Rob Adams a Painter's Blog

January 16, 2011

Getting the year underway.

It’s always a little difficult getting painting again after being away, especially after being spoilt by wonderful subjects every way I turned. I wish I was organised enough to set a program of work, goals to be achieved, new techniques to be mastered etc, but I ain’t so there it is. My first thing to try was to paint some studio watercolours from the many photos from my trip to Ireland, with the thought in mind that I should get some done while the feeling of being there was still fresh.

Every painting is started with a feeling of expectation and a certain overconfidence, as you start to work this is certain to fade alas as the reality of how damned hard it is and how inadequate you are for the task sinks in. It is astonishing that you can so forget this uncomfortable truth that it comes as an unpleasant surprise each time. However as you wrestle with the thing you start to get in control of the process and then if all goes well the painting starts to take on a bit of life independent of its creator… unfortunately the artist will then become too full of himself and proceed to throw away all the gains by overdoing the whole thing and killing it dead. Ah well enough complaining here’s the last few day’s output.

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Watercolor, watercolour, painting, Ireland, eire, clare

This is one that really put me through the mill and was nearly abandoned. I made the error of laying in the first wash that underlay the shrubbery in too pale a tone and too neutral a hue. This proceeded to haunt me throughout the painting, I knew I had a good chance of fixing it at the end but in the meantime I was stuck with the whole thing looking terrible which was a little disheartening. It was a nervous moment when I finally came to lay in the final unifying washes with wide flat brush. The original picture was wider than the crop above and I am now unsure which is better so I’ll put the wider below so you can judge for yourselves. Both are clicky for larger image

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Clare, Ireland, watercolour, watercolor, painting

This is a wee bit better for colour too.

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Clare, Ireland, Watercolour, watercolor, painting

Another view of the great Christmas frost! This was entirely painted with a one inch flat sable, even the thin lines are just done with the corner. Fun to do and a nice simple composition with the cold and warm separated almost on a diagonal. I have since slightly softened the branches on the main tree. It was only after looking at it on screen that I felt they were too prominent. I often find this, that the screen image makes you see it afresh and errors or possibilities for improvement can be spotted. Sometimes I even do variations in Photoshop before altering the painting.

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Wales, Newport, watercolour, watercolor, painting

Here is a picture that went unusually smoothly. Mind you a subject I have painted many times. It was fun to finish the snowy road at the end leaving only the side lit bits in the white of the paper. There is almost nothing to the road but it is a satisfying trick.

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Cannon St, London, Oil, plein air, painting, street, pedestrians

I had intended to meet Brass Monkey folks a fair bit further west of here, but as my train came into Cannon St and the rain had relented for a moment I couldn’t resist doing this sketch which is a scene I am doing a larger studio picture of so this will be very useful. Usually I put the figures in later but the muse was with me and I and I dropped these folks in with with hardly a duff stroke… helps of course that city types all dress in dark tones which makes it easier to block in the shapes. For such complex structures as top right I usually just note the main perspective lines then finish it later there is no benefit in putting such elements in on site as it is simple but consumes time that would be better spent on other areas. Click for larger.

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London, british museum, steps, watercolour, watercolor, painting, plein air

On my way west I passed the British Museum and couldn’t resist sketching the people dwarfed by the huge columns. I might return to this as It has potential… on a sunnier day though. It started raining heavily before I had all the lines in the columns done.

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Rain, street, Charing cross, London, plein air, oil, pochade, painting

The rain had really started to get heavy so I abandoned the idea of meeting others and set off down Charing cross. I went in to a bookshop to browse and when I came out it was into a different day! The sky had cleared and the sky was lit up pink, with the wet roads the whole effect was stunning. I decided to try and get something down holding my pochade, setting up my tripod would have been impossible in such a busy spot. So I put my back to a post and transferred all the tubes of paint to my pockets and set to using the colours from earlier with the addition of Magenta. This is tiny only 7 in by 5 in but was very satisfying and I will try and get a larger studio painting done using this and the snaps I took.

That’s all for now I have some commercial work in the next week or two so painting time may well be a bit restricted.

January 9, 2011

Frost in the west of Ireland

Filed under: Drawing,Ireland,London,Painting,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 1:18 pm

Here we are at the year’s end, and a right chilly one it was too. I have stayed with good friends over the Christmas period for many years, they live in the Burren in County Clare in Eire which is a spot of rare and wild beauty. Geologically the area is limestone which has been planed off by glaciers and then eroded into pavements with deep cracks, or as they are properly known “grikes”. These natural crevices harbour many rare species of plants that draw botanists from round the world. In winter the landscape has a bleak beauty that is a challenge to paint, I have more failed paintings of this place than any other to prove the point! This year was exceptional as it was transformed by frosts that built up day after day until the trees were canopied in brittle white ice. This combined with the low light and short days made for some tricky but beautiful subjects.

I had determined to do more watercolours on this visit as I have neglected the media in the past few years. This proved a good move as the unusual conditions led to subjects that were more suited to watercolour than oils. One of the particular problems with winter scenes anywhere, but on the Burren in particular is that the devil really is in the detail. The landscapes are like quilts with richly patterned parts cheek by jowl with simple untextured areas. This visit I consciously made an attempt to find analogues for the complex textures that give the land its character. There is no possibility of painting the different effects merely by observation because even if you did copy the lights and darks accurately this would give a result drained of life. So what I sought was sets of marks that would stand for each of the various stuffs, hopefully this prevents the lifeless effect that too much detail can bring.

I painted a few oils as well, but these were at the end of the day and more atmospheric allowing greater simplification. I start with a few leftovers done before I left. Some pictures can be clicked for a larger view.

London, Snow, plein, air, oil, painting

This was done from my window over a couple of nights. Once done I took an intense dislike to it and put it to one side. On returning it looks fine, which goes to show how untrustworthy your own opinions can be as to the worth of a painting are when you are too close to it.

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Bankside, winter, Thames, London, painting, plein air, river

Painting done out with the “Brass Monkeys” an off shoot of the Wapping group. The wind was bitter and though I didn’t know it I was starting a cold. I went on to do another of Borough market which was scraped off alas as it was worse than the blank board!

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Ireland, road, frost, Clare, Eire, oil, plein air

To get started I painted a simple view that is very typical of the area. I thought to add some figures but decided the emptiness was best. The complex tracery of the hedgerows is always a challenge, It’s easy to break them into simple blocks of appropriate tone but I feel that is not really facing up to the challenge as their intricacy is very much part of their charm. So I try to hit a halfway house by painting layers of negative and positive shapes in a quite loose manner.

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Road, Ireland, eire, painting, plein air, clare

I started this from a photo and it just didn’t go right. The mixture of detail and simplicity just wouldn’t come into balance. Luckily the next day the evening was very clear so I went out and reworked it in situ. I was glad the original laying in was there as it was well below zero and even half an hour left me bitterly cold.

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Ireland, Clare, oil, painting, plein air

A smaller 10 by 7 the smaller paintings have worked better on this visit, the extreme cold at 12 below made the larger 14 by  10’s a rush to get done before frostbite set in.

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Carron, ireland, plein air, oil, painting

Next day, due to late convivial nights I seemed to always be painting in the very last of the light on the first few days. Here the glimmer of sun in the distance made a wonderful counterpoint to the bleak coldness of the road. I painted in the distance in completely first as the light was going over, then did the foreground in the last of the fading light which by chance rather helped the contrasts in the final picture. 10in by 7in

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Ireland, Eire, Co Clare, road, painting, oil, plein air.

The low temperatures with zero wind produced tremendous frosts which I found very hard to capture in oils. In this picture there is no snow only frost which doesn’t really come across. I will try again in a few studio pictures as I feel with patience and more time than you have when painting away from base some thing that better captures the unique feel could be achieved. So in order to better catch the mood I changed over to water colours.

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Here’s my first attempt in watercolour, the scene was slightly misty which helped the mood. The Burren has such distinct textures I felt I had to have a stab at rendering them so I tried using counter shapes IE painting the spaces between the twigs rather than the twigs themselves then laying washes over the top. This softens the whole thing which I exploit by scrubbing over with a bristle brush where I want the detail to blur off. To contrast with these areas I tried to keep the other parts extremely simple. The palette was deliberately limited, the colours here are Ultramarine, Yellow Ochre and Indian Red.

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Ireland, Eire, watercolour, watercolor, painting, Co Clare

Another quiet road, again I tried to allow the white of the paper to stand for the frost and used a set of graphic marks to describe the counter shapes.

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Ireland, Eire, Co Clare, Watercolour, painting

A long frosty road. An odd thing about the icy weather was that the sun burnt off the frostonly on one side so the view behind was almost completely white! Again I used the counter shapes but less obviously this time mixing the positive and negative shapes.

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Carron, Eire, Ireland, Watercolor, Watercolour, painting

I never understand why telegraph poles enhance a picture when in real life they seem to do the opposite. I was pleased with the verges where my negative shape method worked very well to evoke the stiff frosty clumps of grass.

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Cattle, Co Clare, Ireland, Eire, Watercolor, watercolour, painting

A very frosty scene! The cattle had just been given feed so they ignored me entirely. I laid a wash over the whole scene except for the brights in the sky. There are a few bits of scratching out here and there.

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Co Clare, Eire, Ireland, Watercolour, watercolor. painting

A moment of magical light, the hills really were that blue! A simple scene so not much to say but one of my favourites from the trip.

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Dublin, Ireland, Eire, watercolour, watercolor, painting

A trip into Dublin to see the Turners. We walked through the city as the sun was setting which was very beautiful and will spawn a few studio paintings in due course.

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Castle, Ireland, Watercolour, painting

A few from my little sketch book, my eyesight struggles with this 7in by 5in size these days so once this book is done I will stick to the next size up!

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Dysert O'Dea Castle, Corrofin, Co Clare, Ireland, Watercolour

Dysert O’Dea castle near Corrofin, Usually you cannot get to this view due to the boggy ground and flooding, but this year it was all frozen solid. As was I by the time I had done this.

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Co Clare, burren, watercolour, painting

Frost over, the Burren returned to it’s normal hues.

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Skull, goat, drawing

The skull of an ex-goat.

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My friend Colin’s dog the mighty Enzo. Now an old dog so stays conveniently still…

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One more of Enzo and that’s the new year started!

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