Rob Adams a Painter's Blog

July 19, 2012

Life Drawing and Painting in the Wet

Filed under: Kent,Painting,Watercolour — Rob Adams @ 2:13 pm

Creative, how I hate what that word has come to mean! I have linked it to the Wiki page for clarity as to which usage I am ranting against! The article is wrong in that I encountered the term earlier than they say it was first used, at advertising agencies where a “creative team” was a copy writer and art director. From these humble beginnings the plague spread. One thing I noticed early on was that they seemed to think being wildly enthusiastic about some mundane idea would lift it into the realms of genius, as if standing on the deck and puffing into the sails of a ship would make it speed through the water more swiftly. Being in the business of making the ideas into reality we shamelessly fell into line swooning at the ineffable, game changing genius of trying to sell puddings by firing them from cannons at children dressed as fruit.

The game often proceeded in this fashion. A bad photocopy of slick marker drawing would be faxed to us. After passing through the fax machine the image was barely decipherable. After a telephone call for hints as to whether the image was of an elephant juggling, or a crème brûlée dancing a tango with a scotch egg, we would produce an estimate as to cost. Then if our price was near to what they had to spend we would be called for a meeting (both under quoting or over quoting were bad) . Depending on the job there would be a meeting with representatives from the production company who would film it, we who would make the scenery/props and the aforementioned creatives. Both the first two participants would be stroking the egos of the creatives as if our livelihoods depended on it, which of course they did. The poor copywriter was usually soon eclipsed by the art director who was usually in his twenties, good looking, well dressed and supremely sure of himself. Due to their egos being fluffed up larger than a cross tomcat’s tail these innocents would proceed to tell us all our jobs, carried away by ecstatic belief in their own supreme vision. We would then double the quote all the while agreeing that the idea of a pudding cannon and setting the whole thing in a mortuary was beyond brilliant and would be garnering D&AD awards by the bucket load!

The job in the bag we would build the mortuary and cannons, there would usually be a visit from the creative team where changes would be made and duly charged for. On arriving at the “shoot” day we would arrive early and set up and finish our scenery. Then the art director would roll up and we would reassure him as to the wonder of the visual feast set before him. Then the pudding manufacturer would arrive and gaze in total bemusement at what his £400,000 had bought him. The stage would be abuzz with activity, the children who were to be cannon fodder and their parents, the make up folk, stylists, home economists, the sparks, the chippies, the best boys, girl fridays, producers, directors and assorted hangers on. All of whom added up to about £20,000 being clocked every hour. At this point the client would say he didn’t want his puddings associated with mortuaries and the art director’s world would crumble and fall apart. Along with the production company’s producer (who had likely seen it all before) he would ask if it wasn’t too much trouble could we change the mortuary into a play school. The creative hero astonishing the world with his genius would have either transformed into a hurt puppy begging to be saved from drowning, or into a deranged doberman who insisted that he had asked for a playschool, so why had we built a mortuary? If we liked the guy we would roller white paint all over the stainless steel and stick up some jolly crayon pictures for a few thousand extra pounds. If he turned mean we would suck our teeth and say it was a rebuild… which would prompt a visit from the ad agency’s creative director who would fire the art director and ask us nicely to paint the mortuary white and stick up some pretty pictures and he would pay us extra.

The above is exaggeration… but not by much!

Now we are all “creative”, so much so that it is building up inside ourselves and is just there waiting for us to find the right outlet. Time was when the only Creator had a white beard and a dislike of shellfish for dinner, but now we are all at it. The progress of the term reminds me of the “designer” trend. where every object has to have the magic wand waved over it by this god like being the Designer. The trouble is that by spreading such a mantle indiscriminately over everything the term becomes valueless. There is no real satisfaction in being “creative” if no journey of aspiration complete with success and failure, hopes raised and dashed, and hard won expertise has been made. It is much the same I feel with any profession where something is made. Given a pile of wood nearly anyone with the basic tools could make a chair that would function. However surely someone who has spent twenty years making chairs would be  more likely to produce an object with all the attributes of beauty, desirability and utility. It is a sad fact that through mechanised production of both objects of practical and aesthetic use we have lost some of the feeling that an object made by a hand that took years to gain that ability has some extra richness to add to the possessor’s life and being than an object produced without individual care and attention.

So what is this added ingredient? Well, that is hard to define. Last night I was talking to a print maker. He had made a print from a life drawing, taking the drawn image and transferring it by photographic means to a copper plate and then etching it. Why, I asked, is this of more worth than if I printed one of my life drawings using my very fine laser printer? Once framed I doubt if anyone not expert could tell which one was hand done. I can even use much the same paper. They are both “archival” I can just print 200 then destroy the original and delete the photoshop file, thus supplying the limited edition ingredient. They would both look the same hanging on the wall… indeed unless you marked them in some way you might be hard pressed to remember which was which. I would like to imagine that the etching was inherently worth more because of the investment of life that the printer had put into the object, but if the two prints were mixed up by accident then that mantle might be transferred to the laser print and the owner would feel, I can’t help think, identical aesthetic pleasure and satisfaction of ownership. This process is used constantly by the art business where the most casual signing of any object by an artist confers the fairy dust of artistic authenticity. We are back as I all to often find to Mr R Mutt and his urinal.

How does this all relate to painting? I suppose, odd though it might seem,  it is of some concern to me as to whether what I am doing is of any worth at all to the society in which I make my life. If it is not at all enriched then I would perhaps be better off doing something else. My commercial work has no such conundrums, I recently did the first stages of a redesign of a world renowned attraction. If it all comes to fruition millions of people will have had a pleasurable time due to my and other’s efforts and will be to some small degree be happier for it. I in turn will be richer which seems fair enough. I don’t however see that for  a plein air that will never grace a wall I am due any reward for its creation other than the pleasure I took from it’s making. I have not enriched the world, I have merely used up scarce resources for no purpose other than my own pleasure. The generation that takes any joy in the painted image of landscape is getting older, the number of appreciative souls who are not hobby painters themselves is in steep decline. There is not really a place on the wall in modern homes for painted representational pictures. In most modernist apartments a large framed poster or dramatic abstract look far better than a 14in by 10 in plein air. It is as if I am still handcrafting porcelain chamber pots… there ain’t no call for ‘em anymore and more old and unwanted ones on the market than you can shake a stick at.

In the USA and more and more elsewhere plein air has taken on some of the aspects of an extreme sport. They have competitions and much is made of the “getting out there” and doing it. I am somewhat nonplussed when I read on some blog that a person had yomped 10 miles out into the desert and then painted a rock and a nondescript shrub that they could have done a few yards from where they parked their pickup and not gone to the bother of all that trekking. Usually the masterpiece is accompanied by a picture of the easel set up in position… which, embarrassingly, I note I occasionally do myself! Other manifestations are “a painting a day” which seems a bit random, why not a painting a month… or one a decade. There is no way to put it kindly, the sort of painting I am engaged in is almost completely irrelevant to the age I live in. Is this important? No I suppose not, but I feel I should possibly reinstate my painting of imaginative subjects which used to be a major part of my output but has been sidelined of late. I suspect it might have benefitted from my foray into landscape and life drawing. I shall give it a go perhaps to see if that might be the case. So on to the painting as an extreme sport section of the post…

 

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This is Faversham Creek on a day out with the Wappers. The day threatened from the start! I stupidly forgot to put my paints in so this was done using the residue on my palette. Arches  Not 11in by 9in.

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The same subject from the other side. This is done using a Pentel brush pen. It makes a fascinating variety of marks. I have yet to find the ideal paper but I very much like it as a sketching medium. I don’t really like the fixed width pens and also the brushpen allows a subtle half tone if used to drybrush. 1in by 8in.

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Faversham has lots to paint, this had to be done at a furious pace as the rain was threatening and I was in the open. When trying to get a sketch down fast you have to be very systematic. So in this I did very simple outline drawing which too about 5min. Then I added three washes. The lit facades and the lit part of the street as this must be dry first I don’t make the washes too wet either. I leave thin white boundaries say between the pavement and the road as I don’t want bleed. Next the shadowed part of the buildings and street. Lastly the sky which has to be put in wettest but can be left. Then the first wash area can be detailed just two tones a bluey mid and a dark. Next the same thing for the shadowed areas using the same dark but a stronger mid. Last touches are the few bits of brighter colour. Then run for cover with the painting still wet!  About 15 to 20 mins all told. 7in by 5in.

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This is Old Windsor on the Thames in Berkshire. I am alas still forced to paint in acrylics rather than oils. Very rapidly changing light but pleasant to get a bit of sun for a change. 12in by 10in.

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Near Old Windsor lock. The sun was in and out again and the barge arrived halfway through. I left this quite sketchy you can almost get a gouache feel with the acrylics. I might in fact take my gouaches out to try some plein airs, I used them for many years for illustration but never outdoors for some reason.

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A quick watercolour of the same scene viewed a bit to the left. 11in by 9in.

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At last a fine evening! This was a quick 30min 10in by 7in. It’s not many subjects that look good with the light flat behind you. I need to put a warm glaze over the castle, that’s one thing easily done with the acrylics…

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A return to this derelict canal at Deepcut. It was raining very hard so I could only roughly sketch this in I might fiddle with the left hand tree which is a bit playschool at the moment. Lastly a few life drawings…

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These are all done using watercolour black with an acrylic white. I rather like the possibilities. I found that is works best to use two premixed tones of the white one strong the other weaker to give a mid tone between the paper and the full white. The one tricky thing is that you need to use separate brushes for lights and dark as the white pollutes very easily.

1 Comment

  1. As always a stimulating post. Your critique of the so called ‘creative industries’ mirrors what is so wrong with the construction of many enterprises in both public and private sectors. We appear to live in the age where the people who actually add value through their skills and expertise are kept at arm’s length by a burgeoning ‘management’ class who often frustrate the efforts of the artisans/ artists in practising their craft. They also seem to extract so much finance from the job, it’s a wonder that very few embark on a proper cost benefit analysis of their contribution. Or maybe it’s just that they would be the people making those sort of decisions.
    And as always I get a great deal of enjoyment from your pictures, so if nothing else keep on with your extreme sport occupation.

    Comment by Mick Carney — July 19, 2012 @ 3:41 pm

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