Rob Adams a Painter's Blog

October 30, 2011

Life Death and Everything

Filed under: Drawing,Life Drawing,London,Painting,Philosophy — Rob Adams @ 7:32 pm

Paint as if you were a child. More received wisdom I don’t really agree with. Children’s paintings all show the same features and styles, their progress does not seem to show much variation from child to child or indeed generation. We do like to coo at the naive charm and simple directness and of course parents are always looking for their little darling to be a Michelangelo in the bud! But really, we are not children, we are adults and should paint as such. I think it was C S Lewis who said we want to get to the silliest time of our life and stay there as long as possible. Well whatever, I don’t wish to revert to my childhood, not with my dotage drawing ever closer anyway. The same goes for the yearning for a simpler past. This has been a popular fantasy, the noble savage etc. I don’t want to paint like a nomadic tribesman. I enjoy many of their artefacts and stylisations, but what I see in them is coloured and shaped by my own society, if I tried to ape them it would, in my view, be just pretence.  I can of course take from any influence that comes my way, but in the end I feel I am, for better or worse, the product of this cosy and absurdly privileged society here on the fringes of Europe. Good or bad, all my painting will spring from that.

Another thread of popular belief I find slightly tedious is the promotion of emotion over consideration, feeling over thinking, intuition over experience, we admire Mr Spock but he is always out done by touchy feely Captain Kirk. In this country especially, it feels that being intellectual is considered a little suspicious, a little showoffy. Alas learning and thinking has always been a large part of my process and development, so I shall never be cool. You can apparently be cool if you are nerdy, but not if you wonder aloud about why the hell you are here or what indeed “here” might be. These are topics that are inextricably a part of my mental landscape. Douglas Adams’ the Hitchhiker’s Guide said, Life Death and Everything sums up to 42, as good an answer as any I suppose. I have read sciencey stuff, religious guff, philosophical tracts, random facts, bent my mind around mathematical concepts, wondered at geometrical constructs,  gazed at paintings, listened and moved to music. I have understood, misunderstood and just plain failed to understand, all to little avail. There seems to be a core of unknowingness that resists illumination by human thought. There is no mirror dark enough to reflect our selves.The slippery surface remains unscratched.

I have however made some small gains in what form I would like any answers to big questions to take. The main one is that I want free will. Not much to ask you might think, but it is a knotty question indeed. Science says to me every thing is causal, one event following and triggering another, like a very long string of intricately arranged dominoes. Knock over the first one and everything just happens from there. God pushed over the first one, the religious cry, well perhaps, He seems a bit over qualified though. My problem with the science view is that all I am is an occurrence. Any decision I imagine I made is just one domino toppling into another, not free will at all. What of the multiverse? Every probability every possibility is there… but if there are choices and if I choose every one of them then that is no choice at all and once again I made no difference to existence, no mark on my paper. I did not do I just was. Be content with that “Just wassing”, cry the Buddhists. Sorry, I really want to be more than a stone, overambitious I know, but there it is. I am manfully resisting the temptation to descend into quantum mechanics and entanglement here… but best not.

Religion is no help, if God is omniscient then He has made any decisions by the very fact of that allknowingness, if I had free will I could surprise Him, but if I surprise him then he is not God. So there it is, God or no free will. I’ll hope for the free will and pass up on the possibility of an Allmighty I think. Well what is wrong with things just happening? I feel I have free will and volition, so what if it is just an illusion? Well it matters a great deal to my mind. Without free will there is no murder or blame for it, no art or artist, no friendship, no love, no thought, just occurrence one arrangement of particles followed by another. Indeed if all possible arrangements of particles or whatever the smallest thing was were laid out before you all possible existences could be had by merely arranging them in different orders… dominoes again, or maybe scrabble. If you arrange letters on a scrabble board in every possible combination you will be able to arrange a selection of the various completed boards into the works of Shakespeare. See, the bard didn’t write them plays, they just happened. If this is so I don’t paint my paintings, they just occur, indeed there is no “me” to paint them.

So that’s number one on my “things the answer to everything has to have”- volition. Because without that I do not exist. Now it seems to me, as it did to Descartes, that I am. So if some theory of existence comes along that precludes it then I must say, no thank you… but here is the the kicker: there is no sensible proposed description of existence that I have found, either religious, philosophical or scientific that appears to allow free will. Still strong enough for some art? I hope so, just don’t blame me for them, they just occurred! Some pictures can be clicked for larger versions, drawings mostly not.

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Henley on Thames, Surrey, Oil painting, rob adams, river, barge

I think this is the best attempt so far at a degree of finish that catches a little of the plein air manner whilst still being a studio painting. It really makes a difference having done several paintings of the same area both plein air and studio as you start to develop a shorthand for the subject.

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St Pauls, Thames, River ,London, city, oil painting, plein air, Rob Adams

We have been having the most beautiful light during this October Indian summer. I had to do this very briskly but spent the first 20 min making sure I had the drawing as I wanted. I am getting a bit better at my descriptive mark making in oils, which make breaking a complicated subject like this into unified painting.

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London Eye, Thames, Hungerford Bridge, Plein air oil painting, Rob Adams

A very quick sketch later the same day. The contre jour lighting made the spread of tones very simple, just a collection of flat shapes really. It was a nervous moment putting in the London Eye as I wanted it sketchy but accurate.

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River, Thames, St Pauls, ships, London, River, Plein air, Rob adams

This one took a couple of visits. Painted from Southwark Bridge. Though not the busiest of London’s bridges it still is unpleasant with the traffic behind you. I made the boats on the left too detailed, I might well simplify the area when it is dry. The second visit was just to finish the water which I was unhappy with in the first version. I need another scan as well this one is a bit ropey!

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Life drawing, nude

A few life drawings. This model was very statuesque I would have loved to sculpt this pose.

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Life drawing

I am trying to express the outline by the counterchanges in tone with the background rather than too many lines.

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Life Drawing, figure

This sort of standing straight at you pose is very difficult, didn’t quite get around to getting her feet grounded properly.

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Life drawing, figure

Another thing I am trying to do is not try and get the whole figure in… I almost fit the figure to the page by habit but often it is better to let the figure be cropped by the page.

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Life Drawing

A few quick 6min sketches, often the best things of the evening.

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Life drawing, figure

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Life Drawing, figure

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Life drawing, figure

A longer one, this model is a dancer and is just wonderful to draw. Every pose she takes up has great poise and elegance.

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Life drawing, figure, watercolour

Scary stuff doing watercolours from life. The half an hour duration of the pose means that drying is a big problem. Two colours, venetian red and ultramarine. I find that’s all you need, more would make it harder for no real gain.

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Life drawing, figure, watercolour

Same colours but letting the blues predominate.

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Life drawing, figure, watercolour

Spent about 20 minutes on this, then I had an idea of how to tackle the pose better.

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Life, drawing, figure, watercolour

I saw that I could exaggerate the lighting to good effect but only had 10 mins so I had to be very broad, but still the best of the session.

October 16, 2011

The Cotswolds Watercolours and catching up on a few studio pictures.

Filed under: France,London,Painting,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 7:20 pm

I have been trying to catch up on some studio paintings, but a trip to a family bash in the Midlands allowed me to do a bit of painting in the Cotswolds. I was lucky with the light it was diffused through quite thin cloud which gave a lovely quality but still gave some quite strong light and shade. I also was taking my large squirrel mop on its first outdoor painting trip. I have owned one of these beasts for twenty years but only used it for dusting off slides for scanning! I have no idea why I didn’t experiment with it. On my first trip to Henley though I saw one of the Wappers using one and realised I had been missing out. The wonderful thing with them I have found is the versatility. It holds a ton of paint but still falls to a needle point, though you have to hold it as if it were a chinese brush, at the very end and hanging down. A bit of experimentation allows some great mark making with plenty of variety. Because they hold so much paint they are great for washes. So as to be a bit nerdy here’s a picture of my watercolour brush roll…

brushes, sable, squirrel mop, watercolour

The flat sable in the middle is one inch wide so you can judge scale from that. The mops are the brushes with the wire bound quills.The largest on the right is 2cm wide, but even this monster is capable of the finest of lines. I have probably bought too many of them, but I had a moment of B.A.D (brush acquisition disorder) Good watercolour brushes cost a fortune but it is no good buying the cheap ones they will last half the time and be nowhere near as pleasant to work with. I wash them with shampoo which keeps them clean and supple, some of the sables on the left are more than 10 years old. Snuggling in next to the large mop is a cheap synthetic which I try to use for most of the heavy mixing as there is no point in wearing out an expensive brush. The next area of experimentation is paper. I have recently been using 3oo Lb Arches Rough but now I think I should give the less strongly textured papers a go the cold pressed and hot pressed. I think they may well suit certain subjects better. Another idea I am toying with after the Cotswold trip is some sort of method of drying washes more swiftly when outside. In the studio you can use a hairdryer and time of course is not so constrained, so a retreat to the sofa with a book makes a pleasant interlude. So far I have considered cordless hairdryers which seem only to exist in China and as you might expect have quite a brief battery life. I will first try a small battery fan as the movement of air is more important than heat as any one who watercolours on a windy day will tell you. If that fails I am considering using a blow torch… at the risk of passers by thing that I am mad and dangerous! It is humid days that can be a nightmare, I have known washes to be hardly dry at all after an hour, which makes painting very difficult.

Still enough technical musing on with a few paintings. Some images can be clicked to show a larger version.

 

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Dumbleton, cotswolds, watercolour, plein air, painting, rob adams

Houses near Dumbleton. Very beautiful but tricky light. As well as using different brushes I am attempting to paint a wee bit larger so this is a 1/4 sheet. I realised by the time I finished that the whole thing needed a graded wash of blue from right to left… not something to attempt in the field, it’s a risky enough operation in the studio. To do it I mixed three strengths of wash and did it in quarters strongest first then doing the last quarter on the left with clean water. It is very important not to disturb the underlying work so you only get one chance.

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Dumbleton, Cotswolds, trees, watercolour, painting, rob adams

Another view in Dumbleton, a 1/2 sheet this time. After doing the drawing and the first wash I had to give up as the wash was taking ages to dry. So I took a few snaps for reference refined some of the drawing and finished off at home… if only I had packed my blowtorch! Still I am quite enjoying this increase in painting size, but I shudder to think of the increased framing costs.

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Dumbleton church, cotswolds, watercolour, painting, rob adams

A 1/4 sheet studio painting. I know people say that you can always tell a studio picture from a plein air, but I am damned if I can, the difference is mostly in the minds of the viewer I suspect. I have been tempted to test this but I had better not as it might offend. For this one I laid all the shadow areas in cool tones then laid the warmer washes over. I find this gives a better quality to the shadows.

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Henley, boats, dawn, Thames, river, watercolour, painting, Rob adams Now this one you really can tell is a studio painting. I loved the mood on the river at dawn on my recent visits to Henley on Thames. The camera alas just doesn’t catch the magic so this is my attempt to do that. I used a very limited palette, just Ultramarine, Cadmium Red and Quinacridone gold. The varied colours on the midground trees are painted in one wash with the tree colours mixed, if water is dropped on the wet wash then they separate due to the ultramarine granulating and the cadmium red staining.

Saumur, bridge, france, loire, river, watercolour, dawn, painting, rob adams

Another limited palette. This was a plein air done at dawn of last years trip to Saumur. I am right out on the river bed of the drought shrunken Loire. Unfortunately at the time I forgot my ruler so the painting has been waiting for its bridge for nearly 3 months! This was very easy to paint just a mood note rather than a proper painting.

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Herefordshire, Poplars, watercolour, wye valley, painting, rob adams

A studio picture done from my recent visit to the Wye Valley. As soon as I saw this scene I knew it would make a good painting. I roughly sketched it and added a few tone notes, which I combined with photos to paint this. A 1/2 sheet it was great fun to do. I’m not sure I’m ready to tackle such big paintings en plein air, but I suppose I should try even so.

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Henley on Thames, Thames, river, dawn, oil painting, rob adams

Using a watercolour from my sketch book and some photos taken at the time I painted this. I was trying to catch the stillness and peace. The first dog walkers arrived as I was painting the sketch. I might add one in the mid distance, but care will be needed as figures can be so dominant.

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