Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

July 26, 2017

In Praise of Failing

Filed under: Dorset,Drawing,Painting,Portraits,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 11:10 am

Failing. We all do it. Even the painters you admire do it. Even the old masters and new masters and current masters do it. We don’t talk about it much though. Most artists tend to edit their published output to remove the abject stinkers, the dubious dullards and the truly dismal daubs. Maybe they hope you might think they don’t ever do them. Mostly though, I suppose, it is just normal and natural to attempt to show yourself in as good a light as possible. Of course it all falls apart when you accidentally post a stinker in a moment of post painting delusion. Next day you look to your triumph on Arsebook and realise you have let loose a turkey on the world rather then a triumph… Fortunately social media quickly banishes anything that is embarrassingly bad to the oblivion of, “far too far in the past to scroll down to.”

I think you should welcome failure though. Without well and truly tanking you wouldn’t fully appreciate the times you get it right or half right. If your work was really one success after another it would soon get so dull that getting out of bed in the first place would be to dreary to contemplate. Failure feeds the hunger to succeed. Without that spicy scent of all too possible self humiliation it is hardly worth putting brush to board!

Most painting pundits, including me, harp on about practice and honing your skill until the readers yawn. What you should be developing and honing is of course your mindless optimism that the upcoming session of paint splish-splashery will produce at least a masterbit, if not a full on masterpiece. Without that delusional belief that the dam will break, the run of stinkers will end and the worm will finally turn up trumps we would never start in the first place.

Every successful painting though is build upon the sturdy groundwork of the previous compositional crud, tonal tragedies and colour cataclysms that stud out one’s career. To do one decent painting you must paint a shedload (or attic full in my case) of mediocrity and worse… as I say to people who hear me play the flute, “It’s taken a lot of practice to get this bad…”

Something to work on in the failing arena is coming back for more. If something ends in humiliating defeat then pick yourself up (after a good old wail and curse) and go at it again. You will be amazed by how often you can trump a tragedy with a triumph. Many duff paintings after all are duff because you got over-confident and slipshod. There is nothing like a train wreck  to make you concentrate properly. I should really document all my own, not only missed the bull but didn’t even hit the board, moments but I tend to wipe them off if in oils or tear them up if in watercolour. I am not going to stop doing that however as the act is extremely cathartic and helps me start another one immediately!

So when the elegant swan you were hoping for turns into a dead ugly duckling don’t despair. Think of the Phoenix rising from the ashes and how much sweeter the triumph of a half decent daub will feel if it is well garnished with epic fails. Whatever you do though don’t deny your failures or that may well hold back progress. Perhaps don’t admit them to all and sundry, but even if you keep them secret from others admit them to yourself. Art is after all being honest with yourself whilst lying to others.

Tricky to know what to post after that… was vaguely tempted to post a spread of missed marks, but I will just do my usual mix of hits and misses.

portrait, oil painting

A rare chance to do a portrait sketch. Only an hours worth but great fun and so, so difficult. I think to do a really good portrait it takes several sessions with the painting going through several “ugly” phases. Likenesses are so hit and miss that you just have to take the risk of destroying something that is just OK to try and get something that really catches the person. Oils A4 ish.

Rawlesbury Camp, Dorset, Plein air, oil painting

This an example of coming back for more after a failure. The previous picture was beyond bad and I wiped it off. The light was rapidly going so immediately I turned and did this. Not anything that will ever go in a frame but at least something that captures a fraction of how the place felt. So you go home feeling the effort was worth it. Oils 10in by 7in.

Milton Abbey, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

A wet day at the Milton Abbey. An exercise in trying to hint at the architecture rather than over explain it. I sometimes like to revel in the mad complexity of buildings but here the main thing was the mood of the day so I tried to throttle back the detail in the buildings. 16in by 10in Oils.

Okeford Hill, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

The rain really set in after doing the Abbey and I got soaked doing this on the way home. Because I was keeping my umbrella over my painting the rain ran down my neck and all the way down to my socks… This is the view down towards Okeford Fitzpaine from Okeford hill and a view I have had my eye on for a while. In clear weather there is a tremendous panorama across the Blackmore Vale which is wonderful but somehow too much. With the rain and the murk obscuring things it looked much more paintable. 12in by 10in Oils.

Weymouth, Harbour, boats, plein air, oil painting

A day out painting in Weymouth. I couldn’t resist doing a widish view though I would have probably been better finding a more intimate corner. This nearly got wiped off as it looked sort of dull and dreary. Once home though I could see I had the sky a couple of notches too dark in tone. As soon as I changed that the whole mood of the picture was transformed. I will overglaze the land and buildings once it is dry which will improve it further I hope. 14in by 10in, Oils.

Weymouth, beach, plein air, oil painting

Off to the beach next. I love the old fashioned seaside feel of Weymouth especially on a sunny day when the beach was thronged. I loved the silhouette of the buildings so painted up the beach rather than down. Odd that you assume the sea is there even though it is out of sight! Quite a tricky subject and I had to move the figures about as I didn’t want any of them to specifically draw too much attention. 10in by 11in Oils.

Weymouth, beach, sea, plein air, oil painting

Last one from Weymouth. As I was walking down the beach a cloud shadowed the distant hills and the foreground beach leaving a slash of light across the middle. I sat down to paint in the hope of it happening again. With that in mind I toshed in the foreground with a shadowy tone ready for the right moment… which never came! So I had to do the foreground at home later. Fortunately I had a couple of snaps of the light effect from earlier that gave me a rough idea. 16in by 10in Oils.

Portland Bill, lighthouse, Dorset, drawing

I drawing from a while ago. I did this as a sketch for an oil painting of Portland Bill but got a bit carried away. A4 pen and body colour.

Weymouth, pen and ink, drawingSticking to the Weymouth theme another drawing done on a previous visit I forgot to post. I have this new grey toned pad from Strathmore which I quite like as it is a tad darker than the Turner Blue paper I usually use. The downside is that it is not as tough and you have to be a bit careful not to tear the surface with the pen. Also it doesn’t take washes very well so the white has to be hatched in. A4 Pen and Ink with white.

July 12, 2017

Painting Holidays

Filed under: Drawing,France,Painting,Uncategorized,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 12:22 pm

For a number of years I have gone away in the summer with a group of other artists to paint in France. A coach load of painters all intending to paint a masterpiece or three. As you think about the trip in the weeks before you start to fantasise about the opportunities that are bound to occur for a great subject at a fantastic moment in time. So the coach arrives you disembark, media at the ready, and… Well just and… Reality just refuses to arrange itself into perfect subjects!

This time we were in the Ile De Re a place I had visited before and had mixed feelings about the place. On my previous visit I had experienced the great oil painting disaster. I had notably failed to produce a single half decent work in oils. In a way I suppose all that anticipatory build up is bound to result in deflation when the paintings refuse to fly off the brush.

So the coach has arrived and we disembark in St Malo…

St Malo, France, pen and ink, drawing

On my last visit here it was wet so it was a great pleasure to see it in the sun. I had decided before leaving to start with drawing to get myself in the groove. It was a good move I now feel as I enjoyed trying to catch the bustle of this very touristy town. Once the rough pencil outline was in I set about putting the key figures in. I have learnt over the years this is a good approach for me as I tend to get lured into overstating the architecture.

France, St Martin, Isle de Re, watercolour, painting

After a long coach drive we arrived in St Martin on the Ile de Re too late to paint. Next morning I was up early ready to go. I started to paint the harbour but it all went wrong… I don’t often tear up watercolours on the spot but I did this time. Slightly despondent but still as ever a sucker for punishment I set about a much harder subject. I had to be very quick as the light was on the move. From the start I simplified as much as possible and just focussed on the way the light was falling. My confidence restored a little I then retired for breakfast and strong coffee! 9in by 6in Watercolour.

Isle de Re, France, oil painting, plein air

With some trepidation I then set out on my first oil painting of the trip. I had nearly not packed my oils, but in the end decided to take only small boards and my 10in by 8in pochade. I had painted this square before in watercolour so I knew it was a reasonable subject. I forced myself not to rush and after drawing spent a fair while getting the tone relationships between the tree shadow, sky and lit wall right while still leaving enough headroom for a strong highlight. The sky had to be an unexpected tone for all that to happen so I’m glad I took the time. In any painting there tends to be a key relationship that needs to be just so. Spotting which one is key is another matter though. 10in by 7in oils.

Isle de Re, France, oil painting, plein air

My confidence boosted I set off up the town to do another. One nice thing about revisiting a destination was that I knew where some decent locations were and so didn’t have to spend time wandering and looking. Once again I looked at key tone arrangements and decided the church tower and sky relationship was the one to get right. Again the sky had to be a weightier tone than I would have painted it if I had just jumped in without thinking properly. 10in by 7in Oils.

Isle de Re, France, pen drawing

Next day I decided pen drawing was the way to go especially as this view could be drawn from the shade. Usually with pen drawings in the UK I would lighten the sky but here the heat and intense downward light on the ground made the relationships quite different. I think this is where I went astray on my previous visit. The only tricky bit on this was the road it would have been very easy to overdo the cobbles. Pen and Ink.

St martin, Isle de Re, France, watercolour

I took two goes at this as the light moved too quickly and I was in a rather exposed position partially blocking the pavement. I might do a studio one of this as I’m pleased with the overall feel but some bit of drawing are a little erratic in scale which undermines the feeling of distance. 10in by 8in Watercolour.

Sea mist, Isle de Re, watercolour, France

We had sea mist on a couple of days which was a real challenge. This is the gate to the prison. I should have stood to do this but made a poor decision to sit. I dislike the way nearby figures loom tall from this viewpoint and it undermines the scale of distant features. I was however pleased with the general mood. 9in by 7in Watercolour.

Isle de Re, beach, oil painting, plein air

As I walked further on the mist withdrew and once on the beach the light took on a fascinating character. In the Ile de Re the tide goes out for miles with the sea completely on the horizon. Only a few figures wandering in the shimmering heat punctuated the scene. I had considered painting a boat to two but didn’t have the will, so I set about doing this on a tiny board. As I worked a transit van belted past me across the mud and sand going out to the mussel beds, the tracks it left made the perfect lead in! I had to draw this quickly to a close as I and my tripod were slowly sinking into the wet sand. 8in by 5in Oils.

Isle de Re, France, oil painting, plein air

Another day and more morning sea mist. So difficult to keep the tones under control with this. The mist kept coming and going in waves so one second everything was ghosted and the next watery sunshine was breaking through. Very difficult but great fun to attempt to paint. I put a little too much colour but I was worried it would take on a wintery northern feel so went a little too far the other way. 10in by 8in Oils.

Pen and Ink, France, Isle de De, drawing

Later the same day I reverted to the pens as they do those middle of the day subjects quite well. Again I found myself using the paper colour more than I would at home, which certainly speeds things along. This is the back door to the prison and part of the wonderful defences of the town that were ordered to be built by Cardinal Richelieu, though what you see here was built by the famous engineer Vauban in the 1700’s. Pen and Ink.

Ile de Re, France, pen drawing, harbour

I am not a fan of harbours full of boats but as I sat eating my baguette I suddenly saw in my mind’s eye a way of rendering the mud. Unfortunately all the rest had to be drawn before I could put my theory into practice. I have to note the only boat so far! Pen and Ink.

Ile de Re, church, pen drawing

This is the sadly war damaged church. I had avoided drawing it before as aside from the main tower it is such an odd mish mash of repairs and alterations.  Drawing doesn’t get much harder than this! Pen and Ink

Nocturne, Ile De Re, oil painting

It has come a tradition  to go out and do nocturnes and this is my effort on the last evening. You never quite know what you are going to get until next day when you see your effort in the daylight. I was quite pleased that other than a vibrant streak of green in the sky I had more or less got things right. Probably more by luck than judgement though! 10in by 6in Oils.

Port en Bessin, France, Oil painting

Here we are further North in Port en Bessin in Normandy. It is a busy working port and a welcome contrast to the touristy Ile de Re. The change in the light from being a couple of hundred K’s North was striking. This needs some figures to cut across the cars but I doubt I will ever bother to actually put them in. It was very breezy and I had to hang on to the easel the whole time. 10in by 8in Oils.

Port en Bessin, France, pen drawing, fishing boats

There are wonderful boat repair yards in the town which patch up the chunky fishing boats that ply the channel. I had to sit peering through the railings to do this, Pen and Ink.

Port en Bessin, France drawing, harbour, pen and ink

The town has hills each side of it which give great views of the town and outer harbour. I had decided to relax and just draw during the day and only paint in the evening when the light was best. Pen and Ink.

Port en Bessin, France, drawing, pen and ink

The same view but later and further down. A hard subject and stretching the limits of pen and ink. Here I used my wide fude fountain pen the block in the large areas of dark. I have added this and a brush pen all made by Sailor in Japan to allow me to get a different feel and add weight to some of my pen drawings.

Port en Bessin, pen drawing

The next evening actually down in the town but the same view. I used the fude a lot in this it certainly speeds the work and gives a bolder less delicate feel to the end result.

Port en Bessin, oil painting, plein air

A before supper painting as the sun dropped, very hard to get the tones right to give some idea of the dazzling light. Oils 10in by 8in.

Port en Bessin, oil painting, plein air

Here is the same view after supper and a bottle of wine! 10in by 7in Oils.

Port en Bessin, harbour, fishing boats, watercolour

I had been chiding myself for avoiding the fishing boats in the harbour so I went out to assuage my conscience. Not as painful as I expected as I took my time and got the basics of the drawing properly resolved before painting. 11in by 9in watercolour.

Bayeux, cathedral, drawing, pen and ink, France

Finally a visit to Bayeux, I love the fine cathedral and how it stands over the very fine town. So that’s it back to battling with the summer greens in Dorset!

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