Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

April 29, 2014

Taking on a Challenge

Often I think people shy away from a challenge. I know I sometimes do myself. I see a possible picture and think, “Too much to take on…” and paint something less difficult but probably not as good. I have several pictures that have been in my “to do” folder for quite  while just because they are a lot of work with quite a high risk of failure as well. I am writing this post as a sort of kick up the backside for myself to prevent me shying away from ambitious pictures. I tend to imagine people saying, “He bit off more than he could chew here…”. Some of them of course you think , ” How the hell would I paint that?” When you just think the painting requires more expertise than you have.

All the usual homilies spring to mind, “Aim high and even if you miss you will attain more than you would have than if you hadn’t tried.” True, true, but a miss is a miss and an almost but not quite painting is a bit of a neck albatross… they hang around and haunt you! In the final calculation though it is best to try and fail  think. I see many painters who essentially paint and repaint pictures they have done before with slight variations. I hear my own advice about life drawing echoing in my ears, “If it starts to feel comfortable then shift the goalposts.”

Oil painting is my biggest challenge at present. There is something wrong with the way I am laying the paint and the balance of hard and soft. There is nothing for it but to start again and rethink my method. Prepare yourself for some pretty grim paintings as I try to change direction! The first move is to reintroduce more drawing. It is very seductive to try to paint in general areas and then pick out details with deft strokes. The trouble is the result is all surface and not enough substance. I want, I suppose,  to catch more than just the moment. At the moment I have areas of tone that tell you about atmosphere and hue etc but not enough about texture and structure. In part I think my problem is that I don’t have enough variety of marks.

When doing pen drawings I use a wide variety of strokes to add colour and description. In oils my repertoire is considerably more narrow, so first I need to consider adding knife work and more rubbing back to establish unifying textures. It is the sheer breadth of possibilities with oil painting that causes me trouble, I need to narrow it down. I have decided to alter the method initially to softly blocking in and then doing a layer of tightly observed drawing in a very reduced palette. I shall have to try hard not to backslide as it is easy to start with good intentions and then find your feet leading you down the same old paths.

I am enjoying my re-engagement with pen drawing tremendously, such a lovely medium.

I am delighted to say I was elected as a full member of the Wapping Group of Artists at their agm. So will be painting most Wednesdays with them which should keep me on my mettle!

hare and billet, Blackheath, London, plein air, watercolour, watercolor

A few watercolours to start. This is the Hare and Billet on Blackheath. We got up early to get the low light. I really struggled with this. It looked hopeful  at first, then looked dreadful and finally settled down to being just about adequate! 10in by 20in watercolour.


Telegraph Hill, London, Watercolour, plein air

This one went much better. We painted later to catch the evening light. This is Telegraph Hill in Sth London, where in Napoleonic times stood the Semaphore tower that brought news of triumph or disaster to the Admiralty. 9in by 14in watercolour.


Barridale, allotment, watercolour

Before painting from the hill as the light was not right we marked time by sketching on my allotment. 5in by 7in, watercolour.


Isleworth, wapping group, pen and ink, drawing

This is Isleworth. I was somewhat distracted by knowing that the Wappers were in the pub deciding whether to make me a member so painted two pretty grim watercolours. But the steady progressive nature of pen drawing was just the thing!


Romsey abbey, Hampshire, pen and ink, sketch, drawing

This is Romsey Abbey in Hampshire. Slightly scary perspective as I could not get as far away as I would have liked.


Romsey, market, pen and ink, sketch, drawing, Hampshire

Romsey again. As a complete contrast I next did a drawing of a flower stall. I must do more of the incidental views as they are great fun. The hatching on the shop fronts was a bit of hard labour though! The trick with pen drawing I find is not to put too many lines around edges but just let the hatching finish to define the edge. Also if you do add lines dont make them unbroken a line that skips and jumps is much more expressive.


South Kensington, London, pen and ink, sketch, drawing, street

This is South Kensington. I’m going to pencil the figures a bit more carefully in future they can become a little bit too generic and architecty… a fate worse than death!


Gillingham, Dorset, Church, sketch, drawing, pen and ink

Last of the current crop of pen drawings. This is Gillingham church in Dorset. A classic subject that suits the media very well.


Battersea, oil painting, river, church

This is Battersea, and the first of three rather underwhelming oils. There are good bits as well as less good but the whole thing doesn’t quite gel into a whole. Mind you a difficult day to paint. 12in by 12in.


Battersea, thames, river, boat, church, brass monkey, plein air

Battersea again. Slightly better maybe but just not the surface quality I am after. 12in by 20 in oils.


South Kensington, painting, oils, plein air

This is South Kensington. I nearly didn’t post this but as I try to make this a “warts and all” blog I felt I should. I managed to simultaneously get too much and not enough in which is quite a feat. That is of course too much of the wrong scrappy stuff and not enough, or indeed any, of the loose but elegant. 12in by 16in. Oils


April 10, 2014


Artists need to exhibit they say. If the lists people attach to their Biographies on websites is to believed exhibiting is very important. If you say “I am a painter” then people will ask “do you exhibit”. Up until recently my answer would be a flat “no”. Having done a couple of years now of showing bits and bobs here and there I have mixed feelings. When people say exhibit they really mean exhibit for sale. I note none of the people who list their every minor show ever say that they didn’t sell, though this must be true for the most part.

What is most odd is that there must be people who look through a list of exhibitions and then look at the work differently as it seems to have been validated by others. I have I just realised typed the key word in this matter… “validation”. For a buyer or art lover it means that they are not completely relying on their own judgement if there is a list of shows to support any view.

I am of course very jealous of those who have long lists in chronological order of galleries and group shows. I have done nothing but paint in one way or another my whole life but have only a brief flurry of shows in recent years. I am a little taken aback that people seem to think that I didn’t exist before this time and that I have only just started on art in my later years. I don’t like to say ,”well actually I can paint almost anything in any style you wish.” which would sound rather big headed but is pretty much true, in a long career I have been asked to do a bit of everything really. I get no points for having designed ten or twelve ballets, or illustrated books, or designed attractions that millions enjoy. I did rather think I might be able to sort of jump into the picture painting world, not at the top but sort of halfway or something. Not the case however, the list of exhibitions is missing so starting at the bottom is required.

I talked to the secretary of one of the Societies at the private view of one of the open shows. She said if I kept on banging in work of that quality for six or so years I might be able to apply. It was it seems not about how good your work was, but how long your list was! This may be why these institutions can’t number that many of the best painters in their specialities as members. It also means that they get stuffed full of people who are worthy and patient rather than necessarily the best. There is of course the suspicion that the lesser abled members are not too keen on people who are embarrassingly good (no I don’t mean me!) my instinct is to dismiss this idea but some of my own experience and history maybe say otherwise. I am not complaining, I have had pretty good success at getting work accepted in the couple of years that I have been trying, it’s just that I’m now not sure if that is necessarily a good sign as to the quality of my work!

It is all to do with this thing called “reputation” which has to be built up over time. A “good” reputation says this person has done a certain thing well and consistently over a number of years according to the opinion of others. As this isn’t formalised in anyway it is of course open to gross manipulation and publicists can build reputations from nothing as many a vacant celebrity shows. In the same way artists bolster their list of shows with things like: Joint show Portsmouth Lion Terrace 1976…( two pictures in a corridor at college), Greenwich group show 2009, (1 picture taped to a railing…)! It is still a show it seems even if people just passed by the pictures without noticing them.

Times they are a changing though. The internet has made getting yourself into the public gaze much easier, this blog alone has had 150000 visitors in 4 years which is great. The whole internet thing is a little strange however in that people are looking at pictures of paintings on a screen not the painting itself. This more than anything else means I must persevere with showing paintings. I have a very small shared exhibition at Oil and Water in Wandsworth coming up on the 23rd April and later in the year Graham Davies and I are doing a joint show of London pictures near Blackheath which will be more substantial. Sooner or later I must chance my arm with a larger show in town but such events mean an investment of many thousands of pounds with no guaranteed return so I must plan carefully.

Mortlake, Thames, watercolour


This is Mortlake. On the way back from Strand on the Green Chris Burdett and I were checking out future venues for the Brass Monkeys. Watercolour 7in by 10in.


Royal Naval Hospital, Greenwich, watercolour, London


The Royal Naval Hospital Greenwich. This one needs a few more figures maybe. I was trying to catch the very subtle light that occurs just as the sun has dipped below the horizon. For a few minutes there is this almost dreamlike atmosphere.  14in by10in watercolour.


Greenwich, Royal Naval Hospital, London Watercolour


I did this immediately after allowing myself 30 min. this is how the same scene looked 30min before. It is great fun just to dash it in what you loose in subtlety you gain in energy. People tend to fall into two camps those for whom spontaneity is all and those who like subtle restraint. Just to be awkward I enjoy both. 10in by 14in.


The Paragon, Blackheath, London, watercolour


This is the very posh Paragon in Blackheath, I have tried to paint this a few times and failed. The challenge here is to get the balance of loose and tight just right. Not a complete success but this is the best I have managed of it so far. 12in by 20in watercolour.


Millenium Bridge, Thames, Bankside, St Pauls, London, watercolour


I stretched up some paper on very light ply boards so I could paint plein air on decent paper. I have found the Arches blocks are quite different to the roll paper. The sizing on the blocks is odd and the colour never granulates giving the washes a dead feel. This is a real irritation as I spent a 100 quid on blocks which are essentially useless. I did a very simple water brush sketch initially, then had to abandon the bridge as it was too busy. I decamped to a seat on the Bankside and finished off. As I worked the sky became the oddest colour due to the sand blowing over from the Sahara and London’s very own pollution. I did my best to catch it even though it meant this is very far from a “pure” watercolour! 7in by 10in.


St Johns, Deptford, watercolour, London


Another of my stretched up boards. Again I just sketched in the basics in a cool grey with a few dark accents. Then took it home to add colour and finish off. 7in by 10in watercolour.


Market, Deptford, London, watercolour


The last of my pre-stretched boards. Once again a simple waterbrush sketch putting in all the darks. I left all mid and light areas white and coloured it from memory rather than reality. 7in by 10in.


London, Trafalgar Square, St Martins, watercolour


A larger 13in by 20in watercolour. This has been sitting half done for three or four weeks. I reached a certain stage and couldn’t see my way forwards. Oddly it was no trouble to finish off. I’m not even sure what I was fretting about now!

That’s it a very watercolour heavy post. Next I am going to try to get a few studio oils done!


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