Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

April 10, 2017


Chairs are interesting objects, they have been around for a very long time and have many variations. What I am interested in here though is the chair as an everyday object which is a more recent arrival. In earlier times and cultures chairs were really thrones as they indicated status. Ordinary folk sat on floors, benches, chests or stools. Even when chairs arrived into domestic use  it was only the master of the house who had one, hence the word “chairman” to indicate precedence.

A chair is a sort of seat, but by sitting on an object you do not make it a chair. So if you sit on a rock it briefly becomes a seat not a chair. A chair is a seat for one person and has a back, no back and it is a stool rather than a chair. A chair can have arms and be upholstered. It can rock, it can fold, you can have one in your garden or your kitchen, your dentist and your barber both possess them.

My interest here though is in the chair as an everyday object that combines both aesthetic and practical qualities.

If a man with little skill screws together a few offcuts of wood with no particular care, other than to conform to the basic chair shapes, the result might have perfectly good utility. It might even be comfortable. It is unlikely however to be beautiful or desirable as an object.

If a master craftsman makes a chair it will also conform to the general shape, it may or may not be comfortable. I think it  would almost certainly be more pleasing to the hand and eye and definitely more desirable as an indicator of the owner’s status and discernment. It might however be no better or even worse than the rough one as far as utility goes.

You can with a bit of thought quantify the different qualities that could be embodied in this common object.

  1. Utility. You must be able to sit on it. If a Dadaist adds spikes to the seat then it is no longer a chair.
  2. Quality of materials. A chair can be made of cheap stuff or of valuable stuff. Gold or withies.
  3. Individuality of making. It can be made in a factory, or even nowadays with almost no human hand at all in vast numbers. It can be made by the hand of one individual, or several, or many.
  4. Quality of making. A person with no skill might knock one up, or a skilled bodger might turn the parts to one. A CNC machine might dice up wood into chair parts or one of Thomas Chippendale’s craftsmen might hand carve the elements to an elegant plan.
  5. History. It might have been made, owned or sat upon by someone of note. It might be rare, only a few having been made.
  6. Design, decoration, elegance and other aesthetic considerations.
  7. Value. this might depend on all of the above. As well as rarity and state of repair.

Looking at the list above you can see any specific chair might have more or less of any of the above qualities. The summation of these attributes might all contribute to the desirability or otherwise of the chair. They are all, after no 1, add ons to the basic chairness, things that are not necessary for its basic usage.

I am of course considering chairs for the possible parallels to paintings. Chairs have the advantage of being shorn of most of the egotistical and mystical baggage that anything labeled “art” carries.

So I will go back through my list of attributes of chairs and consider how they might relate to the object called a painting.

  1. Utility. A painting’s purpose is to be decorative. Many artists will raise their hackles at the idea, but I cannot think of any painting that does not have decorative as a part of its makeup. Paintings are made to place in or on manmade structures. They take their place there with whatever else is present. Their function is to supply foci and visual interest, or to signal the wealth and status of the owner whether an individual or an institution. If your painting for example is painted in dry ice and will last only a moment then it fails the test of utility. Paintings of course have another utility that chairs may have a little of but paintings should have in greater degree. They are decorative as I have already stated, but they must also engage with the senses as window does, as openings to another place. They must take the mind from the space the painting is in and transport it elsewhere.
  2. Quality of materials. We accept paintings can be great whatever the quality of the materials. For example The Scream by Munch in painted on cardboard. Generally though I cannot see why paintings should not be marked up or down for quality of paint, substrate etc. Such factors have a direct bearing upon longevity and durability. There are many paintings whose worth has declined due to age and decay.
  3. Individuality of Making. This is plainly of more importance in a painting than in chair. Nonetheless many valuable and important paintings are the work of more than one hand. The increase in concern about this factor is perhaps quite recent, although many contemporary artists such as Bridgit Riley have for many years produced their work by using teams of people. Damian Hurst also commissions or employs others to make his work. Chippendale or Sheraton did not personally construct their famous chairs. Due to this I don’t see why we should care too much about who actually makes our paintings either. Indeed some painting equivalents such as photos are created by people pointing cameras and are displayed entirely through the use of machines.
  4. Quality of making. Many would say this has little or no bearing on a good or bad painting. I disagree, the degree of skill of the makers, whosoever they may be, impinges upon most of the other considerations we take to determine the worth of an object both commercially and aesthetically.
  5. History. Or as they say in the art world, provenance. With painting this is mostly concerned with being sure the object is as advertised and not a fake. Perhaps not as important as we believe. A painting being faked does not necessarily impinge on any other factor, especially if it is successful one that has not been spotted.
  6. Design, decorative and aesthetic quality. Well again the modern artist might quake at the idea of being decorative, but as per attribute 1. pretty much the whole reason for bringing the object into existence is its decorative usage. A painting that cannot be displayed in a space is a bit like a chair with spikes on the seat.
  7. Value. This is just about the same as for chairs, except of the role galleries play in bidding up or buying their own work in order to protect the value of those in stock or already sold to collectors.
  8. Imaginary, attributes. Here is perhaps where paintings can differ somewhat. A Russian icon for example has an extra attribute and use as an object of prayer and meditation. However these attributes are not embodied in the object itself but in the user (Value and History are much the same in this regard). Chairs could have this quality too children might use a chair in an imaginary game as a fort or a car. Although these qualities are imaginary the perception that the object might possess them nonetheless impinges on both Utility and Value.

Gore Vidal said, “Craft is always the same, but art must always be different.” A sentiment most contemporary artists and my past self would have agreed with. I now lean towards the belief that craft is inextricably interlinked with art and there is little chance of art without skill, not because the skill is necessarily evident in the work, but due to what the learning of a skill does to a person. In music a skilled musician might play a simple piece that a beginner might manage, but  the rendition will still likely be more nuanced and deeper when played by the experienced player. For paintings if they do not, when examined, cut through the wall upon which they reside and transport you then they are not doing their job. You would not read novel that did not take you elsewhere and neither perhaps should you bother to value or attend very much to a painting that does not manage the same feat.

After all that you are probably feeling a little faint, so here are some soothing watercolours.


Regents Street, London, plein air, watercolour, painting

A visit to London to set up the Wapping Group show at the Mall. Also a chance to snatch a few brief moments to paint the city. This is Regents St. I have made small boards to clip to my smaller watercolour palette so I can paint standing up holding the painting in one hand. This worked fine but I should have taken single sheets of paper rather than my Moleskin. Although the book is small and light it starts to feel like it weighs a ton after 30min of painting. This is a backwards watercolour so I did all the dark accents first and then added washes over the top. 7in by 5in watercolour.

Princes St, city of London, watercolour, plein air, painting

This is looking down Princes St towards the Exchange. I have thought about doing this scene several times but this is the first time the light was really good. Another reverse watercolour, some accents are under the washes others to strengthen over. 7in by 5in Watercolour.


Friendly St, Deptford, London, Watercolour, plein air, painting

It was nice to visit my old stamping grounds. This is Friendly St in Deptford. The light was fantastic I could have painted all day. 7in by 5in Watercolour.


St Martins Lane, London, watercolour, plein air, painting

Last one from London, this is St Martins Lane. A bit of a rush job but I only had 30min or so before I had to do my stint watching over the exhibition. 7in by 5in Watercolour.

Dancing Ledge, Dorset, sea, Cliffs, watercolour, plein air, painting

This is the view you get as you walk down to Dancing Ledge on the Purbeck coast. More of this next time as I have been trying to get some coastal pictures done. The trouble is that the sunrises and sunsets are getting further apart with a painting wilderness in-between. I only got the drawing, sea and sky done before I had to move as it was a Sunday and it was busier than London had been! 9in by 6in Watercolour.

Satans Square, Dorset, Sutton Waldron, watercolour, plein air, painting

I posted a previous watercolour of this which is here for comparison. The spring is well underway and all those glorious purples and russets are being overwhelmed by a tide of green. I know it is odd, but as painter I am always a little sad to see the winter go as it is better for painting really. The light is low all day and the colours are more varied. There’s no getting around it that green paintings don’t sell for some reason. Most painters avoid the issue by painting the shrubbery in any colour but the one they see… but I feel I should give it a go despite the certainty the result will be in my attic until I pop my clogs!

I shall have to post again soon as my painting is getting so far ahead of my blogging that I shall never catch up…

April 1, 2017

A Lightweight Rig For Plein Air

Filed under: How to do,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Rob Adams @ 3:24 pm

An irredeemably nerdy post, but when you are painting plein air a lot, kit and the weight of it is a key issue. If you can’t carry your gear all day then you are stuck with painting whatever is near your car. Trolleys are great in the city but along a cliff path they are just a nuisance. I was watching a video by Tom Hughes who is a very fine painter, he has done an excellent series of videos called Thoughts on Painting. With some amazement I watched the one where he goes through his gear and says he carries a backpack weighing 15 Kilos! This is in soldiers yomping with bags of rocks on their backs territory. Fine for him, he is young and strong, but I am old and fat and only averagely fit.

Recently I made a studio easel to replace my large and unwieldy Mabef out of jig making gear (for making woodworking and other workshop jigs). The result was lighter smaller and had the added bonus of rotating the canvas to ease making directional brushstrokes.


Here is the basic stuff it comes form Axminster click here to see in their shop. It is a simple T channel that takes specially shaped bolts and is predrilled to fix down.


Here are the fittings and here is the link to them. This is a whole set but you can buy bits individually I believe. I had thought after making the studio easel that the same stuff could be used for plein air. I had also at the same time settled on using a vertical palette which makes mixing tones so much easier as they look the same as when seen on your painting surface, which they will not do if the palette is set at a different angle to your board.

So here I will go through my plein air painting set up set up and how it all goes together. First weight!

Boardholder Palette and Wet box with four 14in by 10in boards.  1.890KG

Gitzo carbon Fibre Tripod with Ball Head and quick release          1.284KG

Paint Box with 10 Colours Medium Turps and Dipper                     1.444KG

Brushroll with Brushes and Rag                                                           0.288KG

Rucksack Shoulder straps                                                                      0.700KG

Total weight                                                                                              5.606KG

If I preload my palette and only take 4 tubes of key colours          4.862KG

So about a third or less of Tom’s load!

I’ll go through each item in detail:


Here is the basic frame with board holders and palette they can all be positioned however you want. Biggest board is about 20in by 16in but you would have to add a bigger wet board carrier. The current one is 14in by 10in but I will be making a 16in by 10in to go on the same rig in due course.

board box

Here is the board box and tripod. The box is made of 2mm ply so is very light. The Gitzo tripod is very expensive but there are other much cheaper ones on the market that weigh much the same. You do need a decent quick release Ball Head on the tripod cheap ones aren’t strong enough and in my experience sag when any great pressure is used on the brush.


This is the paint box notice it has a track fitting so that it too can be attached to the “T” track.


Finally the rucksack straps and brush roll. I just took a fairly cheap but comfortable rucksack and cut away everything but the back panel. The bright metal washers at the top are fixing a wooden baton with another “”T” track fitting so it will attach to the track. The brush roll is… well a brush roll.

Here it is all set up and ready to paint. It takes about 2min to set up ready. If you want to you can rotate the whole lot 9o degrees so that your palette is by the side of your painting.

…and the rear view. The “T” track has a quick release plate attached to it, but it does not have to be removed to pack the whole thing up.

Here is a close up which show how everything hooks on to the track. If I want to adapt it then other bits could be made that fit on the same basic track.

To pack up it all stays on the tripod. The Wetbox clips to the palette making a lid but also supplying a board for doing watercolours as you can see here. Watercolour stuff, colour box, water, sketchbook  and brushes just go in my pockets. I like to have both media with me if possible. The wet box becoming an angled board allows me to work standing up which I prefer in most cases.

Here it is all packed up ready to fix on the straps.

This is with the rucksack straps attached. The tripod stays fixed to the quick release plate. The Bungee just holds the bottom of the strap panel in place and stops anything flopping about. The ties of the brush roll are knotted round the “T” track but I might think of a better way in due course.

Here we are ready to go. On the left you can see the knurled knob that holds the rucksack section in place on the “T” track. I would always advise getting a rucksack with a waist strap and decent padding as this one has. It was sad to cut up a perfectly good rucksack but it wasn’t an expensive one.

So that’s it, this is really just a prototype so I shall make a more streamlined version in due course.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress

error: Content is protected !!