Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

July 25, 2016

I Know what I Like

Filed under: Dorset,London,Painting,Thames,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 10:36 am

Well we all do, don’t we? My interest in this post is how those “likes” are shaped. Also, as artists, should we allow those likes to shape the work we do? This is prompted by the experience of putting up studio paintings and the sketches for them on social media. You can guarantee that people will pipe up to say that they far prefer the sketch. However in my last show I had several sketches and the paintings that finally resulted on the wall together. The studio pictures got the gaze time and the comments , the sketches mostly got ignored. The computer screen of course puts a 24inch oil and a 7in watercolour on an even footing which might be part of the reason.

This led me to consider what element of appreciation of a thing is taught to us by our upbringing and peers. A Victorian person would I suspect find a modern minimal apartment sparse and unwelcoming, and a thirty something today would find a Victorian parlour cluttered and dark. Both spaces might be perfectly practical to live a life within, so I would suggest that the way we choose to perceive them has changed.

This has ramifications for how I paint I feel. There are many ways of looking at a painting. Take a Breughel and just do a quick glance. What did you get? My guess is not a great deal just a general impression of complexity. Take a Munch, a quick glance at “The Scream” is a very different experience, the image delivers its freight of emotion instantly. Which one would reward the most if it was on your wall for a year though? My guess is that it is the Breughel that would garner the most looking time.

I am not, I hasten to add, assigning artistic merit by this measure. Only proposing that there are many different ways of looking. There is the quick high impact look, over in a moment, and the long accumulative look that might take years. Logically there must of course be all sorts of other ways and durations of looking. For many, painters especially our fast forward world today, the quick look or impression is all important. I hear the phrase “Over worked” or “Tight” used if anything is at all detailed or finished. The holy grail is looseness, expressiveness  and freedom all of which cater for and aid the rapid appreciation of a work. None of these things is true of the Breughel though, but I still feel his paintings are among the great artistic creations of man.

Artists tend to scorn detail, but the general public stubbornly loves it. I myself cringe slightly when someone says one of my pen drawings is wonderfully detailed. I want to protest out loud that it is mostly only random hatching that they are interpreting as detail that is not actually present. I have to conclude I suppose that in large degree we like what we are taught to like. Extending the range of what we are able to appreciate takes effort and an open mind. I am always nowadays a little uncomfortable uncomfortable when another artists dismiss and entire genre of work with a wave. “Mere Illustration” is one I hear a lot, I counter with the fact that the Sistine Chapel ceiling is illustration, but usually to no avail! If something is illustrative it is of a lower degree, what I am trying to say here is that such opinions are often more guided by fashion rather than actual aesthetic consideration.

Sadly it sometimes seem the case that people don’t allow themselves to enjoy certain things. They have a set of criteria that guides what they will appreciate. So a Victorian morality piece by Quiller Couch Orchardson would be dismissed even if it (as they mostly were) was beautifully composed and painted. Even more oddly these criteria have a strange irrational flexibility, so a Hieronymus Bosch from the 15C might be appreciated as art but a contemporary image in a similar vein might be dismissed as “fantasy” and not given a fair look.

I am far from being immune to this kind of snap judgement myself, but do attempt to make the effort to recognise that the “automatic” assessment might be poorly founded and take a second look.

Due to the dampness in France I did more oils than I expected in France, which got me fired up to do more on my return. I am trying to paint each day in “office hours” which does really help to keep the paintings coming.


Fontmell Down, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

This is Fontmell Down, I went up to do the main view which I have done several times before. In the end though I did this less dramatic subject, it is really just a cloud study. 10in by 14in Oils.


Child Okeford, Dorset, Plein air, Oil Painting

I haven’t managed to do many plein airs of my local village Child Okeford so this moment when the sun glimmered through after rain was fun to do. I might re scan it as it was very wet when this was done which makes the tones cruder than they really are. 12in by 12in Oils.


Shaftesbury, oil painting, St James

This is St James’ seen from Shaftesbury. I actually started this last year but got stuck. It seemed to have potential when I was going through my heap of unfinished and outright disasters so I set about finishing it. It is always hard to paint big areas of nothing much that have to be vaguely like undergrowth and layers of trees. The temptation is to define them and make them coherent, where in real life they are not that way at all. 12in by 20in Oils.


Hambledon Hill, Dorset, oil painting

I wish I had photographed the different stages that this one of Hambledon Hill went through. My first lay in felt somehow wrong. It is always annoying when something almost works but you just can’t put your finger on why it misses the target. A few days later when I came back to it I decided to re draw and it then look like a comic strip panel with black outlines. Crude as that was it did allow me to see where to go with it. Some bits may be glazed back yet but am happier with it for now. I made the mistake of posting the watercolour sketch on Facebook which garnered the usual “I prefer the sketch” feedback. I sort of knew this would be the case but to my eye the images are so different in intent that the only thing they share is the subject. 12in by 26in oils.


London, City, plein air, oil painting

This is a small plein air I did when I was first starting to try and paint the City of London. I always intended to paint a studio version but after this 1oin by 14in sketch sold I never got round to it. I have not done enough translating plein airs into studio pictures so I was quite looking forward to getting to grips with this.


City of London, oil painting

Here is the first version, I wanted a bit more dynamism in the figures but after having it on the wall in this state for a while I decided that it wasn’t quite gelling compositionally. So I decided the central figure had to go. It is always nerve wracking making a big change to a painting that almost works as it can easily end in disaster!


City of London, oil painting

Here it is after surgery, much better I feel, the composition takes the eye on a proper journey. 16in by 24in Oils.


Hambledon Hill, Oil painting, Dorset

Another one from the discards pile. This started life as a very quick sketch of Hambledon Hill done at dawn, but as I recall the sun bounced up into the sky too quick for me and I had to stop! I like the still mood though so I spent a pleasant hour or so playing with it. Not much of the original sketch left! 10in by 19in oils.


Hammersmith, Bridge, plein air, oil painting

Now my building works are done I can get up to London to paint with the Wappers. The summer at last gave us some sun and heat. This one of Hammersmith Bridge was very enjoyable to paint, I had almost forgotten what shadows looked like with all the grey days we have had. 10in by 6in Oils.


Hammersmith Bridge, London, Thames, plein air, oil painting

Before the previous painting I had blocked in a painting of the Bridge from the middle of the road here. I had intended to carry on with it but the light was very different and the reservation in the middle was in full baking sun. This looked much more pleasant to paint! I might do a studio one of this. 10in by 14in Oils.


Hammersmith Bridge, London, Thames, scooter, oil painting, plein air

Here is the first one of the day finished off. Better composition than the previous one so this might get the studio treatment instead. 10in by 14in oils.

That’s all for this instalment, maybe some watercolours need doing next.

July 6, 2016

Fifty Shades of French Grey

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rob Adams @ 5:32 pm

Don’t worry about the title nothing racy is ever likely to appear here! As is usual this time of year I join other painters to explore and paint a bit of France. Going on a painting trip always requires setting some sort of limits to medium and size. I wanted to be especially lightweight this year so all the paintings are quite small. Our destination was Pont Aven where Gauguin and other miscreants hung out and painted. It is a small town built on a narrow inlet with a small tidal port. Plenty of subjects from boaty stuff to old buildings and rushing streams. After such a long gap in painting I was a little unsure of how I would perform. You always imagine bouncing out of the hotel door on the first morning and dashing off a masterpiece in gorgeous light. The reality this time was flat grey and drizzle! The only real colour was the occasional blue boat.

To avoid the issue of this less than beguiling set of conditions I took out my pens and drew stuff. I always find it odd that although a flat grey day might still look lovely, actually translating it on to board or paper is very hard. For a start the tones are much more subtle. Contrasts are subdued. This means your mixing and assessment of tone needs to be more accurate than on a sunny day. Also deciding the key or the range of tone from dark to light is, I find, distinctly tricky. Key is a matter of choice. You merely set the darkest dark and the lightest light and all the other tones must fall between these two extremes. If you set the range from full white to darkest black it will have a very different feel than if you set the range from pale grey to mid grey.

This is, I am well aware, a weak area in my oil painting. With the best will in the world the temptation to darken or punch up areas is almost irresistible. Nonetheless I feel I made a little progress, though I rather regretted the decision to only take small boards. Still on with the paintings good and not so good!


Pont Aven, France, wreck, plein air, painting

On day two I set out to explore down stream. As always finding a subject was far from easy. The path by the water was wooded and only offered teasing glimpses of possible scenes. In the end I settled on this view from a large boulder which had I felt interesting compositional possibilities. Here is where plein air makes the whole thing more difficult. There was no room to set up my tripod so I had to paint sitting crouched down with my pochade on my knee. There was the added frisson of danger in the distinct possibility of toppling off into the water 20ft below! With the best will in the world delicate accuracy was not on the cards so I tried to keep it simple. I could only manage an hour at this as it got very uncomfortable. Oils 7in by 10in.


Pont Aven, painting, France, plein air

After walking a long way looking for possible paintings I came back to Pont Aven and did this tiny 5in by 7in. More of a quick note than a painting. I felt the scene had possibilities with the dramatic silhouette of the roofs and trees. The key thing here was to get the foreground dark enough. I always make an aperture by curling  a finger and thumb and then flick between the sky and a light area in the landscape. Depending on the intensity of light you will get a stronger or weaker “kick” in the brightness as you flick between the areas. This tells you perhaps that the water, despite looking to the eye a similar tone to the clouds, is in fact considerably darker. The brain often doesn’t pick up on these differences as it adjusts and processes the image to aid clarity. However if we paint as the brain perceives then when we later look at our painting a double adjustment occurs as the brain appies the same filter to our painting as it had to the actual scene. Oils 5in by 7in.


Chapelle de Tremalo, pont aven, France, plein air, painting

When visiting an area I can never resist galloping off in every direction trying to take in a bit of everything. I had bought a large scale map and spotted this small chapel which looked interesting. A bit of a climb up the hill it is called Chapelle de Tremalo. We actually had a moment of sunlight and everything looked gorgeous as as I set up. I lifted my brush up to the board and the sunlight vanished as if flicking a switch and never came back. What had been a colourful scene immediately became titled “An Arrangement in Grey”! I resisted trying to paint a sunny version and only punched up the tone of the path a little. At least the overhanging trees gave some variation of light and shade. 10in by 7in Oils.


Pont Aven, plein air, painting, France

As planned I returned to the scene of the little 7in by 5in and did this larger version. I kept the greens very subdued by adding lots of red. I have recently been using Quinacridone Magenta for this as it doesn’t add any unneeded yellow. While I was painting it began to drizzle and I rather liked the way it washed out the distance. 10in by 7in Oils.


Boat, pont Aven, France, oil painting, plein air

In my next post I will deal with the drawings and watercolour stuff but this was a scene I had already painted in watercolour. I wanted to do it in oils too so as to see the difference. The subject also had the attraction of being able to sit under some thick trees that kept the rain off. 10in by 6in Oils.


Pont Aven, France, oil painting, plein air

I fancied a change of mood so I set off upstream along the banks of the river Aven. About a half mile along I found this quiet backwater. Even harder here to keep the greens under control. We seem to see greens brighter than they actually are. Here I took the precaution of getting a few leaves and sticking them to my palette. It is amazing how dull and brown they are in reality. Painters often forget that if you are unsure of a tone you can actually take the painting to the object to check you are getting the tone and colour right. People often get foregrounds far too bright. If you lay your painting on the actual ground surface you will see very quickly if you have got anything wrong. The rest of the day I toiled up stream and walked back a circuitous route through the forest. Nothing really took my eye so this was the only daub of the day. 10in by 7in Oils.


Pont Aven, France, cars, oil painting, plein air

Pont Aven again. I can never resist showing how beauty spots really are after being liberally garnished with shiny metal cars. Many artists avoid them, but in a few decades I suspect they will look as quaint as horses and carts! Quite a hard bit of drawing made harder by the flat light, by this time I had almost forgotten what sunshine and shadows looked like. 10in by 7in Oils.


Pont Aven, France, oil painting, plein air

Another one of the town. 10in by 7in Oils.


plein air, painter, pont aven, oils

I did this little oil in-between doing a pen drawing of Pont Aven’s famous waterwheel. Another tiny 7in by 5in.


Villerville, france, plein air, oil painting

We moved next to Villerville near Honfleur. Now the rain really set in and the greys started to merge. I wiped off the first of the day which was of the town church, not because it was particularly wrong it was just dull and I was running low on boards. The sea gave more possibilities and despite the rain running down my neck I enjoyed doing this. Very hard to get sky sea and land in the right tonal relationship. 10in by 7in Oils.


Villerville, oils, plein air, sea

After eating the tide retreated enough to do this. Just 15 min on a tiny 7in by 5in. Oils.


Villervill, beach, sea, pillbox, plein air, oil painting,france

Last one. A way down the beach we came across these wartime defences that had tumbled on to the beach. I had run out of boards but Robbie Murdock kindly gave me this 10in by 8in. It rained throughout but I enjoyed painting it immensely. Oils

That’s it for oils drawings to come.

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