Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

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.

September 27, 2015


Beliefs are strange things. They are things that you think are true without sufficient evidence. Even the things that you think are true and don’t require faith actually do. If you read Descartes’ Meditations he points out that nothing at all is rock solid certain. He settles on “I think there fore I am.” almost in desperation, though nowadays that is in doubt as well. The current view seems to be that we aren’t but basic physical processes give the illusion that we are. Nevertheless our systematic probing of our supposed reality has brought a high probability of many things being true. We have today far more and better founded certainty than any of our forebears. Unfortunately many of the enhanced certainties are less than welcome. All the honeyed promises by religions of a better life or a rise to transcendence look distinctly thin.

Nonetheless we cling to magic. We believe in homeopathy and astrology, souls and spirits and money and art. All of these things require belief without evidence. The numbers that stand for our wealth in some financial institution’s computer require everyone’s faith that they are of worth, as do the objects in our galleries. If that belief is challenged and fails then they will no longer be exchangeable for things of tangible value. You only have to look at the Tulip bubble where the value of tulip bulbs reached dizzy heights before belief failed and the perceived value plummeted. Surely money could not do that? Well yes it can and has many times. Not art I hear you say, well yes there was an art bubble in the Low countries in generic scenes, portraits and still lives which crashed and left many artists including Rembrandt broke.

At the moment we have an “Art Bubble” objects such as Tracy Emin’s bed (how I love that bed!) are given an arbitrary value unrelated to the object itself. The object is made to have value by the same process that makes the Turin shroud holy. IE unsubstantiated belief and faith. Both of these items are demonstrably worthless, but they also both have institutions working hard to keep up the illusion. I might add to efficiently hold up the value or holiness of such objects requires said institutions not to believe in the fantasy themselves. So I doubt anyone senior in the Catholic Church believes that the shroud is genuine, but they will believe that it is important that the laity believes. So to art galleries, if one of the sainted Emin’s works looks likely to tank in an auction they will step in and buy it back at a thumping loss, because if the belief sets in that Tracy’s works are of low worth then all the ones they have in the cupboard back at the office will also be devalued. Also all the rich and often powerful clients they have advised will find that they bought a pig in a poke and start to question the worth of any other works they may have acquired.

You might argue: all these people say these things are iconic and valuable so how could they be wrong? Well a wee peek at history gives a clue here. At some point in history people at the top thought that sacrificing people might improve the crops or stop a drought. The Egyptians elite though that building vast piles of stone and filling them with goodies would help an individual be comfy after they were dead. Also absurdly there was an age where people thought taking an unmade bed and putting it in a public space made it meaningful and hugely valuable… whoops that’s us!

So is art actually worthless? Well no. The tulips eventually settled down to a sensible level of value and spawned a healthy industry that survives there until today. The Flemish still lives painted by the acre are still bought and sold. The difference is in the cynicism of the current art world. They know that the values they espouse are imaginary and work hard to prevent anything to threaten the dream. There is no criticism allowed only reverent analysis and reportage. If you have a negative view of contemporary art it will not find any place in any paper whatever its political leaning. If I wrote a book deriding it, it would not be printed by a mainstream publisher. Even quotes such as this get dismissed “I think it is humbug myself. That is my own private opinion… I just don’t believe in Joseph Kosuth’s slogan ‘art as idea as idea’—if it is an idea it has never entered the world.” Who could have said such a thing… well Carl Andre (he of the bricks) is the man.

Will the bubble burst? Well my guess is yes and like all catastrophes of these kinds many of the undeserving will be taken down with the frauds and the simple minded believers. Can it be predicted? Well probably not, but the edifice is looking shaky to my eyes. What will be left? I think things made by someone who has devoted their lives to getting good at some skill will always end up being valuable because they are rare as well as covetable in themselves. Well made things enhance out lives in almost invisible increments. A beautifully shaped back to a chair will reward us a little as we slide out hands across the wood. A subtle passage in a painting that we hadn’t noticed hereto will halt our gaze for a fraction and give us a moment’s pause. Things that shout to be noticed tend to pall quickly and have only that dimension. Much contemporary art I find fun, but only in the way that a comic postcard might be. I will look and chuckle, but not put it on the wall to be part of the fabric of my every day.

Everything is contriving to prevent me painting at present, exhibitions, cars dying, social engagements all conspire to eat up my time. Still some bits and bobs have been done so here they are.


Dorchester, pen and ink, drawing, dorset

Going into Dorchester one day the light was fantastic. I sketched this in pencil and then inked it afterwards at home. These slightly larger A4 drawings are too big to finish on site. Besides I rather enjoy partially imagining the light. I resisted the temptation to peek at the photos of the scene until the very end. This meant I couldn’t put much detail in and in the end it didn’t need it. I only adjusted a few of the tonal relationships and added the figure in the end.


Fontmell down, Dorset, drawing, pen and ink, art

More drawing. This one I really did take to a finish on site. It took 3hrs though. Since my car is hors de combat I had to walk there too so this took all day! Still the light was fantastic so well worth it. A4 pen and ink.


compton abbas, airfield, dorset, gypsy moth, airplane, dorset, pen and ink, drawing

Here is something I have never drawn before. A Gypsy Moth at Compton Abbas airfield. Very quick A5 scribble but fun to do.


Child Okeford, watercolour

I decided to do a few watercolours as I have rather neglected the medium for a month or so. This is what I call a backward water colour of Child Okeford where I lay in all the darks first whilst bearing in mind how the big washes that will go over them will soften and alter the hue. It is important to use non stainers for the lay in as you want them to partially dissolve when the next layers go over.


Child Okeford, Dorset, watercolour, painting, art

Here It is with the washes laid over. See how the shadow areas have softened and gained texture. Once the washes are in you can “tickle” areas with a small bristle brush to soften. Also colours can be dropped in to add variety. You have to be careful not to stir too much or it will all go to mud! 9in by 7in Watercolour.


Ibberton, watercolour, Dorset, painting

This is near Ibberton, I was taken by the chimneys. I find Dorset’s somewhat over pretty villages a bit of a challenge so I tried to make this one less chocolate box by constraining the palette and retaining the cars and wires. Though I am coming to think you just have to accept the prettiness however unfashionable it is in painting today. The village are pretty for heaven’s sake so to unpretty them or just paint the skips round the back seems perverse. 1/4 sheet watercolour.


hod Hill, watercolour, dorset, painting

This is a view of Hod hill the other hill fort nearby. My car had briefly come back to life so I decided to tackle a 1/2 sheet en plein air. The weather wasn’t in the mood to cooperate though as once I had got the sky  and the field in the heavens opened and I had to run for it with the board over my head.

I am off to Wales next so I hope to do a few paintings even though it is a social trip rather than a painting one.

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