Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

September 12, 2017

Pen and Wash

Later in the year I am to give a talk at a local art club. The previous year I had done Pen and Ink and as I left they asked me back and wondered if I could do one on Plein Air painting the same time next year. A few weeks ago at an exhibition of the group’s work I picked up a leaflet that listed the upcoming talks and found I was scheduled in to do a talk on Pen and Wash… A slight panic then set in after I went through my old, ancient and then antediluvian drawings. It seemed that bar about 6 illustrations pen and wash had not been a big feature of my 40 year career!

Now I have always admired pen and wash as a medium and 2 of the examples of my massive output in the media were recent where I had washed colour out of the ink in a pen sketch. However I could not help but conclude that I was about 20 slides shy of the full Powerpoint. No matter I thought with a sudden gush of over-confidence I’ll do some it will be fun! After all how hard could it be?

Very… perhaps another to get the point over…VERY!

Its beguiling simplicity might be the problem. You first think, “Oh I’ll just do a pen drawing and colour it in.” Then you think, ‘How much pen?”… “How much wash?… Pen first, wash second?… Wash first, pen second?… Waterproof ink?…Non-waterproof ink or a mix of the two?” The only way forward was to look at what others had done and then experiment.

The first technical problem I hit was paper. I tried hot pressed Arches Satin, in one of those glued pads. Not too bad but the surface is quite soft. Wash took well though, so a contender. Next a Moleskin sketch pad that bore the legend on the outside “for fountain pen”. Bah!  The ink went straight through it feathered like mad and was so soft the nib tore up the surface. It rejected watercolour, but sort of interestingly in a way you might exploit.

By now obsession was setting in. On my shelves sit many pads, sketch books, glued pads… and loose sheets. They go back to about 1910 with old sheets of paper my granny had. Indeed I could probably fill a medium sized “Paper Through the Ages.” museum. Cue a pseudo scientific face off!

Below are the scanned tests, I won’t go through them individually if you click there is a hi res image so you can form you own opinion. I scribbled with 3 inks one a waterproof and non waterproof mix which I tested with a wash of clean water. Of the other two inks one is a dilute 6:1 water to ink and the other a Red with the Zebra “G” nib which is sharper and more prone to catch but lovely to draw with.

paper test

The results are mixed. Some failed the G nib test so I excluded them. The worst by far was the Moleskin, worse even than bargain laser paper which is a technical feat. Surprisingly good was 100year old white wove writing paper. Bristol board old and new was very good with the pen but not so hot with the watercolour. Frisk CS10 from the 70’s is the best as far as feel with the pen but the very high china clay content means the waterproof inks don’t dry waterproof. Arches was poor with the pen catching very badly with the G nib, good with the watercolour though. Of the commercial papers the cheapo Fabriano 100 sheet drawing and watercolour pad 250gm was easily the best with the colour washing out very cleanly and hard enough to withstand the G nib. My favourite Ruscombe mill paper also passed with flying colours the paper is so hard sized that the G nib worked despite the texture of the surface. I used the blue but they make other colours. Below is the vile Moleskin…

Below is the back or verso of the sheet… as you might guess it also destroyed the page behind… the dark spots are where the pen went through entirely… not the sharp G nib by the way, a soft tipped fountain pen nib.

Next my efforts old and new…

This drawing has appeared before a few years ago. It is Honfleur, I did a few pen and washes on this trip, I can see I kept the penwork quite open so it would accept the wash. Also some pen is under the wash and some on top which adds variation.

 

Leadenhall Market, London, Pen and wash

This was done after I got back. It is Leadenhall Market in London. Again I am dividing up the work between the wash and the line. I think I resorted to wash here because of the complex subject and lack of time.

 

normandy, france, pen and wash

France again, Normandy this time. I well remember doing this I penciled carefully then started with the watercolour and it slowly lost definition and structure. So I added pen to accent the main beams and trusses. I remember being quite chuffed at the result.

 

Portobello, pen and wash

I am starting to see a trend here… I resort to pen and wash when in dire need! This is Portobello and another watercolour that went off the tracks. It was wet and I remember having to finish in a rush as the downpour started. The result I have to say is probably better than if I had carried on with just the paint.

 

Honfleur, france, pen and wash

Honfleur again. Not a rescue job this time thank heaven. This pen and wash at its simplest with the colour being washed out of the line. As it is on the blue Ruscombe paper the added highlight gives a relatively full toned image. Here the pen is definitely to the fore.

Well that is the past efforts in the medium. Having looked at these I decided to do more to explore the variations possible. The first thing was wash first or pen?

 

Hanford house, pen and wash

This is Hanford house, here the drawing is done in pencil then most of the wash work laid in. The pen was then added. The advantage of this is that the pen work is only added where it is needed so I stuck to line with little or no hatching. A few bits of final watercolour darkening caused the red in the ink to run which I quite like.

 

Wells, somerset, pen and wash

Another one, this time of Wells, where the wash went in first. Less successful here I feel. I have overdone the pen work and the line is too heavy on the cathedral itself. I am unconvinced by the wash first method now. I think some pen at least has to go in before.

 

Kimmeridge, Dorset, pen and wash

This recent drawing of Kimmeridge is much more like what I am aiming for. This is pen then wash with most of the colour coming from the line itself. A few areas of pen were restated but I like the balance of hatching and washes. I left far wider gaps between lines than I would normally do so as to leave paper for the wash to show. A very quick way of working about 40min whereas a pen drawing could take double that.

 

Milton Abbey, pen and wash, Dorset

This is Milton Abbas in Dorset. I wanted to try using waterproof ink and go for a subtler atmospheric feel. I used hatching much in the way I would when producing a tonal pen drawing with no outlines but just dropped the line density to accept the wash.

 

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, pen and wash, drawing

This is from an afternoon expedition to sketch on Hambledon Hill. I am frustrated that these fantastic vistas I have on my doorstep are so difficult to make into paintings. You get the same with photos, when you take a picture of an amazing panorama from one of those official viewpoints. Somehow the results always disappoint, even though the scene itself when you were there was amazing. On this one I did the watercolouring first. I laid in all the shadows in a blue which decided the structure and lighting. Next I defined and toned with a pen loaded with grey ink. That was then overlaid with some more watercolour to unify the masses, finally I strengthened with a black pen.

 

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, pen and wash, plein air, drawing

I set about this one with a bit more urgency as the weather was looking threatening. Hambledon Hill has lots of intimate subjects as well as the huge vistas. Once again I did the watercolour part first then, as it looked as if I was in for a soaking, I set about it with a reed pen dipping directly into the ink bottle. The rain shower conveniently deluged Shroton in the valley to my left rather than me so I then added black fountain pen to define the masses and lighting better. A4 Pen and Wash.

 

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, pen and wash, drawing

I then headed home only to spot another squall approaching from the other side. As I was definitely not going to make it home or even off the hill before it broke I set about trying to bash in an impression of the rain arriving. I used the reed pen again but with my red brown ink this time . I drew very broadly the basic forms and started to lay in tone with watercolour before the ink was dry so as to wash lots of colour out of the ink. I then skipped back and forth between wash and pen until it felt done. To my astonishment it once again rained in the valley rather than the hill so I even got home dry! A4 pen and wash.

I have enjoyed my foray into pen and wash so far and I think it has done me good. I was getting a little too comfortable with the pen and white highlight on the blue paper so it is good to ring the changes.

August 14, 2017

Categorically Speaking

We love categories. As soon as we have a group of things we set about splitting them in to sub categories. Painters and paintings are no exception to this, problems arise however when the categories overlap or combine in varying proportions.

For a painting you might have categories of style, genre, medium or subject. So you can have an Expressionist portrait, a Classical, a Formal, an Impressionist, or even an Abstract portrait. Worse your Impressionist portrait might have Expressionist elements and even “lean” towards abstraction.

Historical categories are pretty straightforward. Time is linear and we can arrange our artists and their works roughly in a row like beads on a string. Difficulties arise however when we try to arrange the other possible properties of paintings upon our temporal necklace. A renaissance painting might have what in a later age we would now call Expressionist virtues. Due to the directional nature of time however we cannot allow that artist to be expressionist as Expressionism didn’t exist in the artists era.

Impressionism is particularly tricky. There are impressionistic passages in most representational paintings as it is nigh on impossible to to convey all the details in a scene so some reliance must be placed upon the viewers eye filling in the details. Artists realised well before the time of Monet that indeterminate areas added to the mystery and mood of a painting.

The difficulties might, I innocently thought,  be best shown best in a diagram.  I’m sure your excitement is unbounded by the thought of pie charts, but I have gone for that old favourite the Venn Diagram.

Diagram

This was just a dry run… so the categories themselves are arguable. It does immediately point out a problem: Are there any pure paintings that fall into the sections where the wording is? The most likely candidate is Abstract I suppose, but you could argue that there is expression in all art. So there are no paintings at all in any of the lettered segments or indeed any of the areas that don’t overlap the Abstract circle. My heart sank when I realised that most segments had no paintings in at all. A little more thought gave me the worrying conclusion that potentially none of the segments at all had any pictures in them…

So my diagram is an abject failure! You don’t seem to be able to have a picture that has only one attribute or indeed a picture that has all or a majority of them. In a way I am delighted as it shows that anyone who bandies about the word “pure” in association with such intangible subjective qualities has like me possibly not thought about the terms or the logical consequences to any degree.

I don’t have any solution to this conundrum, you can chop and change the categories, but always the same problem seems to occur. A work of art cannot contain just one of any set of attributes or indeed all of any set either. I lean towards concluding that trying to label different paintings and sort them into neat piles that have any worthwhile significance by using such terms is a meaningless activity. On the upside it means we may be able to forget about “curation” in those areas as it seems you could as well choose pictures by sticking photos on a wall and throwing darts whilst blindfolded, then make up a story about your choices afterwards. Wait a sec someone is trying to talk to me… “What do you mean, that’s how curators do it already…” “Ah right… I see…just goes to show how innocent I am of the finer points of the uber art of curation.”

It also makes me suspect that when people say painting or its brush marks are so “expressive” are not saying anything of any great consequence. If you said the same thing in slightly different terms the result might be rather insulting, “Oh your painting is so swishy and careless!” doesn’t have the same flatter value as, “Oh your painting is so expressive and free!”.

Oh well, now for some bits of plant fibre that I have carefully dirtied…

Beer, Devon, plein air, oil painting

This is a flying visit to Beer in Devon, I hadn’t really appreciated how near Devon is to me before! Lovely hazy light and lots to paint in the way of fishing boats.  I only did little 8in by 6in as I was very pressed for time. Oils.

Beer, Devon, Plein air, oil painting, fishing boat

I was lucky here, I had just set up and a boat came in. People wonder how you get something down like this when it is only there briefly. The answer is, I cheat! I very rapidly outlined the basic shape and size in a few strokes and then added stick men as they set about hauling it up the beach. I then painted the cliffs, sea and beach. Only with that all done did I decamp up to the top of the beach and do the details of the boat. It isn’t even the boat that came in as that one was between two others so I couldn’t see it from the side! 6in by 8in Oils

Lyme Regis, Dorset, oil painting

After going to Axminster to buy tools I had time to go to Lyme Regis. I rather over optimistically started a 10in by 20in but soon realised time, tide and sunlight were not in my favour. So this is a mostly a studio picture painted over the top of a plein air. Not quite finished yet as I want to glaze the buildings back a bit. Oils

Dorset, Okeford Fitzpaine, plein air, Dorset, oil painting

This is the road fro Okeford Fitzpaine near to where I live. I have frequently thought this little view was paintable and the great oak tree a marvel. The only problem being a fast road and narrow verges… I did this by wedging myself almost in the hedge. Even so the traffic was uncomfortably close especially when it consists of tractors pulling huge spiky, sticky out raking machines. Actually a fairly easy picture to paint as it consists of very few tones. I might do another with a cyclist rather than a car. You have to have something there to explain the hugeness of the tree and provide a focus. 12in by 10in Oils.

Win Green, bowl barrow, Dorset, Cranbourne Chase, plein air, oil painting

Up just after dawn to paint this. I misjudged where the sun would rise so elsewhere would probably been better.. This is Win Green the highest point of the Cranborne Chase. The clump of trees stands on an ancient bronze age bowl barrow. Just had to go for it here as the light was racing. I only was painting for 20 minutes but even in that short time everything was different. I have since softened the light effect to make it less cartoony. 14in by 10in Oils.

Win Green, plein air, dorset, oil painting

An even quicker one from Win Green! The shadows were moving so quickly I had no time at all. 15minutes and that was it. 7in by 5in Oils

Rawlesbury Camp, water colour, painting, Dorset

We have had very wet days so I did a couple of studio watercolours. This is Rawlsbury Camp which always looks lovely in evening light. 16in by 8in Watercolour.

Corfe castle, Dorset, watercolour, painting

One of the “standard” views of Corfe. I think I will go back here in the autumn as it is all bit too picture booky in the summer on a lovely day. 12in by 5in watercolour.

Corfe, Dorset, Castle, pen and ink, drawing

More Corfe, I have walked all sides but the East now. Pen and Ink.

Swanage, pen drawing, Dorset

Swanage on the same day. It was very jolly as they were having a pirate festival. Pirates all wear eyeliner nowadays for which I blame Mr Depp.

Bayeux, Normandy, pen and ink, drawing

Lastly an orphaned pen sketch that has been waiting for its foreground to be completed. This is Bayeux.

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