Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

September 16, 2015

Checking on Reality

I am in the last stages of assembling my first ever one man show. There is a lot to do with the touch ups that I had never got around to, varnishing and the considerable effort of framing. I could pay to have them framed but to get what I want that would cost £200 quid a picture at least as against £20 and a couple of hours of my time. During this process, which I quite enjoy as I get pleasure from the making process, I have thought a good deal about picture making in our current age.

One thing that strikes me is that there are so many people painting. Just look on line and there are thousands of sites with the title: “The Art of ……….” . It seems certain there are many more being painted than there are walls to put them on. It must be a minority in our society that has an original work upon their walls. A vanishingly small group have one of mine! So I must ask the question: Are these paintings being painted to go on walls or to be seen on a laptop screen? If they are never going on the wall then you might as well paint them on the same reused bit of board and save money and space! I am actually considering this for plein air sketches and ho hum studio ones. Certainly I could paint on both sides of the board.

The question still bugs me. Am I painting for people’s walls or laptop screens? Because if it is the latter then I might go about it differently. I could for example re work them on the computer. I already do this to decide how to make changes to paintings. I scan it in and try out things before committing myself to paint. With over all glazes especially this is a great boon. Would people care? I would feel honour bound to make the process clear. Painters would generally disapprove perhaps. This is not, I might add, a course I intend to take I am just thinking it through. I cannot abide the idea that I am doing all this work just to please myself. I get pleasure from the process of course or at least it keeps me sane, however I equally loathe the idea that I just do it for therapy.

There is the element of being noticed, it is nice to be noticed. Though maybe few would admit it a hundred or so Facebook “likes” bring a certain warm feeling. We most of us, if not crave, at least enjoy attention for ourselves and what we do. We call this fame I suppose though that is usually now reserved for the moment when the searchlight of organised media picks one out from the crowd. Do we secretly hope that might happen? I don’t think I do, but I suppose a small bit of me might like the idea. We are in our society almost all brought up with the idea of success and “making it”.

I often consider the world of music making in relation to painting. I really do make music for therapy. I don’t play for others it is something for me. Also a tune played is in the air for a moment then gone leaving no trace. With paintings the evidence of our creativity takes concrete form to haunt our future. Part of me wants to just paint away and not worry my little head about such things. Another part wants this skill I have invested so much of myself into to survive and spread and there is no better way of doing that than by example.

Another area I consider is history. If I look back then I see almost no examples of making beautiful things being done purely for the pleasure of the maker. That the craftsperson relished the making might be true, but it is the desires of others to own that drives the process. It is hard to pinpoint when the change in the primary artist’s intent changed from the satisfaction of others to the satisfaction of self. Slowly over a fair span of time. France with the mostly leisured gentlemen who liked to paint overblown historical subjects in opulent studios is perhaps the beginning. Then there came a prolonged tussle with the technical aspects of the nature of an image. The impressionists considered how we see, and then moved on to from where and what aspect we might see, then inevitably to why we see. Which it now seems is a dead end as there is no plausible hope of any hint of an answer or even any halfway interesting way of framing the question.

When I stopped doing useful paid work I did so with an excitement for getting all the things I had not had time for done. All those pictures I had imagined, all those accomplishments I coveted, but had not had time to learn. To put to use the skills already attained over many years of pleasing others to my own purpose. Like all dreams after a while the reality must be assessed. I am making progress, I am enjoying the process, I am not loosing momentum or interest. All plusses so far. It has however opened up some questions I have few answers for. I have settled on the world about me as my subject. Not a conscious decision, just that having decided to make representational paintings they must be of something. I had to choice between imagination or actuality and perhaps surprisingly even to myself I seem to have chosen the latter. Odd since I have spent 40 or more years doing mostly the imagination part. What is strange is that it plays almost no part in what I do now. As a young man I dreamt of painting fey maidens, castles and dragons, but now older, if not wiser, I paint people, houses, hills and trees.

Well, no answers I fear. Just a feeling that I may be missing something obvious that I should be seeing. One thing is becoming clear, the process of displaying what has been produced takes up far more time than the production itself. This is not a complaint as I feel doing so is an integral and inseparable part of the whole activity. It is more that I am irritated that, despite it being quite obvious given even a moments thought, I had not properly anticipated the fact.

Well this has been a while between posts as the show mentioned above is now sorted and at the Gallery on the Square in Poundbury until the 19th October. It has also meant not much painting had been done either. Below is a snap of the show.


Gallery, poundbury

It was great to see all my stuff hung in one space and am very pleased with the result. A picture sold on the preview which is heartening!

I’ll start this post with a few of duff oils!


Kingston, thames, plein air, oils, painting

Well this one isn’t too bad. Difficult light that couldn’t decide whether to be dull or bright. It actually looks much better to me now than when I painted it which shows how mutable and unreliable the artist’s own view of their work is! This is the riverside park in Kingston upon Thames. 10in b y 8in Oils.


Kingston upon Thames, pen and ink, drawing, art

The day turned really dull so I drew the market square in Kingston which is still quite pleasant. Only 2 things held me back… I had forgotten my pens… a nearby Rymans supplied some nasty felt tips and a seemingly endless supply of garrulous drunks clutching tins of Tenants Super Lager! It was also preparing to rain which is why this is so frantically scribbled.


Thames, Kingston, pen and ink, drawing

This vantage had the advantage of being under a dense tree so the rain could not get at me. I was accompanied by several Wappers as it was aWapping Group day, we all gave up and went to the pub in the end as the rain got really determined.


Richmond Hill, landscape, Thames, oil painting, plein air

This is the much painted view from Richmond Hill. It is a wonderful sight with the curve of the river. I got into a bit of a mess with this but I think I can still make it work. The building needs knocking back so it does not compete with the river. The sky is a write off and needs repainting. As I finished some lovely dashes of sunlight made their way across the landscape so one of these should finish the job! The board was an old one that was very smooth which really does not suit my style. I need the drag on the brush and it also means that dry brushing is not an option which is quite limiting. 12in by 16in oils.


Thames, Richmond Hill, oil painting, plein air, landscape

It was a relief to get on to this old canvas board! The day had changed so much it was a completely different scene. I did this very quickly no more than 20min. 10in by 8in oils.


Mudeford, Dorset, fishing, oil painting, plein air

A very quick sketch of people crabbing at Mudeford near Christchurch in Dorset. I bashed this in very quickly so lots wrong. I got some great photos as the light came round though so this sketch will be invaluable when I do the studio painting I have planned. 10in by 12in Oils.


Mudeford, Dorset, boats, painting oil, plein air

The day went flat on us but I enjoyed painting this on a tiny 10in by 5in off cut of board. Hard to know what to do with such sketches I have so many of them now.


London, Canon St, pen and ink, drawing

This started as a working sketch for a painting, but it got distinctly out of hand! Tremendous fun to draw. I had to take great care of the tones in the distance. Something easy in paint but hard in pen and ink. Cannon St towards St Pauls. Pen and Ink 12in by 10in.


Wooland, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing, landscape

This is near Wooland in Dorset. I only got a pencil sketch done on site as what appeared to be a quiet lane was actually a mad race track. I was drawing from infront of my car which was in a passing place so I felt very exposed! For the best in the end as the inking was quite laborious with all those darks. It is important with pen and ink not to completely cover the paper when doing dark areas. Little bits of paper add sparkle that is easily lost. It is possible to use solid blacks but they are compositionally very strong so care is needed. I usually apply them with a brush rather than the pen. If I was to use that method here I would use it on the car which has the largest area of solid black. 9in by 12in pen and ink.

July 31, 2015

Landscape Art

In my newspaper today there was a review of Richard Long the land artist. When I was a student he and Andy Goldsworthy were first making their mark. I, as almost everyone else, quite liked what they did, indeed who wouldn’t. The work is engaging pleasant and made of nice stuff often in a beautiful setting, hard indeed to find anything about it all that is not pleasant. They make what is called “interventions” on the landscape. The defining factor seems to be that it should not be a practical intervention such as a useful one like a drystone wall for keeping animals in. Oh and also it shouldn’t be a folly either like the great estate owners were fond of… now I think of it garden design has to be omitted too… whoops, some ancient monuments have to be excluded as well. So really it has to be made by a person who defines themselves as an artist. You could have four identical drystone objects one crafted by an artist one by an architect and one by a landscape designer and one by a drystone waller and it seems that the art cognoscenti say only the artist made one would be art. If they were placed side by side of course it would be impossible to tell one from another. So did the “artiness” come from the object being made or you being told it was by an artist? I seems to me plain that the “art” ingredient was added by you being informed of the fact not the object being made nor you perusing it. So by my way of thinking the art act was the labelling of it. So group of friends hiking might come across an intriguing drystone construction and one of them might pipe up, “Oh that is a Richard Long” all the group would then have an “art” moment. The piper might be wrong, but regardless of that the art experience was had. Was the hiker actually the artist? Well it’s a thought.


A few different land art sort of items, can you spot the art?

Now you may think I am going to deny the artiness of the monkish Mr Long and fey Mr Goldsworthy, but no I want to say that they are all made with craft and therefore capable of being looked at as art. My argument would be that they are not a particularly high individual achievement. We ascribe special status to folk like Rembrandt because very very few human beings through history are going to be able to do what he did as well and with as deep long term appeal, depth of expression  and subtle nuances. Perhaps one or two in a generation. However anyone with a bit of patience could make a Richard Long you would not have to wait half a century for another person good enough at arranging rocks! So an object made by man might be lovely to look at, it might be instructive, it might be moving. But it is not that which we celebrate. We celebrate the high points of human achievement. Most of us write, but very few of us write War and Peace. So we value Mr Tolstoy and his works. So the land artists could be safely placed in “pleasant essay” territory rather than “towering achievement”.

With high jumpers we celebrate the person who leaps over the highest bar. We may clap if a portly person makes an impressive attempt at a much lower bar but the record books won’t be adjusted. So to my mind the difficulty of achieving a result and the amount of life that has had to be expended to be able to do that thing is a large factor in the art value of a made thing. With the difficulty of attainment comes rarity and in most cases with rarity comes value. All of the objects both rare and common may well provoke a pleasant and meaningful visual experience. But the rare one is an example of high human achievement and it is that event that we should celebrate.

This edition I am offering a bit of landscape art rather than land art. I am at last getting to grips with painting different subjects now that I am finally full time in pastoral surroundings. Not that it is easy, I am being fairly experimental in my approach so a good few failures will result.


Honfleur, France,  Notre Dame de Grace, pen and ink drawing

A few orphans from France that needed finishing later due to a high shrubbery content! I added a raw sienna wash to my media on the last day just to add another element. Very nice for adding bulk to trees and differentiating areas. This is Notre Dame de Grace high above Honfleur. I would like to have painted but I found it on the last day and didn’t get the chance.


Le Croisic, France, drawing, pen and ink

This is Le Croisic, I added the wash after and am pleased with the result I found a subtle mix of the sienna and the white I use made a lovely warm white which contrasts nicely with the cooler version used in the clouds.


Swanage, Dorset, pen and ink, wellington clock tower

This is the Wellington clock tower in Swanage which rather oddly originally once stood at the southern end of London Bridge in London. It was moved to the seaside in 1854 at a cost of £700 as it did not keep good time and with increasing traffic it had became something of an obstruction. The faulty clock never came. I am told it used to possess a spire but that became unsafe and was removed in 1904. A very quick sketch, I was out on a pier and in the way of fishing folk.


Corfe, Dorset, pen and wash, drawing

On my way back from Swanage I couldn’t resist this view of Corfe castle with the train. It is on a reproduction of paper as used by David Cox in the 18th century which is a pleasant oatmeal colour. Fab view which I shall come back to. Although it looks arcadian you have to imagine lorries belting past a couple of feet behind me!


Hambledon hill, drawing, dorset, pen and ink

A bit of pen and ink madness, I started this last winter on site, but having done Hambledon hill I decided on a wild circular hatch for the sky… slow work so I had to give up when hypothermia set in! I finished it off a few days ago sitting in the sun in my garden. Has a slightly Samuel Palmerish feel, maybe the first signs of madness.


Salisbury, carving, cathedra,l wiltshire, pen and ink, drawing

A visit to diy store Wickes in Salisbury. The store was a bit boring so I went on to the distinctly more drawable cathedral. This is a carving on the facade warning you of what might happen to you if you sin… I got a crick in my neck doing this!


Salisbury Cathedral, wiltshire, pen and ink, drawing

Yes it’s that famous view Constable painted. I decided to have lunch in a pub by the river but got lured into doing this. By the time I got to the pub they had stopped serving which served me right for getting distracted.


Hambledon Hill, water colour, plein air, painting, art

This post is a bit Hambledon Hill heavy I fear! I am determined to get some paintings that catch the character of the place. It is easy enough doing distant views but although it is fantastic visually up on the hill itself, making a painting that catches that is very hard. It is like those wide views that you photograph when on holiday. They look wonderful when you are there but once you are home the photos look ho hum. Photographs taken from the hill have that same quality. So I set out on a blustery hazy afternoon to do my best. This is looking right out over the verdant Blackmore Vale and I am quite pleased with it. I might try some different formats, tall and thin or square the straight landscape proportions don’t quite work for me. 1/4 sheet Watercolour.


Hambledon Hill, watercolour, art, painting, Dorset, hill fort

I started very boldly here with a full and very wet wash. I need maybe to strengthen the fore ground to push the distance back. I might do a studio version to try and get the balance better. It was so windy the painting blew away a couple of times! 1/4 sheet Watercolour.


Hambledon Hill, hill fort, Dorset, watercolour, painting, art

Not the most cheery of watercolours of Hambledon but I am quite pleased with it on the whole. It was quite different day with the wind driving rain showers up the Stour valley unlike the previous dry windy days the washes just wouldn’t dry. Still I must get up there on some wet days with the oils as I love the mood. I struggled down the hill after carrying my painting gingerly at arms length as it was still very wet. 1/4 sheet, Watercolour.


Fontmell Down, watercolour, Dorset, painting, art

I got up at the crack of dawn to do this, even before the dog walkers, but not as you may have noticed, the sheep. Only a little 9in by 6in but it was lovely to do. Not a mood for wild wet into wet washes so I did it in areas which gives it a calm still mood perfect for the scene. People do go on about “wet into wet” and so forth as if it is the only way to paint. I like both the wild and splashy and the carefully laid down and find that the approach can be infinitely varied from the exuberantly expressive to the quietly meditative to suit the feeling of different subjects and moods. The rule is for me that the technique should be at the service of the subject not the other way round. The subject here is the wonderful Fontmell Down.


Eggardon Hill, Watercolour, Dorset, painting, art

This is the view from Eggardon Hill another hill fort in Dorset. A studio painting done on the David Cox paper. Very hard to stretch as it wrenches any gumstrip off. You have to staple all round the edge and even then it pulls free. I must use my Artmate paper stretcher in future. The paper is much thinner than what we use today and is technically quite hard to paint on. Too wet and it turns into an impression of the alps cockling fiercely. On the other hand the beautiful surface with little flecks of brown and yellow gives a lovely quality. You soon understand why the 18th century masters used body colour. To get a bright wash you just have to add some white to the wash. Not enough to remove the transparency but just enough to add brilliance to the colour. I enjoyed doing this tremendously and love the quality it brings to the paint. 14in by 9in, watercolour.

That’s it for this edition. I feel some oil painting is due as I have neglected it in the last week or so, like everything if you don’t keep doing it you loose the edge that comes with regular practice. Painting is very not like riding a bicycle you do forget all too easily!




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