Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

March 17, 2019

Memory

Filed under: Dorset,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 11:26 am

Memory seems a simple thing. Something happens to you, it gets encoded in your brain and there it is like an entry into a diary. There is short term memory which is like taking a quick note that you bin after it has served its purpose, and longterm which is like your archive. For an artist both are important because you need short term to transfer the information from eye to canvas and long term to learn your craft.

However memory is not much like how I have described above. Which in turn makes what we do as artists less simple than it might at first glance appear. Both long term and short term memories are effected by our hopes, expectations, preconceptions and desires which in turn colours or filters the information being recorded. This is shown by how witnesses remember the same events quite differently. It also goes some way to explain why those photos of the scene look different to how you recall the moment at which the snap was taken. We blame the camera, but it is our method of making memories that is I think the more likelyl cause.

So there we are on a clifftop preparing to paint, what could be going on? Firstly you perhaps need to consider context. You have gone out seeking a subject and inevitably you have high hopes in that regard. The brain is forever applying rose tinted glasses to your perceptions: That person you are having dinner with appears more and more attractive. The painting you are working on seems better and better… or the reverse of course if we are depressive! So the scene you see is not only what is there, but a romanticised version of it overlaid by hopes.

In practice what happens is that if you seek colours in the shadows then you will see them. You photo will later show that they are actually just dull grey and you might exclaim that the camera is so poor compared to the eye. This however is unlikely to be the case. What is more likely to be happening in many instances is that the colours are invented by our internal image processing and not really present. In a different mood we might produce an alternate set of hues from the same scene. it is also possible that the colours are there in a subdued version which our visual system grabs and gives added zip to.

As we work the process continues. We want the developing picture on our canvas to look like the scene, evoke it, or fit a certain stylistic ideal and our minds helpfully alter what we see to make that appear true. Many times we struggle to manage this where the evidence is increasingly strong that we have painted a clunker. The process is often quite abrupt where the previously hopeful daub suddenly appears drab and worthless. The mind then helpfully fulfils our expectations and makes it look worse than it actually is and despair sets in! You might after bunging it in the car and taking it home, look at it next day say, “It’s not as bad as I thought!”

If we really painted what was actually before us our pictures would mostly be as disappointing as those photos can be once we have them home. We have to accept that what we imagine to be realism is in large part a fantasy, shaded in with the coloured crayons of our imaginations. I myself think this is a wonderful thing. It means you are free to imagine whatever you wish from the promptings that your eyes are transmitting. It also means that someone who views your painting of Portland with the lime green sky will be perfectly happy with it as their visual system is similar to your own.

Like most things once you have a better understanding of how you are doing a thing it allows you to exploit what might at first appear to be weaknesses and transform them into advantages and strengths.

So a few more delusions of my own distorted reality.

Corfe castle, dorset, oil painting

I have set about doing some larger studio pictures, this monster is 48in by 30in. After a day painting in Corfe I was, as described above, disappointed by the resulting photographs next day. As I came down West Hill I had thought how wonderfully romantic the castle looked and taken photos at regular intervals as I descended. Despite the lacklustre reference I set to and the block in flew off the brush, so I was optimistic for the next day. It did not go well, the reference took control and the painting went down hill. In the end I allowed my first impulse about how romantic the place was in an 18C way to take over and painted quite a different painting than the one I had originally intended. On reflection the above is probably closer to how I felt when actually there than my original plan. Oils.

Fontmel Gifford, Wiltshire, plein air, oil painting

A day out at Fontmell Gifford in Wiltshire. I expected a sunlit lake but all that was there was fog and an invisible lake! Still this was fun to paint with lots of subtle greys to enjoy. 10in by 7.5in Oils.

Fontmell Gifford, plein air, oil painting, Wiltshire

After a hearty breakfast nearby the lake had appeared! I have been enjoying this wide format of three squares. This might be fiddled with yet, I have perhaps over darkens the foreground by a notch. I’ll leave it like this for now though. 24in by 8ins Oils.

Shaftesbury, castle rings, Wiltshire, plein air, oil painting

Last one of the day. This is Castle Rings near Shaftesbury. It is such a magical place but very hard to catch the feel of the place. I think the wider format might have been better, but I had used my only wide board. Also I think I could have allowed my inner Tolkien to have taken over and pushed the fantastical feeling that the place has. I shall return with that in mind! 14in by 10in Oils.

Durleston, Dorset, Anvil Point, lighthouse, plein air, cliff top, oil painting

This is Anvil Point seen from Durleston. Tricky to find an ideal position to paint from so I settled for this. I shall add a little more punch to the sky once it is dry. 14in by 6in Oils

Anvil Point, Dorset, sea, light house, plein air, oil painting

Here is one of Anvil Point where the scene was so immediate that I just had to have a go. I did manage to rein myself in enough to think properly about what how I would approach it. The tone layer with the lighthouse was absolutely key. Too dark and the foreground would not separate, too light and there would be no “dazzle” to the sea. I did three experimental patches first to get these three areas named down. Just as well I did as it took 4 or 5 goes to find the best balance. A problem you will always face is that your mind’s eye sees further into the shadows than you want. It was very tempting to add a yet lighter tone to the foreground but I stuck to my guns and resisted the devil on my shoulder. I had to refine the sea and lighthouse later as the wind was so fierce that no finesse was possible! 10in by 10in Oils.

Swanage, Durleston, coast, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

Last of a very fine day This is looking towards Swanage from Durleston Castle. The light was going over very quickly, but as is often the case that added magic to the scene. I had to paint this very rapidly as a consequence. 12in by 7in Oils.

 

4 Comments »

  1. I’ve been following your painting for years, your lessons and your thoughts, and I wish to thank you very much. I enjoy reading your considerations very much. Many times I see myself identified with the problems you expose. You have made me familiarize with your land, your city, your shore… I just wanted to thank you.

    Comment by Ricardo Jaime Rincón-Benzalá Fernández — March 17, 2019 @ 3:14 pm

  2. Colour is a strange and elusive thing. Different people see colours differently. Different cameras “see” colours differently, and in any case work on an entirely different principle to the human eye. Colour is affected by the colour temperature of the ambient light, the proximity of other colours, the reflectivity of a surface and so on. I think you will go mad if you worry about it too much, and trying to reconcile your photographs with your memories, and with what you have painted at the time has got to be an ultimately futile exercise. After all, the days when painting was mainly about trying to reproduce reality are long gone. Surely, painting is about something else now; we try to transmit our feelings about the subject and we hope it evokes an emotion, mood or memory in the viewer. Particularly, we hope that it generates the feeling in the viewer that they cannot live a moment longer without buying it!

    Your painting of Castle Rings is interesting. It looks to me as if you have painted in the patches of sky after the tree branches, rather than paint the sky first and then the branches on top. This gives the painting a very different feel – it seems to give the trees some movement and definitely adds to the slightly supernatural atmosphere.

    Comment by Martin Harris — March 21, 2019 @ 3:35 pm

  3. Hi Martin, yes reality and all its features are I fear subjective, so actual realism in painting is an unlikely prospect! In the rings picture the sky was painted first leaving negative gaps for the branches unpainted. It is more labour intensive, but for plein air you don’t have time for your sky to dry enough to take clean paint on top! Also it gives a more “integrated” feel. The same for figures I find if I put them in first and paint around them they sit in the painting better.

    Comment by Rob Adams — March 21, 2019 @ 4:55 pm

  4. Hi Rob, thanks for your reply. Of course, if I’d thought about it a bit harder I’d have realised that you couldn’t paint the trees in oil over a wet sky. You can tell I don’t do a lot of plein air work! Still, it’s interesting that you painted the sky first, and not the other way round. It comes back to the idea of ‘negative space’, a technique I used to like using for life drawing. Somehow it seemed easier to judge the spaces between the figure and surrounding objects than the volume and shapes of the models themselves.

    Comment by Martin Harris — March 23, 2019 @ 1:23 pm

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