Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

February 15, 2011

Painting in the City

Filed under: Drawing,Life Drawing,London,Painting — Tags: , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 12:03 pm

One of the things I wanted to do, having taken the dangerous step of mostly giving up commercial work  to paint, was to do work that reflected the city in which I have lived to the last 30 years. It is so often the case that we are blind to the beauties around us because of their familiarity. To this end I have been taking morning trips to the City of London to sketch and photograph the morning rush into work. This brings some really great subjects especially at this time of year. If there is sun it beams down the streets at a low angle high lighting some buildings and throwing others into deliciously moody shade. If it’s wet then the bustle is transformed into a symphony of greys punctuated by the lights of cars and buildings intermixed with the muted light of the sky all reflected in the slick and puddled pavements.

Doing plein airs in this environment is distinctly challenging. As an easel in these locations is impossible I have been using my small metal pochade box just hand held. I off load everything that weighs such as paints palette knives etc into my pockets. I can paint for about an hour before my wrist gives out, but it rather limits the size of painting. I intend to make myself an extra light weight setup in the next few weeks to make the whole thing easier. Rain protection is a must I have been using a taped on piece of cling film going round two satay skewers which keeps the worst off palette and painting, but I think I can make something better and lighter. Bringing this information back and doing studio pictures is another matter.

I am experimenting with different levels of  finish which has been well worthwhile as I am coming to the conclusion that the important thing is to vary the degree of looseness and tightness across the painting in a way that makes the eye read the picture around a focus. I think this works because the eye actually sees with such a small area of concentration and then scans about the first point of interest to take in the whole image. The point of initial interest can be either a tonal contrast, say light surrounded by a dark or a subject driven focus such as a figure… or indeed both at once. Enough theorising, some pictures, most of which can be clicked for a larger view.


Richmond, thames, london, painting, plein air, oils

This was a lovely day in Richmond, almost too beautiful, resulting in slightly picture postcard image. Still there is nothing inherently wrong with that. I am getting rather fond of bad weather paintings but shouldn’t, I feel, shy away from more conventional scenes. It is easy to be always looking for the unusual as a way of marking out your uniqueness. However this to my mind rather leads to the trap of making the painting about yourself and your cleverness rather than what the subject requires to be best served.


Richmond, thames, london, river, oil, plein air, buggy, baby, walk

I returned to this scene in the studio as the light improved as I was doing the plein air but didn’t want to “chase the light” which often ruins a painting. I had no intent here other than capturing the deliciousness of the day with people enjoying the respite from the grey and wet. I considered altering the red of of the buggy as it is perhaps too insistent, but experimenting in photoshop showed me that the red was performing the function or enriching all the blues so I’ll leave it be!.


London, drawing, pastel, British Museum

I have been doing quick pastel sketches which only take a few minutes, but I think I will be doing more of this as the immediacy of the result makes them a great resource for later paintings. I am deliberately restricting the colours to just four or less. With the toned paper doing the bulk of the work.


London, Charing Cross, St Martins, pastel, drawing

A little bit later on my way home… the wet road a product of my imagination!


London, City, oil, lights, rain, commuters

A studio painting done from a mixture of sources, the first inspiration was the dark alley with the cool grey towers of the modern buildings providing contrast of both tone and age. The image of the van and walking figure is from a different day but just seem made for each other. My most successful studio picture of the city so far I feel as I got the balance of looseness and focus working properly in my favour.


London, river, thames, plein air

This is an expedition with the Brazen Monkeys to the river at Strand on the Green near Kew. A cold day and I was unwell, but it’s amazing how painting makes you forget your woes! The tide was very low allowing views close to the water. This was painted very quickly  in less than an hour. You really have to make the effort to see the colours and then exercise restraint in not over exaggerating them.


Thames, Kew, London, Barges

A few hundred yards upstream these barges were an interesting challenge. I painted this on a slightly larger canvas than I usually use for plein air, something I must do more of when it’s practical. 18in by 14in.


Here is how the camera sees the same scene. Interesting that almost all the richness of the blues is missing.


London, City, commuters, umbrella, rain, painting, oil

A larger studio painting, I felt the subject required looser handling than I usually use. Also I deliberately used a very smooth linen which allows a sensuous, juicy feel to the brush work. The wet street was huge fun to paint but I had trouble getting the right balance of accuracy and freedom in the buildings which meant I scraped out and repainted a few times before I was satisfied. There are still a few adjustments to the main figure, but they willhave to wait until it is drier.


Camden, London, canal, plein air

Another outing with the Monkeys, a very wet day, so thanks to Michael Richardson for providing the impetus to get out there and paint. This was painted umbrella in hand as it didn’t stop raining for a moment. But the glitter of the market transformed by the tranquility of the canal make a great subject which I think may make a bigger picture in a while.


St Pauls, London, oil, plein air, city, painting

A small 10 in by 7 in painted holding a pochade in my hand, quite tiring but really the only way in these locations. The two worlds of offices and cathedral make this a wonderful subject of which I will do a studio painting. I added the van later to nudge the focus left in the picture and allow the eye to follow the river of reflected light up and to St Pauls.


London, City, morning, plein air, painting, oil

Another hand held job, without the added annoyance of the rain this time. I was rather in people’s way so I only got about 40 min at this. Amazingly the shadow on the right of the central building is thrown by the foreground building on the left. Something I only realised when I left and walked past it. As the days get longer these subjects will be gone alas as the dawn will happen too early.


Life drawing


Life drawing, nude

Two life drawings to finish off.


  1. My first visit to your site, having just got you on my radar via WC, and found it a real pleasure. The range, thoughtfulness and quality is I’m sure going to make this a ‘must’ visit.

    Comment by Mick Carney — February 16, 2011 @ 3:04 pm

  2. i am trying to get a line on perspective in the city…you do it well…

    Comment by vanaly — May 27, 2013 @ 4:05 pm

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