Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

May 13, 2017

Brushwork

Filed under: Dorset,Painting,Uncategorized,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 6:40 pm

Something painters occasionally compliment each other on or otherwise obsess about is brushwork. I have done it myself… it is a safe compliment if there are no other redeeming features in a painting you have to react to.

“I rather like the handling of the paint on that barn!”

“Barn? It’s portrait of my uncle.”

“Ah… is it… ? Jolly good brushwork though…”

I thought in any case it would be a good subject for a post… I have been blogging about painting for a while now and new subjects are getting harder to think of. As I have often found however as soon as I start to organise my thoughts niggling contradictions soon arise.

Good for what? Was my first thought. A brush stroke could be the dogs B’s in one context and its dinner in another. What makes it good? Is it confidence? When I asked the question of fellow painters that seemed a major factor. I can however think of lots of situations where a bold confident stroke would be inappropriate and an uncertain, indefinite and tentative one just the thing. Also as Degas says it only has to give the impression of confidence it does not require actual confidence to make that apparently confident mark. Singer Sargent used to repeatedly re-do brush stroke over and over wiping them off if they didn’t have the right “I just dashed this portrait off.” feel.

I do admire as others do when brushstrokes appear  to have just been let lie and not fiddled with… people say fresh and other nice things if you get that effect. Though as an experienced fiddler I know full well that the not fiddled with look often requires a great deal of covert fiddling in order to achieve that coveted not at all fiddled with appearance.

It occurs to me too that brushstrokes need not be visible at all as such, the word blending appeared to cause shudders to run through the more delicate and elevated artistic souls. Pointillism also failed the test, divisionists of all sorts that just use a repeated dab seemed to be in the non mustard cutting zone for brushwork. Any kind of flat filling in is no good unless it has “movement” whatever that might mean, just signs of the paint being applied I assume. Glazing would seem iffy too, but best not to bin the family Rembrandt just on my say so.

There seemed one factor that was to the fore. That was that artists want people to be able to believe they discern clues as to their emotional state during the act of creation from the manner in which the paint was applied. So leaving big drips showing through, quick patchy scumbling over ground layers and signs of rapidity and urgency in general. Signs of corrections made but not hidden get brownie points too. All in all it is starting to look as if all that “free” brushiness might be just as contrived in its own way as a smoothed off portrait by Bronzino!

All paintings are illusions even abstract ones and the clues that artists give us from which we are meant to derive extra meaning are illusion too in their own way. It also means that the way we as painters judge quality of work is just as tied to our era and received culture as it ever was. A Victorian painter might have given points for sentiment, smoothness of finish and classical allusions. A Flemish still life artist on the accuracy of the tulips and the perfection of the dew drops on the leaves in their still life. In looking for expression, brevity of means and truth to materials we are not really any different or indeed advanced.

Not to worry though painting was always driven by fantasy. From the juicy mammoth painted in a cave which is surrounded by lucky hunters, to the saint being swept up to a reward in heaven, the recording eye of the impressionists uncluttered by literature or history, the impending technological triumphs of the futurists and the sweeping reductions of the abstractionists, to the artist as media magician waving the wand of deconstruction and finally the all powerful curator using the art of others as their preferred medium; all are dreams for the epochs in which they are set, fulfilling yearnings to bring relevance and meaning to a bewildering and intractably opaque existence.

Well I didn’t expect to end up delving into such philosophical backwaters just from considering a humble dab of paint!

I am painting pictures faster than I can blog them at the moment, so a rag bag of leftovers in this post. You can amuse yourselves by trying to determine the state of my soul from my wishy washy brushwork…

Rawlsbury Camp, Iron Age fort, watercolour, plein air, painting

This is Rawlsbury Camp on the side of Bulbarrow Hill. One thing about having moved out to the sticks is that I get to paint the same subject in lots of different moods. It is all getting very green now which I always find harder than the russets and greys of the winter. 13in by 7in watercolour.

 

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, watercolour, painting

Another old favourite. This view always fascinates me. I frequently pass by it on my way elsewhere and nearly always stop to see what mood is on offer that day. This is done from a very dodgy iPhone snap. 13in by 6in Watercolour.

 

Fontmell Down, Dorset, plein air, watercolour, painting

A slightly different take on Fontmell Down. Quite difficult indecisive light and I was sitting on a very slopey bit of ground.  I love the dry valleys that are a characteristic of the Dorset chalk lands but they are hard to make into a good composition. 10in by 6in Watercolour.

 

Fontmell Down, Dorset, plein air, watercolour

The clouds were gathering for my second one. This view is so distinctive I must think of some new variations. The painting looked dreadful until the last dark foreground wash went in and then seemed to suddenly make sense. 10in by 7in Watercolour.

River Stour, Child Okeford, Dorset, watercolour, plein air

I have been wanting to do this view for ages. The problem of doing it is that you have to stand on a narrow concrete ledge on the bridge over the Stour with huge tractors pulling slurry tanks zipping by inches behind you. The light was very kind to me staying so constant that I could take my time. The wind was very chilly and was drying the washes a bit too quick, but I became so involved two hours were gone in a flash. 13in by 7in Watercolour.

 

River Stour, Dorset, watercolour, plein air, painting

Next day I went back to do the less interesting view from the other side of the bridge. The cloud shadows were regularly throwing either foreground or background into shade. I decided I would have the nearby river shaded which I now think was a bad call… with oils I could have jumped horses but not with watercolour alas! 10in by 7in Watercolour.

 

Mudeford, watercolour, painting, Dorset

This one of Mudeford was done from the oil that appears in the previous post. When I was painting the oil I felt I had chosen the wrong media so this was to find out. The result? Well better than the oil but still a little boring. 10in by 7in Watercolour.

Mudeford, crabbing, Dorset, watercolour

Slightly reluctant to post this one! Usually when I do a painting where a figure is front and centre I put it in first so if it goes awry you can start again without much time lost. But here I finished the rest of the picture then botched the figure! I post it as a warning to you all! 10in by 7in watercolour.

 

Melbury Hill, Dorset, plein air, watercolour

I got up very very early to do this one of Melbury Hill. I had seen the view a few days before and thought it might make a good painting but the actual day disappointed a little. Still on the way back I saw a different view that I will definitely be returning to do. I might have another look at this in the evening light. 10in by 6in watercolour.

 

 

May 8, 2017

Being Different

Filed under: Dorset,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 9:39 am

A year or so ago I went to the RA summer show and was mostly unimpressed. Since then I have every now and again pondered exactly why it was so uninspiring. Many of the things there were quite entertaining, which I certainly don’t object to. Some were amusing, some disturbing, but more trying to disturb but failing. One thing I did notice was that almost all the works were either monochrome or in playroom primaries. There seemed to be few neutrals or modulated colours, for the larger part everything was straight out of the tube with only white added to pale. This has the effect of making Sean Scully’s quiet brown and black abstract leap off the wall in contrast. An odd effect in a room full of shouty creations each desperately crying out “Look at me!”.

Previously I had commented, after trawling through the Saatchi Online site, that everyone had been original in much the same way. All this has led me to wonder why is it that the ambition to be different and stand out from the crowd should result in apparent uniformity. Artists have of course always wanted to stand out and be noticed by being better than their competition at portraiture, or altarpieces, or whatever. Now how ever the chosen method of drawing attention is to try to be different or as we say “original”.

Looking back in time you might choose someone like Hieronymus Bosch as an early example, but really he was just doing that medieval, scare the pants off the faithful, thing better than his contemporaries. Giuseppe Arcimboldo who did hybrid still lives and portraits was maybe the first obvious novelty artist. He worked as a court artist so presumably the novelty side of his work was just that and the bulk of his output is even today unnoticed. After his own time he was unremembered until the Surrealists discovered him and claimed him as a forerunner of their style. I think however that as Bosch he is just the expression of the love of grotesques that was common in the period.

It is very hard to spot when being “original” became a common ambition. Having searched back in time I think it is much more recent than you might think. There was always novelty of course but it is the ambition and deliberate intention to be novel to establish your own personal artistic individuality that I am interested in. The Surrealists were looking for a new interior subject matter for painting, the Impressionists a new way of seeing. Abstract painters sought a form of painting divorced from subject. Expressionists sought to paint pure emotion. The real driver for people to wish to overtly seek newness as a foundation of a separate and distinct identity seems to me to be the arrival of the mass media.

Only with the availability of mass produced and widely distributed imagery was the artist faced with the huge spread of what other artists both contemporary and historical had been up to. You want to paint a portrait? Well you are up against Van Dyke, Rembrandt and Singer Sargent. In every area someone better than you has been there and done that. However good your portrait offering is likely to look a little weak next to Rembrandt’s effort. The reaction to this conundrum was to look for a new “area” or as my tutors of college were keen on saying, “Your realm of concern”. You had to find your own little patch of originality and cultivate it exclusively.

It is easy to pick out the artists produced by this trend. Richard Long who trots about arranging rocks and photographing his activities. Damien Hurst who moves the advertising campaign from the page and screen to the gallery. Rachel Whiteread who displays interior spaces as solid forms. Anthony Gormley who presents his own body in different ways. Each has gone looking for their own row and once found proceeded to hoe it ad nauseam.

If we take Gormley (who’s work by the way I quite like). He constantly seeks to find a new ways of expressing and or placing the volume his body takes up. He doesn’t you must note seem to seek to improve the quality of making, only to produce endless variations on the riff he is already playing. He does I know do other work but this is the defining thread in his output. He casts and scans his own form interminably but does not seem to have the ambition to improve his own abilities in the actual making of forms. The same with many others they seek new ways or variations of rowing their particular row, but they don’t seem to seek or want to improve their hoeing technique!

There I think is the nub of it. We no longer value in the same way the ambition of an individual to fly as high as they possibly can. Rembrandt and others real achievement was in refining their own abilities to the point where they could create apparent miracles. Rembrandt’s real art as it were was to refine himself as a creator of images, the paintings themselves were merely the results of the long struggle to improve. Whenever I am assessing an artist I always seek the drawings as they are always revealing. Gormley’s show an interest in the different ways of drawing, but not in developing his own ability to make them. IE if it was piano playing there are only attempts at whole sonatas, there is no evidence of endless hours of the playing of scales. He is seeking to make drawings that might be art  rather than get better at the process of drawing.

I feel it is not, as we currently seem to believe, the intention of an artist to make art that results in art. It is the striving of the artist to improve their own abilities and perceptiveness that produces what we call art. Art is the physical evidence left behind of their struggle to progress. In the same way that a pearl is the evidence of an oyster’s struggle to survive in this dangerous world, not its intended ambition in life. So we should value the results of an individuals quest to get good at an impossibly difficult activity, because as with natural pearls the objects produced are rare and often very beautiful.

As a wee experiment I did a bit of real “Art” I decided on a deconstructionist moment.

real art, London, oil painting, surreal

Very simple I just broke the frame and imagined it pushed out by the imagery within. A frame is no longer a frame if it doesn’t confine. So it loses it purpose and in this case becomes part of the art object. This is just the sort of quirk or “originality” that infests the art world. Is it fun? Well yes it makes a surreal object on the wall. It certainly draws attention nobody commented on any other painting when it was hung on the wall.  It is very easy to think of endless variations on this theme, I could fill gallery with them. Only then could it sit comfortably on a wall with other pictures in the same vein. In other words it is “shouty” in that it does not only reach out to grab attention by being discordant but it suppresses other imagery hung near it. No one really looked at it as a picture, even though I went to some pains to paint it decently. It was no longer a gateway to elsewhere but a one line cartoon, a quick ho ho look at that and move on.

Just for fun I then Photoshopped it into staid conformity!

art

Composition is left a bit on the dodgy side as I designed it for the weird frame, but now you can imagine how it might have been in London on that day!

Now a few misshapen pearls of my own… in the spirit of the oyster, a seaside theme this time…

Dancing Ledge, Purbecks, Dorset, Plein air, oil painting

I have not been doing enough of the coast so I have bitten the bullet and crawled out of my comfy bed before dawn a few times. Just as well as the middle of the day isn’t great with the South facing shore line here in Dorset. This is Dancing Ledge in the Purbecks. It was all Happening so quickly I was very rushed. The tones are wonderfully subtle in the rocks, a real challenge to get even a rough approximation down. 12in by 10in Oils.

Dancing ledge, purbeck, plein air, oil painting

I did this straight after. Slightly less rushed since after the sun is up the light changes a little more slowly. When I arrived I had the place to myself, but by the time I finished this it was like rush hour at Oxford Circus!

Dancing Ledge, Purbeck, Dorset, oil painting

With all that buzzing around my head I set about a studio one as soon as possible. I had thought to do a dawn one but when I looked at my snaps how it looked as I took my leave rather appealed to me. I liked the balance between sea and rock and the way they fitted together in a jagged jigsaw line. 14in by 10in Oils.

Dancing Ledge, purbecks, Dorset, oil painting, plein air, sea, cliffs

Yes up before sparrow fart again. The tourists never see the place at its very best. It is hard to define what is so beguiling about dawns. I suppose because it is a “reveal” at first there is just murk and then it develops slowly. For the painter this causes difficulties because your subject transforms so quickly. With a sunset it becomes more and more mysterious as you paint, with a dawn the mystery evaporates before you can get it down on the board.

Dancing Ledge, Purbecks, cliffs, sea, plein air, oil painting

This dawn was amazingly like the previous one even with an identikit sky. I got so carried away with the sky and sea that I ran out of time and left with the land portion just blocked in rough tones. Next day that looked sort of Ok so I just added the minimum of descriptive marks on top of the base tones to finish. 12in by 10in Oils.

Weymouth, plein air, oil painting, Dorset

On this day I went to Corfe… and ended up painting Weymouth! The light was all wrong at the castle so after a quick sketch I upped stumps and headed to Weymouth which I had never visited before. So many subjects there I will be returning. I only settled to do this after walking miles to take it all in. Plein air painting takes more time looking for what to paint than it does to actually do the daub! Weymouth old harbour has a great feel with a ton of possible viewpoints so I think it would be paintable at a lot of different times of day as you could move round with the light. 14in by 6in oils.

Mudeford, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

This was a very difficult day, flat light and very still. I should have just sketched and drawn but was lured into painting. I might cut off the top and bottom of this to make it very “letter box”. One of those things, I painted it well enough but it was all just a bit too dull! 16in by 8in oils.

Mudeford, plein air, Dorset, oil painting

Being a sucker for punishment I set out to do another dreary painting of Mudeford. Again I painted it sort of alright, but just shouldn’t have bothered in the first place. The gulls knew because I could tell they were laughing at me… I did a pen drawing after which was the best thing of the the day other than the cake. 14in by 9in oils.

Portland, Cheyne Weares, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

Another dull day but more to get yer teeth into here. This is the view from Cheyne Weares on Portland. The distant shore and Weymouth were completely invisible. Great fun trying to keep the tones subtle enough. It is very hard mixing when the tiniest addition of colour to a mix can easily send it the wrong way. When faced with this dilemma I mix one obviously bit too dark and one plainly a bit to light side by side and then smear  the two roughly together. Then you can pick out close but subtly different tones quite easily. 10in by 10in oils.

Portland Bill, lighthouse, sea, oil painting, Dorset

Here’s a studio painting of Portland Bill to finish off this determinedly coastal post. It is done on top of a plein air I started looking 180 degrees round from this that never went anywhere. It is frustrating when the day completely changes halfway through a painting but also something that makes painting outside such a rewarding challenge. You just know however much you do it you will always be on the verge of falling flat on your face!

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