If you come from London’s Paddington station, the deep red sandstone cliffs of the South Devon coastline will give you a magnificent introduction to the area. The railway line skirts the sea as it weaves in and out of the cliffs near Dawlish Warren and Teignmouth. I would suggest painting here in late morning to capture the evocative cross light on these forms.
From Hartland Quay, watercolour, (38 x 56cm)
The rugged north Devon coastline is completely different from the south. Years earlier when my husband and I came here with the children I did not have time to paint. I returned recently and completed From Hartland Quay (above) while my mother, at 90, sat in the car which was strategically placed where she could sketch the distant rocky cliffs and churning water. I braved the wind outside and propped my painting board on a convenient wall.
There is a fault line in the rock formation causing the strata to bend at steep angles making a fascinating subject, especially in the cross light of morning or evening sun. I, however, was only able to paint the afternoon when the straight-on sunlight flattened the forms! I decided to concentrate on the vista using the shadows caused by fast moving clouds to lead the eye to the distant headland. If you squint at the painting you will see that it is composed of three simple shapes – the dark foreground, the light sky and water and the mid-toned headland. Simplicity gives strength.
Rainy Day in Denbury, watercolour, (38 x 56cm)
Despite the refrain ‘Glorious Devon, rain six days in seven’, the climate is relatively temperate and doesn’t often curb outdoor activities. For Rainy Day in Denbury (above), my home base, the weather was mild but as the title suggests I did indeed paint it in the rain. I sealed my reputation for eccentricity in the village as I say on the granite, cobbled pavement holding an umbrella in one hand, paint brush in the other with a large sheet of watercolour paper propped up in front of me. I didn’t use a pencil but instead drew with paint for a lively painterly quality. The brooding, grey church tower as it loomed in and out of the mist is the overriding feature.
One unwelcome contemporary aspect of these old villages is the cars. I feel they cannot be avoided because they really are part of the scene. I solved the problem here by making them transparent, painting them with lines only. This also conveys the feeling that their positions are transient: there one minute, gone the next, leaving the timeless aspects of the scene to endure.
Rain or shine, Devon offers unlimited subject matter. I sampled the good food at the pub before painting Rattery (below). For the purposes of atmosphere, I put a frontal view of the thatched cottage shown in profile on the left, in place of a modern bungalow. As artists, it’s good to remember that we are the boss and so can move objects around in a painting to help convey our intent.
Rattery, watercolour, (56 x 38cm)
Often when painting on location I have either family members or workshop participants nearby so I try to paint rapidly so as not to keep them standing around. I had no such considerations for Falls and Flowers (below) painted at the National Trust house and gardens at Coleton Fishacre near Dartmouth. The result of this seemingly unlimited time was that I whiled away nearly a whole morning trying to find the perfect painting spot as I wandered around steep, rhododendron-filled gardens leading down to a secluded rocky cove. When I finally started to paint, instead of zeroing in on my first idea, I became preoccupied with detail. The next day I started gain and with the aid of cropping off a third of the painting managed to keep a focus on the subject – the light leaves and azaleas in sunlight seen against the backdrop of waterfall and the darker undergrowth. The lesson, of course, is always to remain focused no matter how much time you have!
Falls and Flowers, watercolour, (50.8 x 48.2cm)
Moorlands characterise the most beautiful parts of Devon. Exmoor encompasses delightful coastal villages nestled at the foot of high wooded slopes. Dartmoor, my favourite, is larger, and has many rocky outcrops and heather-covered uplands.
Bridges abound on Dartmoor I chose Fingle Bridge located between Chagford and Okehampton, not only because it is impressive but also because the pub, river and rock pools are right there, so family and friends were happily occupied too. My main focus in Fingle Bridge (below) is the reflection of the sky in the river. I started the painting in the spring when the trees were bare. I used a 2in. brush to paint the large structure rather than pencilling and ‘filling in’ the colour. I returned on a gloriously warm summer day to complete the few rocky details on the bridge.
Fingle Bridge, watercolour, (38 x 56cm)
Houston, Texas where I live now, is wonderful – vast and free. But I will always have a place in my heart for Devon. I was born there, and they say that the place where you are born is the place for an artist to paint.