Rob Adams a Painter's Blog

August 23, 2011

Up and Down the Thames

Work has eased up so normal painting service can be resumed. The light and weather have been great, first sun then cloud, showers etc, much more to my taste than sunny days which, though lovely, are a bit short on magical turns of the light that can make a subject sing. Really the best time of day to paint is dawn and a couple of hours after and the few hours before sunset. this stretches out a bit later in the year as the sun stays low to the horizon longer. It is that raking light that produces the magic. Indeed photographers call this the magic hour. The other good thing about later in the year is the challenge of getting up for the dawn is a little easier! That said I have been out painting in the flattest day I have ever seen, the light barely changed from daw to dusk. I painted anyway as I was a guest of the “Wappers” but left to myself I would have probably gone home I suspect.

Now here is an area where I really struggle to find rules, how to spot a good subject. I squint and look for good contrasts. I wave my hands around in vague framing motions (just so as any one watching thinks I know what I am at), but I don’t think cardboard L’s have ever found me a picture. My current method is to hold my blank board beneath the scene and sort of imagine it painted. I often take photos where I think to myself, “That will make a cracking painting.” but looking later wonder what on earth I saw in it. Then some other random snap will just have the right flavour and end up on canvas. When painting plein air I could wander all day and never settle, there is always a better one round the corner. So it was this Wednesday at Richmond, I was well on the way to Oxford before I found my second subject of the day. The first had been easy as there was a glimmer of light (it soon went) and a scene I had painted successfully before.

There are rules of course, a light surrounded by dark, various rules of thirds and golden sections. I’m afraid in later life I have thrown all these magic proportion rules to the bin, they are I am beginning to think no better than ley lines. All the claims of Phi being embedded in nature seem to fall apart when you look a little closer, the poster boy for the golden section is the nautilus shell… I had to make one in 3D recently and was very surprised to find the shell was nothing like the Phi spiral, they were both  spiral but that seemed to be about it. Surveys of people’s choices of golden section rectangles show we do like rectangles roughly in that proportion, but our favourite apparently wasn’t the golden one… we liked it even less when in portrait orientation it seems. We just love the idea that there are these magical formulae, but a quick trawl through art history shows no particular liking for golden sections, even the Egyptian stuff often doesn’t fit the template as often as you might think, and as for Aztec, Chinese, Indian, African etc there is as far as I can see barely a phi proportion in sight, surely if it was as inbuilt as some say they would have made them by instinct? As for finding these proportions in old masters, well why don’t we see geometrical layouts in working drawings then? You can of course find “significant” lines, but you can also find “ley” lines by connecting up telephone boxes on OS maps so that might not be too note worthy. I might have, it seems, completely wasted my time building these bogus numbers into various paintings. The same is I suspect true of our rules for colour, blue recedes red advances, so why doesn’t a red horizon in a sunset look like it’s really close then… or a blue swimming pool at your toes far away? More sacred cows ready for the slaughter.

Other cows for the chop might be “Your paintings are always truly about yourself.” Aha so I’m all about a train station… or a ship on the Thames am I? It’s one of those solemn phrases that just sounds as if it ought to be true but no one can exactly say how or why it might actually be so. The paintings are about me in that it’s me that does them, and my skills, such as they are, were built up by my experience, but windows into my soul they probably aren’t! I am also a little suspicious of all those calls to “loosen up” and “express yourself” feel “free”. Painting and drawing are disciplines, they follow the same course as other skill based activities: you do it lots until you don’t have to think out every move. Not that paintings don’t move people, but it would be quite unlikely for you to have ecstasies of self expressiveness whilst working as there is just not the mental room for them while you go about the difficult work itself. We want, it might seem, anything to be true as a source of creativity rather than just boring old hard work, we have to have “talent” and “inspiration”, well the talent you see in others is I think usually the end result of hard work and the inspiration was often just getting off the sofa and getting down to it. If I look at paintings I have done in moments of thinking I have a big idea they are a motley group, most of my best work has come about unannounced by any any flash of inspiration and has left me surprised and pleased. It is sad really, I love the idea of flashes of revelation and being inspired, perhaps I and many others wish painting to be a more romantic business than it really is. Still the fact that you can communicate a time of day or an emotion or an atmosphere by selectively dirtying a canvas is wonderful enough all by itself and doesn’t need dressing up in supernatural clothes any more than anything else in our astonishing existence. Gosh I have a dose of the polemics today, enough already, a few pictures. Most can be clicked for larger view.

 

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London, station, train, London Bridge, oil, painting

I have had this one in the works for a while, I took snaps and did a couple of quick sketches on the station on quite a few different days, I love the air of quiet self absorption that the commuters have, it is quite a unique mood. Below are the two sketches which are each 10in across, the one above is 24in by 12in.

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London, station, railway, train, London Bridge, oil, painting

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London, train, station, London Bridge, painting, oil

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Kent, Groombridge Place, watercolour, painting

A studio watercolour, great fun to paint, I wanted the stillness to over come the busy textures of the plants, which works to some degree. A half sheet on Arches paper. The Location is Groombridge Place in Kent, not altogether true to life as I redesigned the statue and gave her a more elegant  line.

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Richmond, Thames, Twickenham, River, water colour, painting

This is from the Twickenham side of the river near Richmond. A very flat day it was hard work to get even this much colour into the painting. I try to only augment existing hues, I’m not keen on adding invented heightened colour, though I often like the result when others do it.

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Thames, Richmond, Watercolour, plein air

Next up was this as it had some good tonal contrasts, I rather wished I had brought my oils as these silvery close tones are more effective I feel in oils.

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Boats, canoe, thames, Richmond

Probably the best painting of the day. Water is often the saviour on a dull day, here I was pleased with the riverwhich ended up with an economy of means that I wish I could achieve more often. I did another before joining the Wappers in the pub, but it had to be binned, I was tired and all painted out that’s my excuse anyway!

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Erlanger, New Cross, London, Plein Air, oil, painting

Another go at the terraced streets of South East London, it needs a figure or maybe a cat crossing that bit of lit pavement. I drew this on to a board from a photo first, for me this sort of subject doesn’t work if the drawing is awry, and getting the houses right, while easy enough, is too time consuming when the light may be very transitory.

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Buoys, Thames, HMS Belfast, Tower Bridge, London, Plein air, oil painting

This took two goes, The first morning I drew out and painted in too much of a rush as the light was moving fast, it all went wrong and I had to wipe it all back by which time the light was too far gone. Annoying but I drew the thing out again taking real care over the drawing and not rushing. Next day was forecast fine so I went back at dawn and this time, starting with the drawing done, things went much more smoothly. Once finished I went over the river and drew out another board for the next day’s subject, this is, I am thinking, the way I should approach these cityscapes in future. 12in by 14in.

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HMS Belfast, Thames, London, London Bridge, Plein air, oil painting

Here’s the next morning’s effort, a real squinter, right into the sun, it is off the pier for the riverboats, I snuck on, and painted from a bit where theticket office can’t see you and got away before being noticed! The line of the river bank needs adjusting but I was pleased with the result. 12in by 14in.

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Tower Bridge, Thames, HMS Belfast, London, Oil painting

A studio painting of the same subject, It was good to paint this after the two morning expeditions as I felt very in tune with the subject. 24in by 12in.

August 3, 2011

London Summer and Commercial Musings

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 11:31 pm

I have been trying to squeeze painting in between earning a buck or two to pay for more painting expeditions. Not ideal, it doesn’t take much real work to ruin your life! Base ingratitude on my part as I am very fortunate in having clients that work around my only occasional availability. At some stage I must try and sell my paintings, but the whole process of hawking your wares and the concomitant framing, delivering and marketing reminds me too much of the time I spent trying to get established as an illustrator. From that experience I know only too well how long it takes to establish yourself in any market. In many ways I have been hugely spoilt, for most of my career I have had the certainty of payment for my work… the only downside being I didn’t get to choose the subject matter. I intend to put work into some open exhibitions this year as an easy way of putting a toe in the water. As soon as you consider selling your paintings you have to decide which market you are in. Do you sell a lot of paintings for a small amount, or a small amount for a higher per picture price? Getting this balance right is key. I am quite prolific and I don’t do the sort of picture that takes weeks to complete it is rare for a picture to take more than a day. So I am inclined to position myself towards the more economical end. I have no real hope of earning a living wage selling my wares, nowadays there are so many amateurs/ semi professionals of extremely high standard that the market is pretty crowded. On the plus side it is an astonishing era in which we live, from my flat in South London I can broadcast my work to the world. On the downside there are so many signals pervading the digital aether that to be noticed is far from easy.

One way of drawing attention is to shout, the weird, the wonderful, the disgusting, the frightening are ways to be loud, include these in your output and you would, you imagine, draw attention. For some this is true, but for most they are lost in the resultant hubbub. For me as I get older I am less impressed by exhibitions of prowess in exquisite detail, or wild imagination, which is pretty rich considering I have earned a fair bit of my living doing just that. Now I seek an indefinable something that echoes the world I find myself in and what seems to best suit that aim are hints that define but leave room for the appearance of interpretation. I say appearance because I am not in the business of supplying fodder for people to exercise their imaginations on, go look at lichens on a rock, cracks in a wall or a Jackson Pollock if you want that. I am not in any way denigrating that activity I love lichens, clouds and even enjoy the odd moment of Mr Pollock, but it is not my stock in trade. There is much talk of impressionism, especially amongst plein air painters. I am tempted, I admit by that, but something makes me draw back. Impressionism grew out of two things: The arrival of the mechanically produced image that froze a moment and the scientific discovery that primary colours will mix in the eye to produce any hue you wish. This territory was pretty swiftly explored and wore itself out with the pointillists. Impressionism did however bring to the fore something else that had more worth in my opinion. The saying of a lot with a little. Visual poetry, spare lines of verse rather than a novel with its complex unfolding of plot and character. This has been around forever, from the wonderful animals delineated on the walls of caves to the drawings of Michelangelo and on to the watercolours of Singer Sargent. I think we forgot this in the west for a while, only to be reminded by the influence of eastern art and thought.

So there it is commercialism can go hang, I intend to follow my own course in as selfish a way as I can. I have spent decades painting for others so I intend to paint myself into a potentially very poor grave painting for myself! That’s it for rabbit, on with some paintings.

 

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London, plein air, oils, painting, Blackheath

A visit to Blackheath Village. The forecast was for rain but none turned up. I was slightly in the way here and expected to get moved on, so I painted as fast as I could with no prior drawing out. The result is nice enough but would have been better if I had done the drawing carefully before starting in with the colour. Still sometimes it is fun just to “go for it” and trust to fortune.

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Brookmill Rd, London, Deptford, plein air, oils

We have had some beautiful evenings and the light on this particular evening was wonderful. I took a lot of care over the relative tones here as I knew whether the painting worked or not would depend on the subtle contrasts. I might subdue the sky left and right a little, but we will see.

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Whitstable, sea, plein air, oil, painting

A day out with the “Wappers” in Whitstable. I arrived early as the forecast was for a dull second half of the day. Not much to say about this one, it needs a dog walker coming along the path I think. Which would be true to life as they passed by in droves, dog walkers are early risers in Whitstable!

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Whitstable, Painting, oils, plein air

The light flattened out very quickly and I was left struggling for subjects. This would be a great scene given the right light, but I am still quite pleased to have got quite an acceptable painting from such an unpromising view. I have exaggerated the colours and tones but only as much as I thought was needed and no more so as to retain the feeling of flat light.

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Whitstable, Harbour, ship, oil painting, plein air, sea

I nearly didn’t start this but I’m glad I did now. I thought such a divided composition would be poor, but in the event it is the strongest point of the painting. The water was very tricky and took quite a few wiping offs for me to get what I wanted.

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Whitstable, kent, harbour, oil painting, plein air

Last one of the day, the light had started to do interesting things. One challenging thing about painting ships is that they tend to up anchor and away when you are in the middle of painting them. Just as the blue gravel carrier did when I was painting this.

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London, evening, watercolour, Covent Garden

An experiment with granulation. I thought the effect was suited to a nocturne and it did, but I rather overdid the effect. I learnt a lot about the whys and wherefores of granulation by doing this. In the most simple terms the more gum arabic you add to the colour the more it granulates. With ultramarine if you over do it the effect is slightly like a soot storm! Still it suites an urban scene pretty well.

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Cannon St, London, city, oil painting, plein air

Back to my old haunts. This is a plein air sketch for a larger picture, it went so well I will have difficulty making the final version better. This is one of my main challenges I face at the moment, to transfer the immediacy of a plein air to a studio painting without it being a sort of pretend plein air.

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Charing Cross, London oil painting, art

I’m quite pleased with this one, it is almost the first studio picture where I have got the balance almost right. A few tweaks to come once it’s dry, but on the whole a step forward.

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London Bridge, Thames, London, Cannon Street Station, watercolour, art

Some fantastic evenings I did a quick colour note, and took some photos when passing over London Bridge. A much painted scene but I just couldn’t resist.A half sheet of Arches so larger than I usually paint, I am rather fond of the double square format.

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Blackheath, London, watercolour, plein air

A plein air upon Blackheath, I must do more paintings here, the heath is surrounded by interesting buildings and a subject can be found in almost any light. This is just a simple house portrait but nothing wrong with that in my book. About 12 in by 10 in.

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