Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

July 30, 2019

Stuck in a Rut

Filed under: Dorset,London,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 11:53 am

I am I suppose a little unusual in the painting world in that I have had several careers in the art and design industry before becoming a full time dauber. Being an artist for hire means that you could be asked to do anything. City made out of biscuits… yes sir! On the double… 40ft high version of the kiss by Rodin… yes sir! When would you like it? 2 weeks… ulp! These were real projects.

I painted clinching couples for romance book covers, innumerable detective book covers and designed porcelain plates. Later I painted hundreds of skies and other backdrops for film and stage, all of them huge. In short variety was very much the spice of my life.

The one connecting factor was that someone else chose the subject and decided on its final form. So when I first started to paint pictures for me I actually found it quite hard. I had many of the technical skills and knew how to churn out a crown pleaser, but I had no real idea how to do something that might please me. My erratic course in trying to achieve this has been documented here in grisly detail.

The other problem was that due to the commercial experience I could paint in more or less any style. So if you put a line of pictures I had painted in a row you wouldn’t necessarily think them all by the same person. The unwelcome news that strengths could be your greatest weakness only sank in quite slowly. I have had to find out what I want to say and also what I don’t want to include. Made up imaginary content has virtually gone so I now try to pick and choose from what I see or experience directly, even if I do use some imagination to round out fleeting impressions.

I am hardly the only artist to suffer in this way. I see many other painters who paint mostly to their developed strengths. You may be a dab hand at painting contre-jour. The temptation then is to only do that. You might be advanced at portraiture but rubbish at landscape. You might be a whizz with muted tones and subtle gradations, but not so hot at punchy contrasts. The temptation is always the same: That worked last time, safest to stick to the tried and tested. Perhaps “safe” is a little unfair, maybe after a while you have trouble seeing potential subjects outside of your favourite parameters.

There is not, I hasten to add, anything wrong or unworthy about just sticking to what you are good at. It is just that for me I feel allowing you strengths to determine what and when you paint is perhaps just a little bit limiting. Our painter who paints always in to the light might find flat days very hard indeed and so avoids them. Just because you can do one does not mean you can manage the other with the same confidence.

That is the reason I would always to encourage people to intentionally work outside of their habitual methodology. Always painting away into the distance? Paint a widescreen cinemascope masterpiece where you have to tape your ears back to keep them out of shot! Always paint in jolly primaries? Ditch those playpen colours and delve into the blacks browns and greys. Always paint in simplified pared down areas? Get out your magnifying glass and go manic with the detail with a cathedral in the distance and an ant in the foreground!

Many will be shuddering with this assault on their good taste… but actually wonderful paintings have been done in almost every possible variation of style and intent. It is perhaps too easy to accept what is considered cool and garners Instagram likes from your peers and not ask unfashionable questions. Rest assured whatever you do it will still come out looking like one of yours. You will however have stretched the boundaries of what you can take on. You then realise that all the different methodologies and generic styles are just tools in the box that you can bring out when you require them, not the deciding factor that constrains any course you take.

plein air, Jermyn St, ,oil painting, London

This is Jermyn St done on a determinedly grey and occasionally wet day. I have missed painting in London so I didn’t mind the weather too much. I met up with the Northern Boys who were down on a painting mission which was fun. 12in by 10in Oils.

Charing Cross, St Martins lane, plein air, oil painting, London

Actually done before the one above. I had a wide skinny board so I sat on the steps of St Martins and did this. I was slightly put off by a drunk Scouser talking to me non stop as I painted… you don’t get that in Dorset. Two paintings in one really. 14in by 5in Oils.

Mudeford Quay, plein air, Dorset, oil painting, sea

Brit Plein Air did a paintout at Mudeford Quay, we arrived quite late but the day was gorgeous. All the tones had to be arranged to allow the white highlights to really sparkle. 14in by 5in Oils.

Mudeford Quay, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

Last one from Mudeford. The tones of the foreground gave me a lot of trouble, needing to be both dark enough to allow the distance to dazzle yet light enough to be sunlit. Your eyes betray you when making direct observations so you have to work it out by deduction and testing. Sometimes I look at these bright scenes reflected in the black glass of my phone. This gives useful clues as to the actual tonal balances. 16in by 12in Oils.

Swanage, Old harry, Peveril Point, plein air, oil painting, sea

Above Swanage, I only had a few minutes so chose to do this simple scene rather than the more dramatic Peveril Point which was not lit well. 10in by 8in Oils.

Shaftesbury, Gold Hill, plein air, oil painting, Dorset, Hovis Hill

It’s that famous Hovis Hill again. Gold Hill in Shaftesbury fascinates me, it is almost impossible to impose yourself on it. There have been so many bad paintings of it because experienced painters avoid it as it has become a cliche. Even here where I squeeze it into a letterbox the subject overwhelms. Marvellous place, I shall never win but trying is great fun. 24in by 8in Oils.

Hambledon hill, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

I haven’t painted Hambledon in a while. I love this view but haven’t managed to catch it in good light yet. Late in the evening might be good so I have to try and get there on a promising day. 24in by 8in Oils.

Win Green, Cranbourne Chase, plein air, oil painting

This is Win Green near Shaftesbury a great day with dramatic clouds scurrying across the sky at a great lick. I was going to soften the sky once home but decided to leave it in the end. I might glaze it so as to keep the choppy brushwork but just add a little bit of subtlety of tone. The great thing with glazing is that if you don’t like the effect you can just wipe it off and no harm is done. 12in by 12in. Oils.

Houns Tout, Dorset, Plein Air, oil painting

Another day out to the coast, this is looking down the valley that leads to Chapman’s Pool. One of those ones where you realise that you perhaps shouldn’t have bothered! Later I discovered that there is a much better view a hundred yards down the path… No matter I could not have done it on that day as the cattle would have plagued me. 10in by 8in Oils.

Chapmans Pool, Dorset, seascape, plein air, oil painting

Same day over looking Chapman’s Pool. I waited in vain for a flash of sunlight to give it a lift! Never mind a great view I shall return to. 10in by 10in Oils.

Sandbanks, Poole, Old Harry, seascape, plein air, oil painting, Dorset

Looking across from Sandbanks to Old Harry on a very windy day. I had the tripod weighed down with a bag of sand but still had to hang on to everything for dear life. My rag blew away in the first few seconds of working and plenty of sand is embedded in the paint. I tried to catch the energy in the sky and the sea with the two divided by the calmer strip of land. 14in by 10in Oils.

That’s all for now, I really need to get on with some more studio work but the outdoors is so enticing I can’t resist!

July 7, 2019


Filed under: Uncategorized — Rob Adams @ 3:00 pm

Readers of this, now rather occasional, blog will know that I don’t much go for the linear story laid down by many of our esteemed art historians and as taught to me at art college. This neat branching tree with pivotal moments and “discoveries” trying to shoehorn a cultural phenomena into a neat “progress of science” template. God help us soon someone will pen a tome on the sort of realism that I do, pick a few flag bearers identify some bogus trends and call it “Distracted Realism” or some such.

It takes very little consideration of the actual material produced by different ages to realise that the whole idea of progress in art is perhaps misguided. The earliest cave paintings so far are 40,000 years old and we understand them with no problem. If I did a sketch of a cat and sent it back in time they would in turn have no difficulty comprehending it either. Both I and the cave person are doing the same thing in much the same way.

So our early artist down in that cave with his flickering tallow lamp, what art movements could we associate him with? Well he is figurative… expressionistic… oooh… impressionistic too… oh wait a minute he is a realist… dammit some are a bit on the surreal side… some abstract stuff too… er and the figures are symbolic… oh hell… some have narrative… You get my drift, it was pretty much all there from the start.

Of course art “movements” are a new thing… ” artists” as a sort of druidic shamanic figures are pretty recent too. It was that rogue Vasari that started it all with his racily named “Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects” published in 1550. Vasari though was of the football supporter school of art history. He was the cheerleader for Tuscan or more specifically Roman and Florentine achievements, though he grudgingly added the Venetian Titan (who would have been so much better if he had learnt to draw in Rome) to later editions. Early stuff was dismissed as barbaric and labelled “Gothic” in scorn. The classical Roman was exalted as the pinnacle of art and thus the Renaissance was born.

Of course art does have a history, but it is tied to ordinary history as it merely supplies what a particular culture or society requires. An icon painter for the Orthodox Church is not required to be an impressionist, but is required to be a realist with symbolist overtones. A painter of funeral portraits in Ptolemaic Egypt was required to paint realistically and because of the constraints of paint to some degree impressionistically too.

It is after the arrival of photography that things go bananas in the art history dept. With impressionism it was photographers who “discovered” a new way of seeing, not painters per se. Of course we tend to gloss over the fact that the impressionists were keen photographers and frequently painted from them, as that does not quite fit with the later mythology.

The other factor that had a seismic effect was the arrival of ethnic art from the east and Africa. Our art arriving in Japan had similar result as the works of the Ukiyo-e artists attests. So suddenly we get all sorts of emulation of cultures far and wide both temporally and geographically. It is perhaps a European fantasy that things are discovered. We discovered America after all… we seem to almost forget that it was there all the time and people lived innumerable lives in the place before we arrived!

Now the picture has fragmented even more. Electronic dissemination of imagery has brought every kind of eye candy into our homes at the click of a button. So bearing this in mind what does our society and time require of us who produce imagery of various kinds? Well the answer may not be very flattering but it requires an image that gives a brief visual hit on a small screen. A tidbit that gives a quick mental reward and for a moment draws the viewer in. Success is measured in likes followers and comments… but not I have noticed often in currency!

There are of course the old uses are still chugging along, marketing, conceiving, decoration, supply of status enhancing objects to the rich. These still bring reward in the old manner thank heaven. Unfortunately due to spare time to follow art interests becoming more widespread the supply of art objects exceeds demand in almost every area. On the plus side the sort of person willing to put in the hard work over decades to master an idiom is still comparatively rare, so their work will always have a base level of desirability.

Will there be new art movements? Yes I suppose so but I feel they will become evermore fragmentary and irrelevant. Look at the list Here of art movements and schools in Wikipedia 97% are after photography stirred the pot! I also note I don’t quite fit any of them. I am a bit impressionistic but not divisionist enough really, I am not neo- anything, which is always a good ploy as you can reboot any old movement by slapping it on the front.

There are many now painting in much the same way as myself, I fancy Observationalist or maybe Lookist. Come on art historians watch the ball, we are a brand new movement and none of you have even noticed!

Right some of my offerings into a manically crowded market place. Rest assured that if you offer me large sums of money for any of the originals below I shall get a little richer, but you will gain hugely in prestige and your friends will be envious of your good taste and sophistication…

Salisbury, Salisbury Cathedral, plein air, oil painting, Wiltshire

A visit to Salisbury. It is almost impossible to get a photograph of the famous cathedral that in anyway captures the feel of being there. If you get that iconic spire in you have to tilt the camera skywards and everything is wildly distorted, the same left and right. So this is an attempt to present the whole building in one image. In order to do this I have made many changes to the perspective, each of which I have tried to limit within the bounds of believability. I have not completely succeeded but I was pleased with the result as it gave me an idea as to how to get a better result still. 16in by 10in Oils.

salisbury, salisbury cathedral, oil painting

Before I left I took a series of photos walking left and right for about 200yrds. I then once home I took a central strip from each and roughly joined them together. That done I did an averaged perspective layout over the top of the composite trying to minimise perceived distortion. That done I painted largely from my plein air sketch. the result would have benefitted from a more dramatic day but I can see several possibilities for more dynamic versions in the future. I could have done a wild curvy tilted job but for me that’s a bit too like what I used to do for work… still might have a crack at it as the subject rather suits such treatment. 22in by 12in. Oils

On my way home I did this very rushed sketch of another view I fancy. Salisbury has so much to paint so I must get back on days when the light and weather are being more interesting. The trouble with lovely sunny days is that you don’t tend to get those moments of magic light that can make or break a picture. 14in by 10in oils.

Pimperne, Stourpaine, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

Last one of a busy day, this is my road home headed towards Stourpaine. The light was getting better and better but had only 20 min to get this down. The road is frequented by huge gravel trucks which makes painting from the verge interesting. 12in by 7in Oils.

weymouth, dorset, plein air, oil painting

A trip to Weymouth on showery day. Not much of a market for wet Weymouth daubs I’m afraid… no matter I had fun painting it! 10in by 8in Oils

Weymouth, look out cafe, plein air, oil painting, dorset

The view over Weymouth from the Lookout Cafe. I could not quite see where this painting was going as I worked on it. Then the runner came along and it seemed to have a reason. Figures have a very strange power to transform an image. 10in by 8in Oils.

Bournmouth, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

A very quick sketch looking over Bournemouth beach. Fun trying to get the subtle tones in the soft light. Strong contrasts are easy in comparison I think, maybe due to the greater room for error. 12in by 6in Oils.

Studland, Bramblebush Bay, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

This is the beguilingly named Bramblebush Bay on Studland. Very picturesque but I struggled a bit to find compositions I liked. Or maybe the lack of breakfast was telling on me! 10in by 6in Oils.

Studland, Bramblebush bay, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

View from the other way. Much better this one I feel. I did two more but I cannot continue putting every thing up as I produce paintings quicker than I can blog them… and very much faster than I can sell them! 10in by 6in Oils.

That’s it for this issue. Blogging is yesterdays news alas and readers are far fewer now than when I started. I have stayed much the same in relative popularity compared to others who blog on the same subject, it is just that the format is perhaps on it’s way out. Instagram has become more the go to platform but no real use if your writing is slightly longer in form. Vlogging I am avoiding at present as my wizened beardy features and unfashionable attire would only put people off.

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