Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

August 3, 2019


Filed under: Dorset,Painting,Uncategorized,Watercolour — Tags: , — Rob Adams @ 11:25 pm

When writing this blog I occasionally revisit topics and then write something which disagrees with what I wrote before. I don’t find this remotely embarrassing as I have come to feel that any position on any subject should be up for rethinking and revising at any point. As I get older the cliche, “Set in stone” becomes less useful. I have previously commented on how the idea that the artist only paints or creates for themselves is a flawed one as any artwork presumes a second party appreciating it. I argue also that any artwork only becomes art in that moment of being viewed by another rather that when the artist creates it.

My discomfort with the idea of the artist creating an object of magical or iconic significance remains. However I now feel there is perhaps more to the personal satisfaction and reward element in an artworks creation than I had allowed. Much can be learnt from picking an idea apart but conversely sometimes the parts then don’t adequately express the whole anymore. If you give a disassembled phone to someone who had never seen one before then they would be unlikely to get much of an idea of its original purpose.

Many if not most serious artists will talk of being driven to paint, or be obsessed with painting, or be passionate about painting, or that they only live to paint… etc…etc. They quickly descend into expressing their inner selves and so forth. As a landscape painter I tend to think that my inner-self isn’t really very well described by a Dorset landscape! However my inner life is quite well described by the anticipation of doing a painting, the immersive process of painting it and the feeling of satisfaction or disappointment at the end of the process. As I have got better at it there is also the reward of others appreciating your efforts which feeds back into the urge to do more.

As well as painting I also play music and it is this that has prompted a partial rethink. I took up playing late in life but ever since it has been a constant factor in my life. Indeed I probably spend more time playing than painting. 95% or more of my playing is practicing or learning, only a small percentage is someone else hearing me do it. For many years no one at all heard me play, it is only recently that music has become a cooperative rather than an individual experience. Music if not recorded is an ephemeral thing, once the tune has ended and the last reverberation faded there is only a memory left, and that soon in its turn fades. The act of painting in contrast leaves physical evidence behind.

There are similarities. The learning, practicing and gaining of skill. The result of each is a stream of information enriching (we hope) the mind of another. The dissimilarities are that one is performed the other mostly not. A poem, to consider another art form, could be either read or listened to. In the first the poem travels through the eyes as a painting does. In the other it travels through the ears as a tune might. In the first all the freight of meaning is supplied by our own reactions to the words, in the other there is an overlay of the person delivering the words. A painting might be considered as a performance that leaves a trace behind from which some shadow of the actions and processes that made it can be inferred.

Which brings me to the title of this post. When other artists talk of only doing a painting for themselves without any interest or care about who might view it I find it sounds unhealthily self obsessed. There is a knock on from this that they often aver that only the opinion of the artist matters in relation to their own work. IE all criticism is null. You only have to make a critical observation to such self sufficient souls to find out that this is mostly not really the case! It seems self evident that we do care what others think of our efforts. If this is the case then to some small degree we must have made the thing in the hope of a positive reaction. We make a painting to fulfil our own hopes and ring our own bell, but also in turn hope that there is later positive proof that it in turn chimes with another. In a word affirmation.

So perhaps my selfish artists are not quite so selfish as I had thought, it should have been obvious to me that whatever the assertions of creative purity and self reliance are, affirmation from outside remains an important factor. It is partially a personal reaction of mine that I often disliked it when people said, “Oh I don’t care!” when caring is actually one of the most important things we do.

Salisbury, Wiltshire, watercolour, plein air, salisbury cathedral

A dose of watercolours. This blog is getting a little mixed up vis a vis timeline with paintings a little out of the order in which they were painted. Not that it matters I suppose. This is Salisbury cathedral looking down Castle St. There is really alas only one place you can stand and paint, I would prefer to be nearer and in the road! Still a lovely scene and I really enjoyed painting this. The light remained good for far longer than I expected so I got it all done. 15in by 6.5in watercolour.

salisbury cathedral, Wiltshire, plein air, watercolour

Later the same day… I ran out of time on this one and didn’t really nail the drawing well enough… resulting in a slightly floaty Salisbury cathedral. 12in by 6in Watercolour.

Swanage, Dorset, Watercolour, beach

A couple of Studio watercolours, this is Swanage. Actually a compilation of several visits. Very nice to paint without the pressure of getting it down on the spot where the conditions often undo your best efforts. 14in by 7in. Watercolour.

Swanage, Dorset, Watercolour, painting

A companion piece to the previous painting. I love Swanage and all the activity. I shall do an oil of this eventually for my one man show in October in The Gallery on the Square in Poundbury. Both this and the other sold very quickly in Gallery 41 in Corfe. 14in by 7in Watercolour.

Stour, Flood, plein air, watercolour

This is the River Stour in flood. More of a war zone than a work of art! Once I was set up and had the first washes in the wind blew my easel into the flood paper and all. I was very lucky in that my paints fell off or they would have been lost. I nearly went in myself as I just grabbed one of the legs in time. Now that is what I call wet into wet! Then it rained furiously on me, finally the fates were kind and the sun came out and a stiff breeze dried out the swamp allowing me to finish. 12in by 8in Watercolour.

Peveril  Point, Swanage, Dorset, plein air, watercolour, sea, waves

Peveril Point in Swanage. More weather! It was blowing a gale and the only place I could find to paint was halfway down the cliff wedged in a crack! I had no choice but to paint the only thing I could see. Still it didn’t rain on me and the flat light allowed me to take as much time as I needed to plot the ebb and flow of the waves. 12in by 7in Watercolour.

Piddle valley, pathway, watercolour

Last one. This is the Piddle Valley. Not much to say really, just a bit of path and a hedge. If I was playing to the audience I would put a Lion in but I am above that sort of cheap crowd pleasing trick… 14in by 7in watercolour.


July 30, 2019

Stuck in a Rut

Filed under: Dorset,London,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 11:53 am

I am I suppose a little unusual in the painting world in that I have had several careers in the art and design industry before becoming a full time dauber. Being an artist for hire means that you could be asked to do anything. City made out of biscuits… yes sir! On the double… 40ft high version of the kiss by Rodin… yes sir! When would you like it? 2 weeks… ulp! These were real projects.

I painted clinching couples for romance book covers, innumerable detective book covers and designed porcelain plates. Later I painted hundreds of skies and other backdrops for film and stage, all of them huge. In short variety was very much the spice of my life.

The one connecting factor was that someone else chose the subject and decided on its final form. So when I first started to paint pictures for me I actually found it quite hard. I had many of the technical skills and knew how to churn out a crown pleaser, but I had no real idea how to do something that might please me. My erratic course in trying to achieve this has been documented here in grisly detail.

The other problem was that due to the commercial experience I could paint in more or less any style. So if you put a line of pictures I had painted in a row you wouldn’t necessarily think them all by the same person. The unwelcome news that strengths could be your greatest weakness only sank in quite slowly. I have had to find out what I want to say and also what I don’t want to include. Made up imaginary content has virtually gone so I now try to pick and choose from what I see or experience directly, even if I do use some imagination to round out fleeting impressions.

I am hardly the only artist to suffer in this way. I see many other painters who paint mostly to their developed strengths. You may be a dab hand at painting contre-jour. The temptation then is to only do that. You might be advanced at portraiture but rubbish at landscape. You might be a whizz with muted tones and subtle gradations, but not so hot at punchy contrasts. The temptation is always the same: That worked last time, safest to stick to the tried and tested. Perhaps “safe” is a little unfair, maybe after a while you have trouble seeing potential subjects outside of your favourite parameters.

There is not, I hasten to add, anything wrong or unworthy about just sticking to what you are good at. It is just that for me I feel allowing you strengths to determine what and when you paint is perhaps just a little bit limiting. Our painter who paints always in to the light might find flat days very hard indeed and so avoids them. Just because you can do one does not mean you can manage the other with the same confidence.

That is the reason I would always to encourage people to intentionally work outside of their habitual methodology. Always painting away into the distance? Paint a widescreen cinemascope masterpiece where you have to tape your ears back to keep them out of shot! Always paint in jolly primaries? Ditch those playpen colours and delve into the blacks browns and greys. Always paint in simplified pared down areas? Get out your magnifying glass and go manic with the detail with a cathedral in the distance and an ant in the foreground!

Many will be shuddering with this assault on their good taste… but actually wonderful paintings have been done in almost every possible variation of style and intent. It is perhaps too easy to accept what is considered cool and garners Instagram likes from your peers and not ask unfashionable questions. Rest assured whatever you do it will still come out looking like one of yours. You will however have stretched the boundaries of what you can take on. You then realise that all the different methodologies and generic styles are just tools in the box that you can bring out when you require them, not the deciding factor that constrains any course you take.

plein air, Jermyn St, ,oil painting, London

This is Jermyn St done on a determinedly grey and occasionally wet day. I have missed painting in London so I didn’t mind the weather too much. I met up with the Northern Boys who were down on a painting mission which was fun. 12in by 10in Oils.

Charing Cross, St Martins lane, plein air, oil painting, London

Actually done before the one above. I had a wide skinny board so I sat on the steps of St Martins and did this. I was slightly put off by a drunk Scouser talking to me non stop as I painted… you don’t get that in Dorset. Two paintings in one really. 14in by 5in Oils.

Mudeford Quay, plein air, Dorset, oil painting, sea

Brit Plein Air did a paintout at Mudeford Quay, we arrived quite late but the day was gorgeous. All the tones had to be arranged to allow the white highlights to really sparkle. 14in by 5in Oils.

Mudeford Quay, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

Last one from Mudeford. The tones of the foreground gave me a lot of trouble, needing to be both dark enough to allow the distance to dazzle yet light enough to be sunlit. Your eyes betray you when making direct observations so you have to work it out by deduction and testing. Sometimes I look at these bright scenes reflected in the black glass of my phone. This gives useful clues as to the actual tonal balances. 16in by 12in Oils.

Swanage, Old harry, Peveril Point, plein air, oil painting, sea

Above Swanage, I only had a few minutes so chose to do this simple scene rather than the more dramatic Peveril Point which was not lit well. 10in by 8in Oils.

Shaftesbury, Gold Hill, plein air, oil painting, Dorset, Hovis Hill

It’s that famous Hovis Hill again. Gold Hill in Shaftesbury fascinates me, it is almost impossible to impose yourself on it. There have been so many bad paintings of it because experienced painters avoid it as it has become a cliche. Even here where I squeeze it into a letterbox the subject overwhelms. Marvellous place, I shall never win but trying is great fun. 24in by 8in Oils.

Hambledon hill, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

I haven’t painted Hambledon in a while. I love this view but haven’t managed to catch it in good light yet. Late in the evening might be good so I have to try and get there on a promising day. 24in by 8in Oils.

Win Green, Cranbourne Chase, plein air, oil painting

This is Win Green near Shaftesbury a great day with dramatic clouds scurrying across the sky at a great lick. I was going to soften the sky once home but decided to leave it in the end. I might glaze it so as to keep the choppy brushwork but just add a little bit of subtlety of tone. The great thing with glazing is that if you don’t like the effect you can just wipe it off and no harm is done. 12in by 12in. Oils.

Houns Tout, Dorset, Plein Air, oil painting

Another day out to the coast, this is looking down the valley that leads to Chapman’s Pool. One of those ones where you realise that you perhaps shouldn’t have bothered! Later I discovered that there is a much better view a hundred yards down the path… No matter I could not have done it on that day as the cattle would have plagued me. 10in by 8in Oils.

Chapmans Pool, Dorset, seascape, plein air, oil painting

Same day over looking Chapman’s Pool. I waited in vain for a flash of sunlight to give it a lift! Never mind a great view I shall return to. 10in by 10in Oils.

Sandbanks, Poole, Old Harry, seascape, plein air, oil painting, Dorset

Looking across from Sandbanks to Old Harry on a very windy day. I had the tripod weighed down with a bag of sand but still had to hang on to everything for dear life. My rag blew away in the first few seconds of working and plenty of sand is embedded in the paint. I tried to catch the energy in the sky and the sea with the two divided by the calmer strip of land. 14in by 10in Oils.

That’s all for now, I really need to get on with some more studio work but the outdoors is so enticing I can’t resist!

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