Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

July 30, 2019

Stuck in a Rut

Filed under: Dorset,London,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 11:53 am

I am I suppose a little unusual in the painting world in that I have had several careers in the art and design industry before becoming a full time dauber. Being an artist for hire means that you could be asked to do anything. City made out of biscuits… yes sir! On the double… 40ft high version of the kiss by Rodin… yes sir! When would you like it? 2 weeks… ulp! These were real projects.

I painted clinching couples for romance book covers, innumerable detective book covers and designed porcelain plates. Later I painted hundreds of skies and other backdrops for film and stage, all of them huge. In short variety was very much the spice of my life.

The one connecting factor was that someone else chose the subject and decided on its final form. So when I first started to paint pictures for me I actually found it quite hard. I had many of the technical skills and knew how to churn out a crown pleaser, but I had no real idea how to do something that might please me. My erratic course in trying to achieve this has been documented here in grisly detail.

The other problem was that due to the commercial experience I could paint in more or less any style. So if you put a line of pictures I had painted in a row you wouldn’t necessarily think them all by the same person. The unwelcome news that strengths could be your greatest weakness only sank in quite slowly. I have had to find out what I want to say and also what I don’t want to include. Made up imaginary content has virtually gone so I now try to pick and choose from what I see or experience directly, even if I do use some imagination to round out fleeting impressions.

I am hardly the only artist to suffer in this way. I see many other painters who paint mostly to their developed strengths. You may be a dab hand at painting contre-jour. The temptation then is to only do that. You might be advanced at portraiture but rubbish at landscape. You might be a whizz with muted tones and subtle gradations, but not so hot at punchy contrasts. The temptation is always the same: That worked last time, safest to stick to the tried and tested. Perhaps “safe” is a little unfair, maybe after a while you have trouble seeing potential subjects outside of your favourite parameters.

There is not, I hasten to add, anything wrong or unworthy about just sticking to what you are good at. It is just that for me I feel allowing you strengths to determine what and when you paint is perhaps just a little bit limiting. Our painter who paints always in to the light might find flat days very hard indeed and so avoids them. Just because you can do one does not mean you can manage the other with the same confidence.

That is the reason I would always to encourage people to intentionally work outside of their habitual methodology. Always painting away into the distance? Paint a widescreen cinemascope masterpiece where you have to tape your ears back to keep them out of shot! Always paint in jolly primaries? Ditch those playpen colours and delve into the blacks browns and greys. Always paint in simplified pared down areas? Get out your magnifying glass and go manic with the detail with a cathedral in the distance and an ant in the foreground!

Many will be shuddering with this assault on their good taste… but actually wonderful paintings have been done in almost every possible variation of style and intent. It is perhaps too easy to accept what is considered cool and garners Instagram likes from your peers and not ask unfashionable questions. Rest assured whatever you do it will still come out looking like one of yours. You will however have stretched the boundaries of what you can take on. You then realise that all the different methodologies and generic styles are just tools in the box that you can bring out when you require them, not the deciding factor that constrains any course you take.

plein air, Jermyn St, ,oil painting, London

This is Jermyn St done on a determinedly grey and occasionally wet day. I have missed painting in London so I didn’t mind the weather too much. I met up with the Northern Boys who were down on a painting mission which was fun. 12in by 10in Oils.

Charing Cross, St Martins lane, plein air, oil painting, London

Actually done before the one above. I had a wide skinny board so I sat on the steps of St Martins and did this. I was slightly put off by a drunk Scouser talking to me non stop as I painted… you don’t get that in Dorset. Two paintings in one really. 14in by 5in Oils.

Mudeford Quay, plein air, Dorset, oil painting, sea

Brit Plein Air did a paintout at Mudeford Quay, we arrived quite late but the day was gorgeous. All the tones had to be arranged to allow the white highlights to really sparkle. 14in by 5in Oils.

Mudeford Quay, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

Last one from Mudeford. The tones of the foreground gave me a lot of trouble, needing to be both dark enough to allow the distance to dazzle yet light enough to be sunlit. Your eyes betray you when making direct observations so you have to work it out by deduction and testing. Sometimes I look at these bright scenes reflected in the black glass of my phone. This gives useful clues as to the actual tonal balances. 16in by 12in Oils.

Swanage, Old harry, Peveril Point, plein air, oil painting, sea

Above Swanage, I only had a few minutes so chose to do this simple scene rather than the more dramatic Peveril Point which was not lit well. 10in by 8in Oils.

Shaftesbury, Gold Hill, plein air, oil painting, Dorset, Hovis Hill

It’s that famous Hovis Hill again. Gold Hill in Shaftesbury fascinates me, it is almost impossible to impose yourself on it. There have been so many bad paintings of it because experienced painters avoid it as it has become a cliche. Even here where I squeeze it into a letterbox the subject overwhelms. Marvellous place, I shall never win but trying is great fun. 24in by 8in Oils.

Hambledon hill, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

I haven’t painted Hambledon in a while. I love this view but haven’t managed to catch it in good light yet. Late in the evening might be good so I have to try and get there on a promising day. 24in by 8in Oils.

Win Green, Cranbourne Chase, plein air, oil painting

This is Win Green near Shaftesbury a great day with dramatic clouds scurrying across the sky at a great lick. I was going to soften the sky once home but decided to leave it in the end. I might glaze it so as to keep the choppy brushwork but just add a little bit of subtlety of tone. The great thing with glazing is that if you don’t like the effect you can just wipe it off and no harm is done. 12in by 12in. Oils.

Houns Tout, Dorset, Plein Air, oil painting

Another day out to the coast, this is looking down the valley that leads to Chapman’s Pool. One of those ones where you realise that you perhaps shouldn’t have bothered! Later I discovered that there is a much better view a hundred yards down the path… No matter I could not have done it on that day as the cattle would have plagued me. 10in by 8in Oils.

Chapmans Pool, Dorset, seascape, plein air, oil painting

Same day over looking Chapman’s Pool. I waited in vain for a flash of sunlight to give it a lift! Never mind a great view I shall return to. 10in by 10in Oils.

Sandbanks, Poole, Old Harry, seascape, plein air, oil painting, Dorset

Looking across from Sandbanks to Old Harry on a very windy day. I had the tripod weighed down with a bag of sand but still had to hang on to everything for dear life. My rag blew away in the first few seconds of working and plenty of sand is embedded in the paint. I tried to catch the energy in the sky and the sea with the two divided by the calmer strip of land. 14in by 10in Oils.

That’s all for now, I really need to get on with some more studio work but the outdoors is so enticing I can’t resist!

April 27, 2019

Ideal Homes

Filed under: Dorset,How to do,Painting,Thames,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Rob Adams @ 2:32 pm

So what kind of house has a picture like yours? Is it posh? Is it sleek and modern, an apartment with views over the Thames? Is it a tastefully updated Georgian terrace with a gymnasium in the sub sub sub basement? Surely only people with discrimination would buy one of your works.

When artists and galleries display work they often put them on the wall of an ideal room. It always has a minimal sofa with a few swish designer goodies, the people who exist there do not do clutter. No mould in the bottom of forgotten coffee cups or abandoned crisp packets for any one who might purchase your oh so trendy wares. Here is one of mine in a designer penthouse… he is in marketing and she is an interior designer.

lounge

Is it only me? When I see one of my pictures inserted into such an aspirational setting I have to choke down the desire to snigger… So let’s have a go at some other potential hanging sites, maybe it is just the setting I object to and if I nailed the right context I would have to beat off potential buyers with a spiked club. How about somewhere grander?

Versailles, palace

Louis XVI might ring me up and say he had a spot in his country hideaway for one of my pictures. I’m sure Louie would be convinced by this… Ok Ok he’s dead and I’m getting delusions of grandeur. Anyway the super rich, as history repeatedly shows, have the worst possible taste. Those super-yachts have so much gold plate, general bling and marble aboard it’s a wonder they don’t sink.

How about the Waitrose set? Restrained, comfortable they aspire to an understated elegance. They buy pictures for period rooms and my old fashioned daubs would look better in a chic updated Georgian job with Farrow and Ball “Elephant’s Last Gasp” painted on the walls…

That’s more the thing, I could put an ad in Ideal Homes… but wait a minute maybe poor people could be lured into mortgaging their granny or taking out a payday loan to buy art… or grannies might sell off their grandchildren as chattels and snap up my painting of Christchurch… you have to appeal to a broad cross-section of society in this credit driven world.

See my picture adds a little bit of class to an otherwise depressing granny flat. I think that those gallery sites should offer all these options…

Students might be persuaded to blow their loans and buy art to decorate their squats. Hmm how low should I go…I need to research this. Is there an “Ideal Slums” magazine do you think?

I have some exhibitions coming up so I am trying to get some larger studio pictures painted. I find it so much easier to paint plein air that when I move to the studio to paint you can almost hear the gears in my head grinding. The two disciplines use similar skills, but are very different in process. With plein air you paint whatever the day brings and you are constrained by time. In the studio there is too much choice and you can linger over the work as long as you like. Both are fraught with danger!

So I have been trying to do the pictures I would have painted on the day but there was no way to set up. I nearly always take snaps of these in any case. So I have my reference and also whatever I actually did paint on the day.

Bridport, market, oil painting, Dorset

This is Bridport market on a busy day. This view was great but only from the road so I ended up painting further down. One thing I soon remember with studio work is that it has to go through at least one “ugly” stage and maybe more. I scraped this one back twice and then brought it forward again. Once you have resigned yourself to the process it becomes less traumatic. You have to learn to set aside that, “If I do more I’ll ruin it.” feeling we all get. Actually if you loose something good you can nearly always get it back. This one is 27in by 20in which is the great thing about studio where you can stretch the size up a little. Oils.

Sketch, Salisbury

Next up was Castle St Salisbury. I had done a watercolour but felt the scene would work well much bigger. For once I remembered to take snaps as I went along. This is my drawing out, it is really just notes of relative positions of things, I use different colours to remind me what things are. If I want to change things now is the time. Here I wanted to invert the curve of the perspective to sweep the eye down the road faster than otherwise. I tend to use oil to draw out as I can just wipe out with turps to redo an area. This is about 2 hours worth of scribbling and adjusting.

salisbury, oil painting, block in

This is the most dramatic moment in any picture and in someways the most fun. Blocking in is quick and once done you get an immediate idea if your picture is going to work. Here I spent considerably more time mixing colours than applying them! With current ideas of art many people prefer this stage to the finished thing, but for me it is just a way marker.

Salisbury, Castle St, Wiltshire

The next stages are the donkey work, the dramatic transformations are done with. Here I am just making corrections to the drawing and tones. I really try hard not to get any area in advance of another. About 3hrs work from the previous image.

Castle Street, Salisbury, oil painting

Here it is all brought forward a bit more. I left it for a few weeks to dry as I wished to do some general glazes. My darkest darks and lightest lights are missing from the buildings and road at this stage.

Salisbury, oil painting, castle st, Wiltshire

Here it is finished, I left it another couple of weeks then “brought the sun out” with the final highlights. This has made some of the distant darks a little sharp and over defined so I will do a couple of softening glazes to finally finish. 36in by 20in Oils.

Richmond Bridge, thames, oil painting

Next big one… This is Richmond Bridge. I took the reference shot after I had completed a pen drawing of the same scene and the light was signalling time for the pub… The picture is 36in by 36in so quite an area to cover. Fun to block in with a 3in brush. The middle stage here was particularly ugly and I nearly abandoned the whole thing. I felt he “last light” mood was all important, so took a lot of work to get all the close hues and tones working together. Perhaps finished, a few bits of softening to do. Oils.

Dorchester, Oil painting, Dorset, High East St

This is High East St in Dorchester. Learning my lesson from Salisbury I made the sunny side of the street softer, which I feel works a little better.

I find the boundaries between accuracy and mood fascinating, if you are over precise you loose mood and atmosphere, if you are too vague you loose structure and the narrative sense of place. It is technically easier to work at the extremes than trying to get them to play well together, the risk being that you achieve neither aim. 20in by 16in Oils.

steam engine, locomotive, Swanage, railway, oil painting

This is the railway at Swanage. On the day I painted the contre jour view of the workshop that was to be seen from the other side of the bridge. As luck would have it they were testing a train or whatever and they kept going to and fro under the bridge. This allowed me to get lots of action shots and nearly got me run over a couple of times as I dashed from side to side on the narrow bridge. In the reference the locomotives merged more but I decided they had to dominate, so I gave them the strongest contrasts and suppressed everything else. 20in by 16in Oils.

That’s it. I shall catch up on the plein airs done in between next time.

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