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!

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.

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