Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

November 29, 2015

The Importance of Drawing

Filed under: Drawing,Life Drawing,Uncategorized,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , — Rob Adams @ 3:21 pm

Looking back over past posts I have not really dealt with drawing. Not techniques more the whys and wherefores. In some ways I write this blog to sort out my own opinions on things. All too often once your words look back at you from the screen you think, “I’m not sure that I really agree with myself!” Indeed reading back there are more than a few of my own posts I would not entirely agree with. Not that I will change them I would not like to develop a reputation for intellectual consistency.

So, drawing, what exactly do I think about it? Firstly I suppose I need to ask: What is drawing? Making a mark on a surface that can be interpreted by others is a fairly catch all definition. This implies an actual transfer via the medium of information from one individual to another. So abstract squiggles and random mark making are out I’m afraid. They may be beautiful but not in my view drawing. So writing is drawing. Not the information contained in the writing but the information that identifies the character. So the individual letters are drawn. Plans and schematics are drawings. Indeed we perhaps need to arrange the types of drawing by what cargo of information they carry.

So a drawing can carry abstract information as letter shapes do. Symbols perform a similar function.

A drawing can carry information about a three dimensional object such as building or a planet as in a map.

Drawings can plan a two dimensional image such as a painting or a poster.

Here of course as with all art subjects we run into boggy ground. Drawing is both a noun and a verb. Is a finished painting a drawing? Certainly drawing is used in its creation. Is that drawing somehow different to the drawing that was used in the same painting’s planning? Are cave paintings drawings? Can finished things be drawings or only the preparatory work?

Perhaps we might say that only preparatory drawings should be given the noun a “drawing”. Does that mean my pen and inks aren’t drawings? There is no doubt in my mind that the meaning for the noun is muddy indeed and I haven’t even mentioned sketches!

So perhaps the verb will be more helpful. Making a mark to convey information. Once that mark is made then it is something else. A painting, a drawing, letter, a plan, all these things can be made by the act. This line of reasoning makes me also feel that the act means making marks that can in general be consistently interpreted by others. So if you were to show the item to a panel of viewers you would get a fair degree of congruency in the replies.

From there it is a small step to grade our results in the success of transferring information with our mark making. So if we draw a girl and our panel only replies that it is a girl we plainly haven’t been as capable as if the panel reports that it was a sad young girl. If we got the report back that it was a sad young girl by using a thousand marks it plainly would not be as efficient as if we got the same result by only using ten. Of course some moods might be conveyed by using many marks in groups, what we call shading or hatching, but perhaps they might be considered as a composite rather than individual marks.

Now to move on to what might make a good drawing. I tentatively might say brevity of means. I think this is best illustrated by the sort of atelier drawing where every nuance of shade is noted down. They are an attempt to convey the full visual experience of seeing a body in tone. However they fail miserably to convey any information about moving or breathing let alone sadness or joy. Despite the claims of the Atelier system of roots back to the past none of the so called old masters draw in such a constipated manner. The 18th 19th century history painters are the ones really to blame.

So how do we learn to draw as best we may? The secret, if such there is, is in training the brain to do most of the work in the background. If we are struggling in placing things, controlling our medium etc then the battle is lost before it has begun. We might manage a creditable drawing of a building or still life, but drawing a person would be a step past that and likely not a success. Many artists I talk to scorn accuracy, to my mind this just means they cannot be bothered with the sometimes frustrating business of learning. The art establishment’s unfounded ideas that such skills are irrelevant don’t help either.

Whether you like it or not the first steps will be tight and more of a graph than a drawing. That is necessary however to train the brain to do all the measuring unconsciously. Inexperienced artists see an experienced draughts person knocking in a figure whilst seeming not to measure, but that is because they have spent so many years measuring that the process has become internalised. The same is true for the assessment of tone etc.

This is why life drawing is so important. It is the mixture of long and short poses that forces us to quickly select the key elements in a pose. At first it seems impossible, but as we practice more and more of the process is taken over by the unconscious. Once that happens then the whole thing becomes more manageable. So the message is predictable I’m afraid, practice, practice, practice!

So a few life drawings to show that I’ve got a long way to go too. However good you get, a good life session will cut you down to size and deflate the ego!

life drawing

15min here I drew deliberately slowly, trying not to make a mark unless I had a purpose for it. It is very easy with life drawing to scribble and hope. Get into the rhythm of, observe, assess, make a mark, observe assess, make a mark etc. You so often see people only occasionally lifting their heads to observe. You should spend longer observing than drawing.

life drawing

In comparison a 3 minute effort. Again I will be pausing between each mark or set of marks.


life drawing

More very quick ones. I am using 2 ingredients only here. The flat of the conte for tonal blocks and the end for delineation. You can vary these ingredients but easier to just stick to one or two. Just doing the while thing in tonal blocks without line is a very good exercise.

life drawing

Here all the tonal areas were drawn first and the few key lines added only in the last minute or two of the 15min we had.


life drawing

I regularly change medium. Here I have just used tonal areas with no line at all. 20min

life drawing

Here is a 5 min one done the same way. There are only two layers, a dilute first shape then a darker to reinforce and correct.

life drawing

A whole half hour!! I try to start a longer pose in exactly the same way as a shorter one. I then lay repeated layers of observations down on top of each other, each one getting more defined. Whenever you stop a drawing it should look finished. To help with that it is a good idea to do sets of poses where the model just changes pose randomly. Whenever the model changed however long or short the pose was your drawing should look finished.

life drawing

Two 2 minute ones. At first it will seem impossible to get anything worthwhile down in that sort of time. Mostly it won’t be of course and many efforts will go in the bin. What you lose in accuracy you gain in vivacity. These brief splashes say more in my opinion about a living breathing being than any atelier drawing laboured over for a week.

life drawing

Here is one that is perhaps unfinished, I was miles away and not following how the 15 min was passing. I literally jumped when the timer went off! Now though it is incomplete it is not to my mind unfinished.

life drawing

Here is one where I stopped before the end of the pose. It would have been a better drawing if I had stopped earlier! You should always keep an eye out for when a drawing is complete, that will only rarely be when time is called. I often spend the last 5 min doing a lot of looking and very little mark making.

life drawing

Last one, have started to introduce pen. Adding an ingredient like an extra medium always raises new problems.

November 7, 2015

What are we?

Is this really a topic for a painting blog? Well yes I feel so. Trying to articulate how it is to be a human being is pretty key to being an artist. Descartes decided that we are real things due to being aware of our own thinking which is on the whole good news. The bad news was that is about all he could be sure of.

For an artist there is the constant problem of only getting the odd hint of what others respond to or enjoy from their speech or mannerisms. For the rest we have to extrapolate from what we ourselves like, to make a guess as to what might float anyone else’s boat. The egoist will assume that what he likes others will like because he or she is plainly the best the world has to offer. The more humble soul will be left in a state of perhaps more realistic uncertainty.

So what is human being and how might we divine what this strange beasty likes? There is the body, with it’s cells and hormones. It seems pretty clear to me that there is no mysterious supernatural component. That does not mean that the meat is all there is though. The “nature vs nurture” debate has been rumbling on for a few centuries. Christianity  hoped to prove the existence of the divine by finding a child brought up by animals with no human upbringing. They were disappointed, legend has it, to find such a poor creature had no innate knowledge of the almighty.

It is in keeping with contemporary thought to consider ourselves in the terms of hardware and software. If our tabula rosa has no input from parents or society then there is no language and if no language none of the tools we use to visualise our own selves. I dare say such a being would have no interest in art or indeed a pleasant scene. Food, warmth, safety and shelter would be the driving forces as in any animal. It is of course not just humans that combine software and hardware, all social animals do some sort of programming the young.

It is fair to say though that humans take it further. It might even be best to think of the accrued knowledge of society as a separate entity independent of the individual. We are none of us vital, but each might add a little that gets passed on. I might paint a painting, post it online and then track the slight ripple that passes around the world briefly before fading. However small it has become part of the huge edifice of knowledge and supposition that is mankind.

If this accrued and now artificially stored information is really what mankind is, what of the individual? In our society we prize freedoms and our own personal uniqueness. I have to feel after much mental to-ing and fro-ing that this is an illusion, we make a great deal of our small differences but actually we are as alike as peas in a pod. Just as well really, as if we were really different communication between us would be all but impossible. If you look at the imagery of our planet from space you would have to conclude that mankind is akin to a hive creature. Although we don’t feel we are acting at the behest of the whole, most of us are doing just that. Is our collected knowledge of the universe honey? It makes one worry there might be a beekeeper out there somewhere!

It does give the artist a sliver of a reason to go on doing stuff. Each thing we do adds a little to the whole. How that might be used in any future is beyond prediction, but on the whole I feel that artistic activity is a plus for humanity. How is that for self justification?

Right enough of the navel gazing! Some pictures. Mostly drawing, life seems to be keeping me from my studio at present which is distinctly irritating.

Cannon St, London, oil painting, St Pauls

Over the last few years I have been rather over successful at selling plein air sketches of London. Most of the best ones I intended to use as inspiration for studio pictures, once sold however this slipped from my agenda. So I have decided to try and catch up. This is the first of several I hope. I spent a fair while messing with the composition on this. That is the joy of studio work you can add all sorts of subtleties that would be impossible in the heat of the moment on site. It is however important to try an not let that show overtly in the way the final thing is painted! 12in by 20in oils.


Pen and ink, drawing, dog

Something I don’t do very often. A drawing as a gift to an old friend. The dog was a fondly remembered pet so I was in danger of over doing the sentiment. The Victorians revelled in such stuff with the dog gazing soulfully at its master. I hope I escaped that… just! Pen and ink.

Stour, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing, river

A sketch done near to where I live in Dorset. This is the Stour where it meanders through rich pastures below Hambledon Hill. The light was very constant so I could take my time. A little too neat maybe but in a way that adds to the calm feel which was very much the atmosphere of the day. Pen and Ink


Pentre Ifan, Wales, pembrokeshire, pen and ink, drawing

This is another go at Pentre Ifan in Pembrokeshire. Slightly tongue in cheek as I am not much of a new ager! Pen and ink.


Tenby, Harbour, wales, pen and ink, drawing

This is the harbour at Tenby in Wales. This started out as the merest pencil scribble done in less than 10 min. I enjoyed developing it with the pen and will do a larger oil in a while. Somewhat of a grudge match as I made a horrible mess of an oil of this same subject three or four years ago… pen and ink.


Fontmell Down, pen and ink, dorset

I am pondering how to translate the Dorset landscape into lino cuts. I don’t want to do straight renderings there has to be a stylising and simplification. This may be the way to go but not with the celtic stuff. I might use earlier incised patterns as used on beakers found in burials in the area. The sky escaping is a bit OTT so I might just allow the pasture to break the frame. Pen and Ink.


Okeford Hill, dorset, pen and ink, drawing

The largest pen drawing I have managed on site. I used a brush pen loaded with the same ink as my pens which speeded things along. I still had to finish the foreground hatching later. Rather a painful process on site as I am suffering in the back department at present. This is Okeford Hill. Pen and ink.


Belfast, northern Ireland, drawing, pen and ink

Some countryside near Belfast. I love just using water to dissolve the colour out from the ink. I actually combine two inks one waterproof and one not to get this result. Very fast sketch about 20min. Pen and Ink.


Belfast, albert tower, pen and ink, drawing, northern Ireland

This is a clock tower dedicated to Albert in Belfast itself. A bit scrappy but too painful to sit too long. Pen and Ink.


Belfast, pen and ink, drawing, northern ireland

More Belfast. The brush pen was great for knocking in all the darks. Had to be very quick as the last of the light was fading rapidly. Pen and ink.


Gt Victoria Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland, pen and ink, drawing

With my back working again after returning I couldn’t resist doing this of Gt Victoria Street in Belfast again. I loved the grand streets in the city and would like to return and paint it properly. Pen and ink

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