Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

November 7, 2015

What are we?

Is this really a topic for a painting blog? Well yes I feel so. Trying to articulate how it is to be a human being is pretty key to being an artist. Descartes decided that we are real things due to being aware of our own thinking which is on the whole good news. The bad news was that is about all he could be sure of.

For an artist there is the constant problem of only getting the odd hint of what others respond to or enjoy from their speech or mannerisms. For the rest we have to extrapolate from what we ourselves like, to make a guess as to what might float anyone else’s boat. The egoist will assume that what he likes others will like because he or she is plainly the best the world has to offer. The more humble soul will be left in a state of perhaps more realistic uncertainty.

So what is human being and how might we divine what this strange beasty likes? There is the body, with it’s cells and hormones. It seems pretty clear to me that there is no mysterious supernatural component. That does not mean that the meat is all there is though. The “nature vs nurture” debate has been rumbling on for a few centuries. Christianity  hoped to prove the existence of the divine by finding a child brought up by animals with no human upbringing. They were disappointed, legend has it, to find such a poor creature had no innate knowledge of the almighty.

It is in keeping with contemporary thought to consider ourselves in the terms of hardware and software. If our tabula rosa has no input from parents or society then there is no language and if no language none of the tools we use to visualise our own selves. I dare say such a being would have no interest in art or indeed a pleasant scene. Food, warmth, safety and shelter would be the driving forces as in any animal. It is of course not just humans that combine software and hardware, all social animals do some sort of programming the young.

It is fair to say though that humans take it further. It might even be best to think of the accrued knowledge of society as a separate entity independent of the individual. We are none of us vital, but each might add a little that gets passed on. I might paint a painting, post it online and then track the slight ripple that passes around the world briefly before fading. However small it has become part of the huge edifice of knowledge and supposition that is mankind.

If this accrued and now artificially stored information is really what mankind is, what of the individual? In our society we prize freedoms and our own personal uniqueness. I have to feel after much mental to-ing and fro-ing that this is an illusion, we make a great deal of our small differences but actually we are as alike as peas in a pod. Just as well really, as if we were really different communication between us would be all but impossible. If you look at the imagery of our planet from space you would have to conclude that mankind is akin to a hive creature. Although we don’t feel we are acting at the behest of the whole, most of us are doing just that. Is our collected knowledge of the universe honey? It makes one worry there might be a beekeeper out there somewhere!

It does give the artist a sliver of a reason to go on doing stuff. Each thing we do adds a little to the whole. How that might be used in any future is beyond prediction, but on the whole I feel that artistic activity is a plus for humanity. How is that for self justification?

Right enough of the navel gazing! Some pictures. Mostly drawing, life seems to be keeping me from my studio at present which is distinctly irritating.

Cannon St, London, oil painting, St Pauls

Over the last few years I have been rather over successful at selling plein air sketches of London. Most of the best ones I intended to use as inspiration for studio pictures, once sold however this slipped from my agenda. So I have decided to try and catch up. This is the first of several I hope. I spent a fair while messing with the composition on this. That is the joy of studio work you can add all sorts of subtleties that would be impossible in the heat of the moment on site. It is however important to try an not let that show overtly in the way the final thing is painted! 12in by 20in oils.


Pen and ink, drawing, dog

Something I don’t do very often. A drawing as a gift to an old friend. The dog was a fondly remembered pet so I was in danger of over doing the sentiment. The Victorians revelled in such stuff with the dog gazing soulfully at its master. I hope I escaped that… just! Pen and ink.

Stour, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing, river

A sketch done near to where I live in Dorset. This is the Stour where it meanders through rich pastures below Hambledon Hill. The light was very constant so I could take my time. A little too neat maybe but in a way that adds to the calm feel which was very much the atmosphere of the day. Pen and Ink


Pentre Ifan, Wales, pembrokeshire, pen and ink, drawing

This is another go at Pentre Ifan in Pembrokeshire. Slightly tongue in cheek as I am not much of a new ager! Pen and ink.


Tenby, Harbour, wales, pen and ink, drawing

This is the harbour at Tenby in Wales. This started out as the merest pencil scribble done in less than 10 min. I enjoyed developing it with the pen and will do a larger oil in a while. Somewhat of a grudge match as I made a horrible mess of an oil of this same subject three or four years ago… pen and ink.


Fontmell Down, pen and ink, dorset

I am pondering how to translate the Dorset landscape into lino cuts. I don’t want to do straight renderings there has to be a stylising and simplification. This may be the way to go but not with the celtic stuff. I might use earlier incised patterns as used on beakers found in burials in the area. The sky escaping is a bit OTT so I might just allow the pasture to break the frame. Pen and Ink.


Okeford Hill, dorset, pen and ink, drawing

The largest pen drawing I have managed on site. I used a brush pen loaded with the same ink as my pens which speeded things along. I still had to finish the foreground hatching later. Rather a painful process on site as I am suffering in the back department at present. This is Okeford Hill. Pen and ink.


Belfast, northern Ireland, drawing, pen and ink

Some countryside near Belfast. I love just using water to dissolve the colour out from the ink. I actually combine two inks one waterproof and one not to get this result. Very fast sketch about 20min. Pen and Ink.


Belfast, albert tower, pen and ink, drawing, northern Ireland

This is a clock tower dedicated to Albert in Belfast itself. A bit scrappy but too painful to sit too long. Pen and Ink.


Belfast, pen and ink, drawing, northern ireland

More Belfast. The brush pen was great for knocking in all the darks. Had to be very quick as the last of the light was fading rapidly. Pen and ink.


Gt Victoria Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland, pen and ink, drawing

With my back working again after returning I couldn’t resist doing this of Gt Victoria Street in Belfast again. I loved the grand streets in the city and would like to return and paint it properly. Pen and ink

October 10, 2015

A Trip to Pembrokeshire

My first trip to Pembrokeshire in a while… and no chance to paint… With old friends so lots of talk, laughter, food and walking. Being a tourist rather than a painter lots of photos to bore friends with when they come to dinner… there is nothing more tedious than photographs of other people having a good time in a lovely place! All I managed while there art wise was one small pen and ink, but I still wanted to get some paintings done to recall the weekend.

So once home what can you do? I find if I am going to paint quick studio paintings from reference then I need to do it as soon as possible after the shot is taken. I find after that I really struggle to remember how it felt to be there. I do bigger studio paintings from reference but that is a different and longer process involving sketches and multiple photographs. Painting quick a la prima sketches from single images is a different and I think more difficult thing. You are very at risk of having the photo make every decision for you. To counter this I try and paint very quickly and also several times whilst painting put the reference aside and work from memory. If I am lucky I find that at a certain point the painting gains a life of its own and becomes an independent thing, a memory prompted by a photograph rather than a copy.

Once I have decided to paint from an image I first look at how I can break the image down to simple tonal areas. Then I decide what my palette is to be. I find restricting the palette helps a great deal. Then you cannot mimic the colours of your reference but have to mix equivalents. (this is a good policy I find with plein air also!) I then look at the arrangement of things and think, “How could it be better?” by better I mean have more sense of atmosphere and a simple underlying structure.  I turn the image into a monochrome version to assess the actual tones. Colours confuse our sense of tone so it is far easier to see the relative tones with colour removed.

With all that thought about if not all decided upon I mix the colours. It is so much easier with oils I find to mix the colours first. There is often not time en plein air but in the studio it is well worthwhile. When you do this you can put your lightest light and darkest dark on the palette and then set the mid tones to lie between them. I very rarely use full white in a painting so this process makes sure you do not automatically use the full tone range but set a key (range of tone) that leaves you room to manoeuvre when the time comes to accent and add punch at the end. It is far easier to paint if all the tones are there on your palette organised in hues. The mistake many people make is mixing too little. In the end you will not waste paint because the left over colour nearly always gets absorbed into the mixes for the next painting.

Once started I found the first one was very lifeless and in the end rubbed it off and started again another advantage of no time pressure and a studio setting. The next attempt went better and I got properly in the swing. When the point comes where you forget yourself and the time starts to flow by then usually the painting benefits. Before the oils I did some quick watercolours to get myself immersed in the subjects.


Tenby, pen and ink, drawing, wales, pembrokeshire

Here is the one drawing I got done. This is Tenby, a place I would love to spend a few days painting in. It has the lure of some very obvious scenes that get painted too much, but has a lot more to offer as the dramatic headland it is built over allows some great and unexpected viewpoints.


Tenby, watercolour, wales, painting, pembrokeshire

Here is one of those Tenby views. The narrow street runs steeply up from the harbour giving a great perspective. You actually could not do this painting on site as you would be mown down by the constant stream of 4×4’s driving up the hill! Only a 1/8th sheet but I painted it with a big sable keeping everything quite wet. Even though I was not trying to be very precise you have to take great care over the perspective in scenes like this where the road is going uphill. If you get lines at the wrong angle the feeling of buildings stepping up a hill is soon lost. I put a few soft lines in first to guide the angle. Watercolour.


pembrokeshire, watercolour, painting, wales, cliffs, sea

The coast path in Pembrokeshire is a wonder but tricky to paint. There is a tendency to over cook the turquoise which makes it more Med than Wales!


Chamber Tomb, Pentre Ifan, Newport, watercolour, painting, wales

This is the chamber tomb of Pentre Ifan near Newport. It is sited in a wonderful position and should be easy to paint but I have failed to paint it decently quite a few times now. This attempt wasn’t too bad and at least captures a little of the mood. I felt it was a little tight so I did it again giving myself only 20 min.


Pentre Ifan, Chamber Tomb, Newpoit, wales, watercolour, painting

Here it is again different but not really better! I shall have a crack at it with the oils I think.


Wales, Pembrokeshire, Narberth, oil painting, art

First go with the oils. This is Narberth a distinctly posh Pembrokeshire town. The first attempt got bogged down so I wiped it off and started afresh. It still needs some adjustment of the distant tones which need to be a tiny bit softer and bluer but I will dry brush over once it is dry. 10in by 14in Oils.


Coast path, cliffs, sea, pembrokeshire, wales, oil painting

This is on the wonderful Pembrokeshire coast path. I have painted here before in a force 8 gale so a studio picture was far more comfortable to do! Not sure this is quite finished some of the distant cliffs need softening a little. I have already adjusted the horizon after I made this scan as the whole thing falls off bait too much to the right. I did this to counter the lean on the figure but rather over did it. 10in by 16in Oils.


Pembrokeshire, newport, parrog, wales, oil painting, art

This is the Parrog which is the harbour at Newport. When I was walking and saw this I could see it as a painting and tried to hold on to the memory! Quite hard and close tones but fun and quick to paint. 10in by 16in Oils.


Pembrokeshire, wales, painting, sea, cliffs

Last one. Back on the coast path again. It was very still and warm for October. I painted the foreground with a knife which is unusual for me. I must use it more. I am slightly put off because I rather dislike knife paintings where the impasto seems to perform no function. For the scraggly growth on the cliff edge it was just the thing though. Like all techniques if the technique starts to dominate then it ruins the picture. Paintings about how things are painted are I tend to find rather tedious! 10in by 14in oils.

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