Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

March 3, 2017

How Art is Made

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

Well this is a big ask! I am in the process of reading swathes of art theory that I mostly disagree with (there will be more on that in another post). In general the logical, and philosophical rigour in these texts is lamentable with huge amounts of argument by assertion and airy poetical musings. Things do not become true or even likely just by the act of stating them, or by saying that other clever people have stated them before so therefore they must be true. Some degree of testing ideas by thinking of scenarios where they may hold or fail to hold is surely the minimum we should expect of our art theorists. However, most just seem to trot out the old received ideas with little or no critical examination.

So it came to mind to delve into how I make a painting, art or not.

Firstly, there is the starting. As I am an observational artist so I see something exterior and have a mental reaction to it. It really is as simple as “Does it ring any bells.” or if you like, does what you are seeing fit any of the likes that creating previous works and or appreciating the work of others have built up over the years. It is never going to be a perfect fit so I might look repeatedly and try to imagine how a painted image might feel and how the painting of it could be carried through. I ask myself, what is the key thing that appeals and how would it break down or simplify? A certain amount of squinting and uncertain dithering then takes place. Nonetheless the process is I think quite simple, you assess the likely hood of being able to pass on to another via paint on canvas something of which made your arty bells ring. We call this process inspiration, but it does not happen in the binary way of light bulb going on or off as the romantic notions of art and artists might have you believe.

The process of assessing and reassessing the exterior stimulus might be repeated several times, with it even being rejected and then returned to after other possibilities didn’t come up to scratch. My key point here is that I believe all inspiration whether abstract or representative come from out side via our perceptions. They may be remembered perceptions rather than immediate ones, but it is pretty much certain that everything in our heads came in from the outside at some point. This I’m afraid pretty much rules out the origin of art coming from within, but not perhaps the realisation of it. It is the processing and decision making that occurs internally and where an artists personal stamp appears.

So once the decision to set about making a particular image is made then a new set of assessments are required. Composition, tone etc are all tested by this process:

1) Look

2) Assess a particular or general aspect.

3) Imagine how it might be achieved in drawing or paint and hold that mental image.

4) look again and test how what you see compares with your imagining.

5) Assess result and either decide on a course of action or failing that repeat the process again.

This is pretty much the way my head seems to work when painting, though it is very hard to perceive your own mental activity as the act of perception interferes with what you are trying to observe. All the above happens very rapidly and repeatedly without express intent. I have been painting all my life so these decision routines seem to run pretty much automatically. They are so automatic that I can easily understand why an artist might choose to think the answers returned have come from some magical spring channelled from elsewhere, but I truly think that is not the case. It works in the same way as when you speak to someone in conversation. You do not assemble the sentences and preview what stresses and nuances your response should have. You merely intend to speak and the words come out. All the work is done by a part of yourself you cannot observe only infer from the resulting speech. We have all had the experience of a segment of speech that pops out of the machine ready to go when there isn’t a pause in the too and fro of conversation to accept it!

Generally making a picture seems to consist of variations of a repeated process. It could maybe be written as a linear string that might loop at any point:

Look…assess…imagine action…assess…look…imagine…assess…decide…act…look at result…look at subject…compare…assess result of act.

If you watch someone painting you can see the process in action and trace the stages by where and when the attention is focussed. If you are painting an abstract or even dealing with an abstract quality in your figurative painting you might leave out the look at subject section. In that case you might:

look at your painting… assess what it might need… imagine the change… compare the imagining to the existing… decide on the action… carry it out… assess result.

The key thing is these processes feed back into each other, there is perhaps even a sort of mental resonance set up. Indeed the act of painting a picture is to see or think of something that resonates with you and work out how you can make an object that causes a corresponding resonance to occur in another when they look at it. You might I suppose imagine it as plucking a string on a musical instrument to make a nearby string resonate in sympathy. The vibration transferred might not be identical to the original, but the impulse can be directly traced from one to another. It might be argued that great works of art are those that produce a consistent resonance in many viewers despite barriers of context, time and culture.

Well here are a few of my plucked strings. There are as usual some musical results as well as a few bum notes…

Eggarden Hill, Dorset, Plein air, oil painting, landscape

I have been sticking to the oils for plein air painting as watercolour takes too long to dry in this weather. This is a very quick end of the day view from the side of Eggardon Hill. 30min or so I suppose with racing clouds and rapidly changing light. Oils 14in by 10in.

 

Arne, Bird sanctuary, oil painting, sea

A trip to the bird sanctuary at Arne. Some great light  rapidly changing. Not sure if this will ever see a frame but I suppose most sketches never do. 16in by 10in Oils.

 

Arne, church, oil painting, plein air, Dorset

Second one from Arne. Didn’t really make a picture but I have a vague idea of how to make it into something… the only problem being I can’t quite fix on how! Maybe a repaint in watercolour would give me a clue. When I saw the subject I saw good possibilities but couldn’t quite get them onto the board. As so often occurs the photo of the scene didn’t really help. Maybe go back on a different day. 16in by 10in oils.

 

Milton Abbas, landscape, plein air, oil painting, dorset

Done after a visit to Poole to drop off paintings at the Lighthouse Gallery where I am in Dorset Magazines exhibition for Dorset Landscape Artist of the year… no I didn’t win but got into the last 10. This is Milton Abbas a bit of Capability Brown’s work. Enjoyed doing this great fun picking out which layers to emphasise as the cloud shadows zoomed over the landscape. Unlike watercolour in oils you get a chance to get things down as they happen and chop and change if things improve. To aid me in this I laid the whole lot in without any highlights as if on a dull day then I could drop in lit areas as they happened. 14in by 10in Oils

 

Rawlsbury Camp, Dorset, plein air, oil painting, landscape

I have quite an impressive pile of half done plein airs, so I set to to finish a few. This is Rawlsbury Camp on a dramatic day. I got the sky done and most of the darks, then it rained on me enthusiastically. Pleased with this, the best I have managed of this subject so far. 16in by 10in Oils.

 

Child Okeford, plein air, oil painting, Dorset

This is done from just outside my house in Child Okeford on a misty moisty morning. I just didn’t have time to get the tones as subtle as I would have liked so I had to glaze it after. This is the unglazed version the glazed one below.

 

Child Okeford, Dorset, oil painting

I glazed with a transparent bluey white to knock the tree back which was too dominant. Then I used a transparent cobalt blue to adjust the hue of the buildings. Glazes allow amazing control of general tone and hue without compromising the fresh feel of the underlying brushwork. You can wipe off at any stage, so my method is to go in too strong then lift out with a brush or rag. 14in by 10in Oils.

 

Cerne Abbas, Dorset, Church, oil painting, plein air

A beautiful day in Cerne Abbas with the Hardy Monkeys which is an off shoot of the Brass Monkeys in London. Sadly getting to the London days with the Monkeys has become too difficult as the trains are always dire on weekends due to engineering. So I have inaugurated a West Country version! The light was gorgeous and stayed quite constant so I finished in one go which is always gives me a good feeling. 14in by 10in Oils.

 

Cerne Abbas, Dorset, Oil Painting, plein air.

I was on bit of a roll so I got this done in one stab as well, the same street but looking the other way. The light was so good almost every direction had a possible painting. The low winter light is so wonderful to paint. 14in by 10in Oils.

 

Cerne Abbas, oil painting, Dorset, church

Cerne Abbas again. A studio job this one. I wanted to experiment a bit with palette and design. 14in by 10in Oils.

That’s it I must get back to the watercolours soon but am steadily getting more fluent with oil paint which gives me hope!

It is the Wapping Group’s annual show at the Mall Galleries which runs from the 13th March to the 18th I have 5 London pictures in it so have my fingers crossed for sales.

January 18, 2017

Christmas in Co Clare

Well that is the old year over with and the new one started. As always it is a moment to take stock. I started this quest to focus on my own work about 6 years ago now. The quest to improve has as far as I can tell born a certain amount of fruit, but it is always hard to tell for the artist as your expectations and hopes change too, so you always tend to feel you are falling short. I have hugely enjoyed learning new ways to do things and getting a more refined view of things I already thought I knew. You never of course completely learn anything you only add to or update your store of experience.

This blog has been a pleasure to do also, forcing me to think more clearly about various aspects, both practical and intellectual, in order to set down my thoughts. Reading back I don’t always agree with my earlier self, which is again a good thing as it shows I am perhaps not too set in my ways. I have been astonished at how many people have viewed my paintings and ponderings. People obviously have far too much time on their hands!

Painting as a business has been slower and harder to assess. The activity now pays for itself and supplies a tiny profit… I work, I estimated, for the hourly rate of 50p an hour, so I will have to take myself to court for breaching the minimum wage! In actuality I could have probably made enough to get by on. The problem is that I would have had to halve the painting time and devoted those hours to actively selling and promoting. This would increase income and lower the output of pictures. This would hardly matter as I suspect very few artists sell more than 20% of their output and many more far less.

It is very hard to assess your own progress. You are too close and it is almost impossible to view the facts dispassionately. The tendency is to veer between elation and despair, which is probably about right if I can keep the swings to a moderate amplitude! I find it a little hard to divide up my attention, I am always being tempted by new and interesting byways. Printing has been the only one I have allowed myself to take which had proved very worthwhile. Forcing me into new ways of thinking in order to exploit the process.

If I was to point to one worthwhile thing I have discovered so far it would be that limits are very important. We live in an age of almost unlimited possibilities and an almost complete lack of rules. We tend to scorn anything that we perceive as reducing our choices, after all barriers are there to be overcome, are they not? Well if they are real barriers yes, but todays barriers are tissue thin except for the one of unlimited choice which we tend to ignore.

Rules have another importance which is harder to get your head around. Without them it is impossible to track your progress at all. Without aims that can be defined how can you estimate degrees of success or failure? Is the picture I just painted good or bad or what mix of the two? At what point and by what criteria do decide if a painting is a triumph or an epic fail? What is the role of technique in success or failure? I increasingly get to the point where I can’t find anything technically wrong with a painting, but it still doesn’t quite fly. Just because you can do something does not mean that you should, technique is very beguiling in this respect.

Other painters often talk to me of their quest to simplify and reduce, which I understand and share, but can’t somehow think it quite that straightforward. A picture after all could be averaged to a single tone if the process was taken to extreme. What if the subject itself is most notable for its complexity? The idea is of course that we exclude detail that is not telling and distracts from the whole. The theory is that as in making whisky you distill and increase the potency of your image. Like all oversimplifications it is beguiling but doesn’t really bear up under close examination. There are after all many great works of art that are a blizzard of detail. If I imagine myself standing next to the 15C painter Van Eyck and saying to him,” It’s a good effort my dear chap, but rather overworked don’t you think? Have you tried being more expressive? Perhaps you should use bigger brushes.” it doesn’t quite work, I think you will agree.

So a quest for the new year is: what is the relationship between the quantity and quality of content? What is the relationship between a picture that makes a good first impression and one that will beguile and intrigue over time? Like all things to do with art I don’t expect to resolve anything, just go through the process of considering which will perhaps shed a little light.

So on to Christmas paintings. Watercolour was the order of the day and mostly just sketches in my Moleskin. I also didn’t manage much painting on the spot but just looked, sketched out and took photos and painted in the evening. Not an intentional methodology but rather a pleasurable one I found.

Ireland, County Clare, watercolour, Burren

Here I am in the Burren in County Clare in Eire. The area is very distinctive with its limestone pavements, grikes and erratic boulders. I always paint at least one picture of this subject when I visit. A large amount of imagination here as my reference was a black silhouette. I rather enjoyed trying to paint my memory of it a few hours before. The result gets nearer than the photo to the mood, the rays of light which were not in the reference I later realised were the result of dirty spectacles!

Kilthurla, Galway, Kinvarra, plein air, watercolour, painting

A road near Kilthurla close to Kinvarra. A sketch done on the spot very very fast as the light was going rapidly.

Kilthurla, Kinvarra, ireland, watercolour, painting

The same scene from reference that evening, would you have known which was plein air? I’m not sure I would. All plein air painters reading this will now feel sure that they could spot the one done from reference instantly. But what if I was fibbing and it is the other way round?

The new line, Clare, Ireland, watercolour, painting

Now if you tried to do this en plein air you would be dead! This is called the “New Line” it is a famine road built by a program to give work and thus payment to the impoverished during that great and bitter catastrophe where for the most part the wealthy stood by and allowed the poor to starve. Some of these roads were never finished and remain as roads to nowhere. The labour must have been immense with it all being done by hand in the harshest of landscapes. They must have slept and lived on site. As a result these roads are arrow straight and nowadays a race track for cars.

Finvarra, watercolour, painting, ireland

Rather over cooked this one, got the balance between foreground and background wrong. This is on Finvarra which is almost an island.

Ballyportry, castle, co clare, watercolour, painting

This is Ballyportry castle near Corofin. A subject I have painted many times. We had wonderful skies throughout my visit. Watercolour is so good at describing luminosity. Far harder in oils.

Ennis, ireland, watercolour, painting, street

This is County Clare’s county town Ennis in a pre Christmas frenzy. To complete the scene you should imagine distorted and very mawkish country and western seasonal songs being played through tinny tannoy speakers scattered liberally around the town. I had to stand in this spot for nearly 20min until I got a few moments when it wasn’t solid stationary traffic. Its hard being a painter sometimes.

weir village, co clare, ireland, watercolour, painting

This is near Weir Village in Co Galway. I hadn’t explored this part of the coast and will return as it has an interesting flavour with low-lying land divided by long inlets from the sea.

Dunguaire Castle, Kinvarra, Galway, watercolour, painting

This is Dunguaire castle near Kinvarra. I sketched this out pretty much completely and then “coloured it in” in the evening. The underlying wash went awry so I added body colour which in the end worked better than the wash would have… serendipity in action!

Dysert O'Dea Castle, Co Clare, ireland, watercolour, painting

This is Dysert O’Dea castle the local clan chieftains’ hangout. This is a very quick scribble as I was plodding around soggy fields looking for good viewpoints. I saw several but all impossible to get to without swimming.

East Clare, watercolour, painting

Don’t know why I did this random road in East Clare… anything to distract from the first hangover of the New Year maybe…

Kilmacduagh Abbey, Galway, watercolour, painting

Actually got most of this done on site. Sitting in my nice warm car mind you… It is Kilmacduagh Abbey which I have done many times. Pleased with this one though so might do an oil from it.

Kilmacduagh Abbey, drawing, pen and ink

To that end I did a drawing from the watercolour. Think I prefer the wider format though.

Dunguaire Castle, drawing, pen and ink

Dunguaire Castle again. It is in a great position I must do an oil next time I go over.

Dunguaire Castle, sheep, drawing, pen and ink

Dunguaire again but with added sheep. I will do an oil of this as I haven’t done a sheep painting in a while…

Motte, drawing, ireland, pen and ink

I forget the name of this place not far from Durrow, it is an old Motte on which a stone castle would have stood. A bleak spot and I got very cold.

Aughinish, Kinvarra, pen drawing

This is the causeway to Aughinish near Kinvarra. I had just sat and watched a truly spectacular sunset and not bothered to paint it! I have learnt to just appreciate sunsets and only paint the more tasteful ones.

Well that is it, as always I am surprised at how much I got done at the same time as feeling I should have spent less time spacing about and more time painting.

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