Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

June 18, 2018

Making an Exhibition of Myself

Well I have had 16 days of open studios. More than 600 people marched or mooched, depending on mood, through my house and admired my decor whilst briefly glancing at the pictures on the walls. I sold 25 pictures so a buyer every 24 people… though less actually since some bought more than one. I set myself up to paint and draw throughout as a sort of educational how to do exhibit or should I call it performance art? I had about a hundred works on show so I am pretty pleased with the way it went.

I am not shy about painting while people watch, that is one thing being a plein air painter prepares you for. What was fascinating though was watching people look at my paintings. There seem to be a few different sorts of art gazers. There are the skimmers, they zip round in a trice, some seem merely to revolve once in the room and they are done. They seem to scan in order every picture getting the briefest of glances. Their visits are over in minutes and they never buy anything. Next fastest are the skippers. They take a more random approach flicking past most paintings then diving in close for a better look every now and again. They don’t look in order and if they return to a painting more than twice it is time to chat with them… a sale is unlikely but you never know. Next are the browsers. They are going to look at everything in order. Some paintings are briefly assessed others given the third degree. They often look at a painting move on then dodge back again as if something has struck them. Browsers are definitely potential buyers. Next slowest are the indexers, they give each work the same length of gaze and do them in order, they never go back to look twice and never buy anything. Then we have the enthusiasts they bounce around admiring things gasping and ooing and ahing if they like something. They raise your hopes but alas they are usually other artists! Then the rarest bird of all, the collector, they always grab a price sheet and move quite briskly from picture to picture pausing occasionally to make a note against a  title on your list. They might go away without buying but if you are lucky they will return once they have thought about what they like and they might buy more than one.

After you have watched a hundred or so peruse your efforts it becomes clear that some pictures are the stars of the show. Mostly they are not the ones you expect to appeal. There was one small, soft and subtle painting of Portland which garnered many gazes despite being in a corner and high on the wall. Damned if I know why… but if I could work out a theory I’d be rich! One thing that pleased me was that my pen drawings were a hit. I had put them in amongst other works last time and they got rather lost, so this time I grouped them on two adjacent walls. It worked almost too well, they out sold the oil paintings! It has decided me to work towards an exhibition of just pen drawings at some future date. Prints also went down well so I shall persevere there too. Now it is all over I am at a bit of a loss, but am painting in France soon so that will perk me up.

So here are my efforts from the 16 days. It was a little odd getting just 10min here and there to work. Short bursts interrupted by chatting to visitors and meeting and greeting.

Corfe castle, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing

I had decided to do Corfe from Nth, Sth, East and West, this is looking South. As I was marooned in my house I had to work from reference. I remembered I had needed to clamber all over the hill when I was taking photos to get everything in an interesting relationship. The day had been dull so the lighting here is largely imaginary, the result could almost be moonlight.

beaminster, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing

Another day another drawing. Beaminster was my next victim. On this day I had painted one view of the church only to find a much better one a few yards round the corner! With no time left to linger I had to take a quick snap and moved on. With tonal pen drawings the more dark the image the more work it is. Here though I used my new Fude pen that can make very broad lines, which somewhat reduced the task.

Corfe Castle, pen and ink, drawing, Dorset

Here is the next view of Corfe looking West. Monday was bit slow with the visitors so I could take my time. I love the chunky marks the Fude pen makes, you can really give weight to the foreground tones.

Corfe Castle, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing

Tuesday was another Corfe drawing, here we are looking East. I actually didn’t get this completed so it was Wednesday’s drawing too. Usually I would complete one of these in a couple of hours so a drawing dragging on over two days was a little odd.

Corfe Castle, Dorset, Pen and ink, drawing

The last of the Corfe ones this is of course looking North. You can see the thick Fude lines in the shadow on the road. This one sold next day.

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing

During the brief snow we had here in Dorset I had climbed Hambledon hill to paint and was amazed at how the snow had brought out the shapes in the ground. Not the easiest subject in pen and ink but great fun to do. It will I hope become a Lino cut at some future date.

I realised at this point that I had better start pushing the oils, so I changed medium.

Dorset, plein air, Plush, oil painting

I actually got out to paint this quickie near Plush. The evening light was gorgeous and it was great to be outside to paint after being mewed up indoors. Oils 16in by 10in.

Wellington Clock Tower, Swanage, Dorset, oil painting

Back to working from reference. This is the Wellington Clock Tower in Swanage. I did a watercolour of this en plein air, as I was packing up the clouds rushed in and I rather liked the mood, but had no time to paint it. Oils 14in by 10in.

Dancing ledge, Jurassic Coast, Dorset, sea, oil painting

Next day I felt like doing a bit of sea. Also I have to give a talk on sea painting later in the year. I have done several others for the talk, but they keep on selling! this is Dancing Ledge, I went several times a year ago as I had a commission. 14in by 10in Oils.

Corfe Castle, Dorset, oil painting

I had enjoyed doing the drawing of Corfe so I decided to do a painting of the same view. It was a very busy day so I painted this in fits and starts. 14in by 10in Oils.

Fortuneswell, Portland, Dorset, oil painting, Chesil

I was getting into the swing of it now so I took on this view of Chesil looking over Fortuneswell. It had to be seriously reorganised to make any kind of a composition so it was fun trying out different options from various reference pictures I had taken on different days. 12in by 10in Oils.

Pembrokeshire, cliffs, oil painting, sea

More sea! This time it is Pembrokeshire. I wanted to experiment with the knife to try and get the sparkle of the water. I was really getting into the routine of painting a bit chatting a bit now so I just did the knife work in stages. It was vital here to get the underlying tones of the sea right. It is very easy to get it too light then the highlights won’t sparkle. 10in by 14in Oils

Portland Bill, lighthouse, Dorset, oil painting

This is the lighthouse at Portland Bill. Another one where I took a quick snap after finishing a different view. This one had been sitting as a basic block in up in my studio for a month or more. Again very good control of tone was needed a many areas were quite close toned but the contrasts had to be there without being too harsh. 24in by 12in Oils.

cardigan, sea, waves, oil painting

Another bit of sea for my talk. A bit more Welsh sea near Cardigan. You have to be so careful painting stormy seas as too much structure and there is no movement, not enough and it is just foam soup! Here I merged the features of about 10 photos picking bits here and there. I kept on defining and then blurring back until I felt I had the right balance of movement and structure.

That’s it I was surprised how much I got done during the exhibition. Many thanks to all those who came and took a look and even more thanks to those who made appreciative noises or even bought something. Being a painter is an odd business and a little bit of positive feedback really spurs you on, now I have to get back out and paint pictures from the real stuff!

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…

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