Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

November 28, 2016

Rules and Regulations

Filed under: Drawing,Life Drawing,Uncategorized,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 12:10 pm

A friend recently commented after seeing a recent show that I place things in the centre of the picture too much. This of course produced an intense wave of paranoia and I went home and nervously checked my paintings! It was with some relief I found that though some did, largely they were free of this cardinal sin. However it did get me to thinking I should write something on the subject. So when considering how to tackle this post I thought I would check on paintings by the greats and see how they manoeuvred around this fearsome “Bermuda Triangle” zone that every canvas inevitably has. I thought I could post some paintings with those criss-crossy lines that art historians draw on paintings to explain the compositional ins and outs of cunning composition. This would have the added advantage of making me look more erudite than a well known epoxy glue as an added bonus.

Well there won’t be any clever diagrams… the giants of painting appear in fact to be very fond of the middle ground. I found so many examples of blatant centre invasion that I had to take a step back and consider the whole thing from scratch. Why do we landscape painters advise each other to be careful not the divide the canvas with the horizon halfway? I have done so to other painters myself, in my best irritatingly patronising manner, quite a few times. In the spirit of due diligence for this post I looked at Constable and Turner, both considered pretty nifty in the landscape department. I have to say I was taken aback, Constable loved the halfway horizon, Turner less so but plenty of examples there too.

By now I was in rat smelling mode. Who had told me of the prohibition? How had I come across the idea that the middle ground was toxic? Riffling through my old “how to paint a masterpiece in ten minutes with no boring learning hard stuff” books, I found they were very fond of raising the dread of the centre. They also were really enamoured of “the rule of thirds”. Back to the masterpieces of yore and it didn’t take long to realise that none of them gave a rat’s fundament to the idea of thirds. In looking I found a fair few criss-cross diagrams by officially clever people. I then took the same painting and did different criss-crossies… rather confusingly my amateur ones seemed to line up just as well as the professional ones! Its rather like ley lines it seems a telling property of ancient sites, but then it was found that similar lines could be drawn through the locations of telephone boxes! Things do line up but the fact isn’t necessarily significant

Another that cropped up frequently was the “Golden Mean” or phi. I had had a previous encounter with this so called magical proportion. Many years ago I had been asked to make a computer 3d model of a Nautilus shell whose spiral is the poster boy for the spiral produced by the golden section. It was to illustrate a TV program on the subject. There was to be a little animation of the spiral flying over and mapping to the shell. However on getting lots of photo ref of the beasty I found the spirals were entirely different! On talking to the producer and he suggested I cheat the shell to fit… I declined to cheat and I never heard more. Baffled I researched the whole thing further and found that the whole damn thing was myth. Irritatingly it was one I was rather fond of and had naively bought into.

I won’t go into it too much but the prime examples just don’t fly. The parthenon does it fit? Well no only with a bit of a stretch, the great pyramid well not quite the angle is a bit off. Both these cultures were superb geometers and would I reckon have got it bang on. Euclid hardly mentions it for heavens sake, if it was so important surely he would have given it more than a line. It does exist in Islamic culture, but they are very keen on Pentagons which is where phi originates. Other cultures, Chinese, Aztec etc never seem to have noticed this all conquering principle. I then found anguished articles by famous mathematicians debunking the whole thing and then getting cross that everyone went on believing the story anyhow! A fate due to be meted out to me over this peroration I feel sure.

Where do these rules come from? The rule of thirds it would seem puts in its first appearance in a book by John Thomas Smith in 1797 called “Remarks on Rural Scenery”.

I quote:

“Rule of thirds”, (if I may be allowed so to call it)…, in a design of landscape, to determine the sky at about two-thirds ; or else at about one-third, so that the material objects might occupy the other two : Again, two thirds of one element, (as of water) to one third of another element (as of land); and then both together to make but one third of the picture, of which the two other thirds should go for the sky and aerial perspectives.”

The person keen on banning “equal division” in a  composition seems to be Joshua Reynolds. Bafflingly he seems to have ignored it for the most part when painting his own pictures!

You will not be surprised to find that the thirds scenario is also somewhat absent in most  well known artist’s paintings… It is easy of course to find things on the thirds or the middles, there after all has to be something there… or not there as the case may be!

So why are we so keen on these so called rules? Well firstly they are easy to remember, and even easier to trot out, as I have not infrequently done myself. Beneath that I think we have a built in yearning for order and underlying meaning to make sense of this confusing world. We love binary choices, this is bad that is good, this black that is white. It allows us to feel we have a handle on this confusing and infinitely gradated existence we share. One thing I became convinced of in researching this trope is that such things only bother artists. Other viewers don’t notice and I what is more I suspect artists only notice because these dodgy rules have crept in to their beliefs without proper examination!

 

After that it is safer to post an update on life drawing, you can all amuse yourselves looking for golden means and thirds!

 

life drawing, figure

This was a great day where we spent all day working from the model. A real luxury when you are used to life sessions.

life drawing, figure

I find it easier to severely limit the palette on life sketches, it is amazing how the eye fills in the colours that it expects.

 

life drawing, figure drawing

Just two colours here 10 mins I think. Most short poses go into the bin but when by luck they work they are some of my favourite things.

life drawing, figure drawing

I have been trying to do just bits of the figure now and again, I do rather try a little too much to get the whole lot in which doesn’t really matter.

figure drawing, life drawing

One thing I do notice looking through drawings where I have used watercolour is that the ones done with a flat sable work better that those with a round. This probably means I need to do more with the round brush alas!

life drawing, figure drawing

I like to change media, each time you return to a particular medium you seem to see slightly more afresh.

life drawing, figure drawing

Two pastels on a toned paper are almost too seductive in the way you can get a quick précis of the pose and light.

figure drawing, life drawing

Going wild here a whole three pastels! I loved the perspective on this pose. When faced with this sort of problem it is very easy to get the distant body parts too large. It is one of the occasions when I check proportions carefully. Another good trick is to draw the shapes that aren’t body as we have fewer expectations of them.

life drawing, figure drawing

I was only when looking at this one I remembered I had intended to do a few sessions where I just did line. This pose seemed to call for a more definite edge, I must do some just with line as it always does good to reduce your options.

life drawing, figure drawing

Back to the white paper and charcoal pencil. I think my favourite weapon of choice, again for its simplicity.

life drawing, figure drawing

The medium is so good for the quick poses, you can do lines an block in tones very swiftly. I alternate between doing the tones first and then adding lines and visa versa.

life drawing

Usually I like the results of the long poses the least in a session but I was pleased with this one. It is unintuitive but a good idea to allow your toning to cross right over the figures bounds. This sets the figure in space and gives a lost and found unity.

figure drawing, life drawing

Last one and that is the life drawing caught up with. These are always the least popular of my posts but probably my own favourites!

January 10, 2016

The Educated Eye

Modern classical music does not generate large sales or indeed in the grander scheme of things many listeners. That said musicians often find it interesting and challenging to play. Why is this? The question was brought to mind by some very beautiful pen drawings I saw recently, (I won’t post them as I would not wish to offend the artist) the drawings in question were fantastically detailed and beautifully drawn. I admired the way various parts had been rendered with very fine strokes. I then leafed through a few more which were much the same all of which showed a staggering degree of concentration. However after the marvelling at the application and patience I quite quickly ran out of things to admire. Every part was complete and defined, there were no bits unresolved.

The next thought to strike me was to remember how when younger I used to enjoy doing much the same sort of thing. I used to do fine stipple work and hatched drawings for magazine illustrations, not as manically detailed as the drawings referred to above but still a lot of very fine work. I can well remember working on them. Stipple is built up in many layers of dots, thousands upon thousands of them in one drawing. Areas were conquered centimetre by centimetre, hour by hour. The activity is quite straightforward and almost meditative, I well remember being actually quite thrilled at the idea of taking on something really laborious.

The two thoughts are connected I think. We all admire something that has an obviously huge amount of labour. Both Musicians and Artists like the idea of taking on a technical challenge. I have noticed over the years that painters like pictures for quite different reasons to most casual viewers. Painters will admire brushwork, drawing or a particularly nifty composition. They will often ignore subject. I’m sure that trained musicians hear fascinating technical complexities in a Birtwhistle composition rather then the tuneless random sounds that I hear.

This brings me to the main thought of this post. Experts and collectors in any field will develop an ever more sophisticated appreciation of their subject. So wine experts will gurgle and spit and mutter unlikely metaphors for what they are experiencing. However I have read that blind tasting has shown that a substantial part of their refined appreciation is in their imagination rather in the taste of the plonk. It is I suspect the same with art experts, their reactions to any piece are a complex mix of previous experience, historical perspective, desire to be seen to be liking the right stuff etc. The actual visual experience is I think way down the pecking order as the source of the reactions provoked. In a way their experience has become jaded. This happens all the time in life, of the first 200 books you read in your life many will blow you away, but once you reading tally becomes nearer to 10,000 then you are harder to please.

So how to deal with this as a painter? Do I want to paint for my peers and connoisseurs? Well yes I would like to please them, but not I feel at the expense of excluding people with less refined (or maybe less jaded) sensibilities. Also you need to try and see your work without the refined appreciation of technique that having learnt to carry out the tricky business of painting has inevitably developed. The technical stuff, both conceptual and practical, should be there but never overwhelm.

Over the years of having people visit me I have noticed that there are “picture people” who look at every picture in the room and others to whom they are apparently invisible. There is no guessing who will be interested, some artists seem to not notice pictures at all yet my window cleaner, a man with little or no education, used to examine each one carefully. I asked him if he often went to galleries to look at pictures, but he said no he didn’t feel comfortable going in he didn’t feel they were of him. I wondered how many others feel the same. Junk shops are welcoming but picture galleries are somehow unwelcoming. I even feel it myself and the aloof staff of many galleries make you feel you should not linger unless you are going to buy.

A mixed rag bag of work this time, I have been very busy with all the seasonal diversions that my posting has got behind!

I have decided to learn how to do Lino cuts… I didn’t fancy all the acid and so forth for etching and really pen drawing fills that creative slot for me. It is the limitations of the medium that attracts.

Hambledon, Dorset, lino cut, print

So here is my first attempt. The top one is as it comes out and the lower hand tinted. I was pleasantly surprised at how quick the process was. This is Hambledon Hill yet again.

 

Lino cut, print, figure, nude

For my second attempt I went for something different. I have yet to develop a set of patterns to suggest various forms, here I am experimenting with a vertical flow. The previous one I did in old fashion lino. This one I did in Easycut. I have to say that the “easy” is a misnomer, it is actually I found more difficult. Being very rubbery lines close together tend to waver and each little curl of the offcuts has to be picked off. The softness also makes over cutting and getting width variations in one stroke distinctly harder. Ink wise the first one is in water based ink which has disadvantages also. It dries on the glass rolling out plate so you have to work fairly quickly. Also it is not really waterproof when dry which makes washing with colour afterwards a delicate business. The figure is done in oil based which I found much nicer. Easier to burnish to get solid blacks and properly waterproof. The advantage of water based they say is cleaning up, but I actually found the oil based easier to clean as well. The lesson seems to be that if anyone advertises a product as easy then take the claim with a pinch of salt!

Fontmell Down, drawing, Dorset

Here is my plan for the next print of Fontmell Down Dorset. I will be using 2 plates so planning is important! Not sure if this is quite there yet.

 

Romsey, Abbey, church, drawing, hampshire, pen and ink

A bit of three point perspective of the wonderful Romsey Abbey in Hampshire. I got very into drawing this out! Acute views like this are all about compromises, I should probably do a studio version as some bits are a little awry.

 

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, landscape, drawing

This is the path to Hambledon hill fort. I am experimenting with colour mixed with the pen and ink. One great advantage of dull light is that you have plenty of time  to work on site so I got most of this done bar the foreground. With pen and wash I try to do most of the washes first otherwise the pen work softens too much. Where I want the pen work softer I can of course add another layer of washes on top, which is what happened here. The misty distance has a glaze of white over to give atmosphere.

 

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, drawing, pen and ink

Bit of a strange one. A very grey day on Hambledon Hill. I had been stuck indoors due to the monsoon and was desperate to do something but the light was terribly dull and I couldn’t settle. In the end I did this but probably shouldn’t have bothered! The lady on a white horse looked great though and I could not resist trying to put her in.

 

Shepherd Market, London, brass Monkeys, drawing

A visit to London, this is Shepherd Market. I love the rain in London and the way it brings the light down into the street. I intended to add pen but it didn’t need it in the end.

 

Curzon St, London, pen and ink, drawing

I had to have two goes at this as the first session got rained off. This is Curzon St. I love picking apart these city scenes. When you first look it all seems too much but once you are started the really important bits soon take over.

 

Piccadilly, London, drawing, street, urban

I nearly didn’t do this one of Piccadilly but having taken a snap on my phone I thought it looked interesting. It is easy to get put off by a busy scene like this, it can seem a bit overwhelming. Actually this was quite quick to do as it is just 3 washes with detail picked out on top. So after drawing the dark righthand side and the street went in in one wash. Next came the lighter lefthand buildings and finally the pavement tone. After that I drew in the darks and dark detail in with a brush. Then just the highlights and touches of colour to finish. People often ask me how I get the cars to look right, well there is no secret, just practice them draw them over and over until the basic shapes are in your memory. Once you have the ability to draw a generic car without one being present then customising them for an individual scene is much easier. Also lighting can be picked off any car as it goes by. If you wait another will be along in a second! That said the white car I partially cribbed from a snap on my phone as it was key to the whole picture. I was done in about 40min.

 

A3, Wandsworth, Pen and ink, drawing

Wonderful light and rain as I was driving home to Dorset. This is Holy Trinity West Hill Wandsworth. No I didn’t sit in the road drawing! I took a snap when stuck in traffic not really thinking of doing anything from it, but when I looked at my photos it rather took my fancy. A lot of imagination here as the phone snap was very blurry through the windscreen!

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