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!

May 8, 2017

Being Different

Filed under: Dorset,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 9:39 am

A year or so ago I went to the RA summer show and was mostly unimpressed. Since then I have every now and again pondered exactly why it was so uninspiring. Many of the things there were quite entertaining, which I certainly don’t object to. Some were amusing, some disturbing, but more trying to disturb but failing. One thing I did notice was that almost all the works were either monochrome or in playroom primaries. There seemed to be few neutrals or modulated colours, for the larger part everything was straight out of the tube with only white added to pale. This has the effect of making Sean Scully’s quiet brown and black abstract leap off the wall in contrast. An odd effect in a room full of shouty creations each desperately crying out “Look at me!”.

Previously I had commented, after trawling through the Saatchi Online site, that everyone had been original in much the same way. All this has led me to wonder why is it that the ambition to be different and stand out from the crowd should result in apparent uniformity. Artists have of course always wanted to stand out and be noticed by being better than their competition at portraiture, or altarpieces, or whatever. Now how ever the chosen method of drawing attention is to try to be different or as we say “original”.

Looking back in time you might choose someone like Hieronymus Bosch as an early example, but really he was just doing that medieval, scare the pants off the faithful, thing better than his contemporaries. Giuseppe Arcimboldo who did hybrid still lives and portraits was maybe the first obvious novelty artist. He worked as a court artist so presumably the novelty side of his work was just that and the bulk of his output is even today unnoticed. After his own time he was unremembered until the Surrealists discovered him and claimed him as a forerunner of their style. I think however that as Bosch he is just the expression of the love of grotesques that was common in the period.

It is very hard to spot when being “original” became a common ambition. Having searched back in time I think it is much more recent than you might think. There was always novelty of course but it is the ambition and deliberate intention to be novel to establish your own personal artistic individuality that I am interested in. The Surrealists were looking for a new interior subject matter for painting, the Impressionists a new way of seeing. Abstract painters sought a form of painting divorced from subject. Expressionists sought to paint pure emotion. The real driver for people to wish to overtly seek newness as a foundation of a separate and distinct identity seems to me to be the arrival of the mass media.

Only with the availability of mass produced and widely distributed imagery was the artist faced with the huge spread of what other artists both contemporary and historical had been up to. You want to paint a portrait? Well you are up against Van Dyke, Rembrandt and Singer Sargent. In every area someone better than you has been there and done that. However good your portrait offering is likely to look a little weak next to Rembrandt’s effort. The reaction to this conundrum was to look for a new “area” or as my tutors of college were keen on saying, “Your realm of concern”. You had to find your own little patch of originality and cultivate it exclusively.

It is easy to pick out the artists produced by this trend. Richard Long who trots about arranging rocks and photographing his activities. Damien Hurst who moves the advertising campaign from the page and screen to the gallery. Rachel Whiteread who displays interior spaces as solid forms. Anthony Gormley who presents his own body in different ways. Each has gone looking for their own row and once found proceeded to hoe it ad nauseam.

If we take Gormley (who’s work by the way I quite like). He constantly seeks to find a new ways of expressing and or placing the volume his body takes up. He doesn’t you must note seem to seek to improve the quality of making, only to produce endless variations on the riff he is already playing. He does I know do other work but this is the defining thread in his output. He casts and scans his own form interminably but does not seem to have the ambition to improve his own abilities in the actual making of forms. The same with many others they seek new ways or variations of rowing their particular row, but they don’t seem to seek or want to improve their hoeing technique!

There I think is the nub of it. We no longer value in the same way the ambition of an individual to fly as high as they possibly can. Rembrandt and others real achievement was in refining their own abilities to the point where they could create apparent miracles. Rembrandt’s real art as it were was to refine himself as a creator of images, the paintings themselves were merely the results of the long struggle to improve. Whenever I am assessing an artist I always seek the drawings as they are always revealing. Gormley’s show an interest in the different ways of drawing, but not in developing his own ability to make them. IE if it was piano playing there are only attempts at whole sonatas, there is no evidence of endless hours of the playing of scales. He is seeking to make drawings that might be art  rather than get better at the process of drawing.

I feel it is not, as we currently seem to believe, the intention of an artist to make art that results in art. It is the striving of the artist to improve their own abilities and perceptiveness that produces what we call art. Art is the physical evidence left behind of their struggle to progress. In the same way that a pearl is the evidence of an oyster’s struggle to survive in this dangerous world, not its intended ambition in life. So we should value the results of an individuals quest to get good at an impossibly difficult activity, because as with natural pearls the objects produced are rare and often very beautiful.

As a wee experiment I did a bit of real “Art” I decided on a deconstructionist moment.

real art, London, oil painting, surreal

Very simple I just broke the frame and imagined it pushed out by the imagery within. A frame is no longer a frame if it doesn’t confine. So it loses it purpose and in this case becomes part of the art object. This is just the sort of quirk or “originality” that infests the art world. Is it fun? Well yes it makes a surreal object on the wall. It certainly draws attention nobody commented on any other painting when it was hung on the wall.  It is very easy to think of endless variations on this theme, I could fill gallery with them. Only then could it sit comfortably on a wall with other pictures in the same vein. In other words it is “shouty” in that it does not only reach out to grab attention by being discordant but it suppresses other imagery hung near it. No one really looked at it as a picture, even though I went to some pains to paint it decently. It was no longer a gateway to elsewhere but a one line cartoon, a quick ho ho look at that and move on.

Just for fun I then Photoshopped it into staid conformity!

art

Composition is left a bit on the dodgy side as I designed it for the weird frame, but now you can imagine how it might have been in London on that day!

Now a few misshapen pearls of my own… in the spirit of the oyster, a seaside theme this time…

Dancing Ledge, Purbecks, Dorset, Plein air, oil painting

I have not been doing enough of the coast so I have bitten the bullet and crawled out of my comfy bed before dawn a few times. Just as well as the middle of the day isn’t great with the South facing shore line here in Dorset. This is Dancing Ledge in the Purbecks. It was all Happening so quickly I was very rushed. The tones are wonderfully subtle in the rocks, a real challenge to get even a rough approximation down. 12in by 10in Oils.

Dancing ledge, purbeck, plein air, oil painting

I did this straight after. Slightly less rushed since after the sun is up the light changes a little more slowly. When I arrived I had the place to myself, but by the time I finished this it was like rush hour at Oxford Circus!

Dancing Ledge, Purbeck, Dorset, oil painting

With all that buzzing around my head I set about a studio one as soon as possible. I had thought to do a dawn one but when I looked at my snaps how it looked as I took my leave rather appealed to me. I liked the balance between sea and rock and the way they fitted together in a jagged jigsaw line. 14in by 10in Oils.

Dancing Ledge, purbecks, Dorset, oil painting, plein air, sea, cliffs

Yes up before sparrow fart again. The tourists never see the place at its very best. It is hard to define what is so beguiling about dawns. I suppose because it is a “reveal” at first there is just murk and then it develops slowly. For the painter this causes difficulties because your subject transforms so quickly. With a sunset it becomes more and more mysterious as you paint, with a dawn the mystery evaporates before you can get it down on the board.

Dancing Ledge, Purbecks, cliffs, sea, plein air, oil painting

This dawn was amazingly like the previous one even with an identikit sky. I got so carried away with the sky and sea that I ran out of time and left with the land portion just blocked in rough tones. Next day that looked sort of Ok so I just added the minimum of descriptive marks on top of the base tones to finish. 12in by 10in Oils.

Weymouth, plein air, oil painting, Dorset

On this day I went to Corfe… and ended up painting Weymouth! The light was all wrong at the castle so after a quick sketch I upped stumps and headed to Weymouth which I had never visited before. So many subjects there I will be returning. I only settled to do this after walking miles to take it all in. Plein air painting takes more time looking for what to paint than it does to actually do the daub! Weymouth old harbour has a great feel with a ton of possible viewpoints so I think it would be paintable at a lot of different times of day as you could move round with the light. 14in by 6in oils.

Mudeford, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

This was a very difficult day, flat light and very still. I should have just sketched and drawn but was lured into painting. I might cut off the top and bottom of this to make it very “letter box”. One of those things, I painted it well enough but it was all just a bit too dull! 16in by 8in oils.

Mudeford, plein air, Dorset, oil painting

Being a sucker for punishment I set out to do another dreary painting of Mudeford. Again I painted it sort of alright, but just shouldn’t have bothered in the first place. The gulls knew because I could tell they were laughing at me… I did a pen drawing after which was the best thing of the the day other than the cake. 14in by 9in oils.

Portland, Cheyne Weares, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

Another dull day but more to get yer teeth into here. This is the view from Cheyne Weares on Portland. The distant shore and Weymouth were completely invisible. Great fun trying to keep the tones subtle enough. It is very hard mixing when the tiniest addition of colour to a mix can easily send it the wrong way. When faced with this dilemma I mix one obviously bit too dark and one plainly a bit to light side by side and then smear  the two roughly together. Then you can pick out close but subtly different tones quite easily. 10in by 10in oils.

Portland Bill, lighthouse, sea, oil painting, Dorset

Here’s a studio painting of Portland Bill to finish off this determinedly coastal post. It is done on top of a plein air I started looking 180 degrees round from this that never went anywhere. It is frustrating when the day completely changes halfway through a painting but also something that makes painting outside such a rewarding challenge. You just know however much you do it you will always be on the verge of falling flat on your face!

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