Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

April 27, 2019

Ideal Homes

Filed under: Dorset,How to do,Painting,Thames,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Rob Adams @ 2:32 pm

So what kind of house has a picture like yours? Is it posh? Is it sleek and modern, an apartment with views over the Thames? Is it a tastefully updated Georgian terrace with a gymnasium in the sub sub sub basement? Surely only people with discrimination would buy one of your works.

When artists and galleries display work they often put them on the wall of an ideal room. It always has a minimal sofa with a few swish designer goodies, the people who exist there do not do clutter. No mould in the bottom of forgotten coffee cups or abandoned crisp packets for any one who might purchase your oh so trendy wares. Here is one of mine in a designer penthouse… he is in marketing and she is an interior designer.

lounge

Is it only me? When I see one of my pictures inserted into such an aspirational setting I have to choke down the desire to snigger… So let’s have a go at some other potential hanging sites, maybe it is just the setting I object to and if I nailed the right context I would have to beat off potential buyers with a spiked club. How about somewhere grander?

Versailles, palace

Louis XVI might ring me up and say he had a spot in his country hideaway for one of my pictures. I’m sure Louie would be convinced by this… Ok Ok he’s dead and I’m getting delusions of grandeur. Anyway the super rich, as history repeatedly shows, have the worst possible taste. Those super-yachts have so much gold plate, general bling and marble aboard it’s a wonder they don’t sink.

How about the Waitrose set? Restrained, comfortable they aspire to an understated elegance. They buy pictures for period rooms and my old fashioned daubs would look better in a chic updated Georgian job with Farrow and Ball “Elephant’s Last Gasp” painted on the walls…

That’s more the thing, I could put an ad in Ideal Homes… but wait a minute maybe poor people could be lured into mortgaging their granny or taking out a payday loan to buy art… or grannies might sell off their grandchildren as chattels and snap up my painting of Christchurch… you have to appeal to a broad cross-section of society in this credit driven world.

See my picture adds a little bit of class to an otherwise depressing granny flat. I think that those gallery sites should offer all these options…

Students might be persuaded to blow their loans and buy art to decorate their squats. Hmm how low should I go…I need to research this. Is there an “Ideal Slums” magazine do you think?

I have some exhibitions coming up so I am trying to get some larger studio pictures painted. I find it so much easier to paint plein air that when I move to the studio to paint you can almost hear the gears in my head grinding. The two disciplines use similar skills, but are very different in process. With plein air you paint whatever the day brings and you are constrained by time. In the studio there is too much choice and you can linger over the work as long as you like. Both are fraught with danger!

So I have been trying to do the pictures I would have painted on the day but there was no way to set up. I nearly always take snaps of these in any case. So I have my reference and also whatever I actually did paint on the day.

Bridport, market, oil painting, Dorset

This is Bridport market on a busy day. This view was great but only from the road so I ended up painting further down. One thing I soon remember with studio work is that it has to go through at least one “ugly” stage and maybe more. I scraped this one back twice and then brought it forward again. Once you have resigned yourself to the process it becomes less traumatic. You have to learn to set aside that, “If I do more I’ll ruin it.” feeling we all get. Actually if you loose something good you can nearly always get it back. This one is 27in by 20in which is the great thing about studio where you can stretch the size up a little. Oils.

Sketch, Salisbury

Next up was Castle St Salisbury. I had done a watercolour but felt the scene would work well much bigger. For once I remembered to take snaps as I went along. This is my drawing out, it is really just notes of relative positions of things, I use different colours to remind me what things are. If I want to change things now is the time. Here I wanted to invert the curve of the perspective to sweep the eye down the road faster than otherwise. I tend to use oil to draw out as I can just wipe out with turps to redo an area. This is about 2 hours worth of scribbling and adjusting.

salisbury, oil painting, block in

This is the most dramatic moment in any picture and in someways the most fun. Blocking in is quick and once done you get an immediate idea if your picture is going to work. Here I spent considerably more time mixing colours than applying them! With current ideas of art many people prefer this stage to the finished thing, but for me it is just a way marker.

Salisbury, Castle St, Wiltshire

The next stages are the donkey work, the dramatic transformations are done with. Here I am just making corrections to the drawing and tones. I really try hard not to get any area in advance of another. About 3hrs work from the previous image.

Castle Street, Salisbury, oil painting

Here it is all brought forward a bit more. I left it for a few weeks to dry as I wished to do some general glazes. My darkest darks and lightest lights are missing from the buildings and road at this stage.

Salisbury, oil painting, castle st, Wiltshire

Here it is finished, I left it another couple of weeks then “brought the sun out” with the final highlights. This has made some of the distant darks a little sharp and over defined so I will do a couple of softening glazes to finally finish. 36in by 20in Oils.

Richmond Bridge, thames, oil painting

Next big one… This is Richmond Bridge. I took the reference shot after I had completed a pen drawing of the same scene and the light was signalling time for the pub… The picture is 36in by 36in so quite an area to cover. Fun to block in with a 3in brush. The middle stage here was particularly ugly and I nearly abandoned the whole thing. I felt he “last light” mood was all important, so took a lot of work to get all the close hues and tones working together. Perhaps finished, a few bits of softening to do. Oils.

Dorchester, Oil painting, Dorset, High East St

This is High East St in Dorchester. Learning my lesson from Salisbury I made the sunny side of the street softer, which I feel works a little better.

I find the boundaries between accuracy and mood fascinating, if you are over precise you loose mood and atmosphere, if you are too vague you loose structure and the narrative sense of place. It is technically easier to work at the extremes than trying to get them to play well together, the risk being that you achieve neither aim. 20in by 16in Oils.

steam engine, locomotive, Swanage, railway, oil painting

This is the railway at Swanage. On the day I painted the contre jour view of the workshop that was to be seen from the other side of the bridge. As luck would have it they were testing a train or whatever and they kept going to and fro under the bridge. This allowed me to get lots of action shots and nearly got me run over a couple of times as I dashed from side to side on the narrow bridge. In the reference the locomotives merged more but I decided they had to dominate, so I gave them the strongest contrasts and suppressed everything else. 20in by 16in Oils.

That’s it. I shall catch up on the plein airs done in between next time.

April 6, 2019

Narrative

Filed under: Dorset,Painting,Surrey,Uncategorized,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 10:15 am

Narrative content used to be a de-facto part of a painting. From biblical scenes to Ukiyo-e in Japan, even back to mammoth hunts on cave walls. Stanley Spencer, moments of moral tension in Victorian art, glimpses of sensual frivolity in France and everyday life in Holland. All these to some degree have narrative content at their core. Narrative content has fallen from fashion though.  Even from the time of Claude Lorraine and later Turner you can see the narrative content withering. With the Impressionists it is there with the cafe scenes, but gone in many of the landscapes.

It has had a longer life in the niche of surrealism, naive and mystical painting. Illustration of course nearly always narrative in intent. The modern fad for formalism has mostly washed away desire to tell a story from the admissible ambitions of today’s painters. It is the the painting itself rather than any story it might tell that is the important factor to artists. This is of course not true of the viewers of paintings, who still love a story. It is just that artists feel that they are above such menial tasks and serve a higher and more elevated muse.

The result of this conundrum is a little perplexing, the fine art world is awash with artists who want to address important, serious and relevant issues, but are alas denied by fashion most of the tools by which they might do so. To have any chance of smuggling narrative work into the fine art arena you must have a quirk such as painting your cartoons on walls as Banksy does, being an international man of mystery helps too. Hogarth could comment on social issues in a direct manner in his work, but today’s painters do not have that option if they want to be accepted into the gated community of the contemporary art establishment. Some, like Paula Rego, sneak in under the cover of magical realism, but mostly the doors are firmly barred.

This subject was partly brought top mind by the reviews of Sorolla at the National Gallery. The reviewers only seemed to be able to comment on the content. They did not seem to see the abstract qualities of the paintings, they could not get past the narrative. Which shows I suppose how powerful an element it is.

So what is narrative and how do we exploit it? Like all the ingredients that can make up a picture we can add more or less to taste, or indeed none at all.

The smallest doses of narrative are signs of past activity or impending activity, either natural or human. So the hay bales in a field tell us of activity even though the farmer is not in view. A war painting might show destruction but no soldiers, merely the aftermath. The purple threatening clouds might hint at an oncoming storm. The unifying ingredient here is the passage of time, we are alluding to time before and after the moment in the painting.

To the other extreme we might have a comic strip where the whole image is narrative driven with the flow of time and even words and thoughts are included. The Sistine ceiling is another example of dominant narrative. All the other elements of painting are there, but their purpose is to serve the narrative.

So if your landscape painting has a dog walker it is quite different in mood to one where the scene is empty. The viewer’s eye will home in on the figure. If it is a figure on a wild moor we will ascribe loneliness, isolation or some other poetic notion. If we have two figures apart we might ascribe emotional separation too. If close then companionship, if arm in arm perhaps love. A group of three might indicate family. When we see isolated figures we cannot help but to attempt to decode social clues.

Interestingly if we have a crowd or a group of five or so then that reduces the narrative draw. If in a painting in a city square you have groups of inhabitants then the eye will be drawn to any single figures. Any people in groups are assessed as composite beings not necessarily individuals. If we bring our group forward and make the painting about them the a whole other set of narrative considerations come in to play. We immediately set too and try and assess the relationships between them.

If we have a single figure and slowly enlarge or refine it the composition, then at a certain point we attempt to determine the emotional state. There used to be manuals for artists about how to paint different emotions, which to our eyes look comically theatrical. If the figure has no clear emotion then it can attract more consideration than if overtly weeping or laughing. This is simply because the viewer has to work harder and is therefore more deeply engaged.

So narrative elements are powerful tools and not easy to use. They also are very prone to the whims of fashion. We find Victorian morality paintings heavy handed and crass, but at the time they were thought to be the bee’s knees. Care must be taken when adding incidental figures, you quite often see urban scenes where all the figures are individual, each a separate observation. Oddly this nearly always detracts from the unity of the overall scene, or gives the the feeling of a montage. I have seen crowd paintings where all the figures look like the moment just before the zombies in Thriller begin to dance!

Time to catch up with the watercolours…

Arundel, plein air, watercolour, surrey

I am so behind with blogging that this was last year! This was a whistle stop visit to Arundel. I was very rushed so didn’t do the place justice. I will return as it has some fascinating things to paint. 12in by 6in Watercolour.

Arundel, Surrey, watercolour, plein air

I took a bit longer over this but still only about 30min before I had to leave Arundel behind. 12in by 7.5in Watercolour.

Pulpit rock, Portland, Dorset, watercolour

This is Pulpit Rock on Portland Bill, a studio painting which I did entirely with a 1in sable flat. More of an experiment than a finished work but fun to do. I notice by the date I have ignored the watercolours for nearly 8 months. 12in by 12in Watercolour.

Bedchester, Hambledon Hill, plein air, watercolour

This is a great view of Hambledon Hill from Bedchester. I really must do it in better light but have been unlucky so far. the scene is good in any light but that just means it would be better still on another day. 12in by 6in Watercolour.

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, plein air, watercolour

This is another scene that has been frustrating me, but this time I was there at just the right moment. Slightly tricky as to make a decent composition you have to move Hambledon Hill about 300m West. No one complained as I put it back once I was done. Here the challenge was to get the brilliant winter light. To this end everything had to be made subservient to the reflected light in the road. 10in by 7in Watercolour.

Shaftesbury, Dorset, plein air, watercolour

A quick impression of Shaftesbury, didn’t want to get into too much detail as the shadow was the main event. Painted all with a flat brush again. No time to preserve all the lights so a few touches of opaque paint to annoy the purists! 8in by 6in Watercolour.

Stour, Blandford, watercolour, Dorset

This is the River Stour from the bridge at Blandford. The willow has wonderful colour this time of year. Not perfect light as I was a bit late, I must manage to catch it in perfect light. Unfortunately the bridge is too narrow for plein air, I am happy to suffer for my art, but dying is going to far! 14in by 7in watercolour.

Snowscape, watercolour, Dorset

Snow! On the day I stuck to the oils but I had so many atmospheric snaps taken as we drove around I could not resist a couple of studio efforts. The studio is great for this sort of painting as you can leave the washes to dry and preserve all your lights. This is near Bulbarrow. 14in by 7in.

Bulbarrow, Dorset, snowscape, watercolour

Last one this is the road as it drops off Bulbarrow. The snow bounces the light around and makes some wonderful contrasts. I thought this was a good image to show what adding a narrative element does. 12in by 6in Watercolour.

Bullbarrow, watercolour

So if you hung these two versions side by side which would get commented on? Does the fact that the Rhino would draw attention make this a better painting? Or does the Rhino get in the way of appreciating the mood of the scene? Not questions I have answers to, but they are questions a painter needs to consider and it shows just how powerful narrative elements are.

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