Rob Adams a Painter's Blog

October 14, 2014

Distractions

Do you find that everyday chores and responsibilities get in the way of painting? Even someone like myself with no family responsibilities finds it hard to get “easel time”. I take my hat off to those that manage it with job, house and kids to juggle with. Often I find these interruptions are painting related. I have to take paintings to galleries, attend private views, write blogs, I have just spent 3 days framing! I have a painting that has been sitting for 2 weeks on my easel waiting to be finished off, but I haven’t been able to find the 4 hours that would take. It does however have a lovely frame… This is exacerbated recently by moving to the country. An old house to refurbish, studio to build at the bottom of the garden, it all eats time. As I am about to hit 60 time is all the more precious.

I wonder in reflective moments if I had painted for all the hours I watched telly, or more recently floated round the inter web, over the years just how many more paintings I would have got done. Also having done them, how much better at the whole business would I be? The odd thing is I can get up and paint all day without interruption if I am doing an illustration for a client, but find it harder to do that for myself. I suppose that if you don’t get the commercial job done there will be immediate consequences but if you don’t finish that landscape then no one will tick you off!

I think I ought to implement an organised regime, but am not sure I have the will power to stick to one. Even if I set a regime of 5hrs a day 5 days per week I would I suspect still improve my output. Twenty five hours, I doubt if I am making 15hrs at present. Discounting commercial work of about 10 weeks leaves 46 weeks in the year so 690hrs of painting time. I have completed 200 works of various kinds. So I am being a bit unkind as I think maybe an average of 4 hrs per work including studies, preparation and finding subjects on location. Which means I have put in about 800hrs of painting and drawing this year or about 20 forty hour weeks.

Exactly why I feel I have to put in this labour is another matter. I am fortunate in that I do just enough commercial work to feed and keep me. Many I feel artists overstate the importance of their art in order to legitimise the work they produce as being the result of some irresistible drive. Mostly we tend to look upon obsessive behaviour as a negative thing, but if you are an artist then you can wear such behaviour on your sleeve. I don’t think I am obsessed, I have said before I could stop painting and just write or play music, but what pushes me along in interest and fascination. The more I learn the more I wish to learn.

So here is what I have got done despite distractions! A mixed bunch, but I feel it is important to post the misses as well as the ones nearer to the target.

 

Queenborough, Sheppey, Kent, Oils, Brass Monkeys, plein air

This is Queenborough on the isle of Sheppey. A very fine day out with the Brass Monkeys. This was such fun to paint and unusually I took it to a finish on site. 14in by 10 in Oils.

 

Queenborough, Sheppey, Kent, drawing, brass monkeys

Queenborough again, very pleased with this one. Pen and ink 9in by 7in.

 

Royal Hill, Greenwich, Brass Monkeys, London, oils, plain air

Another Brass Monkey day. This is Royal Hill in Greenwich. 10in by 16in oils.

 

Greenwich, London, Observatory, park, brass monkeys, oil painting

Very quick sketch of the Observatory in Greenwich park, not one to take any further but fine as a sketch. 10in by 10in oils.

 

Isleworth, watercolour, Wapping Group, Thames

This is Isleworth on the Thames. My heart wasn’t really in this it doesn’t have a natural focus. With plein air it is sometimes impossible to juggle all the requirements that make a good picture, but sketches I feel have a charm of their own. 10in by 8in, watercolour.

 

Isleworth, London, London Apprentice, drawing, pub

This is Isleworth again on the river terrace at The London Apprentice.

 

Shaftesbury, Golden Hill, Dorset, Pen and Ink, drawing

This is the famous Gold Hill in Shaftesbury in Dorset. This is the “standard lazy view” but I hope to return and find a few more original angles! Pen and ink A4.

 

Lastly a few life drawings, I have found a new group in Dorset so will be able to keep up the figure work which is wonderful.

Life drawing

 

Life drawing

 

Life drawing

 

Life drawing

The above are 5min each. The village hall where the session is held has wonderful light so I am looking forward to future days.

 

Life drawing

30min

 

The model view was no good so I sneakily did one of my fellow artists! That’s it for this episode, there may be a bit of a gap asI am rather thinly spread of late!

May 24, 2014

Focus

This is a subject I am very much feeling my way with. Having been painting pictures for framing for a little while now and looking at a huge swathe of paintings by others I have come up against the issue of hardness or softness of edges. People talk a fair bit about the importance of edges and getting the mix of lost and found edges right, but no one talks a great deal about why this might be so.

If you stand before a scene in ordinary light then the edges of everything look pretty crisp. They even look crisp in fog! So why would we like blurry edges in paintings if we don’t have them in real life? Indeed can you think of anything other than a bank of fog that actually has a blurry edge? Some close too things have soft edges such as curved surfaces where one eye sees further round the curve than the other. This incidentally only happens on vertical or nearly so curved surfaces such as a cylinder sitting on its round end. If you rotate the cylinder to lie on its curved surface then the now horizontal edge will be sharp due to out eyes being side by side.

The other effect we see in photography is soft focus. Our eyes do it too. This is what is called depth of field. Depending on the light levels if we focus on a nearby object then the distant one will be soft and if we then focus on the distance the nearby object will in turn become blurred. The human eye does a different sort of soft focus in that objects in the centre of out attention will be sharp but those on the peripherally will be soft and ill defined. Try it your self, I am amazed at how amorphous even objects a little off the central axis become. It is a little hard to stop your eyes following your attention and moving!

How we actually take in the world is by scanning our surroundings in little darts and jumps called saccades. Our brains are not fast enough to process fast movement, if you try waving your fingers in front of your face you will find that they become blurred quite soon. So the eye moves in sudden jumps and pauses as it picks out information from our surroundings.

Yet another aspect of visual definition is specificity, so a tree will not usually be as visually defined as a person. If you did a picture with blurry people and sharp trees then people would find it a little odd. The same painting with blurry trees and defined people would however be quite unremarkable.

So as you see we have a quite a few reasons to be blurry in our paintings! This in turn makes softening and hardening of edges quite a powerful tool in the painter’s tool box. When I look at other painters and indeed myself I suspect people learn to use softening of edges in an empirical, this works, that doesn’t manner. Having thought it through a bit I think it might be exploited in quite a few interesting ways.

An extra layer of complexity is caused I think due to the fact that the same visual system is being used by the viewer of a painting as the painter. If the trees in a painting are soft then a viewer will appreciate mood and colour but not so much form or botanical detail (painters of course will admire the soft edges but they are just weird!) . The non painting eye will move on to whatever in the picture is more defined but the softer areas will still be supplying mood. It is immediately apparent to me that having things inappropriately over-defined in an area of a picture can be a distraction and weaken the overall impact.

I am of course talking about a certain type of picture, the impression of time, place and weather. People tend to confuse the different ways we can read a picture, so a detailed picture is inviting a different sort of looking and appreciation than an impression. They are not I feel better or worse per se. Indeed you could maybe mix the two if you were very clever.

Where I need to improve the control of focus is in my oil paintings. With watercolour I tend to use wet edges and so forth automatically, but with oils I have to think it through. Also with watercolours you are often working from the very amorphous to the definite as a matter of course. There it is that is the nature of painting there is always more to learn and deficiencies to make good! Enough complaining, a few drawings and paintings.

Tower Hill, London, watercolour

I am in a quandary with paper at present. Arches, my favourite paper has become very poor in quality of late. I have a couple of rolls which will keep me going a few years in the studio, but for painting en plein air I used the glued blocks. These alas have become very poorly sized as have the single sheets, making the washes dry dull and lifeless. The surface of the paper is not as tough as it should be either so lifting out becomes a risky process.

As an experiment I have bought some paper from the Ruscombe Mill in France. They make recreations of historical papers. So I bought a few sheets of David Cox and some Thomas Girtin types. The paper is much lighter in weight than we use now and must be stretched. Also it has more inclusions and is less white. I must admit I was slightly horrified at the uneven surface when I first unpacked it. None the less I stretched up some and took it out.

The one above is done on the David Cox. The paper contracts fiercely when stretched so I had to use my Artmate. As always when using a new paper you have to just dive in and I found it hard going at first. It doesn’t react well to wet into wet so washes must be laid cleanly and in one go. The scene above was done in around 45min and could have done with more careful drawing out. Altogether though it has quite a pleasant quality and now I know what it does well I can try and exploit its qualities. The paper is very very tough so lifting out is easy. Its weakness is that washes even when quite concentrated dry a little pale.

I did this sitting just by the Tower of London looking towards the city. 10in by 14in.

 

St Katherines Dock, London, watercolour

Second one of the day. It was a Wapping Group day so I sat near the Dickens Inn at St Katherines Dock. This is the Thomas Girtin paper. It is less white a sort of soft buff colour. Unlike the David Cox it took to wet into wet well as you can see by the softer feel. Also stronger tones were easier to achieve. All in all very pleasant to paint on, I shall be intrigued to try a larger painting as this one is only 5in by 10in. Strong whites will need to be painted in with body colour, which is of course just how Girtin often worked.

 

Spitalfields Market, London, drawing

The Brass Monkeys were at Spitalfields. We met at one of the cafes in the Market. While I drank my coffee and chatted I drew the passers by. I am going to try and add a little more character to the figures in my drawings to make them a little less architecty . Generic figures are OK but ones that tell a bit of a story are better I am beginning to think. 5in by 7in.

 

Spitalfields, London, Hawksmoor, drawing, pen

This is the view down Brush St to Nicholas Hawksmoor’s Christchurch. I had to hatch the sky later as no time to do on site. 7in by 9in. Here generic figures are fine as the church is the star.

 

Brush St, Spitalfields, London pen drawing, shop

A smaller pen sketch also in Brush St. Here I could have done with some more definitive types of people. 5in by 7in.

 

South Bank, Thames, London, pen and ink, Drawing

Sorry, yet more drawing… it is just a way of avoiding the oil paints maybe! Here I struggled to find something to make a picture of and abandoned two at the pencil stage. Then this confident young man walked past plainly on a mission unlike the dawdling tourists. I drew him in first and then built the rest of the picture around him. This is also on Ruscombe paper, quite resistant to draw on but gives a nice quality in the final result. This is the South Bank and another day out with the Wappers. 6in by 8in.

 

South Bank, Thames, London, Ice cream van, pen drawing

I am off to Florence for a painting trip so my next move was to go shopping to stock up on pens. I found this odd white pen which allowed hatching on the cream paper. Interesting effect, I shall be using it more. 6in by 8in.

 

Nude, Life drawing

A few life drawings to finish off. I was trying to keep things simple so just black and white.

 

nude, life drawing

I added red here and regretted it slightly.
Life drawing, nude

Last one, learnt my lesson and went back to black and white! Next post should be the glories of Florence…

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