Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

September 11, 2016


Filed under: Dorset,Drawing,How to do,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 1:10 pm

I often see artists vaguely waving their brush at arm’s length when painting and measuring by sliding their thumb down the handle. It looks very good to passers by and perhaps makes a marginal improvement the proportions in their painting. However the picky pedantic bit of me notes that they have not dropped their head onto the shoulder of their outstretched arm or closed one eye. This means they have never learnt how to do measuring and the distances they are checking will be pretty inaccurate.

The very first thing about measuring is what and when should you measure? If it is a bunch of trees or other shrubbery then do we care if a painting has accurate shrubbery in it? You never hear people say, “That’s a pretty good painting, but a pity the clump of rhododendrons is out of proportion…”. So when it comes to hills, mountains, trees and general greenery I just use the diagonal method which is estimating the box the target will fit within and then finding the angle from corner to corner as below.


Once you have that angle you can scale it any way you wish.

Something that might need a little more accuracy is how the verticals of buildings fit across your picture. For this I use a version of the sight size method. If you hold up your painting board so that it exactly covers the area of your proposed masterpiece, then without moving it nearer or further away slide the whole board downwards  or upwards and you will be able to mark where the verticals divide the picture along the top or bottom of the board. The same can be done with horizontals if you slide the board sideways. I usually only knock in the top and bottom of the box that encloses the structure rather than any internal lines which are usually effected by perspective in any case.

Here is my board covering the composition I want.

Slide up and mark key points.

Once you have those then join up the dots. I am not aiming for perfect accuracy only reasonably correct proportion.

Taking angles, which I have already mentioned, deserves a little more attention. It is not always straight forward to transfer an angle from a brush held against the subject to your canvas. Firstly it is not a bad idea to mark a toe line, just scratch a mark on the ground to set where you will place your feet when you make any measurements. Next, when measuring make your canvas vertical and as near eye level as you can. Transferring an angle to a sloping board is not impossible but much harder! Remember, drop that head to the shoulder to get your eye as near to the line of your fully stretched out arm as possible.

I frequently use angles as a quick check against distance measures, make a box around the bit you want to check the proportion of and if they don’t match then rechecking is required.

If you are doing a really complex scene think about using a thread frame, it looks seriously uncool and everyone will mutter cheat, but it is really no different than measuring piece by piece. You need to hold up the frame so that the right number of squares covers your subject. A trick is to note a left and right feature in your scene so you can reposition the frame easily, or you can even better set it up on a stand. Either way you will need to mark your toeline so you keep your position consistent. Some even go so far as to set an eye point which can just be a pole stuck into the ground coming up to an eye level point.

My thread frame is a very basic 14in by 10in with the threads at inch intervals. I have a larger one with 2 inch threads which I use in the studio, so if I am painting from a reference or sketch I can grid it up and transfer the drawing. Again people feel this is somehow cheating but Durer, Rubens, Rembrandt and Michelangelo all used this method and everyone knows that they are rubbish! One thing you will find is that after a while you develop a sort of internal grid and so need the real thing less and less.

I have managed to print off a few of my linocuts with my new press. So much easier than a barren and wooden spoon!


linocut. print, child okeford, dorset

This is my local the Baker Arms in Child Okeford. Just two plates.


Kington Magna, linocut, dorset

This is a slightly more stylised one of the church at Kington Magna. The way the lino cuts really lends itself to this sort of treatment. I pushed the boat out with 3 plates on this one. I also did a much more worked out preparatory drawing.


Kington Magna, church, linocut, relief print

My new press allows me to print on paper that would be very laborious with a barren. I wanted to use the black key plate and try and get a very different feel with the same image. I added the white by hand, but I could have cut a white block.  Next I am attempting an MDF cut!


This is a version of my more monochrome tonal sketch of Dorchester I posted previously. I wanted a more up beat feel. Oil, 16in by 12in.


Pinacles, Old Harry, Dorset, Cliffs, oil painting, sea

I went down to the coast to draw Old Harry rocks. By the time I finished drawing the light was almost gone but I couldn’t resist a try at this nearby sea stack. The light went over so quickly I only got a very basic block out done, so this is much more studio than plein air. I ended up making it quite different from both the block in and the photos I took, so this is how it felt in my memory rather than how it actually was! 12in by 12in oils.


Old Harry, Poole, Sea stacks, cliffs, sea, pen and ink, drawing, dorset

Here is Old Harry rocks. Sitting with my feet almost dangling over the edge here! As I drew the sun came through and lit the chalk cliffs very dramatically, but I felt it looked better a bit before the sun reached its flu strength. Pen and Ink.

I have a one man show at The Gallery on the Square in Poundbury it rune until the 18th of October 2016.

October 26, 2015

Pen and Ink, tools of the trade.

Filed under: Drawing,How to do,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Rob Adams @ 3:01 pm

I have been experimenting with pen and ink for years. I started with Rotring technical pens doing fine stipple and line drawings. They came in sets from 0.1 mm to 1mm and I had the whole set. The only problems being that if you wanted to change line thickness you had to change pens and the mark was unvarying. Also they were a devil to maintain, constantly blocking or getting their delicate innards damaged. The very opposite of expressive!

Then one day I passed by Philip Poole’s pen shop in Drury lane and he sold me a mixed box of Victorian drawing nibs made by Gillott and a couple of dip pen pen holders. The difference was wonderful. A Gillott 404 can go from 0.1mm to 1.2mm all in the same pen! Suddenly all sorts of new effects and textures were available. The nibs are wonderfully responsive. The disadvantages being they wore out quite quickly and required very careful handling if you didn’t want to drop a blot on to your paper. There is also the constant dipping that interrupts the flow. Also the paper had to be very smooth, ideally Bristol board.

Then for many years I did no pen work at all as I moved from illustrating books to designing and building things. Then a few years ago I started doing sketches out doors using fibre pens which was very convenient. I soon got dissatisfied though. The fibre pens had the same problems as the Rotrings, no feel at all. It is possible to get a grey line by moving the pen quickly so it skips but they have a very dead quality to the line. I had some old Rotring “art” pens which used cartridges but had possibly the nastiest nibs ever made by man!

No problem, I thought in my innocence, I’ll just go back to the dip pens. The experience was not great. The sharp nibs didn’t like the slightly rough high sized paper from Ruscombe Mill and handling ink bottle etc too made the whole process too cumbersome. The rough paper catching the nib and even wind was enough to dump the whole contents of the reservoir on your masterpiece at any moment.

Looking on the web I found that old fountain pens had flexible nibs. Skipping to ebay I immediately bought a 100 year old Waterman 50 which when it arrived had the most wonderful nib. Alas a little more research showed that if I used my nice paper the high size would soon wear away the tip and then the gold in short order. Great on Bristol board but not on my paper of choice. Mind you it is still far and away the best pen nib I have found for responsive feel and variety of line.

Back on line I found a range of fountain pens with the unlikely name of Noodlers. They has a pen called the Nib Creaper that looked just the ticket. It had a steel flexible nib, so tough and no rust. It was also very reasonable so I bought a few to play with. The first impressions were pretty good. The variety of line was there you just had to use a little more pressure than a Gillott. As the nibs are tipped they also could negotiated the rougher paper with no issues. The only difficulty for me was it was too small for my hands. Still I did lots of drawings with them.

Looking again I found Noodlers made some larger pens called Ahabs so I got a couple to try. The pens were very nice when they came but the feeds could not keep up with fast drawing. Here is where the Noodlers pens come into their own, Nathan Tardif who is Noodlers Ink made the pens to be easy to modify. This means they come apart very easily. Also bless him he sells spare parts, nibs etc. It only took a few moments to cut away a couple of ribs on the feed and hey presto my Ahab was delivering ink like a champ.

I still missed the wonderful delicate lines a Gillott 303 could deliver. I actually put a 303 in the Nib Creaper but I knew it would rust even though it worked wonderfully. So I got a Nib Creaper nib and sharpened it up. I just used a diamond stone so very fast and care needed not to over do. I did it withe the pen inked so I could check progress as I went along. I finished and smoothed on an Arkansas stone which is very quick and easy as you just write and scribble on the stone until it feels silky smooth. The result is great with a very fine line but still plenty of flexibility.

My final act was to buy the rather more pricy Neponset which has a three tined “music” nib. It is quite expensive but alas I found too hard and not good to draw with. No matter very nice to write with. The Neponset does have a very large body though which I like as I don’t hold a pen where you would to write when I draw. I hold it halfway up or even at the far end from the nib. I immediately spotted the Ahab nib would fit so a few minutes fiddling and I had done a transplant! I’ll put a few samples below.


fountain pens, noodlers, ahab, neponsit

Here are our dramatis personae, now below what they can do on paper.


pen and ink

One I did not mention is the brush pen which is a Frankenstein creation using a Pentel brush pen with a Pentel waterbrush reservoir grafted on. Once filled with the same ink as the pens it makes solid darks and expressive foreground strokes a breeze. The ink is Noodlers as well Nathan makes a wonderful array of colours but only some are suitable for drawing. For drawing I like an ink to be light fast and also fairly waterproof. Just to be awkward I don’t want it totally waterproof a want a bit of colour to wash out. Noodlers make inks they call bulletproof which pretty much fill all those requirements. Below a set of links to suppliers etc.

Noodlers Ink Nathan Tardif’s site: Lots of interesting info for modifiers!

Pure Pens Noodlers pens and ink supplier in the UK.

Gillott Nibs alas they don’t make dip pen holders with brass tongues that act as reservoirs any more but it is easy enough to make one out of copper or brass sheet.

Ruscombe Mill Lovely paper, the link will take you to the calligraphy papers which I use, but other papers they make might well be good for pen.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress

error: Content is protected !!