Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

July 25, 2016

I Know what I Like

Filed under: Dorset,London,Painting,Thames,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 10:36 am

Well we all do, don’t we? My interest in this post is how those “likes” are shaped. Also, as artists, should we allow those likes to shape the work we do? This is prompted by the experience of putting up studio paintings and the sketches for them on social media. You can guarantee that people will pipe up to say that they far prefer the sketch. However in my last show I had several sketches and the paintings that finally resulted on the wall together. The studio pictures got the gaze time and the comments , the sketches mostly got ignored. The computer screen of course puts a 24inch oil and a 7in watercolour on an even footing which might be part of the reason.

This led me to consider what element of appreciation of a thing is taught to us by our upbringing and peers. A Victorian person would I suspect find a modern minimal apartment sparse and unwelcoming, and a thirty something today would find a Victorian parlour cluttered and dark. Both spaces might be perfectly practical to live a life within, so I would suggest that the way we choose to perceive them has changed.

This has ramifications for how I paint I feel. There are many ways of looking at a painting. Take a Breughel and just do a quick glance. What did you get? My guess is not a great deal just a general impression of complexity. Take a Munch, a quick glance at “The Scream” is a very different experience, the image delivers its freight of emotion instantly. Which one would reward the most if it was on your wall for a year though? My guess is that it is the Breughel that would garner the most looking time.

I am not, I hasten to add, assigning artistic merit by this measure. Only proposing that there are many different ways of looking. There is the quick high impact look, over in a moment, and the long accumulative look that might take years. Logically there must of course be all sorts of other ways and durations of looking. For many, painters especially our fast forward world today, the quick look or impression is all important. I hear the phrase “Over worked” or “Tight” used if anything is at all detailed or finished. The holy grail is looseness, expressiveness  and freedom all of which cater for and aid the rapid appreciation of a work. None of these things is true of the Breughel though, but I still feel his paintings are among the great artistic creations of man.

Artists tend to scorn detail, but the general public stubbornly loves it. I myself cringe slightly when someone says one of my pen drawings is wonderfully detailed. I want to protest out loud that it is mostly only random hatching that they are interpreting as detail that is not actually present. I have to conclude I suppose that in large degree we like what we are taught to like. Extending the range of what we are able to appreciate takes effort and an open mind. I am always nowadays a little uncomfortable uncomfortable when another artists dismiss and entire genre of work with a wave. “Mere Illustration” is one I hear a lot, I counter with the fact that the Sistine Chapel ceiling is illustration, but usually to no avail! If something is illustrative it is of a lower degree, what I am trying to say here is that such opinions are often more guided by fashion rather than actual aesthetic consideration.

Sadly it sometimes seem the case that people don’t allow themselves to enjoy certain things. They have a set of criteria that guides what they will appreciate. So a Victorian morality piece by Quiller Couch Orchardson would be dismissed even if it (as they mostly were) was beautifully composed and painted. Even more oddly these criteria have a strange irrational flexibility, so a Hieronymus Bosch from the 15C might be appreciated as art but a contemporary image in a similar vein might be dismissed as “fantasy” and not given a fair look.

I am far from being immune to this kind of snap judgement myself, but do attempt to make the effort to recognise that the “automatic” assessment might be poorly founded and take a second look.

Due to the dampness in France I did more oils than I expected in France, which got me fired up to do more on my return. I am trying to paint each day in “office hours” which does really help to keep the paintings coming.

 

Fontmell Down, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

This is Fontmell Down, I went up to do the main view which I have done several times before. In the end though I did this less dramatic subject, it is really just a cloud study. 10in by 14in Oils.

 

Child Okeford, Dorset, Plein air, Oil Painting

I haven’t managed to do many plein airs of my local village Child Okeford so this moment when the sun glimmered through after rain was fun to do. I might re scan it as it was very wet when this was done which makes the tones cruder than they really are. 12in by 12in Oils.

 

Shaftesbury, oil painting, St James

This is St James’ seen from Shaftesbury. I actually started this last year but got stuck. It seemed to have potential when I was going through my heap of unfinished and outright disasters so I set about finishing it. It is always hard to paint big areas of nothing much that have to be vaguely like undergrowth and layers of trees. The temptation is to define them and make them coherent, where in real life they are not that way at all. 12in by 20in Oils.

 

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, oil painting

I wish I had photographed the different stages that this one of Hambledon Hill went through. My first lay in felt somehow wrong. It is always annoying when something almost works but you just can’t put your finger on why it misses the target. A few days later when I came back to it I decided to re draw and it then look like a comic strip panel with black outlines. Crude as that was it did allow me to see where to go with it. Some bits may be glazed back yet but am happier with it for now. I made the mistake of posting the watercolour sketch on Facebook which garnered the usual “I prefer the sketch” feedback. I sort of knew this would be the case but to my eye the images are so different in intent that the only thing they share is the subject. 12in by 26in oils.

 

London, City, plein air, oil painting

This is a small plein air I did when I was first starting to try and paint the City of London. I always intended to paint a studio version but after this 1oin by 14in sketch sold I never got round to it. I have not done enough translating plein airs into studio pictures so I was quite looking forward to getting to grips with this.

 

City of London, oil painting

Here is the first version, I wanted a bit more dynamism in the figures but after having it on the wall in this state for a while I decided that it wasn’t quite gelling compositionally. So I decided the central figure had to go. It is always nerve wracking making a big change to a painting that almost works as it can easily end in disaster!

 

City of London, oil painting

Here it is after surgery, much better I feel, the composition takes the eye on a proper journey. 16in by 24in Oils.

 

Hambledon Hill, Oil painting, Dorset

Another one from the discards pile. This started life as a very quick sketch of Hambledon Hill done at dawn, but as I recall the sun bounced up into the sky too quick for me and I had to stop! I like the still mood though so I spent a pleasant hour or so playing with it. Not much of the original sketch left! 10in by 19in oils.

 

Hammersmith, Bridge, plein air, oil painting

Now my building works are done I can get up to London to paint with the Wappers. The summer at last gave us some sun and heat. This one of Hammersmith Bridge was very enjoyable to paint, I had almost forgotten what shadows looked like with all the grey days we have had. 10in by 6in Oils.

 

Hammersmith Bridge, London, Thames, plein air, oil painting

Before the previous painting I had blocked in a painting of the Bridge from the middle of the road here. I had intended to carry on with it but the light was very different and the reservation in the middle was in full baking sun. This looked much more pleasant to paint! I might do a studio one of this. 10in by 14in Oils.

 

Hammersmith Bridge, London, Thames, scooter, oil painting, plein air

Here is the first one of the day finished off. Better composition than the previous one so this might get the studio treatment instead. 10in by 14in oils.

That’s all for this instalment, maybe some watercolours need doing next.

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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