Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

November 7, 2015

What are we?

Is this really a topic for a painting blog? Well yes I feel so. Trying to articulate how it is to be a human being is pretty key to being an artist. Descartes decided that we are real things due to being aware of our own thinking which is on the whole good news. The bad news was that is about all he could be sure of.

For an artist there is the constant problem of only getting the odd hint of what others respond to or enjoy from their speech or mannerisms. For the rest we have to extrapolate from what we ourselves like, to make a guess as to what might float anyone else’s boat. The egoist will assume that what he likes others will like because he or she is plainly the best the world has to offer. The more humble soul will be left in a state of perhaps more realistic uncertainty.

So what is human being and how might we divine what this strange beasty likes? There is the body, with it’s cells and hormones. It seems pretty clear to me that there is no mysterious supernatural component. That does not mean that the meat is all there is though. The “nature vs nurture” debate has been rumbling on for a few centuries. Christianity  hoped to prove the existence of the divine by finding a child brought up by animals with no human upbringing. They were disappointed, legend has it, to find such a poor creature had no innate knowledge of the almighty.

It is in keeping with contemporary thought to consider ourselves in the terms of hardware and software. If our tabula rosa has no input from parents or society then there is no language and if no language none of the tools we use to visualise our own selves. I dare say such a being would have no interest in art or indeed a pleasant scene. Food, warmth, safety and shelter would be the driving forces as in any animal. It is of course not just humans that combine software and hardware, all social animals do some sort of programming the young.

It is fair to say though that humans take it further. It might even be best to think of the accrued knowledge of society as a separate entity independent of the individual. We are none of us vital, but each might add a little that gets passed on. I might paint a painting, post it online and then track the slight ripple that passes around the world briefly before fading. However small it has become part of the huge edifice of knowledge and supposition that is mankind.

If this accrued and now artificially stored information is really what mankind is, what of the individual? In our society we prize freedoms and our own personal uniqueness. I have to feel after much mental to-ing and fro-ing that this is an illusion, we make a great deal of our small differences but actually we are as alike as peas in a pod. Just as well really, as if we were really different communication between us would be all but impossible. If you look at the imagery of our planet from space you would have to conclude that mankind is akin to a hive creature. Although we don’t feel we are acting at the behest of the whole, most of us are doing just that. Is our collected knowledge of the universe honey? It makes one worry there might be a beekeeper out there somewhere!

It does give the artist a sliver of a reason to go on doing stuff. Each thing we do adds a little to the whole. How that might be used in any future is beyond prediction, but on the whole I feel that artistic activity is a plus for humanity. How is that for self justification?

Right enough of the navel gazing! Some pictures. Mostly drawing, life seems to be keeping me from my studio at present which is distinctly irritating.

Cannon St, London, oil painting, St Pauls

Over the last few years I have been rather over successful at selling plein air sketches of London. Most of the best ones I intended to use as inspiration for studio pictures, once sold however this slipped from my agenda. So I have decided to try and catch up. This is the first of several I hope. I spent a fair while messing with the composition on this. That is the joy of studio work you can add all sorts of subtleties that would be impossible in the heat of the moment on site. It is however important to try an not let that show overtly in the way the final thing is painted! 12in by 20in oils.


Pen and ink, drawing, dog

Something I don’t do very often. A drawing as a gift to an old friend. The dog was a fondly remembered pet so I was in danger of over doing the sentiment. The Victorians revelled in such stuff with the dog gazing soulfully at its master. I hope I escaped that… just! Pen and ink.

Stour, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing, river

A sketch done near to where I live in Dorset. This is the Stour where it meanders through rich pastures below Hambledon Hill. The light was very constant so I could take my time. A little too neat maybe but in a way that adds to the calm feel which was very much the atmosphere of the day. Pen and Ink


Pentre Ifan, Wales, pembrokeshire, pen and ink, drawing

This is another go at Pentre Ifan in Pembrokeshire. Slightly tongue in cheek as I am not much of a new ager! Pen and ink.


Tenby, Harbour, wales, pen and ink, drawing

This is the harbour at Tenby in Wales. This started out as the merest pencil scribble done in less than 10 min. I enjoyed developing it with the pen and will do a larger oil in a while. Somewhat of a grudge match as I made a horrible mess of an oil of this same subject three or four years ago… pen and ink.


Fontmell Down, pen and ink, dorset

I am pondering how to translate the Dorset landscape into lino cuts. I don’t want to do straight renderings there has to be a stylising and simplification. This may be the way to go but not with the celtic stuff. I might use earlier incised patterns as used on beakers found in burials in the area. The sky escaping is a bit OTT so I might just allow the pasture to break the frame. Pen and Ink.


Okeford Hill, dorset, pen and ink, drawing

The largest pen drawing I have managed on site. I used a brush pen loaded with the same ink as my pens which speeded things along. I still had to finish the foreground hatching later. Rather a painful process on site as I am suffering in the back department at present. This is Okeford Hill. Pen and ink.


Belfast, northern Ireland, drawing, pen and ink

Some countryside near Belfast. I love just using water to dissolve the colour out from the ink. I actually combine two inks one waterproof and one not to get this result. Very fast sketch about 20min. Pen and Ink.


Belfast, albert tower, pen and ink, drawing, northern Ireland

This is a clock tower dedicated to Albert in Belfast itself. A bit scrappy but too painful to sit too long. Pen and Ink.


Belfast, pen and ink, drawing, northern ireland

More Belfast. The brush pen was great for knocking in all the darks. Had to be very quick as the last of the light was fading rapidly. Pen and ink.


Gt Victoria Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland, pen and ink, drawing

With my back working again after returning I couldn’t resist doing this of Gt Victoria Street in Belfast again. I loved the grand streets in the city and would like to return and paint it properly. Pen and ink

October 26, 2015

Pen and Ink, tools of the trade.

Filed under: Drawing,How to do,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Rob Adams @ 3:01 pm

I have been experimenting with pen and ink for years. I started with Rotring technical pens doing fine stipple and line drawings. They came in sets from 0.1 mm to 1mm and I had the whole set. The only problems being that if you wanted to change line thickness you had to change pens and the mark was unvarying. Also they were a devil to maintain, constantly blocking or getting their delicate innards damaged. The very opposite of expressive!

Then one day I passed by Philip Poole’s pen shop in Drury lane and he sold me a mixed box of Victorian drawing nibs made by Gillott and a couple of dip pen pen holders. The difference was wonderful. A Gillott 404 can go from 0.1mm to 1.2mm all in the same pen! Suddenly all sorts of new effects and textures were available. The nibs are wonderfully responsive. The disadvantages being they wore out quite quickly and required very careful handling if you didn’t want to drop a blot on to your paper. There is also the constant dipping that interrupts the flow. Also the paper had to be very smooth, ideally Bristol board.

Then for many years I did no pen work at all as I moved from illustrating books to designing and building things. Then a few years ago I started doing sketches out doors using fibre pens which was very convenient. I soon got dissatisfied though. The fibre pens had the same problems as the Rotrings, no feel at all. It is possible to get a grey line by moving the pen quickly so it skips but they have a very dead quality to the line. I had some old Rotring “art” pens which used cartridges but had possibly the nastiest nibs ever made by man!

No problem, I thought in my innocence, I’ll just go back to the dip pens. The experience was not great. The sharp nibs didn’t like the slightly rough high sized paper from Ruscombe Mill and handling ink bottle etc too made the whole process too cumbersome. The rough paper catching the nib and even wind was enough to dump the whole contents of the reservoir on your masterpiece at any moment.

Looking on the web I found that old fountain pens had flexible nibs. Skipping to ebay I immediately bought a 100 year old Waterman 50 which when it arrived had the most wonderful nib. Alas a little more research showed that if I used my nice paper the high size would soon wear away the tip and then the gold in short order. Great on Bristol board but not on my paper of choice. Mind you it is still far and away the best pen nib I have found for responsive feel and variety of line.

Back on line I found a range of fountain pens with the unlikely name of Noodlers. They has a pen called the Nib Creaper that looked just the ticket. It had a steel flexible nib, so tough and no rust. It was also very reasonable so I bought a few to play with. The first impressions were pretty good. The variety of line was there you just had to use a little more pressure than a Gillott. As the nibs are tipped they also could negotiated the rougher paper with no issues. The only difficulty for me was it was too small for my hands. Still I did lots of drawings with them.

Looking again I found Noodlers made some larger pens called Ahabs so I got a couple to try. The pens were very nice when they came but the feeds could not keep up with fast drawing. Here is where the Noodlers pens come into their own, Nathan Tardif who is Noodlers Ink made the pens to be easy to modify. This means they come apart very easily. Also bless him he sells spare parts, nibs etc. It only took a few moments to cut away a couple of ribs on the feed and hey presto my Ahab was delivering ink like a champ.

I still missed the wonderful delicate lines a Gillott 303 could deliver. I actually put a 303 in the Nib Creaper but I knew it would rust even though it worked wonderfully. So I got a Nib Creaper nib and sharpened it up. I just used a diamond stone so very fast and care needed not to over do. I did it withe the pen inked so I could check progress as I went along. I finished and smoothed on an Arkansas stone which is very quick and easy as you just write and scribble on the stone until it feels silky smooth. The result is great with a very fine line but still plenty of flexibility.

My final act was to buy the rather more pricy Neponset which has a three tined “music” nib. It is quite expensive but alas I found too hard and not good to draw with. No matter very nice to write with. The Neponset does have a very large body though which I like as I don’t hold a pen where you would to write when I draw. I hold it halfway up or even at the far end from the nib. I immediately spotted the Ahab nib would fit so a few minutes fiddling and I had done a transplant! I’ll put a few samples below.


fountain pens, noodlers, ahab, neponsit

Here are our dramatis personae, now below what they can do on paper.


pen and ink

One I did not mention is the brush pen which is a Frankenstein creation using a Pentel brush pen with a Pentel waterbrush reservoir grafted on. Once filled with the same ink as the pens it makes solid darks and expressive foreground strokes a breeze. The ink is Noodlers as well Nathan makes a wonderful array of colours but only some are suitable for drawing. For drawing I like an ink to be light fast and also fairly waterproof. Just to be awkward I don’t want it totally waterproof a want a bit of colour to wash out. Noodlers make inks they call bulletproof which pretty much fill all those requirements. Below a set of links to suppliers etc.

Noodlers Ink Nathan Tardif’s site: Lots of interesting info for modifiers!

Pure Pens Noodlers pens and ink supplier in the UK.

Gillott Nibs alas they don’t make dip pen holders with brass tongues that act as reservoirs any more but it is easy enough to make one out of copper or brass sheet.

Ruscombe Mill Lovely paper, the link will take you to the calligraphy papers which I use, but other papers they make might well be good for pen.

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