Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

March 11, 2022

New places, same me.

Filed under: Cornwall,Devon,Dorset,London,Painting,Portraits,Thames,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 2:05 pm

I stopped this blog a few years ago as I had got well settled in Dorset and was too caught up with a new places, new people, music, painting an unfamiliar place and the general blizzard of life. I was also short of new takes on old topics and felt I was rehashing previous posts. As I age I have more difficulty being certain of my own position on any subject, which doesn’t help with creating posts. It is perhaps bad to be dogmatic, but worse to have opinions that are so vague and nebulous as to be similar to having no opinion at all.

I had left London just as I was making headway with getting known. I was regularly in the exhibitions of the various societies and a Member of the Wapping Group. I met with others to paint most weeks. I was having fun and actually making a living at this strange occupation called painting. I threw all that away and moved to Dorset. From and urban first floor flat in Deptford to a 17th century cottage in Dorset. I still don’t quite know why, some part of me came to a turning in the road looked down it and thought, why not?

Age is one aspect, it changes the focus of your ambition. As a young or middle aged person you look at the future and wonder where you might journey. What you might achieve in the eye of the world, in other words success. This inevitably looses appeal as the future gets smaller. As Woody Allen said, “I don’t want to be immortal through my work, I want to be immortal by not dying.” When it comes down to it I have no interest as to whether my work is remembered or dumped in a skip when they clear my house.

This might sound a little depressing, but in reality it is rather liberating. All that wanting to be noticed and recognised is just a distraction really. With that mostly gone as a driving force I find I still paint just as much. Long term ambitions are replaced by short term ones, just to know whether the current painting flies or dies. The other thing that never palls is craft. How can I do this thing called painting better, differently or more subtly? How can I dance the line between what is being painted and how it is painted in a more elegant or appropriate manner?

I re-read the paragraph above and might also suggest an opposing view. Ambition is gone but what remains is mere habit. After a long lifetime doing nothing outside the visual arts I don’t know of any other way of filling my days. The hours are there and painting is a way of filling them, a pleasant distraction. In other words therapy, a way of staying sane. I find I can hold both of these views at the same time. As to which is more true and valid I have not the faintest idea or any wish to know.

Another thing that was perhaps to blame for squeezing out the blogging was music. To my surprise the music scene in Dorset is very vibrant, so music fills an ever greater part of my days. As with painting the only ways to get better are practice and refining your understanding. Music has always been a contrasting and perhaps balancing interest for me. With painting the results of your labours pile up and clutter the walls and the attic. With music the notes hang in the air for a moment and are gone.

Which brings me neatly to the purpose of this blog. It’s original intent was just to map my progress as I moved from being a commercial artist to one who painted pictures to frame and hang on the wall. From theme parks to decor. As I went along it mutated into a one person forum to help me understand what the hell this business I was engaged in actually was and how that might contrast with how I and others wanted it to be seen. That the blog became popular and others enjoyed my rather random thoughts was a complete surprise.

Over the years blogging has become supplanted by social media. Many artists now in reality paint just for their Instagram account. Is the final result of your labours a painting for someone’s wall, or a generator of likes? I understand the process, getting likes and followers gives that delicious hit of serotonin that we all love. Social media is cruel though, it moves relentlessly into the future, it leaves a trail of images that nobody ever looks at. You have to feed the monster regularly or you will be quickly forgotten. It is at root entertainment, but when everyone is an entertainer where is the audience to come from?

I look at my own account. My followers are painters… and those I in turn follow… painters too. It is not a comfortable thought, but the word ‘incestuous’ springs to mind. The other thought that emerges is that other painters are perhaps not my ideal audience. It is lovely to be appreciated by your peers and I consider their opinions on my efforts more seriously than those from others. They however are mostly not the people who are going to hang my product on their walls. I have done open studios with Dorset Arts Weeks for a few years now and those who buy my pictures are for the most part not artists, maybe they buy them because they don’t know any better.

So some pictures. What have I been up to in these intervening years? Far too many to post so I have decided on quick scoot through the missing 3 years. The last bit of 2019 before the world ended here we go.

The nearby Piddle valley has several interesting villages strung out along it. This one is about as big as I get en plein air, 24in by 12in.

Why do I paint self portraits? I have not the faintest idea. I like them done by others, I could type some guff about honesty and inner life. Are they a glimpse into the inner workings of the artist or just a painting of an old bloke on an aluminium chair? Your choice.

Sometimes I rest my camera on the dash and leave it filming as I drive through Corfe. The castle does a great reveal as you approach. 16in by 12in. I thought this one would sell but it didn’t… another one for the attic.

My last visit to Richmond, hardly been back since. I miss the Thames and the life along it. 10in by 8in.

Combe Martin. I bought a huge MPV that is half turned into a camper. This was one of my early expeditions to Devon. I started this in a patch of shadow standing in a rock pool… the sun came round and I proceeded to bake. Odd how paintings carry the memory of the day they were painted. I look at this and I can even remember the vile coffee I had at the cafe. Not in the attic, sold this one… I actually sold most pictures painted on this trip which means I should go back maybe. 14in by 10in.

You never know when you will paint a good one. It is a rare thing for me to like one of my own paintings. This was done in a rush on Bridport’s market day. I had no sooner set up than someone started to set up a stall almost on my toes. I was going to finish it off but it looked like just enough next day so I left it. Still in the attic so the buying public has different tastes to me. 16in by 8in.

Swanage, I love the old school seaside atmosphere of the place. Studio painting and on someone’s wall rather than in my attic. 20in by 16in.

More seaside, Weymouth this time. I love Dorset’s slightly faded seaside towns. In the attic this one but I still have hopes of getting it on someone’s wall. 12in sq.

I had a moment of pointillism with this one of Bath abbey. I am sorry and it won’t happen again. 16in by 12in.

A plein air sketch…

A studio version from the same day. You can now have a discussion as to the merits of each. Don’t do it in my hearing though as I don’t give a rat’s arse as to where or how a picture was painted.

Plein air, standing on a tiny ledge with the wind ripping at me and rain coming in horizontally. Guy ropes on the tripod and the painting rattling away making it hard to get the brush in the right spot.

Studio painting of same subject. Nice comfy studio, breaks for coffee. No rush an hour here and there, bit of a tune on the flute then back to it. 20in by 12in.

Last one before the pandemic hit. The Stour at White Mills. Mostly water the bit of land at the top is just a supporting actor. 12in sq.

That’s 2019 caught up with. Next we have the strange tale of what happens when you lock an old bloke into a cottage all by himself for a year or so.

February 9, 2019

Loose and free…

Filed under: Devon,Dorset,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 11:57 pm

Loose and free, so so many voice the desire to arrive at this painterly nirvana. This transcendental moment when we express our selves in paint as naturally as breathing. Intuitive, expressive, instinctive… these words are often dancing in close attendance when artists convene to share their hopes and ambitions. I hear this mantra again and again… and in weaker moments I have supinely agreed. It is after all received wisdom that nearly all would accept. Except I don’t. It speaks to the part of us that would like hard things to be easy or at least become easy. My experience is alas that it never becomes easy, or even easier.

The dreadful thing is that to an external observer watching you do your thing it does look easy. Many artists make a good living churning out videos with tinkly music as they make paintings fly effortlessly off the brush and never ever go wrong. They never stamp on their daub and go off in a huff. They almost all, with a few honourable exceptions, recite the mantra of keeping it loose. They also raise the fear of the demon that hovers at the shoulder of many painters… the demon of overworking, the wicked being that lures you into making one stroke too many. If you make that evil stroke the painting will be ruined there is no going back.

Always there is the nagging, don’t put in too much, less is more, let the brushstroke lie and don’t fiddle. For beginners I feel this is a little cruel and also I suspect not entirely honest. I would lay money that all these super free painters have dark secrets in the bottom drawers of their plan chests… those early drawings where every leaf is defined, every root lingered over. There is also the heretical suspicion that maybe they gained the ability to appear loose and free via an extended period of drawing kittens with every hair defined! Maybe there is even that secret pencil drawing of Elvis done from a photo using an 8H pencil with a scalpel point.

Why is control and cool calculated precision so evil? If it is then we must avoid enjoying Breughel or Van Eyck. Escher is a no no. None of the beautiful books of hours are worth a candle. Chardin, Vermeer and so many others must be consigned to the dustbin. Degas because he fiddled for France, so much so that you can’t date many of his works as he fiddled with them over decades. He liked to comment that the just flown off the brush appearance is a lie and likened it to a crime done in secret. Which is interesting as it is about this moment that the myth of instinctual expressiveness was being developed. There was nothing Degas enjoyed more than tweaking the noses of other painters if they got too above themselves.

Really the whole unify, simplify, keep it loose mantra only refers to impressionism which is only a very small style backwater. It is essentially the art of painting something that looks like you did it while squinting when you left your glasses at home. This allows the viewer to squint in turn and marvel at how clever they are to manage to see the donkeys and holidayers frolicking on the beach with only a few well chosen blobs of paint as clues. I am being deliberately provoking here obviously as it is the area of painting I am involved in myself. What I do want to get across though is that it is only one avenue out of many to explore. Not a gold standard that needs to be stuck to or indeed a formula for good painting.

I have just trawled the internet for good how to do its. Most are unbelievably bad, but one thing that stands out amongst the ones I felt were good is that they were all very systematic. They always went from A through to J (X  or Z would be over finishing obviously) there seems to be no getting it wrong knocking it all back and bringing it forward again. The watercolorists especially work from broad to key details and from light to dark. The oil painters patch areas together like a quilt over a mid tone block in. All in all not very free or exuberant even if the final result looks that way. This in turn makes me wonder about the anally retentive tinkly music… if you are free… really really free, surely you would be painting to the Pogues and pogoing while you splashed paint in the general direction of your canvas. I might float the idea with APV films.

There we go that is most of the painters offended, now for some of my own crimes.

Dartmoor, Devon, plein air, oil painting

I have a new development… I have always fancied having a painting wagon so I could overnight without getting cadmium red all over a hotel’s towels. So I could camp out near my scene and be up and at it before the sparrows had broken wind. So I finally bit the bullet and purchased a suitable vehicle with spartan but adequate internal arrangements to cook and sleep. This is my first outing… yes children it rained… oh God how it rained. In the middle of the night on the middle of Dartmoor I needed carry out a call of nature. The rain was horizontal so I decided that taking all my clothes off and just getting wet was the best option. Very bracing I have to say and now several sheep are in therapy. However as the rain was approaching I just about had time to paint this. 12in by 7in Oils.

Moretonhampstead, Devon, Dartmoor, plein air, oil painting

Next morning Dartmoor was entirely absent and the rain and wind were rocking my little home from home. Bodily needs were nagging me again too. I had passed through Moretonhampstead on the way and noted a public loo in the carpark… which pretty much decided my next painting venue. After eating a breakfast that knocked at least a year off my lifespan I parked my van inconveniently for all the locals and painted this from under the shelter of the back lifting door. 10in by 7in Oils.

Blytheswood, dartmoor, Devon, plein air, oil painting

I decided to head for the coast but got distracted in Blytheswood by a let up in the rain… I got 30 min on this before the heavens opened again. I must fiddle with the trees on the left but painting the water was great fun. 10in by 7in Oils.

Sidmouth, Devon, plein air, oil painting

I was just getting near to Sidmouth when I found a cosy carpark with a great view. I have to glaze the right hand side to soften it but it was great fun perched on a narrow bank trying to get this wide view in. Then to bed in the van feeling a little more cheerful but still a little damp. 24in by 8in Oils.

Sheep, Dartmoor, oil painting

Next day it bucketed down so I just drove home. The day after I painted this from a phone snap taken through the rain smeared windscreen. It sort of summed up the whole expedition… one of the sheep winked at me as it went by. A few days later I went shopping in Lidls, they had fold up buckets for a fiver… I bought one. 24in by 8in Oils.

Twyford, Shaftesbury, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

After the trauma of Devon I went out to Shaftesbury and on the way came across this scene which I had painted before in less than ideal light. We had to wait for the rain to stop but the wet road made a wonderful ribbon of light as it led away to Twyford. 24in by 8in Oils.

Off to Wales next… but staying in a nice warm bungalow…


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