Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

March 31, 2017

The Internet

Filed under: Dorset,Painting,Portraits,Uncategorized,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 12:20 pm

I was reading an interesting article about the ghettoisation that is beginning occur on the web. The gist was that the search engines try to find out what you like and what you believe in and then attempts to build a profile and feed you stuff that you would approve of. A little research showed it to be a strange truth. The internet is dividing us up not drawing us together. So eco folk tend to get only stories about how the planet is being ruined and fracking was invented by the devil, presumably deniers get stories about how the global warming theories are wrong and its all a plot by pinko liberal commies. You can try it yourself search for something balmy like chemtrails and it will bring up lots of views for and against. If you just click and browse the sites of the chemtrail believers then next time you search the loonies will come higher up. So people tend to exist in a tailor-made bubble of information they broadly tend to agree with rather than the full spread of wildly conflicting information.

How does this relate to art? Well as a representational painter with certain preferences I will tend to be served images and information I approve of. Also my posted images in turn will be served to those who have previously shown similar tastes. I do not mean this will be a 100% correlation, just that things that fit my profile will predominate. This process is just getting started and will I assume become more effective and widespread as time goes by. So people interested in conceptual art will get the sort of fodder that they approve of and plein air artists the same. There is nothing specifically wrong about this but it does tend to split human interests into separate bubbles that have very little cross talk. Just look at any discussion forum that propounds any view political, religious or otherwise, they consist almost entirely of people who are true believers plus a few trolls, who only serve to emphasise what horrid people those who disagree with the local majority view are.

The other thing that effects me as a painter is how much time the internet eats. You see a picture you like by a painter you hadn’t heard of and off you go searching for more and then maybe finding other related artists that painted in the same place or time. Next thing you know an afternoon has gone. It seems to speak directly to our hunter gatherer instincts. I now have folders and folders full of paintings that may, but probably won’t in some unforeseen future, inspire me to paint a better picture myself. I suppose to look at them all has been educational, but possibly not as much as painting something myself. It is much the same with kit, I recently wasted almost a whole day looking at etching presses. Reading about which types  were good and which were less so. Looking at sites that sell them (and other tempting goodies of course) or scanning ebay for a bargain second hand one.

Of course the evil web has some bonuses. As I put my paintings on line they are seen by more people than they ever would have in a previous era. It is however possibly easier to go unnoticed due to the sheer quantity of others doing the same thing. This blog is apparently the 13th most popular painting blog, the 6th if we are just counting artists. This is the result of the 10,000 or so hits I get a month. Is this all due to my nifty painting skills? Well my ego would like to think so, but a little bit of me knows that much better painters than I languish in the lower regions of popularity. So my web skills have to take some credit, I know how to make life easy for the search engines and how to attract their attention in the areas I wish them to notice.

I have written before about the feeling I get that I am only painting and drawing to supply images to be seen on screen. I don’t think that is necessarily bad though. After all musicians are mostly heard second hand in a recording, their actual live performances are in many cases never heard at all as they don’t play any gigs. Painters often forget that they are a part of the entertainment industry, not as many would like to think part of the spiritual and philosophical world. We do sensory gratification not ideas.

So hopefully here are some images that gratify more than just me in the painting of them!

dave, portrait, oil painting, zorn palette

Another portrait of Dave, who featured in my last post. Here I was trying out the Zorn palette of Yellow Ochre, Ivory Black, Cadmium Red and White. I actually liked it a lot. Reducing you choices actually smooths the process, it certainly makes remixing colours a lot easier. I intended to only do an hour on this but went about 20 min over. Annoyingly this is a better likeness than the ones where I tried harder to get his character to show through. 10in by 12in oils.

 

rob adams, self portrait, oil painting

A self portrait here, I was interested in doing a different angle again with a restricted palette. This one is Naples Yellow, Cad red, Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Umber and Tit White. I intended to just do an hour, but as the light outside was flat and unchanging I only stopped when the sun came out and realised I had been painting away for two hours! Interesting what adding a blue does. 12in by 10in oils.

 

Wareham, Dorset, river, boats, plein air, oil painting

This is the view down the river Frome at Wareham. It was very flat and hazy which rather suited this view. Only 30 odd min as it didn’t really grab me as subject. 10in by 6in oils.

 

Wareham, Dorset, church, plein air, oil painting

Wareham again, this time seen from across the marshes I actually worked on another painting (below) at the same time with the boards one above the other on the easel. The second scene was straight ahead of me and this one at right angles. 10in by 5in oils.

 

Wareham, oil painting, plein air, dorset

Here’s the view 90 degrees to the left. Amazing how the change to looking more into the light transforms the mood. You would hardly think the were painted simultaneously if they were hung side by side. Such lovely tones and subtle hues at this time of year. Soon I will have to wrestle with the spring greens. 10i by 5in oils.

 

Satans square, Sutton Waldron, oil painting, Dorset, landscape

A studio painting this time. I did this from a watercolour (below) which is something I should do more often. This is the a path that runs to the dramatically named Satan’s Square and is near Sutton Waldron. I drew it out from a photo then painted it from the watercolour, hard to resist checking the photo as you work initially, but as you get into it the temptation fades! 16in by 12in oils.

 

Sutton Waldron, Dorset, watercolour, painting, plein air

Here is the watercolour for comparison. This is mostly plein air I just did a few bits of darkening and delineating later. I love this view and will be back to paint it in some different lights. 10in by 7in Watercolour.

 

Fontmell Down, watercolour, painting plein air

This is Fontmell Down and painted just before the previous one. I wish I had taken a much wider view, which is a lesson to me to put a few differently proportioned bits of paper in the car. Went a bit grubby as I got the tone in the foreground wrong twice and had to overlay more washes than I like to normally. I was working under some strain though as the wind was attempting to blow everything up to Glasgow! Watercolour 10in by 7in.

That’s it, some London stuff next. I have sadly resigned from the Wapping Group as I now live too far away to get to their painting days on a regular basis. I owe them a great deal of gratitude for prompting me to go out and paint the river and the city which has really transformed the way I paint. Hopefully I will still join them occasionally on an ad hoc basis so it will not mean the end of cityscapes!

November 15, 2016

Gut Feelings

I was watching a video with a well known artist pondering the ins and outs of painting. There was the usual lone figure wandering the hillsides with sketch book in hand, the piano music swelled as this sensitive soul opened his heart to the underlying whispers of history and usage that imbues our 21st century landscapes. We then followed him to his paint spattered garret where he explained his methods. All well and good, (by the way I happen to like this painters work.) he then explained how he tried to take risks and followed his instincts and gut feelings rather than his head.

At this point my antennae raised, I am sure he is being honest about what he thinks is going on. However we all have to watch that bit of us that self mythologises and tries to woo the world into looking at us with respect and admiration. It was the “gut feeling” comment that set me to thinking. Most artists I know are very keen on “intuitive” painting from the “heart” or the aforementioned “guts”. Indeed it would seem we should paint from everywhere and anywhere but our brains. Firstly even though I know it is obvious we don’t paint by inspiration from any part of our giblets. Our spleens, kidneys and even our sainted pancreases play little part in the process.

Whether you like it or not it is the pathways of the brain that do the business. Yes, yes I know they are just metaphors for instinctual responses. A little look at these responses is maybe called for here. Where did they come from? What was their purpose before we painted or surfed the internet? Also there may be two things being conflated. Firstly there are muscle memory and routines of repeated action that are created by establishing pathways in the brains structure. If you do an action repeatedly, such as drawing then bit by bit certain aspects get automated. Judging angles, distances or tones for example. Just the dexterity needed to wield the brush and lay the paint on the surface. These are bits of your brain that are trained up and can run like a piece of software that does not need conscious control.

The other bit is the function that supplies quick assessment on the fly. There is not time to assess properly many things in life because to do “due diligence” would take too long and an answer is needed now. So our early man didn’t ponder whether that tigerish shaped shadow was actually a tiger he just legged it on receiving the instinctive assessment. We use this method to quickly assess people we meet. We call it first impressions, here we do usually treat them with suspicion and are usually prepared to reassess over time. David Kahneman who got the Nobel prize for his work in this area made several experiments that showed up the flaws in the process.

He sent to two groups of surgeons a description of a patient and asked them to say whether they would operate. The descriptions were identical except for one thing. In the estimate of the likelihood of success one group was told the probability was 30 percent that the patient would die, the other group was told the survival rate was 70 percent. Worryingly the 30 percenters mostly said the operation  should not go ahead and the 70 percenters said that it should. The bit of these eminent men’s brains (or maybe their guts) supplying their assessments was of course the same bit of the brain that our painter was relying on to give his work that extra something!

My suspicion of this auto assessment feature of the mind has been with me for a while. Although is is the bit that tells you something might not be quite right, it is also the bit that tells you your drawing is all right or even good when it isn’t. A quick look at a drawing in the mirror will often show this tendency up. When in everyday life the quick response feature lets us down we cheerfully confess to being mistaken, so we do understand its flaws. So why do artists elevate the automatic reaction process to a touchstone of expressiveness and sensitivity?

The answer I fear is superstition and the belief in magic. We still, despite all the evidence to the contrary,  believe we have souls. Some higher part of our being that is pure and responds to the inner rightness of things. The important thing of this extra bit of us is that it is incorporeal and thus stands a chance of surviving extinction. An idea we for obvious reasons are quite keen to believe and reluctant to question. We have decided, it would seem, that this higher self is also responsible for imbuing our paintings with extra spirit too, in some mystical, druidical “art mojo” transfer process.

We spend quite a bit of time exhorting each other to log on to this aetheric wi-fi network in order to express ourselves, tap into underlying energies and be spiritually intuitive. To be free, unrestrained by mere logic and sense etc as if our learning and more considered thinking processes were some kind of ball and chain around our creative ankles. I think this idea comes from confusing the two parts of instinctive or intuitive actions. For our hardwired dexterity and spatial assessment functions the conscious mind can put a spanner in the works as any musician will tell you. When we paint or do anything that occupies our grey matter to the exclusion of all else self awareness is often the first casualty. This is why the hours fly by when we are very involved. This does not however mean that our actions are then being directed by any “higher” consciousness we are actually using previous learnt actions and prior experiences to carry out the picture making process.

To return to our lonely painter on the hillside. Why, if he is trying to “take risks”, and follow “gut feeling”, do his paintings all turn out much the same? Could it be like the rest of us he is following well worn and hard learnt pathways? We have all pondered why, however we experiment and push the boat out, our paintings still are recognisably “ours”. At some point we have most of us decided to tear up the rulebook and do it differently this time only to find that the finished article could hang in perfect harmony next to any other examples of our oeuvre.

A bit of a mish-mash of work this time, I decided I had been rather ignoring the watercolours. For most of these paintings my liver was in charge… and kidneys of course, kidneys are very good for watercolours.

 

Bulbarrow, Dorset, oil painting, road

I think this was Okeford Hill in the background, I had been driving round the lanes on a damp day looking for a subject and thought this was interesting. However after 15min when I had only blocked in the basics the day decided to mutate into a glorious sunset. Not having any more boards with me I debated wiping off and redoing but took it home and fiddled with it in the end. I tried to go back a few days later only to discover I couldn’t remember which road I was on! I must mark scenes on the map, you always believe you will recall where good scenes are but in reality you just don’t. 16in by 7.5in oils.

 

moreton, Dorset, oil painting, ford, puddle

This is the ford at Moreton in Dorset. It doesn’t quite work and is rather like a stage set awaiting the actors, I am debating whether just to wipe it or try a rescue operation. In such situations where a painting is not particularly bad but doesn’t quite cut the mustard either I scan it in and mess with it in Photoshop rather than working in paint. This was the second larger 20in by 16in I have tried plein air and neither painting has really worked. Oils

 

rejig, moreton

Here is my idea, I am now considering whether to do it in paint! The couple came past as I was painting and I snapped them, there were horses too but they didn’t seem to work as well.

 

Dorset, Roads, oil painting, plein air

Last one of the day, I only had 20 or so minutes to get this done. Needs to be redone to a wider format but I was pleased with the mood. 14in by 10in Oils.

 

Self Portrait, Rob Adams, oil painting

It has been awhile since I did one of these. Yes folks it is me, self portraits are great fun but hard. You are never quite sure if the result looks like you which is both an advantage and disadvantage. On the one hand you just have to try and be accurate and observe methodically, but on the other the result can be lifeless. I had intended to just paint for an hour, but went on for an extra half in the end. I will try a double mirror one maybe, then you don’t end up gurning at the viewer. 10in by 16in Oils.

 

Twyford, Shaftesbury, Dorset, watercolour

This is the road to Twyford from Shaftesbury, a great view and one I will be returning to. It did somewhat try my patience with the drying so I resorted to the cars heater blower! 9in by 6in watercolour.

 

Shaftesbury, Dorset, watercolour

This is Shaftesbury, the town is quite high so we are actually in a cloud! I just drew this out in pencil and moved on, washes would never have dried in an age. It was actually great fun to watercolour later allowing bits I couldn’t remember to fade into murk and just trying to remember the atmosphere. 9in by 6in Watercolour.

 

Bedchester, tree, lane, Dorset, pen and ink, Drawing

Here I am planning another lino cut. The view is a lane near Bedchester. I am finding the pen and ink drawings very good for planning prints. I must however get some actually printed. I have two sets of blocks ready to go so need to get printing!

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