Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

June 27, 2014

The Loire and Normandy

Filed under: Drawing,France,Painting,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 4:06 pm

It is the holiday season again! As usual I went on the annual Wapping Group holiday, this time to Amboise on the Loire in France. Literally a busman’s holiday as we go in a coach in a group of about 20 painters and their partners. The great joy of these expeditions is that the whole thing is focussed around painting… er… well and eating too I suppose. I always have great dificulty deciding which media to take. I was intending not to take oils but relented at the last moment. A new addition to the watercolours was the pen. I had decided to start adding wash as well so I took some Noodlers inks which have a pleasing balance of mostly permanent but a fair bit of ink will dissolve into the wash.

I set off on these trips with a high degree of anticipation which is of course immediately dashed as soon as you are sitting before the subject. I did manage to force myself to be quite experimental, varying the media depending on subject and time available. The watercolours rather suffered as I didn’t quite get into my stride with them due to drawing a lot. Watercolour is one of those mediums that requires you to be in the zone if you want to paint them en plein air, which tends only to happen when you paint a string of them one after another. That said I am pretty pleased with the variety of my output.

A great advantage of this sort of coach based holiday is that you have to paint where you are taken. It is all too easy when touring by car to spend most of the trip driving around looking for a subject rather than trying to catch the flavour of a single place. I had been to Amboise 40 years ago so I was intruiged to see if I remembered much about it. I’ll do the pictures in sequence as much as I can. There will be another post though as the oils I brought back were left deliberately unresolved, but more on that  in my next post.


St malo, France, Brittany, pen and ink, drawing

St Malo where the ferry docked is a fascinating walled town. Full of up market shops and restaurants. The day however was grey, which was not great as the place is built out of quite a dark grey granite! I settled in the end for quite a wide perspective done from the city walls. This allowed a grand view down into the square where most of the restaurants were. The hardest thing here was to decide how to let the drawing fade off to the edges. I decided in the end to make the whole thing revolve around the tree and the white building to the left of it. Objects that were  towards the edge can then be simply indicated just by outlines. It is odd that the eye finds this perfectly understandable and acceptable.


St malo, France, drawing

Our visit to St Malo was only a few hours so this was my last there. I only had 15min so I blocked the whole thing in with acrylic markers. I bough two mid greys to add to my white which gives quite a  good range when combined with the black pen work. I deliberately kept the whole thing bold and kept the line work quite calligraphic.


Amboise, France, Loire, watercolour

I painted a couple of oils in the early part of the first day in Amboise. They will feature in the next post though. After eating I went down to the Loire and did this in the last of the light. Quite hard to see either my painting or the palette but still it captures the feel of the evening. I was so smothered in anti mosquito spray that I was a chemical hazard to myself and the surrounding wildlife!


Amboise, France, watercolour

Next morning I settled down to paint this small 7in by 5in watercolour. I tried to keep the whole thing light and airy and not over define. Quite a difficult perspective as none of the buildings were parallel to either the arch of each other. People are so important in this sort of painting, the scene would be very dull without them. I did not however want to tale them to a stage where you could engage with them as individuals. I still find this sort of fine judgement very hard to achieve.


Chenonceau, per cher, drawing, pen and ink

This is Chenonceau. There is a very famous and beautiful chateau there, but I decided quixotically not to paint it. There have been a thousand drawings of the chateau and I had seen it before so I walked into the town and drew this. The light was dull when I started then grew sunny, but I decided to stick with the soft light. Pen and ink is very good at describing buildings without needing strong shadow. The trick is to vary the textures and weight of the hatching to indicate the differing surfaces and planes. I will do a tutorial on pen hatching in a week or so as it is a technique many do not get the most out of.


Montrichard, Le Cher, Pen and ink, drawing

Our next stop was Montrichard, a small town on the river Cher. It had once been a very important place controlling a river crossing, but now a bit of a backwater. After wandering around I settled to do this using sepia ink I had mixed myself from two shades of Noodlers ink. A young child from the house behind me watched for a bit then got her siblings, they in turn brought the parents to see and finally the grand parents arrived to watch me to a finish! How odd it is that drawing and painting breaks through people’s reserve and makes them engage you.


Amboise, Chateaux, France, Watercolour, painting.

The next day was very hot indeed and I was faced with subjects that didn’t allow me any shade! This is part of the Chateaux of Amboise, there is another view of it later in this post that explains how unusual the building is. I struggled a bit to catch the feeling of it, bright sunny days are far from my favourite especially in the middle of the day. Still I got some better composed views in photos so this will help with the final studio picture. The washes were drying instantly which was very difficult.


Amboise, Chateaux, loire, france, pen and ink, drawing

I had drawn this view of Amboise 40 years ago, so was keen to have another go. I was sitting on the roof of a tower and the heat was quite something. I decided from the start to use two colours of ink, something I haven’t done before. Quite pleased with the result. By the time I had finished I was baked to a turn!


Amboise, Chateaux, France, Pen and ink, drawing

Last of the day I settled in the relative cool to draw this. I could not get far enough away really so the perspective is rather extreme. Mixing the inks again but less obviously.


Amboise, Chateaux, loire, france, watercolour

This was a real struggle. I was a little too early really. It made a better picture  an hour later. I had to risk life and limb to get by the waterside and was perched very uncomfortably on some rocks in the water. Looking at the photos I don’t think there is a larger painting from this viewpoint, so this will remain a sketch.


Amboise, chateaux, church, watercolour, france

This is the little church I painted earlier. This time it is seen from street level. I could not resist doing this though due the narrowness of the street the perspective was extreme. I had to position my stool near a wall and lean back. The light was racing so I had my work cut out getting it all in.


St Ceneri Le Gerei

This is a small chapel at St Ceneri le Gerei. We were there at lunch time so the light was directly overhead. I would have loved to do the trees all wet into wet but the heat was so extreme the paint dried instantly. I settled for putting in the tones and then washing quickly with water so the redisolved. Not ideal but needs must.


Dives sur Mer, france, pen and wash

Our next stop was Dives sur Mer, from where Bill the Conquerer set off to give us a good kicking. Badly bombed in the war but still some lovely things to draw. I drew this in the brown ink then washed over it and gave it body with the acrylic markers. I love this quick and direct way of sketching.


Dives sur Mer, France, Normandy, market hall, pen and wash

This was a scary subject. It is the market hall in Dives sur Mer. I drew it out in pencil and then inked the structure. To finish I washed over the whole thing so soften the inking then picked out the counter shapes in watercolour. There were more light sources than this but I decided to reduce it to just the one. I tried to keep the whole thing light and easy. With subjects as complex as this it is easy to get carried away with the detail and loose the character. I deliberately curved the perspective to draw the eye in but was artful not to push it to the point of “fisheye”.


That is it for this issue! I have as much again to come so it will need two posts.


  1. Terrific work Rob. Your pen and ink sketches are really something, many of the subjects I wouldn’t even tackle on the drawing board.


    Comment by Doug Elliot — June 27, 2014 @ 4:29 pm

  2. It Is amazing how you mix your media Rob, Wonderful though. You mention different tools, but it baffles me what they are. Shows you how much i know eh? Lovely work Rob. All the best.

    Comment by Vic Errington — June 27, 2014 @ 4:33 pm

  3. My word, Rob! You packed a lot into the trip. Your pen and ink sketches are so good and the market hall in Dives sur mer is a real work of art! Your comment about driving around looking for a subject rang a bell with me. I’ve done it – wasting hours looking for the “perfect” subject and coming home disappointed. Often a good subject is right under one’s nose I have discovered but don’t always realise it. Looking forward to a tutorial on pen and ink work.


    Comment by Michael Trask — June 27, 2014 @ 5:27 pm

  4. I visited the Loire first in 1975, staying in Amboise. This was welcome and wonderful return visit. Like others, I find your ink drawings worth many return visits to your blog. Gary

    Comment by Gary McCarty — June 30, 2014 @ 4:47 am

  5. I am in awe of your ink drawings. Such line work! And energy. Masterful.

    Comment by Carol — July 13, 2014 @ 1:44 am

  6. Wonderful pieces of art. Every painting shows the uniqueness and energy of your artwork. I really like it.

    Comment by Art supplies — August 7, 2014 @ 12:30 pm

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