Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

September 21, 2012

London Plein Airs and Some Figure Studies

Here we are again, no one is more astonished than me that I have kept up this journal. When I started I gave it 6 months before I lapsed into long gaps between posts. Other than being able to hold forth to an audience that can’t answer back, one of the reasons I have kept it up is that I found it has considerably increased my output. IE I have been doing paintings in order to have enough to post. Anything that gets my nose out of a book and settled down before my easel is to be welcomed! To my astonishment 5000 people visit a month which is more people seeing my work than I ever would have imagined; even if 2/3 of them click away immediately due it not being their sort of  thing. So a thank you to all my visitors, you are helping me keep my nose to the grindstone!

The other thing that has improved and increased my output has been meeting other like minded painters. When working in the commercial arena I only very occasionally met other artists. When I did it was a different sort of relationship to that of going out to paint for a day with friends. Life drawing sessions as well have broadened my artistic and social horizons. Another thread is interactions with other artists on the Wet Canvas site. There is much encouragement to be gained by positive feedback as well as the occasional negative comment. Though we none of us exactly love critical comment I have found that comments, however inexpert, are very rarely wrong. Where I have not made much progress is getting my work in front of people in the flesh.

I am starting to get work into the open exhibitions in London but these only add up to a very few paintings exhibited in the year. Still with only just over 2 years of setting out on the course of painting for myself full time I am pretty pleased with the progress. Next must be a trawl for galleries that might want to have a few of my pictures for sale on the wall. Also sooner or later I must attempt an exhibition of my London paintings, one of the most enjoyable aspects the pictures I have painted so far are the local pictures from around where I live.

Something I have attempted to do with this part of my output is to catch a few of those moments of beauty in everyday life that would otherwise go unnoticed. This is actually harder to do away from home as you just don’t encounter such brief moments on occasional visits. It is only by being frequently in a place those infrequent charged moments are encountered.

Returning to the online world for a moment, it is indeed a strange new world we inhabit. I have a presence on quite a few places online, from Saatchi Online to the oddly named  deviantArt as well as posting much new work to Wet Canvas. Whether any of these platforms will become dominant in a Facebook kind of way I don’t know. Saatchi produces very few views, but have nonetheless sold one picture. deviantArt requires you to base your online social life around the site in order to gain popularity and hence views. Wetcanvas is the most rewarding as you can both get a response to your work from experienced artists and also encourage others in turn. I wish more professional artists would take part as I think it would lift the standard and supply inspiration to beginners. All of these forums for showing your work suffer from the same issues. There is no selectivity, anyone can post anything no matter what the quality or stage they are at in their journey. This is not a criticism, becoming too elite can put people off, as ConceptArt found to some degree, I heard, when they tried to separate out the wannabes from the pros.

However I do think there is a place in the online world for somewhere where it is very easy to put your work forward but very hard to get your work shown. One problem would be: who would do the winnowing of the chaff from the wheat and why would they put in the time in in the first place? I don’t think that would be insuperable though. Viewing and voting would be relatively easy online. Open voting systems are of no use as they are open to abuse, so in each area of achievement (landscape, abstract, figure etc) you would need separate jurors and each set in turn would need to have the general respect of their peers in that style, that in itself would attract potential selectors, as to be one would bring a certain amount of kudos and exposure. Maybe also the selections could be broken down to three monthly displays of limited number rather like the Summer Exhibition at the Academy. A rolling constantly updated gallery format has no structure and so tends to have no sense of occasion. Specific shows at specific times as you have in a physical gallery would I think attract a more focused interest from both artists and collectors. People who have an interest are more likely I think to check out a display that appears on a particular date, rather than to check back at regular intervals, or bother with constant emails that inform of updates. The main benefit might in my opinion be the ratcheting up of the quality of the work, there is nothing like giving people a goal to work for to make them raise their game. On the subject of putting work up for consideration I feel it would be vital to make a small charge for each submission, that in itself would I suspect help prevent there being an unmanageable  flood of offerings. It would also supply revenue to run the whole thing. Prizes and so forth would be another tried and tested method of attracting interest and support from commercial sponsors.

Saatchi online are trying to drum up interest with curated selections, but the curators are seemingly woefully ignorant and are drawn from the modern art clique exclusively. There was a recent curated selection with the title of “Impressionism” that contains much that it would be hard to shoehorn into that category. The lack of intelligent focus is underlined by the woeful lack of interest in views, sales and comments that these collections receive. At the time of writing the Impressionism collection which was posted on the 13th Sept 2012 has, seven days later, garnered not one single comment despite being on their front page.

It would be easiest, I would imagine, to launch such an exhibition site on the back of an existing player. Even then such things take time, patience and money to establish and may fail to attract enough interest despite all efforts.

That’s the guff over, some scans of tactically dirtied bits of paper are next.



London, st pauls, watercolour, plein air

A visit up to town to explore a particular view with an eye to doing a few studio pictures. Upon my arrival though the light refused to co-operate. I needed

the sun to light up St Pauls when seen from Cannon St, but despite the mostly blue sky the sun determinedly hid behind almost the only cloud in the sky.

Whilst waiting I sat on a wall and did this which was fun, but hard on the neck. I was interested in the tone against the sky which was very dark for an

almost white building. The challenge was to get the feeling of a Portland stone building in the shadow rather than a building just made out of something

darker. Oh and the perspective was a bit of a devil too! 5in by 7in.


St Pauls, London, watercolour, plein air, City

Eventually the light played ball and I got this quick sketch done. I didn’t have time to reserve all the lights, so I used some body colour which I hope annoys

the purists. I have given upon my monopod for now and this was done on my tripod set up, no problem as the pavements here are miles wide. 5in by 7in.


St Pauls, London, city, watercolour, cannon st, plein air

For this one I retreated even further down Cannon St. I had brought with me a sheet of dark blue toned paper and a few tubes of gouache. The main tone

of the RH building is about the initial colour of the ground. I have to say this is a very fast and easy way of doing one of these contra jour city scenes.

With pure watercolour so much of the work is building up the strong tones required. The downside is a loss of luminosity derived from the white of the

paper. 11inby 7in.


child okeford, Dorset, watercolour, mist, fog

A 1/4 sheet studio painting from material gleaned on my Dorset visit. A misty morning in Child Okeford. The gentleman in red was off for his morning

shop. He was a little surprised to be photographed! This looked so dull until the figure and car were put in that I nearly abandoned the whole thing a few

times. Once the key element were in it looked much better thank heaven. All done with my magnificent new size 14 Kolinsky Sable from the excellent

Rosemary & Co who make quite the best brushes I have ever used.


Greenwich, London, church plein air, wapping group, watercolour

I was once again invited to paint with the esteemed Wapping Group. I went along despite being somewhat under the weather. I set off early with fellow

painter Graham Davies, this view was an obvious winner so it was our pre breakfast subject. It is from the graveyard of St Alfege in Greenwich. 7in by 5in.


A view up a road leading to Blackheath from Greenwich. Absolutely super light. Getting up early is so very worthwhile. The central part with the vans

had to be done later due to a large lorry parked smack in front of us! A bigger painting will be developed from this in due course I hope.


The Royal Observatory, greenwich, london, watercolour, plein air

This was done around lunchtime as I was fading fast. After finishing it I sloped off home to sniff and sneeze miserably while sitting  on the sofa watching

telly. It is of course  the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. 7in by 5in.


life drawing, nude, figure

Life drawing has got going again. I have started to rather like these Brushpens from Pentel. They are capable of a great variety of marks and soften a little with

the watercolour wash. An odd thing with my drawing, I have entirely given up measuring. Mostly because it breaks the flow of drawing, so what you loose in accuracy

you gain in fluency. Painting is so often marked by this sort of trade off. It wasn’t a conscious decision it just sort of happened.


life drawing, nude, figure

Another couple of 5 min ones.


Life drawing, nude, figure

A longer 30 min pose. The model Alice is a dream to draw, she is a dancer and is seemingly incapable of taking up an ungraceful pose. She also bravely

holds poses that would put me into intensive care!


life drawing, nude, figure

Life painting is an odd thing. I love them when they are a study, but tend not to like finished works. Somehow figure studies are timeless and could

almost come from any age, but as soon as they become a finished statement they become fixed like flies in the amber of the time of their milieu.


Rather chuffed with this one. Last of the session and I was really flying.

September 14, 2012

A Light in the City and a Visit to Dorset

Filed under: Dorset,London,Painting,Thames,Watercolour — Rob Adams @ 1:29 pm

I have been experimenting with set ups for painting in the City. So often the spot and time you want to paint are incompatible with setting up an easel or crouching on a stool. To this end I have rigged a photographic monopod to hold my watercolours. This has to be supported with a belt around my waist so that the thing won’t fall over if I let go for a moment. I have to say although it worked quite well I felt a bit of a nurk strapped to this gizmo in full public view. Also once started you have to finish without stepping away; which is rather uncomfortable and not much appreciated by my back. I had also considered a “match sellers” tray but the straps are too much in the way of painting. At the moment I am considering grafting some fold out legs to the monopod from a small tripod. Worth the bother I think because I was really pleased with some of the pictures that I got done with the set up. The other option I am considering is a completely hand held solution but that inevitably means compromise on the sizes of picture you can paint. I would like to be able to paint up to a 1/4 sheet but that won’t be possible without some kind of physical support. The current model is illustrated below for the plein air nerds.

plein air


Off on my travels again. Some good friends invited me to Dorset for a few days. I left the oils behind as they are a risk to other people’s soft furnishings. You never know when a wayward blob of Cadmium Red will transfer itself to your trousers and thence to the white sofa… Oddly I find Dorset quite a difficult painting destination. The place is just too picturesque. It can seem like a constant run of unfeasibly beautiful villages full of quaint thatched cottages, timbers bowed by the weight of burgeoning hanging baskets. Each hamlet loiters in an artless higgle-piggle by swan choked rivers and streams,  separated from each other by leagues of sun dappled horse strewn lanes. You would only have to replace the ranks of 4 by 4’s with a few tastefully placed haywains and garnish the road with some smock clad yokels and we would be back in a sanitised flower bedecked version of the 17th century. I enjoy all this to look at and wander through but I have difficulty finding paintings in amongst so much paintability. I think this maybe because they don’t give many hints as to the lives lived there, not to a passerby at least.

I’m sure if you lived there then all sorts of paintable moments would present themselves; but the chances of you driving up at the right moment are pretty slim. That said I am not much of a fan of the self-consciously  gritty either. I prefer an un-preposessing cityscape transformed into a revealed beauty by a moment of light to the same scene done in a way to accentuate the grimness. I’m not that keen on either Helen Allingham or L S Lowry, though I can see why others like them. So I have not sat down to many village pictures but fortunately there is much else on offer. A beautiful craggy coastline and arching chalk downs looking down on those verdant village infested valleys. Better still atop the downs lie remains and signs of earlier ages, ring forts and tumuli now only populated by the wind, grass and the occasional waterproof enswathed National Trust member. The famous ones such as Stonehenge and Silbury Hill are busy with tourists, but there are others where you can wander alone. I don’t know why these places engage me, it is easy to fantasise about all the lives lived there in ancient times giving them some mystical charge, but I don’t think that is really the case. For me it is more that you feel mankind’s history stretched out behind you in a great tide, of which you are for a brief moment the leading edge.

Whatever the emotional charge, they are fiendishly difficult to paint. Concentric rings of earth banks up to half a mile or more round do not conveniently present themselves into satisfactory paintable compositions. If you want to catch anything of the feeling of place, just painting what you see won’t really do. At most of them you cannot get any viewpoints that do more than just hint at the overall structure.

My own approach so far is to rearrange the scene before me into a slightly more descriptive layout. I don’t add anything that is not there, but I am trying to put into the scene some of the information I have gleaned by walking around the place. This is something I am doing more and more with all types of subject. In earlier times I was always rather literal and almost never adjusted reality for pictorial reasons, but even though I am accentuating and altering placements I don’t want it to be too obviously expressive. Van Gogh making his buildings writhe in sympathy with the cypresses would for me be a step too far. In the plein airs I have been quite tentative but I might see how far I can go with that approach with a few studio paintings on my return.

I slightly recanted on my pledge not to do any pretty villages…  the last of the morning mist unexpectedly hanging on in a Stourpaine backwater lured me in (it was hanging basket free which no doubt caused me to succumb) . This underlined my ever growing feeling that sitting down in front of a so, so subject will very, very rarely result in a decent painting. As an artist you just have to put yourself in the way of a possible good subject by getting out there when the light or atmospheric conditions bode well. After doing that all you can do is hope for good luck. First pictures from my monopod adventures…


London, city, watercolour, royal exchange

Here we are very early looking at the Royal Exchange in the City of London. This was painted standing on a tiny strip of pavement behind the tube entrance.

Not used by pedestrians I could stand and paint but had to duck back every time a bus went by too close. 7in by 5in.


London, plein air, cannon st, watercolour

The same day on my way home in the evening. This is Cannon St looking towards St Pauls. 7in by 5in.


London, cannon st, watercolour, plein air

Next day, this is Cannon St again but this time looking the other way. Slightly bigger at 10in by 7in this was before the main rush in the morning. Even

with my new set up this would have been impossible an hour later.


Acton, Bromyard Avenue, the Vale, London, plein air

This is Bromyard Avenue in Acton. Not done on the monopod as a wheelie bin was conveniently positioned! 7in by 5in


Thames, London, river, Hungerford bridge, plein air

This is the Thames from Hungerford Bridge. 10in by 7in again. I snapped the river bus with my iPad and then drew it out referring to the screen. I might

have to weaken an get an iPhone as the iPad is a bit big and slippery and I am bound to eventually drop it.


Winchester, watercolour, plein air

This is Winchester in a quiet corner behind the cathedral. 7in by 5in.


Figsbury ring, Wiltshire, watercolour

This is Figsbury Ring in Wiltshire, a late bronze age to iron age site. A certain amount of imaginative rearrangement was needed to make the structure

more clear. Unusually for such constructions it had an inner ditch as well as the usual external ring. 7in by 5in.


Worbarrow bay, dorset, sea boats, watercolour, plein air

This is Worbarrow bay on the Dorset coast. Very interesting light very hard to catch in paint, there was a sort of milky glow to everything. I will add a

bit more activity on the beach if I get a moment. 10in by 7in.


Dorset, watercolour plein air

A misty morning near Tarrant Gunville in Dorset. 7in by 5in.


Badbury, fort, dorset,plein air watercolour

Badbury Rings. Very neutral light again a fair bit of imagination was needed to try and make it into any sort of picture. It is an Iron Age hill fort 800BC.

I regret the dog walker, the distant figures were better by themselves. I am going to attempt a studio hill fort picture to try and get over the feeling of the

places. 10in by 7in.


Kingston Lacy, dorset, house, mansion, watercolour, plein air

This is the grand house of Kingston Lacy. I will try and spend a whole day here painting some day in the future. I did this too small, I should have used

my larger 14in by 10 in pad as I rather lost the delicacy of the house. As my friend Richard and I were leaving in search of sustenance the light improved

and I got a photo that will make a very good studio picture I hope. 10in by 7in.


Fontmell Down, dorset, watercolour, plein air

This is Fontmell Down in Dorset. The only 14in by 10 in painting I managed. Very blustery and showery the light was changing moment by moment

I have put a photo below to show how the scene looked about 20 min after I started.


You can see how I have exaggerated the sweep and curves of the landscape to try and make a more cohesive composition.


Berwick, wiltshire, watercolour, plein air

This is the church at Berwick St John, hard to get back from the subject in these small graveyards. I might do another as the camera saw it in wide angle.

We are just into Wiltshire here I believe. Rain was threatening so I went on to Salisbury where there was a better chance of painting from the dry. 7in by 5in.


Salisbury, cathedral, stone carving, watercolour, plein air

Salisbury cathedral in the wet! I did this crouched under my umbrella, but the wind got to be too much, so I went and did the one that comes next from

from beneath a tree. Once I had done that the rain had eased so I went back. I nearly finished when the heavens opened, so the last bit of accenting of

the architecture had to be done back in the dry. With such a complex subject it is impossible to do a completely accurate drawing, or at least it would take

several days and still not capture the mood of the moment. I try to be very systematical. I work forwards from light to dark working in quite an ordered way.

So I might work across doing all the mid tones in the capitals adding each touch to each capital in turn and then doing the next touch in the same order.

If you do this you will suddenly reach a point where there is enough to indicate the structure without being too specific and then you should stop.

It is always hard to spot subjects when it is all grey and gloom, but you should try and look for simple contrasts in just part of the scene, here we just have

stone and trees really and the picture is better for it.


Salisbury, cathedral, watercolour, plein air

This is really just a time filler as I was thinking about the other picture as I painted this, hoping for the rain to stop. 7in by 5in.


Stourpaine, mist, watercolour, Dorset, plein air

On my way home. This is Stourpaine in .Dorset, a very typical village scene. But the last of the mist was hanging on and gave the scene a great mood.

7in by 5in. Now I have to get some studio pictures painted while the memories are still fresh!

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