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.

August 26, 2015

Art and Architecture

What a blight the so called “International style” of architecture has been on our planet. It has wiped out all local and ethnic styles of building the world over. People hoot and howl if their spoken language is threatened by a Lingua Franca but hooteth not when their vernacular style of building is wiped off the map. Europe has for the most part just surrounded their historical centres with a ring of dreary concrete leaving the old encysted by the new. Britain due to the unfortunate rise of the town planner in the fifties and sixties has lost a great deal more. If you took photos from around the world of recent everyday urban developments and removed any signs in Photoshop then I doubt if anybody could place them geographically. So how did this appalling state of affairs come about, how did it happen that what was once considered the greatest of the arts was reduced to engineering and quantity surveying?

Before the invention of architects as distinct profession most structures and all vernacular structures were built by tradesmen. In medieval times a “Master Builder” was employed on the greatest projects. We know little of most of these men, the most famous are more properly military engineers since that was area many of the really big projects were being carried out. Leonardo, Michelangelo and many others drew elaborate bastions with all the lines of fire drawn in. In our towns and villages however the builder was your man. He operated I dare say via tradition that was slowly pushed forwards by the desire of their clients to embrace new fashions. These fashions were mostly imported by the aristocracy and royalty and slowly made their way into the everyday vernacular styles.

To this end many books of architectural detail were printed, which were in effect catalogues that a builder or client could choose from. Outside of building for display most utilitarian structures were simply made along traditional lines from local materials. The result is for the most part unintentionally harmonious but varied and if destinations favoured by tourists are any guide still pleasing today. We rather cruelly and disparagingly refer to the effect as “pretty” or “quaint” but no such intention was intended in their original construction. It is interesting how when architects try and fake this organic and empirical development the result is lack lustre to say the least. The arts and crafts developments are the most convincing as they have an agenda of their own and mostly do mot seek to mimic but to make a new form from an old idiom.

Vernacular building design has always followed a step or three behind the styles of the great projects of any time. The great Renaissance and Baroque revolutions first appeared in the big cities paid for by the church and nobles. It is interesting to not that although we started to have architects they were all artists first and foremost. Bramante, Bernini, Michelangelo and others were all high achieving artists in their own right. Today that is far from the case. I was initially going to be an architect and applied to do a degree. In the run up I went and worked for various local architects my father knew. I soon realised most architecture had no art in it whatsoever but a great deal of accountancy. In truth most of the projects would have proceeded better with just a builder and an engineer, the architect was just an irritation.

So it is that in our age we see feats of engineering but not of art. Our cityscapes have no consistency of overall form, but a deadening uniformity of detail and material. This is not by the way a call for change, we are too late architecture is dead and will not be returning. There is a tendency for people bemoaning the visual state of our built environment to recommend a return to Tudorbethan or Mock-Georgian but this is painfully naive and where it is tried fails due to there being no one with the visual training to make it convincing. No there is no going back, buildings are going to be by the hugest of majorities soulless and ugly for the remainder of man’s existence. The reason for this is not the great projects by the “Starchitects” but the innumerable small developments by jobbing architects who have for the most part no interest in the history of their craft or any decent training in composition, massing, decoration or proportion. So however good a modern building is it will inevitably drown in the vast ocean of workaday dreariness. Indeed anything that is at all good makes the surrounding clutter seem emptier of beauty by comparison. Still architects do keep the market for black polo necked jumpers and expensive round spectacle frames afloat.

We actually have laws to prevent buildings looking beautiful. The regulations that control sill height and window size mean that most fenestration will be ugly. That of course tends to preclude any facade from being at all elegant. The manufacture of windows to standard sizes of clumsy proportion and design puts the final nail in the coffin. Should we care? Well probably not. The generation that does care is ageing fast and the next will not understand what I am complaining about. Past styles are fodder for theme parks and film designers only and not to be ever seen again in our everyday built environments. Who should we blame for this visual poverty that future generations must live with? Well building has to some degree always been about enclosing practical space for the least possible cost. This is where the International Style delivers without question. Building has also always been a display of prestige, but now we tend to be swayed by post code and whether there is a 2 acre underground gym. We are interested in contents rather than any external appearance. You may rail against the horrid boxy uniformity of a Bovis estate, but though the buildings are of execrable design they are cheap enough to make so that a far higher proportion than in any other age can live in their perfectly adequate and convenient comfort.

Now that is of my chest and on to yours I can post some paintings. After a stint of watercolour back to the oils again.


Okeford Hill, Dorset oils, painting, art

A panoramic view from Okeford Hill. I did a small watercolour a year or so ago of this and decided to make a larger studio oil from it. The result wasn’t great so I went back to the location with the studio painting. I was very lucky in that the cloud shadows were adding splashes of light across the valley which looked great. With that and a new sky the whole thing is much improved. Oils 12in by 26in.

Okeford Hill, Dorset, watercolour

Here is the original watercolour, I worked from both this and photos taken at the time. I don’t much like working from just a photo, it seems to be easier if I have drawn or painted the scene however slight the sketch. The thing is that doing the looking fixes memories in your head that re-emerge when you come to paint in the studio.


Dorset, Hambledon Hill, oil painting, art

Hambledon Hill with a threatening storm. Another done from a previous plein air watercolour. I didn’t need to revisit the site this time. It would have ben pointless in any case as the lighting was everything. Oils 12in by 12in.


Nottinghill Gate, oils, plein air.

I am still visiting London to paint with the Brass Monkeys, this is Notting Hill Gate. This was  a struggle as the light was varying constantly. I might cut this down to a square format as the stuff at the top is bringing nothing to the party. With the best will in the world it is very hard to make the best compositional decisions when racing to get some small part of what you see down. That any of them ever turn into a decent picture is a miracle! Oils 12in by 8in.


London, plein air, Notting Hill, painting, art

Another from the same day. Not quite sure what this needs… will probably go into a drawer to be found only after my final demise! Oils 8in by 12in.


Surrey, oil painting, plein air, art

Somewhere in Surrey… a very quick sketch, but a great scene. I am experimenting with surfaces at present. I have decided that the primed MDF I have been using is too limited and I don’t much like the “feel” of the paintings done on it when varnished and framed. The quality worryingly reminds me of hand made place mats! 6in by 12in Oils.


Romsey Abbey, Hampshire, plein air, oil painting, art

The same day and 60 mile East. My friend Steve Alexander was busy painting the interior so I went and stood in the drizzle to do this. I love trying to catch the day however gloomy. Whether anyone would ever want the resulting daub on their wall is of course another matter! This is Romsey Abbey in Hampshire. 6in by 12in Oils.


Romsey Abbey, pen and ink, drawing

Before doing the grey day oil I did this quick sketch of the interior of the abbey. Romsey is one of my favourite buildings it has a wonderful scale and elegance. When tackling such a subject it is very important to start in a manner that is practical. I could have made an accurate architectural drawing, but that would have taken too long. The charm of these sketches is in some part due to the constraints of time and media. I am always amazed at just how much you can express of a very complex subject with relatively few lines. Pen and Ink.


Shroton, Dorset, Plein air, oil painting, art

Steve had accompanied me back to Dorset so we set out to paint the day away. This is Shroton in Dorset a mile or so from me. The forecast had been for rain but this is what we got instead. I rather like the double square as a board proportion especially for landscape. Oils 6in by 12in.


Shroton, church, oil painting, plein air, art, dorset

Next up was Shroton church. I love pictures of graveyards and so do other artists I know… but no one will ever buy one! I just had fun with this I didn’t want to over elaborate a very simple scene. There was a figure but it fell to centrally and so got expunged. Oils 8in by 10in.

Fontmell Down, Dorset, plein air, oil painting.

We next went to the wonderful Fontmell Down. Unfortunately there was a herd of very rumbustious bullocks in the field so we had to retreat. On the plus side though I got some wonderful photos of them with the down in the background which will in due course be a studio painting.  10in by 12in Oils


Still life, kettle, flowers, oil painting

Now, as they say, for something completely different. As the rain had well and truly arrived Steve and I set up a still life. I have only done 3 or four such paintings in my whole life. Not because I dislike them but just never got around to doing any. I must do more and Dorset will no doubt supply plenty of wet days in which to paint them. There was a loaf in the picture too, but it was too close and I eventually painted it out. This meant waiting for the area to dry a bit so I had to set the whole thing up again just to finish the table cloth. Great fun though and very good practice to try and capture the various surfaces without getting fussy. I am not much of a fan of “dutch” style over finished still lives. Oils 12in by 16in.

I have an upcoming exhibition so I have been framing pictures like mad. My first solo show so very nervous!


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