Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

July 12, 2017

Painting Holidays

Filed under: Drawing,France,Painting,Uncategorized,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 12:22 pm

For a number of years I have gone away in the summer with a group of other artists to paint in France. A coach load of painters all intending to paint a masterpiece or three. As you think about the trip in the weeks before you start to fantasise about the opportunities that are bound to occur for a great subject at a fantastic moment in time. So the coach arrives you disembark, media at the ready, and… Well just and… Reality just refuses to arrange itself into perfect subjects!

This time we were in the Ile De Re a place I had visited before and had mixed feelings about the place. On my previous visit I had experienced the great oil painting disaster. I had notably failed to produce a single half decent work in oils. In a way I suppose all that anticipatory build up is bound to result in deflation when the paintings refuse to fly off the brush.

So the coach has arrived and we disembark in St Malo…

St Malo, France, pen and ink, drawing

On my last visit here it was wet so it was a great pleasure to see it in the sun. I had decided before leaving to start with drawing to get myself in the groove. It was a good move I now feel as I enjoyed trying to catch the bustle of this very touristy town. Once the rough pencil outline was in I set about putting the key figures in. I have learnt over the years this is a good approach for me as I tend to get lured into overstating the architecture.

France, St Martin, Isle de Re, watercolour, painting

After a long coach drive we arrived in St Martin on the Ile de Re too late to paint. Next morning I was up early ready to go. I started to paint the harbour but it all went wrong… I don’t often tear up watercolours on the spot but I did this time. Slightly despondent but still as ever a sucker for punishment I set about a much harder subject. I had to be very quick as the light was on the move. From the start I simplified as much as possible and just focussed on the way the light was falling. My confidence restored a little I then retired for breakfast and strong coffee! 9in by 6in Watercolour.

Isle de Re, France, oil painting, plein air

With some trepidation I then set out on my first oil painting of the trip. I had nearly not packed my oils, but in the end decided to take only small boards and my 10in by 8in pochade. I had painted this square before in watercolour so I knew it was a reasonable subject. I forced myself not to rush and after drawing spent a fair while getting the tone relationships between the tree shadow, sky and lit wall right while still leaving enough headroom for a strong highlight. The sky had to be an unexpected tone for all that to happen so I’m glad I took the time. In any painting there tends to be a key relationship that needs to be just so. Spotting which one is key is another matter though. 10in by 7in oils.

Isle de Re, France, oil painting, plein air

My confidence boosted I set off up the town to do another. One nice thing about revisiting a destination was that I knew where some decent locations were and so didn’t have to spend time wandering and looking. Once again I looked at key tone arrangements and decided the church tower and sky relationship was the one to get right. Again the sky had to be a weightier tone than I would have painted it if I had just jumped in without thinking properly. 10in by 7in Oils.

Isle de Re, France, pen drawing

Next day I decided pen drawing was the way to go especially as this view could be drawn from the shade. Usually with pen drawings in the UK I would lighten the sky but here the heat and intense downward light on the ground made the relationships quite different. I think this is where I went astray on my previous visit. The only tricky bit on this was the road it would have been very easy to overdo the cobbles. Pen and Ink.

St martin, Isle de Re, France, watercolour

I took two goes at this as the light moved too quickly and I was in a rather exposed position partially blocking the pavement. I might do a studio one of this as I’m pleased with the overall feel but some bit of drawing are a little erratic in scale which undermines the feeling of distance. 10in by 8in Watercolour.

Sea mist, Isle de Re, watercolour, France

We had sea mist on a couple of days which was a real challenge. This is the gate to the prison. I should have stood to do this but made a poor decision to sit. I dislike the way nearby figures loom tall from this viewpoint and it undermines the scale of distant features. I was however pleased with the general mood. 9in by 7in Watercolour.

Isle de Re, beach, oil painting, plein air

As I walked further on the mist withdrew and once on the beach the light took on a fascinating character. In the Ile de Re the tide goes out for miles with the sea completely on the horizon. Only a few figures wandering in the shimmering heat punctuated the scene. I had considered painting a boat to two but didn’t have the will, so I set about doing this on a tiny board. As I worked a transit van belted past me across the mud and sand going out to the mussel beds, the tracks it left made the perfect lead in! I had to draw this quickly to a close as I and my tripod were slowly sinking into the wet sand. 8in by 5in Oils.

Isle de Re, France, oil painting, plein air

Another day and more morning sea mist. So difficult to keep the tones under control with this. The mist kept coming and going in waves so one second everything was ghosted and the next watery sunshine was breaking through. Very difficult but great fun to attempt to paint. I put a little too much colour but I was worried it would take on a wintery northern feel so went a little too far the other way. 10in by 8in Oils.

Pen and Ink, France, Isle de De, drawing

Later the same day I reverted to the pens as they do those middle of the day subjects quite well. Again I found myself using the paper colour more than I would at home, which certainly speeds things along. This is the back door to the prison and part of the wonderful defences of the town that were ordered to be built by Cardinal Richelieu, though what you see here was built by the famous engineer Vauban in the 1700’s. Pen and Ink.

Ile de Re, France, pen drawing, harbour

I am not a fan of harbours full of boats but as I sat eating my baguette I suddenly saw in my mind’s eye a way of rendering the mud. Unfortunately all the rest had to be drawn before I could put my theory into practice. I have to note the only boat so far! Pen and Ink.

Ile de Re, church, pen drawing

This is the sadly war damaged church. I had avoided drawing it before as aside from the main tower it is such an odd mish mash of repairs and alterations.  Drawing doesn’t get much harder than this! Pen and Ink

Nocturne, Ile De Re, oil painting

It has come a tradition  to go out and do nocturnes and this is my effort on the last evening. You never quite know what you are going to get until next day when you see your effort in the daylight. I was quite pleased that other than a vibrant streak of green in the sky I had more or less got things right. Probably more by luck than judgement though! 10in by 6in Oils.

Port en Bessin, France, Oil painting

Here we are further North in Port en Bessin in Normandy. It is a busy working port and a welcome contrast to the touristy Ile de Re. The change in the light from being a couple of hundred K’s North was striking. This needs some figures to cut across the cars but I doubt I will ever bother to actually put them in. It was very breezy and I had to hang on to the easel the whole time. 10in by 8in Oils.

Port en Bessin, France, pen drawing, fishing boats

There are wonderful boat repair yards in the town which patch up the chunky fishing boats that ply the channel. I had to sit peering through the railings to do this, Pen and Ink.

Port en Bessin, France drawing, harbour, pen and ink

The town has hills each side of it which give great views of the town and outer harbour. I had decided to relax and just draw during the day and only paint in the evening when the light was best. Pen and Ink.

Port en Bessin, France, drawing, pen and ink

The same view but later and further down. A hard subject and stretching the limits of pen and ink. Here I used my wide fude fountain pen the block in the large areas of dark. I have added this and a brush pen all made by Sailor in Japan to allow me to get a different feel and add weight to some of my pen drawings.

Port en Bessin, pen drawing

The next evening actually down in the town but the same view. I used the fude a lot in this it certainly speeds the work and gives a bolder less delicate feel to the end result.

Port en Bessin, oil painting, plein air

A before supper painting as the sun dropped, very hard to get the tones right to give some idea of the dazzling light. Oils 10in by 8in.

Port en Bessin, oil painting, plein air

Here is the same view after supper and a bottle of wine! 10in by 7in Oils.

Port en Bessin, harbour, fishing boats, watercolour

I had been chiding myself for avoiding the fishing boats in the harbour so I went out to assuage my conscience. Not as painful as I expected as I took my time and got the basics of the drawing properly resolved before painting. 11in by 9in watercolour.

Bayeux, cathedral, drawing, pen and ink, France

Finally a visit to Bayeux, I love the fine cathedral and how it stands over the very fine town. So that’s it back to battling with the summer greens in Dorset!

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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