Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

June 29, 2010

Plein Air sketch Vs Studio

Filed under: London,Painting,Uncategorized,Wales — Tags: , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 10:59 pm

I am trying to turn a few on the spot sketches into studio paintings. Rather oddly in a long life of painting things it is something I have done very little of… studio time has been for the clients, out and about sketching time for me. The modern aesthetic rather leans towards the sketch and that’s no bad thing IMO. It’s good that the vivacious beauty of the on the spot study are appreciated properly now. Still I feel the pendulum has maybe turned a little too far from the more finished work. Although a plein air sketch has many charms it is inevitably a hostage to the conditions and time frame in which it was produced. Its strengths: freshness, directness and vivacity are counterbalanced with a cursive shorthand quality and very often a certain crudeness of execution. In short a location sketch might tend to be a “quick look” and a studio work a longer more leisurely “long look”. There is always in art a requirement on the viewer to make the effort of appreciation. Hopefully it is possible to paint something that works for a quick glance and also a longer look. Also with painting the surface texture, the handling of the paint , never mind it’s colour or tone count for a fair bit… a lot of things to juggle no wonder this painting thing is so tricky.

Here is a sketch done in appalling conditions, cold, wet windy, my easel weighed down with a rock on a rope. I frequently had to take refuge in the car as the rain swept horizontally down the valley. So in the end I painted this in mad dashes between squalls. I remember a family of kagool enswathed walkers toiling past me with depressed, mobile signal deprived teenagers bringing up the rear and stoically hearty parents striding out ahead.


Here is the studio version. I strove to keep the whole thing fresh and not over work. All the initial laying in was done from the sketch. Only when everything was established did I look at the photo ref taken at the time. Somehow if you begin with the photo ref it dominates and it is surprisingly  hard to deviate from it. The photo however showed delicious subtleties in the distant hills and trees, that time and conditions would have made very hard to capture in the sketch. But none the less I don’t think this painting would have been half as good without the plein air to inform it. Though when my nice tweed cap blew into the wet paint on my palette I wondered why I bothered.


Here is another case, but back to front as it were… just to undermine my own theories. This is a plein air sketch of Newport bay, there was delicious soft light that gave me plenty of time as it was only changing slowly. Everything was laid in with one pass and not returned to. I assure you very few sketches I attempt proceed with such comfort. But I think it shows, it is unfussy, direct and gives a real feeling of the place and day.


Here is the same scene on a very different day. I would urge all landscape painters to return frequently to the same scene to paint, you will always, I think, find something new. Here it is all crisp light and slanting sunlight as against the diffuse softness of the previous painting. This one was started on the spot, but although in this direction it looks idyllic behind me a storm was brewing and my work was cut short. I then went back to base and completed it from a photo displayed on my laptop. Modern technology is a wonderful thing!


Lastly a random gratuitous allotment painting done in about an hour while the rest of the world was watching the World Cup.

June 26, 2010


Filed under: Drawing,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Rob Adams @ 8:41 pm

Drawing is another theme I would like to explore here, life drawing is very specific but there are other sorts of drawing other than observational. There is also the finished drawing where the drawing is the final item rather than just a means to an end.

Drawing actually  is often wonderfully free of “style of the times”  and cultural influence, from drawings of extinct animals on cave walls, to Theran monkeys in frescos. Working drawings by middle ages illuminators, to Tiepolo blocking out a magnificent ceiling. Hokusai studying wrestlers, or Degas observing a girl in a bath, right through to a game artist sketching out an environment. Surprisingly these images sit quite happily on a page together united by simple purpose. I wonder when looking at cave drawings of long dead antelope and seeing the beautiful way in which their essence is captured what other long lost imagery was like. I would lay money that these ancient draughts people did many an animal study from life to hone their skills, but maybe not so much of their fellow men who are often represented in a cursory and symbolic manner.

Interestingly this shows that two strands of drawing, symbolic (drawing an idea) and observational (drawing what you see) are present from the very start and mixed together. You see this again and again in historical works, in the Egyptian where often the individual elements are dutifully observed, but then are used as symbols and assembled together into a narrative. Chinese painting takes much the same approach with often quite naturalistic elements laid out in a standardised up is far, down is near symbolic space. The other strand of drawing, or as art college folk prefer “mark making” is pattern making perhaps the very first creative act. Arranging objects, you might guess, is perhaps how it all started, but we will never know.

Drawing is a deliciously unlikely activity. What you do is make a clean surface dirty so that in an inkblot testy sort of way a viewers brain is prompted to produce a vision of a real thing. The brain does that I think because it is constantly whipping stored standard representations of things out of a data base and patching them into your visual world. When entering a room you don’t minutely observe the design of the furniture, you don’t have the time, so the brain puts in a “stand in” chair from memory leaving adding any specific detail for later or as required. Also the brain is always trying to spot hidden threats so we imagine faces in the shadows of curtains etc. In both cases the brain fills in the gaps or makes a guess from inadequate information. Rather conveniently it does this for drawings too, so a few lines becomes a man or a face. An interesting  difference is that a stick figure requires a different act of comprehension from the observer than an impressionistic drawing made of a very few lines. The road between the two is the path from the generic to the specific. One of the choices an artist makes is how far to move along that path, it is important to note that no position on the path is inherently better or worse. You might want your viewer to have very little imaginative leeway or a great deal depending upon your intent.

Enough theorising some drawings.

I was surprised to find this in a recent clear out, it’s the first drawing I remember being praised for. A silly thing you might think but it gave me the idea that this was something I could do… which up until that point had been notably thin on the ground if not altogether absent. I must have been 12 and I can see why my art teacher was pleased at this drawing of him, probably more by luck than judgement it has “caught” the pose.


Another school days drawing, this is from O levels so I’m 15 or so. I remember being cross that the teacher had written on it. It was done on a visit to the beautiful church at Kilpeck near Hereford. My drawing has much improved by then, also the school had rather belatedly discovered that I was shortsighted rather than dim. I can still remember the wonder at all the crisp detail in the world that I could suddenly see with my ghastly national health specs.


Some sketches of cats… always a challenge and one I usually failed at but these seem lively enough. The drawing does more hinting at detail rather than delineating which is odd because that is not the direction I next took.


Here is Ludlow Castle drawn 2 years later when I am 19. I was at Foundation course and my tutor absolutely hated it and told me I should consider another career. Somewhat of an overreaction I think, it is a little stiff and mannered but most artists have a love affair with detail at some point in their lives though thankfully mine stopped before the horror of the “photoreal”. Certainly my days of garnering praise for my efforts were well and truly over! I was fascinated with the art of pen and ink drawing, this is done with a rapidograph so the marks are very consistent. Later I was to discover the dip pen and the wonder of Gillot steel drawing pen nibs.


Here is a very different drawing, I had seen the Lindisfarne Gospels in the British Library and been astounded by its beauty. Not long after I bought a book by George Bain called Celtic Art which showed how they were constructed. Knotwork nerds might be interested to know that the green knot is a single loop. The original is 5ins across… ah the wonderful eyesight of youth! I was 26 I think and just starting as an illustrator.


Another pen drawing, a book illustration for The Smugglers by Ruth Manning- Saunders. This is done with steel drawing nibs purchased from the wonderful Philip Pools in Drury Lane, he advised me to buy the original Victorian ones as the modern ones were not as good… I still have the box of 200 they will certainly last me out! The dip pen is far more expressive alowing the line to swell and diminish. Not many pen drawers left now I fear. I must do some more before I turn up my toes.


Lastly a design drawing for the Disney parade, this is done entirely on computer… no paper involved. I draw directly on screen using a Wacom Cintiq. Purists may well put up their hands in horror but it’s just another medium and wonderful for design work such as this where the drawing goes through many iterations before it is signed off.

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