Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

February 4, 2019


Filed under: Dorset,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 12:05 pm

In 1827 through to 1885 the way we saw the world and ourselves changed. From Daguerre via Fox Talbot to Eastman selling film the photographic image had arrived. Slowly over the following decades it became the dominant way in which we see our ever-changing world held still for examination. We forget now that when such images arrived they were at odds with the way people expected the world to look. People were used to prints and paintings where the world was carefully composed and tidy. Photographs after the novelty was over did not at first really catch on as a medium to record everyday life. It was portraits where the sitters were arranged before painted backgrounds to mimic paintings that first became a commercial success. Once the cameras found their way into amateur hands that all changed.

At first due to the limits of long exposures groups of sitters still look contrived, but mostly gone is the attempt to ape the qualities of a painting. As the exposures shortened it was possible on a bright day to capture the hustle and bustle of a busy city, with the horses, carts, hawkers and jaywalkers making up the general hurly-burly. People were cropped off frame and caught in unbalanced poses. It was the Impressionists who first noticed it was a new way of seeing and many of those impressionist masterpieces you know and love were painted or refined from photographs. Monet, Degas and Renoir were all keen photographers.

After that the hand painted view of the world was in irreversible decline. In the following decades we see the majority of representation both private, commercial and public recorded by the mechanical eye. Hand drawn illustrations have become in the minority and such work has largely been pushed to the edges of representation where a thing is imaginary, does not exist yet, or does not exist any more.

Nowadays In am guessing the bulk of figurative artists probably work at least in part from photos, it being more convenient and cheaper than the alternative which might include hiring models etc. An important reason however is also that photographs are now how we see the world. None of us can help comparing any handmade representational image to the photographed image. Starting from an early age we all just see so many photographs that we cannot see any other way. It is hard to believe that when people first saw photographs of the familiar world they lived in they thought they looked wrong. We can never recapture how they saw or even recreate it by imagination.

Now we tend to accept all the distortions that photographs suffer from without even noticing. The tonal compression the distortions of form, colour and proportion. We accept the perspective warping in wide angles or when we point the camera up or down, without a thought. If we look at one of those pictures of a social group 20 people wide then we do not notice that the ones at the edges are twice as fat as the ones in the middle. Artists even emulate the photographic inaccuracies, lens flare etc, to give extra veracity to their pictures! You frequently see people watching video in the wrong screen scaling, either squashed or stretched, without being aware that something is amiss.

So where does this leave the observational painter of today? Well there seem to be several tactics. Firstly you might give your work a quirk that goes against the photographic grain. Do it in angular shapes in thick paint, incorporate dramatic drips and smears that cry out hand made. I often like paintings done in these ways, but there is always the uncomfortable feeling they are a bit like cheesy photographic effects applied to holiday snaps. Indeed Photoshop artists now regularly steal the quirks developed by painters in order to get that painterly feeling into a photo.

I have to end this little essay without a conclusion. We have perhaps still not finished developing our relationship to the mechanical image. Indeed with digital photo editing tools the photograph can become more “handmade” than many paintings on canvas. An observational painter such as myself has no alternative other than to play second fiddle to the captured image. I still wince when someone comments, “I thought it was a photo at first!” I know they mean well…

More catching up on the oils now.

Portland Bill, Dorset, oil painting

Sometimes paintings are a real struggle. After one session I ended up with this widescreen take on Portland Bill. Working from reference taken with a few variations I was having trouble getting the whole lot to come to life. I find paintings that have some good bits but don’t quite add up to a whole the hardest to resolve. This one was so much so that I put it face to the studio wall and promptly forgot it! Later when I came across the canvas I decided to have a do or die bash at finishing it.

Portland Bill, lighthouse, oil painting, Dorset

Unfortunately I am missing a stage, the above is the final version. However on the second bash I changed the sky to give it more focus. However the general colour was still in the grey/ tan range. It still didn’t quite do what I wanted so I let it dry for a week or two and then glazed transparent colour over the top. To do this you must make sure you choose a transparent colour and use a decent glaze medium. You mix down the medium 4 parts turps to one part medium and then add colour to taste. You don’t want to make the colour too strong and it is best to build up in layers. On this I had just two glaze colours a quinacridone red and ultramarine. Glazing is very much like doing a watercolour over a grey painting, with the added advantage that you can wipe off and redo as many times as you want. 24in by 8in Oils.

Old harry Rocks, Dorset, oil painting

I did an earlier plein air of this one of Old Harry and at the time wished I had brought a wider board with me. So I set about a wider version. I think as with the previous painting this is a first stage. I can see potential but it needs more “zing” and focus. Again glazes are ideal for this sort of adjusting as all the fresh underlying brushwork is retained so you do not run the risk of it all getting too overworked. I will post the end result and try and take some photos of the different stages. 24in by 8ins Oils.

Portland Bill, lighthouse, oil painting

This is a very quick but quite large sketch of Portland for a bigger painting. We had a series of days with wonderful skies so I wanted to do a large studio painting where the sky was the main event. This works OK but I didn’t really finish it as I felt that the land was still too important and could be reduced to a smaller scaled simplified strip at the bottom. I might adapt this one before setting out on a bigger canvas, we shall see. 16in by 16in Oils.

seascape, oil painting, waves

I had enjoyed working on the larger square format so I did a sea study on the other canvas I had ready. I wanted to use cleaner hues than I usually do so I exaggerated the colour a little. I had intended to glaze it later but having had it on the wall for a week or two I think I will leave it be. 16in by 16in Oils

Corfe Castle, plein air, oil painting, Dorset

After a string of studio paintings it was great to get out and do some plein air at Corfe Castle. We got up early to catch the first light, but alas still arrived an hour too late! I think for this view you need to be there before dawn and paint it as it happens. Still this was great fun, painting from real life is in some ways so much easier than photos! 12in by 12in Oils.

Corfe Castle, oil painting, plein air, Dorset

There same view a little bit later. I nearly always find the second painting of the day is better than the first, it takes one painting to get proper focus perhaps. 12in by 6in Oils.

Golden Cap, Dorset, Jurassic Coast, oil painting, Dorset, sea

This was done as a demo for a local art group. It is always a little nerve wracking doing a painting live while an audience watches. I told myself before starting it would be educational for them if I made a dogs dinner of it… it would certainly have increased their vocabulary! I was in the end quite pleased with the result. I have to suppress the detail in the sea to the right with a glaze or two to focus the main interest on Golden Cap and then it is done. 24in by 8in Oils.

I am still not caught up so more waffle quite soon I expect.

July 19, 2018

The Il de Re

Well off to France with a bus load of other painters. You try not to imagine how it will be or the paintings you might paint, but it is hard not to. I have been to St Martin on the Il de Re several times before so I knew what the possibilities were. My first visit was an oil disaster finding me able to catch the mood and light in watercolour but failing utterly to do so with the oils. My second visit a few years later was an improvement so I hoped to manage a few decent pictures this time. Also this time I took my folding bike so I could get further afield. What order… I suppose as I did them.

First up St Malo.

St Malo, France, pen and ink, drawing

We usually begin our trip in St Malo. We arrive quite early slightly ferry lagged before the town has properly awakened. I sauntered up near the church and drew this tiny chapel. I have drawn it before but the light was rather nice this time with unexpected shadows. The chapel is actually in the shadow of a large building behind it.

St Malo, France, pen and ink, drawing

We did not have much time so after a restorative coffee I sat and drew the goings on in the main square. Didn’t give much thought to the composition but the tree cutting the bike sort of works OK.

The next morning I painted a truly execrable scene looking down the road by the hotel which I duly scrubbed off. I decided to cycle off and look at the nearby town of Noix in the salt marshes. I just took my watercolours.

Il de Re, marshes, watercolour

I soon ran into a problem. Plenty of subjects but the sun was merciless so finding any shade to paint them from was impossible. In the end I found a bench under a tree and just painted what I could see. Too hot for watercolour really the paint was drying instantly on both paper and palette. 7in by 4in Watercolour.

Noix, Il de Re, France, watercolour, plein air

This is the church at Noix, once again the shady painting spot decided the subject. I had had a couple of very cold and rather potent beers before I did this so was not quite as considered as I might have been! I could do no more that day my cycle ride back was like crossing the Sahara but hotter. Still I had reminded myself how the light here is so fierce and this caught a bit of that. 10in by 8in Watercolour.

Il de Re, France, oil painting, plein air

Next morning I tottered off early to the beach… rather hung over from the previous night. The light was gorgeous with some very unusual contrasts. I had to get in the dazzle part immediately after drawing out because I could see it was going to change very fast. I actually painted a little vignette of the reflections before blocking anything else in. Plein air is so often driven by conditions and you have to adjust your methods on the fly. Oils 12in by 7in.

The next watercolour was OK but very pedestrian… lost somehow, I think still in the hotel room, I am guessing it fell of the ledge and went behind the sofa… probably the best place for it!

St Martin, Oil painting, Il de Re, France, plein air

In the late afternoon I did this view in the town of St Martin. I have done this in watercolour and oils before. Had to be careful not to over do the section left and right to keep the focus on the tower.

St Martin, il de Re, France, Oil painting

This is the afternoon next day, I had a morning off painting. I had spotted this the day before and noted the time. The weather was unrelentingly hot and clear which I find hard to paint so the shadows and contrasts here were fun to do. 12in by 7in Oils.

Watercolour, painting, plein air, St Martin, Il de Re

I had a real battle with this one. I was initially taken by the contrast of the nearby shadowed area against the bright backdrop. I then proceeded to mess it up by washing in the sky too dark! In the end I washed the sky back with white and reinforced the shadows with pen. 10in by 5in Watercolour.

St martin, France, nocturne, oil painting

Here is this year’s obligatory nocturne. Such a race so no time for finesse. The pings of light could be cleaned up a bit maybe, but such fun to paint. 10in by 14in Oils.

Plein air, oil painting, St Martin, il de Re

I had a fight with this one. Good bits but doesn’t quite gel into a picture. A very good exercise though. Looking at the photos after I could see that there wasn’t really a painting there. It was however a view that could be painted from a delicious bit of shade with cold beers nearby… 16in by 10in Oils.

Cafe, St Martin, pen and Ink, drawing

I had intended to do some cafe paintings but got distracted somehow. At the last minute I set about drawing this after I noticed how the light was falling across the people and awnings.

Port en Bessin, france, plein air, Oils, painting

Our next stop was the fishing port of Port en Bessin. I should have waited a little longer before doing this, the light had improved a lot during the time I was working. 14in by 6in Oils.

Normandy, cliffs, pen and ink, drawing

This was along the cliffs North of the town. The light was flat but it was very pleasant sitting and drawing this.

port en Bessin, France, pen and ink, drawing

Next day was more bright, I had intended to do fishing boats but got distracted by this view, was right in the sun so a beer was needed after…

Port en Bessin, harbour, oil painting, plein air

I planned to do a view I had done before looking over the town. I arrived a bit too early for the light so I did this to pass the time. I became so engrossed that I went on too long and missed the light on my intended subject! Never mind this was at that moment probably the better picture. 12in by 7in Oils.

Bayeux, cathedral, Normandy, France, pen and ink, drawing

Last one, this is Bayeux cathedral. One of our party said there was a good view over the river and he wasn’t wrong! I wish I had not packed my oils away, but as I had a drawing was the only possibility.

That’s it, not as much work as I usually do on these trips but there was so much eating drinking and chatting to get done that I rather fell behind…


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