The Bits Inbetween

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The Bits Inbetween

The Yorkshire Dales are so sculptural: I love these 3D maps showing the stunning contours, dips, dales, u-shapes, v-shapes and big wide moor shapes. Capturing any of it on my 2D canvas is always going to be a challenge; just one of the many challenges along the way!

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Each named Dale has, of course, a very specific place – usually identified by its river or beck and the journey of that water along the valley bottom. Although I enjoy walks by any beck or river, some of my favourite places are further up the contours, where the space feels bigger, the vistas exciting, and the weather and skies entertain.

These are the places of the watersheds – the boundaries between the Dales.

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When I painted ‘WATERSHED’ a couple of years ago (between Wharfedale and Wensleydale), I mused at the abundance of these places:

‘the watershed is the point where here the water flows in one direction into one catchment basin rather than there where it flows another way into a different valley and a different river. And so the Yorkshire Dales are riddled with them…..’

I am now wondering whether the watersheds move over time - when a new spring bubbles up here and another over there sinks into the underground maze of limestone cavities? Maybe these spaces are more fluid than we think, somewhat fuzzy on our maps, and a little bit undefined?

But I love them!

(‘HEATHER BOTH WAYS’, above Wharfedale and Washburndale – image below)

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Often, when you are so high, you can no longer see into the lower parts of the nearby Dale. You know it is there, in a comforting way – with its pubs and cafes and car parks. But up here you feel removed from the normal pace of life; here is a place to sing, shout, be uplifted by the emptiness and hugeness.

Looking at my watercolour map of the YDNP I realise that it is these places - the places around the watersheds -  that fill a great deal of the map. All those expanses that I have depicted in purply hues! In the hundreds of square miles of the Dales (there are evidently 841 sq miles in total), only a fraction are the valley bottoms and running waters. An awful lot are the beautiful spaces inbetween.

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It is therefore not surprising that these spaces are the focus of many of my compositions!

‘ABOVE KETTLEWELL WITH SHEEP’

Here I enjoy the bright green pastures of some of the upper limestone scenery above Kettlewell (the purples were an oversimplification on my map). From these upper moors you can look straight over the valleys, across the hidden valley bottoms to the moors opposite; across Wharfedale towards the distant contours of Littondale.

The moors between Sleddale and Widdale are celebrated in my painting ‘SLEDDALE GRIT’, and the upper contours between Coverdale and upper Nidderdale in ‘A PLACE TO PIROUETTE’…..

And most recently, here are the moors between mid-Wharfedale and mid-Nidderdale, shown in their glorious orangey winter hues…

It was choosing a title for this which got me thinking: I called it ‘BETWEEN’.

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Special places indeed, places we are lucky to have. They are a huge part of my connection with the YDNP.

As I continue on my quest to paint all the named Dales, I must find a way to count these fabulous bits inbetween…. any suggestions?

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New finds in old places

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New Finds in Old Places

I have come across some fabulous ‘new finds’ in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Of course, they are only new to me – these are ancient places with huge tales to tell – stories that span millennia.

My latest find is Mossdale.

I was rather staggered when I realised there was a tributary Dale to Wharfedale that I’d not heard of and never visited. But as it doesn’t have a tea shop, a tarmac road, or a pub, I had to take a good look at the map to find it at all!

It is hiding on the upper fells above the well-known confluence of Wharfedale and Littondale. From this angle above Consitone (depicted in MEET AND GREET below), Mossdale is literally hiding behind you.

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Take the bridle track which starts in Conistone and head away from Wharfedale towards the fells. It is a three mile journey but the track offers easy walking all the way, and after the first steep bit behind Conistone the ascent is quite gentle.

Oddly placed on the high-up plateau of grasslands the Dale takes shape as you approach. You become aware of a dry river bed following the track, a heather-clad slope ahead entertains you with its abrupt change of colour. You can hear a gushing waterfall, but there is no sign of its whereabouts.

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What a puzzle! My new understandings of geology help me understand: layers of millstone grit mainly lie on top of the limestone on these upper fells (as shown in my LITHOLOGICAL SKETCH of MEET AND GREET above), but in some places the millstone grit has been eroded and it is the limestone which sits just beneath the top soils.

The personality differences of these rocks explain the odd scene before us; the sudden changes of underlying rock showing on the surface in the sharp changes of contour and vegetation colour. There are rounded contours formed by millstone grit covered in purple heather, suddenly giving way to wide flat grasslands supported by the well-drained top soils of the limestone.

Pinning down a composition to make it behave was quite a task: MOSSDALE MISCHIEF seemed an apt name!

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But Mossdale wasn’t finished with me yet: it had a glorious final piece of magical trickery for me to find. After gathering in the springs of the uplands, Mossdale Beck meanders quietly across the wide valley bottom of the Dale then…. suddenly disappears!

The Beck favours a different route to the old dry river bed of previous years; it now noisily plunges underground into a hole at the base of a limestone outcrop.

I was mesmerised. The mysterious sound of that gushing waterfall was now explained - I am told by our friends at the YDNP that after descending into the pothole, the Beck joins the River Wharfe a few miles away underground. As I sat and looked I knew I had to paint it.

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Capturing water is quite a challenge: but observation is always the key. Lots of photos of the Beck and visits to other rivers to study and watch water flow were required, and gradually the composition took shape.

Soft pastels are wonderfully forgiving and eventually I managed to sort out the textures and movement: Mossdale’s DISAPPEARING ACT.

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Thank you, Mossdale, for your magical entertainment.

……I wonder what my next find will be?

 

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A SEASONAL DISTRACTION!

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snow already?

surely not!

a seasonal distraction…

Painting Wharfedale in any weather is wonderful – it is a Dale of so many contours and vistas, so many favourite places. Having lived here most of my life I have watched it change through many annual seasons – and none is more mesmerising than SNOW!

A wintery blanket changes everything: the light, the focal points, the colour. Snow covered contours seem completely different: snow textures the steep slopes of rocky vegetation, it bounces the light from deep drifts in moorland dips and on the fields, it dramatises the dark lines of stone walls. The valley dances with different light, shadows become more purply, snow drifts become blue, the sky is full of grey hues. A dazzling distraction.

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Soft pastels are brilliant at capturing this: they flow, blend, colours can be gloriously vivid or nudged into soft shadows; texture can be added, light augmented to a wintery gorgeousness. A new set of purples makes my fingers tingle!

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But first, there is a bit of hard work to be done. Making these lovely sticks of pure colour behave themselves requires a bit of prep work. Over the decades I have realised that successful landscape painting is not just knowing the land, enjoying it, walking in it, observing it…. but also taking time to lay some good ground work on my pastel surface before I start to paint it. (It is still called painting, even though the pastel pigments remain dry.) It might sound a little tedious (especially when you’re all revved up ready to paint!), but I have 2 big rules: taking time to properly PREP MY SURFACE and carefully consider my COMPOSITION PLAN.

To make the fabulous, vibrant colours of soft pastel stay on the surface of any paper, the surface needs to be gritty – the grit being ready to grip all those particles of pure colour!

Any thick paper or card that has a slight texture can work and lots are available from the art material shops. I tend to prime my own card (I use artist mount board) with a readymade primer so that I can control it and layer it thickly where it will be required.

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But where will it be required? What shape does my card need to be? What size? Where will the horizon of my landscape be, where will rich under-colour be needed?

The answer is all in my composition plan. A cheap pad of paper and a pencil is all that is needed – plus a bit of patience! All my landscapes are carefully planned before I start: on my sketch pad I can erase mistakes easily, play with where a horizon might sit, what overall shape will suit the scene best, how the light is going to flow.

My plans are not pictures in themselves, but MAPS… with notes and arrows and ideas and thoughts. It all might evolve a little as the painting gets underway, but starting with a composition ‘map’ I feel I’m halfway there already.

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I cut my card to the right size and shape and apply acrylic paint to get rid of the blank surface. When that is dry I brush on a generous coat of primer. I have a good idea of where I’m going as I pick up my soft pastel colours, and I can focus on the dazzling snow without distraction.

And so I’m rather hoping for more snow this winter, I wonder what other Dales look fabulous with a winter coat?

DO YOU KNOW YOUR WIDDALE FROM YOUR WALDENDALE?

My QUEST is underway, and here's a second 'blog'!

My first blog (scroll down to find it) outlined some of the task ahead: I aim to explore and paint ALL the named Dales in the Yorkshire Dales National Park - it might take some time!

The first question is…

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………where is Widdale?

… and why is it so different from Waldendale?

Most of us have heard of Wensleydale – if only for its cheese. A grand, wide, majestic Dale of fields and farming, cows and sheep; and the River Ure gliding gently through its wide flat valley bottom.

But it has some great secrets: begin to explore its side tributary Dales and you’ll find some fabulous places that are spectacularly varied.

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Starting at Wensleydale’s southern flank from the west, I discovered WIDDALE. I had driven through it many times before but not stopped to look. It is a fabulous place of upper contours and grandeur which I had whizzed past on my way from Hawes to Ribblehead viaduct. Now I stopped and found a path up to the moortops, discovering a glorious space where the Dale delivered its best – even under grey skies it entertained me. My painting invites you to ‘PRESS PAUSE’ and soak it in.

Neighbouring SLEDDALE shares some of this rounded grandeur. It is Sleddale that offers the breath-taking scenery when travelling the road over from Upper Wharfedale down through Gayle and into Hawes. Here the top soils appear to be quite barren in places, having easy-to-mould muddy gritstones beneath, and the rain-pounded slopes are riddled with stream rivulets.

Some hardy farmers work this land, maybe it is their gritty determination that I refer to in ‘SLEDDALE GRIT’.

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RAYDALE comes next, with the gorgeous treasure of Semer Water nestling in its bowl. It is totally different from the previous two! Here limestone takes prominence under the soil, limestone escarpments protrude and there are steep slopes of scree. The underlying mixture of rock belong to the famous Yoredale Series, which offer well-drained, rich top soils, so I use a lush green palette to depict the scene.

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But there is a further local tale: these limestone escarpments stand guard not only over Semer Water but also look down on the site of Wensleydale’s old Roman Fort at Bainbridge. I fancifully feel that they remain as Roman Sentinel Guards, and name my painting ‘YOREDALE SENTINELS’.

I continue east to find WALDENDALE, yet again a different type of place. Its two roads peter out and only old tracks and pathways cross its upper moors. These purple contours surround it protectively: there are lush green fields and old stone farms, sheep and overgrown paths. Secluded and quiet, almost in a time zone of its own: as depicted in ‘WALDENTIME’.

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What a taster of variety; and I have only just started! It is time to retrace my steps along Wensleydale’s southern edge and fill in some gaps. RAYDALE has two tributaries of its own: I painted bleak BARDALE last year, I have recently walked CRAGDALE and am mulling on how to capture it. And there is farm filled BISHOPDALE to wander, bleak COVERDALE to ponder, and COLSTERDALE to find. I’m going to stay busy.

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HOW MANY DALES?

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How many Dales?

the start of a QUEST……

I have only recently realised how few of the Yorkshire Dales I know. The ‘main’ dales such as Wharfedale, Wensleydale and Swaledale are my familiar walking territory, and even some of their main tributary Dales are well known to me; but looking more carefully at my Yorkshire Dales National Park (YDNP) map I realise there are many more side Dales I didn’t know existed and certainly haven’t visited!

Donning my walking boots, and with eyes peeled for good compositions, I have started to explore….

It is amazing how DIFFERENT some of the Dales are from each other - and the smaller tributaries that I’ve found seem to be even more individual in character. To find out why, you have to dig a bit deeper: I found the answer beneath the surface in the rock beds. Our Yorkshire Dales National Park has a particularly rich and exciting variety of geology - and back in 1954 this helped secure its National Park status.

Limestone layers result in steep contours, pavement plateaux, well-drained upper grasslands and lush green valley bottoms. Exciting angles, lots of greens…fun to paint!

In contrast the millstone grit offers peaty, rounded moorlands; impressive smooth contours, covered with colourful heather and cotton grass. Big wide open spaces I can drench in colour and light.

And many Dales have a glorious mixture which creates a very specific landscape unique to that particular Dale.

I have yet to pin down the actual number of Dales in the YDNP; I have 45 on a list provided by a YDNP ranger, but other lists suggest over 50. Locals give valleys names which are not shown on maps, other names seem to be used more than once… visiting them all and painting them all is going to be an interesting quest!

But A QUEST it is. I am setting out to use my walking boots, my composition sketch pad, my easel and my soft pastels to capture ALL the named Yorkshire Dales within the National Park.

They will need observing carefully. For each I will aim to distil something of its essence, something of its unique character, atmosphere and space. Some Dales might need large wide canvases with big primed surfaces and dramatic underpainting, others may be glimpsed via a small intimate composition on a water-coloured background - throughout it all I am sure my soft pastels will be put to the test!

Recently I have been exploring Wensleydale, finding Widdale, Sleddale, Raydale and Waldendale, and that’s just for starters. If you’d like to join me without having to put your walking boots on or pick up a map, just follow this blog!

If you’d like to receive it via email, simply email me with the words ‘join the quest’ and I’ll add you to my mailing list. Email: luci@luciasmith.co.uk