Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

March 20, 2015

Of Luck and Calculation

All of life depends on predicting the future. Even the humblest single celled creature does something to skew the probabilities in its favour. When you evolve an eye you can predict when something big is intending to eat you. If you are a plant you can grow towards where the light will most likely be. It is in fact this ability to look forwards in time even the tiniest bit that makes living stuff different to other matter. Once you can make this prediction the possible course of future events you can then act to increase the possibility of a good outcome for your own continuance. If you guess right you get to live and reproduce, so evolution has been honing our future gazing abilities over billions of years.

If you are a tree then you need to be able to look ahead and predict the turning seasons. If a bird also, if you wish to migrate or breed successfully. This sort of prediction means remembering the way cycles reoccur, if it happened once this way then the probabilities have to be high of it happening the same way again. So memory is a big advantage. Being able to pass this predictive information down from generation to generation via inheritance or nurture is another big weight tipping the scales of survival your way. If you can encode past occurrences, calculate their underlying cycles and then make predictions you are top of the heap.

The downside to this is if any of the underlying cycles, such as length of seasons or climate change then you need to adapt fast. The fossil record underlines this fact. If a change occurs such as temperature or another species learning a new trick then you may not be able to update your predictive database in time to survive. So if your predictive capacity is encoded in DNA then you are vulnerable, but if it is in memory then you have a better chance. You can take risks and pass the ones that paid off to the next generation. How could Einstein be so wrong? It seems God is indeed very fond of playing dice.

You may be wondering how this all fits into a painting blog? Well strange though it may seem such factors are one of the things that make producing artworks rewarding and frustrating in equal measure. As an artist you try things you have seen others do and by your successes and failures you increase the probability of your work turning out satisfactorily. If you are lucky you get someone who has already developed a method to pass on information, thus shortcutting your own learning process. Nowadays you can access a vast compendium of information and the artworks produced by many generations. All of this helps but as with all life there are no guarantees.

So what we need to do is increase the probabilities of succeeding. Gain skill in drawing, become familiar with how mediums react. Practice to hone your manual dexterity until it is automatic. In other words do everything you possibly can to load those dice in your favour. With a medium such as watercolour this is especially true. Quite a lot of the process is inevitably effected by chance, so luck is a big factor. The humidity of the day, its temperature, whether the wind is blowing or not, all can make a big difference. So you need to paint differently on a wet day to a summer scorcher. Even the kind of water makes a contribution to the way the paint lies and reacts to the paper, which is in turn another key variable.

There can never be complete certainty and if you do stick to what is safe then you will end up in the doldrums reprising old paintings ad nauseam. Each time we paint we should gamble, but like any gambler we should shorten the odds in our favour as much as possible.

I am still in the process of moving so paintings are a bit thin on the ground.

West Bay, Bridport, Dorset, watercolour, painting, art

This is West Bay near Bridport in Dorset. A difficult composition which doesn’t quite work. Need to be there very early or very late I’m thinking for it to be at it’s best.

 

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, Watercolour, painting, art

A parked Open Reach truck allowed me to get most of this down without being run over. I always look out for roadworks and similar as they sometimes give a chance at a view that would be impossible otherwise!

 

Dorset, watercolour, painting, art

This was very hard going. Just after dawn with a lovely mist but the paint wouldn’t dry. By the time I had finished the sun was out and the mist completely gone. So partly plein air and partly memory. In actual fact once a subject has changed that much it becomes almost a distraction rather than that much of a help.

 

Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, Dorset, Watercolour, art

This is Gold Hill in Shaftesbury, I’ve done it from the top in pen and now here it is again from the bottom in watercolour. This is from reference but I must do it again on a wet and murky day.

 

National Gallery, St Martins in the Fields, pen and ink drawing

A visit to London to meet up with the Brass Monkeys. I ended up missing them due to the train being diverted via Tasmania, but got some drawing done anyway. This will be posted again as I have added washes.

 

William Pitt, bust, sculpture, pen and ink, drawing

This is William Pitt the elder in the National Portrait Gallery. I drew this in pencil and then did the pen on the train as it went back to Dorset via Tasmania.

 

Old Compton St, London, pen and ink, drawing

This is looking up Old Compton St. I loved the Bentley surrounded by bin bags! I did the darks with a brush first and then added hatching. I shall do more of this as I rather like the effect.

December 22, 2014

What is a picture?

I occasionally try to reassess where I am, having just had a very unsuccessful exhibition with no sales or indeed visitors to it. It is easy to be despondent, but I am a veteran of pulling myself up by my bootstraps so I tend not to go into a emotional spin as I would have done a decade or so earlier. I have sold enough paintings to know people will buy them and with no visitors going to the show, I am plainly in the wrong place at the wrong time. The problem for me is that I don’t really want another career, I have had three or four already. I am forced to the obvious conclusion that successfully selling pictures will take more of my time than painting them. At my stage of life I just do not have that time to spare. I am hugely fortunate that I don’t need as yet to sell them to put food on the table! So what I want to consider is what a painting should and should not be from my own selfish point of view.

I do a particular sort of painting which is intended to be processed in a certain way. I don’t paint something that has any surprises hidden away. So no incongruities, my early work was rife with them and I still do them occasionally as in this year’s Christmas card. They are fun but a cheap trick really. I could make my images out of a lot of smaller things, buttons insects you name it. This is quite popular direction at the moment but another cheap trick that soon palls. I could make my paintings very big or very small, or paint them on an unexpected surface like an elephant. Again fun, but only for a moment. So what am I up to?

Well, I don’t want any stylistic, methodistic or conceptual quirk. No easy fashionable trait that appeals to some ephemeral interest. I want to trim away any connection to conceptualism, I am not a purveyor of ideas in paint. I do not want to foist my emotion upon you, or the sweaty recesses of my subconscious. I don’t want to shock, educate, challenge or disgust you. I do not want to explore new possibilities or break new ground, I want no box to think outside of, no edge to bleed. I do not want to have originality and novelty as my guiding light. I don’t want to re-appraise the past or anticipate some imaginary future.

I paint on flat surfaces that are rectangular not because they are interesting, but because they are mundane. They are the average the unremarkable, I don’t want what I do to gain any especial significance from its form. I don’t wish to record for any posterity or comment on any contemporary shared experience. I want neither the poetic , the gritty reality nor the romantic. Of course I inevitably do many of the things listed above, but perhaps I should count it as a failure when I do. It is easier indeed to list the things I do not wish my work to contain than to dissect out the things that I do.

So, what is this picture I wish to paint? Firstly it is a picture. This means it is to be looked at and processed with the every day equipment we use on the actuality that surrounds us. So it is an illusion, but a knowing one, there is no expectation of fooling anyone or deluding them. It is easy to be lured down the path of abstraction, to believe that by simplifying you are distilling and increasing the potency of your work. Simplicity and complexity are however just tools in the box to be used at will, not ambitions to be striven for.

I suppose I get nearest to my aim very occasionally with a simple life drawing. Perhaps something that took 5 minutes. You have no time to consider or plan, no chance to fear failure. There is merely the surface, the paint, the eye, the hand with the brush and the subject. There is one other thing though. There are the myriad tangled paths laid down over many years in the few pints of porridge in my head, without these nothing can occur, but with them maybe something approaching a small miracles can be achieved, humble ones it is true, but miracles none the less. Lazarus is raised from his bed, but not perfectly, a bit of a squint and a bad limp, but I hope breathing not dead!

On a few watercolours recently I really tried to track my thinking, emotion and get at how that related to the actual process and progress of the making. Which bit of me is being satisfied and what is it that provokes me to continue. Firstly just the exercise of a skill that has been built up over a lifetime is rewarding. Not in any deep sense, but in the simple sense of solving a difficult crossword. All paintings start with the hope of what they might be, like a skier you are at the top of the mountain with the steep route down laid out before you. Like our skier I anticipate the run ahead. Also like the skier once you have pushed off gravity and dealing with events on the ground to be covered form the actual experience. So there is that excitement of thrills and potential spills about the activity. The analogy breaks down though due to the fact that a painting is a thing that accrues from many small actions many of which are evident in the final work.

The final moments of a picture are the ones that have the greatest emotional weight. The idea of when something is finished is a difficult one that I am I think going to struggle to define. I actually don’t like the word finished, complete is a better term I feel. In the event a painting could be considered complete at quite a few stages in its development. We all know the sinking feeling that your picture probably looked better half an hour ago! The real reward though is when it all comes together and the result is greater than the sum of the actions that made it. That is what I mean by complete, when it needs nothing added or taken away.  Only the artist feels this feeling, whether it adds up to a painting that others might enjoy I don’t know. I do know that a day that includes a painting that I am pleased with is a very good day perhaps indeed that is all that matters!!

This post is quite heavy on the life drawings, as I have said these are some of the things that please me most but are least liked by others I suspect. Certainly I can’t imagine them ever selling. I have been very busy building a new studio but have managed to sally forth and paint a few times.

 

Blackheath, sunset, London, oil painting

This one of Blackheath in London was very fast and furious, the sun was setting fast so it all had to be done in 30 min. Great fun to do, the colours are especially hard to judge as the light fades on your palette and painting until you can’t really see what you are doing. I try to remember where I mixed each area of colour so that once home I am not unpleasantly surprised! 10in by 16in Oils.

 

Child Okeford, Dorset, High St, Oil painting

There could hardly be more contrast! From glorious sunset at the end of a lovely day to the grey beginnings of a very wet one. This is Child Okeford where I now live, so you will see more from here. I have a few unfinished ones of this scene as it looks good in different lights. Unfortunately the best views are from standing in the road so they will have to be done from reference. 10in by 14in. Oils.

 

Dungeon Hill, Dorset, watercolour, painting

This is the view from the interestingly name Dungeon Hill just south of where I am now in Dorset. There is a forgotten hill fort on top of the hill where I will paint again in the future. 8in by 10in watercolour.

 

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, watercolour, Painting.

This is the wonderful Hambledon Hill on a very chilly morning. I had to really struggle to get the soft feeling that the light had and to keep the areas of contrast balanced. 6in by 11in Watercolour.

 

Sketch, figure painting

Rather a swathe of figure work now I fear! I have joined a local group of life drawers. The session takes place in a village hall where on wall is glass. I absolutely love the light which streams in from one side. This is 10 min.

 

life drawing

Even less time for this, 5min or so, just enough time to get the silhouette and the stance roughly in.

 

Life drawing

Another very quick one, these quick studies are very good for honing your observational skills, there is no time to be fussy.

 

life drawing

Another 5 min. Watercolour is wonderful for these rapid studies.

 

figure drawing

A slightly longer pose this was 15 min I think.

 

life drawing

I loved doing this one, I only just had time to pick out the figure from the initial broad washes.

 

life drawing

At last a 30 min one, I love foreshortening it is so hard to get it convincing and not just looking misshapen!

 

life drawing

This session I tried to really reduce my media to just two elements, wash and line in two colours. I start with the wash and then add just enough line to explain the form.

 

life drawing

I very much enjoyed painting this against the light. You have to try to avoid over stating any area. Here I overworked the hand on the knee, whereas the hand on the chin is just the right level of tone and line.

 

life drawing

More foreshortening I was almost sitting on that foot!

 

life drawing

I actually stopped before the pose finished here, there seemed nothing more to add.

 

life drawing

On the next session I added toned paper to the mix.

 

Life drawing

Very quick again about 5min.

 

I added touches of chalk here, maybe paint would have been better.

 

I will do more of these line and wash ones they are great for stating the basics, the line and the wash each compliment and don’t do each others work.

 

life drawing

Longer poses I think paint rather than chalk in future. The line gets a little lost here I must be less heavy handed with the tones on the longer poses.

 

life drawing

Last one I got all the elements working decently here. Sorry for the swathe of life drawing now for something completely different…

 

Christmas Card

Many thanks and a Happy Christmas to all the people who read my waffle or look at the pictures and the odd poor soul who peruses both!

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