Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

February 24, 2012

Life Drawing and Some Cityscapes

Filed under: Drawing,Life Drawing,London,Painting,Watercolour — Rob Adams @ 5:37 pm

I have been in an experimental mood of late. Sometimes it helps to mess about with how you set about things in order to stimulate progress. Such a policy also raises the chances of things going wrong,  but that’s life I suppose. I know Turner used a blue grey ground on his paper then added chinese white to add any brights. So I have tried that in both life drawing and plein air with mixed results. To prepare the paper I make a wash using thinned acrylics so the toning is waterproof. (an experiment for another day is to use watercolour for this to allow lifting out.) To work this way is very similar, I found, to Gouache. With the Chinese White mixes dry back much duller than they look when wet. This means it can be hard to judge at the mixing stage, but with experience you soon get the hang of it. For these ones I used a blue ground but if I try again I may make it warmer. The blue cast is quite pretty in the life drawings but I found rather deadened the cityscape.

Commercial work has receded thank heaven so I can start on the backlog of studio stuff I have waiting to be done. These consist of compositional thumbnails and photos if I don’t do the thumbnail as soon as I have the idea when I look at the reference later I can’t remember why the hell I wanted to do a painting from them. But a quick peek at the thumbnail brings it flooding back! What an odd thing memory is, I suppose if we had all our memories to hand it would be overwhelming so our brain serves them up as needed… or in my case with increasing age and absentmindedness comes up blank. I do wonder what is going on when you cannot remember a thing then it pops up from nowhere half an hour later. Behind the scenes I imagine frantic cortical clerks rummaging through rooms full of overstuffed filing cabinets in a desperate search for a misplaced record. With cries of “I’m sure it was there just a minute ago.” and accusations of “somebody must have moved it!” Then one flustered minion finds it where it was meant to be in the first place.

I am also going to try doing more than one version of the same subject and revisit earlier paintings rather than just consigning them to the past. Doing oils from watercolours and watercolours from oils. This has been prompted by life drawing where of late we have done a few hour length poses. Normally an hour is too long for me, I can ruin nearly any drawing in an hour and am filling in time by putting in the soft furnishings and my fellow artists. So I have been doing several versions each one more simple. I find I rather like the process as you carry forward some of what you learnt on the first into the second and so on. With the watercolours I can actually start all three at the same time which gives the first a chance to dry by the time you are back to it.

First up is a scene I spotted last year and took quite a few photos, but the subject was from a viewpoint where it was impossible to stand and paint as it was in the very busy Lewisham market. Also the sun was only in the right position very briefly and only in February. So it has had to wait a year for me to get further photos. I stood for half an hour just snapping away with the camera every time a good figure walked towards me. It’s amazing how few pictures of people walking look “right” most look ungainly or it’s hard to work out the position. The main thing I look for is a good descriptive and clear silhouette. Also you need figures for different roles… IE a star and supporting characters. I did two different treatments of the same subject as well which was more fun than I suspected… it wasn’t in the least boring second time as I had thought in might be. Enough theorising, some practical results! Some pictures can be clicked as always.



lewisham, market, London

Here is my starting point, photos are nearly always disappointing when you first look at them. You remember the scene so much more vividly than the camera image can usually express. My first move is to sketch out in a very few tones what I want and try and get back the impression that made me excited about the scene at the time. Lewisham market is quite ordinary but it is very popular and I like the bustling atmosphere.


Lewisham, market, London, drawing, Rob Adams

Here is my rough sketch. It is just done in Photoshop, I rarely use paper anymore for these roughs. The computer allows for so much more freedom. Once I had got the background reshaped to my liking I drop in figures from reference and scribble them in. I don’t try and trace them but keep the whole thing loose. Once done I put in a few outlines so I can transfer to paper.


lewisham, market, london, watercolour, painting, Rob Adams

I intended from the start to do two versions one tighter and another more loose and with a more restricted palette. When you have done all the planning it can be surprising how smoothly a painting goes. I had intended to take photos of my progress and had the camera set up behind me, but I became so engrossed that I took only one of the traced down outline! The main thing I tried to keep under control here was the progression of tones from the distance to the foreground. It is all too easy to run out of possible tones by going too dark too early, but also I don’t like to have more than three washes overlaid in case the surface goes lifeless.


Lewisham, market, watercolour, painting, Rob Adams

Here is the second version only four colours Ultramarine, Quinacridone Red, Lamp Black and Quinacridone Gold. The black was used to give “body” to the darker blues so I didn’t have to overlay too many washes. The painting was started with one very wet wash which I carried on dropping colour into as it passed through various states of dryness. I suspect that most will prefer this version but I feel both approaches have merit and express different aspects of the day portrayed.


Mary Le Strand, London, fleet st, watercolour, Rob adams, painting

Here we are on another outing for the “Brass Monkeys” I had been prepared for overcast… but in the event had bright sunshine. I had prepared my paper as I mentioned above in a grey blue! Still I enjoyed drawing this, using the Chinese white does give the result a different and rather appealing character. I rather over did it though, it was better after the first half an hour that it was by the time I stopped an hour later.


Thames, London, Southwark, shard, watercolour, plein air, Rob Adams

The only other thing I got done was this very quick 7in by 5in sketch of Southwark Bridge, the “Shard” is probably more interesting now than it will be when it is complete.


Life drawing, figure, nude, watercolour, Rob Adams

Here is version one of this pose, I started no 2 as this one was drying enough to take further.


Nude, Life Drawing, figure, watercolour, Rob Adams

Here’s no 2. I didn’t want to go straight for extreme simplification but do it in a couple of stages.


Nude, life drawing, figure, watercolour, Rob Adams

Finally no 3, here I used a large flat brush to define simple shapes.


Nude, life drawing, figure, watercolour, painting, Rob Adams

One more quick one and I’m out of time, the “Blue” nudes on the prepared paper will have to be another time.

February 15, 2012

Snow in London and Kent

Filed under: Ireland,Kent,London,Painting,Watercolour — Rob Adams @ 9:24 pm

It’s a few years in a row London has had a powdering of snow. Each time I’m keen to get out and paint it. Everything is simplified and the white reflects the light back up into the scene. It has also been a chance to refine my choices of tone. Many painters seem to believe that there is a “right” tone, and that any tone can be accurately mixed. In my experience this is just not the case. There are just too many variables, and degrees of subjectivity. Painting a scene from the shade for example will produce a different feeling than painting the same scene standing in the full light, neither will be right or wrong just a different take on the same thing. A photograph may be taken at different exposures but the perfect exposure is a matter of subjective taste, so the spread of acceptable tones making up the image might be quite wide. As painters we therefore have a choice as to what “key” to set our painting in. What is important is the relative relationships between the tones. Below is an example deliberately exaggerated but I hope it shows what I mean.

tutorial, tone

tutorial, tone

tutorial, tone

Above are three variations on the same subject the extremes are too extreme but it should be plain that a perfectly good picture can result from more than one ranges of tone and no particular range is more or less right. In each one the whole range has been compressed one to light the other dark but the internal tones have the same relative relationships as the centre one. There are some paintings by Monet of the Seine that show the same raising and lowering of the key to great effect.

Monet, seine, France


Monet, the Seine

He painted ten or so of this scene in all different moods. In order to exploit this you need to decide from the outset what is to be your darkest dark and your lightest light. Then arrange the rest of the tones to fit it is always tempting to use the full range from light to dark in every painting, but if you resist this and work to a restricted range that suites the subject then I hope you will find interesting results as I have. So that’s the thought for the day over, now some recent efforts. Some can be clicked for a larger view.



Ireland, Galway, Watercolour, Harbour, painting, Rob Adams

This is Galway Harbour in Ireland. I sketched it on site, but the rain prevented me starting to paint and besides I was meant to be doing Christmas shopping not painting. It is done on “hot pressed” paper which I don’t often use but it is quite good for these complex ship scenes.


Rotherhithe, Thames, London, river, plein air, painting, Rob Adams

Out with the Brass Monkeys again. Here is a picture where I didn’t stop to think about the relative tones before starting and I paid the price in getting an average painting from a quite good subject. Not a scraper but nearly!


Butlers Wharf, Thames, London, Plein air, painting, oil, Rob Adams

This was painted in about twenty minutes, it had to be fast because the sun was about to come into view and I would have to stop. These are the spice wharfs where exotic flavours were once offloaded from distant parts. Only a sketch but I was pleased to get this much down so quickly.


Blackheath, London, snow, oil painting, plein air, Rob Adams

Snow at last! Waking up to see a good covering of snow I put my day on hold and set off up to Blackheath. On this one I tried an experiment in that I put the figures in almost first thing. This was prompted by this couple who I got a snap of as they approached me. I drew them in squinting at the screen on the back of my camera. It really helped to have them there from the start though, better I think than adding them after. The light was so constant that I could take my time with this.


Blackheath, snow, london, oil painting, plein air, Rob Adams

I hadn’t intended to do another due to the cold but I couldn’t resist this. I sat on the nice warm bonnet of my car and stood on a bit of polystyrene to keep the cold at bay. Again I had plenty of time and enjoyed attempting to get the subtle tones in place.


Aylesford, Kent, Medway, plein air, oil painting, Rob Adams

This is another outing with the Brass Monkeys, the light was very flat at first and worryingly the pub I had told the group to meet at was boarded up! I did my best with this but the light wasn’t very inspiring, I have a feeling it might make a good watercolour. As I was finishing this Mike Richardson arrived and we decided to go up on to the downs in search of snow.


Snow, plein air, oil painting, Rob Adams

After driving up a very slippery track this was what we found. Paints were set up pronto and the light improved as we painted. A very easy subject but the way the snow subtly changes hue and tone make fascinating painting.


Kent, Snow, Medway, plein air, oil painting, Rob Adams

I rotated 90 degrees to do my next one looking out over the Medway valley.


Kent, Snow, Medway, plein air, oil painting, rob adams

Last one of the day, neither of us could resist this wide view of the Medway curving across the valley below.

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