Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

March 24, 2018

Art for the End of Times

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

The age of discovery is drawing to a close. The scientific theories are done with, there will never be another dramatic moment of displacement in a bathtub that prompts the cry of Eureka! No fresh and shiny E = mc 2‘s no more 2πr2′s hidden in the woodwork. We will never again discover the unexpected fact that blood circulates, or find out how nerves do their electrochemical tango. There will be no more elements that last longer than a pico second to extend the periodic table. No new languages, no new geometries, we have found it all, made it all. The world of knowledge is perhaps a little like a sphere and we have pretty much mapped out all the continents upon it.

So now we are in the age of refinement, dotting the i’s, looking after the p’s and q’s. We might voyage to new planets, but never be surprised that they were there in the first place. We are encyclopaedia collators, we are indexers, we arrange ducks in rows. We wistfully talk of escaping the box and finding some mythical bleeding edge, but really we are at the end of innovation and at the beginning of a long age of tinkering with infinitely recessive boundaries.

There will be no new art movements, no new impressionists, we have been abstract, surreal and can only repeat the old well trodden expressions, there will be no more new, just warmed over old. Who could have expected human understanding to have grown so fast? We have the jigsaw puzzle on the table and the box is nearly empty. There are only a couple of pieces of sky to go and a bit of sea lost under the sofa, but the picture on the whole is just about complete. We are just a little disappointed that it does not quite match the one with the jolly bearded chap in the clouds that we imagined might be printed on the box!

Should we retire? Is our job done, like Deep Thought in Hitchhikers Guide have we found our 42? Should we become whimsical and quirky, always looking for some brief glimmer of newness to punctuate the ennui? Return to big wigs and farthingales, go mad for Steampunk? Butterfly at being this of that for just a day or two before moving on to paint a prettier flower? The world has enough books, tunes, plays and paintings to amuse anyone for a century or more. It sometimes seems pointless to paint another when there are so many better ones already available.

There is that word, “available” we are drowning in available. If I want to look at Russian painting, clickety click on my key board, and hey presto there it is. Not only that but most of the images are better than the ones you would have got in that 60 quid book 20 years ago, certainly there are far more of them. Affluenza doesn’t just effect material things it effects culture too. In times past you had a music collection… serried ranks of cd’s and Lp’s proudly displayed. Now you can rent any tune for the price of an advertisement. We don’t need collections, I sold all my art books, I never looked at them, they just took up space.

So, I must ask, does it matter? Most of human lives throughout history have been lived without a hint of new. In Tudor times, before the revelatory rush had really got started, it was a compliment to tell an artist that what he had done was almost as good as what everyone had always done before. They had guilds to prevent any possibility of innovation or deviation from the approved way. So no, maybe it does not matter.

Still for an artist today the idea of originality and newness is made out to be of vital importance. How cruel fate can be! We are like explorers born just as the last of the “Terra Incognitas” are filled in and the final “Here be Dragons” neatly erased. We have explored right round the world and met ourselves coming back in the other direction. Fortunately for us the world of ideas is fractal as a fern. We have broadly mapped out the major fronds, but each frond is made of smaller fronds and they too of smaller yet. So perhaps our world is unconfined, I can paint landscapes that make just a section of a part of the serrated edge of our landscape frond a tiny bit frillier.

For what is vaguely known as contemporary art this is a slight problem. Its avowed mission is to find new fronds, to go as Star Trek tells you, “Where no man has been before.” To this end they rush about making submarines out of tyres, piling up things to make other things, incongruity is king. All to no avail though, as, like our explorers who spot a hopeful new shore, upon landing they find footprints of men who were there before them in the sand, already softened by the tide. They have all the time only been filling in a few small wriggles in a coastline already mapped.

What has brought all this on you might wonder? Well the fear of Venice is beginning to set in. The most painted place ever. The most mapped in paint, its every mood, however transient, daubed by someone. There is a veritable Everest of paintings, an unstoppable grinding glacier of topographical art heading my way! All sorts of silly ideas pop up in my head, ignore the famous scenes, just paint dead ends and wheelie bins. Get behind the hollow tourist facade and tell it how it really is. I know of course that reality is not Venice’s strong suit, it is the oldest and most successful Disneyland on the planet.

In the event of course I will go and paint and draw stuff that looks pretty much like what everyone else has painted. I will then put them in my attic as Venice paintings don’t sell in Dorset. They will make a dandy blog post and garner a few ego boosting “likes” on Facebook and I will move on. The real gain will be inside my head. I will have been and looked. I will have observed tricks of the light, embellishments of stone, reflections in water. I will have been immersed in the place and be made a little bit different inside. An extra, hopefully elegant, wrinkle will be defined on my own personal frond. Like painting a portrait, they are much the same, we have been painting faces and bodies for thousands of years, but this will be through my eyes which will be, in the smallest humblest way, a first. Then I will paint Blandford with a little bit of Venice sitting behind my eyes.

Fontmel Down, Dorset, Plein air, oil painting

A bright and breezy morning up on Fontmel Down, I’m not quite done with it yet and might have to return for another bash. I am showing it here with the bottom cropped, but I might reverse that and crop the top instead. It is one of those that has a decent picture in there somewhere, I just have to muck about with it until it gels. 16in by 10in Oils.

Fontmel Magna, oil painting, Dorset, plein air

Here is Fontmel Magna later the same day once the rain had set in. Quite pleased with this one as it is great subject and I managed to get a feeling of the day down. I need to try it again in different lights and a slightly more refined composition. I love painting in the rain, everything is transformed, if only the practicalities of holding the umbrella and such were easier. Though the painting stayed mostly dry, the rain ran down my neck and made my boxers soggy! 14in by 10in Oils.

Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, Dorset, oil painting

A studio painting of the famous Gold Hill in Shaftesbury from the first bout of snow. By the time I arrived here I was too cold to paint any more so just took snaps. Great fun to paint, I mixed up all my tones first as without sun the contrasts were very subtle. With snow scenes it is very tempting to take every area to white which ends up looking crude. 16in by 10in Oils.

Portland, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

Here we are on the Isle of Portland, the snow is gone and the sun is out. This is a great spot on the West side of the island I had not been to before. This was only one of the possible paintings to be done on this spot. The morning was quite misty with the last of the sea fret being dissolved by the sun. The tone of the distance was very hard to nail down. Too light and there was not enough contrast with the sea and sky, to dark and the feel of the atmosphere between you and the cliffs is lost. 10in by 12in Oils.

Portland Bill, Dorset, sea, plein air, oil painting

Are we in Corfu? Is this the Adriatic? No this is the same day looking South from Portland Bill! There was a great vantage point for the waves coming in so I decided a sea study was the thing to do. When people paint sea they often struggle with the fact that it is always the same but always different too. The result is that they impose their imagination upon it and it becomes rather static. My tactic is to get the tones and colours of the whole scattered about but not really resolved. Then I observe each smaller area and do a snap shot study of what is going on. Once done I just watched for a bit before putting a few features that tied the whole together. So the main wave was the very last thing to go in. 10in by 12in Oils.

Hambledon Hill, snow, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

The Mediterranean is gone and the Arctic swiftly returns! Our second batch of snow was bonus and I was determined to paint it. I waited and waited for the light to move from grey to sun before going up Hambledon Hill. When I got there I found the wind and sun had removed the snow from raised areas revealing the scars in the ground left by the walkers ascending to the earthworks that crown the hill. I got completely lost in painting this it had such fascinating contrasts. The snow came in handy too as I could build a level platform to paint from by kicking it in a heap and stamping it flat! Once again I took a deep breath before starting and mixed the key tones before doing anything else. 10in by 10in Oils.

Child Okeford, Church, snow, oil painting

The last of the snow. On my way back the light on the church and reflecting on the remains of the snow look pearlescent and very beautiful. However I was pretty cold and had a very wet bum from sliding down Hambledon Hill so I just blocked the bare bones of the focal point of the view and took a few photos. Thank heaven I did even that small amount as when I looked at my snaps they were just grey with none of the colours I remember seeing! So I had to work mostly from imagination colour wise and there is none of the original lay in left. In the last stages I put the photos away and allowed myself to play. 14in b y 10in Oils.

Next Post will suppose be Venice… wish me luck!

March 4, 2018

Failure and Success

Filed under: Dorset,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 11:08 am

We all know when a painting has gone very wrong, mostly we are pretty clear when we have triumphed against the odds. Which leaves all the ones that fall somewhere in-between. I have been reviewing my oil paintings for the year and reckon that out of about 140 oil paintings 33 fall into the successful bracket. 40 fall into the sand them off and reuse the board category. I must note that the truly cataclysmic ones got wiped off immediately! This is the way it is if you mostly paint plein air, you just have to accept that any day out painting has only a 30% chance of producing a decent painting. Anyone doing the maths on the above will conclude that 60 odd pictures fall into the, “Not completely sure about this one.” bracket.

So how do I judge whether it’s a goodun or a baddun or an inbetweenun? I wish I could say and promptly type in a wise, pragmatic rule of thumb method of assessing your own efforts to help beginners and others who meet the same issue. Well I can’t. I find it excruciatingly difficult to judge my own paintings outside of the very obvious winners and losers. I can always see good bits and so so bits in any painting I do, but often what stops the whole from working is extremely hard to pin down. It might be so underlying like a boring composition, so you have a decently painted but unexciting picture. Some are a little easier in that they have a part that is either distracting from or otherwise letting down the rest of the show. These go on my surgery pile. The really hard ones are the ones that there is something worrying me about it but I cannot put my finger on what might make the painting come to life.

How about, “Ask a friend.”? Well another brave painter I know made a Facebook group where we can put up the puzzlers and have another less emotionally involve eye assess the problems. I had previously floated this idea myself and received such sweepingly negative feedback that I didn’t do it myself. Painters it would seem are nervous of the opinions of others and would prefer not to hear. I am not unsympathetic with this as in my teens and early 20’s before I worked in the commercial arena if anyone voiced a doubt on any drawing I would immediately rip it up. Thank heaven I next worked on commercial jobs where the option wasn’t a practical possibility and in the commercial world you would receive negative feedback as a matter of course. Fortunately this soon broke me from a childish habit. At first I would argue with the client, but in later years this was reduced to a brief whine and a sulk!

So why are we so touchy? I think it is because in daily life to get on with each other we try to be polite. If you go to dinner and the host’s cooking is less than the full Delia Smith we smile anyway and lie about how much we are enjoying it. You always answer the, “What do you think of my new hairdo?” question with a peon of praise rather than mentioning that you have seen more stylish mops propped up in janitor’s buckets. We know instinctively it is kinder to let such poor souls continue life in a happy delusion rather than force them rudely into depressing reality. So it is with pictures and painters.

I have over the years tried various cunning methods of slipping a helpful suggestion past someone’s guard. One is to heap praise on various other aspects of the daub before mentioning the defect. It doesn’t work. You could spend an hour outlining the genius of the painter, the astounding masterfulness of every aspect of the work, you can bemoan your own inadequacy and express envy at their having painted such an astounding picture that the whole of western art might have to be rethought. This will all be received with an ever smugger expression or various insincere, “Oh you are just saying that!” and “Surely not.” protestations.

Then you say, “It’s only a tiny, tiny thing but I’m not too sure about that slash of bright yellow in the foreground…”

As the “but” hangs in the air the sunshine immediately darkens and thunderclouds roll in. The previously cheerful bubbling springs promptly dry up and the warm limpid pools before them freeze over.  The ice that has instantly appeared under foot cracks menacingly. If any piano is playing at that moment it ceases leaving a discord hanging in the air and every head in the vicinity turns towards you. You look down and like Wile E. Coyote you have walked off a cliff and the canyon bottom is 2000ft straight down. Yes the mood has changed, all the positives evaporate like spit on a red hot frying pan. You have dared to be NEGATIVE. As we all know it is now a sin to be negative in any way. Positive thinking is espoused in books devoted to the subject. I used to go to brainstorm meeting where any negative comment was forbidden however stupid the idea put forward. Any possible failure must be described as “deferred success”.

All this is a pity really. We still have advice and criticism of course, but this must be in a clearly defined “teaching” context. So the best advice I can offer here on this subject is to learn to put some kind of emotional distance between you and your work. I know. I know. Your work is the expression of your innermost soul and you have torn off your skin to expose your quivering flesh to the unkindness of existence. None the less a little emotional distance will allow you to determine whether you have painted an existential cry of despair from a primeval man trapped in a mechanised universe, or a pitiful squeak from a pampered mammal in the grip of affluenza.

Corfe, castle, oil painting, Dorset, Rob Adams

I have had this 36in by 12in canvas stretched up for a while… it even had a frame but I couldn’t quite come up with anything to paint on it! I decided in the end on this wide view of Corfe. What I attracted me to it was the way the tones that described the light subtly changed from left to right. I arrived at its current state intending to go further but in the end decided not. If I hadn’t had the frame to check the effect in I might well have resolved it more. Oils.


Studland bay, Dorset, sea, oil painting, plein air, Rob Adams

A great day out by the sea. This is Studland Bay. The tide was lapping at my boots by the time I finished! The underside of the waves was the most intriguing tone and I had to have several goes at mixing it. 14in by 10in Oils.


Dancing Ledge, seascape, plein air, oil painting, Dorset, Rob Adams

I toiled out through the mud to Dancing Ledge after, only a sketch really as the time and light was rapidly on the move. I took a set of photos as the light fell away which might make a studio picture in due course. Sometimes there is no real time to consider composition, if I had had more time I would have walked too and fro to check different aspects of the scene, in real life though if I had actually done that the light would have gone and I would have had no painting at all. It is a bit of coast I need to walk this bit of the coast more so I know which bits might make a good painting. If the light is looking good you can then go directly to the spot with no messing! 16in by 10in Oils.


Beaminster, oil painting, Dorset, plein air, Rob Adams

This is Beaminster on a beautiful crisp morning. I was perched on an awkward corner with the passing Range Rovers trying to drive over my toes. After doing this I promptly came across a better view just round the corner. I might come back to this one though, I quite fancy trying to get a square crop. The sky was the most amazing flat blue, I was temped to add some clouds but in the end just left it as it was. 12in by 10in Oils.


Beaminster, plein air, oil painting, Dorset, Rob Adams

Up in the hills a bit south of Beaminster, lovely slanting light that was only there for a moment then gone. I soldiered on anyhow but really I was painting a fading memory rather than what was in front of me. I should have just stopped and restarted! 14in by 10in Oils.


Old Harry Rocks, Dorset, cliffs, coast, oil painting, Rob Adams

Entertainment for a wet afternoon. I couldn’t settle down to paint so I set about preparing a few boards. I had one which was of Lyme Regis that I had had hopes of and even made a frame for but I couldn’t get it to work from the information I had. So I sanded off Lyme Regis and as I did so a ghost of Old Harry rocks appeared. I then remembered I had started en plein air blocking in a picture of Old Harry on this board… having blocked it in I decided I didn’t like the composition… and started again on a 16in by 10in board- hence the ghost. My studio self quite liked the wider view so I dug out the photos from the day and set to. I remember struggling with the chalk cliffs on the other version so I experimented with using the knife on this one. I rarely use a palette knife except to scrape back so I am not as deft with the instrument as I might be. One reason I don’t often use a knife to apply paint is I don’t like impasto in dark or shadow areas, so I just used it in the lightest areas in the centre of interest. I found it hard to shake off the memory of the previous painting but quite pleased with the result. 20in by 10in Oils.


Hambledon Hill, Dorset, plein air, oil painting, Rob Adams

The day before painting this I had walked up on Hambledon Hill with a friend and noticed the light was perfect for painting. So as the next day was sunny I ascended at the same time with my paints. The light was glorious but the wind meant I had to hang on to everything as I painted. Still I rather like this viewpoint, it is harder than you might think to get a satisfactory picture out of the hill. It is so expansive and dramatic that you always feel you have failed to catch its essence. 16in by 10in Oils.


Shillingstone Station, Dorset, plein air, oil painting, snow

Snow at last! This is the slightly surreal Shillingstone Station. The line is long gone so it only has a 200 metres of track. I found I had made a slightly painful choice as it was rather exposed as you can see by the snow blown in lines across the platform… Also there was fine snow blowing in the wind that got over everything. Due to all this I only got 20min before it got too painful and I had to escape, still after a tidy up it has an interesting atmosphere the light is quite unique in a blizzard! 10in by 6in Oils.


Child Okeford, plein air, snow, oil painting, Dorset

A view across the fields on my way back to Child Okeford. I liked the way the wind had blown the powdery snow into any dip, bringing out the shapes in the ground. I did this in a very brisk 15 min as conditions had got worse and the snow was threatening a genuine blizzard! 10in by 7in Oils.


Child Okeford, snow, plein air, Dorset, oil painting

I wasn’t going to do another but saw this odd line the path made in the field and thought I could get it down quickly. Ha! It longer than both the others and I nearly died of the cold. Painting large areas of nothing much is the hardest thing to do and the field seemed to take forever. Still the effort was worth it as it is my favourite of the day. 10in by 7in Oils.


Fontmel Down, Dorset, snow, oil painting

It had well and truly snowed overnight so I had to go and attempt to paint it. I didn’t think I would be able to get to paint Fontmel Down as the roads were very bad, but heroic farmers had cleared some roads up the hill and my car is a 4 by 4. I had thought the painting on the station was painful but this was on another level. The cold wind was like having knives driven into my face! All I could manage was to block in the basic tones before I ran whimpering back to the car. Mind you the great thing with snow is the way it simplifies the scene so it did not take a great deal to finish off. I’ll do a studio one of this I think as would like a wider view. 10in by 6in Oils.


Hambledon Hill, Dorset, oil painting, snow

Last snowy one. On my way back with the snow threatening to close in again I saw this and after checking the wind decided to give it a go. After drawing out I blocked in all the snowy bits whilst carefully leaving any dark areas uncovered. Once done the painting looked more or less complete so I packed up and added a few brown and purply tones over the remaining bits of ground back in the studio. The warm priming works surprisingly well for snow pictures. On all of these I blocked in the pale tones leaving the darks. I takes a little longer leaving the darks but looks much better than trying to lay the darks over underlying lights. 10in by 8in Oils.


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