Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

June 27, 2014

The Loire and Normandy

Filed under: Drawing,France,Painting,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 4:06 pm

It is the holiday season again! As usual I went on the annual Wapping Group holiday, this time to Amboise on the Loire in France. Literally a busman’s holiday as we go in a coach in a group of about 20 painters and their partners. The great joy of these expeditions is that the whole thing is focussed around painting… er… well and eating too I suppose. I always have great dificulty deciding which media to take. I was intending not to take oils but relented at the last moment. A new addition to the watercolours was the pen. I had decided to start adding wash as well so I took some Noodlers inks which have a pleasing balance of mostly permanent but a fair bit of ink will dissolve into the wash.

I set off on these trips with a high degree of anticipation which is of course immediately dashed as soon as you are sitting before the subject. I did manage to force myself to be quite experimental, varying the media depending on subject and time available. The watercolours rather suffered as I didn’t quite get into my stride with them due to drawing a lot. Watercolour is one of those mediums that requires you to be in the zone if you want to paint them en plein air, which tends only to happen when you paint a string of them one after another. That said I am pretty pleased with the variety of my output.

A great advantage of this sort of coach based holiday is that you have to paint where you are taken. It is all too easy when touring by car to spend most of the trip driving around looking for a subject rather than trying to catch the flavour of a single place. I had been to Amboise 40 years ago so I was intruiged to see if I remembered much about it. I’ll do the pictures in sequence as much as I can. There will be another post though as the oils I brought back were left deliberately unresolved, but more on that  in my next post.


St malo, France, Brittany, pen and ink, drawing

St Malo where the ferry docked is a fascinating walled town. Full of up market shops and restaurants. The day however was grey, which was not great as the place is built out of quite a dark grey granite! I settled in the end for quite a wide perspective done from the city walls. This allowed a grand view down into the square where most of the restaurants were. The hardest thing here was to decide how to let the drawing fade off to the edges. I decided in the end to make the whole thing revolve around the tree and the white building to the left of it. Objects that were  towards the edge can then be simply indicated just by outlines. It is odd that the eye finds this perfectly understandable and acceptable.


St malo, France, drawing

Our visit to St Malo was only a few hours so this was my last there. I only had 15min so I blocked the whole thing in with acrylic markers. I bough two mid greys to add to my white which gives quite a  good range when combined with the black pen work. I deliberately kept the whole thing bold and kept the line work quite calligraphic.


Amboise, France, Loire, watercolour

I painted a couple of oils in the early part of the first day in Amboise. They will feature in the next post though. After eating I went down to the Loire and did this in the last of the light. Quite hard to see either my painting or the palette but still it captures the feel of the evening. I was so smothered in anti mosquito spray that I was a chemical hazard to myself and the surrounding wildlife!


Amboise, France, watercolour

Next morning I settled down to paint this small 7in by 5in watercolour. I tried to keep the whole thing light and airy and not over define. Quite a difficult perspective as none of the buildings were parallel to either the arch of each other. People are so important in this sort of painting, the scene would be very dull without them. I did not however want to tale them to a stage where you could engage with them as individuals. I still find this sort of fine judgement very hard to achieve.


Chenonceau, per cher, drawing, pen and ink

This is Chenonceau. There is a very famous and beautiful chateau there, but I decided quixotically not to paint it. There have been a thousand drawings of the chateau and I had seen it before so I walked into the town and drew this. The light was dull when I started then grew sunny, but I decided to stick with the soft light. Pen and ink is very good at describing buildings without needing strong shadow. The trick is to vary the textures and weight of the hatching to indicate the differing surfaces and planes. I will do a tutorial on pen hatching in a week or so as it is a technique many do not get the most out of.


Montrichard, Le Cher, Pen and ink, drawing

Our next stop was Montrichard, a small town on the river Cher. It had once been a very important place controlling a river crossing, but now a bit of a backwater. After wandering around I settled to do this using sepia ink I had mixed myself from two shades of Noodlers ink. A young child from the house behind me watched for a bit then got her siblings, they in turn brought the parents to see and finally the grand parents arrived to watch me to a finish! How odd it is that drawing and painting breaks through people’s reserve and makes them engage you.


Amboise, Chateaux, France, Watercolour, painting.

The next day was very hot indeed and I was faced with subjects that didn’t allow me any shade! This is part of the Chateaux of Amboise, there is another view of it later in this post that explains how unusual the building is. I struggled a bit to catch the feeling of it, bright sunny days are far from my favourite especially in the middle of the day. Still I got some better composed views in photos so this will help with the final studio picture. The washes were drying instantly which was very difficult.


Amboise, Chateaux, loire, france, pen and ink, drawing

I had drawn this view of Amboise 40 years ago, so was keen to have another go. I was sitting on the roof of a tower and the heat was quite something. I decided from the start to use two colours of ink, something I haven’t done before. Quite pleased with the result. By the time I had finished I was baked to a turn!


Amboise, Chateaux, France, Pen and ink, drawing

Last of the day I settled in the relative cool to draw this. I could not get far enough away really so the perspective is rather extreme. Mixing the inks again but less obviously.


Amboise, Chateaux, loire, france, watercolour

This was a real struggle. I was a little too early really. It made a better picture  an hour later. I had to risk life and limb to get by the waterside and was perched very uncomfortably on some rocks in the water. Looking at the photos I don’t think there is a larger painting from this viewpoint, so this will remain a sketch.


Amboise, chateaux, church, watercolour, france

This is the little church I painted earlier. This time it is seen from street level. I could not resist doing this though due the narrowness of the street the perspective was extreme. I had to position my stool near a wall and lean back. The light was racing so I had my work cut out getting it all in.


St Ceneri Le Gerei

This is a small chapel at St Ceneri le Gerei. We were there at lunch time so the light was directly overhead. I would have loved to do the trees all wet into wet but the heat was so extreme the paint dried instantly. I settled for putting in the tones and then washing quickly with water so the redisolved. Not ideal but needs must.


Dives sur Mer, france, pen and wash

Our next stop was Dives sur Mer, from where Bill the Conquerer set off to give us a good kicking. Badly bombed in the war but still some lovely things to draw. I drew this in the brown ink then washed over it and gave it body with the acrylic markers. I love this quick and direct way of sketching.


Dives sur Mer, France, Normandy, market hall, pen and wash

This was a scary subject. It is the market hall in Dives sur Mer. I drew it out in pencil and then inked the structure. To finish I washed over the whole thing so soften the inking then picked out the counter shapes in watercolour. There were more light sources than this but I decided to reduce it to just the one. I tried to keep the whole thing light and easy. With subjects as complex as this it is easy to get carried away with the detail and loose the character. I deliberately curved the perspective to draw the eye in but was artful not to push it to the point of “fisheye”.


That is it for this issue! I have as much again to come so it will need two posts.

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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