Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

June 18, 2018

Making an Exhibition of Myself

Well I have had 16 days of open studios. More than 600 people marched or mooched, depending on mood, through my house and admired my decor whilst briefly glancing at the pictures on the walls. I sold 25 pictures so a buyer every 24 people… though less actually since some bought more than one. I set myself up to paint and draw throughout as a sort of educational how to do exhibit or should I call it performance art? I had about a hundred works on show so I am pretty pleased with the way it went.

I am not shy about painting while people watch, that is one thing being a plein air painter prepares you for. What was fascinating though was watching people look at my paintings. There seem to be a few different sorts of art gazers. There are the skimmers, they zip round in a trice, some seem merely to revolve once in the room and they are done. They seem to scan in order every picture getting the briefest of glances. Their visits are over in minutes and they never buy anything. Next fastest are the skippers. They take a more random approach flicking past most paintings then diving in close for a better look every now and again. They don’t look in order and if they return to a painting more than twice it is time to chat with them… a sale is unlikely but you never know. Next are the browsers. They are going to look at everything in order. Some paintings are briefly assessed others given the third degree. They often look at a painting move on then dodge back again as if something has struck them. Browsers are definitely potential buyers. Next slowest are the indexers, they give each work the same length of gaze and do them in order, they never go back to look twice and never buy anything. Then we have the enthusiasts they bounce around admiring things gasping and ooing and ahing if they like something. They raise your hopes but alas they are usually other artists! Then the rarest bird of all, the collector, they always grab a price sheet and move quite briskly from picture to picture pausing occasionally to make a note against a  title on your list. They might go away without buying but if you are lucky they will return once they have thought about what they like and they might buy more than one.

After you have watched a hundred or so peruse your efforts it becomes clear that some pictures are the stars of the show. Mostly they are not the ones you expect to appeal. There was one small, soft and subtle painting of Portland which garnered many gazes despite being in a corner and high on the wall. Damned if I know why… but if I could work out a theory I’d be rich! One thing that pleased me was that my pen drawings were a hit. I had put them in amongst other works last time and they got rather lost, so this time I grouped them on two adjacent walls. It worked almost too well, they out sold the oil paintings! It has decided me to work towards an exhibition of just pen drawings at some future date. Prints also went down well so I shall persevere there too. Now it is all over I am at a bit of a loss, but am painting in France soon so that will perk me up.

So here are my efforts from the 16 days. It was a little odd getting just 10min here and there to work. Short bursts interrupted by chatting to visitors and meeting and greeting.

Corfe castle, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing

I had decided to do Corfe from Nth, Sth, East and West, this is looking South. As I was marooned in my house I had to work from reference. I remembered I had needed to clamber all over the hill when I was taking photos to get everything in an interesting relationship. The day had been dull so the lighting here is largely imaginary, the result could almost be moonlight.

beaminster, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing

Another day another drawing. Beaminster was my next victim. On this day I had painted one view of the church only to find a much better one a few yards round the corner! With no time left to linger I had to take a quick snap and moved on. With tonal pen drawings the more dark the image the more work it is. Here though I used my new Fude pen that can make very broad lines, which somewhat reduced the task.

Corfe Castle, pen and ink, drawing, Dorset

Here is the next view of Corfe looking West. Monday was bit slow with the visitors so I could take my time. I love the chunky marks the Fude pen makes, you can really give weight to the foreground tones.

Corfe Castle, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing

Tuesday was another Corfe drawing, here we are looking East. I actually didn’t get this completed so it was Wednesday’s drawing too. Usually I would complete one of these in a couple of hours so a drawing dragging on over two days was a little odd.

Corfe Castle, Dorset, Pen and ink, drawing

The last of the Corfe ones this is of course looking North. You can see the thick Fude lines in the shadow on the road. This one sold next day.

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing

During the brief snow we had here in Dorset I had climbed Hambledon hill to paint and was amazed at how the snow had brought out the shapes in the ground. Not the easiest subject in pen and ink but great fun to do. It will I hope become a Lino cut at some future date.

I realised at this point that I had better start pushing the oils, so I changed medium.

Dorset, plein air, Plush, oil painting

I actually got out to paint this quickie near Plush. The evening light was gorgeous and it was great to be outside to paint after being mewed up indoors. Oils 16in by 10in.

Wellington Clock Tower, Swanage, Dorset, oil painting

Back to working from reference. This is the Wellington Clock Tower in Swanage. I did a watercolour of this en plein air, as I was packing up the clouds rushed in and I rather liked the mood, but had no time to paint it. Oils 14in by 10in.

Dancing ledge, Jurassic Coast, Dorset, sea, oil painting

Next day I felt like doing a bit of sea. Also I have to give a talk on sea painting later in the year. I have done several others for the talk, but they keep on selling! this is Dancing Ledge, I went several times a year ago as I had a commission. 14in by 10in Oils.

Corfe Castle, Dorset, oil painting

I had enjoyed doing the drawing of Corfe so I decided to do a painting of the same view. It was a very busy day so I painted this in fits and starts. 14in by 10in Oils.

Fortuneswell, Portland, Dorset, oil painting, Chesil

I was getting into the swing of it now so I took on this view of Chesil looking over Fortuneswell. It had to be seriously reorganised to make any kind of a composition so it was fun trying out different options from various reference pictures I had taken on different days. 12in by 10in Oils.

Pembrokeshire, cliffs, oil painting, sea

More sea! This time it is Pembrokeshire. I wanted to experiment with the knife to try and get the sparkle of the water. I was really getting into the routine of painting a bit chatting a bit now so I just did the knife work in stages. It was vital here to get the underlying tones of the sea right. It is very easy to get it too light then the highlights won’t sparkle. 10in by 14in Oils

Portland Bill, lighthouse, Dorset, oil painting

This is the lighthouse at Portland Bill. Another one where I took a quick snap after finishing a different view. This one had been sitting as a basic block in up in my studio for a month or more. Again very good control of tone was needed a many areas were quite close toned but the contrasts had to be there without being too harsh. 24in by 12in Oils.

cardigan, sea, waves, oil painting

Another bit of sea for my talk. A bit more Welsh sea near Cardigan. You have to be so careful painting stormy seas as too much structure and there is no movement, not enough and it is just foam soup! Here I merged the features of about 10 photos picking bits here and there. I kept on defining and then blurring back until I felt I had the right balance of movement and structure.

That’s it I was surprised how much I got done during the exhibition. Many thanks to all those who came and took a look and even more thanks to those who made appreciative noises or even bought something. Being a painter is an odd business and a little bit of positive feedback really spurs you on, now I have to get back out and paint pictures from the real stuff!

May 11, 2018

Accidents.

Filed under: Drawing,Life Drawing,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Rob Adams @ 11:32 am

We love to talk about accidents. Happy ones of course. We have to “allow” them to happen give them, “space” to occur. We have to be eagle eyed for serendipity, poised to stoop and exploit it. Chance can be out dearest friend, but only if we but let go enough to allow it to work its magic. Throw the dice in the air, spin the coin, pull on the one armed bandit’s single limb, watch the symbols spin. We scorn control, dreary control, the restraining whalebone corset of control. If you don’t throw over the traces the muses won’t speak through you. Stifled by the dead hand of thinking far to much. The flow impeded, the tide dammed, the rush down the helter-skelter road to art nirvana, sapped of momentum.

You must be the child. A child sees, wants and reaches out. You are a free spirit, an ancient soul, a primeval being sadly chained by convention. Released you could fly high to the sun shrugging off the fear of wax melting and Icarus falls. Leaving others to mundane long drawn out Sisyphean struggles with the obdurate stone of skill and craft. Surely somehow we can recover the lost innocence that was cast aside in the hunger for a quick and spurious understanding.

Shrug off the bindings of history, escape the already known, seek the thin ice, the terra incognito. How can you call yourself an artist if you do not attempt at least a few of these things? It is your duty to see beyond. To melt the cold metal of convention and cast it in the air unconstrained by any mould. To make a quicksilver response without the inertia of introspection or intellect.

I dare say many of you will tend to agree or at least lean a little towards the purple prose above. I myself would like it to be true, but it isn’t and there it is, we must live and make do with the lack of hey presto type magic in our world. Do our best with the impersonal mundane clay we have been handed. All talk of “energy” “flow” or whatever is I fear just foolish babble. We must join gamblers anonymous and give up the hope of the smile of chance and luck. No Gods watch over us, no saints intercede, no Norns weave our past and future together. There are no souls chained to our bodies, no spirits allied to our minds.

That is not to say however that there are no random imponderables in painting, or that allowing intellect to be sidelined by unconscious  or subconscious routines cannot be a good strategy. Getting the “accountancy” part of the brain off line can allow ingrained learnt processes to run more fluently. You cannot control every motion, every brushstroke, its angle, pressure, direction, speed and duration. Most of this has to be pre-programmed, or as we say learnt. It is a strange thing but the iterative and unfree process of learning a skill actually brings freedom and an escape from technicalities. Without that process becoming ingrained actual freedom will only ever be a pretence. I see it so many times. Painters or drawers acting out freedom, as if mimicking how they feel the actions might be, they could somehow achieve the actuality by some sort of sympathetic magic

Watching a skilled person perform their trade can often look like magic to an onlooker. Many artists receive good money for demonstrating their prowess. For the viewers and students however it mostly looks like conjuring. I suspect some “demonstrators” play to this and build in phoney “abracadabra” audience pleasing moments. As with all conjuring what you see is just the just the tip of an iceberg made of many many hours of practice. In a way the magic is there, it is there when all those many hours of practice, failed paintings, dashed hopes all come together and amplify what you can achieve. Like Icarus for a moment you fly. Does it feel good, yes very, just don’t expect it to happen everyday, or to happen at all without constant practice. Of course you could just carry out the actions, talk the talk  and imagine you have brought into being a masterpiece, a sort of air guitar for painters.

So another life drawing post. Now don’t run away, life drawing posts are on average the least looked at posts on this blog, I’m not sure why. Life drawing is where the above seems to manifest a great deal. People put a rather large emphasis on the means of doing it, rather than what is done. They seek the magic formula that will make a winning drawing materialise on their paper. The words, loose, free, expressive etc are bandied around a great deal.

In reality a different kind of drawing is produced depending on what you are looking for. If you are seeking to express the underlying flow of a pose you might produce a drawing with sweeping confident lines. If you are interested in how the edges cross and fade or are soft or sharp you will produce a different more nuanced drawing. If you are interested in how the volumes intersect then a more blocky approach might carry the information best. You might be drawing the shapes the light makes flowing across the surfaces and not the body at all, resulting in a soft impression. Or indeed any combination of any or all of these. Each will result in a different sort of image.

Due to the perception of art history by contemporary artists a fair few folk have difficulty appreciating different sorts of drawing. A drawing with wild inaccurate marks will be praised as loose and free. A drawing that is accurate and plots the ebb and flow of the edges dismissed as tight however good. On the other hand those with little art education will only be impressed with the degree of photographic detail achieved. Academic drawers will judge in yet a different way as to whether the tones and finish are precise and the terminus lines of the shadows emphasised to get that silky classical look.

When I look at the drawings others do my best to look for what the artists were trying to nail down about the pose in front of them. There are successful and less successful drawings in each of the categories above and each should be judged on how well that agenda is executed. The only bad drawing are those that have no premiss or plan behind them or where the artist is not truly engaged, whether they are skilfully executed or not.

Life drawing

I had not done any drawings on toned paper for a while so this was quite tricky. As always a struggle not to put in more than you can actually see.

Life drawing

A more back to basics approach. I was interested in the planes of the pose and how they flowed behind each other. The difficulty is trying to get that down in single unfussy strokes.

life drawing

So often the quick 4min ones have the most charm. In some ways that is just because they chime well with the aesthetic of our times. I am not in the least immune to this, as with unposed photographic snapshots they have an immediacy that comes across well.

Life drawing

I have introduced a cool grey here. I find it a useful addition so it will stay for a while. I am really trying not to make a “picture” or “finish” in the given time. Just to add one observation after another until the time runs out. As with all “best laid” plans this tends to get watered down by the reality of having to get the marks down.

Life drawing

Here I stuck to the plan more rigorously. Just putting down observations and then restating if need. I quite like the effect of all the good and less good marks being seen as it becomes a record of looking and resolving.

life drawing

Here I got sidetracked a little by the edges and over emphasised them.

life drawing

Here I got a better balance with the lines supporting the main interest which was the flow of the gorgeous complex forms making up  the surface of the back.

life drawing

Here the line and flow is more important with the tone in a supporting role.

life drawing

When I was first taught to draw, Bunny the tutor told us that a drawing should always be finished from the first mark to the last. So when you stop you always have a finished thing. I did not really understand this for many years, but now find it to be a very useful idea. She taught this by not telling us how long the pose was going to be. This meant no planning ahead was possible and each drawing had to be started as if it was only going to be a couple of minutes.

life drawing

Steve our model was in his eighties and was amazing to draw. Age had melted away all the excess fat revealing the forms beneath.

life drawing

A difficult one to draw, again the tone is in a supporting role needing to be just enough there to glue the line work describing the edges together.

life drawing

More quickies. They really do help you winnow out the important and telling aspects of a pose.

life drawing

Another one where I went a bit to far with the line. It is so so easy to make a line over defined. Ideally it should reflect how strong the edge is and so can go from hard and certain to very soft and undecided. This should reflect what you ca make out clearly and what you cannot. Squinting helps greatly in this regard. If an edge vanishes when you squint then it should ideally be either very soft or not there at all.

life drawing

This was the second of two drawings done over an hour. In the first one I rather lost my way but the time was not wasted as all the looking helped me be more direct and concise in this one.

I think back to oils for the next session, so looking for light and tone a little more.

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