Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

March 20, 2015

Of Luck and Calculation

All of life depends on predicting the future. Even the humblest single celled creature does something to skew the probabilities in its favour. When you evolve an eye you can predict when something big is intending to eat you. If you are a plant you can grow towards where the light will most likely be. It is in fact this ability to look forwards in time even the tiniest bit that makes living stuff different to other matter. Once you can make this prediction the possible course of future events you can then act to increase the possibility of a good outcome for your own continuance. If you guess right you get to live and reproduce, so evolution has been honing our future gazing abilities over billions of years.

If you are a tree then you need to be able to look ahead and predict the turning seasons. If a bird also, if you wish to migrate or breed successfully. This sort of prediction means remembering the way cycles reoccur, if it happened once this way then the probabilities have to be high of it happening the same way again. So memory is a big advantage. Being able to pass this predictive information down from generation to generation via inheritance or nurture is another big weight tipping the scales of survival your way. If you can encode past occurrences, calculate their underlying cycles and then make predictions you are top of the heap.

The downside to this is if any of the underlying cycles, such as length of seasons or climate change then you need to adapt fast. The fossil record underlines this fact. If a change occurs such as temperature or another species learning a new trick then you may not be able to update your predictive database in time to survive. So if your predictive capacity is encoded in DNA then you are vulnerable, but if it is in memory then you have a better chance. You can take risks and pass the ones that paid off to the next generation. How could Einstein be so wrong? It seems God is indeed very fond of playing dice.

You may be wondering how this all fits into a painting blog? Well strange though it may seem such factors are one of the things that make producing artworks rewarding and frustrating in equal measure. As an artist you try things you have seen others do and by your successes and failures you increase the probability of your work turning out satisfactorily. If you are lucky you get someone who has already developed a method to pass on information, thus shortcutting your own learning process. Nowadays you can access a vast compendium of information and the artworks produced by many generations. All of this helps but as with all life there are no guarantees.

So what we need to do is increase the probabilities of succeeding. Gain skill in drawing, become familiar with how mediums react. Practice to hone your manual dexterity until it is automatic. In other words do everything you possibly can to load those dice in your favour. With a medium such as watercolour this is especially true. Quite a lot of the process is inevitably effected by chance, so luck is a big factor. The humidity of the day, its temperature, whether the wind is blowing or not, all can make a big difference. So you need to paint differently on a wet day to a summer scorcher. Even the kind of water makes a contribution to the way the paint lies and reacts to the paper, which is in turn another key variable.

There can never be complete certainty and if you do stick to what is safe then you will end up in the doldrums reprising old paintings ad nauseam. Each time we paint we should gamble, but like any gambler we should shorten the odds in our favour as much as possible.

I am still in the process of moving so paintings are a bit thin on the ground.

West Bay, Bridport, Dorset, watercolour, painting, art

This is West Bay near Bridport in Dorset. A difficult composition which doesn’t quite work. Need to be there very early or very late I’m thinking for it to be at it’s best.

 

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, Watercolour, painting, art

A parked Open Reach truck allowed me to get most of this down without being run over. I always look out for roadworks and similar as they sometimes give a chance at a view that would be impossible otherwise!

 

Dorset, watercolour, painting, art

This was very hard going. Just after dawn with a lovely mist but the paint wouldn’t dry. By the time I had finished the sun was out and the mist completely gone. So partly plein air and partly memory. In actual fact once a subject has changed that much it becomes almost a distraction rather than that much of a help.

 

Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, Dorset, Watercolour, art

This is Gold Hill in Shaftesbury, I’ve done it from the top in pen and now here it is again from the bottom in watercolour. This is from reference but I must do it again on a wet and murky day.

 

National Gallery, St Martins in the Fields, pen and ink drawing

A visit to London to meet up with the Brass Monkeys. I ended up missing them due to the train being diverted via Tasmania, but got some drawing done anyway. This will be posted again as I have added washes.

 

William Pitt, bust, sculpture, pen and ink, drawing

This is William Pitt the elder in the National Portrait Gallery. I drew this in pencil and then did the pen on the train as it went back to Dorset via Tasmania.

 

Old Compton St, London, pen and ink, drawing

This is looking up Old Compton St. I loved the Bentley surrounded by bin bags! I did the darks with a brush first and then added hatching. I shall do more of this as I rather like the effect.

January 28, 2015

Contemporary

When writing another post I looked up Contemporary Art on Wikipedia. The entry is confused to say the least, but after a certain amount of dithering settles on “still living” as the deciding factor. Well I am still alive but I doubt if a “contemporary” gallery would put my work on its walls. The word “contemporary” is one that is guaranteed to provoke a rant from me. On the program “Grand Designs” nice but a bit dim Kevin uses it a lot. So do architects, kitchen and bathroom designers, architects and anyone else who wants to sell you stuff. This has been especially difficult for me as I have been browsing kitchen and bathroom online stores. It essentially means boring with no decoration. When modern designers do attempt decoration the result is often risible and clumsy. Decoration requires a degree of historical knowledge and proportion that is just not taught today.

Contemporary interiors are mostly zero clutter affairs mostly with no charm whatsoever. Not a patch on the simple Japanese interiors that it could be argued inspired them. “Japanese?”, you cry. Yes it all came from Japan. Some of the ideas came from Laozi, a philosopher and the founder of Taoism, who held to the “aesthetic ideal of emptiness”. Designers in the Bauhaus and elsewhere saw Japanese tea sets and writing sets all of which would look fine in one of todays so called contemporary spaces. They got their ideas back in the form of the international style which is still in the process of destroying beauty in architecture around the world.

I sometimes think the whole modernist movement is the avoidance of criticism. If you merely splash paint randomly on your canvas, or paint it a single colour or one colour with two stripes then you are reducing the number of things that can be criticised. With no reference points no concrete judgement can be made. If I draw a figure this is not the case, proportion, economy of line, quality of line, tonal arrangement, relation of the figure to the page, character, balance of light and shade, the list is really depressingly long! With a minimalist painting with only a fews elements the placing of those features is inevitably overwhelmingly important, which is why in my opinion good minimalist painters are so vanishingly thin on the ground. Post modernism is an odd thing as far as I can see it is modernism unchanged, it was just invented because people felt the need to move forward, but could not see how, so they just changed the name and carried on with the same old stuff.

One of my own experiences in the design world is that if you put anything interesting in it will be commented on, if it gets commented on people will have opinions, those opinions will differ and whatever was interesting will get cut. Something that inspires no comment will however slip by without really being considered. This all promotes a blank grey average which we can see today all around us. Partially it is due to democracy. We have this idea that if we take a broad spread of opinions about something and average them it will result in an improvement. This is not the case however with art or design. Much in the same way if you took everyone’s favourite colour and mixed them together you would not come up with anything other than muddy greeny grey.

Contemporary art tends to discourage intelligent opinions. People are reduced to saying, “Oh a child could do it!” often not because they are stupid or unsophisticated, but because the work itself has shut out all possibility of a worthwhile stance to take in regard to it. For me if it is not possible for a viewer to inhabit a work in some way, then it is poorly done.

Painting time has been thin on the ground of late, so not too much to show, and the longest gap between posts I have ever left in a number of years.

 

Watercolour, sisters

I was sneakily taking pictures at Christmas when I was sussed by two granddaughters of my host… the resulting snap had something I liked, I might make an oil painting out of this, the water colour doesn’t quite work but an oil might.

 

Drawing, regents canal, london, pen and ink

This was a day spent drawing in and around Roman Rd in London. This is just by the Regents canal. Very chilly wind but the day was lovely.

 

regents canal London, drawing, pen and ink

This is a few yards away looking the other direction into the city. Even colder here, like sitting in a wind tunnel! I just indicated the tones of the more dense hatched areas by doing a small section. Then filled in the rest somewhere warmer…

 

Roman Rd, London, pen and ink, drawing

I got even less of this done on site. Just the drawing and an indication of how the tones were to fade in the distance. Looking south from the Roman Rd.

 

Fontmell Down, Dorset, watercolour

Went walking with a friend and this view of Fontmell Down in Dorset looked wonderful. So I went back at the same time a couple of days later and I was in luck it looked even better! Watercolour.

 

West Bay, Bridport, Dorset, Railway station, watercolour

This is West Bay station near Bridport in Dorset. This is studio but I noted the time of day so shall go back and paint it en plain air when I get the chance. Watercolour.

 

Life Drawing, watercolour

A life sketch to finish up!

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