Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

December 16, 2015


“I just can’t get inspired!” How often do I hear that? I feel it too, I have the vague urge to be painting something but can’t find anything that gets the juices going. With me that usually means retiring to the sofa with a book or a bit of gardening is on the cards. I have to note that this feeling only occurs when deciding for myself what to paint. I never once had the feeling in several decades of being told what to paint by others!

So what is it this “inspiration”? The Greeks and Romans believed that it was something breathed into you by the Gods or Muses. IE something coming in from the outside. The same idea held sway when Christianity arrived except it was the Holy Spirit that did the breathing. In the 18th century it became a bit mystical, a sort of divine resonance. In the 19th Freud of course thought it was unresolved childhood conflicts, but he then he would wouldn’t he.

The moments when rudderlessness strikes me are quite distinct. If I am out with the intention of painting and nothing quite takes my fancy. All plein air painters know the feeling of wandering randomly seeking a “subject”. The other time it hits me is on a wet day when I am going to have to paint from reference. Sorting through endless old photos on screen looking for the one that gets you started. Most of those photos you took had some sort of possibility seen in them when you took them. Recapturing that feeling at a later date can be nigh on impossible though.

I think for me the resonance idea of the Romantics appeals most. If a photo or a real scene triggers a cascade of possibilities and potentialities as to how the final thing might be then that prompts us into action. It is not really (or very rarely) a vision of the completed work, but a plausible course toward a hazy and perhaps worthwhile destination.

That “perhaps” tells more of the story maybe. The moment tension between, “Shall I do this? It will be great.” and “It probably won’t work, so don’t bother.” is perhaps the fulcrum of inspiration. We are programmed to avoid disappointment and the less that seems likely the more we will feel inspired! Not that anyone will be impressed if when asked what inspired you you reply, “Because it looked a good bet!” that might not gain you many artistic brownie points.

So inspiration is the imagining what I might make of something, whether idea or something seen, of how I might transform it, refine it from ore to gold. If I see a glittering golden prize then I say I am inspired, but if I see only dull lead sheet then I flop about in consumptive despair.

This means for me I fall between ancient and modern thinking, taking a little from each. As far as I can see all inspiration comes from the outside in, from the world we perceive and live in, rather than any God or some vague spiritual source. Our complex and largely unconscious psyches take this material and return it to the world transformed. Then when a person looks at the result they might see the familiar in a new way. It is this “seeing afresh” I think that is the reward that people who like to look at pictures enjoy.

Advice as to how to get inspired? Well that is tricky. The optimist will probably paint more pictures but plenty of duds. The pessimist might be harder to push into action but the results should be good if only they don’t get despairing halfway and never finish! For me I have several methods of prompting myself into action. Firstly I look at what others have done. This shows you what is achievable and brings the seeing possibilities bit of your head online. Then if you immediately look through what material you might work from you are I find more likely to spot a potential winner. We often say, “Oh I find so and so’s work so inspiring!” so put it to use. Sometimes though I just do it the hard way. I just sit down and start even though I have no proper plan or subject I am confident in. It is a risky tactic but every now and again it will produce something unexpected and exciting which pushes you out of a rut.

I have been hopping about from medium to medium recently so a very mixed bag of pictures.


Knightsbridge, london, plein air, oil painting, art

We have has so many dull days of late, this visit to Knightsbridge was no exception. I had not painted in London for a while so I was determined to get something from the day. The wet street is imaginary I’m afraid as it needed something to tie the background plane to the foreground. 8in by 10in Oils.

Knightsbridge, oils, london, harrods, painting plein air

This painting occurred in the previous somewhat satirical post… but I painted it straight after the previous one. It only took 25 min but everything seemed to fall into place as I worked. I could see straight away that it had potential. For the stages of the studio picture look at the previous post but ignore the sarky words! 10in by 12in Oils.


Farnham. church, surrey, oil painting, plein air

On my way back to Dorset next day, this is Farnham. The sun was out for just about 2 min so I had to slap on the highlights with mad abandon. A bit rough and ready but I think I have the makings of a studio picture. 10in by 12in Oils.


Tenby, wales, oil painting, harbour, boats

A studio picture of the harbour at Tenby based on a very quick sketch. I took the composition from the drawing which is here. I have attempted a big picture of this before and the result was pretty much a train crash so I was pleased to finish this without going off the rails. I have worked a little more on it since this photo, but only to unify and knock back the town in the background. 12in by 20in Oils.


strand on the Green, London, Thames, watercolour, painting

Another visit to London with the Brass Monkeys. This is the ever popular Strand on the Green near Chiswick. It is in sepia because I forgot my watercolour box and only had one tube of paint in my bag! I was fortuitous in the event as monochrome suited the dull light very well. A4 Watercolour.


Thames, olives Island, London, Strand on the Green, pen and ink

Strand on the Green again, this is Olivers Island and the only hint of sun we saw… a bit rushed as I needed a coffee badly! Pen and Ink.


Chiswick House, London, watercolour

Days are so short this time of year so the light was fading rapidly when I got to the perfectly Palladian Chiswick House. I only took me 30 min or so to draw but nonetheless I was nearly locked in the park for the night! I was going to do a painting but the photos I took are just a black silhouette.


Spitalfields, London, pen and ink, drawing

This is Spitalfields, all I got done after a nightmare drive across London. I must get some of these drawings printed up as I think they will make attractive cards. Pen and Ink.

August 21, 2010

In the studio and out

Filed under: Drawing,London,Painting,Uncategorized,Wales — Tags: , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 3:25 pm

Due an update I guess. I have been struggling all week with a painting based on a sketch done in Tenby. It is larger than I usually paint and after a week and many changes is still not right. But at a certain point you have to back away and leave it to return to with a fresh eye. It is a time of day I always find difficult, full sunlight with a beautiful clear sky is I find the hardest of times to portray. Give me a nasty wet and stormy day and I am far happier!

To clear my head I went out to sketch and paint up in the City of London. I have been meaning to paint a morning in the city subject for some time, so this was by way of an information gathering exercise. When I got to Cannon Street I was in luck the light was streaming down the road and transfiguring the scene. I snapped as many photos as I dared being in fear of being arrested as a terrorist… man with bulky green rucksack taking photos of commuters! I did a few very quick sketches of the road, traffic and some of the people before the light went over. I passed a pleasant hour by the Tower sketching the tourists and invigorated by this I went on down to the river which was looking beautiful, all dramatic clouds and sparkling water. I had to wait a little while for the light to move round but at about four it was perfect and the painting didn’t take longer than 20 min.

In a fit of enthusiasm I hiked back along the south bank of the Thames stopping to sketch on the Deptford Strand. It was as they say a “Grand Day Out”. But first Tenby.

Tenby wales pembrokeshire painting

Here’s the sketch of the scene only about 15 min, I tried to catch the feeling of the scene without too much detail. I had just sat and painted the boats from the other side so I didn’t feel like sitting again to paint.


Wales, Tenby, Painting, Boats

Here is the studio painting which after much changing around is still not what I want. I will leave it for a while to consider. then I will either scrub it out or make some dramatic (and risky) changes. Before doing this I will take this image into Photoshop to explore the options, this is one area where I find the computer very useful as I can explore various possibilities.


Tenby, sea, sketch, painting, wales

Here it is after being mistreated in the computer. Better I feel, but more still to do!


tenby, wales, painting, oils, sea, art

Here’s where I’m leaving it the foreground is still unresolved alas. I’m tempted to add some figures as a focus in the mid ground as the whole picture looks rather like an attractive but empty stage set waiting for the star of the show to arrive! It is always very hard to judge whether a picture that doesn’t work to your satisfaction is actually irredeemably flawed, or if some addition, exclusion or other alteration  will take it over the divide from poor to good. It can sometimes just be that the actual picture just doesn’t fit your initial ambitions. Like a cuckoo in the nest it has fledged into a bird of a different feather than you hoped. I will leave it for now so that time can set me at a distance from it allowing more sensible judgement than I can muster at the present. Hopefully it will return in a later post reborn!


London, sketch, drawing, study, Cannon St

Here’s the scene outside Cannon St station. I wished I had some darker toned paper but on the upside the bus had conveniently broken down! It is hard catching people in quick sketches the best way I have found is to try and get an interesting silhouette and just suggest the rest. The Street was dry alas but I pretended it wasn’t.


Sketch, people

I walked down to the Tower but didn’t fancy drawing castles so I sat and sketched the tourists. I don’t do this often enough, but the little sketches of figures are very useful to add to paintings. When people are on the move the drawings have to be more imagination than observation but it’s surprising how often they catch a certain something that imagination alone wouldn’t give.


people, tourists, drawing

I’ve tried to get these ones actual size, they literally only take a minute each.


Thames, London, river, painting

After a bit more wandering I got to the river and the wobbly bridge. The light was just fantastic, sometimes the scene looks so dramatic that you just know that the sketch will be good. It is just nerve racking trying to catch it all before the light changes too much. I have to force myself to be systematic and not panic. I took several photos but when I looked at them they just didn’t catch the mood which shows how important plein air sketches are.


Thames, London, river, painting, drawing

On my trek back I stopped to sketch on the foreshore at Deptford Strand, most of which alas is uglified by horrible flats built too close to the river. Architects, planning authorities, and developers should all be lined up and shot (metaphorically of course!).

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