Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

October 18, 2016


For an artist it is a bit strange to consider what might happen to a painting after it leaves your care. I suspect long dead artists would be bemused by what is said and paid for their works. Each painting carries with it a story, a bit of history true or false, that makes up its provenance. As well as this there is the story attached to the artist, which may or may not represent the true course of his or her’s life. The difficulty arises of course in that all this information is not actually attached to the physical work of art and the connection can get lost, forgotten or forged.

Where I wonder is the visual value of the work itself? Indeed it seems the actual appearance of a painting is of a lesser importance than the story attached to it. So you might have a terrible Monet (and there are plenty of pretty average ones) with a cast iron paper trail from artist to current owner and it would be worth far less that a brilliant painting by a lesser known soul. The fact that the Monet hung on the wall would disappoint and the other painting reward on every viewing seems irrelevant.

Paintings can fall from grace, a Van Dyke can be demoted to “School of” and the painting will be dismissed with a brief glance rather than admired. Again this is seemingly unconnected to the actual painting. What about the people who admired the picture before its fall from grace, was their aesthetic appreciation wasted… wrong or misguided? You can imagine after research a label being changed by a gallery assistant. A visitor who had been particularly taken with the painting could return ten minutes later for another look and might find that the “Van Dykeness” of the painting had evaporated!

I can only conclude that the only guide is your eyes and the less back story you know the better. All those words only obscure and don’t illuminate the actual object. They do change how we view a painting, but sometimes not in a useful way. It might be better indeed if galleries didn’t label pictures at all. The could just have numbers and if you liked a picture you could call up its known history.

With some painters the mystique of the artist completely overwhelms the artwork. Andy Warhol’s work I find after first impressions dreary and dull, like a quite good one liner repeated ad nauseam, but his story of decadence and nihilism and his place in his milieu is fascinating. Except for a very brief period Van Gogh’s was I feel pretty uninspiring, but his life story and monumental self pity make a great story.

Really we should be looking for those brief moments when an artist by some confluence of skill, inspiration and luck creates a masterpiece. This might be only once in a career, or indeed for most of us, never. It is fine to give extra admiration to artists like Rembrandt who scaled the heights more than others, but not alright to inappropriately elevate works where he fell short. It is unfair to the artist also. Imagine if you came back from the dead to find everyone admiring some complete stinker you painted!

I have got a bit behind with posting, I was vaguely thinking of splitting post into oils watercolour or prints but I think it is best to stick to a vaguely linear storyline. I vary between thinking I do too many different media to thinking I must try some others. Printing is occupying my thoughts a fair bit as it is new territory and now I have got started I begin to see all sorts of exciting possibilities. So I’l start with that.


Hammersmith Bridge, London, linocut, print

So this is a reduction print of Hammersmith Bridge. For those who are not linocutters the reduction method is where all the colours are produced with the same block. The palest colour is cut first and all the edition printed, then more of the block is cut away for the next colour. So all the colours overlay. I based this on a plein air rather than the photo of the same scene as the painting already had a simplified tonal scheme and I did not want it to be too precise. Next I am going to attempt a double reduction print where two plates are cut away to produce one image.

It is holiday time and this year I went to Newport, the one in Pembrokeshire  Wales. As the holiday was a social one only a few scribbles got done, but I came back with plenty of photos and ideas.

White Sands, pembrokeshire, wales, watercolour, plein air

This is literally 20 min splashing away at Whitesands near St Davids. The wind was so brisk that holding everything was a nightmare. I had to hold down my palette with my food to prevent it taking to the air! It is also quite tricky when the wind is constantly fluttering your paper. The odd thing is though that when painting outside all this somehow adds to the result. The impossibility of being precise made me just go for the brilliant autumn light, which was really all the scene needed. 7in by 5in watercolour.


Hambledon Hill, dorset, hill fort, watercolour, painting

On my return I was determined to get up Hambledon Hill which is directly behind my house. I do not go and sketch up there enough. I decided the very end of the day would be best and very lovely it was. It is one of those scenes though that looks astounding to the eye but is very hard to translate into a painting. I settled on this as it had great flowing structure. 7in by 5in Watercolour.


Hambledon Hill, Dorset, blackmoor vale, watercolour, painting

I started this more in hope than expectation. I couldn’t get into a position where the hill would figure in the composition so I just did a square on job attempting to catch the light. I must start to mark down compositions on the hill I like and return to them, rather than trying to find a new picture each time. 7in by 5in Watercolour.


Old Harry, Dorset, cliffs, sea, oil painting

At last a chance to sit down and get some studio pictures done. I wanted to do an oil of Old Harry based on the drawing I had already done. Remembering how nice it was how the cliffs came out of the blue on the paper in the pen drawing I wanted to do the same here but more dramatically. After drawing out I spent a lot of time mixing the tone base of the sea. It had to be dark enough to allow the cliffs to be brilliantly lit, but light enough to take dark reflections. Once I had decided on a tone I swept it right across using a 2in brush and then wiped out the bits where the stacks were to go. I don’t take this approach often enough really. It does have some disadvantages though as it can look too slick and pat, which is why I usual paint round rather than through. But in this case it worked well. 16in by 10in oils.


Newport Bay, Pembrokeshire, wales, oil painting

Here is the first of the Welsh ones. This is the view over Newport Bay which I have painted many times before. It is one of those views I always find something new in. It would be great to do a whole series through the seasons. I love the tone of the greens this time of year they become a warm olive colour which was a great contrast to the hillside where the grasses and bracken were already in there autumn colours. 16in by 10in oils.


Newport sands, beach, wales, pembrokeshire, oil painting

This is Newport sands, wonderfully reflective as the sea had only just withdrawn. Scanning makes it rather more contrasty than it really is, it is very hard to catch subtleties in images to go on line. 12in by 12in Oils.


Porthclais Harbour, wales, pembrokeshire, oil painting

I started this picture of Porthclais Harbour near St Davids thinking the distance and wedge of sky was the main thing. The painting soon informed me I was wrong and the water was the main event!  16in by 10in oils.

That is all for Wales, I find it very hard to paint from reference after the memory of the real place fades.


Hambledon Hill, dorset, hill fort, oil painting

Hambledon Hill again. This was done the next evening after the earlier watercolour. I had intended to do the same view but decided to try to catch the milky light. Not helped by the fact I forgot my brush roll so only had a 1in sable that was in the bottom of my bag left over from life drawing. Still the soft brush was oddly appropriate and allowed me to drag in the subtler tones in broad strokes. 16in by 10in Oils.


Hambledon Hill, Dorset, oil painting, hill fort

Last one, a studio oil based on my earlier watercolour. I had to put away the watercolour in the end as this became quite a different painting. I decided in the end what I wanted to do was contrast the texture on the foreground right with the hazy smoothness of the distance. Quite pleased with the result as it emphasises the wonderful flow that the hill has. 24in by 12in Oils.



July 18, 2016

Fifty Shades of French Grey pt2

This is the rest of my efforts from a distinctly damp France. It is so good to have an intensive period of just drawing and painting the day and place as it presents itself. I probably spent more time than I needed hunting for subjects rather than just getting on with it.


St Malo, France, Drawing, Pen and Ink

Grey and drippy St Malo… One of pen and ink’s great strengths is that flat light often makes interesting drawings. Here the rain made the distance merge into a single tone. It was not like that when I actually drew as the rain stopped almost as soon as I sat down. One of the key skills of doing anything plein air is to remember how it looked 5min ago!


Pont Aven, drawing, pen and ink, france

This is the pretty town of Pont Aven. I was attracted by the unusual viewpoint here. A slipway ran down to the water allowing me to get a snail’s eye view of the town. I was very careful to get the head heights of the people within a plausible range. People too close tend to look like giants!Pont Aven, France, drawing, pen and ink

Another one in the town. I was taken by the huge gothic mansion but wanted to show how it stood above the street rather than do a purely architectural rendering. To that end I decided to crop the building and allow it to fade to paper.


Pont Aven, waterwheel, drawing, pen and ink, France

This is the famous waterwheel in Pont Aven which was painted by Gauguin. It is a tricky subject that is prone to overdrawing. I saw several versions painted by others of our party where they had worked very hard to get the wheel correct, but in doing so had over done it. With that sort of thing you need to do all the careful drawing out, but then edit most of it out again! In this way the wheel becomes part of the scene and does not overly draw the eye. This mind you is a tendency we all have, if a bit is tricky we pay it more attention and by doing so give it undue prominence. With wheels I make sure I spend the time to get the underlying ellipse correct. To do this you need to draw in the major and minor axis, just winging it will lead in most cases to disaster!


Villerville sur Mer, France, drawing, pen and ink

This is Villerville sur Mer, I would have liked to have had more time here, a charming small seaside town. To draw this I had to perch precariously on a small pavement. Quite tricky perspective on the cars, you have to always check the length of the sides  in views like this, you subconscious wants you to draw them longer than they really appear. The same with the buildings I frequently see artists get buildings twice as wide as they should be.


Villerville, france, drawing, pen and ink

Another from Villerville, these mad gothic mansions are a feature of the area so I had to draw one. I had to finish the shrubbery later, one of the disadvantages of pen and ink is that any dark area is very labour intensive. It is also important not to try and draw the trees too carefully. What is needed is an equivalent in tone and texture, it does not need to be too specific. I try to add interest by varying line weight and use a variety of groupings of marks.


cricqueboef, France, church, drawing, pen and ink

This is the 7thC chapel at Cricqueboef just outside Villerville. I must do more pen work on plain paper I have become a little over addicted to that blue! Straight pen is great for quick sketches like this.


Villerville, steps, drawing, pen and ink, france

Last drawing of Villerville I liked the tricky viewpoint.


Pont Aven, France, watercolour

I would have liked to have done more watercolour, but it was so wet the oils were more practical. I did this one of the boats in Pont Aven under the shelter of some trees, even so the washes took forever to dry.


Pont Aven, watercolour, painting, france

This is the last from Pont Aven it got a bit muddy, the dark green area just would not dry so I had to resort to more detail in that area than I would have liked.


That’s it for France. I now have to paint like mad for some upcoming exhibitions!

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