Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

October 18, 2016


For an artist it is a bit strange to consider what might happen to a painting after it leaves your care. I suspect long dead artists would be bemused by what is said and paid for their works. Each painting carries with it a story, a bit of history true or false, that makes up its provenance. As well as this there is the story attached to the artist, which may or may not represent the true course of his or her’s life. The difficulty arises of course in that all this information is not actually attached to the physical work of art and the connection can get lost, forgotten or forged.

Where I wonder is the visual value of the work itself? Indeed it seems the actual appearance of a painting is of a lesser importance than the story attached to it. So you might have a terrible Monet (and there are plenty of pretty average ones) with a cast iron paper trail from artist to current owner and it would be worth far less that a brilliant painting by a lesser known soul. The fact that the Monet hung on the wall would disappoint and the other painting reward on every viewing seems irrelevant.

Paintings can fall from grace, a Van Dyke can be demoted to “School of” and the painting will be dismissed with a brief glance rather than admired. Again this is seemingly unconnected to the actual painting. What about the people who admired the picture before its fall from grace, was their aesthetic appreciation wasted… wrong or misguided? You can imagine after research a label being changed by a gallery assistant. A visitor who had been particularly taken with the painting could return ten minutes later for another look and might find that the “Van Dykeness” of the painting had evaporated!

I can only conclude that the only guide is your eyes and the less back story you know the better. All those words only obscure and don’t illuminate the actual object. They do change how we view a painting, but sometimes not in a useful way. It might be better indeed if galleries didn’t label pictures at all. The could just have numbers and if you liked a picture you could call up its known history.

With some painters the mystique of the artist completely overwhelms the artwork. Andy Warhol’s work I find after first impressions dreary and dull, like a quite good one liner repeated ad nauseam, but his story of decadence and nihilism and his place in his milieu is fascinating. Except for a very brief period Van Gogh’s was I feel pretty uninspiring, but his life story and monumental self pity make a great story.

Really we should be looking for those brief moments when an artist by some confluence of skill, inspiration and luck creates a masterpiece. This might be only once in a career, or indeed for most of us, never. It is fine to give extra admiration to artists like Rembrandt who scaled the heights more than others, but not alright to inappropriately elevate works where he fell short. It is unfair to the artist also. Imagine if you came back from the dead to find everyone admiring some complete stinker you painted!

I have got a bit behind with posting, I was vaguely thinking of splitting post into oils watercolour or prints but I think it is best to stick to a vaguely linear storyline. I vary between thinking I do too many different media to thinking I must try some others. Printing is occupying my thoughts a fair bit as it is new territory and now I have got started I begin to see all sorts of exciting possibilities. So I’l start with that.


Hammersmith Bridge, London, linocut, print

So this is a reduction print of Hammersmith Bridge. For those who are not linocutters the reduction method is where all the colours are produced with the same block. The palest colour is cut first and all the edition printed, then more of the block is cut away for the next colour. So all the colours overlay. I based this on a plein air rather than the photo of the same scene as the painting already had a simplified tonal scheme and I did not want it to be too precise. Next I am going to attempt a double reduction print where two plates are cut away to produce one image.

It is holiday time and this year I went to Newport, the one in Pembrokeshire  Wales. As the holiday was a social one only a few scribbles got done, but I came back with plenty of photos and ideas.

White Sands, pembrokeshire, wales, watercolour, plein air

This is literally 20 min splashing away at Whitesands near St Davids. The wind was so brisk that holding everything was a nightmare. I had to hold down my palette with my food to prevent it taking to the air! It is also quite tricky when the wind is constantly fluttering your paper. The odd thing is though that when painting outside all this somehow adds to the result. The impossibility of being precise made me just go for the brilliant autumn light, which was really all the scene needed. 7in by 5in watercolour.


Hambledon Hill, dorset, hill fort, watercolour, painting

On my return I was determined to get up Hambledon Hill which is directly behind my house. I do not go and sketch up there enough. I decided the very end of the day would be best and very lovely it was. It is one of those scenes though that looks astounding to the eye but is very hard to translate into a painting. I settled on this as it had great flowing structure. 7in by 5in Watercolour.


Hambledon Hill, Dorset, blackmoor vale, watercolour, painting

I started this more in hope than expectation. I couldn’t get into a position where the hill would figure in the composition so I just did a square on job attempting to catch the light. I must start to mark down compositions on the hill I like and return to them, rather than trying to find a new picture each time. 7in by 5in Watercolour.


Old Harry, Dorset, cliffs, sea, oil painting

At last a chance to sit down and get some studio pictures done. I wanted to do an oil of Old Harry based on the drawing I had already done. Remembering how nice it was how the cliffs came out of the blue on the paper in the pen drawing I wanted to do the same here but more dramatically. After drawing out I spent a lot of time mixing the tone base of the sea. It had to be dark enough to allow the cliffs to be brilliantly lit, but light enough to take dark reflections. Once I had decided on a tone I swept it right across using a 2in brush and then wiped out the bits where the stacks were to go. I don’t take this approach often enough really. It does have some disadvantages though as it can look too slick and pat, which is why I usual paint round rather than through. But in this case it worked well. 16in by 10in oils.


Newport Bay, Pembrokeshire, wales, oil painting

Here is the first of the Welsh ones. This is the view over Newport Bay which I have painted many times before. It is one of those views I always find something new in. It would be great to do a whole series through the seasons. I love the tone of the greens this time of year they become a warm olive colour which was a great contrast to the hillside where the grasses and bracken were already in there autumn colours. 16in by 10in oils.


Newport sands, beach, wales, pembrokeshire, oil painting

This is Newport sands, wonderfully reflective as the sea had only just withdrawn. Scanning makes it rather more contrasty than it really is, it is very hard to catch subtleties in images to go on line. 12in by 12in Oils.


Porthclais Harbour, wales, pembrokeshire, oil painting

I started this picture of Porthclais Harbour near St Davids thinking the distance and wedge of sky was the main thing. The painting soon informed me I was wrong and the water was the main event!  16in by 10in oils.

That is all for Wales, I find it very hard to paint from reference after the memory of the real place fades.


Hambledon Hill, dorset, hill fort, oil painting

Hambledon Hill again. This was done the next evening after the earlier watercolour. I had intended to do the same view but decided to try to catch the milky light. Not helped by the fact I forgot my brush roll so only had a 1in sable that was in the bottom of my bag left over from life drawing. Still the soft brush was oddly appropriate and allowed me to drag in the subtler tones in broad strokes. 16in by 10in Oils.


Hambledon Hill, Dorset, oil painting, hill fort

Last one, a studio oil based on my earlier watercolour. I had to put away the watercolour in the end as this became quite a different painting. I decided in the end what I wanted to do was contrast the texture on the foreground right with the hazy smoothness of the distance. Quite pleased with the result as it emphasises the wonderful flow that the hill has. 24in by 12in Oils.



September 11, 2016


Filed under: Dorset,Drawing,How to do,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 1:10 pm

I often see artists vaguely waving their brush at arm’s length when painting and measuring by sliding their thumb down the handle. It looks very good to passers by and perhaps makes a marginal improvement the proportions in their painting. However the picky pedantic bit of me notes that they have not dropped their head onto the shoulder of their outstretched arm or closed one eye. This means they have never learnt how to do measuring and the distances they are checking will be pretty inaccurate.

The very first thing about measuring is what and when should you measure? If it is a bunch of trees or other shrubbery then do we care if a painting has accurate shrubbery in it? You never hear people say, “That’s a pretty good painting, but a pity the clump of rhododendrons is out of proportion…”. So when it comes to hills, mountains, trees and general greenery I just use the diagonal method which is estimating the box the target will fit within and then finding the angle from corner to corner as below.


Once you have that angle you can scale it any way you wish.

Something that might need a little more accuracy is how the verticals of buildings fit across your picture. For this I use a version of the sight size method. If you hold up your painting board so that it exactly covers the area of your proposed masterpiece, then without moving it nearer or further away slide the whole board downwards  or upwards and you will be able to mark where the verticals divide the picture along the top or bottom of the board. The same can be done with horizontals if you slide the board sideways. I usually only knock in the top and bottom of the box that encloses the structure rather than any internal lines which are usually effected by perspective in any case.

Here is my board covering the composition I want.

Slide up and mark key points.

Once you have those then join up the dots. I am not aiming for perfect accuracy only reasonably correct proportion.

Taking angles, which I have already mentioned, deserves a little more attention. It is not always straight forward to transfer an angle from a brush held against the subject to your canvas. Firstly it is not a bad idea to mark a toe line, just scratch a mark on the ground to set where you will place your feet when you make any measurements. Next, when measuring make your canvas vertical and as near eye level as you can. Transferring an angle to a sloping board is not impossible but much harder! Remember, drop that head to the shoulder to get your eye as near to the line of your fully stretched out arm as possible.

I frequently use angles as a quick check against distance measures, make a box around the bit you want to check the proportion of and if they don’t match then rechecking is required.

If you are doing a really complex scene think about using a thread frame, it looks seriously uncool and everyone will mutter cheat, but it is really no different than measuring piece by piece. You need to hold up the frame so that the right number of squares covers your subject. A trick is to note a left and right feature in your scene so you can reposition the frame easily, or you can even better set it up on a stand. Either way you will need to mark your toeline so you keep your position consistent. Some even go so far as to set an eye point which can just be a pole stuck into the ground coming up to an eye level point.

My thread frame is a very basic 14in by 10in with the threads at inch intervals. I have a larger one with 2 inch threads which I use in the studio, so if I am painting from a reference or sketch I can grid it up and transfer the drawing. Again people feel this is somehow cheating but Durer, Rubens, Rembrandt and Michelangelo all used this method and everyone knows that they are rubbish! One thing you will find is that after a while you develop a sort of internal grid and so need the real thing less and less.

I have managed to print off a few of my linocuts with my new press. So much easier than a barren and wooden spoon!


linocut. print, child okeford, dorset

This is my local the Baker Arms in Child Okeford. Just two plates.


Kington Magna, linocut, dorset

This is a slightly more stylised one of the church at Kington Magna. The way the lino cuts really lends itself to this sort of treatment. I pushed the boat out with 3 plates on this one. I also did a much more worked out preparatory drawing.


Kington Magna, church, linocut, relief print

My new press allows me to print on paper that would be very laborious with a barren. I wanted to use the black key plate and try and get a very different feel with the same image. I added the white by hand, but I could have cut a white block.  Next I am attempting an MDF cut!


This is a version of my more monochrome tonal sketch of Dorchester I posted previously. I wanted a more up beat feel. Oil, 16in by 12in.


Pinacles, Old Harry, Dorset, Cliffs, oil painting, sea

I went down to the coast to draw Old Harry rocks. By the time I finished drawing the light was almost gone but I couldn’t resist a try at this nearby sea stack. The light went over so quickly I only got a very basic block out done, so this is much more studio than plein air. I ended up making it quite different from both the block in and the photos I took, so this is how it felt in my memory rather than how it actually was! 12in by 12in oils.


Old Harry, Poole, Sea stacks, cliffs, sea, pen and ink, drawing, dorset

Here is Old Harry rocks. Sitting with my feet almost dangling over the edge here! As I drew the sun came through and lit the chalk cliffs very dramatically, but I felt it looked better a bit before the sun reached its flu strength. Pen and Ink.

I have a one man show at The Gallery on the Square in Poundbury it rune until the 18th of October 2016.

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