Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

March 20, 2015

Of Luck and Calculation

All of life depends on predicting the future. Even the humblest single celled creature does something to skew the probabilities in its favour. When you evolve an eye you can predict when something big is intending to eat you. If you are a plant you can grow towards where the light will most likely be. It is in fact this ability to look forwards in time even the tiniest bit that makes living stuff different to other matter. Once you can make this prediction the possible course of future events you can then act to increase the possibility of a good outcome for your own continuance. If you guess right you get to live and reproduce, so evolution has been honing our future gazing abilities over billions of years.

If you are a tree then you need to be able to look ahead and predict the turning seasons. If a bird also, if you wish to migrate or breed successfully. This sort of prediction means remembering the way cycles reoccur, if it happened once this way then the probabilities have to be high of it happening the same way again. So memory is a big advantage. Being able to pass this predictive information down from generation to generation via inheritance or nurture is another big weight tipping the scales of survival your way. If you can encode past occurrences, calculate their underlying cycles and then make predictions you are top of the heap.

The downside to this is if any of the underlying cycles, such as length of seasons or climate change then you need to adapt fast. The fossil record underlines this fact. If a change occurs such as temperature or another species learning a new trick then you may not be able to update your predictive database in time to survive. So if your predictive capacity is encoded in DNA then you are vulnerable, but if it is in memory then you have a better chance. You can take risks and pass the ones that paid off to the next generation. How could Einstein be so wrong? It seems God is indeed very fond of playing dice.

You may be wondering how this all fits into a painting blog? Well strange though it may seem such factors are one of the things that make producing artworks rewarding and frustrating in equal measure. As an artist you try things you have seen others do and by your successes and failures you increase the probability of your work turning out satisfactorily. If you are lucky you get someone who has already developed a method to pass on information, thus shortcutting your own learning process. Nowadays you can access a vast compendium of information and the artworks produced by many generations. All of this helps but as with all life there are no guarantees.

So what we need to do is increase the probabilities of succeeding. Gain skill in drawing, become familiar with how mediums react. Practice to hone your manual dexterity until it is automatic. In other words do everything you possibly can to load those dice in your favour. With a medium such as watercolour this is especially true. Quite a lot of the process is inevitably effected by chance, so luck is a big factor. The humidity of the day, its temperature, whether the wind is blowing or not, all can make a big difference. So you need to paint differently on a wet day to a summer scorcher. Even the kind of water makes a contribution to the way the paint lies and reacts to the paper, which is in turn another key variable.

There can never be complete certainty and if you do stick to what is safe then you will end up in the doldrums reprising old paintings ad nauseam. Each time we paint we should gamble, but like any gambler we should shorten the odds in our favour as much as possible.

I am still in the process of moving so paintings are a bit thin on the ground.

West Bay, Bridport, Dorset, watercolour, painting, art

This is West Bay near Bridport in Dorset. A difficult composition which doesn’t quite work. Need to be there very early or very late I’m thinking for it to be at it’s best.


Hambledon Hill, Dorset, Watercolour, painting, art

A parked Open Reach truck allowed me to get most of this down without being run over. I always look out for roadworks and similar as they sometimes give a chance at a view that would be impossible otherwise!


Dorset, watercolour, painting, art

This was very hard going. Just after dawn with a lovely mist but the paint wouldn’t dry. By the time I had finished the sun was out and the mist completely gone. So partly plein air and partly memory. In actual fact once a subject has changed that much it becomes almost a distraction rather than that much of a help.


Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, Dorset, Watercolour, art

This is Gold Hill in Shaftesbury, I’ve done it from the top in pen and now here it is again from the bottom in watercolour. This is from reference but I must do it again on a wet and murky day.


National Gallery, St Martins in the Fields, pen and ink drawing

A visit to London to meet up with the Brass Monkeys. I ended up missing them due to the train being diverted via Tasmania, but got some drawing done anyway. This will be posted again as I have added washes.


William Pitt, bust, sculpture, pen and ink, drawing

This is William Pitt the elder in the National Portrait Gallery. I drew this in pencil and then did the pen on the train as it went back to Dorset via Tasmania.


Old Compton St, London, pen and ink, drawing

This is looking up Old Compton St. I loved the Bentley surrounded by bin bags! I did the darks with a brush first and then added hatching. I shall do more of this as I rather like the effect.

February 23, 2015

Do Artists Change the World?

Recently when discussing art online someone said that art moves humanity culturally forwards. I was quite in agreement until it popped into my head later on and I thought a little more. I tried to think of any art that changed the world. I could think of inventions such as photography that changed humanity’s landscape, but not any bit of art. Even the greatest such as the Sistine Chapel only reflected ideas of the time and reinforced the views of the powers that be. No modern art has changed the world, you might say that the international style of architecture did, but it was really the underlying technological advances that made the difference. Architecture has always been driven by need, means and material so it follows change it does not I feel drive it.

Writing has changed the world, think of Marx and the Bible, but has any painting? The answer however unflattering to generations of daubers has to be no. Indeed once I started thinking it became apparent that one of the traits of the visual painted or drawn arts is the unchangingness. It hasn’t in essence changed since the very first paintings we see upon cave walls 20 or 30 thousand years ago. We see symbolism, abstraction and representation, much as we have today. They speak to us across an immense gulf of time telling us that despite all mankind has learnt we are still the same, each life lived just the once and each time afresh. It then occurred to me that it exactly that which attracts me. I am treading a path that innumerable generations have trodden before, and though the destination and the landscape travelled through are as old as the hills the journey is always newly minted for each human being that steps out upon the way.

Art is not about moving humanity forward, or making it wiser, but about continuity, about linking humanity today with those who lived before. It is saying that though we may live lives unimagined by our forbears, who in turn lived lives we can only distantly conceive of, there is this thread that joins us. If I draw a deer upon a bit of paper the man who traced an antelope upon the stone in  a deep place by flickering light, in another age at the dawn of humanity, would understand. Just as when I see his work an aeon later and find it still speaks a language I can understand and for a moment  perhaps share his experience and feel a glimmer of fellowship.

There is of course the accretion of cultural baggage in society, so the Sistine Chapel does influence later art, even the stone age work effects art today as images of it are freely available. All of this material is grist to the mill but does not produce the story of linear advancement that art historians are so fond of. The story of art is more like the laying down of layers of rock than a list of revolutionary advances. No one would say that limestone is more advanced than granite, it is merely more recent.

So all this self importance that artists assign to themselves as educators or consciences or explorers or questioners is entirely false. It is not an artist’s role to explore new territory but to retrace the steps of the paths through the oldest landscapes, to remind those that might have forgotten where they began, what they were and what they will always be. Art is an ancient identity renewed afresh for each new generation. The work left behind by each generation instructs the next by pointing the way the journey might be made. It cannot tell you what might be seen and felt upon the road only the direction of travel and the hope of an exciting journey.


It has been so hard with all the building a new home and refurbishing the old to sell to either paint or post here, still I am making progress and cannot wait to start painting the new landscape around me.


Hambledon Hill, Dorset, watercolour, painting

This is the wonderful Hambledon Hill. I had painted it before from this view point but en plein air early in the morning. This is at the other end to the day and done in the studio. I have stretched up a heap of paper ready to go so that if I get the time I can bash out a painting!


Hambledon Hill, Dorset, drawing, pen and ink

It’s that hill again! This is not a natural pen and ink subject but that was all I had with me so I gave it my best shot. It was fascinating trying to find varying textures to explain the different surfaces and distances. I had to be very careful reserving the white areas that described the contours os the earthworks on the hill.


Richmond park, pencil, drawing, tree

A day out with the Brass Monkeys in Richmond Park. I arrived intending to do pen and ink but alas had brought an empty pen and no ink! I have always found pencil frustrating, I love pencil drawing done by others but find it terribly difficult myself. The answer of course would be to do more of it. Nonetheless I enjoyed this once I had got going.


Richmond Park, Pencil, drawing, trees

This one I was getting into the groove a little more, would have liked to have added white but I forgot that too!



Blackheath, London, drawing, pen and ink

Back in town, this is Blackheath. I love this view and must come back and do a more considered painting.


Deptford, church, pen and ink, drawing, London

This is St Pauls Deptford. Designed by Thomas Archer, just got this done when the rain started. I have done this view a few times before but never in the winter, the lack of leaves allows a view slightly to one side which is nice. In the summer the church would be obscured by leaves.


Jermyn St, Mayfair, London, Drawing, Pen and Ink

This is Jermyn St in Mayfair. Love this view and will do a bigger oil in due course. I was in town to go to the Wapping Group’s show so I was in my private view finery when I drew this. In the very posh Jermyn St I fitted right in! Glad to say I sold a painting in the show as well so I went home smiling.


Brook Green, Hammersmith, London, watercolour, Brass Monkeys

Another Brass Monkey day this time in Brook Green Hammersmith. Very cold but beautiful I had to do this pretty quickly as the morning light was moving quickly.


Brook Green, Hammersmith, London, pen and ink, drawing

Last one from Brook Green and this post. I love trying to get the atmosphere with pen and ink. People tend to think of pen as lines around things but it is perfectly capable of subtle tonal effects.

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