Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

January 10, 2016

The Educated Eye

Modern classical music does not generate large sales or indeed in the grander scheme of things many listeners. That said musicians often find it interesting and challenging to play. Why is this? The question was brought to mind by some very beautiful pen drawings I saw recently, (I won’t post them as I would not wish to offend the artist) the drawings in question were fantastically detailed and beautifully drawn. I admired the way various parts had been rendered with very fine strokes. I then leafed through a few more which were much the same all of which showed a staggering degree of concentration. However after the marvelling at the application and patience I quite quickly ran out of things to admire. Every part was complete and defined, there were no bits unresolved.

The next thought to strike me was to remember how when younger I used to enjoy doing much the same sort of thing. I used to do fine stipple work and hatched drawings for magazine illustrations, not as manically detailed as the drawings referred to above but still a lot of very fine work. I can well remember working on them. Stipple is built up in many layers of dots, thousands upon thousands of them in one drawing. Areas were conquered centimetre by centimetre, hour by hour. The activity is quite straightforward and almost meditative, I well remember being actually quite thrilled at the idea of taking on something really laborious.

The two thoughts are connected I think. We all admire something that has an obviously huge amount of labour. Both Musicians and Artists like the idea of taking on a technical challenge. I have noticed over the years that painters like pictures for quite different reasons to most casual viewers. Painters will admire brushwork, drawing or a particularly nifty composition. They will often ignore subject. I’m sure that trained musicians hear fascinating technical complexities in a Birtwhistle composition rather then the tuneless random sounds that I hear.

This brings me to the main thought of this post. Experts and collectors in any field will develop an ever more sophisticated appreciation of their subject. So wine experts will gurgle and spit and mutter unlikely metaphors for what they are experiencing. However I have read that blind tasting has shown that a substantial part of their refined appreciation is in their imagination rather in the taste of the plonk. It is I suspect the same with art experts, their reactions to any piece are a complex mix of previous experience, historical perspective, desire to be seen to be liking the right stuff etc. The actual visual experience is I think way down the pecking order as the source of the reactions provoked. In a way their experience has become jaded. This happens all the time in life, of the first 200 books you read in your life many will blow you away, but once you reading tally becomes nearer to 10,000 then you are harder to please.

So how to deal with this as a painter? Do I want to paint for my peers and connoisseurs? Well yes I would like to please them, but not I feel at the expense of excluding people with less refined (or maybe less jaded) sensibilities. Also you need to try and see your work without the refined appreciation of technique that having learnt to carry out the tricky business of painting has inevitably developed. The technical stuff, both conceptual and practical, should be there but never overwhelm.

Over the years of having people visit me I have noticed that there are “picture people” who look at every picture in the room and others to whom they are apparently invisible. There is no guessing who will be interested, some artists seem to not notice pictures at all yet my window cleaner, a man with little or no education, used to examine each one carefully. I asked him if he often went to galleries to look at pictures, but he said no he didn’t feel comfortable going in he didn’t feel they were of him. I wondered how many others feel the same. Junk shops are welcoming but picture galleries are somehow unwelcoming. I even feel it myself and the aloof staff of many galleries make you feel you should not linger unless you are going to buy.

A mixed rag bag of work this time, I have been very busy with all the seasonal diversions that my posting has got behind!

I have decided to learn how to do Lino cuts… I didn’t fancy all the acid and so forth for etching and really pen drawing fills that creative slot for me. It is the limitations of the medium that attracts.

Hambledon, Dorset, lino cut, print

So here is my first attempt. The top one is as it comes out and the lower hand tinted. I was pleasantly surprised at how quick the process was. This is Hambledon Hill yet again.

 

Lino cut, print, figure, nude

For my second attempt I went for something different. I have yet to develop a set of patterns to suggest various forms, here I am experimenting with a vertical flow. The previous one I did in old fashion lino. This one I did in Easycut. I have to say that the “easy” is a misnomer, it is actually I found more difficult. Being very rubbery lines close together tend to waver and each little curl of the offcuts has to be picked off. The softness also makes over cutting and getting width variations in one stroke distinctly harder. Ink wise the first one is in water based ink which has disadvantages also. It dries on the glass rolling out plate so you have to work fairly quickly. Also it is not really waterproof when dry which makes washing with colour afterwards a delicate business. The figure is done in oil based which I found much nicer. Easier to burnish to get solid blacks and properly waterproof. The advantage of water based they say is cleaning up, but I actually found the oil based easier to clean as well. The lesson seems to be that if anyone advertises a product as easy then take the claim with a pinch of salt!

Fontmell Down, drawing, Dorset

Here is my plan for the next print of Fontmell Down Dorset. I will be using 2 plates so planning is important! Not sure if this is quite there yet.

 

Romsey, Abbey, church, drawing, hampshire, pen and ink

A bit of three point perspective of the wonderful Romsey Abbey in Hampshire. I got very into drawing this out! Acute views like this are all about compromises, I should probably do a studio version as some bits are a little awry.

 

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, landscape, drawing

This is the path to Hambledon hill fort. I am experimenting with colour mixed with the pen and ink. One great advantage of dull light is that you have plenty of time  to work on site so I got most of this done bar the foreground. With pen and wash I try to do most of the washes first otherwise the pen work softens too much. Where I want the pen work softer I can of course add another layer of washes on top, which is what happened here. The misty distance has a glaze of white over to give atmosphere.

 

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, drawing, pen and ink

Bit of a strange one. A very grey day on Hambledon Hill. I had been stuck indoors due to the monsoon and was desperate to do something but the light was terribly dull and I couldn’t settle. In the end I did this but probably shouldn’t have bothered! The lady on a white horse looked great though and I could not resist trying to put her in.

 

Shepherd Market, London, brass Monkeys, drawing

A visit to London, this is Shepherd Market. I love the rain in London and the way it brings the light down into the street. I intended to add pen but it didn’t need it in the end.

 

Curzon St, London, pen and ink, drawing

I had to have two goes at this as the first session got rained off. This is Curzon St. I love picking apart these city scenes. When you first look it all seems too much but once you are started the really important bits soon take over.

 

Piccadilly, London, drawing, street, urban

I nearly didn’t do this one of Piccadilly but having taken a snap on my phone I thought it looked interesting. It is easy to get put off by a busy scene like this, it can seem a bit overwhelming. Actually this was quite quick to do as it is just 3 washes with detail picked out on top. So after drawing the dark righthand side and the street went in in one wash. Next came the lighter lefthand buildings and finally the pavement tone. After that I drew in the darks and dark detail in with a brush. Then just the highlights and touches of colour to finish. People often ask me how I get the cars to look right, well there is no secret, just practice them draw them over and over until the basic shapes are in your memory. Once you have the ability to draw a generic car without one being present then customising them for an individual scene is much easier. Also lighting can be picked off any car as it goes by. If you wait another will be along in a second! That said the white car I partially cribbed from a snap on my phone as it was key to the whole picture. I was done in about 40min.

 

A3, Wandsworth, Pen and ink, drawing

Wonderful light and rain as I was driving home to Dorset. This is Holy Trinity West Hill Wandsworth. No I didn’t sit in the road drawing! I took a snap when stuck in traffic not really thinking of doing anything from it, but when I looked at my photos it rather took my fancy. A lot of imagination here as the phone snap was very blurry through the windscreen!

December 16, 2015

Inspiration

“I just can’t get inspired!” How often do I hear that? I feel it too, I have the vague urge to be painting something but can’t find anything that gets the juices going. With me that usually means retiring to the sofa with a book or a bit of gardening is on the cards. I have to note that this feeling only occurs when deciding for myself what to paint. I never once had the feeling in several decades of being told what to paint by others!

So what is it this “inspiration”? The Greeks and Romans believed that it was something breathed into you by the Gods or Muses. IE something coming in from the outside. The same idea held sway when Christianity arrived except it was the Holy Spirit that did the breathing. In the 18th century it became a bit mystical, a sort of divine resonance. In the 19th Freud of course thought it was unresolved childhood conflicts, but he then he would wouldn’t he.

The moments when rudderlessness strikes me are quite distinct. If I am out with the intention of painting and nothing quite takes my fancy. All plein air painters know the feeling of wandering randomly seeking a “subject”. The other time it hits me is on a wet day when I am going to have to paint from reference. Sorting through endless old photos on screen looking for the one that gets you started. Most of those photos you took had some sort of possibility seen in them when you took them. Recapturing that feeling at a later date can be nigh on impossible though.

I think for me the resonance idea of the Romantics appeals most. If a photo or a real scene triggers a cascade of possibilities and potentialities as to how the final thing might be then that prompts us into action. It is not really (or very rarely) a vision of the completed work, but a plausible course toward a hazy and perhaps worthwhile destination.

That “perhaps” tells more of the story maybe. The moment tension between, “Shall I do this? It will be great.” and “It probably won’t work, so don’t bother.” is perhaps the fulcrum of inspiration. We are programmed to avoid disappointment and the less that seems likely the more we will feel inspired! Not that anyone will be impressed if when asked what inspired you you reply, “Because it looked a good bet!” that might not gain you many artistic brownie points.

So inspiration is the imagining what I might make of something, whether idea or something seen, of how I might transform it, refine it from ore to gold. If I see a glittering golden prize then I say I am inspired, but if I see only dull lead sheet then I flop about in consumptive despair.

This means for me I fall between ancient and modern thinking, taking a little from each. As far as I can see all inspiration comes from the outside in, from the world we perceive and live in, rather than any God or some vague spiritual source. Our complex and largely unconscious psyches take this material and return it to the world transformed. Then when a person looks at the result they might see the familiar in a new way. It is this “seeing afresh” I think that is the reward that people who like to look at pictures enjoy.

Advice as to how to get inspired? Well that is tricky. The optimist will probably paint more pictures but plenty of duds. The pessimist might be harder to push into action but the results should be good if only they don’t get despairing halfway and never finish! For me I have several methods of prompting myself into action. Firstly I look at what others have done. This shows you what is achievable and brings the seeing possibilities bit of your head online. Then if you immediately look through what material you might work from you are I find more likely to spot a potential winner. We often say, “Oh I find so and so’s work so inspiring!” so put it to use. Sometimes though I just do it the hard way. I just sit down and start even though I have no proper plan or subject I am confident in. It is a risky tactic but every now and again it will produce something unexpected and exciting which pushes you out of a rut.

I have been hopping about from medium to medium recently so a very mixed bag of pictures.

 

Knightsbridge, london, plein air, oil painting, art

We have has so many dull days of late, this visit to Knightsbridge was no exception. I had not painted in London for a while so I was determined to get something from the day. The wet street is imaginary I’m afraid as it needed something to tie the background plane to the foreground. 8in by 10in Oils.

Knightsbridge, oils, london, harrods, painting plein air

This painting occurred in the previous somewhat satirical post… but I painted it straight after the previous one. It only took 25 min but everything seemed to fall into place as I worked. I could see straight away that it had potential. For the stages of the studio picture look at the previous post but ignore the sarky words! 10in by 12in Oils.

 

Farnham. church, surrey, oil painting, plein air

On my way back to Dorset next day, this is Farnham. The sun was out for just about 2 min so I had to slap on the highlights with mad abandon. A bit rough and ready but I think I have the makings of a studio picture. 10in by 12in Oils.

 

Tenby, wales, oil painting, harbour, boats

A studio picture of the harbour at Tenby based on a very quick sketch. I took the composition from the drawing which is here. I have attempted a big picture of this before and the result was pretty much a train crash so I was pleased to finish this without going off the rails. I have worked a little more on it since this photo, but only to unify and knock back the town in the background. 12in by 20in Oils.

 

strand on the Green, London, Thames, watercolour, painting

Another visit to London with the Brass Monkeys. This is the ever popular Strand on the Green near Chiswick. It is in sepia because I forgot my watercolour box and only had one tube of paint in my bag! I was fortuitous in the event as monochrome suited the dull light very well. A4 Watercolour.

 

Thames, olives Island, London, Strand on the Green, pen and ink

Strand on the Green again, this is Olivers Island and the only hint of sun we saw… a bit rushed as I needed a coffee badly! Pen and Ink.

 

Chiswick House, London, watercolour

Days are so short this time of year so the light was fading rapidly when I got to the perfectly Palladian Chiswick House. I only took me 30 min or so to draw but nonetheless I was nearly locked in the park for the night! I was going to do a painting but the photos I took are just a black silhouette.

 

Spitalfields, London, pen and ink, drawing

This is Spitalfields, all I got done after a nightmare drive across London. I must get some of these drawings printed up as I think they will make attractive cards. Pen and Ink.

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