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!

July 25, 2016

I Know what I Like

Filed under: Dorset,London,Painting,Thames,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 10:36 am

Well we all do, don’t we? My interest in this post is how those “likes” are shaped. Also, as artists, should we allow those likes to shape the work we do? This is prompted by the experience of putting up studio paintings and the sketches for them on social media. You can guarantee that people will pipe up to say that they far prefer the sketch. However in my last show I had several sketches and the paintings that finally resulted on the wall together. The studio pictures got the gaze time and the comments , the sketches mostly got ignored. The computer screen of course puts a 24inch oil and a 7in watercolour on an even footing which might be part of the reason.

This led me to consider what element of appreciation of a thing is taught to us by our upbringing and peers. A Victorian person would I suspect find a modern minimal apartment sparse and unwelcoming, and a thirty something today would find a Victorian parlour cluttered and dark. Both spaces might be perfectly practical to live a life within, so I would suggest that the way we choose to perceive them has changed.

This has ramifications for how I paint I feel. There are many ways of looking at a painting. Take a Breughel and just do a quick glance. What did you get? My guess is not a great deal just a general impression of complexity. Take a Munch, a quick glance at “The Scream” is a very different experience, the image delivers its freight of emotion instantly. Which one would reward the most if it was on your wall for a year though? My guess is that it is the Breughel that would garner the most looking time.

I am not, I hasten to add, assigning artistic merit by this measure. Only proposing that there are many different ways of looking. There is the quick high impact look, over in a moment, and the long accumulative look that might take years. Logically there must of course be all sorts of other ways and durations of looking. For many, painters especially our fast forward world today, the quick look or impression is all important. I hear the phrase “Over worked” or “Tight” used if anything is at all detailed or finished. The holy grail is looseness, expressiveness  and freedom all of which cater for and aid the rapid appreciation of a work. None of these things is true of the Breughel though, but I still feel his paintings are among the great artistic creations of man.

Artists tend to scorn detail, but the general public stubbornly loves it. I myself cringe slightly when someone says one of my pen drawings is wonderfully detailed. I want to protest out loud that it is mostly only random hatching that they are interpreting as detail that is not actually present. I have to conclude I suppose that in large degree we like what we are taught to like. Extending the range of what we are able to appreciate takes effort and an open mind. I am always nowadays a little uncomfortable uncomfortable when another artists dismiss and entire genre of work with a wave. “Mere Illustration” is one I hear a lot, I counter with the fact that the Sistine Chapel ceiling is illustration, but usually to no avail! If something is illustrative it is of a lower degree, what I am trying to say here is that such opinions are often more guided by fashion rather than actual aesthetic consideration.

Sadly it sometimes seem the case that people don’t allow themselves to enjoy certain things. They have a set of criteria that guides what they will appreciate. So a Victorian morality piece by Quiller Couch Orchardson would be dismissed even if it (as they mostly were) was beautifully composed and painted. Even more oddly these criteria have a strange irrational flexibility, so a Hieronymus Bosch from the 15C might be appreciated as art but a contemporary image in a similar vein might be dismissed as “fantasy” and not given a fair look.

I am far from being immune to this kind of snap judgement myself, but do attempt to make the effort to recognise that the “automatic” assessment might be poorly founded and take a second look.

Due to the dampness in France I did more oils than I expected in France, which got me fired up to do more on my return. I am trying to paint each day in “office hours” which does really help to keep the paintings coming.


Fontmell Down, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

This is Fontmell Down, I went up to do the main view which I have done several times before. In the end though I did this less dramatic subject, it is really just a cloud study. 10in by 14in Oils.


Child Okeford, Dorset, Plein air, Oil Painting

I haven’t managed to do many plein airs of my local village Child Okeford so this moment when the sun glimmered through after rain was fun to do. I might re scan it as it was very wet when this was done which makes the tones cruder than they really are. 12in by 12in Oils.


Shaftesbury, oil painting, St James

This is St James’ seen from Shaftesbury. I actually started this last year but got stuck. It seemed to have potential when I was going through my heap of unfinished and outright disasters so I set about finishing it. It is always hard to paint big areas of nothing much that have to be vaguely like undergrowth and layers of trees. The temptation is to define them and make them coherent, where in real life they are not that way at all. 12in by 20in Oils.


Hambledon Hill, Dorset, oil painting

I wish I had photographed the different stages that this one of Hambledon Hill went through. My first lay in felt somehow wrong. It is always annoying when something almost works but you just can’t put your finger on why it misses the target. A few days later when I came back to it I decided to re draw and it then look like a comic strip panel with black outlines. Crude as that was it did allow me to see where to go with it. Some bits may be glazed back yet but am happier with it for now. I made the mistake of posting the watercolour sketch on Facebook which garnered the usual “I prefer the sketch” feedback. I sort of knew this would be the case but to my eye the images are so different in intent that the only thing they share is the subject. 12in by 26in oils.


London, City, plein air, oil painting

This is a small plein air I did when I was first starting to try and paint the City of London. I always intended to paint a studio version but after this 1oin by 14in sketch sold I never got round to it. I have not done enough translating plein airs into studio pictures so I was quite looking forward to getting to grips with this.


City of London, oil painting

Here is the first version, I wanted a bit more dynamism in the figures but after having it on the wall in this state for a while I decided that it wasn’t quite gelling compositionally. So I decided the central figure had to go. It is always nerve wracking making a big change to a painting that almost works as it can easily end in disaster!


City of London, oil painting

Here it is after surgery, much better I feel, the composition takes the eye on a proper journey. 16in by 24in Oils.


Hambledon Hill, Oil painting, Dorset

Another one from the discards pile. This started life as a very quick sketch of Hambledon Hill done at dawn, but as I recall the sun bounced up into the sky too quick for me and I had to stop! I like the still mood though so I spent a pleasant hour or so playing with it. Not much of the original sketch left! 10in by 19in oils.


Hammersmith, Bridge, plein air, oil painting

Now my building works are done I can get up to London to paint with the Wappers. The summer at last gave us some sun and heat. This one of Hammersmith Bridge was very enjoyable to paint, I had almost forgotten what shadows looked like with all the grey days we have had. 10in by 6in Oils.


Hammersmith Bridge, London, Thames, plein air, oil painting

Before the previous painting I had blocked in a painting of the Bridge from the middle of the road here. I had intended to carry on with it but the light was very different and the reservation in the middle was in full baking sun. This looked much more pleasant to paint! I might do a studio one of this. 10in by 14in Oils.


Hammersmith Bridge, London, Thames, scooter, oil painting, plein air

Here is the first one of the day finished off. Better composition than the previous one so this might get the studio treatment instead. 10in by 14in oils.

That’s all for this instalment, maybe some watercolours need doing next.

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