Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

August 28, 2012

Flowers, Nudes and Streets

Filed under: Drawing,Life Drawing,London,Painting,Still Life,Watercolour — Rob Adams @ 2:17 pm

It’s never good to get too comfortable. I could I suspect knock out elagaic street scenes ’til the cows come home. Not that I’m tired of them, just that once I have the material then it is not very stretching to paint one. So I have jumped in to a subject I have very rarely painted… flowers. Not too scary, how hard can a couple of roses be… the answer it turns out is very hard indeed. Of the five I started only three survive and two of those may hit the bin yet. Still I shall persevere, if it’s hard and I’m failing then overcoming that will inevitably improve my skills. If I improve my skills then those street scenes will get better too. The other classic subject I never do is still lives. I quite like the pictures when others do them, but somehow I’m never inspired myself. I think it’s the arranging that puts me off. Shuffling a few choice objects around on a tabletop just doesn’t seem very exciting. Most still lives are too decorative for me in that saccharine kittens in a shoe sort of way. There’s no easy way of saying anything much about anything except how nice that vase of flowers looked on the windowsill.

In a way that only points out the more that I ought to dip into the subject as only by doing a couple will I find out what I don’t know. My first instinct with anything is research. I look at as much stuff as I can to sort of prime the pumps. A quick Google told me I was in trouble. Almost nothing that I saw in image search took my eye. There was plenty I didn’t like and others I liked well enough but don’t want to do. The main thing I hated were all these “Flemish” highly finished concoctions of  3 lobsters, a cut glass bowl overflowing with a cornucopia of fruit, assorted pewter tankards, a recently deceased game bird and a rug. There are still painters doing these by the 10097 layer flemish method or whatever. The results are to my eye dead as a doornail but each to their own I suppose. I very much admire botanical illustrations when done well but don’t have the desire or the eyesight to do any myself. The other thing that struck me about still lives is: where is all the stuff we use and gloat over owning today? Why is there no “Rose in a Coffee mug with iPod? or “Partridge with Blender.” “Morning light on Playstation and Smoothy.” Just typing those out made me snigger but why? They at least would have some relevance to our everyday lives, not some daft Dutch world of the stuff of days gone by. I’m going to have to put my money where my mouth is here and do a few! Watch this space they will be in a later post…

Only a very few images from the web got my juices running. First were the simple flowers that Manet painted as he was dying. Confined to bed this was all he could practically paint. I’ll put two below even though they will make all the paintings of my own that come later look complete rubbish!

manet, still life, flowers

Just two roses but gorgeous handling of the paint.

Manet, still life, flowers

…and another, nothing at all fancy but perfect nonetheless. Lastly a Chardin.

chardin, still life

Again simple, just the ordinary stuff he had around. Stunning soft tones and clever composition.

The attraction seems to me to be abstract values without the abstraction itself. We shall see. A mixed bag this post I’ll start with the streets. I was told by an American commenter that I should put a warning on my blog that naked people might be encountered… I considered replying, but just deleted it. There will be no warning, if anybody dies of exposure to drawings of naked people they are welcome to sue me.


London, trafalgar square, plein air, watercolour

Return to Trafalgar Square. I wasn’t altogether happy with my last attempt at this subject. So on my way to drop pictures into the Mall Gallery for the

Marine Exhibition I stopped and did this and took a rake of photos. (I got one into the RSMA by the way…hurrah!)


Trafalgar square, london, watercolour

Here is the finished studio painting. I am much happier with this version compared to the last. 20 in by 10 in. I had great fun tweaking the composition.


Here is the compositional grid I used to place the elements. Horizon halfway, considered a no no but produces I feel a feeling of stillness and balance.

The rest is split into thirds each with a different dynamic. The diagonals indicate flow and I only use for general position, if you over do this sort of

structural planning then the painting can I think become rather formal and lifeless.


Cutty Sark, Greenwich, london, watercolour

Another second attempt at a subject. This is the Cutty Sark at Greenwich. There are a few possible pictures here a subject you may see here again.

19in by 10in.


St Martins Lane, London, watercolour, plein air

Another small plein air. They had stopped the traffic briefly to do craning stuff so I snatched a rare chance to stand and paint

in the middle of what is usually a busy road. I will do a bigger one of this I stayed and took snaps after I had finished so I have

the makings of a studio painting. 7in by 5in.


Brockley, london

In the middle of the road again! This time a reassuring skip at my back. I have been eying up this scene for a while. Not sure this is the one but I feel

there is a super painting here somewhere. I just need the right figures to complete the feeling of place. 7in by 5in. I am trying to take my small sketchbook

and watercolours with me more often, a sketch like this is so useful when doing a studio picture from assorted photos. When ever I do this I find it is the

plein air sketch that sets the mood.


roses, watercolour

Here we are in unfamiliar territory. This was done in the rose garden of the Rangers House in Greenwich park. I like the background rose but the other is

rather overworked. If I frame this I shall crop through the larger bloom.


Rose, watercolour

Another a studio pic this time. I have added more dark areas after scanning this but not a great deal. A little cut out and stuck on but it framed up very

well. 14in by 9in.


This one went wrong really, but interesting none the less. I prefer the softness, but the composition is lousy and the greens too.


Nude, watercolour, life drawing

Here we are with the naked ladies. Super model, I decided to do no initial drawing and just jump in with the paint.


Life drawing, nude, watercolour

I used a brush pen to do the black which is rather nice as it is not quite waterproof so it softens with the paint but doesn’t dissolve entirely.


Life drawing, watercolour, nude

As the poses were 45min I did two of each, as one is drying you can work on the other.


Nude, life drawing, watercolour

No one shocked to death? Excellent!

August 19, 2012

Being Yourself

Filed under: France,Kent,London,Painting,Thames,Watercolour — Rob Adams @ 3:51 pm

A subject I have been struggling to think how to deal with without causing unintentional offence… to my fellow painters I often see the influence of other artists in many a painter’s work. It is often not to hard to guess which painters an artist admires just by looking at their work. There is a point however when inspiration turns to emulation which I have come to think is maybe not such a good thing for the artists concerned. Often I like the work done but it somehow never quite stands up when you see it side by side with the “master” they are following. Why do some artists inspire followers? Two watercolour supremos Alvaro Castagnet and Joseph Zbukvic, both of whom are very fine painters in a similar idiom, are a case in point. There is a spread of artists emulating the style of these two. I assume perhaps wrongly that there is a connection between them as they both lived in Melbourne. Both artists make videos and take many courses, but so do others. Another artist that inspires droves of followers is Edward Wesson another interesting and poetic painter. I don’t think he made any books himself but his follower Steve Hill has published a fair few books and videos, such as “Watercolour The Wesson Way”. A very good painter and friend refers to the many artists who aspire as “The Wesson Clones”!

Artists who inspire such followings are nothing new we can track them throughout art history. But with the advent of teaching and demonstration videos has focused the result away from being inspired by, towards emulation. Being inspired by assumes to my mind the ambition to surpass your master. Whereas to emulate seems to mean follow in the footsteps without perhaps the ambition to out do. The difference between “I want to be better than” and “I want to be as good as” maybe. One thing that strikes me about the styles that inspire a following is that they are demonstrable, by which I mean an artist can produce a painting while the cameras are rolling or the students are watching. Also the painting methods have a degree of what I call conjuring. I remember being entranced as a child by Rolf Harris doing big broad brush paintings and asking “Can you see what it is yet?”.

I have had many influences myself, some good some not so, from Frank Frazetta,  Edmud Dulac, Rackham, Alex Raymond, Chris Foss, Alan Lee, many Marvel comic strip artists, and book Sci Fi jacket illustrators and onward to Singer Sargent and Sorolla by way of Trevor Chamberlain. In each case however they have all gone into the mix, and been mostly assimilated. I might have done a few “in the style of” at the height of my interest, but once the lessons that seemed relevant to me had been learnt, I tended to move on. Some of the influences were perhaps negative. I was over fond of dragons, castles and languid maidens. Which in my hands became rather kitsch. I could very likely make a better job of such subjects now but the desire to do so has somewhat faded.

I bring this subject up as I am trying to decide how much I wish to take from other watercolourists. I do I feel need to refine some of my techniques so looking at how others do it is a sensible first port of call. On Joseph Zbukvic’s site there is a great video and interview of him doing a painting which demonstrates the reasons for some of my ambivalence. Both he and Castagnet are in some respects technique driven artists. That is to say the method of carrying out the work is determining what kind of work is done in the first place. They both paint in very wet, large washes with a quite limited and mostly unvarying palette and therefore tend to mostly tackle subjects where this technique will work well. Despite the limitations this is an interesting method that I can see many uses for. I have actually gone through a previous period of experimentation in this area but I didn’t find it suited the sort of architectural studies I was painting at the time. If you are painting a picture where the ambiance, light and activity of the whole scene are preeminent then this broad brush approach works well as it reduces any architecture to stage props. But if you are painting the facade of a gothic cathedral where the architecture is the focus then having all the windows blurry blobs is not such a good idea. Although I quite admire the painters I have mentioned and they paint some gorgeous pictures; I find their repeated insistence on passion and looseness a little confusing. As far as I can see they are selling technique and their style requires technical excellence more than almost any other. This is not necessarily a bad thing to my mind, but it is their stress on expressiveness and confidence I find a concern. Such confidence comes from technical expertise and experience, so it must be built up by many hours or more likely decades of practice. This facility is unlikely I feel be be developed by watching a couple of DVDs or going on a painting holiday!

There are plenty of videos on uTube of people splashing the paint around in this mode, the accent is mostly on simplification another over stressed area of desire in my opinion. Simplification or reducing to the essence , it is true, is a hard thing to learn, but complication is a tool also and a powerful one in the hands of such as JMW Turner or Alan Lee. The trick is to use both simplicity and complexity in ways that help the whole picture. I tend to think of this now as “telling” detail.

So my advice to any aspiring watercolourist or any other medium, is to be inspired by another artist and steal what ever you wish. But don’t try to paint pictures that ape another’s style too closely, always try to absorb what you need into your own style. To that end it is maybe good to take from many varied artists rather than proponents of single narrow styles.

That’s the chat over with… a few pictures.


france, waterclour,ships, boats

This is a studio painting from my Brittany trip. This is called a marine railway and is used to get the fishing boats out of the water for repair. I’m working

on stretched Arches not 140lb, which I rather like for this kind of subject.


dog, rain, watercolour

Stretched paper allows very wet working which I have exploited here. I am as I said above trying to absorb the very wet process into my work but without

letting the technique turn into a collection of slick tricks.


thames, river, watercolour

Another from my afternoon in Richmond. This is Isleworth seen from across the river Thames. Painted with the paper stretched on my Keba Artmate.

The device stretched the paper tight as a drum, as there is nothing behind the paper it has a pleasant bounce to paint on. Arches not again.


city, london, waterclour

Here is a cityscape using a deliberately loose style. The method does suit this sort of scene and is good at expressing bustle and the transitory moment.

I drew out quite accurately then painted the whole thing with my enormous 14 squirrel mop. Done on stretched Arches rough 140lb.


cathedral, canterbury

As it was a lovely day I decided to visit Canterbury. A lovely town destroyed by tourism alas. I rather disconsolately wandered around and was in the end

forced to paint away from the centre as it was impossible to paint amongst the throngs of visitors and the hucksters that prey upon them.

The cathedral is surrounded by a high wall and ten quid to get in… I rather rushed this as it was blowing an absolute gale which made it very tricky.

9in by 6in.


bicycle, canterbury, watercolour

A back street in Canterbury. I was a bit cross with myself for rushing the last one so I took my time here I drew out the cyclist in my little sketchbook before

drawing her in I really must force myself to do that more often as it makes a big difference. 9in by 6in.


dog walker, north downs

I escaped Canterbury as it was just too busy and drove along the North Downs, did this in my little sketchbook 7in by 5in.


Kent, Sheldwich, flowers, field

I drove through the lanes to get home and couldn’t resist this scene of St James’ at Sheldwich, the meadow was a riot of blue mauve and white flowers.

7in by 5in.


car, girl waterclour chilham, kent

This is Chilham done next day an almost too perfect English village scene saved by having a flash car in it!
1/4 Sheet Arches Not.


london, charing cross, street, watercolour

Another big brush effort. This is Charing Cross Road basking in the afternoon heat. One of the advantages of the style is that this only took about

40 minutes. 6 a day I could be rich! More seriously becoming more adept at this style will allow larger plein airs to be done. At present unless the subject is

quite simple I struggle to get a 1/4 sheet done before the light has moved on. Arches rough 1/4 sheet.

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