Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

July 6, 2016

Fifty Shades of French Grey

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rob Adams @ 5:32 pm

Don’t worry about the title nothing racy is ever likely to appear here! As is usual this time of year I join other painters to explore and paint a bit of France. Going on a painting trip always requires setting some sort of limits to medium and size. I wanted to be especially lightweight this year so all the paintings are quite small. Our destination was Pont Aven where Gauguin and other miscreants hung out and painted. It is a small town built on a narrow inlet with a small tidal port. Plenty of subjects from boaty stuff to old buildings and rushing streams. After such a long gap in painting I was a little unsure of how I would perform. You always imagine bouncing out of the hotel door on the first morning and dashing off a masterpiece in gorgeous light. The reality this time was flat grey and drizzle! The only real colour was the occasional blue boat.

To avoid the issue of this less than beguiling set of conditions I took out my pens and drew stuff. I always find it odd that although a flat grey day might still look lovely, actually translating it on to board or paper is very hard. For a start the tones are much more subtle. Contrasts are subdued. This means your mixing and assessment of tone needs to be more accurate than on a sunny day. Also deciding the key or the range of tone from dark to light is, I find, distinctly tricky. Key is a matter of choice. You merely set the darkest dark and the lightest light and all the other tones must fall between these two extremes. If you set the range from full white to darkest black it will have a very different feel than if you set the range from pale grey to mid grey.

This is, I am well aware, a weak area in my oil painting. With the best will in the world the temptation to darken or punch up areas is almost irresistible. Nonetheless I feel I made a little progress, though I rather regretted the decision to only take small boards. Still on with the paintings good and not so good!


Pont Aven, France, wreck, plein air, painting

On day two I set out to explore down stream. As always finding a subject was far from easy. The path by the water was wooded and only offered teasing glimpses of possible scenes. In the end I settled on this view from a large boulder which had I felt interesting compositional possibilities. Here is where plein air makes the whole thing more difficult. There was no room to set up my tripod so I had to paint sitting crouched down with my pochade on my knee. There was the added frisson of danger in the distinct possibility of toppling off into the water 20ft below! With the best will in the world delicate accuracy was not on the cards so I tried to keep it simple. I could only manage an hour at this as it got very uncomfortable. Oils 7in by 10in.


Pont Aven, painting, France, plein air

After walking a long way looking for possible paintings I came back to Pont Aven and did this tiny 5in by 7in. More of a quick note than a painting. I felt the scene had possibilities with the dramatic silhouette of the roofs and trees. The key thing here was to get the foreground dark enough. I always make an aperture by curling  a finger and thumb and then flick between the sky and a light area in the landscape. Depending on the intensity of light you will get a stronger or weaker “kick” in the brightness as you flick between the areas. This tells you perhaps that the water, despite looking to the eye a similar tone to the clouds, is in fact considerably darker. The brain often doesn’t pick up on these differences as it adjusts and processes the image to aid clarity. However if we paint as the brain perceives then when we later look at our painting a double adjustment occurs as the brain appies the same filter to our painting as it had to the actual scene. Oils 5in by 7in.


Chapelle de Tremalo, pont aven, France, plein air, painting

When visiting an area I can never resist galloping off in every direction trying to take in a bit of everything. I had bought a large scale map and spotted this small chapel which looked interesting. A bit of a climb up the hill it is called Chapelle de Tremalo. We actually had a moment of sunlight and everything looked gorgeous as as I set up. I lifted my brush up to the board and the sunlight vanished as if flicking a switch and never came back. What had been a colourful scene immediately became titled “An Arrangement in Grey”! I resisted trying to paint a sunny version and only punched up the tone of the path a little. At least the overhanging trees gave some variation of light and shade. 10in by 7in Oils.


Pont Aven, plein air, painting, France

As planned I returned to the scene of the little 7in by 5in and did this larger version. I kept the greens very subdued by adding lots of red. I have recently been using Quinacridone Magenta for this as it doesn’t add any unneeded yellow. While I was painting it began to drizzle and I rather liked the way it washed out the distance. 10in by 7in Oils.


Boat, pont Aven, France, oil painting, plein air

In my next post I will deal with the drawings and watercolour stuff but this was a scene I had already painted in watercolour. I wanted to do it in oils too so as to see the difference. The subject also had the attraction of being able to sit under some thick trees that kept the rain off. 10in by 6in Oils.


Pont Aven, France, oil painting, plein air

I fancied a change of mood so I set off upstream along the banks of the river Aven. About a half mile along I found this quiet backwater. Even harder here to keep the greens under control. We seem to see greens brighter than they actually are. Here I took the precaution of getting a few leaves and sticking them to my palette. It is amazing how dull and brown they are in reality. Painters often forget that if you are unsure of a tone you can actually take the painting to the object to check you are getting the tone and colour right. People often get foregrounds far too bright. If you lay your painting on the actual ground surface you will see very quickly if you have got anything wrong. The rest of the day I toiled up stream and walked back a circuitous route through the forest. Nothing really took my eye so this was the only daub of the day. 10in by 7in Oils.


Pont Aven, France, cars, oil painting, plein air

Pont Aven again. I can never resist showing how beauty spots really are after being liberally garnished with shiny metal cars. Many artists avoid them, but in a few decades I suspect they will look as quaint as horses and carts! Quite a hard bit of drawing made harder by the flat light, by this time I had almost forgotten what sunshine and shadows looked like. 10in by 7in Oils.


Pont Aven, France, oil painting, plein air

Another one of the town. 10in by 7in Oils.


plein air, painter, pont aven, oils

I did this little oil in-between doing a pen drawing of Pont Aven’s famous waterwheel. Another tiny 7in by 5in.


Villerville, france, plein air, oil painting

We moved next to Villerville near Honfleur. Now the rain really set in and the greys started to merge. I wiped off the first of the day which was of the town church, not because it was particularly wrong it was just dull and I was running low on boards. The sea gave more possibilities and despite the rain running down my neck I enjoyed doing this. Very hard to get sky sea and land in the right tonal relationship. 10in by 7in Oils.


Villerville, oils, plein air, sea

After eating the tide retreated enough to do this. Just 15 min on a tiny 7in by 5in. Oils.


Villervill, beach, sea, pillbox, plein air, oil painting,france

Last one. A way down the beach we came across these wartime defences that had tumbled on to the beach. I had run out of boards but Robbie Murdock kindly gave me this 10in by 8in. It rained throughout but I enjoyed painting it immensely. Oils

That’s it for oils drawings to come.

June 25, 2016

Creators and Creations and Hugh Ferriss

Filed under: Art History,Drawing,Perspective,Uncategorized — Tags: , — Rob Adams @ 2:17 pm

By now you all know that I am interested in how art gets to be Art and whether there is anything other than the ordinary human specialness that an artist has. This in turn brings me in opposition to the apparent establishment view that art is imbued by some sort of invisible talismanic property with the artists channeling it.

Part of the confusion is to my mind due to our woeful sense of causality. We happily believe that our homeopathic remedy made us better. Well we took the pill and we got better, what could be simpler? Well of course people who are poorly are a group that has an overall tendency to recover whether they take pills and potions or not. What the potion has done however is modify how we perceive being ill, it has reassured. It has also changed how we remember being ill after the event.

It is similar with creation. Our universe exists therefore it must have a creator. If it has a creator then that creator must be God. Well let me take you to the planet Bolg, where an eminent Bolg scientist has discovered how to collapse matter. You can give it as many limbs, tentacles and eyes as you wish. Bolg is rather careless and accidentally gives its equipment a much larger pulse of energy than was intended. A bubble of space time is created that expands exponentially extinguishing Bolg and its universe in an instant. As this experimental error develops matter coalesces, stars and planets form and on a certain blue world an ape looks up and wonders why.

Now our creator here just certainly not one we would pray to and indeed has predeceased its creation. It would do us little good if we could study the character and emotions of our creator in this case. Just as religion argues for the primacy of a Creator over the creation, current art thinking argues for the primacy of the artist over the art. That something ineffable flows from the artist into their creation changing its nature. More specifically the intent to create something is the real “Art”and the true moment of creation. If that is the case then merely declaring that the intent is there is sufficient the actual act need not be carried out.

I cannot help think this is a regression back to medieval thought, full of portents and hidden meanings rather than a continuation of the march of reason.

I am oddly reminded of how sympathetic magic works. You curse someone and tell them that you are sticking pins into a wax effigy with a few purloined  toenails embedded. The important act here is not the cursing, the snitched toenails or the wax, but the informing of the victim of these acts of malign intent. If you didn’t tell the victim, superstitious or not, nothing would occur. There would be no benefit from a homeopathic pill given secretly. In the same way much art requires for us to be told it is to be considered in that category of objects. We therefore display the object in some context that indicates how we are meant to appreciate it.

So the art here is in the act of informing a viewer of the status of the object. The object itself is largely irrelevant. Artists have always understood this and put fancy gold frames around paintings to separate them from the mundane objects around them. The word for this is of course context. Mr Andre’s bricks would be less worthy of note in a builders yard. I don’t by the way dislike the bricks as they point out rather elegantly the problems of giving primacy to the artist’s deciding act.

So back to causality. That the artist caused the art is not in question. Whether others are caused to appreciate it as such is dependent on information and context. I am, I have to say, only mildly interested in such art, I am more interested in its history and the nature of it coming to be perceived as art than any aesthetic factor. For me art is something that can be appreciated as such without appropriate contextual hints. It all comes back to the skip test. If you put your masterpiece of cutting edge art  in the skip without a frame to plinth would someone rescue it just because it was made by a skilled hand and brought visual pleasure?

Now for some art, not mine this time, but someone who was very influential on me and many others. Hugh Ferriss was an architectural draughtsman working in the 1920’s who’s moody renderings of future cities were both influential upon real buildings and many a dystopian setting for sci-fi films.


Hugh Ferriss

There are Futurist influences here and Ferriss worked with architect with connections to the Bauhaus. I always think that despite the moodiness and hints of later Nazi architecture Ferriss’ drawings are optimistic in that “science will conquer all” manner.


Hugh Ferriss

If you put modern cars in this no one would feel it was a dated image. It is dated 1930 just as the foundations of the Empire State building were being laid.


Hugh Ferriss

He was a master of cheating the perspective to get both ground level and the giddy heights to read convincingly. The dramatic imagined shadows from up-lighting and the base of the building dissolving in the light are wonderful.


Hugh Ferriss

Here again the streets glow, but oddly there are no individual lights and the monolithic buildings have no lit windows.


Hugh Ferriss

One of his more futuristic imaginings. Odd that the international modernist style lost such ambition and failed to produce any unified vision. This is why our cities are collections of disparate objects that have little connection one to another.


Hugh Ferriss

A more restrained drawing of the Hoover dam, I love they lonely figure.


Hugh Ferriss

I found this which I hadn’t seen before. It shows how he laid out and resolved his compositions. He is using curved perspective on the crosswise horizontals and linear for the diminishing edges. Also no perspective at all on the verticals.


Hugh Ferriss

There was concern at that time in New York as to how tall buildings would reduce the daylight in the streets below so a formula was devised to make the buildings step back as they rose higher. Hugh Ferriss was asked to do drawings to illustrate their effect on the building masses. These were later published with other work in The Metropolis of Tomorrow

I am off to France for what I hope will be an orgy of painting and drawing so next post will show if I was firing on all or any cylinders after my long break!

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