Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

October 17, 2017


Filed under: Drawing,Life Drawing,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Rob Adams @ 10:16 am

“Oooh you are soooo talented!” Anyone who reaches a certain point of competence in any creative area can expect to receive this plaudit. Before I started to write in this blog I never really thought about what it might actually mean. On the rare occasions it came my way I would just shrug it of with a sort of semi-grateful embarrassment. They might think I was granted a special ability, but I was always completely certain that I was not. The word talent was once a measure of weight like pounds or kilograms, around 25kilos although it varied between cultures. I was also a measure used in weighing silver and from there perhaps became a measure of worth. We however use it as a description of inherent aptitude.

Here the word “natural” creeps in. Natural talent… from here it is only a small step to “God given.” Which is where my hackles start to rise! In some ways the word talent is used by people to explain why others can do a thing they cannot quite imagine they themselves doing. If you believe some people are special and “gifted” then it absolves you from not having devoted any appreciable effort to achieve similar yourself. Once you start to look the same idea is deeply embedded into our world perception. We believe in gurus, priests, geniuses, high fliers, heros, astrologers, quacks and film stars. We believe in “special” people, no wonder superheroes are so popular at the box office!

In the finance world people believe in magic people who can, “Beat the market” this is despite really good evidence that this is not the case. The trackers and computer controlled investment algorithms consistently trounce them on average every year. People believe in super powered CEOs and executives who need to be paid vast sums for their magic touch. Really they were perhaps only competent and just got very lucky once or even incompetent and lucky will do. Having got lucky the mantle of specialness is laid across the shoulders of that person and they are duly expected to get lucky again. Intelligent people may know that the evidence is against this magic being true, but in practice continue to act as it it were true anyway. For the same reason gamblers who are perfectly aware of the rules of probability still hope for the magic benison of “luck”.

With talent being lucky is just one strand, but it shows we are predisposed to believe some people have a sort of extra “mojo” that makes the difference. “Special” is another word we are very fond of “Special reserve” the very peak of rareness and quality. Advertisers love the term as you can well imagine. They have though made a discovery: Specialness and quality can be separated. You can if you build up the myth make something quite ordinary “Special” and hence charge a premium rate. Fashion brands and pop stars are built by this process. This again plays to our deep feeling that we are each of us special and distinct from the herd. We even try to big it up more… “extra special” to deal with those moments when we are going down under the avalanche of supposedly special things and need to expand the category! We might even go for “unique” just one of a kind… I have seen commercial products described thus… presumably they are all uniquely the same…

I try not to swerve too far off the topic of painting, but once I started looking at where we see “magic” people I found them everywhere. Politicians, the myth of the “strong” leader, which people still cleave to even though most examples led to large piles of dead people. Healers, saints, scientists and mystics they all seem to benefit in different degrees from the invisible halo of talent. It is interesting to see who doesn’t get the plaudit… you might be a talented garden designer but farmers don’t seem to get to be magic. No one ever said, oh you are such a talented window cleaner or plumber. Artists and Architects get to be talented with wings on their heels but Builders and Bricklayers are born to live forever with feet of clay. Actors, musicians, writers and sporty types get to be special but stagehands, roadies, librarians and groundsmen do not.

I cannot help but notice you can get to be “special” by either luck or hard work. You can do something so well that people elevate you or the media can randomly focus on you and garland you with specialness like it or not! For a painter then talent is a worthless plaudit, getting good and improving at your craft is the aim and the is not done by any kind of magic. We have varying intelligence and propensity for being patient and determined. It is these factors not any semi mystical “talent” that makes an artist.

I am behind on the life drawing and painting so I will use this post to showcase my magic, God given talents in the area…

Life drawing

I always find it interesting how the eye can conjure a figure in 3 dimensions from a few blobs! Not many of these super quick ones succeed between one does it makes all the duffers worth it.

life drawing

I don’t know why it is but a square sable brush is so much better to paint the figure with than a round one. Odd really as you would think the rounded human form would be more in tune with the latter.

life drawing

I find it a great benefit to change media with life drawing, it encourages you to focus on different aspects of the figure.

life drawing

Life drawing has this built in time constraint, the model is going to pose for this long only and that is your one chance.

Life drawing

I was pleased with this one, it is sadly rare that you manage to say just enough in the right places and not too much in any area.

life drawing

I am trying to more frequently allow the figure to be cropped by the paper’s edge. This makes you concentrate on the shapes made by the areas that are not person.

Life drawing

I always seem to do better when I don’t think about the whole to much but just add observation to observation until the time runs out. Strange that the resulting drawings don’t look unfinished even though had the time been extended I would have presumably carried on adding marks.

life drawing

You can always see where you lost concentration. Here I was going well but let the whole thing down by not looking hard enough at the chest and stomach. Or maybe by making unnecessary marks that were not backed up by observation.

life drawing

One thing I strive and often fail to do is avoid seeing boundaries that I know are there but cannot quite see. It is perfectly OK if we are not sure quite where the figure ends and the room starts. That is after all often the case when we observe our world. In practice that means marks can flow past the figure’s bounds and a line can be part of both figure and background.

life drawing

It is so hard to consider all the factors at the same time and I sometimes don’t try and focus on one aspect. Here it was direction and weight of line.

life drawing

Here I really had to resist the temptation of seeing too much when due to the light I could actually see very little. People often concentrate on confidence and certainty, but uncertainty and tentative conclusions are actually a large part of our seeing experience and there is nothing wrong to my mind in expressing that aspect in a drawing.

life drawing

One where I used patches of line direction to build up the forms. It was the model’s first experience of posing and when I look at the drawing now there is a hint of the nervous tension that the new experience provoked.

life drawing

Later in the same session she has relaxed. Toned paper is wonderful for life drawing as it means large areas don’t need to be drawn at all!

life drawing

This season we have had a mix of male and female models, it shouldn’t make any difference but somehow the subtle differences of proportion and degrees of external form revealing underlying structure make the experience of drawing each fascinating in a distinctive way.

life drawing

That is it for life scribbles. I have recently taken to using oils in the life sessions for the longer poses which has caused some thrills and quite a few spills as I struggle with the process!



September 12, 2017

Pen and Wash

Later in the year I am to give a talk at a local art club. The previous year I had done Pen and Ink and as I left they asked me back and wondered if I could do one on Plein Air painting the same time next year. A few weeks ago at an exhibition of the group’s work I picked up a leaflet that listed the upcoming talks and found I was scheduled in to do a talk on Pen and Wash… A slight panic then set in after I went through my old, ancient and then antediluvian drawings. It seemed that bar about 6 illustrations pen and wash had not been a big feature of my 40 year career!

Now I have always admired pen and wash as a medium and 2 of the examples of my massive output in the media were recent where I had washed colour out of the ink in a pen sketch. However I could not help but conclude that I was about 20 slides shy of the full Powerpoint. No matter I thought with a sudden gush of over-confidence I’ll do some it will be fun! After all how hard could it be?

Very… perhaps another to get the point over…VERY!

Its beguiling simplicity might be the problem. You first think, “Oh I’ll just do a pen drawing and colour it in.” Then you think, ‘How much pen?”… “How much wash?… Pen first, wash second?… Wash first, pen second?… Waterproof ink?…Non-waterproof ink or a mix of the two?” The only way forward was to look at what others had done and then experiment.

The first technical problem I hit was paper. I tried hot pressed Arches Satin, in one of those glued pads. Not too bad but the surface is quite soft. Wash took well though, so a contender. Next a Moleskin sketch pad that bore the legend on the outside “for fountain pen”. Bah!  The ink went straight through it feathered like mad and was so soft the nib tore up the surface. It rejected watercolour, but sort of interestingly in a way you might exploit.

By now obsession was setting in. On my shelves sit many pads, sketch books, glued pads… and loose sheets. They go back to about 1910 with old sheets of paper my granny had. Indeed I could probably fill a medium sized “Paper Through the Ages.” museum. Cue a pseudo scientific face off!

Below are the scanned tests, I won’t go through them individually if you click there is a hi res image so you can form you own opinion. I scribbled with 3 inks one a waterproof and non waterproof mix which I tested with a wash of clean water. Of the other two inks one is a dilute 6:1 water to ink and the other a Red with the Zebra “G” nib which is sharper and more prone to catch but lovely to draw with.

paper test

The results are mixed. Some failed the G nib test so I excluded them. The worst by far was the Moleskin, worse even than bargain laser paper which is a technical feat. Surprisingly good was 100year old white wove writing paper. Bristol board old and new was very good with the pen but not so hot with the watercolour. Frisk CS10 from the 70’s is the best as far as feel with the pen but the very high china clay content means the waterproof inks don’t dry waterproof. Arches was poor with the pen catching very badly with the G nib, good with the watercolour though. Of the commercial papers the cheapo Fabriano 100 sheet drawing and watercolour pad 250gm was easily the best with the colour washing out very cleanly and hard enough to withstand the G nib. My favourite Ruscombe mill paper also passed with flying colours the paper is so hard sized that the G nib worked despite the texture of the surface. I used the blue but they make other colours. Below is the vile Moleskin…

Below is the back or verso of the sheet… as you might guess it also destroyed the page behind… the dark spots are where the pen went through entirely… not the sharp G nib by the way, a soft tipped fountain pen nib.

Next my efforts old and new…

This drawing has appeared before a few years ago. It is Honfleur, I did a few pen and washes on this trip, I can see I kept the penwork quite open so it would accept the wash. Also some pen is under the wash and some on top which adds variation.


Leadenhall Market, London, Pen and wash

This was done after I got back. It is Leadenhall Market in London. Again I am dividing up the work between the wash and the line. I think I resorted to wash here because of the complex subject and lack of time.


normandy, france, pen and wash

France again, Normandy this time. I well remember doing this I penciled carefully then started with the watercolour and it slowly lost definition and structure. So I added pen to accent the main beams and trusses. I remember being quite chuffed at the result.


Portobello, pen and wash

I am starting to see a trend here… I resort to pen and wash when in dire need! This is Portobello and another watercolour that went off the tracks. It was wet and I remember having to finish in a rush as the downpour started. The result I have to say is probably better than if I had carried on with just the paint.


Honfleur, france, pen and wash

Honfleur again. Not a rescue job this time thank heaven. This pen and wash at its simplest with the colour being washed out of the line. As it is on the blue Ruscombe paper the added highlight gives a relatively full toned image. Here the pen is definitely to the fore.

Well that is the past efforts in the medium. Having looked at these I decided to do more to explore the variations possible. The first thing was wash first or pen?


Hanford house, pen and wash

This is Hanford house, here the drawing is done in pencil then most of the wash work laid in. The pen was then added. The advantage of this is that the pen work is only added where it is needed so I stuck to line with little or no hatching. A few bits of final watercolour darkening caused the red in the ink to run which I quite like.


Wells, somerset, pen and wash

Another one, this time of Wells, where the wash went in first. Less successful here I feel. I have overdone the pen work and the line is too heavy on the cathedral itself. I am unconvinced by the wash first method now. I think some pen at least has to go in before.


Kimmeridge, Dorset, pen and wash

This recent drawing of Kimmeridge is much more like what I am aiming for. This is pen then wash with most of the colour coming from the line itself. A few areas of pen were restated but I like the balance of hatching and washes. I left far wider gaps between lines than I would normally do so as to leave paper for the wash to show. A very quick way of working about 40min whereas a pen drawing could take double that.


Milton Abbey, pen and wash, Dorset

This is Milton Abbas in Dorset. I wanted to try using waterproof ink and go for a subtler atmospheric feel. I used hatching much in the way I would when producing a tonal pen drawing with no outlines but just dropped the line density to accept the wash.


Hambledon Hill, Dorset, pen and wash, drawing

This is from an afternoon expedition to sketch on Hambledon Hill. I am frustrated that these fantastic vistas I have on my doorstep are so difficult to make into paintings. You get the same with photos, when you take a picture of an amazing panorama from one of those official viewpoints. Somehow the results always disappoint, even though the scene itself when you were there was amazing. On this one I did the watercolouring first. I laid in all the shadows in a blue which decided the structure and lighting. Next I defined and toned with a pen loaded with grey ink. That was then overlaid with some more watercolour to unify the masses, finally I strengthened with a black pen.


Hambledon Hill, Dorset, pen and wash, plein air, drawing

I set about this one with a bit more urgency as the weather was looking threatening. Hambledon Hill has lots of intimate subjects as well as the huge vistas. Once again I did the watercolour part first then, as it looked as if I was in for a soaking, I set about it with a reed pen dipping directly into the ink bottle. The rain shower conveniently deluged Shroton in the valley to my left rather than me so I then added black fountain pen to define the masses and lighting better. A4 Pen and Wash.


Hambledon Hill, Dorset, pen and wash, drawing

I then headed home only to spot another squall approaching from the other side. As I was definitely not going to make it home or even off the hill before it broke I set about trying to bash in an impression of the rain arriving. I used the reed pen again but with my red brown ink this time . I drew very broadly the basic forms and started to lay in tone with watercolour before the ink was dry so as to wash lots of colour out of the ink. I then skipped back and forth between wash and pen until it felt done. To my astonishment it once again rained in the valley rather than the hill so I even got home dry! A4 pen and wash.

I have enjoyed my foray into pen and wash so far and I think it has done me good. I was getting a little too comfortable with the pen and white highlight on the blue paper so it is good to ring the changes.

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