Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

December 16, 2015

Inspiration

“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.

November 29, 2015

The Importance of Drawing

Filed under: Drawing,Life Drawing,Uncategorized,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , — Rob Adams @ 3:21 pm

Looking back over past posts I have not really dealt with drawing. Not techniques more the whys and wherefores. In some ways I write this blog to sort out my own opinions on things. All too often once your words look back at you from the screen you think, “I’m not sure that I really agree with myself!” Indeed reading back there are more than a few of my own posts I would not entirely agree with. Not that I will change them I would not like to develop a reputation for intellectual consistency.

So, drawing, what exactly do I think about it? Firstly I suppose I need to ask: What is drawing? Making a mark on a surface that can be interpreted by others is a fairly catch all definition. This implies an actual transfer via the medium of information from one individual to another. So abstract squiggles and random mark making are out I’m afraid. They may be beautiful but not in my view drawing. So writing is drawing. Not the information contained in the writing but the information that identifies the character. So the individual letters are drawn. Plans and schematics are drawings. Indeed we perhaps need to arrange the types of drawing by what cargo of information they carry.

So a drawing can carry abstract information as letter shapes do. Symbols perform a similar function.

A drawing can carry information about a three dimensional object such as building or a planet as in a map.

Drawings can plan a two dimensional image such as a painting or a poster.

Here of course as with all art subjects we run into boggy ground. Drawing is both a noun and a verb. Is a finished painting a drawing? Certainly drawing is used in its creation. Is that drawing somehow different to the drawing that was used in the same painting’s planning? Are cave paintings drawings? Can finished things be drawings or only the preparatory work?

Perhaps we might say that only preparatory drawings should be given the noun a “drawing”. Does that mean my pen and inks aren’t drawings? There is no doubt in my mind that the meaning for the noun is muddy indeed and I haven’t even mentioned sketches!

So perhaps the verb will be more helpful. Making a mark to convey information. Once that mark is made then it is something else. A painting, a drawing, letter, a plan, all these things can be made by the act. This line of reasoning makes me also feel that the act means making marks that can in general be consistently interpreted by others. So if you were to show the item to a panel of viewers you would get a fair degree of congruency in the replies.

From there it is a small step to grade our results in the success of transferring information with our mark making. So if we draw a girl and our panel only replies that it is a girl we plainly haven’t been as capable as if the panel reports that it was a sad young girl. If we got the report back that it was a sad young girl by using a thousand marks it plainly would not be as efficient as if we got the same result by only using ten. Of course some moods might be conveyed by using many marks in groups, what we call shading or hatching, but perhaps they might be considered as a composite rather than individual marks.

Now to move on to what might make a good drawing. I tentatively might say brevity of means. I think this is best illustrated by the sort of atelier drawing where every nuance of shade is noted down. They are an attempt to convey the full visual experience of seeing a body in tone. However they fail miserably to convey any information about moving or breathing let alone sadness or joy. Despite the claims of the Atelier system of roots back to the past none of the so called old masters draw in such a constipated manner. The 18th 19th century history painters are the ones really to blame.

So how do we learn to draw as best we may? The secret, if such there is, is in training the brain to do most of the work in the background. If we are struggling in placing things, controlling our medium etc then the battle is lost before it has begun. We might manage a creditable drawing of a building or still life, but drawing a person would be a step past that and likely not a success. Many artists I talk to scorn accuracy, to my mind this just means they cannot be bothered with the sometimes frustrating business of learning. The art establishment’s unfounded ideas that such skills are irrelevant don’t help either.

Whether you like it or not the first steps will be tight and more of a graph than a drawing. That is necessary however to train the brain to do all the measuring unconsciously. Inexperienced artists see an experienced draughts person knocking in a figure whilst seeming not to measure, but that is because they have spent so many years measuring that the process has become internalised. The same is true for the assessment of tone etc.

This is why life drawing is so important. It is the mixture of long and short poses that forces us to quickly select the key elements in a pose. At first it seems impossible, but as we practice more and more of the process is taken over by the unconscious. Once that happens then the whole thing becomes more manageable. So the message is predictable I’m afraid, practice, practice, practice!

So a few life drawings to show that I’ve got a long way to go too. However good you get, a good life session will cut you down to size and deflate the ego!

life drawing

15min here I drew deliberately slowly, trying not to make a mark unless I had a purpose for it. It is very easy with life drawing to scribble and hope. Get into the rhythm of, observe, assess, make a mark, observe assess, make a mark etc. You so often see people only occasionally lifting their heads to observe. You should spend longer observing than drawing.

life drawing

In comparison a 3 minute effort. Again I will be pausing between each mark or set of marks.

 

life drawing

More very quick ones. I am using 2 ingredients only here. The flat of the conte for tonal blocks and the end for delineation. You can vary these ingredients but easier to just stick to one or two. Just doing the while thing in tonal blocks without line is a very good exercise.

life drawing

Here all the tonal areas were drawn first and the few key lines added only in the last minute or two of the 15min we had.

 

life drawing

I regularly change medium. Here I have just used tonal areas with no line at all. 20min

life drawing

Here is a 5 min one done the same way. There are only two layers, a dilute first shape then a darker to reinforce and correct.

life drawing

A whole half hour!! I try to start a longer pose in exactly the same way as a shorter one. I then lay repeated layers of observations down on top of each other, each one getting more defined. Whenever you stop a drawing it should look finished. To help with that it is a good idea to do sets of poses where the model just changes pose randomly. Whenever the model changed however long or short the pose was your drawing should look finished.

life drawing

Two 2 minute ones. At first it will seem impossible to get anything worthwhile down in that sort of time. Mostly it won’t be of course and many efforts will go in the bin. What you lose in accuracy you gain in vivacity. These brief splashes say more in my opinion about a living breathing being than any atelier drawing laboured over for a week.

life drawing

Here is one that is perhaps unfinished, I was miles away and not following how the 15 min was passing. I literally jumped when the timer went off! Now though it is incomplete it is not to my mind unfinished.

life drawing

Here is one where I stopped before the end of the pose. It would have been a better drawing if I had stopped earlier! You should always keep an eye out for when a drawing is complete, that will only rarely be when time is called. I often spend the last 5 min doing a lot of looking and very little mark making.

life drawing

Last one, have started to introduce pen. Adding an ingredient like an extra medium always raises new problems.

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