Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

May 11, 2018

Accidents.

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 16, 2018

Venice

Venice. Like all artists I went there knowing it already. I wondered what I would make of it and if I could add anything worthwhile to the morass of artwork that takes it as a subject. Would I find the “real” Venice? The answer of course is no. There is no real Venice, Venice is a fantasy. Venice is a theme park and all the life that goes on there is devoted to the commercial maintenance and operation of the dream.

Venice is a city wide tourist trap, a veritable sea girt Alcatraz for visitors to do their time in. A Venice street goes: mask shop, fake Murano glass shop, taverna, mask shop, restaurant, mask shop, fake Murano glass shop etc ad infinitum. After Napoleon conquered the city it slowly died until finally we are left crawling over it like flies admiring its beautiful corpse.

There are legions of immigrant workers slaving in its kitchens reheating dishes shipped in each day from the factory kitchens on the mainland. In China they labour to make the masks, glass, paintings and other tourist trash. There is an imaginary transport system that never takes anyone anywhere but on circular tours… no one brings their shopping home by gondola!

If I had been by myself I would have quickly done the rounds and been out of there pronto. Fortunately I was there with other artists and their company made all of the difference. The plethora of mask shops could be laughed at and the madness admired. I could rise early immerse myself in painting and join in with the fantasy.

So how is Venice as a subject for an artist to paint? Firstly there are subjects everywhere, if you came across any of them in a town in the UK you would set up your easel in a flash and set to. In Venice though every aspect and all directions are paintable. As Einstein said, everything is relative. You almost immediately start to rank the possible scenes and try vainly pick out the best of the best. Venice is also all very similar, endless repetitions and rearrangements of the same few ingredients.

Anyone who looks at my work will know my fondness for architecture and old buildings in general. In theory Venice is a cornucopia of perfect Rob Adams subjects, gothic palaces, mad baroque churches, cool classical facades and rustic mouldering buildings, roofs crowned snaggle toothed by random chimneys. Mostly though I painted legs. Visually the buildings reach down from the sky and are carried on the backs of the dark serried ranks of the innumerable visitors who obscure the join of buildings to street.

I am told that it was quite empty by Venice’s standards, I shudder at how in must be in high season. On the other hand I love watching people and enjoy seeing how they group, linger and go about their day. I enjoyed the contrast between drifting tourists and workers on missions trying to weave between them. Oddly I did not really notice the absence of cars. I did warm to the place after a while, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with it just being a playground. The place reminded me of a computer game where you wander a city built by a long dead civilisation looking for clues and prizes while avoiding the ghouls hidden in dark passages.

So to the paintings, I will try and do them in the order they were painted.

 

Venice, Rialto, market, oils, plein air

Up early on the first day and off to the Rialto fish market. I was sharing the apartment with Ian Layton who is an old Venice hand who knew all the best spots! Quite a tricky subject, the light burning in from the outside is what struck me so I tried to paint that. I can see now that the effect needed to be exaggerated more with the interior darker and the outside almost completely burnt out. 12in by 7.5 in oils.

Venice, Rialto, plein air, oil painting

On the way back from the Rialto we were taken by this scene where the sun was slowly coming across on to our side of the Grand Canal. I had primed my boards a sort of Venetian red which mostly just right, but I should have done a few a more ochre colour. Like so much of Venice the fringe of people ran in a strip all the way across. I quite liked the more determined folk leaving the vaporetto on the right contrasting with the moochers on the left. 15in by 7.5in Oils.

Venice, plein air, oil painting

Here is a very trad early morning Venice view. We were all painting away in a line getting spots on our retinas! Once the key was decided and the tones established a straight forward subject to paint. The main pitfall people tumble into is getting everything initially too light. If the painting is too high a key is is impossible to describe the sparkle on the water unless you have neon paint! 12in by 7.5in Oils.

Gate to the Arsenal, Venice, pen and Ink

In the afternoon I went to the Arsenal, no not to watch the football, the Arsenal in Venice was the manufacturing powerhouse that maintained its naval dominance of the Mediterranean. In celebration of this they gave it grand gates flanked by comedy lions. Like so much of Venice it is hard to get exactly the vantage point you would like without falling into a canal and getting wet. I should have done more drawing, the only reason I might return to Venice is to concentrate on the wonderful architecture. Pen and Ink.

Venice, mist, plein air, oil painting

Mist! We got up early and the sea mist had come in transforming the city. I was focused on the painting I imagined I would do after this one as the sun burnt through. A mistake as I abandoned this one early and it was better than the subject I was eagerly anticipating. Still I had more than enough down and only had to finesse the figures and drag pale blue over the distance to finish. Once again control of tone was the key. 12in by 7.5in Oils.

Venice, Plein air, oil painting

This is what appeared out of thew mist! I should have been in a different place about a mile away but I just had to set to and paint what I had in front of me. I never quite finished as the light moved on so rapidly. This one is no more as I painted a different one on top due to running out of boards! 12in by 7.5in Oils.

Venice, pen and ink, drawing

I drew this as I waited for my expensive and badly cooked supper in a restaurant. As it turned out the passing mosquitos had a better meal than I did for no charge at all… Pen and Ink.

Venice, canal, plein air, oil painting

My first canal painting. There are endless versions of the narrow canal with the thin vertical strip of light and reflection, but this was more open and attractive as a subject. I placed the bright vertical strip of the canal edge first as I felt it was the key to the composition. In the bright light I found myself quite frequently putting in all the lights first allowing the prime colour to stand in initially for the buildings etc. I found myself using a lot of black in the mixes as it seemed just right for the character of the greys the city is steeped in. 12in by 7.5in Oils.

St Marks square, Venice, cathedral, plein air, oil painting

Later that day I painted in that famous stage set St Marks Square. The afternoon light was flat on the facades reducing them to cutouts. I was sitting on the arcade steps and painted hand held. I was lucky not to get moved on by the gestapo who strut about the square. I tried not to get too involved in the architecture as getting the tones right was the challenge. In the event I had to very slightly lighten the cathedral later in order for the whole thing to gel. 16in by 7.5in Oils.

Venice, pen and ink, drawing

I decided the next day was a wandering about drawing and watercolour day. This is the Campo San Rocco… how could I resist the light slanting across this mad baroque confection. The school to the left is just as barmy but only plays a supporting role here. These wonderful buildings seem to almost never appear in paintings done by recent visitors. I suspect people find them just too much to take on. In actuality they are just divided rectangles, the complexity is not structural but an overlay on a simple grid. The trick is to firmly establish the underlying grid within which the decorative elements sit. Once that is done the mad stone salad of detail can be suggested rather than over defined. Pen and Ink.

Venice, watercolour, plein air

My first watercolour of the trip. Though the stalls are full of the worst tourist tat they make good compositional punctuation marks. Watercolour easily captures the luminous quality of the light. 7in by 5in Watercolour.

Campo Formosa, Venice, plein air, oil painting

This is an early morning Campo Formosa, the light was a real challenge and I nearly abandoned it. As so often I found in Venice the people are the key to a satisfying composition. In each painting I found myself more and more considering the makeup and grouping of the figures. 12in by 10 in Oils.

Campo San Giovanni, Venice, plein air, oil painting

Next Campo! This is St Giovanni, one of the most interesting to paint. Odd how the old Venetians were not in the slightest bit embarrassed about putting up huge statues of themselves. Getting the horse in the right relationship to the rest and not over detailing were the biggest challenges here. Once again many of the greys were made using black. 12in by 10in oils.

Gondola repair, Venice canal, plein air, oil painting

Another day another canal. Here is where they service the gondolas. In my jaundiced opinion they look better upside down! The thrown together industrial sheds make an interesting contrast with the grand edifices behind. Not far from here the mask shops dry up and the grass grows between the stones. There are run down tenements and washing hung between the buildings. This is where some of the workers live, though it is only the briefest fringe before the industrial port. 12in by 7.5in Oils.

Campo Santo Stephano, Venice, pen and ink, drawing

On the way back to the apartment I saw there two girls hanging out and doing phone stuff. They are students in the college on Campo Santo Stephano, a little glimpse of ordinary existence. Pen and Ink.

St marks Square, Venice, plein air, oil painting, nocturne

After supper it was nocturne time in St Marks. The wet paving made it a great subject. I rubbed violet blue over my board before leaving base which made a great ground, indeed most of the paving is just the resulting prime colour. Very quick hardly more than 20 min. 12in by 7.5in Oils.

Rialto Market, pen and ink, Venice, drawing

Another day where I just took my drawing stuff and travelled light. We all met at the Rialto fish market in the morning.  It is very nice to have other painters about to chat and laugh with. I found myself a little corner to sit and draw out of the way. The light was moving very fast so the first thing after setting out the drawing was to get in the paving, shadows and key figures. I also painted in the white first rather than at the end as I usually do. This was a real help in getting the darks the right value. Pen and Ink.

St Stae, Venice, pen and ink. drawing

Deep breath before I started this one of St Stae. I am sitting as far away from the building as possible without tumbling into the Grand Canal… but still too close for comfort. To get what I wanted in I used spherical perspective so that few of the perspective lines vertical or horizontal are straight. This sort of construction is very tricky to do en plein air especially as I don’t like it if the distortion is too obvious. I spent quite a lot of time getting the facade laid out, deciding what should be warped and what kept straight. A very satisfying puzzle though and I enjoyed trying to suggest the bonkers architecture. Pen and Ink.

Santa Maria del Giglio, Venice, plein air, oil painting

Santa Maria del Giglio and rain at last! I had been dying to paint the wet streets. Also it sweeps many of the visitors away and those that are there are rushing to avoid the wet. I was in a discrete dead end corner so I could paint away at my leisure. A bit of a relief as most of the paintings so far had been a bit of a rush to catch the light. 12in by 7.5in Oils.

La Salute, St Marks, Venice, plein air, oil painting

Later I went to St Marks to look across to La Salute. I was hoping for more rain, when it came it was very brief so I got brollies but not the wet paving. I was forced to make the reflections up at the apartment after. Some of this was painted hand held as the gestapo made me fold up and put away my tripod. The highest leg count so far I think. 16in by 7.5in Oils

St Giovanni, Venice, watercolour, plein air

Last one of the trip! This is Campo Santo Giovanni again. I loved the angled shadow but it moved very rapidly. Had to be watercolour as my oil boards had run out! I then proceeded to do another that went completely pear shaped and had to be torn up… 5in by 5in Watercolour.

So there is my Venice. I might return to draw some of the buildings and I am glad I went and saw it all in the excellent company of my fellow daubers. Venice itself I found sad and defaced by the lazy, cynical, rapacious hand of greedy tourism. The mask and trinket vendors have done far more to besmirch this beautiful relic than any of the many graffiti artists have.

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