Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

August 27, 2016

Method and Madness

Filed under: Dorset,London,Painting,Thames,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 4:13 pm

We all like it when we are sure of our ground. Carrying out a familiar routine. With painting and drawing however I have overall found certainty is best treated with caution. Once you know how to successfully do a particular type of painting or subject the temptation is to reprise it and of course espouse it. Now we all need to develop a system to carry out a difficult and complex task such as painting a picture, we cannot hope to reinvent the process from scratch each time. There is a fine line however between being systematic and stuck in a rut. This is something I feel is worth watching out for more for as I get older.

There are many artists who end their careers repainting their greatest hits with small variations again and again. There are others who admire some artist alive or dead so much that their work becomes what they call “fan art” which tends to never be quite as good as the original inspiration. Another pitfall is some “method” or academic system. If you research so called ateliers the work of the students has a distressing uniformity. Often also a strange dead quality. Endless patiently rendered classical life poses that contain every single detail but no life at all. The odd thing is how when you look into these works often the overall accuracy is far from good.

Ateliers really need their own paragraph, you would be right in thinking I find them worrying. They try to give the impression that they are carrying on the “traditions of the old masters” but a little research shows that seems to be a fair way from the actual case. What they replicate is the 19C system which sought to revitalise art by restoring classical techniques. Mostly it seems to me these methods such as Charles Bargue’s are the result of imagination, as the resulting works do not have the vivacity of Michelangelo or Rubens or indeed any renaissance or baroque artist. The proof is in the pudding in my opinion. If you look at the students of these institutions on line you see endless dutch style still lives, but somehow dead in their perfection and lacking in the exuberance of the genuine articles. Acres of droopy classical style draped maidens and risible attempts at allegory.

I don’t in anyway disapprove of learning these skills, but I very much disapprove of teaching anyone that these are the correct and only way. Sight size is a good example. Yes it helps to draw this way at first as it removes the difficulty of rescaling on the fly and makes direct comparisons easier. However any well trained artist will be perfectly able to draw something whatever the relative scales. Singer Sargent, (who is mysteriously approved of even though he rejected much of the academic dogma) for example used to place his canvas in a position so he could stand back and compare the two at the same scale. He did not however according to reports work all the time that way.

Essentially the academic systems are todays naive painting. Before photography naive painting had a cartoonish feel, but after that they have a photographic feel, think of those endless minutely finished pencil drawing of film and pop stars you see on line. To my eye they have more than a little similarity to the highly finished drawings produced from carefully lit plaster casts. You rarely see drawings with the fluent line of Tiepolo or Rubens because the training does not seem teach that ability. However if you want to gain basic drawing experience and skill then the ateliers are almost the only place you can go. Sadly I fear traditional contemporary art colleges do not have the staff or inclination to teach the relevant skills as they are alas almost completely hidebound, a surreal state of affairs for institutions who supposedly espouse continual revolution!

The things I hope, but sometimes fail  to avoid are dogma, and purism. They each can produce enervation and stunt flexibility of approach. This happens in all areas from classicism to modernism when one particular style or intent is elevated to an ideal to be sought after and emulated. That kind of thinking is becoming the past I hope. I doubt if there will ever be another revolution in painting. Everything that can be thought of has been done. All that can be done if you pursue originality is tinker around the edges where absurdity and stupidity lurk. What we do have that no other age has ever had though is all the possibilities laid out before you like a huge buffet table of styles and techniques. We are free to go to that table and pick whatever we wish or just as importantly leave whichever dishes we choose untasted. We can feast luxuriously or pick and choose with parsimonious reserve.

Each and every style and manner of painting has perhaps something to teach another. Field paintings certainly bring new ideas to landscapes and their underlying divisions. How a biblical scene is set out can inform the painter of a busy cityscape as to how to arrange the transient details to best effect. I could go on but I am sure you get the gist. What helps no one is saying this sort of painting is the best and all others are outmoded. I don’t think styles and manners of painting can never become outmoded any more than types of carpentry. A carpenter doesn’t chuck out his chisel because he has bought a snazzy CNC cutter, why would he?

I am preparing a one man show to go on at the Gallery on the Square in Poundbury starting on September the 10th and running on to October the 9th. Due to this I have been framing and agonising over which pictures should go in which includes the fretting that I might have included a stinker that I had an illogical fondness for.

London, plein air, wapping Group, Millbank, oil painting

I managed to get up to London on a glorious sunny day to paint with the Wapping Group. The brief was Victoria Embankment but I had spotted this view on Millbank on a previous visit and thought the conditions might be just right. I was standing on the zebra crossing reserve but as it was a generously sized one I was quite comfortable, a bit of a breeze was taking the fumes away too. I spent quite a lot of time organising the tones as the glare was washing darker tones out and I wanted to get that feeling in the painting. I had to be very quick as the light was moving very rapidly. The motor bike was one of those flukes, I put in a bike shaped blob intending to refine it later, added 2 highlights and it pretty much did the job! In contrast I repainted the perfectly simple van on the left 3 times, the first time I made it red for some unknown reason. 10in by 12in oils.

 

Thames, River, boats, London, plein air, wapping Group, oil painting

I met another member of the group painting this on the Embankment. These bright sunny day river scenes are not really me especially as the light was flat at my back. Almost for this reason I decided to have a go. I didn’t enjoy it at first as I sort of lost my way with it, but in the last half hour it somewhat came together. The colour of the water was outrageous and I had to redo it 3 times before it was something like. 7in by 10in oils.

 

Clement Danes, London, plein air, wapping group, oil painting

Just before pub time I decided to do this as it looked wonderful. This is only 40min worth so it is very bashed in, but with the photos I took I think I have a possible studio picture here. I am just by Clement Danes which is the building on the right. 10in by 14in oils.

 

Golden Cap, jurassic coast, plein air, oil painting, Dorset, sea, charmouth

A dramatic change of location! I went for a day down to the coast at Charmouth with a friend so we were walking with no chance for me to paint, the day was showery and blustery but looked wonderful. As I had a mission to Dorchester next day I returned with my paints. It was even more windy an wet but very beautiful. The beach was actually quite busy with people chipping away at rocks looking for fossils, but once the rain set in people soon vanished. These two girls were the last to retreat and I felt they were just perfect, I cheekily asked them to go back and walk slowly for me which they did despite the rain setting in. I was going to repaint the sky but once back I decided to leave it alone. The headland in the distance is Golden Cap. 10in by 14in.

Rawlsbury Camp, Bulbarrow hill, hill fort, Dorset, oil painting, plein air

As I was so wet the car was steaming up from my clothes drying out I had not intended to paint any more that day. But this was too good to resist. This is Rawlsbury Camp, an iron age hill fort. Not as well known as others but in my opinion one of the best. Despite more rain I loved painting this. It breaks into 4 tonal layers like a stage set. First the sky, then the distance, thirdly the fort itself and lastly the path in. Each area had its own section on the palette so I kept the distinctions clear. Only at the very last did I put a little of each into the next layer to bring them together. I went home very damp but pleased, I don’t often get 2 decent pictures out of a day. 10in by 14in oils.

 

Golden Cap, jurassic coast, dorset, sea, oil painting

A bigger studio picture of Golden Cap again and one that has really put me through the mill. What you see here is version 3, at one stage there were nearly 60 people on the beach and it looked like a disaster movie with the population of Dorset escaping some dystopian calamity! The sky and the headland all went swimmingly… then I hit the beach. Almost the whole reason of the painting was this damn beach and now I had depopulated it it became increasingly clear that the damn thing was too big. As it was on canvas I had to restretch it down to a more svelte 12in by 36in. I had already made the frame so that had to be done again too.

 

Charmouth, Dorset, sea, oil painting

Here it is almost done, a few more inhabitants appeared and disappeared but aside from tidying up the damage I am done. 12in by 36in oils.

 

Golden Cap, oil painting, dorset, sea

I can only apologise for the Golden Cap density in this post! Here it is again, I did this from a watercolour I did ages ago. 10in by 16in oils.

 

tofko press, printing, lino cut

The studio has a new arrival a Tofko press so now I can get those lino cuts printed, but more on that next time!

August 15, 2016

Taking Stock

Filed under: Dorset,Drawing,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 11:06 am

I have a lot of pictures in my attic. I counted them and it gave me pause for thought, 1200, that is a lot of paintings. Though I dare say a fair few other painters could out do my total. Many of course would be best left to moulder or be painted over, but it still means there are many more perfectly adequate “Rob Adamses” in the world than anyone will ever want. Early on in this blog I wrote a section on why I paint which is here, in it on re-reading I essentially wrote about why I paint what I do in the manner I do, rather than why I bother in the first place.

The “why I bother” is actually simple and mundane, I enjoy doing it and the challenges it throws up. In my previous existence as an artist for hire I did whatever I was asked as well as I had it in me to do at any one time. As in painting pictures now I enjoyed the challenges and having to stretch what I was capable of in new directions. When it stopped being a challenge I rather lost interest and as my career had been relatively successful I was in the position of being able to stop and change direction with little risk. It was also one of those things that we nebulously script into our futures: I will give up work and just paint for me… or garden, or whatever. It is a sort of rosy will o’ the wisp destination that is reassuring when the present becomes a little tedious, like looking forward to a cold beer at the end of the day.

As with all ambitions the reality is a little different, not disappointing just different. Doing the work is satisfying, I am eager to start the next days painting and am often painting by 7.30 in the morning. Some things have been unexpectedly rewarding, such as the many fascinating people I have met through a shared interest. Also the trying to master the many difficulties of distilling and then painting the observable world for a frame rather than a page. This blog has been an unexpected pleasure, I never thought to write so much, I initially intended it just to be paintings with brief descriptions about technical matters. Instead I have found myself on an erratic voyage over theoretical, philosophical and motivational waters.

So, the taking stock bit. It is six years since I set out on my new course. In that time I have reshaped my life almost completely, moved a hundred miles west into the country and become a painter of pictures of the world around me. I no longer sit long hours at the computer or paint pictures of theme park developments. I am mostly free to shape each new day as it comes. I no longer have a city street outside my door, but a garden and trees.

I am not one to dwell on dissatisfactions, despite an inherent restlessness I am blessed with a mostly sunny disposition only briefly disrupted by the occasional melodramatic storm. I am a little concerned that I spend my days doing an activity which produces a product that few want or need. There is a part of me that irritatingly points out that I would better serve the community by doing something that improves the lot of my fellow man a little more directly. Still giving others the occasional dose of visual stimulation is not entirely worthless, just not as important as many in the art world would like to believe.

So stock taking is more difficult than I thought, it is hard to assign either positive or negative values. I cannot produce a neat chart with pros on one side and cons on the other. The part of taking stock that entails possibly adjusting your course, is problematic too. I can only form very prosaic ambitions, such as doing more printmaking and improving my oil painting. It is one of the results of ageing that your perspective changes, success is not a lure, the vague desire to become “known” dissipates. Although the quality of not understanding the world becomes more nuanced with age, the actual degree of understanding steadily decreases as old poorly founded certainties get progressively eroded.

So that is the end of the audit, my plan is to add more shelves to my attic and carry on painting regardless!

Not many pictures done and I seem to be more prone to re-working than I have been previously, which means pictures evolve. This makes it a little tricky for the blog as I don’t quite know when a picture is finished. I will I think post updates as I go along as this might be of interest to other painters, you will also be able to annoy me by telling me the first version was better!

Hambledon Hill, oil painting, dorset, landscape

I had this one sitting on a ledge in the living room for a week or so. It started life as an unfinished plein air done at dawn, but this reworking though it retained the basic tonal structure had a quite different feel. Eventually I felt it was more of a nocturne than a dawn and had the idea of adding a moon.

 

Hambledon hill, landscape, oil painting, nocturne

Here it is, it makes I feel a better nocturne than a dawn! It is amazing how so little paint can alter the whole emotion of a picture. The other change that was reassuring was that before when the picture was in my living room nobody noticed it, but when put back with its silvery addition it drew eyes and comment. 10in by 19in oils.

 

Cattle, bullocks, Fontmell Down, oil painting

I wanted to do a different take on Fontmell Down. On a painting visit we were chased away by this very rambunctious herd of bullocks. There was no chance of carrying on with the plein air painting so as they approached in fits and starts I took tons of photos. I am for now pleased with the result it has a quieter mood than I intended but I think that is probably a good thing. 10in by 19in oils.

 

Dorchester, oil painting

This was a sketch to work out a tone structure for a bigger picture, now I’m not so sure and this might be the finished one. It is based on a pen drawing augmented by some very over exposed iPhone snaps. It is the road in to Dorchester. 10in by 10in oils. I’ll put the pen drawing below.

 

Dorchester, pen drawing, dorset

I think I will still do a bigger painting but I might need to make another expedition. Fortunately the phone snap has time and date info so I should be able to return at the optimum moment!

 

Springhead, dorset, oil painting

This is Springhead an old mill up the hill from Fontmell in Dorset. I loved the mood when we were there after a rained off evening picnic. The photos were, as is so often the case, not at all like how I remembered it so this an attempt to recapture the memory. It looks like another one that might benefit from a moon being added, though I am holding off for now! It is one of those pictures that makes a big leap on being put into a frame, I find it hard to find a reason why that should be so but it does show that testing a picture in a frame as you work on it is a good policy. One especial benefit is it makes it easier to judge when a picture is finished. 10in by 14in oils.

 

White Nothe cottages, dorset, oil painting

These are the old coast guard cottages at White Nothe near Lulworth. Nothing particularly wrong just didn’t have the focus I was looking for, almost scrubbed it off but have attacked it again since.

 

White Nothe, oil painting

Here it is after surgery, I wanted to focus it in more. Still not quite the painting I had in mind when starting but will leave it a while before any more messing. It started off as a 12in by 20in but got lopped down to 12in by 16in. Oils

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