Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

July 22, 2014

Competitions, Clubs and Criticism

A lot of my painting days out are done as part of a group. With the Wapping Group painting every Wednesday and the Brass Monkeys every other Sunday I keep quite busy. I do feel perhaps I am not doing enough going out and painting by myself. The dynamic is quite different with a group of fellow painters, very pleasant of course with chatting and coffees to punctuate the painting. I think most of this posts offerings are in the group category. Rather a large gap in posting this time too as my laptop died and needed bits replacing.

I also attended the Pintar Rapido competition in Chelsea which was great fun. I was a little more organised this time and went there a few days before to decide on a subject. The previous year I wandered about looking for one and had to settle on a subject I wasn’t wholly in tune with.

The results when seen in the exhibition were as last year a mixture of all styles and levels of attainment. Interesting to see what I guess are art school students trying to paint the real world. They have almost no skills as such and have this naive idea that if they just go for it then a miracle will occur. Alas miracles are thin on the ground, but their self belief in unshakable. I talked to a few and they all seemed to feel skill was a minor consideration in painting. On the other hand they all seemed to admire it in others. I didn’t say I felt it was vital, as I wanted to gauge their feelings on the matter rather than impose my own views.

In the exhibition it was plain that some of the buyers didn’t think craft mattered either, but on the whole the well crafted sold better than the randomly intuitive, which is cheering. Another thing that struck me when whispering critical comments to a companion is how thin on the ground criticism is. We were whispering in case the artist was hovering nearby and our opinions overheard. In essence so that the person who might be the most likely benefit couldn’t possibly hear! Passing comment to the artist doesn’t really happen in the clubs either. I do sometimes offer an opinion if I see something really wrong that is easily corrected but try and restrain myself for the most part as offence is a very likely result.

It’s not that the criticism isn’t made, we judge and evaluate automatically. We also share our views with each other… but almost never with the artist themselves… which is odd really as they would surely be the ones most likely to get the most out of it. The result is that you tend to only hear anodyne  positives or inscrutable silences. I am in the habit of forcing the issue and asking for comments. This makes some uncomfortable and others will just tell you all is well whatever the real state of affairs!

Politeness is of course the reason for this lack of plain speaking. There is the uncomfortable fact that none of us welcome hearing that one of our efforts falls short and even less that it has fallen short in some way we hadn’t spotted. The truth is though we would all benefit from the clear sight of an uninvolved eye however bad the news, especially if that eye is educated.

What is needed I suppose is a forum where praise is banned and only observed room for improvement is mentioned. You would need rules of course. A comment like, “That is rubbish!” is of no use to any one. But a comment like “The perspective is out on that building.” or  “I’m not sure about that red patch as it takes the eye too much.” is useful as it gives a clue about putting something right. I have seen some attempts at this, the most successful being in the Life Drawing forum on WetCanvas. There people commented on anatomy and other aspects without too much bad feeling being expressed. However I think a forum where only critical comments were expressly required might work better. There are some I suppose for whom any negative comment is undermining and damaging for confidence, but IMO excellence in art (or indeed anything else) is a hard road and if you are that delicate then perhaps serious pursuit of it isn’t for you. On that harsh note some pictures… feel free to make painful but valid comments!


Erith, yacht club, drawing, Thames, Wapping Group

A day out with the Wappers at Erith Yacht Club. Very hot day and I was late getting there. I had just received a set of new sketch books with reproduction “Turner blue” paper. I hatched the sky but should have blocked it in with the white acrylic pen as the line work is too fussy. I might start to use white chalk as Turner himself did.


Erith, Thames, watercolour

I liked the way the light had developed so I did the same scene again. I am rather liking doing watercolour on the hot pressed paper. I tried using it years ago with little success but rather like its qualities now. I softened the clouds a little after this was scanned. I was pleased at how easy that was.


Amboise, france, watercolour, chateaux

Another historical paper effort. This is on “Girtin” type paper. Again an interesting effect. Wet into wet is almost imposssible as the paper cockles brutally.


Amboise, Romanesque, france, watercolour

This is the door of the church of St Denis in Amboise. The Romanesque part dates from 1107AD. Denis lost his head due to an axe. After his head was chopped off Denis is said to have picked it up and walked six miles from the summit of the hill preaching a sermon… 12in by 9in Watercolour. Done on Arches 140 paper from a large roll, I’m very glad I stocked up before the quality dropped!


Ransomes Dock, thames, London, Barge

Another Wapping day. This is Ransomes Dock near Albert Bridge. 10in by 10in. I thought of taking this further but decided not as it might ruin the feel which I rather liked.


Albert Bridge, Oil painting, plein air, thames, London

I had a short while on the foreshore to paint this as the tide raced in. Albert bridge is very pretty but I don’t like bridge pictures a great deal and wonder now why I bothered to paint this… dull but worthy alas! 10in by 16in.


portobello, london, pen and wash

This is Portobello, a great day with the Brass Monkeys. The road was full of life despite is being a non market day. I am enjoying the pen and wash it is great fun to splash over the pen work.


portobello, london, watercolour

Another very quick sketch, leaving out the pen this time. Portobello again.


portobello, london, pen, drawing

Last one from Portobello… it’s that Turner blue again.


Sloane Sq, chelsea, London, Pintar Rapido

Here’s my effort from Pintar Rapido. Not the greatest photo of the painting as I forgot to snap it in the open air and had to take the picture in low light at the exhibition. 12in by 16in Sloane Square, Oils. I had set my heart on a rainy painting and the forecast looked to be on my side. When I arrived the streets were wet from earlier rain but that was the last rain we saw! The reflections therefore are imaginary. I enjoyed painting it hugely and was delighted that it sold. If the buyer reads this they are welcome to bring it to my studio in about 3 months as it will need varnishing!


Rob Adams, Pintar Rapido

Here I am painting away in a somewhat colour coordinated manner.

July 7, 2014

The Loire and Normandy and Back inTown

Have been madly busy immediately on my return, slightly frustrating in that I feel I need to do some studio pictures of my trip whilst the memory of the places I have seen are still fresh. An odd thing to say about memories “fresh” like they were bread and if left out they might become stale. What happens I suspect is that your subconscious is working away filing all the experiences and producing a sort of précis of events for permanent recall. In order to do this it dumps all the fine detail!

I gave this a sort of test by looking at a recent photo of a church door in Amboise and then looking at another taken about 10 years ago of a similar subject. For the Amboise one I could recall the feel of the day, and also my own mood very early on a beautiful morning. I could feel again the ambience of a small town preparing for another day, shops taking deliveries, people going to work and the limpid beauty of the light.

For the other in Portugal I could only vaguely recall the day. I had no idea of whether it was morning or evening other only that it was at one end of the day or the other by the light. Also and more importantly no idea of my feelings towards the subject and what made me take the picture. It could have been a picture taken by a stranger.

It is an entirely different matter of course as to whether if I did a painting from each image whether one would have more resonance than the other. We like to think it would, but my calculating side tells me this is probably not so. We all like to feel that our emotions are transferred into the surface of our pictures but the truth is I fear that they are mostly not. You do not have to be sad to paint a sad picture or happy to paint an elysian vision.  I am often very motivated by the mood of an image. That does not however mean I am experiencing any particular emotional state as I paint the picture.

As I have written before it is all too easy to believe the exhortations to be “free” and “loose” when painting. I and others enjoy the impression of freedom and spur of the moment vivacity in a picture. I realise however that it does not mean it was necessarily actually done in a free and instinctive manner, it only means that the image has been made to convey that appearance. To quote Degas, “A picture is an artificial work, outside nature. It calls for as much cunning as the commission of a crime.” and also, “No art was ever less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and the study of the great masters. Of inspiration, spontaneity and temperament I know nothing.”

These are the opinions of a man who perhaps better than anyone else captured the momentary beauty of dancers. He is interesting about memory, “It is very well to copy what one sees; it’s much better to draw what one has retained in one’s memory. It is a transformation in which imagination collaborates with memory.”

I should maybe be more enthusiastic about re-visiting old reference photos for subjects. It irritates me a little when people say working from photos is just copying. If only it were so. Manipulating a photographic image into a decent painting is quite a hard thing to do. Both reality and recorded reality can be a straightjacket. I hit the same problems of what is before you restricting choice when painting plein air, if not more so. Actuality is so much more powerful than the same thing once removed in a photograph.

One thing I am pleased about my recent trip is that the oils are not abysmal as they were the year before. I very nearly didn’t take them at all but was persuaded to by friends. Maybe it is a good idea to give different media a rest now and again to refresh your interest.


Amboise, france, sketch

A very quick sketch done from a cafe whilst waiting for my meal. Amboise had no shortage of subjects from any position!


sketch, people

Some very quick sketches of people done on the ferry home. I tend to work on several at the same time as they move in and out of position.


Loire, france, oil painting, plein air, Amboise

It was with some trepidation I set out on my first oil. I chose something simple to warm up! Reflections in the Loire, 10in by 10in.


Amboise, chateaux, loire, river, france, oil painting

Next day I attempted something a little more difficult. The Chateaux from the other bank. It was so windy it broke the fitting that goes on to the tripod which I had to repair with a bit of wire I found by the water. For all that it is a magnificent edifice to see across the river I struggled to get a good composition from it. 10in by 14in.


France, amboise, trees, oil painting, plein air

Another very simple scene. This is just the other side of the river to the Chateaux. It was very lovely in the morning light. I tried this again later looking the other way but made a mess of it due to being sozzled from a wine tasting! 10in by 12in.


Amboise, plein air, oils, chateaux

Getting a bit more confident here. This is the main street in Amboise it looked fantastic against the light in the evening. 10in by 14in.


I got up a 6am to do this. It is very hard to go from unconscious to painting at an ungodly hour. I got most of this blocked in but the light changed so rapidly that I decided it was best to leave it. Had to finish up at home as I dared not work in the hotel room in oils for fear of paint on the carpets! Amboise, the round turret you see is nothing to do with defence, it houses a spiral horse ramp so the Count could ride up into the chateau with no need to dismount. Now that’s what I call luxury! 8in by 10in.


Amboise, france, chateau, oil painting

I moved straight on to this one. Again I was outflanked by the changing light but I got in the tower and the key bit of lighting and all the underlying tones. I this sort of situation you have to decide what is absolutely key to get down and what can be left. 10in by 10in. The fixing to the tripod gave up the ghost entirely so that was the end of oils for the rest of the trip. Still I am pleased with the results this time.


Dives sur mer, drawing, church

This is the Church at Dives sur Mer. This is the church from which Bill the Conquerer set out to England. I really wanted to draw the tree, the church is just a supporting character.


Honfleur, France, drawing

A little corner of Honfleur. Slightly scrappy due to two lagers being consumed to cool down…


Honfleur, pen and wash, france

Actually done before the previous drawing. Looking 180 degrees in the other direction. I love working with the pen and wash. Such a quick method of getting the subject down. That’s it for France. I still have a couple of very sketchy oils that I might yet complete.


leaden hall market, london, city, pen and wash

Back in London with the Brass Monkeys. This is Leadenhall Market. The market was closed but I loved the quiet mood. It would be hard to paint in here when the market is on. Pen and wash.


Leadenhall Market, London, city, pen and wash

The second from the Market. I am really enjoying the pen and wash.


That’s all for this post. I now have to get down to some studio work!

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