Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

April 16, 2011

A Few Days in Cumbria

Filed under: Cumberland,Drawing,Painting,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 2:08 pm

Having found myself with an empty diary for couple of weeks I made a quick decision and packed up my paints and headed off to Cumbria via the Midlands. There is nothing like being alone in a lovely place to concentrate on the painting. I know this sounds a little antisocial but there is no getting away from the fact that everybody wants to sit down to eat in the evening just as the light is at its best! It was great to paint countryside again as I have been very focused on urban subjects for a while. So much so that I struggled at first with the change of scene. Despite the beauties on offer I found it difficult to “settle” on on a scene, there is always the feeling that there will be a better subject around the corner. This visit I was more organised than usual in marking potential subjects on the map and using a compass to determine what time of day the light might be good.  Good in theory but I only got back to paint a couple of them so I will plainly have to make another visit. I did almost equal amounts of oils and watercolours which really drove home to me that I have a fair way to go before I am as comfortable with the oils as I am with the watercolours.

The only route to getting better at anything music or painting is to practice and practice, with music at least the failures vanish into the aether, but unfortunately paintings hang around to remind us of the time we didn’t quite nail it! It is the sad case that to do any good paintings you have to paint a lot of bad ones and I find it best to just accept that as the case rather than dwelling on it too much and undermining self confidence. As with sport or music a lot of it is “in the head” and I find it is worth using a few simple strategies to get “in the mood” to carry a painting through to completion. With nearly all paintings the pattern of emotional ups and downs is fairly similar. First I sketch out with boundless optimism eager to get to the painting stage… I have learnt to rein this in a bit as it is easy to rush in too fast to the rest of the process. So I try to just pause and reconsider the scene, sometimes this leads to a complete redraw but more usually a slight rethinking of what is important. It is during the blocking out stage my confidence tends to drain away as the many things that need to be balanced and the different ways areas might be treated compete for attention and can overwhelm. I get through this by muttering “Big to little” under my breath, what I mean by this is getting clear in your head what the main tonal areas are and dealing with the required relationships one by one from the lightest to darkest or vica versa. The other thing to is to get decided upon what the order of compositional importance is, IE which part or aspect is the star of the show and which ones are the supporting roles. The next hurdle is stopping myself rushing to get to the “fun” bits. As you proceed you start to see the touches that will bring the whole thing to life, the wood from the trees as it were. The temptation is to skip past less important areas that need to underlie but will come back to haunt you if not done carefully. I try and avoid making judgements as to the worth or not of the painting as I actually do it. It is easy to convince yourself that the thing is a failure when it may not be. Even when I have finished on site I try not to make any final critical assessment as immediately on completion you just don’t have the emotional distance to gauge the merits or not. I often change my opinion about something I have done once a few days have passed sometimes demoting a picture I thought successful or seeing something in one that I thought just “so so” that I had missed when just completed. Despite all this 4 or 5 paintings got wiped off at a late stage, for some daubs there really is no hope! Most pictures can be clicked for a larger view.



Oil painting, plein air, cotswolds

When crossing the Cotswolds heading North I was much taken with the raw newly ploughed fields so I stopped and painted this 14in by 10in. The wind was very strong and bitterly cold and the light rapidly changing. I might do a studio painting based on this despite its flaws as the subject has some interesting abstract possibilities that could be brought to the fore.


Watercolour, painting, plein air, art

This was a very picture book scene but very typical of the area. I enjoyed painting it as it gave me the feeling of having “got started” on my expedition.


Watercolour, road, cotswolds, plein air

I came across this scene as I drove towards Snowshill on the edge of the Cotswolds. I was taken by the bleak simplicity. I didn’t quite get the tree to my satisfaction but I think this will make a good picture if I redo it with a slightly looser treatment. Not possible on site alas as the wind was actually blowing the paint across the paper!


Alcester, Droitwich, salt, roman road, oil painting, plein air, road

A peaceful road… not if you were painting it, the backdraught from the passing lorries nearly lifted me off my feet on a couple of occasions. I had a lot to get down in a short time and the light was very flat. A great subject though and I shall return and do it again. The road is a Roman one used to carry salt from Droitwich in Worcestershire, this stretch is just in Warwickshire approaching the old town of Alcester.


Patterdale, Cumbria, lake district, watercolour, plein air, painting

The Lakes at last! Over Kirkdale pass and looking down to Brothers Water and Deepdale. Cloud shadows over the hills, who could ask for more. I cheated the view point to the right to give the feeling of being in the road. This is something I quite often do as it gives a feeling of being “in” the scene.


Martindale, cumbria, lake district, Ullswater, plein air, painting, oils

My first full day and a wet and windy one to boot. I had to weigh down my easel with big rocks. I need to refine my treatment of winter trees, I’m getting better at them but not quite getting the balance of detail and brevity of brushstrokes I would like.


Ullswater, cumbria, lake district, plein air, watercolour

More trouble with winter trees! Although I often like the result when watercolourists reduce a tree to a quick wash and a few sticks I feel it doesn’t really do them justice sometimes and it is easy to fall into the habit of populating your scenes with”stock” trees rather than taking on that particular tree. Here I made the error of going in too dark too soon which reduced my options later.


Aira Force, waterfall, cumbria, lake district, oil painting, plein air

This is Aira Force waterfall near Ullswater. Great fun to paint though the mist from the fall made me and my palette quite wet. I was very tempted to take this further but decided to stop at this level. I can always do another from this and reference. The first things I scrubbed in were the sky and the falls in white on my red ochre ground, once that was established this was very straightforward to paint.


Aira Force, Ullswater, Cumbria, Lake district, plein air, oil painting

This is the path to the waterfall, I loved the mossy tree choked gorge with the sound of the water rushing below. I painted this over a couple of evenings as it was close by, so I took a slightly more measured approach to building up the tones which gives the picture a softer look.


Tarn Hows, Tom Gill, plein air, oil painting, cumberland

More waterfalls! This another of those magical Lake District valleys called for some reason Tom Gill running down from Tarn Hows. A delicious spot to sit and paint especially as the weather had changed entirely and become warm and sunny. It’s very tempting to over do water so it is of the utmost importance to keep it loose and expressive and not get hooked on the detail however beguiling it might be.


Windermere, Cumbria, lake district, oils, plein air

Lake Windermere at the end of the day. Started a little late and it was almost dark when I put the last details of the boats.


Ullswater, cumbria, lake district, plein air, oil painting

Late in the day on Ullswater, a much painted view I suspect, it was done by Turner I know. He had cattle in the lake in the foreground… but they would have drowned I reckon! I had to paint this very briskly as the light was going fast so all dine in forty minutes or so. I did it on a dirty raw sienna ground which I rather liked against the blues.


Small Tarn, Haweswater, Watercolour, plein air, painting

This was a wonderful day. I walked up from Haweswater to Small Tarn, a stiff climb with all my gear. At the top I was rewarded by this view the shapes and the way the light simplified the shadow was a delight. The only technical challenge was the water, getting the feeling of the stony bottom running under both the reflected sky and mountain areas. This sort of scene you have to be very careful in getting your tones right and I did several tests on the back of another sheet before committing to the paper.


After doing the lake I back tracked a little to do this. I know another waterfall, I can only apologise. This was quite hard to paint, getting the relative tones was very tricky. To some degree you can “choose” what colours to see in a scene.In the previous one I saw the purples which took the pasture towards yellow. Here I chose to pick up on the Ultramarines which moved the grasses towards the green. But all the tones in this were aimed at one thing which was to give enough tonal leeway to express the sunlit waterfall and make it really sparkle. In the end I spent more time mixing tones and hues than I did in actually applying the paint to the board!


Small Tarn, Cumbria, High Street, Mountains, watercolour, plein air, painting

I dumped my oil painting gear down a crack as it was just too much to haul any further. There was nobody about and I had the hills pretty much to so I though it safe enough, though I carefully took a photo of the place I hid it so I could pick it upon my descent! This is Small Tarn seen from high up it was fun deciding the relative tones and hues of the shadows as they grew distant.


Haweswater, Cumberland, lake district, watercolour, painting, plein air

A last one for the day, I was dog tired by now but couldn’t resist this view of Haweswater as was nearly back to where I started.


Martindale, Ullswater, Cumberland, lake district, plein air, watercolour

A walk on my last day up Martindale. I didn’t settle to paint anything until on my way back as the light was too brash. It was only when walking back to the car that the sun had dropped enough to throw a shadow over the valley floor. This was done from the bridge with the ever present danger of death by passing 4×4 or tractor. Looking at it now I wished I had painted it a little more thickly and a wee bit looser.


Ullswater, Cumbria, watercolour, plein air, painting

A last painting for the trip. A perfect scene, the water easily simplified by the differing reflections.


Drawing, pastel, sheep, ewes

Some sheep to finish off, I intended to do a picture with sheep so I sketched the woolly blighters in anticipation of finding the right scene. Alas it never happened so they will have to wait for another day and will probably end up in a field in wales!


  1. An absolutely wonderful collection Rob, I am sure you are planning a return trip, it’s a painter’s paradise.


    Comment by Yorky — April 16, 2011 @ 4:01 pm

  2. Hi, just want to say thanks for sharing your work and your thoughts. I found this blog not long ago and I’ve found it really interesting to see what can be accomplished by a skilled hand (and mind), and to have little hints as to how you approached the different pieces. I must say you’re a hardy soul, braving wind, rain and passing lorries for painting opportunities!

    Comment by a chris — April 16, 2011 @ 10:06 pm

  3. Thanks Chris, I’m glad someone is occasionally peeking at my efforts! I looked briefly at your site and noticed an interest in perspective so my last update should interest you as it is about Spherical Perspective, though I don’t brave the algebra like you do!

    Comment by admin — April 17, 2011 @ 11:40 am

  4. Rob , thanks for sharing your unique talent -your so much better, than you give yourself credit for .

    Comment by Martin Coney — December 6, 2011 @ 1:59 am

  5. Gorgeous paintings! I’m so inspired after reading your notes and seeing your paintings. I only wish I could paint half as well, but I will keep practicing. Thanks for sharing your work.

    Comment by Catherine — October 26, 2012 @ 9:57 am

  6. Thanks Catherine! Stick at it and you cannot help but get better even if it feels sometimes as if you are staying still.

    Comment by admin — October 26, 2012 @ 2:23 pm

  7. In many of your painting you use a lot of green and somehow get away with it. I hate to much green in my painting, I cant seem to manage it at all. Any advice?

    love your work.


    Comment by Brian — November 6, 2013 @ 11:34 pm

  8. Thanks Brian, Green can be a problem I discuss it at some length here The Fear of Green

    Comment by Rob Adams — November 7, 2013 @ 9:40 am

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