Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

October 10, 2015

A Trip to Pembrokeshire

My first trip to Pembrokeshire in a while… and no chance to paint… With old friends so lots of talk, laughter, food and walking. Being a tourist rather than a painter lots of photos to bore friends with when they come to dinner… there is nothing more tedious than photographs of other people having a good time in a lovely place! All I managed while there art wise was one small pen and ink, but I still wanted to get some paintings done to recall the weekend.

So once home what can you do? I find if I am going to paint quick studio paintings from reference then I need to do it as soon as possible after the shot is taken. I find after that I really struggle to remember how it felt to be there. I do bigger studio paintings from reference but that is a different and longer process involving sketches and multiple photographs. Painting quick a la prima sketches from single images is a different and I think more difficult thing. You are very at risk of having the photo make every decision for you. To counter this I try and paint very quickly and also several times whilst painting put the reference aside and work from memory. If I am lucky I find that at a certain point the painting gains a life of its own and becomes an independent thing, a memory prompted by a photograph rather than a copy.

Once I have decided to paint from an image I first look at how I can break the image down to simple tonal areas. Then I decide what my palette is to be. I find restricting the palette helps a great deal. Then you cannot mimic the colours of your reference but have to mix equivalents. (this is a good policy I find with plein air also!) I then look at the arrangement of things and think, “How could it be better?” by better I mean have more sense of atmosphere and a simple underlying structure.  I turn the image into a monochrome version to assess the actual tones. Colours confuse our sense of tone so it is far easier to see the relative tones with colour removed.

With all that thought about if not all decided upon I mix the colours. It is so much easier with oils I find to mix the colours first. There is often not time en plein air but in the studio it is well worthwhile. When you do this you can put your lightest light and darkest dark on the palette and then set the mid tones to lie between them. I very rarely use full white in a painting so this process makes sure you do not automatically use the full tone range but set a key (range of tone) that leaves you room to manoeuvre when the time comes to accent and add punch at the end. It is far easier to paint if all the tones are there on your palette organised in hues. The mistake many people make is mixing too little. In the end you will not waste paint because the left over colour nearly always gets absorbed into the mixes for the next painting.

Once started I found the first one was very lifeless and in the end rubbed it off and started again another advantage of no time pressure and a studio setting. The next attempt went better and I got properly in the swing. When the point comes where you forget yourself and the time starts to flow by then usually the painting benefits. Before the oils I did some quick watercolours to get myself immersed in the subjects.


Tenby, pen and ink, drawing, wales, pembrokeshire

Here is the one drawing I got done. This is Tenby, a place I would love to spend a few days painting in. It has the lure of some very obvious scenes that get painted too much, but has a lot more to offer as the dramatic headland it is built over allows some great and unexpected viewpoints.


Tenby, watercolour, wales, painting, pembrokeshire

Here is one of those Tenby views. The narrow street runs steeply up from the harbour giving a great perspective. You actually could not do this painting on site as you would be mown down by the constant stream of 4×4’s driving up the hill! Only a 1/8th sheet but I painted it with a big sable keeping everything quite wet. Even though I was not trying to be very precise you have to take great care over the perspective in scenes like this where the road is going uphill. If you get lines at the wrong angle the feeling of buildings stepping up a hill is soon lost. I put a few soft lines in first to guide the angle. Watercolour.


pembrokeshire, watercolour, painting, wales, cliffs, sea

The coast path in Pembrokeshire is a wonder but tricky to paint. There is a tendency to over cook the turquoise which makes it more Med than Wales!


Chamber Tomb, Pentre Ifan, Newport, watercolour, painting, wales

This is the chamber tomb of Pentre Ifan near Newport. It is sited in a wonderful position and should be easy to paint but I have failed to paint it decently quite a few times now. This attempt wasn’t too bad and at least captures a little of the mood. I felt it was a little tight so I did it again giving myself only 20 min.


Pentre Ifan, Chamber Tomb, Newpoit, wales, watercolour, painting

Here it is again different but not really better! I shall have a crack at it with the oils I think.


Wales, Pembrokeshire, Narberth, oil painting, art

First go with the oils. This is Narberth a distinctly posh Pembrokeshire town. The first attempt got bogged down so I wiped it off and started afresh. It still needs some adjustment of the distant tones which need to be a tiny bit softer and bluer but I will dry brush over once it is dry. 10in by 14in Oils.


Coast path, cliffs, sea, pembrokeshire, wales, oil painting

This is on the wonderful Pembrokeshire coast path. I have painted here before in a force 8 gale so a studio picture was far more comfortable to do! Not sure this is quite finished some of the distant cliffs need softening a little. I have already adjusted the horizon after I made this scan as the whole thing falls off bait too much to the right. I did this to counter the lean on the figure but rather over did it. 10in by 16in Oils.


Pembrokeshire, newport, parrog, wales, oil painting, art

This is the Parrog which is the harbour at Newport. When I was walking and saw this I could see it as a painting and tried to hold on to the memory! Quite hard and close tones but fun and quick to paint. 10in by 16in Oils.


Pembrokeshire, wales, painting, sea, cliffs

Last one. Back on the coast path again. It was very still and warm for October. I painted the foreground with a knife which is unusual for me. I must use it more. I am slightly put off because I rather dislike knife paintings where the impasto seems to perform no function. For the scraggly growth on the cliff edge it was just the thing though. Like all techniques if the technique starts to dominate then it ruins the picture. Paintings about how things are painted are I tend to find rather tedious! 10in by 14in oils.

October 1, 2013

Imagination and Some Reflections on Reflections

Imagination is something I use differently nowadays. In the past much of my work was derived from my imagination. For work I had to paint things that either didn’t yet exit, had never existed or didn’t exist anymore. Painting from life however doesn’t require the subject matter to be conjured up from the imagination. There it is in front of you every detail in place. So much so indeed that I spend most of my mental effort winnowing out the important bits from the mass of information that the world presents me. Imagining stuff away is one way to think of it I suppose.

I do wonder though if I have rather gone too far down the road of the literal. I don’t want anymore to paint things that are implausible but that does not necessarily mean I need to paint the world just as it presents itself to me. I feel I need to perhaps adjust the way I evaluate scenes. I need a bit more “That scene would be great if…” and if an idea presents itself there is no real reason why I shouldn’t act on it. I was in Jermyn St a few week ago and it rained making the scene very beautiful with the wet street bringing the sky tones down into the road and pavement surfaces. Alas I had no camera with me. A few days later I had to visit it again and the light was very much the same but it was dry. The rain made all the difference though and Jermyn on a grey day with no rain didn’t inspire me. I took photos nonetheless and am considering making the street wet using imagination rather than observation. Part of me though says this would be untrue to the scene.

There is I suppose a question of degree here. I quite often see people paint a scene on a grey day as if it is sunny. Indeed some painters seem to always paint the same day whatever the real meteorological conditions are. This doesn’t mean to say the paintings aren’t nice enough it just causes me to be a little puzzled. However I think in Jermyn St case there is a decent reason to re-imagine the scene, after all I did see a possible painting on the wet day. I cannot however claim to have enough of a photographic memory to recall exactly how it was. So I am left with either waiting for a wet day and returning or just imagining the rain.

As I am keen to get on with this one I will have to go about this somewhat as I would do for an entirely imagined illustration. I will get reference of other wet days on different streets and work out what the reflections would do. It is actually quite easy to work out where reflections will fall. Below is Jermyn St sans reflections.

This is typical of how I plan a studio picture. I have arranged the figures etc and blocked out all the salient information without getting into any real detail. I have also shifted stuff around a bit to reinforce the diagonals as the composition is almost square. I now need to rough out my reflections. As a general rule anything reflected is mirrored about a line where it touches the ground plane. There’s a sentence to make you think! Below is that simple rule carried out.

Take a moment to see what is going on here. The red indicates the lines about which things are mirrored. So Our nearby couple are flipped vertically about their feet. As are the next two figures. You can also see the line I have flipped the post box about. The car is parked level with the tree so I have flipped both the tree and the car about the same line. This tells me where the dark reflection of the tree will fall in the road. Obviously because all the surfaces are rough not like glass none of these reflections will be perfect which gives me quite a bit of leeway. I will also stretch the reflections a little further down as it is a rule that the rougher the surface the further the reflections will stretch down. This is especially true with water so I will do another little sketch to show why this is so.

Here we have a simple scene with a maritime flavour. A fishing boat on a day where the sea has gentle swell and our painter on the shore. If you follow the blue line you can see that close to the boat a fair bit of the wave will reflect the boat and only a small part of the sky. So that near to the boat the reflection will be pretty solid with only thin slithers of sky. If you follow the red line however you should be able to see that less of the wave will reflect the boat making the reflection a slither of dark in mostly bright reflected sky and also that you can still catch glimpses of reflected boat quite close to the shore. This is what stretches the reflection down, it is also what causes the reflection to fade out as the chances of a bit of ship appearing in the reflection diminish. Above I have scribbled a rough idea of the result.

As an aside you often see a bright streak cut through the reflection, this is where the wind has ruffled the water so that small ripples cross the larger waves at an angle. These ripples reflect mostly sky with only a very small line of boat so they appear bright in comparison. If the sun is say of to the right they might catch the direct rays of the sun and appear considerably brighter than the surrounding sea.


Jermyn St, Mayfair, London, Oil painting, rain

Here is the Jermyn St painting mostly done. I shall leave it to consider for a week or two before glazing here or there to either knock back or strengthen. I

always seem to need that time to give emotional distance with studio paintings. 20in by 20in oils.


Bugsbys Reach, London, Thames, O2 Dome, Plein air

This is the wonderfully named Bugsbys Reach near Greenwich. A blustery and changeable day with the Wapping Group. When the light is changing rapidly

oils is far easier than watercolour, you can dash in the the sudden shafts of light on the water when they occur. Any plein air is really an impression of a

period of time not just the snapshot of one single moment. 10in by 16in oils.


Thames Barrier, London, plein air, oil painting

Next I went further East and panted the Thames Barrier, a very hard bit of drawing I wish I had had a wider board. Not one to frame but good practice.

It was very windy for the last half hour forcing me to paint with one hand steadying the pochade. 10in by 12in oils.


St Martins Lane, London, watercolour, plein airAn experiment using white acrylic and watercolour. I deliberately laid in the washes too strongly as I intended to add lights after. The acrylic is better

I find than gouache as it gives cleaner whites. Also you can overlay washes to tint it. I was careful to use a cheap sable for that bit of the work as acrylic

is death to brushes! Most of it is plein air but I reworked the figures a fair bit. All in all a good way of painting city subjects as they can be too much for pure

watercolour making it slow and so you can miss the passing light. A small pot of premixed acrylic adds nothing to the weight of my kit. I pre mix it to the

consistency I like and put it in a screw top jar, I also put a ball bearing in so it will mix when shaken. It is of course St Martins Lane, 1/4 sheet.


newport, pembrokeshire, wales, boats, sea, watercolour

This is Newport in Pembrokeshire. An exercise in keeping those washes clean! I had to be very careful to keep the tones close and subtle.

1/4 sheet watercolour.


Isleworth, thames, watercolour, plein air, river

The last meeting of the season for the Wapping Group. This is a hazy morning on the Thames at Isleworth. The haze stayed most of the day which made

the light really interesting and allowed for quite leisurely working. 1/4 sheet watercolour.


Isleworth, Karl Terry, Derek Daniells, Rowan Crew

Here’s a picture of them hard at work. Near to far Karl Terry, Rowan Crew and thinking about starting Derek Daniells.


Isleworth, the london apprentice, thames, watercolour, plein air, wapping group

The tide was far down allowing us to sally forth onto the fore shore. This allows some great perspectives on the buildings on the bank. The pub is

The London Apprentice at Isleworth. 1/4 sheet watercolour.


Isleworth, thames, watercolour, plein air

Last one. Done in my Moleskin as the light faded. To finish the day we went into the pub for the traditional Wapping Group end of season meal of whitebait.

Not for some but I rather like it. Very pleasant to end the day with food, beer and banter!

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