Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

March 24, 2012

Painting along the Costa del Thames

Filed under: London,Painting,Watercolour — Rob Adams @ 12:04 pm

Some challenging painting opportunities in the last few weeks. First out to Hoo with the Brass Monkeys, then off to the Thames Painting Fest which I was very kindly invited to by Steven Alexander of the Wapping group. There is nothing like painting with very good and hugely experienced artists to help you raise your game. It can be a humbling experience too when you see  another artist make a wonderful painting from the same scene you have just made a dog’s breakfast of! Still painting has always been about taking the rough with the smooth and such direct comparisons do open out the possibilities that you consider when looking for a subject. For me the finding a subject part of the job is rather difficult. Often there is a good painting in the scene before you, but spotting its potential is far from easy.

This makes me consider, what is it that I am looking for? A more difficult question to answer than you might think. Some are easy, the subject cries out to be painted and already usually has some sort of pictorial structure, many of the “much painted” scenes fall into this category, indeed there is one of them below of the lock at Sonning. The scene could almost have been designed for painters, the trees planted in artfully varied and framing positions, the buildings perfectly placed. Even the passers by seemed to pause only in positions that are in harmony with the scene’s composition! This confection drenched in the most wonderful springtime evening light is enough to weaken the knees of the strongest willed painter. We all gave in with out a fight and painted in a row along the bank. There is nothing wrong, I might add, from giving in to such temptation.

Some of the other venues were more challenging. You are there to paint –  but nothing in the scene catches your eye. I have a tendency to walk and walk hoping all the time to find something that will make me pause and settle down to paint. I take photos as I go and often do studio paintings from them at a later date which I am tolerably pleased with. So the picture must have been there and worth painting on the actual day, but somehow I fail to see it at the time. This makes me wonder why I don’t and how to improve my strike rate in that area. I think I am going to take an expedition where I only do multiple thumbnail sketches and take photos. This will take the picture painting out of the equation and thereby perhaps simplify the problem a little. I do occasionally do a quick tonal pencil sketch, but not often enough so this seems a sensible avenue to explore. I will report the results, good or bad, here in due course…

My oil painting is rather in the doldrums at present. For me oil painting is a fairly new pursuit, I have painted for many years in acrylics, but oils are more different than you might expect. There are just more possible variations of handling and effect, each of which add not only difficulty but also potentials for expression. These in turn require time to learn and until learnt and internalised make the flow of painting more difficult as technical considerations distract from the main business at hand. The result of all this is I tend to paint a tolerable one then a series of clunkers. There is nothing for it but to experiment and take the misses on the chin, as at the end of the day it is only hours at the easel that brings improvement. Enough whining, on with some paintings, some can be clicked for larger images.



telegraph hill, london, watercolour, painting, street, rob adams

Before we get out and about the latest one of my series of  London studio watercolours. I wanted in this do a very ordinary street on an ordinary day, not from masochism,  because often I think such scenes are very beautiful but because they are so familiar that they pass unappreciated both by me and others who live with such scenes. In truth there is nothing “ordinary” in our world it is all astonishing and I have to remind myself now and again to try and see it that way. The temptation here was to exaggerate the colour but I determined in advance not to do that. The road is Peyps Road on Telegraph Hill.


Hoo island, medway, barges, wrecks, oil painting, rob adams

This is from an outing with the Brass Monkeys. The early light was wonderful and I spent a very content couple of hours painting this. I got the balance of dry underpainting and more succulent strokes better here than I often do. One of the problems of oils, I find, is the whole thing getting too slippery so starting dry seems a good idea. Here I only put on the more juicy stuff at the end.


boats, hoo, medway, oils, painting, rob adams

Not a success this one but not a total disaster either. One of those where the end result wasn’t so hot but the process of doing it was very valuable. The scene is very challenging drawing wise and tonally as well. I didn’t quite get the tone relationships right but not a bad stab at a difficult subject.


Chertsey, Thames, watercolour, river, boatyard, rob adams, plein air

The first day of Steve’s “Painting Fest” This was just outside Churtsey on the Thames. The light was glittering and it was hard to catch the sharp clarity of the day. It may be a mistake, but I always try to paint the actual sky that the day presents, others seem happy to substitute an often more appealing one, which is perhaps something I should occasionally consider. The rest of the day did not go well with three oils that are destined to be scraped.


Mike Richardson, Steven Alexander, Derek Daniells



Some snaps to set the scene!


Shiplake, thames, plein air, watercolour, river, Rob adams

This is the Thames at Shiplake. I slightly overworked the right hand tree, I probably should have painted countershapes to give variation. As it is the darks a little too unvaried and look drawn on top rather than integrating with the whole picture.


Shiplake, thames, plein air, oils, painting, Rob adams

I did one other drawing which didn’t really work, then did this at the end of the day, a very quick sketch but it will be a useful aid to do a studio painting.


Mike Richardson, swans, river

Here is Mike Richardson being threatened by swans…


Staines, Thames, River, watercolour, plein air, Rob Adams

Here we are at Staines, I think the pub is called the Swan. Another glorious un-March like day. The sharp contrasts attracted me here, I experimented on the palette to ensure the whites would have the required punch when set against the sky tones.


Barges, staines, Thames, watercolour, plein air, Rob Adams

This is a crop of a 1/4 sheet the light wasn’t really good, in fact it was about right as I was packing up to move on. The background got too fragmented I would have been better allowing it to merge more into atmospheric confusion. I might have another go in the studio.


Staines, Thames, watercolour, plein air, rob Adams

Last one of the day this was looking into the distance as the sun set, I had to be quite quick but it had a lovely feeling drenched in warm light.


Graham Davies

Here is Graham Davies concentrating hard. He is fairly new to plein air, but made huge steps forward during our few days painting. It was a delight to paint with someone who is so keen and determined to master the tricky business of working en plein air.


Sonning, Thames, Bridge, watercolour, plein air, Rob Adams

This is Sonning, the light was tricky at first with hazy sunshine. This was a bit of a battle, I didn’t entirely win. A foreground boat would make the picture work better but the one just through the arch, which would have been perfect, was too fast for me and I didn’t get my camera out quick enough!


Sonning, Lock, thames, river, watercolour, plein air, Rob Adams

This is Sonning lock, the perfect scene I mentioned earlier. I experimented with laying in all the shadows first then over glazing with the warm tones to try and catch the glowing ambience of the evening light.


Thames, river, watercolour, plein air, Rob adams

A bit up the river from Sonning. I am not a great fan of sunsets but I enjoyed painting this a great deal. I had to be very quick and didn’t quite get done but it took very little to finish just popping in the skiffs and figures on the left.


Plein air painters

From left to right: Derek Daniells, Steven Alexander, Graham Davies and in the distance Mike Richardson. It was great fun to paint with such good companions, and I shall remember the discussions on the business of painting as much as the painting itself. My especial thanks to Steven and his wife Anne who put us up in their home for the duration and kept us fed and watered!

March 13, 2012

Watercolours of the City

Filed under: Life Drawing,London,Painting,Watercolour — Rob Adams @ 7:14 pm

I entered a watercolour into the RWS exhibition this year and to my surprise I got in, then to my further delight it also sold. It was of the City of London, here is the link to the post: . I had not done many urban watercolours as it is quite time consuming to distil the detail down but still keep the busy feeling that a bustling urban scene needs. Still emboldened by my success I have set about painting some more. I find it great fun to assemble a street scene, unlike a countryside scene there more variables in the form of cars, trains and people. When you photograph any of these it takes a very large number of pictures to get images that are “just right”. Then you have to arrange all the bits and bobs to look as if they just happened and weren’t carefully composed after all.

Like a lot of art if anybody notices the means by which it was done then you have failed. Time of day is hugely important for me in cityscapes, even the most prosaic view can be transfigured by beautiful or dramatic light. This light usually occurs at dawn or dusk and the only way to strike lucky is to be there when it might happen, which in turn means being there a lot of times when nothing happens! So although luck plays quite a large part in finding a good subject, putting yourself in the way of where luck might strike is very much part of the business of painting the city. I carry a compass with me so that if I come across a scene I like I can estimate what time of day a view might be good. It should be possible to exactly work out which day the sun will shine down a particular street, but I haven’t got around to working out a method. I have a 3D program that calculates sun position at any time of day (used by architects to make sure their building looks ugly whatever the time of day) so it should be possible to load in a map an just dial it round until the light is right then read off the day and time when the light might be good…



London, Nelson, Trafalgar, watercolour, plein air, Rob Adams

A plein air sketch done sat on a stool in the middle of Trafalgar Square, the light was moving fast so I couldn’t linger over the figures. It had enough about it to prompt me to do a larger studio version.


London, tourists, nelson, lions, Trafalgar, water colour, painting, Rob Adams

Here’s the studio version. I didn’t really have the right figures so I might do another after getting some more people pics. What it needs is a really good figure or figures to give it a focus. There is no way round this other than spending an hour or two snapping passers by often I only get three or four usable from a hundred or so photos and even these will need a little surgery to give them good silhouettes. 1/2 sheet.


ship, london, deptford, creek, watercolour, Rob adams

I have been meaning to do this view for a while and have dozens of pictures of it in differing light. I was more or less resigned to making up the light on the ship, but hey presto I passed by and the light was perfect and the ship in dock! I got it more or less drawn out, but it was too awkward peering over a chest high wall to paint, so I retreated to the studio. It was very important to keep the tones in the distance controlled to give the feeling of the sun drenching the scene. 1/4 sheet.


London, street, cars, Brockley, watercolour, Rob Adams

From a photo taken last Autumn, just a snap taken in passing but on going through my photos recently this struck a chord. I added the figure to give a focus and stop the eye running off into the distance. 1/4 sheet.


Cannon st, london, st pauls, watercolour, painting, rob adams

Nearly a half sheet, one of the most complicated scenes I have taken on in watercolour. I did a fair bit of working out as various hurdles had to be introduced to stop the eye whisking off down the street too quickly. It was a real challenge to keep it tight but the internal handling quite loose. Below is my tone sketch which is done very quickly in Photoshop.


London, photoshop, sketch

Here is my working drawing. All the various parts are assembled roughly then I do a line drawing over the photoshop image. This is not just tracing I am all the time selecting what is important and the process allows you to find what can be left out. Also it sets the whole thing in your memory which helps with doing the final painting. I then put a very blurred version of the montage behind the line work and work into it with colour only partly derived from the scene. The main inspiration for colour and mood was a plein air done about a year ago. I’ll repost it below and below that the photo ref so you can see how it developed.


London, cannon st, oil, painting, rob adams


London, st pauls, cannon st

Here’s the unadjusted photo. So you can see a finished painting is quite a journey. I think I might do another of this in later richer light. I had better hurry though as they are going to rebuild on the right so this view of St Pauls will be gone!


London, railway, train, St Leonard's, Shoreditch, Hoxton, Station, watercolour, Rob Adams

St Leonard’s, Shoreditch from Hoxton Station. This had been waiting a while. I sketched it out standing on Hoxton station but after a few abortive attempts I realised I was not going to be able to get the train right. So I took pictures then forgot about it. So now a year later I finished it off. That’s it I have another three London watercolours to do, but that will be after a stint of oil painting where I really must put some work in if I am to improve to a decent standard.

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