Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

April 14, 2012

Dorset and Beyond

Filed under: Dorset,Painting,Thames,Watercolour — Rob Adams @ 10:00 pm

I’ve done quite a bit of travelling in the last week or so. Friends invited me down to Dorset for Easter and then I was due to paint with fellow artists on the western reaches of the Thames. I have been pondering the ins and outs of choosing what to paint and spotting a winning composition. In some ways it is easier choosing winners from photographs after than en plein air on the day.

When faced with the real world spread before you in full 360 degree three dee it is easy to be overwhelmed. The camera takes handy snippets and cuts the problem down to size. There is of course no problem when the subject is plain as a pikestaff, one of the paintings below of Salisbury is a case in point.  Generally the less complex the stuff before you is the easier the task, which might explain why Norfolk is a popular painter’s destination. The simple division of land and sky punctuated by the odd tree and aesthetically placed windmill is a winning combination. Other straightforward recipes are something light surrounded by dark or the same inverted. It is easy to set yourself rules that will deliver reasonably pleasing results. However experience has taught me that whenever you make up a rule for painting something will crop up as an exception.

Compositions are no exception, every now and again something works that just shouldn’t. One thing I always find frustrating is that many very beautiful scenes, especially those wide vistas that have handy parking spots for folks to stop and gawp, just don’t often make good paintings. Usually because there is no place for the eye to rest so it wanders lost and rudderless here and there. Why exactly that should be unsatisfactory in a painting or photograph,  but more than acceptable as real view is I fear beyond me. On the other hand some unremarked corner will once painted gain a elegiac quality that speaks to the viewer. We are also more prone to admire the scenery when it is lovely and sunny, especially in the evening light when everything is bathed in honey gold light. Yet I have got some of my favourite paintings from days when any sane person would hunch their shoulders and head for a warm cosy fireplace. I just have to admit it, I have no idea what prompts me to paint a particular scene. I suspect the reason is different for every one.

This has also been a road test for my trusty new MkIII pochade which has performed very well and is much more convenient and lighter than Mks I  & II. I promised more information in a post online so here it is for the plein air nerds…




Here is the top view closed, I used simple snap catches, I might replace these but they are fine for now, I had to search around for a brass carrying handle but RS had them ( it is rounded so comfortable to carry.



T’other side. The hinges are high torque, adjustable with an allen key  also from RS. My eureka moment was to put the camera mount on the hinge side which makes for a much more balanced affair with less stress on the tripod. I just carve the camera mount out of hardwood.



Here is the wet board store, it can take four 16in by 10in wet panels or more smaller ones. I just used standard aluminium channel which as, luck would have it, is exactly right for 3mm MDF panels back to back.



Here it is opened. Now you see the reason for the holes, the hole in the side allows the dippers to be screwed on. The sliding bolt allows any varied widths and orientations of panel to be accommodated. The palette surface is smoothed with a cabinet scraper then linseed oiled, with use it will get smoother. One advantage is that I can leave the wet paint in situ between subjects which saves paint. The whole thing weighs less than a kilo. I have to add a further picture of it in use… pochade enthusiasts may have to lie down in a darkened room for a while before moving on to the paintings.


pochade, plein air, rob adams

Here it is being used in anger, or at least mild irritation as the light keeps changing. Note the dippers deployed on the righthand side.


St Mary's,Hartley Wintney, church, oil painting, plein air, rob adams

This is The church of St Marys at Hartley Wintney. Out of order but it links with the pochade in action picture. Very difficult light and I had difficulty deciding on the tones for the church. The building is as you can see a hodge podge of styles and materials. I started off with the white wall far too bright and had to tone it down. At the last minute before it rained on us the sun came out and lit up the foreground which really made the scene come alive.


New Forest, heath, path ,oil painting, plein air, Rob Adams

Meanwhile four days earlier… On my way down to Dorset I was tempted to park and get out my paints by a glimmer of light as I drove through a bit of heathland in the New Forest. The light promptly disappeared as soon as I was set up. I was left with trying to make something of the very subtle tones that faded to the distance. I had the vague hope that the path would hold the whole thing together. It almost works but one for the cupboard rather than the framer I feel.


Hambledon Hill, Dorset, watercolour, plein air, rob adams

This is Hambledon Hill in Dorset. It is an iron age fort with concentric ditches running round the hill. Very dramatic but hard to paint especially in such neutral light. But I am really pleased with the result. It, as I mentioned above, breaks all sorts of  rules of composition but somehow works anyway. It is on Arches CP which I think I must use more as it gives a feel to the washes that is suitable to this sort of structured scene.


Salisbury, cathedral, wiltshire, constable, watercolour, rob adams

A studio picture done from a snap I took whilst trying to find where Constable painted from. We couldn’t get to the actual spot as signs threatened death or worse if we trespassed. The field was flooded a little but I had to relocate the water for optimum reflections.


Dorset, road, watercolour, Rob Adams, pimperne

Another one from a snap. I have been eyeing up this view for a while and taken quite a few photos. This one in the rain with the Blackmore Vale in the distance seemed to catch the mood perfectly. A very simple composition, but sky and land in opposing harmony give a lovely mood.


Farnham, street, castle, plein air, oil painting, Rob Adams

I had been very kindly asked by Steven Alexander of the Wapping Group to join him for a few days painting. The first oil is from this visit also and was done after this one. This is Castle St in Farnham. The light was very dramatic being very much contre jour which threw the buildings into sharp relief. One of those one where I was concentrating so hard I was quite taken aback to see it was done. 12in by 10in.


Runnymede, thames, river, plein air, oil painting, Rob Adams

Here we are by the Thames near Runnymede. I really wasn’t taken by the subject but worked hard to make something of it, I’m unsure of the result though others seem to like it. You also have to imagine the roar of the M25 directly above my head, which rather altered my perceptions. I am enjoying the wider 16in by 10 in format though.


Runnymede, thames, oil painting, Rob Adams, plein air

The end of the day I did this smaller sketch 10in by 8in. I’m never too taken with sitting on one side of the river painting the other bank, but here the water was quite interesting and the boats were glowing in the afternoon light. Still I didn’t want to spend too long on it so this is about 45min worth.


  1. I enjoyed the difference in my own perception before and after making the effort to hear the M25! Still love the light.

    I’m perplexed by the bus stop paint in Castle St, though. Is the “S” mirrored?

    Comment by a chris — April 14, 2012 @ 11:56 pm

  2. Ah you spotted the S I thought nobody would notice… I knew I should have turned the board upside down to paint it!

    Comment by admin — April 15, 2012 @ 9:52 am

  3. Whew, glad it wasn’t just me.

    Comment by a chris — April 15, 2012 @ 8:55 pm

  4. I didn’t notice; I was too busy admiring that handsome new pochade box 😉

    Comment by Thomas Haskett — April 28, 2012 @ 9:21 am

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