Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

July 26, 2017

In Praise of Failing

Filed under: Dorset,Drawing,Painting,Portraits,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 11:10 am

Failing. We all do it. Even the painters you admire do it. Even the old masters and new masters and current masters do it. We don’t talk about it much though. Most artists tend to edit their published output to remove the abject stinkers, the dubious dullards and the truly dismal daubs. Maybe they hope you might think they don’t ever do them. Mostly though, I suppose, it is just normal and natural to attempt to show yourself in as good a light as possible. Of course it all falls apart when you accidentally post a stinker in a moment of post painting delusion. Next day you look to your triumph on Arsebook and realise you have let loose a turkey on the world rather then a triumph… Fortunately social media quickly banishes anything that is embarrassingly bad to the oblivion of, “far too far in the past to scroll down to.”

I think you should welcome failure though. Without well and truly tanking you wouldn’t fully appreciate the times you get it right or half right. If your work was really one success after another it would soon get so dull that getting out of bed in the first place would be to dreary to contemplate. Failure feeds the hunger to succeed. Without that spicy scent of all too possible self humiliation it is hardly worth putting brush to board!

Most painting pundits, including me, harp on about practice and honing your skill until the readers yawn. What you should be developing and honing is of course your mindless optimism that the upcoming session of paint splish-splashery will produce at least a masterbit, if not a full on masterpiece. Without that delusional belief that the dam will break, the run of stinkers will end and the worm will finally turn up trumps we would never start in the first place.

Every successful painting though is build upon the sturdy groundwork of the previous compositional crud, tonal tragedies and colour cataclysms that stud out one’s career. To do one decent painting you must paint a shedload (or attic full in my case) of mediocrity and worse… as I say to people who hear me play the flute, “It’s taken a lot of practice to get this bad…”

Something to work on in the failing arena is coming back for more. If something ends in humiliating defeat then pick yourself up (after a good old wail and curse) and go at it again. You will be amazed by how often you can trump a tragedy with a triumph. Many duff paintings after all are duff because you got over-confident and slipshod. There is nothing like a train wreck  to make you concentrate properly. I should really document all my own, not only missed the bull but didn’t even hit the board, moments but I tend to wipe them off if in oils or tear them up if in watercolour. I am not going to stop doing that however as the act is extremely cathartic and helps me start another one immediately!

So when the elegant swan you were hoping for turns into a dead ugly duckling don’t despair. Think of the Phoenix rising from the ashes and how much sweeter the triumph of a half decent daub will feel if it is well garnished with epic fails. Whatever you do though don’t deny your failures or that may well hold back progress. Perhaps don’t admit them to all and sundry, but even if you keep them secret from others admit them to yourself. Art is after all being honest with yourself whilst lying to others.

Tricky to know what to post after that… was vaguely tempted to post a spread of missed marks, but I will just do my usual mix of hits and misses.

portrait, oil painting

A rare chance to do a portrait sketch. Only an hours worth but great fun and so, so difficult. I think to do a really good portrait it takes several sessions with the painting going through several “ugly” phases. Likenesses are so hit and miss that you just have to take the risk of destroying something that is just OK to try and get something that really catches the person. Oils A4 ish.

Rawlesbury Camp, Dorset, Plein air, oil painting

This an example of coming back for more after a failure. The previous picture was beyond bad and I wiped it off. The light was rapidly going so immediately I turned and did this. Not anything that will ever go in a frame but at least something that captures a fraction of how the place felt. So you go home feeling the effort was worth it. Oils 10in by 7in.

Milton Abbey, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

A wet day at the Milton Abbey. An exercise in trying to hint at the architecture rather than over explain it. I sometimes like to revel in the mad complexity of buildings but here the main thing was the mood of the day so I tried to throttle back the detail in the buildings. 16in by 10in Oils.

Okeford Hill, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

The rain really set in after doing the Abbey and I got soaked doing this on the way home. Because I was keeping my umbrella over my painting the rain ran down my neck and all the way down to my socks… This is the view down towards Okeford Fitzpaine from Okeford hill and a view I have had my eye on for a while. In clear weather there is a tremendous panorama across the Blackmore Vale which is wonderful but somehow too much. With the rain and the murk obscuring things it looked much more paintable. 12in by 10in Oils.

Weymouth, Harbour, boats, plein air, oil painting

A day out painting in Weymouth. I couldn’t resist doing a widish view though I would have probably been better finding a more intimate corner. This nearly got wiped off as it looked sort of dull and dreary. Once home though I could see I had the sky a couple of notches too dark in tone. As soon as I changed that the whole mood of the picture was transformed. I will overglaze the land and buildings once it is dry which will improve it further I hope. 14in by 10in, Oils.

Weymouth, beach, plein air, oil painting

Off to the beach next. I love the old fashioned seaside feel of Weymouth especially on a sunny day when the beach was thronged. I loved the silhouette of the buildings so painted up the beach rather than down. Odd that you assume the sea is there even though it is out of sight! Quite a tricky subject and I had to move the figures about as I didn’t want any of them to specifically draw too much attention. 10in by 11in Oils.

Weymouth, beach, sea, plein air, oil painting

Last one from Weymouth. As I was walking down the beach a cloud shadowed the distant hills and the foreground beach leaving a slash of light across the middle. I sat down to paint in the hope of it happening again. With that in mind I toshed in the foreground with a shadowy tone ready for the right moment… which never came! So I had to do the foreground at home later. Fortunately I had a couple of snaps of the light effect from earlier that gave me a rough idea. 16in by 10in Oils.

Portland Bill, lighthouse, Dorset, drawing

I drawing from a while ago. I did this as a sketch for an oil painting of Portland Bill but got a bit carried away. A4 pen and body colour.

Weymouth, pen and ink, drawingSticking to the Weymouth theme another drawing done on a previous visit I forgot to post. I have this new grey toned pad from Strathmore which I quite like as it is a tad darker than the Turner Blue paper I usually use. The downside is that it is not as tough and you have to be a bit careful not to tear the surface with the pen. Also it doesn’t take washes very well so the white has to be hatched in. A4 Pen and Ink with white.

June 5, 2017

Innocent X by Velasquez

Filed under: Art History,Italy,Painting,Portraits,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 1:43 pm

I intend to do a series of posts on paintings that knocked my socks off and thereby influenced me. Some famous others less so. I start with a famous one…

A decade or so ago I had a job painting a ceiling in Rome… no not that one, the ceiling of the Hard Rock Cafe which I had to cover in flying rock stars reimagined as cherubs. Working in Italy was great fun, the builders after initially being a little suspicious called me “Maestro” and brought me lovely coffees and treats. So I spent several weeks lying on on my back up on a scaffold tower being wheeled about by my long suffering helper Paul. In Italy work starts early but finishes at 4pm which gave me ample free time to float about Rome painting and looking at all the wonders.

One of those visits was to the Palazzo Doria Pamphili. I am embarrassed now by my ignorance, but I had not heard of it. I had just visited the Pantheon which was bombed out by hoards of tourists and was wandering home when I saw the sign and the entrance. It had that grand palazzo thing where you ascend a stone staircase to the piano nobile. To my surprise I was one of only a few visitors so could wonder around in peace. The place is absolutely stuffed full of paintings and every square inch frescoed and tromped. There are a many wonderful pictures, but I was after several rooms astounded by how much really bad painting had been done over the centuries! On average the decorative painting was better than the stuff in frames.

So I wasn’t prepared when I entered a fairly small room and there it was. I had no idea that the picture was there so it hit me right between the eyes. To say the painting had presence was an understatement. I nearly said, “Whoops, excuse me!” And tiptoed out again.

The picture of course is Velesquez’s great painting of Innocent X.

Velasquez, portrait, Rome, painting

A few details, painted about 1650 and 141in by 119in. The Pope was apparently suspicious of painters in general and Velasquez in particular and reluctant to be painted. He got Velasquez to paint his barber first to check him out. I suspect he was mainly concerned how any picture might reflect on his perception by others. In the event the picture was kept private by the subject in his own lifetime. There are two other versions that are probably studies. We don’t know but presumably these were done from life. There is an amazing consistency between all three in the likeness. Here are the other two:

Velasquez, Innocent X, portrait

This one is just a head study and is in the Washington Met.

Velasquez, Pope, Innocent X, painting, portrait

This is a head and shoulders and is in Apsley House in London

Though the studies are wonderful they don’t have quite the impact of the Rome picture. This is perhaps because of Velasquez brilliant structuring of the larger picture. Side to side the figure only just fits, indeed the paper held by the Pontif which holds the artist’s signature is cropped by the frame. The gilt work frame of the chair is broken by the Innocent’s head which both places the head in 3d space and anchors it in two dimensions. The background is an indeterminate russet then the chair fabric is a tad redder and then finally the Pope’s vestments a brighter red still. This progression pushes the figure towards us. All three reds are much the same in general hue which in turn gives harmony and subtlety.

The white of the rest of the vestments is where I feel Velasquez has had to work hard, I suspect they got painted and repainted a fair few times. The brief crisp shadow of the red papal fanon on the white makes the pope’s upper torso appear the float. The clever shadow of the right hand and the arm of the chair fixes the casually posed hand in space. There is the merest hint of lace to suggest opulence but not excess.

The hands describe a man who is relaxed. We cannot somehow imagine them fidgeting. They rest imperturbably on the fore-square arms of the gilded but rather severely formed chair.

Velasquez, Innocent X, Pope, Portrait

So to the head. Innocent was a lawyer and had been a representative abroad to both France and Spain for previous pontiffs. Here is a face that has seen much and would be hard to surprise. Worldly, he had a mistress, but not prone to any excesses although occasionally cruel and capricious he was a politician through and through.  He was not I suspect much of an art fan. Although Bernini was closely associated with Innocent’s enemies the Barberini he was left in charge of the works in St Peters and did a fine bust of Innocent. So although reportedly paranoid and suspicious, a calculating, worldly and pragmatic man. Velasquez catches this by having the head held forward little, not tense but wary. The eyes consider us with, if we can believe the mouth, a wry edge of amusement.

There is tremendous control of the edges. The hat is sharp and cuts across the forehead except as it approaches the ear where it is softened by hair. To the right of the brow there is a darkening of the gilt of the chair to pull the head forward. The line of the cheek is softened and wonderfully subtle. The shape of the chin is hidden by the Pope’s wispy beard. The collar cuts the neck sharply tone wise but the drawing indicates it is softly turned. The ear is strongly lit and describes the very slight turn of the head towards us. Velasquez has arranged it so the the eyes are turned further still which gives animation to the  square on pose of the body.

The features in themselves are ordinary, the fleshy nose the wispy beard, Velasquez has made no attempt to flatter. There is no real record of the Pope’s reaction to the painting, though rumour has it he commented, “It is all too true.” In any case the picture was hung in his family home where it still is today.

Finally a detail of the Washington study.

Velasquez, InnocentX, portrait, detail

Many layers of refinement are visible but the whole remains fresh. He decides what should be clear and what obscure what marks of making should appear and which blended.

For the sake of interest here is Bernini’s bust of Innocent.

Bernini, Innocent X, Sculpture, marble

He is given a more youthful air, Bernini hopes to flatter I suspect. This bust also stayed in the Palazzo and was not for public consumption.

Another by Alessandro Algardi who was Innocent’s favoured artist:

Alessandro Algardi, bust, sculpture, Innocent X, bronze

This image was I suspect more how Innocent preferred to imagine himself, more in the mode of an apostle weighed down by his office.

Algardi also got to do the official sculpture:

Alessandro Algardi, statue, Innocent X

Now this one was definitely for public consumption!

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