Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

May 18, 2013

A Trip to Cornwall

At last the painting season has truly  begun! I have a few painting expeditions in my calendar this year, holidays with friends are lovely, but the painting opportunities are limited. On this trip however I was kindly invited along with members of the Wapping Group to join the East Anglian Group of Marine Artists for a weeks painting in Sennen Cove in Cornwall. The great thing about this sort of visit is that the whole thing is arranged around painting. So many thanks for the invite!

Packing for such trips is always perplexing. What media should I take and how much paper, boards and canvas? Will it rain, blow or be hot as an oven? With these eventualities in mind I usually start a week before, assembling stuff to take on a sofa. By the time the trip is a day away the sofa is creaking with the weight of painting sundries and I am considering hiring a small truck! Severe editing then has to take place… three easels, two must go. Pastels, acrylics and sundry media are discarded. Four pochade boxes of various dimensions, again one is enough! Will I really cover 30 boards and ten canvasses with oil paintings in six days? The canvasses go and half the boards too. Do I need six kinds of watercolour paper? I shall not go on, you get the idea. I was sharing the trip with Steve Alexander of the Wapping Group so two painter’s sundries had to be accommodated in a single vehicle… fortunately Steve paints smaller than I do!

We took a leisurely journey down looking to paint a bit on the way down. The weather looked like it was not going to play fair. Severe storms were forecast and when we got as far as Somerset and arrived at Berrington Hall, where we thought we might paint a bit, we found all National Trust properties were shut in case trees landed on people! Out of sheer stubbornness I did a quick watercolour anyway to cock a snook at the uncooperative elements. Real painters laugh in the face of hurricanes. As is often the case with dramatic weather the light effects were beautiful with sudden breaks in the hurrying clouds allowing the sun to light up swathes of countryside and making fantastic contrasts. All of which is, due to the conditions and the brevity of the effects, hard if not impossible to paint. All you can do is take a few snaps and hope you can remember how it really was. I’ll just start with the paintings this isn’t a travelogue after all.


Berrington Hall, Somerset, watercolour

This is the quick sketch I snatched from our abortive visit to Berrington Hall. The sun was flickering in and out like a strobe light so I had to fix the shadow

patterns in my memory. You can’t really consider composition in such quick paintings so I just try and catch the basics of the scene as directly as possible.

Nonetheless I don’t shortcut the process and do a quick pencil layout to get everything placed correctly. The one thing I do differently to a more leisurely painting

is that I often lay in the darks first and overlay the mid tones and finally do the light tones, the reverse of my usual watercolour process. This is very fast as the

darks establish the structure immediately. The downside is that you have to lay the next two layers very carefully in single strokes so as not to stir up the work

already done. I finally restate the darkest darks, the whole process takes only about 20min at this 7in by 5in size.


Sennen, Cornwall, dawn, plein air, oil painting

The first morning. Having looked at the forecast the best light of the day looked to be early. So full of the joys of spring and fuelled by misplaced confidence

I set out at dawn. This time of day is very often the most beautiful but also the light is changing at its fastest. The only hope is to just set to and paint as fast

as possible, ignoring details and trying to get the basic tones true to what you are seeing. To make the whole thing harder the light on your painting and palette

is far from ideal and the final work if you are not careful can look wrong when seen in good light. To this end it is important to mix your colours using experience

as well as eyesight! If you are mixing Cadmium Red or some other beast of a colour into your tones then caution is advised. This is Sennen looking over to Sunny

Corner Lane. 14in by 10in oils.


Sennen, Cornwall, sea, plein air, oil painting

After that I went down to the shore and painted this. The light as dawn progresses moves faster and faster so I had only 15 min to splash this in. It is very

rough and ready but combined with a photo it will be invaluable for a watercolour I have planned. 12in by 10in Oils.


St Just, tin mine, Levant Mine, cornwall, chimney, watercolour.

Steve and I then set out after breakfast to see what might be painted on what was becoming a grey and rather breezy day. We ended up at the Levant tin

mine which clings to the cliffs near St Just. This is the second painting I did as an oil of the main mine and engine house went horribly wrong! I am much

more likely to miss the target with oils alas as I just don’t have the command over the medium that I have in watercolours. It is something that frustrates me

but the only way to get better is to work at it and accept the catastrophes that inevitably occur. That doesn’t stop me from cussing and moaning though!  I did

this to cheer myself up, it only too 15 min or so and is probably the best painting of the trip. Watercolour 1/4 sheet arches Not.


Sennen, watercolour, plein air

The end of the day looked like this… and the forecast for the next day looked a bit mixed to say the least. This is looking down to Sennen from the window

of Atlantic Lodge where we were staying. 7in by 5in watercolour. I have been using a Liquitex acrylic white marker which is rather useful. It seems to sit better

in the picture that chinese white or gouache and can be washed over to tint it. Here I have used it to put in the buildings and washed over with a soft grey blue.


St Ives, Cornwall, plein air, oil painting

We headed to St Ives in the hope that should the weather turn bad we could paint from shelter. I had terrible trouble with this. It is not a very “me” subject

too much like the millions of standard seaside boaty views that infest the many galleries in the town. It is quite changed from the original plein air as it was

reworked on a following wet day. As I was with other very experienced painters all tinkering with their minor masterpieces much advice was given! The result

is even less me I’m afraid, though I learnt a fair bit from the process that will help with further efforts. Oil 14in by 10in.


St Ives, watercolour, Cornwall, plein air.

After doing the previous one twice and leaving it unfinished I took advantage of a brief spell of sun to do this sketch. Much happier with this, the

composition has much more going for it. St Ives 7in by 5in watercolour.


St Ives, watercolour, plein air

Last St Ives one. The weather was deteriorating severely with showers coming in quick succession. As one of these was clearing I did this. The conditions were

very difficult with the wind trying to blow away anything that wasn’t nailed down and flurries of rain interfering with the washes. My palette ended up

completely covered with sand. Still despite the obstacles probably the best of the day. 7in by 5in watercolour.


sennen cove, cornwall, oil painting, plein air

Last one of the day the clouds cleared for a decent sunset and the light was fabulous for a brief while. This is from Sunny Corner lane looking across

to Sennen Cove. It was terribly windy and I had to grip my pochade with one hand while painting. Oils. 12in by 10in.


Lamorna Cove, watercolour

The next day was pretty grim. A completely flat grey light. At least the rain had abated so Steve and I set out to Lamorna Cove a popular subject of the

Newlyn School of painters one of whom changed his name to Lamorna Birch… I shall be leaving my moniker alone though as Deptford Rob sounds like

a bank robber not a painter. These outrageous plants whose name I forget were growing by the stream so I painted them as an exercise. Such sketches are

never going to be art, but fun to do nonetheless and technically quite difficult. 7in by 5in watercolour.


Lamorna cove, cornwall, sea

It wasn’t worth doing an oil or large watercolour so I contented myself with another sketch. Then the rain started and we headed off a little down cast by

the conditions. 7in by 5in Watercolour.


Levant Mine, St Just cormwall, tin mine, watercolour

We headed back via the Levant tin mine where the light had perked up a bit. Not to last alas. 10in by 8in watercolour.


Levant, st Just, Cornwall, watercolour

We had a look along the coast as we headed back looking for spots to paint on the following days. This is not far from St Just, the rain was coming in, so done

sitting in the car with the wipers on! Very tricky. 7in by 5in watercolour.


Atlantic Lodge, sennen, cornwall, interior, watercolour

The next day was a washout. 70 mile an hour winds and driving rain. So we all titivated out previous paintings and to fill

in time painted this interior. Great fun to try and paint the subtle flow of light from the window. I must do more interiors

they are rather fun and hard to do. 1/4 sheet watercolour.


Cape Cornwall, the Brisons, watercolour.

There was a lull in the rain so I went out shopping in St Just and went down to Cape Cornwall to see what was there. The sun had come out and lured me

off down the coast path looking for potential subjects. It was still and sunny but I could see a huge squall approaching across the sea. These are the Brisons

which stand out to sea near the cape. On my way back to the car the squall hit and I was nearly blown over by the wind. There is no doubt wild weather is

very trying but it also makes for wonderful moments of light. 7in by 5in watercolour


Cape Cornwall, sea, watercolour

I told Steve of the delights of Cape Cornwall, so as he was desperate to get out we headed back to catch the last of the light. Far to windy to paint outside

so we worked from the car. As we worked the subject slowly became invisible until Steve muttered, “I can’t see the subject or the painting, or the palette, but

still I paint!” After a fit of the giggles we retreated to the warm and dry. 7in by 5in watercolour.


Mousehole, cornwall, oil painting, plein air, harbour, boats, fishing

This is Mousehole, an eye-wateringly pretty fishing village. I am kicking myself now for just painting one of the standard views. I’m afraid I hate the

result. I got it far too busy initially so I simplified it a fair bit once home, I might try and make it work better once dry. I think some coloured glazes both

warm and cool cold unify and make it hang together better. It’s not bad exactly but just boring. I was a bit cast down by this, so the only one of the day.

oils 20in by 12in.


Cape Cornwall, boats, plein air, oil painting

For our last day we went to back to Cape Cornwall. A lovely sunny day. The light was very dramatic and eminently paintable. I got the distance in without

mishap but lost my way slightly with the boats. Once I got it back I could immediately see that the contrasts on the boats was not strong enough so I darkened

 the shadows and suddenly the whole thing worked. I don’t think it took more than 5min. It is so easy to miss the obvious when painting plein air due to the

intensity of the involvement required to get the whole thing composed and painted before the light moves on. 14in by 10in oils.


The Brisons, Cape Cornwall, oil painting, plein air

Last one. We moved down the coast a bit and did the Brisons. The light was gorgeous and the sea changing from moment to moment. Steve and I

painted two pictures that could have been from different days, but they were both there briefly! 10in by 8in oils. That’s it I have put in both good efforts

and bad as that is the truth of painting. No matter how long you practice and whatever level of skill you achieve failure is only a breath away!

I wasn’t going to do a travelogue but seem to have done so, ah well never mind…

May 6, 2013

Painting in the Sun and battles with charcoal.

I have never got on with charcoal or for that matter pencil. Which is a pity as I love drawings done in those media by others cleverer with them than I. I think it is because I never really drew with pencil as a child as I discovered pen first. Later on pencil was for the planning stage of a painting not a finished stand alone work. I love seeing adept pencil sketches of landscape but have never managed to produce many myself. I know the basics of course, hatch and avoid shading or smudging, indicate rather than define. When I do it however it looks rather laboured, without that bravura dashed off look I would like.

With life drawing and charcoal it is the same story. Somehow me and the medium doesn’t click! So out of sheer bloody mindedness I have been trying to get to grips with the stuff. What I did not want to do is emulate how others use the stuff. That is I feel what causes the unconvincing stiffness in any drawing done with that sort of ambition. The fact that I have trouble with the medium makes me suspect that there is a weakness in my drawing that it exposes, which means that struggling to find my way with the stuff should bring dividends.

The plein air season is well and truly started and I have been enjoying the sunny days painting in good company. So not much verbiage this post… straight on with some daubs.


Friendly St, Deptford, London, watercolour

First another studio watercolour. I painted this twice the first one going horribly wrong when I got a bit of pure Cadmium red on my brush!

There was never going to be any disguising the streak so I had to start again. 1/4 sheet Arches rough.


Thames, Battersea, powerstation, river, plein air, oils

The second Wapping day of the year. The venue was Vauxhall and it delivered some fantastic subjects. This is terribly iconic but I just couldn’t resist!

16in by 10in. Oils.


Vauxhall Bridge, London, thames, plein air, Wapping group

I am often at a loss in the middle of the day. Many subjects look far from their best when the sun is high. So I went looking for

a subject that had good contrasts. I only had a short time to do this as the tide was rushing in but a good exercise.


battersea, Thames, river, powerstation, plein air, wapping group

Yes I know the same subject again! The light had totally transformed it though. This was wonderful to paint and I was completely engrossed so that it was

almost a shock to step back and see it done. I still have to adjust the wall so that the river doesn’t try to climb over it but that will have to wait until it is a bit

dry. A great day though and I felt I had earned my pint in the pub at the end of the day.


Strood, Medway, boat, plein air, Kent

Graham Davies and Tony Lawman invited me out to play by the Medway near Rochester. The day didn’t disappoint with great light. I messed up my first

effort and had to wipe it off, but did this straight after which went much better. This bit of the Medway is called Strood and is full of tatty boaty clutter.

No doubt they are at this very moment planning to sweep it all away and build vile flats. 12in by 10in, oils.


Strood Yacht club

After a bit of a hike we found a boat yard that would allow us to paint. So thanks to Strood Yacht Club for making us welcome! We painted away happily

here, I wasn’t quite sure where this was going at first but it all sort of fell into place as I went along. It is always hit or miss with plein air and each of us

had paintings that went awry. One of the great things painting in company is that you have people to listen to your despairing cries! 16in by 10in.


All Saints Findsbury, Graveyard, plein air

This is the graveyard of All Saints Findbury which sits high on a crag overlooking the Medway. Last of the day and getting weary but a nice relaxing subject

to finish the day. I don’t know why I paint graveyards, I know no one will ever buy one, but I just love them as a subject. 14in by 10in oils.


Nude, life drawing, charcoal

Here we go with the charcoal… I know it is brown but I found these sepia charcoal pencils that I rather like made by Derwent.

Also I am drawing on rough newsprint by Strathmore which has a nice tooth.


Life drawing, nude, charcoal

Ordinary charcoal too here. I am using thick sticks to block in and thinner to do the line work. A little progress here I feel.


Life drawing, nude charcoal

Less of a success this one, but I am beginning to get a mixture of marks from the stuff that I like. I am lifting out here with a putty rubber. I greyed

the whole sheet with the side of a chunk of charcoal before starting. I think I will make sure I leave the whites next time.


Life drawing, nude, charcoal

At last I am getting somewhere with this one, it feels more “me” somehow. The red and the black charcoal is an accident really but I rather like it. I am

trying to just suggest the surroundings with big broad strokes.


nude, life drawing

Not as good on this one. I rather over defined the surroundings.


life drawing, nude

Didn’t like the pose here, it looked awkward and well… posy! I am starting to enjoy the media a little more though.


nude, life drawing

Another one I am quite pleased with, only about 15 min but has a delicate feel I rather like. I am off to paint for a week in Cornwall so be prepared for

cliffs and sea garnished, I hope, with sunshine.

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