Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

September 26, 2011

Two Rivers

Filed under: Drawing,London,Painting,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 1:31 pm

A more cheerful post this time, a trip down the beautiful Wye, and an expedition to Henley and Cookham. I have found it hard to push myself out of the door to paint of late. I probably should have as I laboured for nigh on  2 weeks on a studio oil, only to scrape the damn thing out again. Sometimes a painting is just ill conceived and cannot be resolved. The picture was of folks dancing at a party that I had been lucky enough to be invited to. I have to say one of the best get togethers I have ever attended (My thanks to Richard, the most generous of hosts and for music meister Chris for inviting me). Set in a hut with pavilion leanings which looked out over a fantastic view over the Wye valley towards the Black Mountains. There were musicians and dancing and best of all a great mixture of people from watchmakers to flute makers and wonderful musicians by the dozen… in the early afternoon people started to dance and I just could not resist trying to sketch them. This can be a frustrating business but great fun, most of the scribbles are worthless, but astonishingly some of them do actually catch something of the dancers. I took quite a few photographs as well but the light was fading and the exposure times reduced the dancers to blurs. Still, good reference for light and ambience. Next I did a sketch sort of combining the various elements with large dollops of imagination, which turned out encouragingly. Then in a fit of over ambition transferred to a larger canvas. Then came the struggle and a fruitless one at that. It is odd how reluctant you are to admit defeat, it is not as if you can’t retreat and regroup, the war is never lost. Then again a streak of stubbornness is as useful for an artist as it is annoying for those around you. After nearly 8 days painting in and scraping out I just had to admit the painting was just not ever going to be as good as the sketch, it was just the wrong sort of painting for the subject. The snatched moment element is easy to catch in a lively drawing but becomes silted up and stuck in the creative mud when wrestling with the technicalities of painting in oils. I will try again though, quite by chance a good friend and I went to see the current Degas exhibition on his images of dancers. Although it is humbling to see what he could do with the same subject, I can also see how I should have approached the subject, so hopefully my next report should include a finished version. My lesson from Degas is to draw and redraw the figures until they are set in my mind and hand and then merely extend the drawing into paint allowing the drawing to dominate… good theory, we will see what happens. I’ll start with the ill fated dancers and move on to the river trips after. Some images can be clicked for a larger version.



drawing, dancers, sketch

Here’s a compilation of the sketches, one thing with dancers is that they keep returning to the same positions so several can be done at the same adding a little more to each one as the dancers come around.


Dancers, sketch, drawing, photoshop

Here is my preliminary sketch done in photoshop, I have as I may have mentioned a Wacom Cintiq that allows me to draw straight on the screen as if it were paper. It is fantastic for working out a composition but only if you keep it loose and don’t allow your references to limit you. No image of the disastrous painting exists… and I wouldn’t show you even if there was!


Brookmill, Road, London, urban, street, oil, painting, Rob Adams

First a 14in by 10in oil done just outside my house, very tricky light and it needs a few figures. It’s one of those paintings that I am pleased with but will never get framed. Often the way with my local plein airs.


Wye valley, River, Herefordshire, watercolor, Rob Adams

On my way to the party I snatched the chance to paint this, a perfect spot to paint.


Drawing, Woolhope, church, porch

I did this little sketch in the churchyard of  Woolhope Church, I was filling in time so as not to be unfashionably early! I must do more basic pencil drawings as I enjoy the medium, but I have been rather sidetracked by the attractions of working in pastel pencils.


Herefordshire, orchard, watercolour, painting, Rob Adams

The morning after… I was feeling a little strung out but wanted to get a sketch of the view. By the time I had finished I felt almost human and went in search of coffee.


Fownhope, wye valley, herefordshire, village, oil painting, Rob Adams This is a side street in Fownhope, the day had clouded a bit but this had the tonal interest, I inconvenienced everybody by parking my car and perching on the bonnet to paint. This is something I quite often do if there is room. It allows a better view in this sort of “Down the Road” composition. It also prevents passing cars from killing you, but not alas cursing you. 14in by 10in.


Wye Valley, oil painting, art, Rob Adams, Herefordshire

I did this one twice, I got my lay in wrong tonally, if this happens it is really best just to wipe back and start again… still it’s just as well the swans don’t understand cursing! 14in by 10in. This is of course the Wye Valley.


Wye Valley, river, Herefordshire, oil painting , Rob Adams

I perched on a dodgy bit of bank to do this, in fear of tumbling into the flood. The light was tremendous and once I had the relative tones organised this was unexpectedly easy to paint. At this point the Wye is just turning to flow into the gorge at Symonds Yat. 14in by 10in.


Mordiford, bridge, Wye, valley, sketch, pencil

This is the bridge at Mordiford on an offshoot of the Wye, every arch built in a different style!


Henley, Thames, River, oils, plein air, painting, Rob Adams

A different river, the Thames at Henley. Despite it being such a beautiful place I struggled for subjects. I often find this is the case in official “beauty spots” I don’t know why. This was harder than it looks the relative tones of the river and bank were quite different than I would have expected. A fierce wind got up which made life interesting, whisking my palette away on one occasion. This was the second of the day, the first went awry. This was a meeting of the Plein Air Society but I only saw one other painter wandering like a lost soul… 14in by 10in.


thames, boats, hurley, river, watercolour, plein air, Rob Adams

This is Hurley Lock. I really didn’t like Henley, too busy and tarted up. This was far nicer and more peaceful. Unfortunately it had clouded over making the light a bit flat but this had enough contrast. As with all river views getting into a place to paint is quite tricky, here there was a handy pontoon which I snuck on to, the fishermen said I would get evicted but the lock keeper let me be…


thames, Hurley, river, watercolour, painting, plein air. Rob Adams

A bit further down stream the light was still flat but these trees on the turn were so beautiful I couldn’t resist. I hope to catch the full progression of Autumn this year.


Cookham, churchyard, grave, watercolour, painting, Rob Adams

Last one of the day. The light had improved and I couldn’t resist looking at Cookham Church, stamping ground of Stanley Spencer. I was hoping a few of the interrees would rise from the dead as I was painting but no luck, I must return on Judgment day.

September 16, 2011

On Fame and a Sad Loss

Filed under: Art History,Drawing — Rob Adams @ 10:50 am

A slightly different post this time. My great friend for many years John Hilder died after battling with cancer for several years. He was a wonderful artist so I thought I would make this post an appreciation of his talents, and a contemplation on the artists lot. I first met John in the early nineties when he was head designer for Madame Tussauds. He had washed up in that role after being a theatre designer and painter. When I first saw his drawings I was amazed at the energy and character they had. A John Hilder drawing always looked to be about to burst from the page and colonise the surrounding area! He had a wonderfully supple and distinctive line that I can’t deny I envied him mightily. Like many truly talented people John was humble and extremely appreciative of the efforts of others.

So here is a man that designed attractions that literally millions of people have enjoyed and are still enjoying, yet when I Google him even with the name of the company he worked for not one reference is to be found. This post is not a complaint of injustice, but more of a contemplation of the fate of many many anonymous artists who have laboured away for a lifetime unnoticed. Every time I see an illustration used in a newspaper or magazine with the name of the picture library as credit and the artist that created it unnamed I can’t deny I feel saddened and a little annoyed. As John and I often joked, there is always someone more ambitious, better dressed, cool and corporate ready to take the credit for your work!

One thing that drew my particular admiration for him was the way that whatever the job he was involved in, be it a huge development like Madame Tussauds New York, or a hamburger stand in Alton Towers, he always put his heart and soul into it. I never, in all my years of working with him, saw him do a half hearted job. Because of his history in the theatre he also had much experience of how the things he designed would actually be built, and he liked to follow a project through to completion. Sadly that was a role increasingly denied him as the years went by. The route up the greasy pole in companies is one that runs from doing it yourself to telling others what to do. With artists and designers this would mean that you started drawing and then put your pencils away and spent your time managing others. But for truly talented people like John Hilder drawing is their life blood, inextricably embedded in their thought process, he never could have, or would have wished to, give it up and have others to do it a his behest. So as the years went by John saw his assistants promoted above him and though he was generous hearted and genuinely pleased for others success, I know he felt increasingly undervalued and sidelined. The computer age was not a welcome one for John, he had very poor eyesight and had to work large. I once came in one morning to find him working on a wonderful drawing of a dancing hippo fully 10 ft high! It was on many sheets laid out on the floor a scale of 1 to 1! Increasingly, however, the requirement was for A3 drawings which was for him like asking him to draw on a postage stamp. The trend in design was alas very strongly towards computers and away from drawing boards, a change that I personally found fascinating, but I know John felt no connection with. Nowadays in the studio where he churned out his wonderful drawings on A0 sheets of paper there is not  a single drawing board left. The baby in my opinion has been well and truly thrown out with the bathwater.

Sadly John was eventually forced to leave his position, as ill health and increasing creative isolation took its toll. He soon set about reinventing himself and was producing illustrated maps for Petworth House and working on a beautifully illustrated children’s book linked to Kew Gardens. He would I feel have always found plenty of clients wanting his wonderful drawings and paintings, but alas his health grew increasingly poor. Nonetheless he continued drawing almost up to the end.

So enough sad contemplation, here are a few of John’s drawings. You can only get a rough idea of the effect on a computer screen the originals are usually a good yard across! The landscape orientation images can be clicked for a larger image. All images are copyright to the Tussauds Group and Merlin Entertainments. The photo at the end is thanks to Garfaith Pang.



wind in the willows, drawing, John Hilder

This was for a Wind in the Willows attraction.


Rabbit, drawing, John Hider

John was wonderful at characters.


Ratty, wind in the willows, John Hilder, drawing

Another drawing this time a profile for the sculptors to work from.


Mole, boat, John Hilder, drawing, pencil

Here is an early development sketch, John always used Charisma pencils on layout paper and would draw many layers before he was satisfied.


Wind in the willows, John Hilder, drawing

Another design guide for the sculptors all John’s drawings were covered with annotations, often quirky and funny.


ducks, drawing, John Hilder

I always feel it’s a pity John never got the opportunity to work in animated features, he would I feel have been wonderful at it.


wild wood, drawing, John Hilder

This was a project I know he enjoyed hugely, I have too few of his “finished” drawings.


badger, wind in the willows, John Hilder, drawing

This is one of my favourites, the originals alas are all in tubes in an office basement and will I suspect never see the light of day again. They will eventually be thrown away in some clear out I fear.


Squirrel, drawing, John Hilder

Another character, these choices are actually John’s because we raided the basement on one of his last days and photographed all we could of his many years of work. Only a small amount of which he had done over twenty years that still survived.


Projector, drawing, John Hilder

John was equally good with mechanical subjects here is an elevation of a design for a projector… one that oddly also makes tea!


Machine, drawing John Hilder

 Here is a close up of one of his “technical” drawings. His drawings were always beautiful but also practical and achievable.


Facade, drawing, John Hilder

John’s knowledge of architecture and design was extensive and he always researched everything to get the details right. His versions though always added extra doses of exuberance!


Monroe, drawing, John Hilder

A rare full colour painting. This was a guide for a scenic artist for a project in Las Vegas.


Moley, rowing, Riverbank, drawing, John Hilder

So farewell to John. I hope this small appreciation allows a few more people to enjoy his work.


John Hilder

Here is the man himself considering his next line.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress

error: Content is protected !!