Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

May 11, 2018


Filed under: Drawing,Life Drawing,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Rob Adams @ 11:32 am

We love to talk about accidents. Happy ones of course. We have to “allow” them to happen give them, “space” to occur. We have to be eagle eyed for serendipity, poised to stoop and exploit it. Chance can be out dearest friend, but only if we but let go enough to allow it to work its magic. Throw the dice in the air, spin the coin, pull on the one armed bandit’s single limb, watch the symbols spin. We scorn control, dreary control, the restraining whalebone corset of control. If you don’t throw over the traces the muses won’t speak through you. Stifled by the dead hand of thinking far to much. The flow impeded, the tide dammed, the rush down the helter-skelter road to art nirvana, sapped of momentum.

You must be the child. A child sees, wants and reaches out. You are a free spirit, an ancient soul, a primeval being sadly chained by convention. Released you could fly high to the sun shrugging off the fear of wax melting and Icarus falls. Leaving others to mundane long drawn out Sisyphean struggles with the obdurate stone of skill and craft. Surely somehow we can recover the lost innocence that was cast aside in the hunger for a quick and spurious understanding.

Shrug off the bindings of history, escape the already known, seek the thin ice, the terra incognito. How can you call yourself an artist if you do not attempt at least a few of these things? It is your duty to see beyond. To melt the cold metal of convention and cast it in the air unconstrained by any mould. To make a quicksilver response without the inertia of introspection or intellect.

I dare say many of you will tend to agree or at least lean a little towards the purple prose above. I myself would like it to be true, but it isn’t and there it is, we must live and make do with the lack of hey presto type magic in our world. Do our best with the impersonal mundane clay we have been handed. All talk of “energy” “flow” or whatever is I fear just foolish babble. We must join gamblers anonymous and give up the hope of the smile of chance and luck. No Gods watch over us, no saints intercede, no Norns weave our past and future together. There are no souls chained to our bodies, no spirits allied to our minds.

That is not to say however that there are no random imponderables in painting, or that allowing intellect to be sidelined by unconscious  or subconscious routines cannot be a good strategy. Getting the “accountancy” part of the brain off line can allow ingrained learnt processes to run more fluently. You cannot control every motion, every brushstroke, its angle, pressure, direction, speed and duration. Most of this has to be pre-programmed, or as we say learnt. It is a strange thing but the iterative and unfree process of learning a skill actually brings freedom and an escape from technicalities. Without that process becoming ingrained actual freedom will only ever be a pretence. I see it so many times. Painters or drawers acting out freedom, as if mimicking how they feel the actions might be, they could somehow achieve the actuality by some sort of sympathetic magic

Watching a skilled person perform their trade can often look like magic to an onlooker. Many artists receive good money for demonstrating their prowess. For the viewers and students however it mostly looks like conjuring. I suspect some “demonstrators” play to this and build in phoney “abracadabra” audience pleasing moments. As with all conjuring what you see is just the just the tip of an iceberg made of many many hours of practice. In a way the magic is there, it is there when all those many hours of practice, failed paintings, dashed hopes all come together and amplify what you can achieve. Like Icarus for a moment you fly. Does it feel good, yes very, just don’t expect it to happen everyday, or to happen at all without constant practice. Of course you could just carry out the actions, talk the talk  and imagine you have brought into being a masterpiece, a sort of air guitar for painters.

So another life drawing post. Now don’t run away, life drawing posts are on average the least looked at posts on this blog, I’m not sure why. Life drawing is where the above seems to manifest a great deal. People put a rather large emphasis on the means of doing it, rather than what is done. They seek the magic formula that will make a winning drawing materialise on their paper. The words, loose, free, expressive etc are bandied around a great deal.

In reality a different kind of drawing is produced depending on what you are looking for. If you are seeking to express the underlying flow of a pose you might produce a drawing with sweeping confident lines. If you are interested in how the edges cross and fade or are soft or sharp you will produce a different more nuanced drawing. If you are interested in how the volumes intersect then a more blocky approach might carry the information best. You might be drawing the shapes the light makes flowing across the surfaces and not the body at all, resulting in a soft impression. Or indeed any combination of any or all of these. Each will result in a different sort of image.

Due to the perception of art history by contemporary artists a fair few folk have difficulty appreciating different sorts of drawing. A drawing with wild inaccurate marks will be praised as loose and free. A drawing that is accurate and plots the ebb and flow of the edges dismissed as tight however good. On the other hand those with little art education will only be impressed with the degree of photographic detail achieved. Academic drawers will judge in yet a different way as to whether the tones and finish are precise and the terminus lines of the shadows emphasised to get that silky classical look.

When I look at the drawings others do my best to look for what the artists were trying to nail down about the pose in front of them. There are successful and less successful drawings in each of the categories above and each should be judged on how well that agenda is executed. The only bad drawing are those that have no premiss or plan behind them or where the artist is not truly engaged, whether they are skilfully executed or not.

Life drawing

I had not done any drawings on toned paper for a while so this was quite tricky. As always a struggle not to put in more than you can actually see.

Life drawing

A more back to basics approach. I was interested in the planes of the pose and how they flowed behind each other. The difficulty is trying to get that down in single unfussy strokes.

life drawing

So often the quick 4min ones have the most charm. In some ways that is just because they chime well with the aesthetic of our times. I am not in the least immune to this, as with unposed photographic snapshots they have an immediacy that comes across well.

Life drawing

I have introduced a cool grey here. I find it a useful addition so it will stay for a while. I am really trying not to make a “picture” or “finish” in the given time. Just to add one observation after another until the time runs out. As with all “best laid” plans this tends to get watered down by the reality of having to get the marks down.

Life drawing

Here I stuck to the plan more rigorously. Just putting down observations and then restating if need. I quite like the effect of all the good and less good marks being seen as it becomes a record of looking and resolving.

life drawing

Here I got sidetracked a little by the edges and over emphasised them.

life drawing

Here I got a better balance with the lines supporting the main interest which was the flow of the gorgeous complex forms making up  the surface of the back.

life drawing

Here the line and flow is more important with the tone in a supporting role.

life drawing

When I was first taught to draw, Bunny the tutor told us that a drawing should always be finished from the first mark to the last. So when you stop you always have a finished thing. I did not really understand this for many years, but now find it to be a very useful idea. She taught this by not telling us how long the pose was going to be. This meant no planning ahead was possible and each drawing had to be started as if it was only going to be a couple of minutes.

life drawing

Steve our model was in his eighties and was amazing to draw. Age had melted away all the excess fat revealing the forms beneath.

life drawing

A difficult one to draw, again the tone is in a supporting role needing to be just enough there to glue the line work describing the edges together.

life drawing

More quickies. They really do help you winnow out the important and telling aspects of a pose.

life drawing

Another one where I went a bit to far with the line. It is so so easy to make a line over defined. Ideally it should reflect how strong the edge is and so can go from hard and certain to very soft and undecided. This should reflect what you ca make out clearly and what you cannot. Squinting helps greatly in this regard. If an edge vanishes when you squint then it should ideally be either very soft or not there at all.

life drawing

This was the second of two drawings done over an hour. In the first one I rather lost my way but the time was not wasted as all the looking helped me be more direct and concise in this one.

I think back to oils for the next session, so looking for light and tone a little more.

April 28, 2018

What is Style?

Filed under: Dorset,Drawing,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 10:38 am

Looking back over the years I have been blogging the word “style” has cropped up a few times. I have always been dealing with aspects of it though, not really considering the attribute itself head on. We use the word for personal appearance, dancers can be stylish, architecture and decoration are categorised by it, all in all it seems a covetable attribute to have and one worth acquiring. It sorts the hens from the geese, cats are stylish dogs less so, sorry dog lovers it’s just the way it is.

Eric Furnie says it is a “…distinctive manner which permits the grouping of works into related categories”. Now this is less attractive, it is now a kind of pigeon hole that some art historian wishes to shoehorn you into for their own convenience. Like so many things you think you know the meaning of, when you take a closer look the edges soften and definitions become soft and hard to pin down. The word actually seems to be two rolled into one. It has a meaning as an identifier of an individual or an individual belonging to a larger grouping. It also has a usage as a compliment on an interesting and exciting manner of being or means of creating. One tends to be applied to a thing that is made and the other mostly to the maker.

However much you wish your style to be you own and only your own you are, in this interconnected world, doomed to failure. Someone or indeed many someones paint, make, dress or whatever just the same as you do. In our age millions upon millions of people paint pictures. When Rembrandt wielded his palette there were far far fewer. There are probably more good painters in the world now than ever before, but that just makes it harder to stand out from the crowd.

Ah! I have said it… “Stand out from the crowd.” Along with the fascination of doing and learning a craft there is the wish to be noticed for doing it well or even not so well. For that to occur we must bring something to the table, either in ourselves or our work, that is remarkable. I have long puzzled at the popularity of my pen drawings. In my own opinion they are no better or worse than my paintings. They are made by the same hand and mind. I had a friend round and we were discussing what I should exhibit. She said, “Oh you must put in the drawings they are so unusual.”

Afterwards on considering it a small penny dropped. My paintings are “usual” you can find a load of painters doing the same or better than I. If you search for people doing tonal pen drawing to a high standard then there are very few. It is relatively easy to stand out from the host of felt pen stipplers copying photos of Elvis. This makes the decision to go larger on the drawings in my upcoming open studios and easy one. It does not however change my course as far as getting generally better at my craft. The “style” of the drawings might be a hit, but you must never let style drive the direction of your endeavour.

It is similar to when you allow technique to overwhelm the meaning of what you are trying to say. Allowing some style element, or desire to be different for the sake of it to dominate, is just as bad. It is difficult, when being a herd mammal on its way to being a hive mammal, to be lumbered with an incongruous sense of personal individuality. Hopefully this sense of individuality will slowly atrophy and we will become blithely busy uncaring bees.


I am busier than a bee at present organising my open studios which is part of Dorset Arts Weeks and runs from Saturday 28May to Sunday the 10th of June. This involves allowing the public to traipse through your house and studio whilst curling their lips at your home decor and ignoring your pictures. I will be there to sign the occasional autograph, but mainly to receive overwhelming amounts of money and adulation. So come along, cash, credit card, bitcoin, PayPal, praise, scorn  and Facebook likes all gratefully accepted.

The amount of work involved in such a venture is a little forbidding. Pictures to be framed labeled and wired, hanging systems and lighting to be installed. Just the decision as to what and what not to exhibit is tricky. Cards must be printed, prints mounted and inserted into cello bags. Your home has to be reorganised and walls space cleared for pictures. Half your furniture, including the fridge freezer, has to go in your shed. Due to my shed being full of furniture I have to add a Gazebo to take the volume of pictures.

Once the rooms are cleared out the lamentable state of your decor is sure to be revealed so painting the walls is inevitable. You have to, in this contactless age, take card payments so an iZettle card reader is required. Signs must be put up at key road junctions, leaflets and maps created printed and distributed. Social media must be saturated with plugs and all your friends, previous buyers and acquaintances spammed with emails.

Now I have you all weeping in sympathy at the artist’s plight here are a few scribbles and daubs.


Chesilbourne, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing

Here I am perched on a stool in a graveyard next to the smelliest compost heap in Dorset on a very chilly day. This is the church at Cheselbourne in Dorset, tricky to get the best view as it was in the middle of a track frequented by Range Rovers so this was the next best. I used my Sailor brush pen to speed things along with the darks. A5 pen and ink.

Christchurch Priory, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing

This is Christchurch Priory. These sorts of subjects can be overwhelming at first. But if you get the box and the underlying divisions of the box in place then filling in the gaps becomes easier. A5 Pen and Ink.

Child Okeford, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing

This one of Child Okeford was done from a photo whilst invigilating at an exhibition. There is a strange meditative pleasure in hatching large areas, though you have to beware of it becoming too mechanical. Pen and Ink A4.

Shaftesbury, Melbury Hill, Plein air, oil painting, Dorset

Back to the oils before Venice! This is the view across to Melbury Hill from Shaftesbury. I love the structure of this view and have done it a few times now. Very hard to get the relative tones here as the roof highlights directly reflecting the sun were easily the brightest thing, so the rest had to be subdued to make them ping out. 10in by 10in Oils.

Shaftesbury, St James, plein air, oil painting, Dorset

This is the church of St James from the same vantage point. A good time of year for this view as the leaves obscure the church in the summer. I enjoyed the transparent layer of the trees. It can be quite a challenge as if you paint neat roofs and then paint branches over them it looks dreadful. So I paint the buildings seen between the branches as negative shapes which prevents you getting over involved in things you cannot quite make out. If a thing is hard to resolve by looking directly then it should usually be hard to resolve and slightly vague in your painting. 10in by 16in Oils.

Larmer tree gardens., Dorset, plein air, oil painting

This is the Larmer Tree gardens in Wiltshire. Designed by Augustus Pitt Rivers it contained theatres and stages for the general education and entertainment of the masses.  It became hugely popular in the 1880’s attracting 40,000 visitors a year. Quite hard to find subjects, a real contrast with Venice where it is hard to find bits which aren’t potential paintings! I settled on this upward view to a small rotunda. Not overdoing the mass of shrubbery was the greatest challenge here. 10in by 14in Oils

Larmer tree gardens, Wiltshire, plein air, oil painting

A brief study of a concrete statue… well I didn’t know it was concrete until I looked closer. My heart wasn’t really in this… I enjoyed the light on the leaves… but straight on to the “sand it off” pile! 10in by 10in Oils.

Dorset, landscape, Cranbourne Chase, plein air, oil painting

A relief to get away from gardens! This was on the way back over the Cranbourne Chase near Win Green. A quick 15 min splash on a small board, but much more my cup of tea… 10in by 6in Oils.


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