Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

May 13, 2017

Brushwork

Filed under: Dorset,Painting,Uncategorized,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 6:40 pm

Something painters occasionally compliment each other on or otherwise obsess about is brushwork. I have done it myself… it is a safe compliment if there are no other redeeming features in a painting you have to react to.

“I rather like the handling of the paint on that barn!”

“Barn? It’s portrait of my uncle.”

“Ah… is it… ? Jolly good brushwork though…”

I thought in any case it would be a good subject for a post… I have been blogging about painting for a while now and new subjects are getting harder to think of. As I have often found however as soon as I start to organise my thoughts niggling contradictions soon arise.

Good for what? Was my first thought. A brush stroke could be the dogs B’s in one context and its dinner in another. What makes it good? Is it confidence? When I asked the question of fellow painters that seemed a major factor. I can however think of lots of situations where a bold confident stroke would be inappropriate and an uncertain, indefinite and tentative one just the thing. Also as Degas says it only has to give the impression of confidence it does not require actual confidence to make that apparently confident mark. Singer Sargent used to repeatedly re-do brush stroke over and over wiping them off if they didn’t have the right “I just dashed this portrait off.” feel.

I do admire as others do when brushstrokes appear  to have just been let lie and not fiddled with… people say fresh and other nice things if you get that effect. Though as an experienced fiddler I know full well that the not fiddled with look often requires a great deal of covert fiddling in order to achieve that coveted not at all fiddled with appearance.

It occurs to me too that brushstrokes need not be visible at all as such, the word blending appeared to cause shudders to run through the more delicate and elevated artistic souls. Pointillism also failed the test, divisionists of all sorts that just use a repeated dab seemed to be in the non mustard cutting zone for brushwork. Any kind of flat filling in is no good unless it has “movement” whatever that might mean, just signs of the paint being applied I assume. Glazing would seem iffy too, but best not to bin the family Rembrandt just on my say so.

There seemed one factor that was to the fore. That was that artists wanted people to discern clues as to the emotional state of the artist from the manner in which the paint was applied. So leaving big drips showing through, quick patchy scumbling over ground layers and signs of rapidity and urgency in general. Signs of corrections made but not hidden get brownie points too. All ways of shouting out “I’m so so arty and sensitive you should admire me ever, ever so… MUCH!” All in all it is starting to look as if all that “free” brushiness might be just as contrived in its own way as a smoothed off portrait by Bronzino!

All paintings are illusions even abstract ones and the clues that artists give us from which we are meant to derive extra meaning are illusion too in their own way. It also means that the way we as painters judge quality of work is just as tied to our era and received culture as it ever was. A Victorian painter might have given points for sentiment, smoothness of finish and classical allusions. A Flemish still life artist on the accuracy of the tulips and the perfection of the dew drops on the leaves in their still life. In looking for expression, brevity of means and truth to materials we are not really any different or indeed advanced.

Not to worry though painting was always driven by fantasy. From the juicy mammoth painted in cave which is surrounded by lucky hunters, to the saint being swept up to a reward in heaven, the recording eye of the impressionists uncluttered by literature or history, the impending technological triumphs of the futurists and the sweeping reductions of the abstractionists, to the artist as media magician waving the wand of deconstruction and finally the all powerful curator using the art of others as their preferred medium; all are dreams for the epochs in which they are set, fulfilling yearnings to bring relevance and meaning to a bewildering and intractably opaque existence.

Well I didn’t expect to end up delving into such philosophical backwaters just from considering a humble dab of paint!

I am painting pictures faster than I can blog them at the moment, so a rag bag of leftovers in this post. You can amuse yourselves by trying to determine the state of my soul from my wishy washy brushwork…

Rawlsbury Camp, Iron Age fort, watercolour, plein air, painting

This is Rawlsbury Camp on the side of Bulbarrow Hill. One thing about having moved out to the sticks is that I get to paint the same subject in lots of different moods. It is all getting very green now which I always find harder than the russets and greys of the winter. 13in by 7in watercolour.

 

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, watercolour, painting

Another old favourite. This view always fascinates me. I frequently pass by it on my way elsewhere and nearly always stop to see what mood is on offer that day. This is done from a very dodgy iPhone snap. 13in by 6in Watercolour.

 

Fontmell Down, Dorset, plein air, watercolour, painting

A slightly different take on Fontmell Down. Quite difficult indecisive light and I was sitting on a very slopey bit of ground.  I love the dry valleys that are a characteristic of the Dorset chalk lands but they are hard to make into a good composition. 10in by 6in Watercolour.

 

Fontmell Down, Dorset, plein air, watercolour

The clouds were gathering for my second one. This view is so distinctive I must think of some new variations. The painting looked dreadful until the last dark foreground wash went in and then seemed to suddenly make sense. 10in by 7in Watercolour.

River Stour, Child Okeford, Dorset, watercolour, plein air

I have been wanting to do this view for ages. The problem of doing it is that you have to stand on a narrow concrete ledge on the bridge over the Stour with huge tractors pulling slurry tanks zipping by inches behind you. The light was very kind to me staying so constant that I could take my time. The wind was very chilly and was drying the washes a bit too quick, but I became so involved two hours were gone in a flash. 13in by 7in Watercolour.

 

River Stour, Dorset, watercolour, plein air, painting

Next day I went back to do the less interesting view from the other side of the bridge. The cloud shadows were regularly throwing either foreground or background into shade. I decided I would have the nearby river shaded which I now think was a bad call… with oils I could have jumped horses but not with watercolour alas! 10in by 7in Watercolour.

 

Mudeford, watercolour, painting, Dorset

This one of Mudeford was done from the oil that appears in the previous post. When I was painting the oil I felt I had chosen the wrong media so this was to find out. The result? Well better than the oil but still a little boring. 10in by 7in Watercolour.

Mudeford, crabbing, Dorset, watercolour

Slightly reluctant to post this one! Usually when I do a painting where a figure is front and centre I put it in first so if it goes awry you can start again without much time lost. But here I finished the rest of the picture then botched the figure! I post it as a warning to you all! 10in by 7in watercolour.

 

Melbury Hill, Dorset, plein air, watercolour

I got up very very early to do this one of Melbury Hill. I had seen the view a few days before and thought it might make a good painting but the actual day disappointed a little. Still on the way back I saw a different view that I will definitely be returning to do. I might have another look at this in the evening light. 10in by 6in watercolour.

 

 

1 Comment »

  1. I think some of the most beautiful watercolor paintings are on a small intimate scale. I have noticed that many watercolorist today are tracing their photographs and then applying poured paint and on closer inspection they look like paint by number segments that are found in hobby kits. I am afraid that this technique extinquishes the artist’s handwriting. Your work has a distinct style based on the classical tradition. You capture mood and atmosphere in a beautiful way and I am inspired by your artistry. Thank you

    Comment by Elga Dzirkalis — May 14, 2017 @ 12:33 am

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