Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

July 30, 2019

Stuck in a Rut

Filed under: Dorset,London,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 11:53 am

I am I suppose a little unusual in the painting world in that I have had several careers in the art and design industry before becoming a full time dauber. Being an artist for hire means that you could be asked to do anything. City made out of biscuits… yes sir! On the double… 40ft high version of the kiss by Rodin… yes sir! When would you like it? 2 weeks… ulp! These were real projects.

I painted clinching couples for romance book covers, innumerable detective book covers and designed porcelain plates. Later I painted hundreds of skies and other backdrops for film and stage, all of them huge. In short variety was very much the spice of my life.

The one connecting factor was that someone else chose the subject and decided on its final form. So when I first started to paint pictures for me I actually found it quite hard. I had many of the technical skills and knew how to churn out a crown pleaser, but I had no real idea how to do something that might please me. My erratic course in trying to achieve this has been documented here in grisly detail.

The other problem was that due to the commercial experience I could paint in more or less any style. So if you put a line of pictures I had painted in a row you wouldn’t necessarily think them all by the same person. The unwelcome news that strengths could be your greatest weakness only sank in quite slowly. I have had to find out what I want to say and also what I don’t want to include. Made up imaginary content has virtually gone so I now try to pick and choose from what I see or experience directly, even if I do use some imagination to round out fleeting impressions.

I am hardly the only artist to suffer in this way. I see many other painters who paint mostly to their developed strengths. You may be a dab hand at painting contre-jour. The temptation then is to only do that. You might be advanced at portraiture but rubbish at landscape. You might be a whizz with muted tones and subtle gradations, but not so hot at punchy contrasts. The temptation is always the same: That worked last time, safest to stick to the tried and tested. Perhaps “safe” is a little unfair, maybe after a while you have trouble seeing potential subjects outside of your favourite parameters.

There is not, I hasten to add, anything wrong or unworthy about just sticking to what you are good at. It is just that for me I feel allowing you strengths to determine what and when you paint is perhaps just a little bit limiting. Our painter who paints always in to the light might find flat days very hard indeed and so avoids them. Just because you can do one does not mean you can manage the other with the same confidence.

That is the reason I would always to encourage people to intentionally work outside of their habitual methodology. Always painting away into the distance? Paint a widescreen cinemascope masterpiece where you have to tape your ears back to keep them out of shot! Always paint in jolly primaries? Ditch those playpen colours and delve into the blacks browns and greys. Always paint in simplified pared down areas? Get out your magnifying glass and go manic with the detail with a cathedral in the distance and an ant in the foreground!

Many will be shuddering with this assault on their good taste… but actually wonderful paintings have been done in almost every possible variation of style and intent. It is perhaps too easy to accept what is considered cool and garners Instagram likes from your peers and not ask unfashionable questions. Rest assured whatever you do it will still come out looking like one of yours. You will however have stretched the boundaries of what you can take on. You then realise that all the different methodologies and generic styles are just tools in the box that you can bring out when you require them, not the deciding factor that constrains any course you take.

plein air, Jermyn St, ,oil painting, London

This is Jermyn St done on a determinedly grey and occasionally wet day. I have missed painting in London so I didn’t mind the weather too much. I met up with the Northern Boys who were down on a painting mission which was fun. 12in by 10in Oils.

Charing Cross, St Martins lane, plein air, oil painting, London

Actually done before the one above. I had a wide skinny board so I sat on the steps of St Martins and did this. I was slightly put off by a drunk Scouser talking to me non stop as I painted… you don’t get that in Dorset. Two paintings in one really. 14in by 5in Oils.

Mudeford Quay, plein air, Dorset, oil painting, sea

Brit Plein Air did a paintout at Mudeford Quay, we arrived quite late but the day was gorgeous. All the tones had to be arranged to allow the white highlights to really sparkle. 14in by 5in Oils.

Mudeford Quay, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

Last one from Mudeford. The tones of the foreground gave me a lot of trouble, needing to be both dark enough to allow the distance to dazzle yet light enough to be sunlit. Your eyes betray you when making direct observations so you have to work it out by deduction and testing. Sometimes I look at these bright scenes reflected in the black glass of my phone. This gives useful clues as to the actual tonal balances. 16in by 12in Oils.

Swanage, Old harry, Peveril Point, plein air, oil painting, sea

Above Swanage, I only had a few minutes so chose to do this simple scene rather than the more dramatic Peveril Point which was not lit well. 10in by 8in Oils.

Shaftesbury, Gold Hill, plein air, oil painting, Dorset, Hovis Hill

It’s that famous Hovis Hill again. Gold Hill in Shaftesbury fascinates me, it is almost impossible to impose yourself on it. There have been so many bad paintings of it because experienced painters avoid it as it has become a cliche. Even here where I squeeze it into a letterbox the subject overwhelms. Marvellous place, I shall never win but trying is great fun. 24in by 8in Oils.

Hambledon hill, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

I haven’t painted Hambledon in a while. I love this view but haven’t managed to catch it in good light yet. Late in the evening might be good so I have to try and get there on a promising day. 24in by 8in Oils.

Win Green, Cranbourne Chase, plein air, oil painting

This is Win Green near Shaftesbury a great day with dramatic clouds scurrying across the sky at a great lick. I was going to soften the sky once home but decided to leave it in the end. I might glaze it so as to keep the choppy brushwork but just add a little bit of subtlety of tone. The great thing with glazing is that if you don’t like the effect you can just wipe it off and no harm is done. 12in by 12in. Oils.

Houns Tout, Dorset, Plein Air, oil painting

Another day out to the coast, this is looking down the valley that leads to Chapman’s Pool. One of those ones where you realise that you perhaps shouldn’t have bothered! Later I discovered that there is a much better view a hundred yards down the path… No matter I could not have done it on that day as the cattle would have plagued me. 10in by 8in Oils.

Chapmans Pool, Dorset, seascape, plein air, oil painting

Same day over looking Chapman’s Pool. I waited in vain for a flash of sunlight to give it a lift! Never mind a great view I shall return to. 10in by 10in Oils.

Sandbanks, Poole, Old Harry, seascape, plein air, oil painting, Dorset

Looking across from Sandbanks to Old Harry on a very windy day. I had the tripod weighed down with a bag of sand but still had to hang on to everything for dear life. My rag blew away in the first few seconds of working and plenty of sand is embedded in the paint. I tried to catch the energy in the sky and the sea with the two divided by the calmer strip of land. 14in by 10in Oils.

That’s all for now, I really need to get on with some more studio work but the outdoors is so enticing I can’t resist!

3 Comments »

  1. The painting of Hovis Hill really interests me, because I’ve been trying and failing to draw a similar vertiginous road in a wooded setting. I can see how the houses help you show how steeply the road drops off, but I can’t figure out how to show it when there are only trees along the verge. 🙁

    Comment by Patricia S Bowne — July 30, 2019 @ 1:10 pm

  2. Yes harder with less perspective clues. The bases of your trees would be the way to get the effect. Assuming a road if a perspective meets at the horizon the road will appear flat. If the perspective meets above the horizon the road will appear uphill. If the perspective meets below the horizon the road is going down hill. The greater the distance below the horizon the verge lines meet the steeper the hill!

    Comment by Rob Adams — July 30, 2019 @ 2:10 pm

  3. Working outside your usual style/methodology not only improves artistic works, but recent medical research is showing that such behaviour keeps the brain young: it actually creates new neural connections. I took up life modeling at 82 because it put me way outside my comfort zone and still does, and I hope it’s helping my brain to stay younger. I’m curious to know which one(s) of the above works put you the furthest outside your own artistic comfort zone and why? You are right to say that all of them have still come out looking like Rob Adamses, and I give thanks for that!

    Comment by Steve Hoffman — July 30, 2019 @ 8:21 pm

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