Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

April 10, 2014


Artists need to exhibit they say. If the lists people attach to their Biographies on websites is to believed exhibiting is very important. If you say “I am a painter” then people will ask “do you exhibit”. Up until recently my answer would be a flat “no”. Having done a couple of years now of showing bits and bobs here and there I have mixed feelings. When people say exhibit they really mean exhibit for sale. I note none of the people who list their every minor show ever say that they didn’t sell, though this must be true for the most part.

What is most odd is that there must be people who look through a list of exhibitions and then look at the work differently as it seems to have been validated by others. I have I just realised typed the key word in this matter… “validation”. For a buyer or art lover it means that they are not completely relying on their own judgement if there is a list of shows to support any view.

I am of course very jealous of those who have long lists in chronological order of galleries and group shows. I have done nothing but paint in one way or another my whole life but have only a brief flurry of shows in recent years. I am a little taken aback that people seem to think that I didn’t exist before this time and that I have only just started on art in my later years. I don’t like to say ,”well actually I can paint almost anything in any style you wish.” which would sound rather big headed but is pretty much true, in a long career I have been asked to do a bit of everything really. I get no points for having designed ten or twelve ballets, or illustrated books, or designed attractions that millions enjoy. I did rather think I might be able to sort of jump into the picture painting world, not at the top but sort of halfway or something. Not the case however, the list of exhibitions is missing so starting at the bottom is required.

I talked to the secretary of one of the Societies at the private view of one of the open shows. She said if I kept on banging in work of that quality for six or so years I might be able to apply. It was it seems not about how good your work was, but how long your list was! This may be why these institutions can’t number that many of the best painters in their specialities as members. It also means that they get stuffed full of people who are worthy and patient rather than necessarily the best. There is of course the suspicion that the lesser abled members are not too keen on people who are embarrassingly good (no I don’t mean me!) my instinct is to dismiss this idea but some of my own experience and history maybe say otherwise. I am not complaining, I have had pretty good success at getting work accepted in the couple of years that I have been trying, it’s just that I’m now not sure if that is necessarily a good sign as to the quality of my work!

It is all to do with this thing called “reputation” which has to be built up over time. A “good” reputation says this person has done a certain thing well and consistently over a number of years according to the opinion of others. As this isn’t formalised in anyway it is of course open to gross manipulation and publicists can build reputations from nothing as many a vacant celebrity shows. In the same way artists bolster their list of shows with things like: Joint show Portsmouth Lion Terrace 1976…( two pictures in a corridor at college), Greenwich group show 2009, (1 picture taped to a railing…)! It is still a show it seems even if people just passed by the pictures without noticing them.

Times they are a changing though. The internet has made getting yourself into the public gaze much easier, this blog alone has had 150000 visitors in 4 years which is great. The whole internet thing is a little strange however in that people are looking at pictures of paintings on a screen not the painting itself. This more than anything else means I must persevere with showing paintings. I have a very small shared exhibition at Oil and Water in Wandsworth coming up on the 23rd April and later in the year Graham Davies and I are doing a joint show of London pictures near Blackheath which will be more substantial. Sooner or later I must chance my arm with a larger show in town but such events mean an investment of many thousands of pounds with no guaranteed return so I must plan carefully.

Mortlake, Thames, watercolour


This is Mortlake. On the way back from Strand on the Green Chris Burdett and I were checking out future venues for the Brass Monkeys. Watercolour 7in by 10in.


Royal Naval Hospital, Greenwich, watercolour, London


The Royal Naval Hospital Greenwich. This one needs a few more figures maybe. I was trying to catch the very subtle light that occurs just as the sun has dipped below the horizon. For a few minutes there is this almost dreamlike atmosphere.  14in by10in watercolour.


Greenwich, Royal Naval Hospital, London Watercolour


I did this immediately after allowing myself 30 min. this is how the same scene looked 30min before. It is great fun just to dash it in what you loose in subtlety you gain in energy. People tend to fall into two camps those for whom spontaneity is all and those who like subtle restraint. Just to be awkward I enjoy both. 10in by 14in.


The Paragon, Blackheath, London, watercolour


This is the very posh Paragon in Blackheath, I have tried to paint this a few times and failed. The challenge here is to get the balance of loose and tight just right. Not a complete success but this is the best I have managed of it so far. 12in by 20in watercolour.


Millenium Bridge, Thames, Bankside, St Pauls, London, watercolour


I stretched up some paper on very light ply boards so I could paint plein air on decent paper. I have found the Arches blocks are quite different to the roll paper. The sizing on the blocks is odd and the colour never granulates giving the washes a dead feel. This is a real irritation as I spent a 100 quid on blocks which are essentially useless. I did a very simple water brush sketch initially, then had to abandon the bridge as it was too busy. I decamped to a seat on the Bankside and finished off. As I worked the sky became the oddest colour due to the sand blowing over from the Sahara and London’s very own pollution. I did my best to catch it even though it meant this is very far from a “pure” watercolour! 7in by 10in.


St Johns, Deptford, watercolour, London


Another of my stretched up boards. Again I just sketched in the basics in a cool grey with a few dark accents. Then took it home to add colour and finish off. 7in by 10in watercolour.


Market, Deptford, London, watercolour


The last of my pre-stretched boards. Once again a simple waterbrush sketch putting in all the darks. I left all mid and light areas white and coloured it from memory rather than reality. 7in by 10in.


London, Trafalgar Square, St Martins, watercolour


A larger 13in by 20in watercolour. This has been sitting half done for three or four weeks. I reached a certain stage and couldn’t see my way forwards. Oddly it was no trouble to finish off. I’m not even sure what I was fretting about now!

That’s it a very watercolour heavy post. Next I am going to try to get a few studio oils done!



  1. Hi Rob,
    Thanks for an excellent blog post with the most exquisite watercolours I have seen for a while. I particularly like your attention to changing light conditions, ie Mortlake – the streak of bright sunlight in the foreground.
    Thank you

    Comment by julian lovegrove — April 10, 2014 @ 8:53 pm

  2. Another enjoyable, thought provoking read. I went to the Mall exhibition today and was rather miffed to see that your painting had been tucked away in the corner and above head height (this did not prevent on chap stood in tip-toes making nice comments about the quality of light that you had captured to his other half). It seems that even when you get hung it is very much at the whim of the hanging committee. For me there were rather a number of less deserving entries that had prime positions,I guess that is part of the game though. I look forward to seeing your joint exhibition.

    Comment by Terry Preen — April 10, 2014 @ 9:09 pm

  3. Rob,Good story, brilliant paintings, full marks. All the best.

    Comment by Vic Errington — April 10, 2014 @ 10:02 pm

  4. Thanks Terry, hanging position is always a fractious issue. I didn’t mind being tucked in the corner but was puzzled by how a hanging committee could look at a small quite intimate close toned picture which needed to be looked at quite near-to to be appreciated and think, yes we will hang that one 3ft above everybody’s head. There were plenty of pictures that would have looked fine at that height hung at eye level. It just shows poor judgement not malice IMO.

    Comment by Rob Adams — April 11, 2014 @ 9:55 am

  5. One of my favourite posts so far from you, maybe because it’s watercolour heavy, I will admit. There are some fantastic atmospheres among these and they are so expressive, a real pleasure to view, thank you Rob. I love the tiny yellow accents in the third from last picture, so simple, so clever. I need to express my opinion on the Greenwich Naval Hospital picture. Please, no more figures! Those two isolated foreground figures belong to, and enrich the dreamlike quality you’ve mentioned. I feel I have a kind of sympathy or narrative with them which would be lost in a crowd. I would buy this if I was in a position to!! Again, just my opinion. Good luck with the exhibitions Rob. If you can’t sell paintings there is something seriously wrong! It probably is a case of scratching the right backs sometimes as to whether you get accepted in certain situations. You ready for that Rob? Lol!

    Comment by Kevin — April 11, 2014 @ 11:58 am

  6. Thanks Kevin, will leave Greenwich in peace then! Yes I’m used to the business of glad-handing was very necessary in commercial world, hoped it wouldn’t be needed in post commercial existence but that’s life…

    Comment by Rob Adams — April 11, 2014 @ 12:07 pm

  7. Good honest work again Rob.I particularly like the drawings and the last watercolour .The sense of shadow in the foreground is very convincing and the contrast with the sunlit areas. Thanks for taking a few seconds to “like” my painting of the Dock Road in the international watercolour group. It was a nice boost to my confidence and goodness knows you need confidence for watercolour painting.

    Comment by John Robinson — May 8, 2014 @ 8:58 pm

  8. Hi John, liked the treatment on your painting and the up to date subject. Made a comment to bounce you up the top again on the watercolour page, it gets so busy that pictures are only at the top a few hours.

    Comment by Rob Adams — May 9, 2014 @ 12:29 am

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