Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

July 31, 2015

Landscape Art

In my newspaper today there was a review of Richard Long the land artist. When I was a student he and Andy Goldsworthy were first making their mark. I, as almost everyone else, quite liked what they did, indeed who wouldn’t. The work is engaging pleasant and made of nice stuff often in a beautiful setting, hard indeed to find anything about it all that is not pleasant. They make what is called “interventions” on the landscape. The defining factor seems to be that it should not be a practical intervention such as a useful one like a drystone wall for keeping animals in. Oh and also it shouldn’t be a folly either like the great estate owners were fond of… now I think of it garden design has to be omitted too… whoops, some ancient monuments have to be excluded as well. So really it has to be made by a person who defines themselves as an artist. You could have four identical drystone objects one crafted by an artist one by an architect and one by a landscape designer and one by a drystone waller and it seems that the art cognoscenti say only the artist made one would be art. If they were placed side by side of course it would be impossible to tell one from another. So did the “artiness” come from the object being made or you being told it was by an artist? I seems to me plain that the “art” ingredient was added by you being informed of the fact not the object vein made nor you perusing it. So by my way of thinking the art act was the labelling of it. So group of friends hiking might come across an intriguing drystone construction and one of them might pipe up, “Oh that is a Richard Long” all the group would then have an “art” moment. The piper might be wrong, but regardless of that the art experience was had. Was the hiker actually the artist? Well it’s a thought.

long

A few different land art sort of items, can you spot the art?

Now you may think I am going to deny the artiness of the monkish Mr Long and fey Mr Goldsworthy, but no I want to say that they are all made with craft and therefore capable of being looked at as art. My argument would be that they are not a particularly high individual achievement. We ascribe special status to folk like Rembrandt because very very few human beings through history are going to be able to do what he did as well and with as deep long term appeal, depth of expression  and subtle nuances. Perhaps one or two in a generation. However anyone with a bit of patience could make a Richard Long you would not have to wait half a century for another person good enough at arranging rocks! So an object made by man might be lovely to look at, it might be instructive, it might be moving. But it is not that which we celebrate. We celebrate the high points of human achievement. Most of us write, but very few of us write War and Peace. So we value Mr Tolstoy and his works. So the land artists could be safely placed in “pleasant essay” territory rather than “towering achievement”.

With high jumpers we celebrate the person who leaps over the highest bar. We may clap if a portly person makes an impressive attempt at a much lower bar but the record books won’t be adjusted. So to my mind the difficulty of achieving a result and the amount of life that has had to be expended to be able to do that thing is a large factor in the art value of a made thing. With the difficulty of attainment comes rarity and in most cases with rarity comes value. All of the objects both rare and common may well provoke a pleasant and meaningful visual experience. But the rare one is an example of high human achievement and it is that event that we should celebrate.

This edition I am offering a bit of landscape art rather than land art. I am at last getting to grips with painting different subjects now that I am finally full time in pastoral surroundings. Not that it is easy, I am being fairly experimental in my approach so a good few failures will result.

 

Honfleur, France,  Notre Dame de Grace, pen and ink drawing

A few orphans from France that needed finishing later due to a high shrubbery content! I added a raw sienna wash to my media on the last day just to add another element. Very nice for adding bulk to trees and differentiating areas. This is Notre Dame de Grace high above Honfleur. I would like to have painted but I found it on the last day and didn’t get the chance.

 

Le Croisic, France, drawing, pen and ink

This is Le Croisic, I added the wash after and am pleased with the result I found a subtle mix of the sienna and the white I use made a lovely warm white which contrasts nicely with the cooler version used in the clouds.

 

Swanage, Dorset, pen and ink, wellington clock tower

This is the Wellington clock tower in Swanage which rather oddly originally once stood at the southern end of London Bridge in London. It was moved to the seaside in 1854 at a cost of £700 as it did not keep good time and with increasing traffic it had became something of an obstruction. The faulty clock never came. I am told it used to possess a spire but that became unsafe and was removed in 1904. A very quick sketch, I was out on a pier and in the way of fishing folk.

 

Corfe, Dorset, pen and wash, drawing

On my way back from Swanage I couldn’t resist this view of Corfe castle with the train. It is on a reproduction of paper as used by David Cox in the 18th century which is a pleasant oatmeal colour. Fab view which I shall come back to. Although it looks arcadian you have to imagine lorries belting past a couple of feet behind me!

 

Hambledon hill, drawing, dorset, pen and ink

A bit of pen and ink madness, I started this last winter on site, but having done Hambledon hill I decided on a wild circular hatch for the sky… slow work so I had to give up when hypothermia set in! I finished it off a few days ago sitting in the sun in my garden. Has a slightly Samuel Palmerish feel, maybe the first signs of madness.

 

Salisbury, carving, cathedra,l wiltshire, pen and ink, drawing

A visit to diy store Wickes in Salisbury. The store was a bit boring so I went on to the distinctly more drawable cathedral. This is a carving on the facade warning you of what might happen to you if you sin… I got a crick in my neck doing this!

 

Salisbury Cathedral, wiltshire, pen and ink, drawing

Yes it’s that famous view Constable painted. I decided to have lunch in a pub by the river but got lured into doing this. By the time I got to the pub they had stopped serving which served me right for getting distracted.

 

Hambledon Hill, water colour, plein air, painting, art

This post is a bit Hambledon Hill heavy I fear! I am determined to get some paintings that catch the character of the place. It is easy enough doing distant views but although it is fantastic visually up on the hill itself, making a painting that catches that is very hard. It is like those wide views that you photograph when on holiday. They look wonderful when you are there but once you are home the photos look ho hum. Photographs taken from the hill have that same quality. So I set out on a blustery hazy afternoon to do my best. This is looking right out over the verdant Blackmore Vale and I am quite pleased with it. I might try some different formats, tall and thin or square the straight landscape proportions don’t quite work for me. 1/4 sheet Watercolour.

 

Hambledon Hill, watercolour, art, painting, Dorset, hill fort

I started very boldly here with a full and very wet wash. I need maybe to strengthen the fore ground to push the distance back. I might do a studio version to try and get the balance better. It was so windy the painting blew away a couple of times! 1/4 sheet Watercolour.

 

Hambledon Hill, hill fort, Dorset, watercolour, painting, art

Not the most cheery of watercolours of Hambledon but I am quite pleased with it on the whole. It was quite different day with the wind driving rain showers up the Stour valley unlike the previous dry windy days the washes just wouldn’t dry. Still I must get up there on some wet days with the oils as I love the mood. I struggled down the hill after carrying my painting gingerly at arms length as it was still very wet. 1/4 sheet, Watercolour.

 

Fontmell Down, watercolour, Dorset, painting, art

I got up at the crack of dawn to do this, even before the dog walkers, but not as you may have noticed, the sheep. Only a little 9in by 6in but it was lovely to do. Not a mood for wild wet into wet washes so I did it in areas which gives it a calm still mood perfect for the scene. People do go on about “wet into wet” and so forth as if it is the only way to paint. I like both the wild and splashy and the carefully laid down and find that the approach can be infinitely varied from the exuberantly expressive to the quietly meditative to suit the feeling of different subjects and moods. The rule is for me that the technique should be at the service of the subject not the other way round. The subject here is the wonderful Fontmell Down.

 

Eggardon Hill, Watercolour, Dorset, painting, art

This is the view from Eggardon Hill another hill fort in Dorset. A studio painting done on the David Cox paper. Very hard to stretch as it wrenches any gumstrip off. You have to staple all round the edge and even then it pulls free. I must use my Artmate paper stretcher in future. The paper is much thinner than what we use today and is technically quite hard to paint on. Too wet and it turns into an impression of the alps cockling fiercely. On the other hand the beautiful surface with little flecks of brown and yellow gives a lovely quality. You soon understand why the 18th century masters used body colour. To get a bright wash you just have to add some white to the wash. Not enough to remove the transparency but just enough to add brilliance to the colour. I enjoyed doing this tremendously and love the quality it brings to the paint. 14in by 9in, watercolour.

That’s it for this edition. I feel some oil painting is due as I have neglected it in the last week or so, like everything if you don’t keep doing it you loose the edge that comes with regular practice. Painting is very not like riding a bicycle you do forget all too easily!

 

 

 

July 3, 2015

A Trip to France Part 1 The Drawings

No philosophy or art babble in this post! I have been on my yearly trip with the Wapping Group and friends to France. Despite having all my paints with me I spent a lot of time drawing. Not an intentional decision, but often a sketch book is just the thing for recording your impressions. Sadly original drawings are a disregarded commodity, if you do a print series from them each print could fetch more than the original would! I have always loved drawings myself, they seem to illuminate what an artist is about more than anything else. With an artist like Rembrandt it is like seeing his mind at work. I think maybe it is that the artist didn’t really think anyone else was going to see the work so the result is unselfconscious. Certainly Rembrandt’s landscape sketches inspired me from when I first saw some in the 70’s at the British Museum. I now know that he was perhaps the first to head out with his reed pen and bottle of ink and sit in a field and draw what he could see. Not as a reference it would seem as they don’t appear as backgrounds to etchings, but just for fun.

The other thing about drawing is that it is minimal. With pen you have a line and groups of lines and bare paper and that is it. Whatever you are seeing before you has to be defined in a combination of those three things. This in itself is a good way to learn how to break down a scene into equivalents… there is no real possibility of producing a full rendering so each part must be pared down as much as possible and areas that are similar combined. Although this is limiting it is also in an odd way liberating. It is a halfway house between representation and calligraphy.

In the drawings on this trip I used a toned paper so I have the luxury of one more element, heightening with white. This is for the simple reason that to do a tonal pen drawing on white requires many more layers of hatching all of which take time. With the soft blue of the paper supplying a mid tone far fewer lines are required. The paper I have used is Turner Blue from Ruscombe Paper Mill this is a reproduction of the kind of paper Turner might have used in his small sketchbooks. The paper is slightly textured, about 130lb in weight and very strongly sized. The texture means the pen grips the paper a little supplying resistance whilst still being fine enough to draw rapidly without catching. The heavy sizing means the white highlights sit on the surface and stay very bright and clean.

The pens and the inks I use are made by Noodlers. The drawings below are mostly made with and Ahab fountain pen which has a huge ink capacity which is very much needed as drawing uses ink like no tomorrow. These pens have flexible nibs which allow far more variety of mark than a standard pen would. Indeed they are very similar in feel to Gillott steel drawing nibs, but without the dipping and blotting! The ink is Noodlers too, in this case Bulletproof Brown which is both lightfast and waterproof.

The white used for heightening is Dr Martins Bleedproof White. Most of us have used Chinese White or White Gouache and found they look great when you apply them but then dull to a dirty grey. Bleedproof white however does not do this and stays just as white as when you apply it. It also makes a dilute wash that looks very clean when dry, which adds interesting possibilities.

So that’s all you need, I’ll make a list: One pen, pencil, putty rubber, small sable brush, Bleedproof White, sketch pad, small vial of water to moisten the white. All this goes in my waist coat pockets leaving only my lightweight Walkstool to sling over my shoulder. I use the Walkstool because it is very light has a big comfortable seat and is quite high at 26in. In townscapes especially sitting on a low stool gives you a poodle’s eye view of the world and backache to boot!

Before we get to France however we start the day before in Dorset…

 

Stourpane, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing

This is Stourpane on a really hot day. I loved the contrast between the ideal Dorset village and the spider’s web of wires. Although is seems odd the picture would be dull if they were not there. They act as a compositional glue holding the picture together. All these drawings are about 9in by 7in.

 

St malo, france, pen and ink, drawing

France! We arrived in St Malo after an overnight ferry. It was overcast and the light was very diffuse. These are the sort of conditions that make painting quite difficult. Strangely pen drawing is perfect for this sort of light. Areas are defined by texture as much as tone. I use vertical hatching for the walls always inserting a few breaks to indicate that the walls are old and not perfectly smooth. Roofs are horizontal if square on to us but angled if receding. The trick is that once you have assigned a style of hatch to a type of surface keep it consistent. Also you want the line to do as much work as possible, so direction should relate to the direction of the surface if it has one. Objects that have no particular direction like a tree for example can be rendered with a dotted and scribbled texture. Cars are more tricky but I just indicate a few major surfaces and leave the rest to the imagination. The pavement and streets are slightly different in that I want to show recession or depth. So the ground surfaces are done in a mixture of perspective parallel hatching and almost horizontal to indicate both flatness and direction.

 

Le Croisic, France, pen and ink, drawing

This is Le Croisic where we were based for the first week. Here I have quite a lot of different surfaces to indicate. I have used more or less the same mix as before. The exceptions are the harbour walls and the water. The walls are very rough and vary a lot in tone so the hatching is varied too. I am not drawing every course of stones just giving hints that there may be courses and variation in angle of hatch to show variation. Added weight is got by including a few crosshatched areas. You have to be careful not to loose all the paper as a very solid black would be wrong here, though they do have their uses. The water cannot be dealt with like a road surface because it is reflective. The almost horizontal hatching indicates both the surface and the occasional disruption from a wave. Then the reflections are indicated by variations of density. A very few wandering vertical lines complete the feeling that the surface is water.

I add the whites at the very end and use as little as possible. Here the sky needed lightening in areas both to indicate cloud but also to add the feeling of the buildings being predominately backlit. The boats are picked out too and also the key division of the road surface which is directly sunlit.

 

Le Croisic, France, pen and ink, drawing, sketch

Later I did the same scene again but at a different time of day. I have used all the same methods but here reduced the highlights to represent the softer lighting. All the tones are arranged to allow the plain paper to represent sky. The building below the church is left plain also to supply a focus and a route down for the eye to the harbour and the boats.

 

Le Croisic, France, pen and ink, drawing, sketching

 

Le Croisic again. I had just mad a complete dog’s dinner of an oil of this scene so I sat down to sketch it quickly to recover some of my pride. I only had 20 minutes so I vignetted it strongly. In the oil I made the mistake of loosing track of the fact that the lit gable end was the focus around which the rest of the picture had to be built. Instead I got over involved in the boats and the cafes. A vignette shows just how brutally you can reduce the periphery and still have a perfectly comprehensible scene.

 

St Nazaire, France, harbour, pen and ink, drawing, sketch

This is the port of St Nazaire. I drew it from the top of one of the huge U-boat pens. At first seems impossible to get down such a complex scene. What I looked for here was what tied the scene together. After looking a while I decided that the water was the key area to get right. That and the sky are the only quiet areas so needed to be dealt with in as minimal a fashion as possible. Nonetheless the water still had to carry the information of depth flatness and reflectivity. A great deal to express with very few marks! There is a lot of leeway in the busy harbour detail, a wrong line or bit of erratic drawing will not stand out. The water was a different matter and I added lines very carefully and stopped as soon as I had enough hints to tell the story.

 

Le Croisic, salt pan, pen and ink, drawing

A very simple sketch. I was wondering how to make anything of the pools where they store the live oysters when a tractor headed out do drop a load of tasty molluscs in the drink. I only had time to scribble in a horizon line and sketch the tractor before they left. Once they had gone I had to decide what to do with the rest. The paper needed to stand for the still pools so I lightened the whole sky with a thin white wash. Then I could apply full strength white for the rest of clouds. I kept the distant shore mostly vertical to make it a little abstract. Only broken by a couple of highlights and the tower of the church in Guerande on the other side of the salt marshes.

 

Guerande, pen and ink, drawing, sketch, France

This is the same church in Guerande close to. What interested me here was the clutter of the cafes and the vans clearing away the market. I was sitting in a wildly exposed spot and getting baked by the sun. There was no getting around the fact that to get to the bit I was interested in a whole church needed to be drawn. People often find such subjects forbidding to draw and are put off by the morass of detail. If I had put in all the detail it would have taken forever and looked awful so I had to decide which bit to build it around. I chose the window and positioned it very carefully by holding my paper up to the scene and marking key levels off on the side of the paper. You can measure with your pencil, but I find it far more accurate and simple to hold the paper up to the actual scene. I don’t mark many things just the main architectural breaks and the tops and bottoms of things. Once the window was positioned I worked out from there. I stopped adding content as soon as each part of the building looked complete. In this way it appears that there is a lot of detail, but most of it is actually in the viewers mind’s eye. Once the hard labour of the church was done I got to draw the bit I was really interested in! I indicated the ground with as little as possible. Just giving hints of paving and perspective. No more is needed as the imagination supplies the rest. This minimal approach also helps with the impression of the sun light beating down and bouncing back up again. By the time I had done all the pen work and erased the pencil the light was fully on the church facade. I had to remember back to how I first saw it where only a few parts of the tower were catching the sun.

 

Honfleur, pen and ink, France, drawing, sketch

This is Honfleur where we spent a couple of days on our way home. I was a little lost as to what to draw when this very large lady and her tall thin companion came down the street. I suddenly saw how they might be set against the shadowed facades. This was a very busy spot so I had to just scribble in whichever bits I could see between the crowds of tourists. Most of the work here is in the facades with lots of hatching. It is important to vary the vertical hatch to add interest. With pen you can make the same tone with close thin lines or more widely spaced thick ones. This results in the same overall tone but gives quite a different quality. With the windows you must be very careful not to over detail and also not to make each identical. Again the white was kept to a minimum.

 

Honfleur, France, pen and ink, sketch, drawing

After a hard day bashing away with the oils it was a relief to dump my kit and go out with just my pens. Much of the character of Honfleur is in the fashionable and not so fashionable folk parading to and fro. I liked the simple backdrop of the building with the empty sky beside it so I just sat and scribbled people that took my fancy as they passed. You can’t get a whole figure in with one bite so most of these are composites of several passers by. Once I decided that the population was high enough I set to work inking over the pencil. The man still has to have his stick added as I forgot to put it in!

 

Honfleur, france, pen and ink, drawing

Last one from Honfleur. I wanted to do something out of the tourist zone and this took my eye. The avenue of trees was tricky as I would have liked to have left the sunlit areas plain but for the rest of the image they had to be darker. I decided to use an abstract hatch, which was a bad move I now feel, a simple vertical one would have been cleaner.

 

wappers, sketch drawing, faces

Lastly some of my fellow artists on the coach. When people are moving about I start several faces at once and fill in bits as they return to the pose I want. You soon find that everyone has typical positions they return to so bit by bit you can get a drawing done. Just the pencil was enough here. I was tempted to add ink but the softness of the pencil seemed just right. The few highlights just give enough of a lift to hint at volume and light.

That’s it, Oils and Watercolours next…

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