All the colours were knocked back to pastel today. We went to Treath Llandwg, near Llanfair, to look at the Llyn Peninsula across the water and the rocky shoreline. The palette was completely different today – the sea was the colour of the sand and all the colours of the distant hills were muted and pretty.
Day 9: Shells and slate
It was a wet one, so I worked inside on some shell studies before venturing out to Blaenau Ffestiniog to look at the dramatic state quarries. It was very gusty and showery, so I had to work fast in pastel in my little grey sketch book. Anything larger would have taken too long and blown away.
Day 10: Soft
The house was in the clouds today, so we went down to the beach at Harlech to escape from the mists. It was a very soft day with hazy horizons and gentle colours. It was a day for watercolour.
I sat in the dunes.
Day 11: Panorama
It was a blowy day today, and the colours were ‘figgy’ again. I sat on my little hill to paint the beautiful colours, and quickly decided that one sheet wouldn’t cut it, so did a panorama of three. I’d forgotten my tape, so the paper blew about and I got covered in paint, but it was worth it. At least nobody witnessed the unintended comedy apart from the sheep!
Day 12: Drama queen!
Today, we went into the BIG mountains of Snowdonia. There were lots of tourists and few stopping places, so I worked from a lay-by and viewing spot in the Glaslyn valley. The valley below was glorious, but I was far more interested in the drama of Snowdon above me, with its head dropping in and out of cloud cover, and graphic lines formed by the natural and man-made water channels.
Day 12: Foxgloves
It was another lovely day (we were so lucky!). I walked up the track from the house again, to draw the foxgloves in the stone walls and to study the colours again.
Final day: Gold
On the final day, the sky was dramatic and the hills were darker, but it remained dry. The sun broke through the clouds, turning a distant hill-side bright gold.
We were so lucky to have had all this on our doorstep.
‘Welsh Sketch Book #2′ will be published shortly, along with some new giclée prints, and will be available to purchase from my online shop. Studio paintings will also appear in due course.
All works on paper and paintings on canvas shown here were painted en plein air and can be purchased. Please contact me if you are interested in any of them.
Works on paper are provided in acid-free mounts to frame at home (if collected), or unmounted and rolled in a cardboard tube (if posted). All works on paper shown are approximately A3 and fit a standard 500 x 400 mm frame, when mounted.