Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

January 31, 2018

Chocolate Box

Since moving to Dorset I have been faced with a seemingly endless pretty villages with comfortably settled thatched roofs crowning rose wreathed cottages. I have to date not painted many of them, but feel that I perhaps should. I tell myself that I need a new angle on them that will lift them above the twee. A well placed skip, a sewage lorry pumping out a cesspit, a recently deceased pensioner lying unremarked in the road while the Range Rovers power by. Please God don’t let me become Helen Allingham, a snobby part of me cries.

I am going to Venice in the coming spring and that has brought a similar problem to mind. Venice has been painted and painted. In every mood from every angle it has beguiled generations of artists and made them produce… well pretty pictures. A few have broken the mood, Whistler, Sickert and Sargent but only if you are careful in your choices, they each painted some pretty pretty ones too. Turner as usual scorned his subject matter and just made it up, moving palaces and indeed entire districts around to suit his compositional needs. Later Thomas Moran one of the Hudson River school did many Turnerish views of Venice with overexcited skies and a mixed salad of all sorts of dramatic lighting, perplexingly occurring all at the same moment. I started to randomly put in artists names with Venice, Monet, Renoir, Parkes Bonnington, Allingham, Myles Burket Foster… it would be almost shorter to list those who didn’t have a splash at it!

Which makes me ask the question, what do I do in Venice? To be honest I have been avoiding the place. Which prompts the next question, does it matter if I don’t produce anything that is particularly new and distinctive from painting the city? Should I take to the outskirts and paint the industrial estates that house the service infrastructure needed to deliver food and goods to a roadless city drowning beneath the flood of millions of hungry visitors? On the surface of it the place is absolutely clogged with things just up my street, churches and palaces ad infinitum and maybe that is the problem.

The Dorset villages present much the same issue, but closer to home. They are determinedly chocolate box and that is irredeemably uncool to much modern sensibility. The term chocolate box was coined from the pictures painted to adorn Cadbury boxes. Before Helen Allingham painter Myles Burket Foster churned out many a saccharine image that got used for such purposes. Although a little research shows that the manufacturers spread their net pretty wide with even Velasquez getting pressed into service!

So why do we shrink from pretty? I do, my Mother used the term “chocolate box” frequently and when we went to the Birmingham art gallery she bemoaned the sentimentality of Victorian art in general. We shrink a little from Murillo and his sentimental Virgins and street urchins. I have only with a certain reluctance painted Gold Hill the iconic Hovis hill in Shaftesbury. It’s a great view it has everything going for it… except it is eyewateringly pretty. The resulting paintings would look dandy on a chocolate box too. I see fellow “serious” artists shrink from them. They do not see the painting, the subject overwhelms, or should I perhaps say that their educated sense of taste does.

It is very hard to look at these or the images of sentimental syrupy Victoriana without your inbred sense of kitch kicking in. It is even harder to view them as a Victorian might have done. Did all Victorians have bad taste? We can’t say they were all visually naive and ignorant. Lots of clever sophisticated eyes looked and liked. I can look at the absurd confections of Tiepolo or Tintoretto with a great deal of pleasure even though they contain many of the same elements. Are these images OK just because they are safely insulated by a reassuring quantity  of time? I am forced reluctantly to consider the problem might be with me and my cultural indoctrination, not the subject matter or overt sentimentality.

People really do have syrupy sentimental feelings, just look at people crooning over babies, cute toddlers or wide eyed kittens. We are told to paint our inner feelings, are those particular ones exempt? A besotted artist might gaze adoringly into their muse’s dewey eyes, then paint their perception thus shaded by sentimental adoration. Is that interior transfiguration not a perfectly bonafide subject? It is part of being human after all. Maybe as artists we are just scared to tread such dangerous and potentially embarrassing emotional territory or admit any weakness that it might hint at. You might after all be thought “soppy” and who could bear that? Give me pain and torment, misery and nihilism, but please don’t threaten me with pleasure or pretty! It’s OK if it is “ironic” though… a cop out in my mind, perhaps a lack of the courage to face it head on…

Is all this going to provoke a string of kitten and baby pictures… well no, but I will perhaps try to do a few of those scary villages. As to Venice, well I just have to wait and see and try to achieve the impossible which is to put out of my mind all preconceptions.

I am very behind with putting work up as I am painting and drawing faster than I blog! So we have to go back and imagine it is Christmas again… picture it: pushing a trolley through a Tescos packed with crazed shoppers, the sound of “One horse Open Sleigh” ringing in your ears…

Tenby, Wales, watercolour, plein air

I had a two part holiday this year and the first bit was in Wales. This is Tenby, which abounds with fascinating views. This is the harbour which has great viewpoints from the steep road that leads up out of it. Here I have done everything you shouldn’t do. The initial washes were dashed in after 15min, but it soon was apparent they wouldn’t be dry until late in January! So I move on and did a drawing and had a glorious fiddle to finish it off in the evening. Watercolour 7in by 5in.

Tenby, Wales, Pembrokeshire, pen and ink, drawing

I moved a bit further down the hill and sat doing a drawing as my abandoned watercolour slowly dried. The sun even came out throwing fascinating shadows across the buildings. 8in by 6in, Pen and Ink.

Newport sands, watercolour, Wales

This is the marvellous Newport sands, the weather had swept it clear of even the most hardy dog walkers, only a single lonely parked van was left, probably waiting for a break in the weather to exercise the pooch. Being a hardy bunch from Worcestershire we walked our dogs anyhow but I was rather taken by the solitary van and did this later in the evening. Watercolour 7in by 5in.

Fishguard, old town, Wales, Pembrokeshire, watercolour

At last a breezy day when my paint would dry. I had not realised my watercolour sketch book was on its last pages so this is done on vile W H Smiths watercolour blotting paper. Oddly it rather suited the scene which is of the old town of Fishguard. I did lots of washing and wiping back here but had to be very gentle as the paper was so soft. Watercolour 7in by 5in.

Fishguard, old town, Wales, Pembrokeshire, pen and ink, drawing

Next I went down to the harbour and sketched on the quay. I have drawn this a few times but never really got it how I want it, partially because you can’t set up where the view is best. That is my excuse anyhow. Pen and Ink, 8in by 6in.

Ruan, Ireland, pen and ink, drawing

Next I moved on to Co Clare in Ireland, I barely did a thing I am afraid… to busy catching up with friends and carousing! This is the road to Ruan, as you can see it rained enthusiastically nearly every day…  Pen and Ink, 8in by 6in.

Sheep skull, drawing, pen and ink

Last one, an ex-sheep. Skulls are fascinating to draw and I have done this one before, a very tricky subject in pen and ink. The table took longer to do than the actual subject! Pen and Ink 8in by 6in.

That’s it for Christmas, put the tinsel away, back to Dorset for yet more rain…

December 8, 2017

Life Painting and Amateurism

Filed under: Drawing,Life Drawing,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Rob Adams @ 1:59 pm

I am very pleased to be in the January 2018 edition of the Artist magazine (on sale now!). Throughout my childhood and as I grew up my mother was always a keen reader. It was, I understood even then, a step up from the Leisure Painter despite it sharing a publisher, much of its production team and containing very similar content. It was only in later years that I was informed by other artists that these publications were for the amateur market of enthusiasts rather than professional artists. By this time I was a professional commercial artist myself and so busy I gave the subject no more thought.

Now however I am not sure I fit the profile of professional anymore. Professional surely means you make your living or at least the bulk of it through painting both by selling pictures and fulfilling commissions. Artists have an understandable desire to talk up their sales so it is not always easy to discern exactly what return they are getting on their efforts. I gave up a pretty lucrative business as an illustrator, designer and visualiser that paid for my way through life and generated enough savings to get me to the position where I could say, “What the hell I just want to paint!” Nearly 7 years after that decision where am I? My friends tell me it is just so uncool to reveal your financial details… but well what the hell I don’t care in the least. So… painting pays for a couple of holidays and the materials required to produce and frame as much work as I please. It does not supply housing or something very close to my heart… dinner! Or any of the other every day bills and needs.

So that’s it I have to demote myself to amateur along with Van Gogh and Vermeer. There are however different degrees of amateur I might be a serious amateur rather than a dabbler. That would give a little boost to my ego after the previous collapse in status. Professional might need a little light shone on it too. If you make most of your living selling DVDs and giving demos aren’t you a teacher rather than a painter? I am not I might add trying to offend anyone here, but just wondering if our current categories are a little arbitrary. Maybe there is a better way of assessing the relative dedication of painters.

I could perhaps define someone who spends most of their lives effort over a long period into improving their capabilities as serious, through to the enthusiast who finds the process fascinating and maybe has only had the chance in later life to take up their lifelong interest full time. I must note this has little bearing on the quality of paintings produced. That being the case you may wonder, and I do too, if making any such judgements, or paying any heed to those that do, is worthwhile. The answer has to be for me, none whatsoever, there is a little waggy tailed needy bit of me that would enjoy the pat on the head of being deemed professional, but a much larger part that can’t take any such divisions seriously.

I have been experimenting with doing small oils in our wonderful weekly life sessions. At first I didn’t attempt it because is seemed unlikely that anything worthwhile could be achieved in the 30min window of opportunity that you have. I was wrong of course it seems with a bit of luck you can get quite a lot down and described in that length of time.

Figure painting, oil painting

I had on my palette a set of tones left over from doing a self portrait which eased the process considerably, you don’t always realise how much time you spend mixing and re-mixing. Direction of stroke is very important, here I have painted along the direction of the arm, which is not a good idea as the arm also has a direction at 90 degrees to that. Oils

figure painting, oil painting

Here’s the next go. These are all 30min or less so little time for drawing out. I try to see shapes and keep areas distinct as it is impossible to do much laying paint on top of paint in this timescale. Oils.

Figure painting, oil painting

Another session and I am painting a little better now as I gain confidence These are all 7in and smaller so not a great deal of real estate to cover. I try to be very systematic patching areas in by importance and size until most of the ground is done and only then refining edges and details. Oils.

figure painting, oil painting

A little better here with the choices in direction of stroke. I am swinging between getting the lights or darks in place first. Here I did the lights first but was mindful that the tone needed to take a final highlight. Oils.

Figure painting, oil painting

This session was just with a few of us which made it easier to focus. This was 15min or less so not too accurate but has an immediacy that pleased me. Oils.

figure painting, oil painting

This one was the first of the session on a tiny bit of board. I had arrived telling myself to not try and get the whole figure in! Oils.

figure painting, oil painting

I loved painting this! The head against the light gave me an easy hook to build the rest of the picture around. Oils.

figure painting, oil painting

It was grey outside so this one and others from the session were more subdued. Oils.

figure painting, oil painting

I tried to get the mood of the room here, would have loved a bit longer on a bigger board. Oils.

figure painting, oil painting

I was pleased at how I managed to fit the figure to the board here, stretched out poses are always difficult I find but helped by close cropping. Oils.

figure painting, oil painting

Only 10 min time – gone in a flash! Oils.

figure painting, oil painting

Didn’t take my own advice and crop here. That said I am getting better at placing paint strokes concisely. Oils.

figure painting, oil painting

Another private session with only a few of us. A bit longer about 40min. On canvas board which I don’t like as much as MDF, something about the quality of the dragged paint isn’t as nice. Oils.

figure painting, oil painting

I loved the soft hues and tones in this pose. I quite like to introduce the occasional unashamed drawing stroke, but I cut them back a bit after with lighter tones which makes them “sit” in the picture nicely. Oils.

figure painting, oil painting

Last one, I could easily get addicted to figure painting and it is a great challenge that brings to the fore any weakness in your technique or laziness in observation. Oils.

That’s it Christmas looms and I will be off on my travels with my paints… Wales and Ireland this time so I hope I get some painting done in-between the eating, drinking and catching up with friends and family.

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