Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

March 24, 2018

Art for the End of Times

Filed under: Art History,Dorset,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 11:11 am

The age of discovery is drawing to a close. The scientific theories are done with, there will never be another dramatic moment of displacement in a bathtub that prompts the cry of Eureka! No fresh and shiny E = mc 2‘s no more 2πr2′s hidden in the woodwork. We will never again discover the unexpected fact that blood circulates, or find out how nerves do their electrochemical tango. There will be no more elements that last longer than a pico second to extend the periodic table. No new languages, no new geometries, we have found it all, made it all. The world of knowledge is perhaps a little like a sphere and we have pretty much mapped out all the continents upon it.

So now we are in the age of refinement, dotting the i’s, looking after the p’s and q’s. We might voyage to new planets, but never be surprised that they were there in the first place. We are encyclopaedia collators, we are indexers, we arrange ducks in rows. We wistfully talk of escaping the box and finding some mythical bleeding edge, but really we are at the end of innovation and at the beginning of a long age of tinkering with infinitely recessive boundaries.

There will be no new art movements, no new impressionists, we have been abstract, surreal and can only repeat the old well trodden expressions, there will be no more new, just warmed over old. Who could have expected human understanding to have grown so fast? We have the jigsaw puzzle on the table and the box is nearly empty. There are only a couple of pieces of sky to go and a bit of sea lost under the sofa, but the picture on the whole is just about complete. We are just a little disappointed that it does not quite match the one with the jolly bearded chap in the clouds that we imagined might be printed on the box!

Should we retire? Is our job done, like Deep Thought in Hitchhikers Guide have we found our 42? Should we become whimsical and quirky, always looking for some brief glimmer of newness to punctuate the ennui? Return to big wigs and farthingales, go mad for Steampunk? Butterfly at being this of that for just a day or two before moving on to paint a prettier flower? The world has enough books, tunes, plays and paintings to amuse anyone for a century or more. It sometimes seems pointless to paint another when there are so many better ones already available.

There is that word, “available” we are drowning in available. If I want to look at Russian painting, clickety click on my key board, and hey presto there it is. Not only that but most of the images are better than the ones you would have got in that 60 quid book 20 years ago, certainly there are far more of them. Affluenza doesn’t just effect material things it effects culture too. In times past you had a music collection… serried ranks of cd’s and Lp’s proudly displayed. Now you can rent any tune for the price of an advertisement. We don’t need collections, I sold all my art books, I never looked at them, they just took up space.

So, I must ask, does it matter? Most of human lives throughout history have been lived without a hint of new. In Tudor times, before the revelatory rush had really got started, it was a compliment to tell an artist that what he had done was almost as good as what everyone had always done before. They had guilds to prevent any possibility of innovation or deviation from the approved way. So no, maybe it does not matter.

Still for an artist today the idea of originality and newness is made out to be of vital importance. How cruel fate can be! We are like explorers born just as the last of the “Terra Incognitas” are filled in and the final “Here be Dragons” neatly erased. We have explored right round the world and met ourselves coming back in the other direction. Fortunately for us the world of ideas is fractal as a fern. We have broadly mapped out the major fronds, but each frond is made of smaller fronds and they too of smaller yet. So perhaps our world is unconfined, I can paint landscapes that make just a section of a part of the serrated edge of our landscape frond a tiny bit frillier.

For what is vaguely known as contemporary art this is a slight problem. Its avowed mission is to find new fronds, to go as Star Trek tells you, “Where no man has been before.” To this end they rush about making submarines out of tyres, piling up things to make other things, incongruity is king. All to no avail though, as, like our explorers who spot a hopeful new shore, upon landing they find footprints of men who were there before them in the sand, already softened by the tide. They have all the time only been filling in a few small wriggles in a coastline already mapped.

What has brought all this on you might wonder? Well the fear of Venice is beginning to set in. The most painted place ever. The most mapped in paint, its every mood, however transient, daubed by someone. There is a veritable Everest of paintings, an unstoppable grinding glacier of topographical art heading my way! All sorts of silly ideas pop up in my head, ignore the famous scenes, just paint dead ends and wheelie bins. Get behind the hollow tourist facade and tell it how it really is. I know of course that reality is not Venice’s strong suit, it is the oldest and most successful Disneyland on the planet.

In the event of course I will go and paint and draw stuff that looks pretty much like what everyone else has painted. I will then put them in my attic as Venice paintings don’t sell in Dorset. They will make a dandy blog post and garner a few ego boosting “likes” on Facebook and I will move on. The real gain will be inside my head. I will have been and looked. I will have observed tricks of the light, embellishments of stone, reflections in water. I will have been immersed in the place and be made a little bit different inside. An extra, hopefully elegant, wrinkle will be defined on my own personal frond. Like painting a portrait, they are much the same, we have been painting faces and bodies for thousands of years, but this will be through my eyes which will be, in the smallest humblest way, a first. Then I will paint Blandford with a little bit of Venice sitting behind my eyes.

Fontmel Down, Dorset, Plein air, oil painting

A bright and breezy morning up on Fontmel Down, I’m not quite done with it yet and might have to return for another bash. I am showing it here with the bottom cropped, but I might reverse that and crop the top instead. It is one of those that has a decent picture in there somewhere, I just have to muck about with it until it gels. 16in by 10in Oils.

Fontmel Magna, oil painting, Dorset, plein air

Here is Fontmel Magna later the same day once the rain had set in. Quite pleased with this one as it is great subject and I managed to get a feeling of the day down. I need to try it again in different lights and a slightly more refined composition. I love painting in the rain, everything is transformed, if only the practicalities of holding the umbrella and such were easier. Though the painting stayed mostly dry, the rain ran down my neck and made my boxers soggy! 14in by 10in Oils.

Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, Dorset, oil painting

A studio painting of the famous Gold Hill in Shaftesbury from the first bout of snow. By the time I arrived here I was too cold to paint any more so just took snaps. Great fun to paint, I mixed up all my tones first as without sun the contrasts were very subtle. With snow scenes it is very tempting to take every area to white which ends up looking crude. 16in by 10in Oils.

Portland, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

Here we are on the Isle of Portland, the snow is gone and the sun is out. This is a great spot on the West side of the island I had not been to before. This was only one of the possible paintings to be done on this spot. The morning was quite misty with the last of the sea fret being dissolved by the sun. The tone of the distance was very hard to nail down. Too light and there was not enough contrast with the sea and sky, to dark and the feel of the atmosphere between you and the cliffs is lost. 10in by 12in Oils.

Portland Bill, Dorset, sea, plein air, oil painting

Are we in Corfu? Is this the Adriatic? No this is the same day looking South from Portland Bill! There was a great vantage point for the waves coming in so I decided a sea study was the thing to do. When people paint sea they often struggle with the fact that it is always the same but always different too. The result is that they impose their imagination upon it and it becomes rather static. My tactic is to get the tones and colours of the whole scattered about but not really resolved. Then I observe each smaller area and do a snap shot study of what is going on. Once done I just watched for a bit before putting a few features that tied the whole together. So the main wave was the very last thing to go in. 10in by 12in Oils.

Hambledon Hill, snow, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

The Mediterranean is gone and the Arctic swiftly returns! Our second batch of snow was bonus and I was determined to paint it. I waited and waited for the light to move from grey to sun before going up Hambledon Hill. When I got there I found the wind and sun had removed the snow from raised areas revealing the scars in the ground left by the walkers ascending to the earthworks that crown the hill. I got completely lost in painting this it had such fascinating contrasts. The snow came in handy too as I could build a level platform to paint from by kicking it in a heap and stamping it flat! Once again I took a deep breath before starting and mixed the key tones before doing anything else. 10in by 10in Oils.

Child Okeford, Church, snow, oil painting

The last of the snow. On my way back the light on the church and reflecting on the remains of the snow look pearlescent and very beautiful. However I was pretty cold and had a very wet bum from sliding down Hambledon Hill so I just blocked the bare bones of the focal point of the view and took a few photos. Thank heaven I did even that small amount as when I looked at my snaps they were just grey with none of the colours I remember seeing! So I had to work mostly from imagination colour wise and there is none of the original lay in left. In the last stages I put the photos away and allowed myself to play. 14in b y 10in Oils.

Next Post will suppose be Venice… wish me luck!

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!

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