Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

March 17, 2019


Filed under: Dorset,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 11:26 am

Memory seems a simple thing. Something happens to you, it gets encoded in your brain and there it is like an entry into a diary. There is short term memory which is like taking a quick note that you bin after it has served its purpose, and longterm which is like your archive. For an artist both are important because you need short term to transfer the information from eye to canvas and long term to learn your craft.

However memory is not much like how I have described above. Which in turn makes what we do as artists less simple than it might at first glance appear. Both long term and short term memories are effected by our hopes, expectations, preconceptions and desires which in turn colours or filters the information being recorded. This is shown by how witnesses remember the same events quite differently. It also goes some way to explain why those photos of the scene look different to how you recall the moment at which the snap was taken. We blame the camera, but it is our method of making memories that is I think the more likelyl cause.

So there we are on a clifftop preparing to paint, what could be going on? Firstly you perhaps need to consider context. You have gone out seeking a subject and inevitably you have high hopes in that regard. The brain is forever applying rose tinted glasses to your perceptions: That person you are having dinner with appears more and more attractive. The painting you are working on seems better and better… or the reverse of course if we are depressive! So the scene you see is not only what is there, but a romanticised version of it overlaid by hopes.

In practice what happens is that if you seek colours in the shadows then you will see them. You photo will later show that they are actually just dull grey and you might exclaim that the camera is so poor compared to the eye. This however is unlikely to be the case. What is more likely to be happening in many instances is that the colours are invented by our internal image processing and not really present. In a different mood we might produce an alternate set of hues from the same scene. it is also possible that the colours are there in a subdued version which our visual system grabs and gives added zip to.

As we work the process continues. We want the developing picture on our canvas to look like the scene, evoke it, or fit a certain stylistic ideal and our minds helpfully alter what we see to make that appear true. Many times we struggle to manage this where the evidence is increasingly strong that we have painted a clunker. The process is often quite abrupt where the previously hopeful daub suddenly appears drab and worthless. The mind then helpfully fulfils our expectations and makes it look worse than it actually is and despair sets in! You might after bunging it in the car and taking it home, look at it next day say, “It’s not as bad as I thought!”

If we really painted what was actually before us our pictures would mostly be as disappointing as those photos can be once we have them home. We have to accept that what we imagine to be realism is in large part a fantasy, shaded in with the coloured crayons of our imaginations. I myself think this is a wonderful thing. It means you are free to imagine whatever you wish from the promptings that your eyes are transmitting. It also means that someone who views your painting of Portland with the lime green sky will be perfectly happy with it as their visual system is similar to your own.

Like most things once you have a better understanding of how you are doing a thing it allows you to exploit what might at first appear to be weaknesses and transform them into advantages and strengths.

So a few more delusions of my own distorted reality.

Corfe castle, dorset, oil painting

I have set about doing some larger studio pictures, this monster is 48in by 30in. After a day painting in Corfe I was, as described above, disappointed by the resulting photographs next day. As I came down West Hill I had thought how wonderfully romantic the castle looked and taken photos at regular intervals as I descended. Despite the lacklustre reference I set to and the block in flew off the brush, so I was optimistic for the next day. It did not go well, the reference took control and the painting went down hill. In the end I allowed my first impulse about how romantic the place was in an 18C way to take over and painted quite a different painting than the one I had originally intended. On reflection the above is probably closer to how I felt when actually there than my original plan. Oils.

Fontmel Gifford, Wiltshire, plein air, oil painting

A day out at Fontmell Gifford in Wiltshire. I expected a sunlit lake but all that was there was fog and an invisible lake! Still this was fun to paint with lots of subtle greys to enjoy. 10in by 7.5in Oils.

Fontmell Gifford, plein air, oil painting, Wiltshire

After a hearty breakfast nearby the lake had appeared! I have been enjoying this wide format of three squares. This might be fiddled with yet, I have perhaps over darkens the foreground by a notch. I’ll leave it like this for now though. 24in by 8ins Oils.

Shaftesbury, castle rings, Wiltshire, plein air, oil painting

Last one of the day. This is Castle Rings near Shaftesbury. It is such a magical place but very hard to catch the feel of the place. I think the wider format might have been better, but I had used my only wide board. Also I think I could have allowed my inner Tolkien to have taken over and pushed the fantastical feeling that the place has. I shall return with that in mind! 14in by 10in Oils.

Durleston, Dorset, Anvil Point, lighthouse, plein air, cliff top, oil painting

This is Anvil Point seen from Durleston. Tricky to find an ideal position to paint from so I settled for this. I shall add a little more punch to the sky once it is dry. 14in by 6in Oils

Anvil Point, Dorset, sea, light house, plein air, oil painting

Here is one of Anvil Point where the scene was so immediate that I just had to have a go. I did manage to rein myself in enough to think properly about what how I would approach it. The tone layer with the lighthouse was absolutely key. Too dark and the foreground would not separate, too light and there would be no “dazzle” to the sea. I did three experimental patches first to get these three areas named down. Just as well I did as it took 4 or 5 goes to find the best balance. A problem you will always face is that your mind’s eye sees further into the shadows than you want. It was very tempting to add a yet lighter tone to the foreground but I stuck to my guns and resisted the devil on my shoulder. I had to refine the sea and lighthouse later as the wind was so fierce that no finesse was possible! 10in by 10in Oils.

Swanage, Durleston, coast, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

Last of a very fine day This is looking towards Swanage from Durleston Castle. The light was going over very quickly, but as is often the case that added magic to the scene. I had to paint this very rapidly as a consequence. 12in by 7in Oils.


February 4, 2019


Filed under: Dorset,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 12:05 pm

In 1827 through to 1885 the way we saw the world and ourselves changed. From Daguerre via Fox Talbot to Eastman selling film the photographic image had arrived. Slowly over the following decades it became the dominant way in which we see our ever-changing world held still for examination. We forget now that when such images arrived they were at odds with the way people expected the world to look. People were used to prints and paintings where the world was carefully composed and tidy. Photographs after the novelty was over did not at first really catch on as a medium to record everyday life. It was portraits where the sitters were arranged before painted backgrounds to mimic paintings that first became a commercial success. Once the cameras found their way into amateur hands that all changed.

At first due to the limits of long exposures groups of sitters still look contrived, but mostly gone is the attempt to ape the qualities of a painting. As the exposures shortened it was possible on a bright day to capture the hustle and bustle of a busy city, with the horses, carts, hawkers and jaywalkers making up the general hurly-burly. People were cropped off frame and caught in unbalanced poses. It was the Impressionists who first noticed it was a new way of seeing and many of those impressionist masterpieces you know and love were painted or refined from photographs. Monet, Degas and Renoir were all keen photographers.

After that the hand painted view of the world was in irreversible decline. In the following decades we see the majority of representation both private, commercial and public recorded by the mechanical eye. Hand drawn illustrations have become in the minority and such work has largely been pushed to the edges of representation where a thing is imaginary, does not exist yet, or does not exist any more.

Nowadays In am guessing the bulk of figurative artists probably work at least in part from photos, it being more convenient and cheaper than the alternative which might include hiring models etc. An important reason however is also that photographs are now how we see the world. None of us can help comparing any handmade representational image to the photographed image. Starting from an early age we all just see so many photographs that we cannot see any other way. It is hard to believe that when people first saw photographs of the familiar world they lived in they thought they looked wrong. We can never recapture how they saw or even recreate it by imagination.

Now we tend to accept all the distortions that photographs suffer from without even noticing. The tonal compression the distortions of form, colour and proportion. We accept the perspective warping in wide angles or when we point the camera up or down, without a thought. If we look at one of those pictures of a social group 20 people wide then we do not notice that the ones at the edges are twice as fat as the ones in the middle. Artists even emulate the photographic inaccuracies, lens flare etc, to give extra veracity to their pictures! You frequently see people watching video in the wrong screen scaling, either squashed or stretched, without being aware that something is amiss.

So where does this leave the observational painter of today? Well there seem to be several tactics. Firstly you might give your work a quirk that goes against the photographic grain. Do it in angular shapes in thick paint, incorporate dramatic drips and smears that cry out hand made. I often like paintings done in these ways, but there is always the uncomfortable feeling they are a bit like cheesy photographic effects applied to holiday snaps. Indeed Photoshop artists now regularly steal the quirks developed by painters in order to get that painterly feeling into a photo.

I have to end this little essay without a conclusion. We have perhaps still not finished developing our relationship to the mechanical image. Indeed with digital photo editing tools the photograph can become more “handmade” than many paintings on canvas. An observational painter such as myself has no alternative other than to play second fiddle to the captured image. I still wince when someone comments, “I thought it was a photo at first!” I know they mean well…

More catching up on the oils now.

Portland Bill, Dorset, oil painting

Sometimes paintings are a real struggle. After one session I ended up with this widescreen take on Portland Bill. Working from reference taken with a few variations I was having trouble getting the whole lot to come to life. I find paintings that have some good bits but don’t quite add up to a whole the hardest to resolve. This one was so much so that I put it face to the studio wall and promptly forgot it! Later when I came across the canvas I decided to have a do or die bash at finishing it.

Portland Bill, lighthouse, oil painting, Dorset

Unfortunately I am missing a stage, the above is the final version. However on the second bash I changed the sky to give it more focus. However the general colour was still in the grey/ tan range. It still didn’t quite do what I wanted so I let it dry for a week or two and then glazed transparent colour over the top. To do this you must make sure you choose a transparent colour and use a decent glaze medium. You mix down the medium 4 parts turps to one part medium and then add colour to taste. You don’t want to make the colour too strong and it is best to build up in layers. On this I had just two glaze colours a quinacridone red and ultramarine. Glazing is very much like doing a watercolour over a grey painting, with the added advantage that you can wipe off and redo as many times as you want. 24in by 8in Oils.

Old harry Rocks, Dorset, oil painting

I did an earlier plein air of this one of Old Harry and at the time wished I had brought a wider board with me. So I set about a wider version. I think as with the previous painting this is a first stage. I can see potential but it needs more “zing” and focus. Again glazes are ideal for this sort of adjusting as all the fresh underlying brushwork is retained so you do not run the risk of it all getting too overworked. I will post the end result and try and take some photos of the different stages. 24in by 8ins Oils.

Portland Bill, lighthouse, oil painting

This is a very quick but quite large sketch of Portland for a bigger painting. We had a series of days with wonderful skies so I wanted to do a large studio painting where the sky was the main event. This works OK but I didn’t really finish it as I felt that the land was still too important and could be reduced to a smaller scaled simplified strip at the bottom. I might adapt this one before setting out on a bigger canvas, we shall see. 16in by 16in Oils.

seascape, oil painting, waves

I had enjoyed working on the larger square format so I did a sea study on the other canvas I had ready. I wanted to use cleaner hues than I usually do so I exaggerated the colour a little. I had intended to glaze it later but having had it on the wall for a week or two I think I will leave it be. 16in by 16in Oils

Corfe Castle, plein air, oil painting, Dorset

After a string of studio paintings it was great to get out and do some plein air at Corfe Castle. We got up early to catch the first light, but alas still arrived an hour too late! I think for this view you need to be there before dawn and paint it as it happens. Still this was great fun, painting from real life is in some ways so much easier than photos! 12in by 12in Oils.

Corfe Castle, oil painting, plein air, Dorset

There same view a little bit later. I nearly always find the second painting of the day is better than the first, it takes one painting to get proper focus perhaps. 12in by 6in Oils.

Golden Cap, Dorset, Jurassic Coast, oil painting, Dorset, sea

This was done as a demo for a local art group. It is always a little nerve wracking doing a painting live while an audience watches. I told myself before starting it would be educational for them if I made a dogs dinner of it… it would certainly have increased their vocabulary! I was in the end quite pleased with the result. I have to suppress the detail in the sea to the right with a glaze or two to focus the main interest on Golden Cap and then it is done. 24in by 8in Oils.

I am still not caught up so more waffle quite soon I expect.

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