Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

March 17, 2019

Memory

Filed under: Dorset,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 11:26 am

Memory seems a simple thing. Something happens to you, it gets encoded in your brain and there it is like an entry into a diary. There is short term memory which is like taking a quick note that you bin after it has served its purpose, and longterm which is like your archive. For an artist both are important because you need short term to transfer the information from eye to canvas and long term to learn your craft.

However memory is not much like how I have described above. Which in turn makes what we do as artists less simple than it might at first glance appear. Both long term and short term memories are effected by our hopes, expectations, preconceptions and desires which in turn colours or filters the information being recorded. This is shown by how witnesses remember the same events quite differently. It also goes some way to explain why those photos of the scene look different to how you recall the moment at which the snap was taken. We blame the camera, but it is our method of making memories that is I think the more likelyl cause.

So there we are on a clifftop preparing to paint, what could be going on? Firstly you perhaps need to consider context. You have gone out seeking a subject and inevitably you have high hopes in that regard. The brain is forever applying rose tinted glasses to your perceptions: That person you are having dinner with appears more and more attractive. The painting you are working on seems better and better… or the reverse of course if we are depressive! So the scene you see is not only what is there, but a romanticised version of it overlaid by hopes.

In practice what happens is that if you seek colours in the shadows then you will see them. You photo will later show that they are actually just dull grey and you might exclaim that the camera is so poor compared to the eye. This however is unlikely to be the case. What is more likely to be happening in many instances is that the colours are invented by our internal image processing and not really present. In a different mood we might produce an alternate set of hues from the same scene. it is also possible that the colours are there in a subdued version which our visual system grabs and gives added zip to.

As we work the process continues. We want the developing picture on our canvas to look like the scene, evoke it, or fit a certain stylistic ideal and our minds helpfully alter what we see to make that appear true. Many times we struggle to manage this where the evidence is increasingly strong that we have painted a clunker. The process is often quite abrupt where the previously hopeful daub suddenly appears drab and worthless. The mind then helpfully fulfils our expectations and makes it look worse than it actually is and despair sets in! You might after bunging it in the car and taking it home, look at it next day say, “It’s not as bad as I thought!”

If we really painted what was actually before us our pictures would mostly be as disappointing as those photos can be once we have them home. We have to accept that what we imagine to be realism is in large part a fantasy, shaded in with the coloured crayons of our imaginations. I myself think this is a wonderful thing. It means you are free to imagine whatever you wish from the promptings that your eyes are transmitting. It also means that someone who views your painting of Portland with the lime green sky will be perfectly happy with it as their visual system is similar to your own.

Like most things once you have a better understanding of how you are doing a thing it allows you to exploit what might at first appear to be weaknesses and transform them into advantages and strengths.

So a few more delusions of my own distorted reality.

Corfe castle, dorset, oil painting

I have set about doing some larger studio pictures, this monster is 48in by 30in. After a day painting in Corfe I was, as described above, disappointed by the resulting photographs next day. As I came down West Hill I had thought how wonderfully romantic the castle looked and taken photos at regular intervals as I descended. Despite the lacklustre reference I set to and the block in flew off the brush, so I was optimistic for the next day. It did not go well, the reference took control and the painting went down hill. In the end I allowed my first impulse about how romantic the place was in an 18C way to take over and painted quite a different painting than the one I had originally intended. On reflection the above is probably closer to how I felt when actually there than my original plan. Oils.

Fontmel Gifford, Wiltshire, plein air, oil painting

A day out at Fontmell Gifford in Wiltshire. I expected a sunlit lake but all that was there was fog and an invisible lake! Still this was fun to paint with lots of subtle greys to enjoy. 10in by 7.5in Oils.

Fontmell Gifford, plein air, oil painting, Wiltshire

After a hearty breakfast nearby the lake had appeared! I have been enjoying this wide format of three squares. This might be fiddled with yet, I have perhaps over darkens the foreground by a notch. I’ll leave it like this for now though. 24in by 8ins Oils.

Shaftesbury, castle rings, Wiltshire, plein air, oil painting

Last one of the day. This is Castle Rings near Shaftesbury. It is such a magical place but very hard to catch the feel of the place. I think the wider format might have been better, but I had used my only wide board. Also I think I could have allowed my inner Tolkien to have taken over and pushed the fantastical feeling that the place has. I shall return with that in mind! 14in by 10in Oils.

Durleston, Dorset, Anvil Point, lighthouse, plein air, cliff top, oil painting

This is Anvil Point seen from Durleston. Tricky to find an ideal position to paint from so I settled for this. I shall add a little more punch to the sky once it is dry. 14in by 6in Oils

Anvil Point, Dorset, sea, light house, plein air, oil painting

Here is one of Anvil Point where the scene was so immediate that I just had to have a go. I did manage to rein myself in enough to think properly about what how I would approach it. The tone layer with the lighthouse was absolutely key. Too dark and the foreground would not separate, too light and there would be no “dazzle” to the sea. I did three experimental patches first to get these three areas named down. Just as well I did as it took 4 or 5 goes to find the best balance. A problem you will always face is that your mind’s eye sees further into the shadows than you want. It was very tempting to add a yet lighter tone to the foreground but I stuck to my guns and resisted the devil on my shoulder. I had to refine the sea and lighthouse later as the wind was so fierce that no finesse was possible! 10in by 10in Oils.

Swanage, Durleston, coast, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

Last of a very fine day This is looking towards Swanage from Durleston Castle. The light was going over very quickly, but as is often the case that added magic to the scene. I had to paint this very rapidly as a consequence. 12in by 7in Oils.

 

February 9, 2019

Loose and free…

Filed under: Devon,Dorset,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 11:57 pm

Loose and free, so so many voice the desire to arrive at this painterly nirvana. This transcendental moment when we express our selves in paint as naturally as breathing. Intuitive, expressive, instinctive… these words are often dancing in close attendance when artists convene to share their hopes and ambitions. I hear this mantra again and again… and in weaker moments I have supinely agreed. It is after all received wisdom that nearly all would accept. Except I don’t. It speaks to the part of us that would like hard things to be easy or at least become easy. My experience is alas that it never becomes easy, or even easier.

The dreadful thing is that to an external observer watching you do your thing it does look easy. Many artists make a good living churning out videos with tinkly music as they make paintings fly effortlessly off the brush and never ever go wrong. They never stamp on their daub and go off in a huff. They almost all, with a few honourable exceptions, recite the mantra of keeping it loose. They also raise the fear of the demon that hovers at the shoulder of many painters… the demon of overworking, the wicked being that lures you into making one stroke too many. If you make that evil stroke the painting will be ruined there is no going back.

Always there is the nagging, don’t put in too much, less is more, let the brushstroke lie and don’t fiddle. For beginners I feel this is a little cruel and also I suspect not entirely honest. I would lay money that all these super free painters have dark secrets in the bottom drawers of their plan chests… those early drawings where every leaf is defined, every root lingered over. There is also the heretical suspicion that maybe they gained the ability to appear loose and free via an extended period of drawing kittens with every hair defined! Maybe there is even that secret pencil drawing of Elvis done from a photo using an 8H pencil with a scalpel point.

Why is control and cool calculated precision so evil? If it is then we must avoid enjoying Breughel or Van Eyck. Escher is a no no. None of the beautiful books of hours are worth a candle. Chardin, Vermeer and so many others must be consigned to the dustbin. Degas because he fiddled for France, so much so that you can’t date many of his works as he fiddled with them over decades. He liked to comment that the just flown off the brush appearance is a lie and likened it to a crime done in secret. Which is interesting as it is about this moment that the myth of instinctual expressiveness was being developed. There was nothing Degas enjoyed more than tweaking the noses of other painters if they got too above themselves.

Really the whole unify, simplify, keep it loose mantra only refers to impressionism which is only a very small style backwater. It is essentially the art of painting something that looks like you did it while squinting when you left your glasses at home. This allows the viewer to squint in turn and marvel at how clever they are to manage to see the donkeys and holidayers frolicking on the beach with only a few well chosen blobs of paint as clues. I am being deliberately provoking here obviously as it is the area of painting I am involved in myself. What I do want to get across though is that it is only one avenue out of many to explore. Not a gold standard that needs to be stuck to or indeed a formula for good painting.

I have just trawled the internet for good how to do its. Most are unbelievably bad, but one thing that stands out amongst the ones I felt were good is that they were all very systematic. They always went from A through to J (X  or Z would be over finishing obviously) there seems to be no getting it wrong knocking it all back and bringing it forward again. The watercolorists especially work from broad to key details and from light to dark. The oil painters patch areas together like a quilt over a mid tone block in. All in all not very free or exuberant even if the final result looks that way. This in turn makes me wonder about the anally retentive tinkly music… if you are free… really really free, surely you would be painting to the Pogues and pogoing while you splashed paint in the general direction of your canvas. I might float the idea with APV films.

There we go that is most of the painters offended, now for some of my own crimes.

Dartmoor, Devon, plein air, oil painting

I have a new development… I have always fancied having a painting wagon so I could overnight without getting cadmium red all over a hotel’s towels. So I could camp out near my scene and be up and at it before the sparrows had broken wind. So I finally bit the bullet and purchased a suitable vehicle with spartan but adequate internal arrangements to cook and sleep. This is my first outing… yes children it rained… oh God how it rained. In the middle of the night on the middle of Dartmoor I needed carry out a call of nature. The rain was horizontal so I decided that taking all my clothes off and just getting wet was the best option. Very bracing I have to say and now several sheep are in therapy. However as the rain was approaching I just about had time to paint this. 12in by 7in Oils.

Moretonhampstead, Devon, Dartmoor, plein air, oil painting

Next morning Dartmoor was entirely absent and the rain and wind were rocking my little home from home. Bodily needs were nagging me again too. I had passed through Moretonhampstead on the way and noted a public loo in the carpark… which pretty much decided my next painting venue. After eating a breakfast that knocked at least a year off my lifespan I parked my van inconveniently for all the locals and painted this from under the shelter of the back lifting door. 10in by 7in Oils.

Blytheswood, dartmoor, Devon, plein air, oil painting

I decided to head for the coast but got distracted in Blytheswood by a let up in the rain… I got 30 min on this before the heavens opened again. I must fiddle with the trees on the left but painting the water was great fun. 10in by 7in Oils.

Sidmouth, Devon, plein air, oil painting

I was just getting near to Sidmouth when I found a cosy carpark with a great view. I have to glaze the right hand side to soften it but it was great fun perched on a narrow bank trying to get this wide view in. Then to bed in the van feeling a little more cheerful but still a little damp. 24in by 8in Oils.

Sheep, Dartmoor, oil painting

Next day it bucketed down so I just drove home. The day after I painted this from a phone snap taken through the rain smeared windscreen. It sort of summed up the whole expedition… one of the sheep winked at me as it went by. A few days later I went shopping in Lidls, they had fold up buckets for a fiver… I bought one. 24in by 8in Oils.

Twyford, Shaftesbury, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

After the trauma of Devon I went out to Shaftesbury and on the way came across this scene which I had painted before in less than ideal light. We had to wait for the rain to stop but the wet road made a wonderful ribbon of light as it led away to Twyford. 24in by 8in Oils.

Off to Wales next… but staying in a nice warm bungalow…

 

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