Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

April 29, 2014

Taking on a Challenge

Often I think people shy away from a challenge. I know I sometimes do myself. I see a possible picture and think, “Too much to take on…” and paint something less difficult but probably not as good. I have several pictures that have been in my “to do” folder for quite  while just because they are a lot of work with quite a high risk of failure as well. I am writing this post as a sort of kick up the backside for myself to prevent me shying away from ambitious pictures. I tend to imagine people saying, “He bit off more than he could chew here…”. Some of them of course you think , ” How the hell would I paint that?” When you just think the painting requires more expertise than you have.

All the usual homilies spring to mind, “Aim high and even if you miss you will attain more than you would have than if you hadn’t tried.” True, true, but a miss is a miss and an almost but not quite painting is a bit of a neck albatross… they hang around and haunt you! In the final calculation though it is best to try and fail  think. I see many painters who essentially paint and repaint pictures they have done before with slight variations. I hear my own advice about life drawing echoing in my ears, “If it starts to feel comfortable then shift the goalposts.”

Oil painting is my biggest challenge at present. There is something wrong with the way I am laying the paint and the balance of hard and soft. There is nothing for it but to start again and rethink my method. Prepare yourself for some pretty grim paintings as I try to change direction! The first move is to reintroduce more drawing. It is very seductive to try to paint in general areas and then pick out details with deft strokes. The trouble is the result is all surface and not enough substance. I want, I suppose,  to catch more than just the moment. At the moment I have areas of tone that tell you about atmosphere and hue etc but not enough about texture and structure. In part I think my problem is that I don’t have enough variety of marks.

When doing pen drawings I use a wide variety of strokes to add colour and description. In oils my repertoire is considerably more narrow, so first I need to consider adding knife work and more rubbing back to establish unifying textures. It is the sheer breadth of possibilities with oil painting that causes me trouble, I need to narrow it down. I have decided to alter the method initially to softly blocking in and then doing a layer of tightly observed drawing in a very reduced palette. I shall have to try hard not to backslide as it is easy to start with good intentions and then find your feet leading you down the same old paths.

I am enjoying my re-engagement with pen drawing tremendously, such a lovely medium.

I am delighted to say I was elected as a full member of the Wapping Group of Artists at their agm. So will be painting most Wednesdays with them which should keep me on my mettle!

hare and billet, Blackheath, London, plein air, watercolour, watercolor

A few watercolours to start. This is the Hare and Billet on Blackheath. We got up early to get the low light. I really struggled with this. It looked hopeful  at first, then looked dreadful and finally settled down to being just about adequate! 10in by 20in watercolour.


Telegraph Hill, London, Watercolour, plein air

This one went much better. We painted later to catch the evening light. This is Telegraph Hill in Sth London, where in Napoleonic times stood the Semaphore tower that brought news of triumph or disaster to the Admiralty. 9in by 14in watercolour.


Barridale, allotment, watercolour

Before painting from the hill as the light was not right we marked time by sketching on my allotment. 5in by 7in, watercolour.


Isleworth, wapping group, pen and ink, drawing

This is Isleworth. I was somewhat distracted by knowing that the Wappers were in the pub deciding whether to make me a member so painted two pretty grim watercolours. But the steady progressive nature of pen drawing was just the thing!


Romsey abbey, Hampshire, pen and ink, sketch, drawing

This is Romsey Abbey in Hampshire. Slightly scary perspective as I could not get as far away as I would have liked.


Romsey, market, pen and ink, sketch, drawing, Hampshire

Romsey again. As a complete contrast I next did a drawing of a flower stall. I must do more of the incidental views as they are great fun. The hatching on the shop fronts was a bit of hard labour though! The trick with pen drawing I find is not to put too many lines around edges but just let the hatching finish to define the edge. Also if you do add lines dont make them unbroken a line that skips and jumps is much more expressive.


South Kensington, London, pen and ink, sketch, drawing, street

This is South Kensington. I’m going to pencil the figures a bit more carefully in future they can become a little bit too generic and architecty… a fate worse than death!


Gillingham, Dorset, Church, sketch, drawing, pen and ink

Last of the current crop of pen drawings. This is Gillingham church in Dorset. A classic subject that suits the media very well.


Battersea, oil painting, river, church

This is Battersea, and the first of three rather underwhelming oils. There are good bits as well as less good but the whole thing doesn’t quite gel into a whole. Mind you a difficult day to paint. 12in by 12in.


Battersea, thames, river, boat, church, brass monkey, plein air

Battersea again. Slightly better maybe but just not the surface quality I am after. 12in by 20 in oils.


South Kensington, painting, oils, plein air

This is South Kensington. I nearly didn’t post this but as I try to make this a “warts and all” blog I felt I should. I managed to simultaneously get too much and not enough in which is quite a feat. That is of course too much of the wrong scrappy stuff and not enough, or indeed any, of the loose but elegant. 12in by 16in. Oils



  1. Rob, there is nothing wrong with your Oil painting. Congatulations with the Wapping group.
    I love pen and ink drawings as well. I used it for my life class yesterday. Yours are fantastic.
    All the best Rob.

    Comment by Vic Errington — April 29, 2014 @ 3:42 pm

  2. Hi Rob. Telegraph Hill is lovely. The darks of the roofs in mid-picture and rows of chimney pots reminds me very much of the London skyline. I like the pen and inks, too. The Romsey Abbey one has particular appeal as my parents owned a house backing on to the Abbey – I think it is just out of view in your sketch!

    Congratulations on being accepted into the Wapping Group. I am enjoying reading Geoff Hunt’s column in ‘The Artist’ about his trials and tribulations (and triumphs!) painting watercolour throughout 2013.


    Comment by Michael Trask — April 29, 2014 @ 9:40 pm

  3. Rob, I am so happy for you, congratulations! A most well deserved honor. Reading this news has brought a big smile to my face, and I hope to be able to paint with you Wappers again soon.

    I must just comment on the pen drawings, absolutely excellent. They are so beautiful, and inspire me to pick up a pen and start hatching.

    Your American friend,
    Bobbi Heath

    Comment by Bobbi Heath — April 30, 2014 @ 1:47 am

  4. Hi Bobbi, thanks, we are off to France again, hoping for sun!! Many of the greatest pen drawers were American so you will be upholding a fine tradition!

    Comment by Rob Adams — May 1, 2014 @ 10:41 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress

error: Content is protected !!