Thursday, May 20, 2004

The Rock of Cashel

I've only been outside of the United States twice, and both times it was to the same place.

I have a friend who lives in the south of Ireland, in County Cork. Ireland is a beautiful place. Where in America you might see the occasional vacant storefront or burned-out house, in Ireland you are just as likely to run into a ruined cathedral or a the shell of a house that has stood vacant for hundreds of years. Some castles are celebrated and venerated and set up as tourist attractions. The Rock of Cashel, in County Tipperary, is one of these.

We tried to visit the Rock of Cashel during my last trip to Ireland, but unfortunately the Irish tourist industry has not yet learned how to squeeze every possible euro out of money-laden tourists, and doesn't see the need to keep many tourist attractions open past, say, 5:00 in the afternoon. Actually, this isn't just a problem with the tourist industry; most businesses in Ireland close at 5:00 or 6:00, even in major cities like Cork and Dublin. Some shops have late-night hours one or two nights a week, staying open until 8:00 at night.

So, after racing from a visit to the gift shop across the street from Cahir Castle, where we had been buying whoopee cushions and fake cigarettes for my friend's daughter Ciara and her friend Ria to use the next day, April Fool's Day (for some reason most gift shops have a huge section dedicated to gag items, like rubber poo and soap that turns your hands black - this particular item was available at a gift shop near a monastery, and must have given the monks no end of laughs) to get to the Rock of Cashel, we discovered that we had arrived just a few minutes after closing time.

Well, darnit, we had come so far, and at least fate had decreed that we could keep our fast-disappearing euros rather than pour them out for a little "historical interpretation", as the guided tours are called. The sun was sinking behind the castle, and I decided to snap off a few quick photos with my Kodak Advantix APS camera.

(The whoopee cushion, sadly, did not survive until April Fool's Day, but instead saw such a workout back at my friend's house that it finally gave up the ghost. But its manner of death was a beautiful swan song of simulated flatulence ending in a powerful explosion, and we rolled on the floor as we recounted the fateful final sitting-upon to Ria's father later that night.)

A few months ago, when I was playing around with acrylics for the first time, I decided to try painting from a photograph. I chose one of the simplest pictures I could find: the high-contrast shot of the Rock of Cashel. The picture is dominated by just a few colors: black, white, some shades of gray, and two shades of blue. I realized that this would also be an opportunity to try out the technique of the limited palette, to paint a picture using the smallest number of colors. In addition to the colors listed, I also used water (to achieve the watercolor effects in the sky and clouds) and acrylic thinning gel (to allow me to cover more territory more easily in the black lower half of the painting.)

I messed up the perspective a lot. The curvature you see in the photo is almost completely lost in the painting. The buildings themselves look chunky and childish, and only approximate the shapes and positions of their counterparts in the photo. The sky I quite like, although the clouds are a bit of a cheat: I painted in the blue sky in-between the clouds, but let the titanium white primer on the canvas serve as the white of the clouds. I think I could have gotten away with a single shade of blue, thinned and mixed with a touch of thinned black where necessary.

Well, there you go. And in case you don't realize it, you can click on the thumbnail images to open larger, more detailed versions of the painting and the photo. I hope you enjoy them!

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