Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

November 29, 2015

The Importance of Drawing

Filed under: Drawing,Life Drawing,Uncategorized,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , — Rob Adams @ 3:21 pm

Looking back over past posts I have not really dealt with drawing. Not techniques more the whys and wherefores. In some ways I write this blog to sort out my own opinions on things. All too often once your words look back at you from the screen you think, “I’m not sure that I really agree with myself!” Indeed reading back there are more than a few of my own posts I would not entirely agree with. Not that I will change them I would not like to develop a reputation for intellectual consistency.

So, drawing, what exactly do I think about it? Firstly I suppose I need to ask: What is drawing? Making a mark on a surface that can be interpreted by others is a fairly catch all definition. This implies an actual transfer via the medium of information from one individual to another. So abstract squiggles and random mark making are out I’m afraid. They may be beautiful but not in my view drawing. So writing is drawing. Not the information contained in the writing but the information that identifies the character. So the individual letters are drawn. Plans and schematics are drawings. Indeed we perhaps need to arrange the types of drawing by what cargo of information they carry.

So a drawing can carry abstract information as letter shapes do. Symbols perform a similar function.

A drawing can carry information about a three dimensional object such as building or a planet as in a map.

Drawings can plan a two dimensional image such as a painting or a poster.

Here of course as with all art subjects we run into boggy ground. Drawing is both a noun and a verb. Is a finished painting a drawing? Certainly drawing is used in its creation. Is that drawing somehow different to the drawing that was used in the same painting’s planning? Are cave paintings drawings? Can finished things be drawings or only the preparatory work?

Perhaps we might say that only preparatory drawings should be given the noun a “drawing”. Does that mean my pen and inks aren’t drawings? There is no doubt in my mind that the meaning for the noun is muddy indeed and I haven’t even mentioned sketches!

So perhaps the verb will be more helpful. Making a mark to convey information. Once that mark is made then it is something else. A painting, a drawing, letter, a plan, all these things can be made by the act. This line of reasoning makes me also feel that the act means making marks that can in general be consistently interpreted by others. So if you were to show the item to a panel of viewers you would get a fair degree of congruency in the replies.

From there it is a small step to grade our results in the success of transferring information with our mark making. So if we draw a girl and our panel only replies that it is a girl we plainly haven’t been as capable as if the panel reports that it was a sad young girl. If we got the report back that it was a sad young girl by using a thousand marks it plainly would not be as efficient as if we got the same result by only using ten. Of course some moods might be conveyed by using many marks in groups, what we call shading or hatching, but perhaps they might be considered as a composite rather than individual marks.

Now to move on to what might make a good drawing. I tentatively might say brevity of means. I think this is best illustrated by the sort of atelier drawing where every nuance of shade is noted down. They are an attempt to convey the full visual experience of seeing a body in tone. However they fail miserably to convey any information about moving or breathing let alone sadness or joy. Despite the claims of the Atelier system of roots back to the past none of the so called old masters draw in such a constipated manner. The 18th 19th century history painters are the ones really to blame.

So how do we learn to draw as best we may? The secret, if such there is, is in training the brain to do most of the work in the background. If we are struggling in placing things, controlling our medium etc then the battle is lost before it has begun. We might manage a creditable drawing of a building or still life, but drawing a person would be a step past that and likely not a success. Many artists I talk to scorn accuracy, to my mind this just means they cannot be bothered with the sometimes frustrating business of learning. The art establishment’s unfounded ideas that such skills are irrelevant don’t help either.

Whether you like it or not the first steps will be tight and more of a graph than a drawing. That is necessary however to train the brain to do all the measuring unconsciously. Inexperienced artists see an experienced draughts person knocking in a figure whilst seeming not to measure, but that is because they have spent so many years measuring that the process has become internalised. The same is true for the assessment of tone etc.

This is why life drawing is so important. It is the mixture of long and short poses that forces us to quickly select the key elements in a pose. At first it seems impossible, but as we practice more and more of the process is taken over by the unconscious. Once that happens then the whole thing becomes more manageable. So the message is predictable I’m afraid, practice, practice, practice!

So a few life drawings to show that I’ve got a long way to go too. However good you get, a good life session will cut you down to size and deflate the ego!

life drawing

15min here I drew deliberately slowly, trying not to make a mark unless I had a purpose for it. It is very easy with life drawing to scribble and hope. Get into the rhythm of, observe, assess, make a mark, observe assess, make a mark etc. You so often see people only occasionally lifting their heads to observe. You should spend longer observing than drawing.

life drawing

In comparison a 3 minute effort. Again I will be pausing between each mark or set of marks.


life drawing

More very quick ones. I am using 2 ingredients only here. The flat of the conte for tonal blocks and the end for delineation. You can vary these ingredients but easier to just stick to one or two. Just doing the while thing in tonal blocks without line is a very good exercise.

life drawing

Here all the tonal areas were drawn first and the few key lines added only in the last minute or two of the 15min we had.


life drawing

I regularly change medium. Here I have just used tonal areas with no line at all. 20min

life drawing

Here is a 5 min one done the same way. There are only two layers, a dilute first shape then a darker to reinforce and correct.

life drawing

A whole half hour!! I try to start a longer pose in exactly the same way as a shorter one. I then lay repeated layers of observations down on top of each other, each one getting more defined. Whenever you stop a drawing it should look finished. To help with that it is a good idea to do sets of poses where the model just changes pose randomly. Whenever the model changed however long or short the pose was your drawing should look finished.

life drawing

Two 2 minute ones. At first it will seem impossible to get anything worthwhile down in that sort of time. Mostly it won’t be of course and many efforts will go in the bin. What you lose in accuracy you gain in vivacity. These brief splashes say more in my opinion about a living breathing being than any atelier drawing laboured over for a week.

life drawing

Here is one that is perhaps unfinished, I was miles away and not following how the 15 min was passing. I literally jumped when the timer went off! Now though it is incomplete it is not to my mind unfinished.

life drawing

Here is one where I stopped before the end of the pose. It would have been a better drawing if I had stopped earlier! You should always keep an eye out for when a drawing is complete, that will only rarely be when time is called. I often spend the last 5 min doing a lot of looking and very little mark making.

life drawing

Last one, have started to introduce pen. Adding an ingredient like an extra medium always raises new problems.

November 23, 2015

The Making of a Masterpiece

Filed under: London,Painting,Satire,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 3:32 pm

People who don’t paint tend not to realise the agonies that a true artist goes through to produce a painting. They just swan into a gallery and sweep a brief dismissive gaze across the works on show. They do not care about the blood sweat and floods of tears that have been expended upon its creation. So I thought to give a give a warts and all description of the agonised emotions and spiritual turmoil that goes into making a painting.

1. The Conception: Oh how to put over how painful this stage is! To reach deep into oneself, tearing open the half healed wounds of a tragic childhood through to a melancholic and lonely adulthood. Separated from ordinary mundane people by the great rift that being an artist occasions. Even though I dimly perceived the misery ahead the creative urge wells up within me like a great dark river and I must find a subject that encompasses my turbulent emotions of pity for my fellow humans and the pointlessness of existence. After several sleepless and fevered nights I was struck by the lightning bolt of inspiration which ran burning and sparking through my whole self. Shopping, it had to be about shopping. I now had a concept, I didn’t want ordinary shopping I wanted top drawer pure un-adulterated by practical needs shopping. So Harrods it must be!!

2. The Subject: I arrived in the afternoon on a cold day in Knightsbridge and looked at the various viewpoints I could choose. It was to be a representational painting but not a mere illustration, any representational or skilful qualities must be purely ironic and contemporary. At each possible vantage point I centred myself and chanted a few Buddhist mantras. I tried to draw the very essence of the place and the urgency of the shoppers into my inner being. As is so often the case I could not see my way forwards so I retired to a cafe to read Proust in the original French. Finally with a Herculean effort of will I girded my artistic loins and set forth again.

3. The Sketch: Almost immediately a place just by a pelican crossing called to me. The artist has to be sensitive to the smallest flows of energy. The people crossing the road, the traffic, the busses stopping all spoke to me with voices like razors across my very soul. Seething with anticipation I set up my paints and prepared to tease out the very essence of what lay before me and set it down in paint. The next hour passed in a semiconscious daze as I stepped into a higher plane. I rose like a phoenix from a fire of ubiquity encompassing for a moment an almost god like perception. Then inevitably I fell like Icarus to the hard stone pavement spent and grey with pain. Once I had dragged myself up to my feet I saw what my agonies had brought into the world. I’m sure you will look at the image below differently now you know what it cost me!
Harrods, Knightsbridge, London, plein air, oil painting

4. The Block In: This is of course only the first step in an arduous climb to the snowy unattainable Everest that is creating a piece of Fine Art. To transfer the gold mined at the rock face of cruel reality I needed to go through the process to purify and concentrate the image. This means reducing it to its absolute and inner simplicity. First I blessed my studio with rosewater and chanted a mantra or two. I had to stop after the next door people started banging on the wall. Do they not realise what delicate alchemy I am performing? It was too late though they had broken the spell. After weeping abjectly I went to see my therapist friend Silvia and shared my agonies with her for two or three hours. The next afternoon I rose and began the process again. I whispered my prayers this time and began to put out paint upon my palette. I tried to be aware of the smallest act, the squeezing of the tube, the small noise of the pallet knife as it sensually conjoined the different hues. Then I began to apply the paint to the surface. At all times I had to remain true to the given surface and remain honest to my materials. Once again the red blaze of raw creativity rose up and overwhelmed me. I don’t know when, but at some point darkness claimed me and I knew no more.

Block in

5. Developing the Theme: Once I had recovered consciousness and struggled up from the paint bespattered floor of my cold unheated studio, the above is what I saw. I cried out at the sheer force of it. It was only the merest beginning, but it cried out to me. Should I stop? If I did more then all could so easily be lost. I rang Silvia but she wasn’t answering. I was on my own with an aesthetic monster to wrestle. To prepare myself I popped down to the spar for some irrigation. I needed to be pure inside and out for the next battle. I dropped in on my friend Josh and spent several hours explaining my concept and sharing the agonies of being an artist. He is a musician and can only know the smallest part of what I feel but nonetheless he is a kindred spirit if only a very distant and lowly one. It was only next morning I began again. I tiptoed into my studio as if I was Theseus about to confront the Minotaur with only the thin fragile thread of my inspiration to guide me. How to describe the battle that followed? The sweeping strokes of the brush that outlined and delineated the world like a lover’s touch. The harsh jabs and cutting strokes that came as if from a duellist wielding an epee. I felt both triumph when my strokes hit home and despair when they went astray destroying what had gone before. So all day the battle line heaved to and fro, with me crying out in joy as some ground was gained in an exquisite passage of scumbling to weeping with despair as some delicate nuance of application evaded me. Eventually my energy ran out and I had to withdraw, battered, wounded but still unbeaten. Unable to look I fled the room and went to sleep wondering how I was ever to find fuel stoke my inner creative fires to continue.

6. Resolving the Parts: The next day I felt trepidation as I entered my studio. Oh Joy! Somehow I had defined the undefinable. Oh Despair! The battle was won but the war still had to be resolved. I could not immediately face the enemy. I rang Silvia but she still wasn’t picking up. Josh wasn’t answering either his home or his mobile. My heart sank I was a lone pilgrim without support. This is the moment a true artist is born to confront. I reached deep into the abyss of my being and gathered my strength. I approached the canvas with the steely uncompromising strength of a lone warrior, armoured, weary, but stern as a Judge. I now worked with a cold calm fury. I laboured as the blacksmith does taming and forging the paint with unrelenting blows. Here I struck mightily with the sparks flying and here I struck softly merely caressing the surface. I realise in such moments why there are so few of us amongst the great hordes of mankind. This kind of mastery is given only to a few, both a blessing and a curse.


oil painting

7. Confronting the Devil of Detail: Now was the time for the last act. In truth I did not know on that cold morning whether I would survive the trials of the coming day. I knew my body would live but would it contain my spirit or be a mere empty shell, a husk? This time I approached the work as might a poor ash strewn hermit or some bearded eastern fakir with only a begging bowl in his hand and a rag about his loins. I put aside all pride and ambition and arrayed myself in the sack cloth of pure unalloyed art. I tried to apply the paint as a humble prayer asking only for the truth. At last as my light was fading the inspiration welled up and guided my hand. Is it some ancient spirit that reaches through us to inscribe in paint what we could never conceive of? It is not for us to know, I am just grateful the struggle is over and I can rest until the cruel mistress of Art calls her poor soldier to fight the good fight once more.


Knightsbridge, Harrods, oil painting, art

So here it is. A poem to shopping. None of the agonies that created it show in the surface but they are there I assure you! Silvia and Josh are still not answering… odd. 12in by 20in Oils.

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