Saturday, 22 November 2014

Ballintoy harbour

Several years ago, I took a week off work! Hard to believe eh! My Nikon and I spent a week touring the much celebrated north coast of Northern Ireland. Although I have lived in the province for most of my life I'd never really spent a lot of sightseeing time in this holiday area. 

I'd heard of the Mussoden Temple but had no idea where it was, I'd seen Dunluce castle from the roadside but never walked among its ruins and I'd noticed how pretty Ballintoy harbour looked in tourist brochures but never ever visited the place. To my credit I had been to the Giant's Causeway on a typical wet and rainy Northern Irish summer's day when I took an English friend there to see this world heritage site and I left completely underwhelmed at the experience. 

I have just never bought into the myth that we have some of Europe's best scenery on our doorstep. As someone who has travelled widely in 1980s and 1990s Europe I have to say the area around Lake Como in Italy, Grindelwald in Switzerland and the fjords in Norway eclipse anything Northern Ireland has to throw up, so excuse me when I pick up my passport and head for the International Airport. OK I'll never get any work from the NITB now after that dismal advert!


While clicking through my digital images of that July week on my Flickr site I came across Ballintoy harbour. Ten minutes later I had made it the header image for my Facebook page and the subject of my second pastel painting. I delved into the raw files in my archives to see what other photographs I had taken of the spot and discovered another twenty taken from various locations around the harbour. I debated which one to use and in the end plumped for the original Flickr shot. 

In my first pastel, Gold Hill, I was excited about painting the quaint little houses and a hill full of cobblestones and I think I succeeded. With Ballintoy it was all about capturing the water and the boats. The harbour walls and the little building were rather secondary issues. Gold Hill had taught me how to approach them. On spare pages of pastel mat I trialled and errored water at Lisnagarvey Art Society. Ex teacher Jo took ten minutes out and showed me the best way to pastel reflections in water. I was struggling a bit. Even the spiky grass was giving me problems I hadn't encountered before. I wondered had I chewed on too much with this pastel.

In the end the best idea was just to start it – I could always rip it up if things weren't going right. I fingered in the sky in about twenty minutes using several different chalks to achieve the distance I was after and then added a few wispy clouds. It had started off OK but when it came to the grass I rather screwed up. It just wasn't looking right and I binned it.

I went straight for the grass with my second attempt. No point in wasting any more sky blue chalks  if I failed again! I used pastel pencils this time and stroked rather than covered the area. It worked better for me and though it wasn't exactly how I had envisaged it I used the second attempt as a tester for grass, water and boats! 

That meant I started on a third Ballintoy. I wasn't frustrated or annoyed that I couldn't get it right first time, even second time. I knew pastelling was going to be a learning curve and that's why I attempted difficult subject matter. I was very aware I was miles out of my comfort zone with this painting but I was confident I could make a satisfying attempt at capturing the scene.

I think my final version was my fourth attempt. The grass which I hadn't initially seen as a problem finally got sorted and the water which I envisaged being my 'waterloo' turned out to be easier than I had anticipated. I was happy with the reflections and the different colours of the water. I cheated with the boats a bit and lost a few of their thin masts and anchor ropes - call that artistic licence, no wait call it I hadn't a clue how to do thin lines! And I didn't want to be binning a fourth and starting a fifth now that I had come so far.
So that's the story of Ballintoy harbour. The photograph above is not the last version but the only one I have got. 

I exhibited this pastel in my home village of Moy in May 2015 and Beth, a woman I had known most of my life was so taken with it she had to have it. I really didn't want to be parted with 'my newborn' but relented that she could have it in September/October once I had lived with 'baby' for a while. I gave it to her for a knockdown price with the idea I would make another Ballintoy 'baby' sometime in 2016.