Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

May 30, 2017

Picking it Apart

Filed under: Dorset,Painting,Uncategorized,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 11:54 am

It is tempting when out painting to set up and just dive in. I do it myself though when I do though I mostly regret it, especially when doing watercolours as it is virtually impossible to change course once started. So I thought in this post to detail exactly how you might pick various scenes apart. Even going through the basic “I’ll get the sky wash in first, then the darkest shadows.” makes you stop and consider. You do not want really to stop and go into that mode of thinking whilst actually painting, because each time you do it breaks the flow. I deliberately decide which problems I am going to deal with first. If it is a street scene with one side in shadow, then I need to get the sky, lit side of the street, shadowed side of the street and road surface tonal ranges sorted out so I don’t have to suddenly darken a third of the canvas, which with oils means wiping back the whole area really. With watercolour I might consider the order of my washes. Some areas might be best  with an establishing wash then darker passages over the top, other areas might be better with the darks painted in first and the washes laid over the top to merge and soften. In watercolour especially I might gauge that a key wash needs to go in first because if it goes pear shaped then the painting will need to be restarted. Which you hardly want to do an hour in!

The problems get more acute painting en plein air, the light will not hang around for you to um and ah about the finer points of composition. I have trained myself however to mostly stop and consider at least the basics. Firstly what is it about the scene that has made you decide to paint it? Is it the lighting? The arrangement of light and dark? The content? The mood? It might of course be more than one. If however the answer is, I’ve been walking around looking for something to paint for an hour and this will just have to do… Then perhaps it is best not to start! I don’t often begin something with that, ho hum this will do feeling and produce something that is worth keeping. In such cases just drawing and sketching might be the order of the day. The very best subjects cry out to be painted and these are often the easiest to paint. Often because they have some clear motif that is straight forward to express. The only danger then is loosing focus on your initial vision and getting side tracked.

With oils you can change your mind and wipe out stuff that doesn’t work. It is a medium made for guessing then refining. So you can plan a picture to take advantage of that. Watercolour is however another kettle of fish. I have recently been doing a few watercolours of the Dorset landscape as it changes with the summers advance so I will try to explain what I recall of how my reasoning went when I set them out. Watercolour is not quite as “one shot is all you’ve got” as some painters say, so it is often possible to hedge your bets a little to allow for final adjustments. I often find it is these final overall adjustments that make all the difference and bring a painting to life.

 

Win Green, Dorset, watercolour, plein air, painting

This is Win Green the highest point of the Cranborne chase in Dorset. A very simple scene with only 3 elements really. Sky trees and grass… what could possibly go wrong? Time was an issue, those clouds were the forerunners of some serious weather! When I first sat down the clouds I could see were fairly benign so I decided to actually play them down a bit. In reality they were more dramatic but I felt they would dominate. What took my eye was the clump of trees growing on the bronze age barrow.

So after sketching out I did a graded wash over sky area from blue to a pink going right over where the trees would be. I could have done the whole sheet but then I would have had to wait while it all dried. As it was I could carefully wet the grass area leaving a tiny dry gap between hill and sky. I also left dry the areas which would be the pinkish bits of the path. I then started dropping greens both warm and cool into the wet areas. When I want granulation I put down the colour quite strong and then add a touch more water, this allows the grains to separate. If you tap the edge of the paper is makes the effect stronger as it causes the pigment grains to drop into the dips in the paper texture.

I now was forced to wait while the whole lot dried. Not too bad though as there was a bit of a breeze. I actually laid in the clouds when there was a tiny bit of dampness still in the first wash. For the clouds I premixed a purple for the darks and then made a pinker and lighter version. It is vital with watercolour to have a bit of test paper to try out your mixes as they look quite different in the palette. I washed in the pinker version first, making the cloud shapes with the side of the brush. I like to introduce a bit of randomness in the way  apply clouds and then keep the lucky accidents and adjust the bits I don’t like. Once the pinky colour was in I added the darker one to the top of the cloud shapes and let it merge downwards. You can control this process by tilting your paper. Lastly I dropped in a little clean water in the centre of the two biggest clouds to give them a bit of a glow.

The grass was now ready to finish so I washed in the path and then added a few marks to accentuate the curve of the hill. A short wait and the sky was then dry enough to add the trees. I laid in the whole of the shape with quite strong warmish green and then waited for it to reach a damp but not dry state. If the first wash is too dry and additions will be hard edged too wet and the whole lot merges. Once I reckoned it was about right I dropped in the strong darks. That was pretty much that… about 45min from start to finish.

Win Green, Dorset, watercolour, plein air, painting

The first lot of rain had missed me so I decided to chance my arm and go along the Ox drove and look back at the Clump. Sun was coming and going but I decided I liked it without sunshine. Compositionally I had to do some cheating as the clump was too small and too far left. With this sorted out I washed in the sky in much the same manner as the previous one except this time I added the darks to the bottom of the cloud shapes rather than the top. In between waiting for the first sky wash to dry I washed in the pink of the road and fence posts.

With all that dry I dealt with all the grass. I wanted to try and get the really quite odd green which seemed to have reddish purple areas. I mixed a good deal of quite strong colour and then laid it all in leaving just the fence posts and the road dry. I then tilted the paper so that the bottom right corner was at the bottom and allowed my reddish colour to run right through the base wash. I was then stuck for anything to do so I just had to wait for it all to dry.

Once ready it only took 10 min or so to finish off the tree shapes working quite dry and allowing the brush to make the marks. Last touches were a few bits of body colour where I had accidentally lost the road line. 9in by 7in Watercolour.

Win Green Clump, Bowl barrow, watercolour, Dorset,plein air

I knew I was risking fate to start this one… Here I did a fairly random background wash with a few blueish darks. Once that was dryish I laid in the cloud shapes with a very pale pink and then keeping the paper very flat dropped in colour to the wetted areas. I was then snookered and had to wait for it to dry. Just as it was ready the rain began and I had to pack up. Even though my car was only 200yrds away I got completely soaked!

Back at home a day or so later I considered the photos and finished it off pretty much in the same way I did the first one. The only difference being I used Zoisite for the green as it granulates very strongly. A very few marks on top to accentuate the flow and it was finished.

Probably the best of the three, but in a way doing the first two taught me how to approach this one. 9in by 7in Watercolour.

Wimborne Minster, Dorset, watercolour, plein air

A visit to Wimborne Minster. I had to go deep into the shrubbery to get this view. Often the case with churches that you cannot get far enough away get a good composition. Rather rushed this one as the weather was threatening. I have no complaints as to that though as rapidly changing weather gives more possibilities for moments of dramatic lighting. With all architectural subjects drawing is key. Trees, hills and shrubbery are relatively forgiving of drawing errors. People, buildings, cars and animals far less so. 9in by 7in Watercolour.

Badbury Rings, Dorset, painting, watercolour, plein air

On my way home from Wimborne I couldn’t resist Badbury rings. I have painted it a few times without much success and I walked all the way around it unable to settle on a view. I was on my way back to the car having given up when I looked back and saw that the rings were lit by a shaft of sunlight. Without even setting up I quickly sketched the light and shade shapes trying to fix the effect in my mind. I use a method to do this I look at the scene then I close my eyes and try to visualise it in my mind’s eye. Then I open my eyes and compare the mental image to the reality. Then I repeat the process a few times. I find that then when I am painting the mental image is still there, albeit as a simplified cartoon, to refer to. The banks and the shaft of light were the very first thing I put in once painting. I would have preferred to do the sky first normally but here it was was vital the get the transitory effect on the paper as soon as I could before memory faded. Also the tones needed to bring out the shaft of light would set all the rest of the tone decisions in the painting. I would almost certainly have put the sky in too strongly if I had put it in with nothing else in the painting. The track was actually off to the left but I moved it to give a lead in. 9in by 7in Watercolour.

Corfe Castle, watercolour, plein air, Dorset, painting

On this day I decided to go looking for views of  Corfe. So I walked from Corfe a way up the hill to Kingston checking the views as I went. This is a view of two parts the foreground and the background are about a mile apart! The light was bit murky which was a pity as the scenes were ones that really needed good light. I sat and painted the castle and sky but didn’t much like the fore ground so packed up and moved on. In the end I walked all the way to Chapmans Pool which was affair old hike. Later in the day I drove along one of the small roads out of Corfe and saw a track weaving away and just for fun decided to add it to the castle sketch! 9in by 7in Watercolour.

Chapmans Pool, sea, Dorset, Jurassic Coast, watercolour, painting

Sea mist had been obscuring everything and I nearly didn’t climb down to the Pool. I have done it once before and found it tricky because it is so unreal. The mist made it even more unworldly but I just couldn’t find a good viewpoint. I will need to use the photographs I took to sort out my composition and return on a better day. 9in by 6in Watercolour.

Chapmans Pool, Dorset, jurassic coast, plein air, watercolour, painting

I had more or less given up on Chapmans Pool but decided to walk around to the fishermen’s huts. I never got there as this took my fancy. The mist above gave a strange light as it thinned allowing the sun weakly through and I liked what it did to the colours. 9in by 8in Watercolour.

Hanford School, Dorset, watercolour, painting

Hanford school which has wonderful gardens and a fine Tudor house had an open garden day. I didn’t take my paints so this is done from reference but I shall try and go back as there are some super subjects there and it is very near. I relit this entirely using my imagination the photos were of a bright sunny dat with blue sky and fluffy clouds! I decided it needed a more gothic feel. 9in by 7in Watercolour.

Salisbury, wiltshire, watercolour, cathedral, plein air

Another day out, this time to Old Sarum and along the Avon. My main interest was to explore views of Old Sarum for future expeditions. This is another one with dislocated foregrounds and backgrounds. The cathedral liked great rising above the fields but the foregrounds were not good. I settle on this one about half a mile on… irritatingly I found an even better one after I had painted this one in! I must do the walk from here to the cathedral as I suspect there are some great views including the river as you approach. 9in by 6in Watercolour.

Old Sarum, Salisbury, watercolour, Wiltshire, plein air

Finally to Old Sarum itself. The day was not ideal bright sun and middle of the day are one of my least favourite painting moments. I felt I should give this a go however. I enjoyed doing it once I got going, the fade to the distance was a real challenge and as always the greens are tricky. I actually got out the sap green for this one. 9in by 7in Watercolour.

That’s it… I need to get the oils out soon or I will forget how to use them!

October 10, 2015

A Trip to Pembrokeshire

My first trip to Pembrokeshire in a while… and no chance to paint… With old friends so lots of talk, laughter, food and walking. Being a tourist rather than a painter lots of photos to bore friends with when they come to dinner… there is nothing more tedious than photographs of other people having a good time in a lovely place! All I managed while there art wise was one small pen and ink, but I still wanted to get some paintings done to recall the weekend.

So once home what can you do? I find if I am going to paint quick studio paintings from reference then I need to do it as soon as possible after the shot is taken. I find after that I really struggle to remember how it felt to be there. I do bigger studio paintings from reference but that is a different and longer process involving sketches and multiple photographs. Painting quick a la prima sketches from single images is a different and I think more difficult thing. You are very at risk of having the photo make every decision for you. To counter this I try and paint very quickly and also several times whilst painting put the reference aside and work from memory. If I am lucky I find that at a certain point the painting gains a life of its own and becomes an independent thing, a memory prompted by a photograph rather than a copy.

Once I have decided to paint from an image I first look at how I can break the image down to simple tonal areas. Then I decide what my palette is to be. I find restricting the palette helps a great deal. Then you cannot mimic the colours of your reference but have to mix equivalents. (this is a good policy I find with plein air also!) I then look at the arrangement of things and think, “How could it be better?” by better I mean have more sense of atmosphere and a simple underlying structure.  I turn the image into a monochrome version to assess the actual tones. Colours confuse our sense of tone so it is far easier to see the relative tones with colour removed.

With all that thought about if not all decided upon I mix the colours. It is so much easier with oils I find to mix the colours first. There is often not time en plein air but in the studio it is well worthwhile. When you do this you can put your lightest light and darkest dark on the palette and then set the mid tones to lie between them. I very rarely use full white in a painting so this process makes sure you do not automatically use the full tone range but set a key (range of tone) that leaves you room to manoeuvre when the time comes to accent and add punch at the end. It is far easier to paint if all the tones are there on your palette organised in hues. The mistake many people make is mixing too little. In the end you will not waste paint because the left over colour nearly always gets absorbed into the mixes for the next painting.

Once started I found the first one was very lifeless and in the end rubbed it off and started again another advantage of no time pressure and a studio setting. The next attempt went better and I got properly in the swing. When the point comes where you forget yourself and the time starts to flow by then usually the painting benefits. Before the oils I did some quick watercolours to get myself immersed in the subjects.

 

Tenby, pen and ink, drawing, wales, pembrokeshire

Here is the one drawing I got done. This is Tenby, a place I would love to spend a few days painting in. It has the lure of some very obvious scenes that get painted too much, but has a lot more to offer as the dramatic headland it is built over allows some great and unexpected viewpoints.

 

Tenby, watercolour, wales, painting, pembrokeshire

Here is one of those Tenby views. The narrow street runs steeply up from the harbour giving a great perspective. You actually could not do this painting on site as you would be mown down by the constant stream of 4×4’s driving up the hill! Only a 1/8th sheet but I painted it with a big sable keeping everything quite wet. Even though I was not trying to be very precise you have to take great care over the perspective in scenes like this where the road is going uphill. If you get lines at the wrong angle the feeling of buildings stepping up a hill is soon lost. I put a few soft lines in first to guide the angle. Watercolour.

 

pembrokeshire, watercolour, painting, wales, cliffs, sea

The coast path in Pembrokeshire is a wonder but tricky to paint. There is a tendency to over cook the turquoise which makes it more Med than Wales!

 

Chamber Tomb, Pentre Ifan, Newport, watercolour, painting, wales

This is the chamber tomb of Pentre Ifan near Newport. It is sited in a wonderful position and should be easy to paint but I have failed to paint it decently quite a few times now. This attempt wasn’t too bad and at least captures a little of the mood. I felt it was a little tight so I did it again giving myself only 20 min.

 

Pentre Ifan, Chamber Tomb, Newpoit, wales, watercolour, painting

Here it is again different but not really better! I shall have a crack at it with the oils I think.

 

Wales, Pembrokeshire, Narberth, oil painting, art

First go with the oils. This is Narberth a distinctly posh Pembrokeshire town. The first attempt got bogged down so I wiped it off and started afresh. It still needs some adjustment of the distant tones which need to be a tiny bit softer and bluer but I will dry brush over once it is dry. 10in by 14in Oils.

 

Coast path, cliffs, sea, pembrokeshire, wales, oil painting

This is on the wonderful Pembrokeshire coast path. I have painted here before in a force 8 gale so a studio picture was far more comfortable to do! Not sure this is quite finished some of the distant cliffs need softening a little. I have already adjusted the horizon after I made this scan as the whole thing falls off bait too much to the right. I did this to counter the lean on the figure but rather over did it. 10in by 16in Oils.

 

Pembrokeshire, newport, parrog, wales, oil painting, art

This is the Parrog which is the harbour at Newport. When I was walking and saw this I could see it as a painting and tried to hold on to the memory! Quite hard and close tones but fun and quick to paint. 10in by 16in Oils.

 

Pembrokeshire, wales, painting, sea, cliffs

Last one. Back on the coast path again. It was very still and warm for October. I painted the foreground with a knife which is unusual for me. I must use it more. I am slightly put off because I rather dislike knife paintings where the impasto seems to perform no function. For the scraggly growth on the cliff edge it was just the thing though. Like all techniques if the technique starts to dominate then it ruins the picture. Paintings about how things are painted are I tend to find rather tedious! 10in by 14in oils.

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