Finding beauty and inspiration in deserted places

Ruth McDonald is a painter and printmaker who divides her time between her studio in a Kentish copse and The Print Block located in East Quay at Whitstable Harbour.  

Here she writes about her love of desolate spaces on the Kent coast.

Artists are attracted to unusual places. The more neglected and ignored parts of the Kent Coast are rich sources of inspiration for me and many fellow artists. One such inspirational place is Dungeness, painted by Eric Ravillious and John Piper. It’s a most dramatic and beautiful landscape and one of the largest expanses of shingle in Europe. It has been designated a National Nature Area by Natural England and is the UK’s only desert due to dryness and lack of vegetation.


There are abandoned huts and outbuildings looking like sentinels on the vast horizon. Remnants of a fishing community have left boats and paraphernalia of their trade to deteriorate and diminish and these stand out like ragged teeth, popular with photographers on fashion shoots. The film-maker Derek Jarman lived here and his shingle cottage is built in timber, with tar-based weatherproofing, like others close by. Its garden, made by arranging driftwood, is interspersed with salt-loving beach plants, both set against the bright shingle.

Two power stations dominate the landscape one nuclear and one decommissioned. The view is also pierced by two lighthouses that provide strong vertical elements for a painting. I return throughout the year to capture all these images of gently eroded buildings standing in the shimmering shingle or looming from a coastal mist.

My trips to Dungeness aren’t complete without fish and chips at The Pilot providing a homely respite and shelter when the weather is chilly and windy. The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway terminates close by.

Another rich source of imagery for me is a coastal caravan park. The seaside caravan was and still is a favourite holiday destination for many people.  At Seasalter, a windswept beach on the Swale Estuary, close to Whitstable, you will find a long abandoned park called ‘Oysterville’.

RuthMcDonald_caravan 12I recently visited on a sunny day with fellow artist Jill Pantony from Hazelwood Studios. Derelict caravans with broken windows and fluttering curtains exposed to the elements lie next to each other in quiet harmony. Doors swing open to reveal a quaintly old fashioned interior as though the occupant went out to get a paper several years ago and never returned. Brambles creep over and nature is gradually reclaiming. The faded colours are illuminated against the marshy landscape. Jill was particularly delighted to find a new rich source for one of her favourite painting topics. People love to see an echo of past childhood holidays and simpler times and have a great fondness for these images.

Ruth’s work can be seen at  her solo show at George’s House Gallery in Folkestone from 27 March – 9th April 2014. 



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