Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

July 17, 2015

France the Oils and Vivre La Revolution

Filed under: Dorset,France,Painting,Surrey,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 10:37 am

I was watching an excellent documentary about Bohemians by Victoria Coren recently. It was full many of the usual slightly sad cases with an overweening egotism undermined by the worm of insecurity. As I watched a very odd thought crossed my mind, these tear up the rules, live my life without reference to others types were all rather similar. They were all different and mold-breaking in much the same way, they all seemed to cleave to the same view: that individuality was all. Indeed none of them seemed capable of uttering any sentence that did not focus around the words “Me” or “I”. All these claims of special individuality were undermined I felt by the odd way they mostly seemed very conformist to their self advertised type. They all wanted to break rules but even more importantly to be seen by others to break them.

How awful I realised to be born of a generation where all available rules have already been torn up and discarded. We are not shocked by boys dressed as girls, or any conceivable sexual permutation. You might offend with overt sexism or racism, but no one is really going to be shocked or surprised. It must be like being a school child who having realised an ambition to be sent to stand on the naughty step finds that the rest of the school including the teachers are already there. I was especially touched by a set of art students studying painting. They spouted the usual guff about their art being oh so important, how they expressed their inner selves and broke all the rules, all the time not realising that they were actually being conformists. That is how we expect and require artists to be nowadays. One young lad spreading red paint over a canvas in a desultory manner plainly felt he was being daring by referring to genitalia and dressing like a watered down recently weaned version of Francis Bacon. He was however just regurgitating the guff he had been taught, he had plainly not thought about the ideas he was espousing, he had just accepted unquestioningly what he had been taught.

Art and the idea of being an artist ran like a thread through the program. Because if you are breaking rules and and making society face up to its own hypocrisy then that is what you are? Right? Well if the number one rule is not to respect rules then you are in a bit of a dilemma. No one cares a fig if you break bygone rules. If you declare all rules are made to be broken then once they are all torn up where do you look next? Why is it that artists in particular should be required to do all this rule breaking? Well as with fashion I suppose at least they are fairly harmless rules, easily discarded without much effort mental or otherwise. A brain surgeon who declared he or she would break all the rules would be distinctly worrying, a painter less so.

It is hard not to come to the conclusion that none of the so called taboos broken by the art revolution were much to write home about. The artist cries out, “I abhor figuration, I shall work in pure colour and form.” It must have been nice to live in an age where such a cry would be met with horror, but even when such poses were first struck it was not exactly a major apple cart that was being over set. So you are going to put some paint on a canvas a bit differently… hardly seismic in the larger scheme of things is it? Painting is actually quite a humble trade. It is difficult as are many things, but not as important as plumbing or dentistry. If you paint a picture in what ever style that gives others a small moment of pleasure then the job is well done. If you want to shock and scare a few horses then perhaps you have chosen the wrong activity.

The whole business is made more complex for the poor souls studying art in that art is no longer what they study. They strive instead to become shamanic figures who are expected to produce supposedly talismanic objects. Artists have been pressed into service as a make-do replacements for druids and priests. We no longer believe that a bit of mumbling and a sprinkle of H2O gives an object any healing properties and thus, more to the point, increased retail value, but we do seem to believe that a random object backed up by impenetrable art-mumbling adds cachet and investment potential. Both are to my mind superstitions founded on the imaginary “special” qualities of certain individuals in society. It is nice of course to say, “I am an Artist” and immediately get a status upgrade from shabby middle age bloke to interesting aesthete. It is very pleasant for collectors, curators and assorted oracular types to be able to gaze at a clumsy daub and pretend to discern imaginary philosophical depths and spiritual qualities. Which is of course why the whole circus will stay on the road.

For the artist today it is perhaps a relief that all the sacred cows are now slaughtered, and their entrails theatrically and well and truly trodden into the ground. I don’t have to look for any assumptions to challenge, or taboos to threaten. There is no need to seek out the new just for the sake of it, so fashion and style can be ignored. All I need to apply myself to is the simple task of doing a difficult and hard to learn thing well. Also striving to each and every time to do it just that little bit better. Artists who just paint pictures should realise a few hard facts. Nobody needs what you do. What you do is entertainment. You are not advancing human thought in any important way by choosing to carry out this activity. If no one likes what you do it is not the fault of the audience but of the performer. There is never again going to be an age where you can claim to be misunderstood, “The world is just not ready for me.” etc, those times are past and will not be returning for the foreseeable future.

Well now I have that off my chest a few paintings of elsewhere then France…

Richmond, plein air, painting, art

 

Firstly Richmond. I got this all blocked in and almost done on site but messed up the road overstating the relative brightness. It is so easy to see ground surfaces almost as bright if not brighter than the sky. In actual fact this is almost never so except when there is the direct reflection of the sun in a wet surface, or when black storm clouds crowd the horizon. In all other cases the sky will be brighter than any ground or wall surface. I check this as I have said before by making a small ring with finger and thumb and looking through it flick quickly between different areas. This will immediately tell you what is lighter or darker and roughly by how much. In the studio I scanned my too light road and repainted it 3 tones darker which improved the whole picture hugely. 10in by 12in oils.

 

Stour, river, dorset, plein air, landscape, painting

An unresolved one here. I find this sort of picture very hard. I have painted everything adequately, but it is at the end of the day boring. I considered adding a canoeist, but whenever you have such thoughts it is probably a sign that the painting should be consigned to the bin! The story of this picture was the reflection, but that was upstaged in reality by the field, a problem which will not be resolved by adding watercraft or hippos to drag the eye back to the river. 12in by 20in oils.

 

Le Croisic, nocturne, oil painting, France, plein air

France at last! This is the harbour in Le Croisic. On previous visits I have struggled with oils and the first I attempted this time did not bode well and was wiped off. This one I painted after eating and drinking so I was relaxed and bashed the whole thing in in 25min or so. I was very pleased that I had got the coloration mostly right, just a little strong in hue. 10in by 14in.

 

Le Croisic, salt pans, oil painting, France, plein air

Le Croisic again. I wanted to paint the salt pans which are one of the main features of the area. My problem was I could not get a backdrop I liked. On the way to the salt pans I saw a great view of Guerande and I had the idea I might combine the two… so foreground and background are about 1Km apart! Only a very slight sketch but I enjoyed painting it. 6in by 10in oils.

 

Le Croisic, France, boat yard, plein air oil painting

I walked back to the town along the shore as the tide was out. This brought me into the local boat yard. I was very taken by this “into the light” subject and also delighted that there was the shade of a huge mobile boat lift to paint from. All very quick to do I actually mixed all my tones before starting which is something I often forget to do but I always find makes life a lot easier. It probably took me as long to mix the tones as it did to paint the picture! It was only as I left the yard by the road that I saw the sign forbidding entry to the general public… 8in by 10in oils.

 

Le Croisic, France, oil painting, plein air

More Le Croisic. I rather over tidied this later, but was pleased that I got resolved an issue that had been plaguing me in this bright light that seemed to bounce around everywhere. I wiped my first painting of the town because all the shadowed buildings went muddy and dirty. In this one I found a solution by mixing Quinacridone Magenta with various earth colours. This allowed me to get the feel of shadowing, contrast and age of the surfaces without the end result being grubby. 10in by 12in Oils.

 

Honfleur, France, Plein air, oil painting, church

This is Honfleur. I was really starting to enjoy the oils now. This tremendously bright morning scene was such fun to paint. I was in an awkward spot with shopkeepers setting up around me so I splashed it in as quickly as possible. I won’t mess with it as I love the feel and immediacy of it. I decided against people as it seemed to suit the, early morning before many folk were about, feel. 10in by 10in Oils.

 

Honfleur, France, plein air, oil painting

Honfleur again. A complex scene for a small painting. I really wanted to catch the intensity of the light on the square. I had to be very quick, no longer than 45min as the sun was coming round on to the facades which changed the whole scene beyond recognition. 7in by 10in Oils.

That’s it just the Watercolours to come…

July 3, 2015

A Trip to France Part 1 The Drawings

No philosophy or art babble in this post! I have been on my yearly trip with the Wapping Group and friends to France. Despite having all my paints with me I spent a lot of time drawing. Not an intentional decision, but often a sketch book is just the thing for recording your impressions. Sadly original drawings are a disregarded commodity, if you do a print series from them each print could fetch more than the original would! I have always loved drawings myself, they seem to illuminate what an artist is about more than anything else. With an artist like Rembrandt it is like seeing his mind at work. I think maybe it is that the artist didn’t really think anyone else was going to see the work so the result is unselfconscious. Certainly Rembrandt’s landscape sketches inspired me from when I first saw some in the 70’s at the British Museum. I now know that he was perhaps the first to head out with his reed pen and bottle of ink and sit in a field and draw what he could see. Not as a reference it would seem as they don’t appear as backgrounds to etchings, but just for fun.

The other thing about drawing is that it is minimal. With pen you have a line and groups of lines and bare paper and that is it. Whatever you are seeing before you has to be defined in a combination of those three things. This in itself is a good way to learn how to break down a scene into equivalents… there is no real possibility of producing a full rendering so each part must be pared down as much as possible and areas that are similar combined. Although this is limiting it is also in an odd way liberating. It is a halfway house between representation and calligraphy.

In the drawings on this trip I used a toned paper so I have the luxury of one more element, heightening with white. This is for the simple reason that to do a tonal pen drawing on white requires many more layers of hatching all of which take time. With the soft blue of the paper supplying a mid tone far fewer lines are required. The paper I have used is Turner Blue from Ruscombe Paper Mill this is a reproduction of the kind of paper Turner might have used in his small sketchbooks. The paper is slightly textured, about 130lb in weight and very strongly sized. The texture means the pen grips the paper a little supplying resistance whilst still being fine enough to draw rapidly without catching. The heavy sizing means the white highlights sit on the surface and stay very bright and clean.

The pens and the inks I use are made by Noodlers. The drawings below are mostly made with and Ahab fountain pen which has a huge ink capacity which is very much needed as drawing uses ink like no tomorrow. These pens have flexible nibs which allow far more variety of mark than a standard pen would. Indeed they are very similar in feel to Gillott steel drawing nibs, but without the dipping and blotting! The ink is Noodlers too, in this case Bulletproof Brown which is both lightfast and waterproof.

The white used for heightening is Dr Martins Bleedproof White. Most of us have used Chinese White or White Gouache and found they look great when you apply them but then dull to a dirty grey. Bleedproof white however does not do this and stays just as white as when you apply it. It also makes a dilute wash that looks very clean when dry, which adds interesting possibilities.

So that’s all you need, I’ll make a list: One pen, pencil, putty rubber, small sable brush, Bleedproof White, sketch pad, small vial of water to moisten the white. All this goes in my waist coat pockets leaving only my lightweight Walkstool to sling over my shoulder. I use the Walkstool because it is very light has a big comfortable seat and is quite high at 26in. In townscapes especially sitting on a low stool gives you a poodle’s eye view of the world and backache to boot!

Before we get to France however we start the day before in Dorset…

 

Stourpane, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing

This is Stourpane on a really hot day. I loved the contrast between the ideal Dorset village and the spider’s web of wires. Although is seems odd the picture would be dull if they were not there. They act as a compositional glue holding the picture together. All these drawings are about 9in by 7in.

 

St malo, france, pen and ink, drawing

France! We arrived in St Malo after an overnight ferry. It was overcast and the light was very diffuse. These are the sort of conditions that make painting quite difficult. Strangely pen drawing is perfect for this sort of light. Areas are defined by texture as much as tone. I use vertical hatching for the walls always inserting a few breaks to indicate that the walls are old and not perfectly smooth. Roofs are horizontal if square on to us but angled if receding. The trick is that once you have assigned a style of hatch to a type of surface keep it consistent. Also you want the line to do as much work as possible, so direction should relate to the direction of the surface if it has one. Objects that have no particular direction like a tree for example can be rendered with a dotted and scribbled texture. Cars are more tricky but I just indicate a few major surfaces and leave the rest to the imagination. The pavement and streets are slightly different in that I want to show recession or depth. So the ground surfaces are done in a mixture of perspective parallel hatching and almost horizontal to indicate both flatness and direction.

 

Le Croisic, France, pen and ink, drawing

This is Le Croisic where we were based for the first week. Here I have quite a lot of different surfaces to indicate. I have used more or less the same mix as before. The exceptions are the harbour walls and the water. The walls are very rough and vary a lot in tone so the hatching is varied too. I am not drawing every course of stones just giving hints that there may be courses and variation in angle of hatch to show variation. Added weight is got by including a few crosshatched areas. You have to be careful not to loose all the paper as a very solid black would be wrong here, though they do have their uses. The water cannot be dealt with like a road surface because it is reflective. The almost horizontal hatching indicates both the surface and the occasional disruption from a wave. Then the reflections are indicated by variations of density. A very few wandering vertical lines complete the feeling that the surface is water.

I add the whites at the very end and use as little as possible. Here the sky needed lightening in areas both to indicate cloud but also to add the feeling of the buildings being predominately backlit. The boats are picked out too and also the key division of the road surface which is directly sunlit.

 

Le Croisic, France, pen and ink, drawing, sketch

Later I did the same scene again but at a different time of day. I have used all the same methods but here reduced the highlights to represent the softer lighting. All the tones are arranged to allow the plain paper to represent sky. The building below the church is left plain also to supply a focus and a route down for the eye to the harbour and the boats.

 

Le Croisic, France, pen and ink, drawing, sketching

 

Le Croisic again. I had just mad a complete dog’s dinner of an oil of this scene so I sat down to sketch it quickly to recover some of my pride. I only had 20 minutes so I vignetted it strongly. In the oil I made the mistake of loosing track of the fact that the lit gable end was the focus around which the rest of the picture had to be built. Instead I got over involved in the boats and the cafes. A vignette shows just how brutally you can reduce the periphery and still have a perfectly comprehensible scene.

 

St Nazaire, France, harbour, pen and ink, drawing, sketch

This is the port of St Nazaire. I drew it from the top of one of the huge U-boat pens. At first seems impossible to get down such a complex scene. What I looked for here was what tied the scene together. After looking a while I decided that the water was the key area to get right. That and the sky are the only quiet areas so needed to be dealt with in as minimal a fashion as possible. Nonetheless the water still had to carry the information of depth flatness and reflectivity. A great deal to express with very few marks! There is a lot of leeway in the busy harbour detail, a wrong line or bit of erratic drawing will not stand out. The water was a different matter and I added lines very carefully and stopped as soon as I had enough hints to tell the story.

 

Le Croisic, salt pan, pen and ink, drawing

A very simple sketch. I was wondering how to make anything of the pools where they store the live oysters when a tractor headed out do drop a load of tasty molluscs in the drink. I only had time to scribble in a horizon line and sketch the tractor before they left. Once they had gone I had to decide what to do with the rest. The paper needed to stand for the still pools so I lightened the whole sky with a thin white wash. Then I could apply full strength white for the rest of clouds. I kept the distant shore mostly vertical to make it a little abstract. Only broken by a couple of highlights and the tower of the church in Guerande on the other side of the salt marshes.

 

Guerande, pen and ink, drawing, sketch, France

This is the same church in Guerande close to. What interested me here was the clutter of the cafes and the vans clearing away the market. I was sitting in a wildly exposed spot and getting baked by the sun. There was no getting around the fact that to get to the bit I was interested in a whole church needed to be drawn. People often find such subjects forbidding to draw and are put off by the morass of detail. If I had put in all the detail it would have taken forever and looked awful so I had to decide which bit to build it around. I chose the window and positioned it very carefully by holding my paper up to the scene and marking key levels off on the side of the paper. You can measure with your pencil, but I find it far more accurate and simple to hold the paper up to the actual scene. I don’t mark many things just the main architectural breaks and the tops and bottoms of things. Once the window was positioned I worked out from there. I stopped adding content as soon as each part of the building looked complete. In this way it appears that there is a lot of detail, but most of it is actually in the viewers mind’s eye. Once the hard labour of the church was done I got to draw the bit I was really interested in! I indicated the ground with as little as possible. Just giving hints of paving and perspective. No more is needed as the imagination supplies the rest. This minimal approach also helps with the impression of the sun light beating down and bouncing back up again. By the time I had done all the pen work and erased the pencil the light was fully on the church facade. I had to remember back to how I first saw it where only a few parts of the tower were catching the sun.

 

Honfleur, pen and ink, France, drawing, sketch

This is Honfleur where we spent a couple of days on our way home. I was a little lost as to what to draw when this very large lady and her tall thin companion came down the street. I suddenly saw how they might be set against the shadowed facades. This was a very busy spot so I had to just scribble in whichever bits I could see between the crowds of tourists. Most of the work here is in the facades with lots of hatching. It is important to vary the vertical hatch to add interest. With pen you can make the same tone with close thin lines or more widely spaced thick ones. This results in the same overall tone but gives quite a different quality. With the windows you must be very careful not to over detail and also not to make each identical. Again the white was kept to a minimum.

 

Honfleur, France, pen and ink, sketch, drawing

After a hard day bashing away with the oils it was a relief to dump my kit and go out with just my pens. Much of the character of Honfleur is in the fashionable and not so fashionable folk parading to and fro. I liked the simple backdrop of the building with the empty sky beside it so I just sat and scribbled people that took my fancy as they passed. You can’t get a whole figure in with one bite so most of these are composites of several passers by. Once I decided that the population was high enough I set to work inking over the pencil. The man still has to have his stick added as I forgot to put it in!

 

Honfleur, france, pen and ink, drawing

Last one from Honfleur. I wanted to do something out of the tourist zone and this took my eye. The avenue of trees was tricky as I would have liked to have left the sunlit areas plain but for the rest of the image they had to be darker. I decided to use an abstract hatch, which was a bad move I now feel, a simple vertical one would have been cleaner.

 

wappers, sketch drawing, faces

Lastly some of my fellow artists on the coach. When people are moving about I start several faces at once and fill in bits as they return to the pose I want. You soon find that everyone has typical positions they return to so bit by bit you can get a drawing done. Just the pencil was enough here. I was tempted to add ink but the softness of the pencil seemed just right. The few highlights just give enough of a lift to hint at volume and light.

That’s it, Oils and Watercolours next…

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