Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

July 22, 2014

Competitions, Clubs and Criticism

A lot of my painting days out are done as part of a group. With the Wapping Group painting every Wednesday and the Brass Monkeys every other Sunday I keep quite busy. I do feel perhaps I am not doing enough going out and painting by myself. The dynamic is quite different with a group of fellow painters, very pleasant of course with chatting and coffees to punctuate the painting. I think most of this posts offerings are in the group category. Rather a large gap in posting this time too as my laptop died and needed bits replacing.

I also attended the Pintar Rapido competition in Chelsea which was great fun. I was a little more organised this time and went there a few days before to decide on a subject. The previous year I wandered about looking for one and had to settle on a subject I wasn’t wholly in tune with.

The results when seen in the exhibition were as last year a mixture of all styles and levels of attainment. Interesting to see what I guess are art school students trying to paint the real world. They have almost no skills as such and have this naive idea that if they just go for it then a miracle will occur. Alas miracles are thin on the ground, but their self belief in unshakable. I talked to a few and they all seemed to feel skill was a minor consideration in painting. On the other hand they all seemed to admire it in others. I didn’t say I felt it was vital, as I wanted to gauge their feelings on the matter rather than impose my own views.

In the exhibition it was plain that some of the buyers didn’t think craft mattered either, but on the whole the well crafted sold better than the randomly intuitive, which is cheering. Another thing that struck me when whispering critical comments to a companion is how thin on the ground criticism is. We were whispering in case the artist was hovering nearby and our opinions overheard. In essence so that the person who might be the most likely benefit couldn’t possibly hear! Passing comment to the artist doesn’t really happen in the clubs either. I do sometimes offer an opinion if I see something really wrong that is easily corrected but try and restrain myself for the most part as offence is a very likely result.

It’s not that the criticism isn’t made, we judge and evaluate automatically. We also share our views with each other… but almost never with the artist themselves… which is odd really as they would surely be the ones most likely to get the most out of it. The result is that you tend to only hear anodyne  positives or inscrutable silences. I am in the habit of forcing the issue and asking for comments. This makes some uncomfortable and others will just tell you all is well whatever the real state of affairs!

Politeness is of course the reason for this lack of plain speaking. There is the uncomfortable fact that none of us welcome hearing that one of our efforts falls short and even less that it has fallen short in some way we hadn’t spotted. The truth is though we would all benefit from the clear sight of an uninvolved eye however bad the news, especially if that eye is educated.

What is needed I suppose is a forum where praise is banned and only observed room for improvement is mentioned. You would need rules of course. A comment like, “That is rubbish!” is of no use to any one. But a comment like “The perspective is out on that building.” or  “I’m not sure about that red patch as it takes the eye too much.” is useful as it gives a clue about putting something right. I have seen some attempts at this, the most successful being in the Life Drawing forum on WetCanvas. There people commented on anatomy and other aspects without too much bad feeling being expressed. However I think a forum where only critical comments were expressly required might work better. There are some I suppose for whom any negative comment is undermining and damaging for confidence, but IMO excellence in art (or indeed anything else) is a hard road and if you are that delicate then perhaps serious pursuit of it isn’t for you. On that harsh note some pictures… feel free to make painful but valid comments!


Erith, yacht club, drawing, Thames, Wapping Group

A day out with the Wappers at Erith Yacht Club. Very hot day and I was late getting there. I had just received a set of new sketch books with reproduction “Turner blue” paper. I hatched the sky but should have blocked it in with the white acrylic pen as the line work is too fussy. I might start to use white chalk as Turner himself did.


Erith, Thames, watercolour

I liked the way the light had developed so I did the same scene again. I am rather liking doing watercolour on the hot pressed paper. I tried using it years ago with little success but rather like its qualities now. I softened the clouds a little after this was scanned. I was pleased at how easy that was.


Amboise, france, watercolour, chateaux

Another historical paper effort. This is on “Girtin” type paper. Again an interesting effect. Wet into wet is almost imposssible as the paper cockles brutally.


Amboise, Romanesque, france, watercolour

This is the door of the church of St Denis in Amboise. The Romanesque part dates from 1107AD. Denis lost his head due to an axe. After his head was chopped off Denis is said to have picked it up and walked six miles from the summit of the hill preaching a sermon… 12in by 9in Watercolour. Done on Arches 140 paper from a large roll, I’m very glad I stocked up before the quality dropped!


Ransomes Dock, thames, London, Barge

Another Wapping day. This is Ransomes Dock near Albert Bridge. 10in by 10in. I thought of taking this further but decided not as it might ruin the feel which I rather liked.


Albert Bridge, Oil painting, plein air, thames, London

I had a short while on the foreshore to paint this as the tide raced in. Albert bridge is very pretty but I don’t like bridge pictures a great deal and wonder now why I bothered to paint this… dull but worthy alas! 10in by 16in.


portobello, london, pen and wash

This is Portobello, a great day with the Brass Monkeys. The road was full of life despite is being a non market day. I am enjoying the pen and wash it is great fun to splash over the pen work.


portobello, london, watercolour

Another very quick sketch, leaving out the pen this time. Portobello again.


portobello, london, pen, drawing

Last one from Portobello… it’s that Turner blue again.


Sloane Sq, chelsea, London, Pintar Rapido

Here’s my effort from Pintar Rapido. Not the greatest photo of the painting as I forgot to snap it in the open air and had to take the picture in low light at the exhibition. 12in by 16in Sloane Square, Oils. I had set my heart on a rainy painting and the forecast looked to be on my side. When I arrived the streets were wet from earlier rain but that was the last rain we saw! The reflections therefore are imaginary. I enjoyed painting it hugely and was delighted that it sold. If the buyer reads this they are welcome to bring it to my studio in about 3 months as it will need varnishing!


Rob Adams, Pintar Rapido

Here I am painting away in a somewhat colour coordinated manner.

June 13, 2014


Someone recently commented in a slightly disparaging tone that my work was very “conventional”. Slightly miffed, but not showing it I hope, I asked them to elucidate. After a little probing I found that in this case conventional meant old fashioned and dated. Modern cars, I pointed out, hoping for a re trial. Alas no reprieve for automotive contemporaneity. What you are doing is better done by photographs, my nemesis concluded.

So, convention, what is it? All through my art education following one was considered a negative unless you were “playing with conventions” or even better subverting them. If you adhered to any of them it was plainly a bad thing. Conventions though are, to my understanding, rules you adhere to by choice. We have social conventions, we do not spit on the floor of a friend’s kitchen, though we might on the ground if walking in the country. We shake hands, kiss each other on the cheek etc, etc. Conventions are everywhere as a sort of framework to guide us along.

Art conventions seem as thick on the ground as they ever were. We put pictures and other art objects into galleries, once the object is placed in the approved gallery situation it can then be appreciated as art. This is quite a recent convention of course, hardly more then a few centuries old. It is especially necessary now when much art could not be discerned as such without the explanatory context of a gallery space.

So rather hesitantly I am proposing that conventions are often positive things. Also that working within them rather than subverting or ironically playing with them is a perfectly valid thing to do. They give you a framework within which to work. Where would the novelist be without the conventions applied to books? A novel with the pages arranged randomly rather than sequentially would not be much of a seller. It would, somewhat oddly, be I suspect quite acceptable as a conceptual artwork, it’s that playing with convention thingy!

Georg Baselitz shocked the art world by putting his rather cack-handed portraits upside down. Why this made them more interesting is a puzzle. True they were pretty grim the right way up, but I could discern no improvement by inverting them. As a challenge to convention it was pretty weak. If they had been abstracts no one would have noticed or cared. I could argue I suppose that through following certain conventions by choice I am breaking the current convention of ignoring convention… bleeding edge or what?

What my critical friend really meant of course was that I was unfashionable. A crime to which I plead guilty M’Lud. Fashion is I suppose partly convention, but it is more a guide to tell you how to be perceived in a good light by others. If your furniture is fashionable you are not necessarily purchasing it for its utility or craftsmanship, but for how it will be perceived by others and what status they will ascribe to you in consequence. People’s choices as to what they like or dislike in art are often driven by the same wish to shape how others will see them. If you say you like Francis Bacon, people will assess your sophistication differently to how they will if you say you like Constable. Whether you actually give a fig for either is moot of course.

So I work within the conventions of observational picture making. I mostly fill a flat right angled quadrilateral. I adhere within limits to one or other of the geometric conventions for depicting an immersive three dimensional world upon a flat surface. I mostly, but not always, use materials that have a long pedigree. I use these conventions not because they are just what I was given and I can conceive of no other way, but by choice. Not only that I choose them by informed choice. If some better way that suited my purpose came to my attention I would adopt it without a second thought. I did this I suppose with computers and the amazing possibilities they bring to constructing an image.

A complete hodgepodge of work this time. I am at some kind of crossroads but won’t know what kind until a way down the road. I am still avoiding oils but am taking them on my next trip to France so I hope for a rapprochement.

Upnor castle, medway, kent, pen drawing

I’m still on my pen drawing kick. I dusted off my Rotring Art Pen to do this. What a horrible pen! How could a pen company design such a crappy instrument. Ink flow is terrible requiring you to draw at a snail’s pace and the nib is an insult to a thousand or so years of nib making. The nib has no flexibility at all so produces an unvarying line, so zero points to the Art Pen I won’t even bother keeping it. Now I have that off my chest I can tell you that this is Upnor Castle on the Medway in Kent.


Upnor, Medway, Kent, boat, drawing, pen

This is Lower Upnor which is distinctly boaty. This is the front of the local pub. I reverted to Fibre tips for this, nasty but better than the appalling Rotring.


tower bridge, thames, pen and ink, drawing

In desperation I have bought some fountain pens to draw with, not least because of cost! Decent pigment fibre tips come in at 3 quid or so. They also have a very unvarying line. This is done with a Noodlers Nib Creeper which cost a very reasonable twelve pounds and have a decent amount of flex in the nib. I must say they are amazing value for a pen that draws really well. Their ink is good too. I did the pencil outlines for this a week or so back and as I was passing by after an ink buying mission I set too with my new pen. It is such a relief to get the variety of line that I am used to with dip pens. Also the Noodler is so fast to draw with, no matter how fast you move the pen it keeps up and delivers ink to the paper. I needed it on this too as I underestimated the work and had to scribble frantically to get the thing done.


Florence, Italy, Arno, motorbike, watercolour

A studio watercolour from my trip to Florence. This was early in the morning before the mad tourist rush. It is done on the Girtin style paper which is very interesting to paint on. Quite different to a modern paper. It is very hard sized, I think you could scrub the whole thing back to white if you chose! Not altogether comfortable with it yet but has a lot of potential. It does give me a clue as to why 18th and early19th century watercolours look as they d0. This is the end of the Ufizzi where the Vasari passage comes out. 10in by 15in


Florence, Italy, tuscany,

Another studio watercolour. This is the Piazza della Signoria, the Statue is The Fountain of Neptune by Bartolomeo Ammannati. The man is cleaning off chewing gum, the hour is 5.30AM! 12in by 10in.


Kings Cross, st pancras, London, Brass Monkeys, pen and ink, Whidborne St

Further exploring the possibilities of fountain pens I bought a 100 year old Waterman 52 which has a wonderful flexible nib. They needed them then so people could write in copperplate. Better than the Noodler it is effortless to draw with. This is Whidborne St near St Pancras on a day out with the Brass Monkeys.


Grand Union Canal, Kings Cross, pen drawing, London, barge

My new old pen really flew when used on bristol board, just so much easier and faster. It would have taken at least double the time to draw this with my Sokura pens. This is the Grand Union Canal just behind Kings Cross.


Queenborough, Kent, Sheppey, church, holy trinity, graveyard, pen drawing

More pen… sorry I am getting addicted! This is Holy Trinity church in Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey. A Wapping Group day.


Queenborough, Sheppey, watercolour, church, graveyard

The light was being a little here and there so I stayed where I was and very quickly splashed this in. On Saunders Waterford, better than the Arches pads at least the washes have some life in them.


Queenborough, Sheppey, estuary, boats, watercolour, Sheppey

I had met up with Mike Richardson and we went out on the long slipway at Queenborough to paint the light and the mud. The light was getting better minute by minute so as I felt this was a little too polite I did it again with more verve.


sheppey, queenborough, watercolour, plein air estuary

Here it is again with a bit more splash and dash!

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