Summer will come again. It will! It will!
Photos by my pedalpal Helen Lane.
A cool, overcast day, just right for a ride in the green and beloved isle. Check out these giant puffballs between the road and the river. They’re fully twelve inches across. Edible.
One of the party came back for these puffballs in his car.
This is our destination, Kilmacsimon Quay, a village of a handful of houses, a pub and a boatyard on the estuary of the River Bandon.
The green tower is the proverbial widow’s house, from which she would look out fearfully for the return of her sea-captain.
Today I rode out into the countryside to a Tree of Life to photograph it before the buds grew into too many leaves, too thick to see the branches giving it shape. I’ll put the photographs aside to use as inspiration for a painting I’ll make in the winter.
You may ask why I don’t paint it on the spot. Simple. That field, on which the grass and small flowers look so smooth, is in fact incredibly rough under the grass, so there’s nowhere level to put up an easel, and that is if you don’t first turn or break an ankle just walking the half-mile or so up the length of the field. But that isn’t the worst. The tree stands on the edge of a valley, and the wind howls over that field; it’s uncomfortable and cold. And it is most definitely not an alla prima painting, so a studio job it is.
So many amazing vistas in Ireland, so little time to paint them.
This swan normally lives in the deep pool above the weir, opposite the police station in Bandon. But this afternoon, presumably after a lunch of too many fat frogs, I found it catching a nap lower down the river. Despite appearances, it is safe enough, the little pebble island being entirely surrounded by water. The ducks and gulls which normally crowd this part of the river are far too experienced to come near such a large and dangerous — and, it must be said, bad-tempered — animal as this swan, which is alone, and very unpredictable, after its mate was killed by an escaped mink which some careless idiot imported.
Swans mate for life and if a mate is killed, don’t mate again. Since we had only one pair of swans, this is a tragedy for our river as well as for the surviving swan mourning its mate.
This watercolour, made in my big new sketchbook, is a sketch for an oil that, if it happens, will probably have to be at least 20x30in to support the details. There’s a house right on the tideline near Rosscarbery, down the road here in Ireland, which haunts my memory. A photograph published by the American designer and writer Kathleen Valentine of a similarly placed house near Gloucester, Massachusetts, reminded me strongly of it. This painting is a mental synthesis of the two images.
Today’s ride: 21km across the hills nestling in a loop of the river between where I live on the River Bandon and Kilmacsimon Quay at the tip of the upper estuary.
The photo is of a restful lane providing a shortcut home via Ballylangley, from nearer Innishannon, also on the river.
You can’t ride home along the river because right by Innishannon there is a short section of narrow road without hard shoulders and very fast, impatient commuter traffic.
More about my bicycles and adventures on them.
Last year for my birthday one of the gifts I received was the last Winsor & Newton Bijou Box from Green & Stone in London. I never actually received the brush supposed to go with this box but would in any event have chucked it out to fit in four more half pans, new total twelve, because the standard eight is one short of my minimum palette and a more normal palette for me is twelve colors. I have one of those WN travel brushes that came with another WN kit, and it is uselessly small, except I suppose to people who want to paint the eyes on gnats. The Bijou Box, about the size of a visiting card, now lives in my Little Watercolor Pochade Tin, a pocketable traveling watercolor kit kept on the hall table by my glove chest to grab whenever I go out. Today I went out on my bike, and the first thing I saw that I wanted to sketch was a well kept hedge, the pride and joy of some farmer’s wife.
My favorite bike, a Utopia Kranich, and my Little Watercolour Pochade Tin, caught in action on the ten minutes in which it was pleasant to stand painting outside on a miserably cold spring day in Ireland.
Andre Jute: The Hedge, 230g rough paper, 6x4in.
The photo shows that the Bijou Box is Winsor & Newton’s most compact paintbox, about the size of a visiting card. The box itself isn’t well made or finished, and will soon rust, starting at the bubbles and pinholes in the so-called “enamel”; with eight half pans of color it is grossly overpriced at 55 Euro, say about eighty US dollars. I’m not surprised that WN have stopped selling it if Fome cannot supply a better quality box.
West Cork: a Place Apart is a book that haunts me, and it isn’t about some far-off, distant place, it is about the place where I live.
Jo Kerrigan is a local West Cork girl who went away and made an international reputation, then returned to write for the Irish Examiner and the Evening Echo and make all our lives better. “Winding green lanes and chuckling streams, mysterious lake dwellings and secret valleys, drowned forests and misty mountains: this, surely, is the region JRR Tolkien had in mind when he created Middle Earth.”
That’s prose you want to lick, because it is so true. I live among all this beauty, look out on it from my front door, from my study window, and cycle in it daily — but Jo makes it new for me.
Richard Mills arrived in West Cork from France when he was sixteen, and became the Examiner’s distinguished photographer. He is an international prize winner in several disciplines for his photographs of the landscape, flaura, fauna and people of West Cork. If there is a scene of Ireland that haunts your memory, chances are it was planted there by a photograph Richard took. I shan’t stick my neck out and pretend to know what makes a photograph by Richard Mills better: he has a different way of seeing that grabs hold of you, and creates an image so poignant it won’t let go again. You look at a photograph by Richard of a landscape you know, you look up at the view, and it is a new scene, with a different light shining on it. It’s a form of artistic magic.
A book of lovingly selected photographs by Richard Mills is already an occasion for the cognoscenti, but enriched by Jo’s equally evocative prose, it becomes so enticing, you want to get close enough to wrap yourself around it. West Cork: a Place Apart is a book so luscious, it is good enough to eat.