Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

July 7, 2014

The Loire and Normandy and Back inTown

Have been madly busy immediately on my return, slightly frustrating in that I feel I need to do some studio pictures of my trip whilst the memory of the places I have seen are still fresh. An odd thing to say about memories “fresh” like they were bread and if left out they might become stale. What happens I suspect is that your subconscious is working away filing all the experiences and producing a sort of précis of events for permanent recall. In order to do this it dumps all the fine detail!

I gave this a sort of test by looking at a recent photo of a church door in Amboise and then looking at another taken about 10 years ago of a similar subject. For the Amboise one I could recall the feel of the day, and also my own mood very early on a beautiful morning. I could feel again the ambience of a small town preparing for another day, shops taking deliveries, people going to work and the limpid beauty of the light.

For the other in Portugal I could only vaguely recall the day. I had no idea of whether it was morning or evening other only that it was at one end of the day or the other by the light. Also and more importantly no idea of my feelings towards the subject and what made me take the picture. It could have been a picture taken by a stranger.

It is an entirely different matter of course as to whether if I did a painting from each image whether one would have more resonance than the other. We like to think it would, but my calculating side tells me this is probably not so. We all like to feel that our emotions are transferred into the surface of our pictures but the truth is I fear that they are mostly not. You do not have to be sad to paint a sad picture or happy to paint an elysian vision.  I am often very motivated by the mood of an image. That does not however mean I am experiencing any particular emotional state as I paint the picture.

As I have written before it is all too easy to believe the exhortations to be “free” and “loose” when painting. I and others enjoy the impression of freedom and spur of the moment vivacity in a picture. I realise however that it does not mean it was necessarily actually done in a free and instinctive manner, it only means that the image has been made to convey that appearance. To quote Degas, “A picture is an artificial work, outside nature. It calls for as much cunning as the commission of a crime.” and also, “No art was ever less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and the study of the great masters. Of inspiration, spontaneity and temperament I know nothing.”

These are the opinions of a man who perhaps better than anyone else captured the momentary beauty of dancers. He is interesting about memory, “It is very well to copy what one sees; it’s much better to draw what one has retained in one’s memory. It is a transformation in which imagination collaborates with memory.”

I should maybe be more enthusiastic about re-visiting old reference photos for subjects. It irritates me a little when people say working from photos is just copying. If only it were so. Manipulating a photographic image into a decent painting is quite a hard thing to do. Both reality and recorded reality can be a straightjacket. I hit the same problems of what is before you restricting choice when painting plein air, if not more so. Actuality is so much more powerful than the same thing once removed in a photograph.

One thing I am pleased about my recent trip is that the oils are not abysmal as they were the year before. I very nearly didn’t take them at all but was persuaded to by friends. Maybe it is a good idea to give different media a rest now and again to refresh your interest.


Amboise, france, sketch

A very quick sketch done from a cafe whilst waiting for my meal. Amboise had no shortage of subjects from any position!


sketch, people

Some very quick sketches of people done on the ferry home. I tend to work on several at the same time as they move in and out of position.


Loire, france, oil painting, plein air, Amboise

It was with some trepidation I set out on my first oil. I chose something simple to warm up! Reflections in the Loire, 10in by 10in.


Amboise, chateaux, loire, river, france, oil painting

Next day I attempted something a little more difficult. The Chateaux from the other bank. It was so windy it broke the fitting that goes on to the tripod which I had to repair with a bit of wire I found by the water. For all that it is a magnificent edifice to see across the river I struggled to get a good composition from it. 10in by 14in.


France, amboise, trees, oil painting, plein air

Another very simple scene. This is just the other side of the river to the Chateaux. It was very lovely in the morning light. I tried this again later looking the other way but made a mess of it due to being sozzled from a wine tasting! 10in by 12in.


Amboise, plein air, oils, chateaux

Getting a bit more confident here. This is the main street in Amboise it looked fantastic against the light in the evening. 10in by 14in.


I got up a 6am to do this. It is very hard to go from unconscious to painting at an ungodly hour. I got most of this blocked in but the light changed so rapidly that I decided it was best to leave it. Had to finish up at home as I dared not work in the hotel room in oils for fear of paint on the carpets! Amboise, the round turret you see is nothing to do with defence, it houses a spiral horse ramp so the Count could ride up into the chateau with no need to dismount. Now that’s what I call luxury! 8in by 10in.


Amboise, france, chateau, oil painting

I moved straight on to this one. Again I was outflanked by the changing light but I got in the tower and the key bit of lighting and all the underlying tones. I this sort of situation you have to decide what is absolutely key to get down and what can be left. 10in by 10in. The fixing to the tripod gave up the ghost entirely so that was the end of oils for the rest of the trip. Still I am pleased with the results this time.


Dives sur mer, drawing, church

This is the Church at Dives sur Mer. This is the church from which Bill the Conquerer set out to England. I really wanted to draw the tree, the church is just a supporting character.


Honfleur, France, drawing

A little corner of Honfleur. Slightly scrappy due to two lagers being consumed to cool down…


Honfleur, pen and wash, france

Actually done before the previous drawing. Looking 180 degrees in the other direction. I love working with the pen and wash. Such a quick method of getting the subject down. That’s it for France. I still have a couple of very sketchy oils that I might yet complete.


leaden hall market, london, city, pen and wash

Back in London with the Brass Monkeys. This is Leadenhall Market. The market was closed but I loved the quiet mood. It would be hard to paint in here when the market is on. Pen and wash.


Leadenhall Market, London, city, pen and wash

The second from the Market. I am really enjoying the pen and wash.


That’s all for this post. I now have to get down to some studio work!

June 27, 2014

The Loire and Normandy

Filed under: Drawing,France,Painting,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 4:06 pm

It is the holiday season again! As usual I went on the annual Wapping Group holiday, this time to Amboise on the Loire in France. Literally a busman’s holiday as we go in a coach in a group of about 20 painters and their partners. The great joy of these expeditions is that the whole thing is focussed around painting… er… well and eating too I suppose. I always have great dificulty deciding which media to take. I was intending not to take oils but relented at the last moment. A new addition to the watercolours was the pen. I had decided to start adding wash as well so I took some Noodlers inks which have a pleasing balance of mostly permanent but a fair bit of ink will dissolve into the wash.

I set off on these trips with a high degree of anticipation which is of course immediately dashed as soon as you are sitting before the subject. I did manage to force myself to be quite experimental, varying the media depending on subject and time available. The watercolours rather suffered as I didn’t quite get into my stride with them due to drawing a lot. Watercolour is one of those mediums that requires you to be in the zone if you want to paint them en plein air, which tends only to happen when you paint a string of them one after another. That said I am pretty pleased with the variety of my output.

A great advantage of this sort of coach based holiday is that you have to paint where you are taken. It is all too easy when touring by car to spend most of the trip driving around looking for a subject rather than trying to catch the flavour of a single place. I had been to Amboise 40 years ago so I was intruiged to see if I remembered much about it. I’ll do the pictures in sequence as much as I can. There will be another post though as the oils I brought back were left deliberately unresolved, but more on that  in my next post.


St malo, France, Brittany, pen and ink, drawing

St Malo where the ferry docked is a fascinating walled town. Full of up market shops and restaurants. The day however was grey, which was not great as the place is built out of quite a dark grey granite! I settled in the end for quite a wide perspective done from the city walls. This allowed a grand view down into the square where most of the restaurants were. The hardest thing here was to decide how to let the drawing fade off to the edges. I decided in the end to make the whole thing revolve around the tree and the white building to the left of it. Objects that were  towards the edge can then be simply indicated just by outlines. It is odd that the eye finds this perfectly understandable and acceptable.


St malo, France, drawing

Our visit to St Malo was only a few hours so this was my last there. I only had 15min so I blocked the whole thing in with acrylic markers. I bough two mid greys to add to my white which gives quite a  good range when combined with the black pen work. I deliberately kept the whole thing bold and kept the line work quite calligraphic.


Amboise, France, Loire, watercolour

I painted a couple of oils in the early part of the first day in Amboise. They will feature in the next post though. After eating I went down to the Loire and did this in the last of the light. Quite hard to see either my painting or the palette but still it captures the feel of the evening. I was so smothered in anti mosquito spray that I was a chemical hazard to myself and the surrounding wildlife!


Amboise, France, watercolour

Next morning I settled down to paint this small 7in by 5in watercolour. I tried to keep the whole thing light and airy and not over define. Quite a difficult perspective as none of the buildings were parallel to either the arch of each other. People are so important in this sort of painting, the scene would be very dull without them. I did not however want to tale them to a stage where you could engage with them as individuals. I still find this sort of fine judgement very hard to achieve.


Chenonceau, per cher, drawing, pen and ink

This is Chenonceau. There is a very famous and beautiful chateau there, but I decided quixotically not to paint it. There have been a thousand drawings of the chateau and I had seen it before so I walked into the town and drew this. The light was dull when I started then grew sunny, but I decided to stick with the soft light. Pen and ink is very good at describing buildings without needing strong shadow. The trick is to vary the textures and weight of the hatching to indicate the differing surfaces and planes. I will do a tutorial on pen hatching in a week or so as it is a technique many do not get the most out of.


Montrichard, Le Cher, Pen and ink, drawing

Our next stop was Montrichard, a small town on the river Cher. It had once been a very important place controlling a river crossing, but now a bit of a backwater. After wandering around I settled to do this using sepia ink I had mixed myself from two shades of Noodlers ink. A young child from the house behind me watched for a bit then got her siblings, they in turn brought the parents to see and finally the grand parents arrived to watch me to a finish! How odd it is that drawing and painting breaks through people’s reserve and makes them engage you.


Amboise, Chateaux, France, Watercolour, painting.

The next day was very hot indeed and I was faced with subjects that didn’t allow me any shade! This is part of the Chateaux of Amboise, there is another view of it later in this post that explains how unusual the building is. I struggled a bit to catch the feeling of it, bright sunny days are far from my favourite especially in the middle of the day. Still I got some better composed views in photos so this will help with the final studio picture. The washes were drying instantly which was very difficult.


Amboise, Chateaux, loire, france, pen and ink, drawing

I had drawn this view of Amboise 40 years ago, so was keen to have another go. I was sitting on the roof of a tower and the heat was quite something. I decided from the start to use two colours of ink, something I haven’t done before. Quite pleased with the result. By the time I had finished I was baked to a turn!


Amboise, Chateaux, France, Pen and ink, drawing

Last of the day I settled in the relative cool to draw this. I could not get far enough away really so the perspective is rather extreme. Mixing the inks again but less obviously.


Amboise, Chateaux, loire, france, watercolour

This was a real struggle. I was a little too early really. It made a better picture  an hour later. I had to risk life and limb to get by the waterside and was perched very uncomfortably on some rocks in the water. Looking at the photos I don’t think there is a larger painting from this viewpoint, so this will remain a sketch.


Amboise, chateaux, church, watercolour, france

This is the little church I painted earlier. This time it is seen from street level. I could not resist doing this though due the narrowness of the street the perspective was extreme. I had to position my stool near a wall and lean back. The light was racing so I had my work cut out getting it all in.


St Ceneri Le Gerei

This is a small chapel at St Ceneri le Gerei. We were there at lunch time so the light was directly overhead. I would have loved to do the trees all wet into wet but the heat was so extreme the paint dried instantly. I settled for putting in the tones and then washing quickly with water so the redisolved. Not ideal but needs must.


Dives sur Mer, france, pen and wash

Our next stop was Dives sur Mer, from where Bill the Conquerer set off to give us a good kicking. Badly bombed in the war but still some lovely things to draw. I drew this in the brown ink then washed over it and gave it body with the acrylic markers. I love this quick and direct way of sketching.


Dives sur Mer, France, Normandy, market hall, pen and wash

This was a scary subject. It is the market hall in Dives sur Mer. I drew it out in pencil and then inked the structure. To finish I washed over the whole thing so soften the inking then picked out the counter shapes in watercolour. There were more light sources than this but I decided to reduce it to just the one. I tried to keep the whole thing light and easy. With subjects as complex as this it is easy to get carried away with the detail and loose the character. I deliberately curved the perspective to draw the eye in but was artful not to push it to the point of “fisheye”.


That is it for this issue! I have as much again to come so it will need two posts.

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