Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

July 22, 2015

France the Watercolours, Plotting a course

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rob Adams @ 9:16 am

I am about to write a post about something I don’t really do. Is it really possible to plot your creative future in advance? When I was at college the Systems painters had their painting futures almost mapped out to the grave, and they were only twenty. I thought at the time how dreary the process of producing their work was. 50 years of painting eye wrenching Bridgit Riley patterns would drive me mad… I could never plan series of works in the way that they do. I was tempted recently to try and do a multiple of a particular scene in different lights, but then thought whatever is the point in making one painting contingent on another? I know Monet did this but I don’t think it is for me. The arrangement and sequence become as, if not more important than the individual painting or the paint on the surface, which I don’t want.

Having goals is a different matter. I have always had targets I aim for, learning to paint pictures for framing and to become familiar with working in oils are recent ones. I have had many other goals from mastering 3d computer graphics to learning how to make celtic manuscripts. Each has broadened my view of art and opened unsuspected doors to interesting possibilities. If blessed, (or cursed) with immortality then I think I would have wandered on in much the same manner. Impending extinction does have a way of focussing the mind. It slowly becomes obvious, even with the most optimistic guess at the active span of time I have before me, that I was not going to get all the different things I fancied learning to do done. In a way that simplifies things, many projects I would like to pursue are not possible as they could never be completed. So that novel, the autobiography, the learning to wood carve and knit jumpers have to be ditched. I am left with only a few really, paint and draw landscapes until I have learnt as much as I can and move from drawing people clad or unclad to painting them. Music as well I have to carry on with that though I didn’t start early enough in life to be able to inhabit the medium as I see those fortunate souls who learnt from childhood do.

If I was to summarise, perhaps for my younger self dreaming of conquering the comic book world, it would be don’t hang on to your ambitions after they have passed their sell by date. I continued with book illustration far longer than I should have for example, long after it was quite plain that I was not enjoying it. Sometimes once you achieve an ambition it is only to find that it is not for you. Also don’t fear giving up a paying proposition that has lost its shine to follow a glittery new dream. I have taken a fair few leaps of faith in my life and regretted none of them, nor did any of the changes of course result in penury. The years you might lend to servicing what you imagine at the time to be grim necessity will never come back and you really will run out of life and days to do anything worthwhile. If you do anything really well people will be prepared to give you money to do it, not untold wealth but at least enough to scrape by.

I often see people with unrealistic artistic ambitions, in the same way as I have them myself in the area of music. Though I might dream of playing the flute to a soloists standard I know that this is unlikely to occur. But I find that this doesn’t in any way damage the pleasure in trying anyhow. There is no shame in doing something casually for pleasure and to reach for the stars with no expectation of success. There is after all pleasure to be gained and sights to be seen from climbing a hill as well as the more painful prospect of ascending Everest. With art as well there is the lottery effect, you might just get lucky and paint a world beater! I am myself also having to come to terms with the fact that at a certain stage I might stop making any improvement. This is a hard and uncomfortable thought as is the one that my abilities will inevitably decline.

On a more cheerful note here are my efforts with the splishy splashy stuff in France.

Shaftesbury, watercolour, painting, art

We start in Dorset, this is Shaftesbury, I decided that I needed to do a larger watercolour to ring the changes. It is always hard to balance the two requirements of being reasonably accurate and the other of not killing the whole thing by being too finicky. As with all things different subjects need different approaches, so with a townscape you might well manage to leap in and get all the washes free and expressive, but if the underlying drawing is poor then the painting will be too. I very often see artists inspired by Alvaro Castagnet and others hurling paint at the paper in what they hope is a free and emotive way only to get some basic thing such as perspective or scale of figures so incorrect that the final work is fatally compromised. Here I have painted everything pretty freely with a large mop. My drawing out was pretty accurate, but I did not slavishly stick to the lines only using them as a guide as to where paint strokes should lie. Some like to have dribbles and splashes on show but I dislike that as it is a meaningless gesture trying to tell the viewer how energetically the painter worked. As such for me a style quirk and to be avoided. 1/2 sheet Watercolour.


Hambledon Hill, Dorset, watercolour

Every year I have a go at those scary greens that look so lovely in real life but not so great in a painting. This is Hambledon Hill and a bit ho hum. Nothing fearfully wrong just a bit dull. I am going to have to up my game with the landscape watercolours. Days when the light is dramatic or the weather doing exciting things are easy enough, but it is the glorious sunny summer days that give me problems. 1/4 sheet Watercolour.


Le Croisic, France, watercolour, plein air, painting

France at last! This is Le Croisic, I was faced immediately with the dazzling light you get from being that little bit further south. Not the greatest of compositions as the locals have replaced what was once I suspect a paintable bridge with an ugly one. I was pleased to get the feel of the light though. 7in by 5in Watercolour.


le Croisic, watercolour, sketch, france

Here is one that went wrong. I was trying to get the contrasts right but should have picked a less widescreen view. I ended up throwing the kitchen sink at it in the end with pen and body colour. No matter though I learnt a lot doing it and whenever I look at this little sketch I will remember! 7in by 5in Watercolour.


Le Croisic, watercolour, plein air, painting

I set out to Le Croisic early on this day with intent. As is often the case I couldn’t find anything to get my teeth into. I settled in the end for doing a small sketch of this very ordinary street. I liked the contrasts and it was areal pleasure to paint. 5in by 7in Watercolour.


Le Croisic, watercolour, plein air, painting, france

Next I moved on to do a larger one of the church, lots I like about this and I might do a studio version. The foreground needs simplifying and the car is a little too dominant, just the lighter one behind would have been better. I don’t like to leave the cars out as many do because they are such an integral part of our times. The light was very milky which was great fun to try and catch. 10in by 8in Watercolour.


Guerande, moat, plein air, painting, watercolour, France

This is Guerande across the salt marshes from Le Croisic. The town retains it’s walls and is very paintable. I enjoyed sitting and doing this though the paint was drying furiously fast. Later I saw a group of figures lingering on the right of the tree which would have worked better compositionally, but I shan’t mess with this one. 10in by 7in Watercolour.


Guerande, france, watercolour, plein air

After sitting and drawing in the full sun I needed some shade. When I saw a vacant bench under a tree I occupied it pronto. I did this just to amuse myself and got nearly everything wrong. Just goes to show you can never scrimp on the initial drawing! 7in by 5in. Watercolour.


St Nazaire, France, Watercolour, plein air, painting

This is St Nazaire, blindingly hot so the washes dried instantly. I was in full sun and found even the paint in the palette would need constant rewetting. One for the cupboard rather than the frame I fear! 10in by 8in Watercolour.


Honfleur, France, watercolour, plein air, painting

This is Honfleur, I couldn’t resist the perspective over the rooftops, once again I was in blistering sun so painted it in patches rather than full washes. Pleased with the result and will attempt a studio one from it. 10in by 7in Watercolour.


Honfleur, France, Watercolour, plein air, painting

Last one from Honfleur, I couldn’t resist this scene as it was so typical. I liked the way it broke into a big diagonal with one of the resultant triangles full of stuff and the other almost empty. Also I was in the shade so I could get big wet washes in place which so helps with unity in the final result. I drew the motor bike to very, very carefully as it was so key to the whole picture. Best one of the trip. 10in by 8in Watercolour.

That’s it from France, I enjoyed the trip hugely. Next I am going to try and get the landscape watercolours going in Dorset, I need to find an idiom that catches the grandeur without becoming too picturesque.

July 17, 2015

France the Oils and Vivre La Revolution

Filed under: Dorset,France,Painting,Surrey,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 10:37 am

I was watching an excellent documentary about Bohemians by Victoria Coren recently. It was full many of the usual slightly sad cases with an overweening egotism undermined by the worm of insecurity. As I watched a very odd thought crossed my mind, these tear up the rules, live my life without reference to others types were all rather similar. They were all different and mold-breaking in much the same way, they all seemed to cleave to the same view: that individuality was all. Indeed none of them seemed capable of uttering any sentence that did not focus around the words “Me” or “I”. All these claims of special individuality were undermined I felt by the odd way they mostly seemed very conformist to their self advertised type. They all wanted to break rules but even more importantly to be seen by others to break them.

How awful I realised to be born of a generation where all available rules have already been torn up and discarded. We are not shocked by boys dressed as girls, or any conceivable sexual permutation. You might offend with overt sexism or racism, but no one is really going to be shocked or surprised. It must be like being a school child who having realised an ambition to be sent to stand on the naughty step finds that the rest of the school including the teachers are already there. I was especially touched by a set of art students studying painting. They spouted the usual guff about their art being oh so important, how they expressed their inner selves and broke all the rules, all the time not realising that they were actually being conformists. That is how we expect and require artists to be nowadays. One young lad spreading red paint over a canvas in a desultory manner plainly felt he was being daring by referring to genitalia and dressing like a watered down recently weaned version of Francis Bacon. He was however just regurgitating the guff he had been taught, he had plainly not thought about the ideas he was espousing, he had just accepted unquestioningly what he had been taught.

Art and the idea of being an artist ran like a thread through the program. Because if you are breaking rules and and making society face up to its own hypocrisy then that is what you are? Right? Well if the number one rule is not to respect rules then you are in a bit of a dilemma. No one cares a fig if you break bygone rules. If you declare all rules are made to be broken then once they are all torn up where do you look next? Why is it that artists in particular should be required to do all this rule breaking? Well as with fashion I suppose at least they are fairly harmless rules, easily discarded without much effort mental or otherwise. A brain surgeon who declared he or she would break all the rules would be distinctly worrying, a painter less so.

It is hard not to come to the conclusion that none of the so called taboos broken by the art revolution were much to write home about. The artist cries out, “I abhor figuration, I shall work in pure colour and form.” It must have been nice to live in an age where such a cry would be met with horror, but even when such poses were first struck it was not exactly a major apple cart that was being over set. So you are going to put some paint on a canvas a bit differently… hardly seismic in the larger scheme of things is it? Painting is actually quite a humble trade. It is difficult as are many things, but not as important as plumbing or dentistry. If you paint a picture in what ever style that gives others a small moment of pleasure then the job is well done. If you want to shock and scare a few horses then perhaps you have chosen the wrong activity.

The whole business is made more complex for the poor souls studying art in that art is no longer what they study. They strive instead to become shamanic figures who are expected to produce supposedly talismanic objects. Artists have been pressed into service as a make-do replacements for druids and priests. We no longer believe that a bit of mumbling and a sprinkle of H2O gives an object any healing properties and thus, more to the point, increased retail value, but we do seem to believe that a random object backed up by impenetrable art-mumbling adds cachet and investment potential. Both are to my mind superstitions founded on the imaginary “special” qualities of certain individuals in society. It is nice of course to say, “I am an Artist” and immediately get a status upgrade from shabby middle age bloke to interesting aesthete. It is very pleasant for collectors, curators and assorted oracular types to be able to gaze at a clumsy daub and pretend to discern imaginary philosophical depths and spiritual qualities. Which is of course why the whole circus will stay on the road.

For the artist today it is perhaps a relief that all the sacred cows are now slaughtered, and their entrails theatrically and well and truly trodden into the ground. I don’t have to look for any assumptions to challenge, or taboos to threaten. There is no need to seek out the new just for the sake of it, so fashion and style can be ignored. All I need to apply myself to is the simple task of doing a difficult and hard to learn thing well. Also striving to each and every time to do it just that little bit better. Artists who just paint pictures should realise a few hard facts. Nobody needs what you do. What you do is entertainment. You are not advancing human thought in any important way by choosing to carry out this activity. If no one likes what you do it is not the fault of the audience but of the performer. There is never again going to be an age where you can claim to be misunderstood, “The world is just not ready for me.” etc, those times are past and will not be returning for the foreseeable future.

Well now I have that off my chest a few paintings of elsewhere then France…

Richmond, plein air, painting, art


Firstly Richmond. I got this all blocked in and almost done on site but messed up the road overstating the relative brightness. It is so easy to see ground surfaces almost as bright if not brighter than the sky. In actual fact this is almost never so except when there is the direct reflection of the sun in a wet surface, or when black storm clouds crowd the horizon. In all other cases the sky will be brighter than any ground or wall surface. I check this as I have said before by making a small ring with finger and thumb and looking through it flick quickly between different areas. This will immediately tell you what is lighter or darker and roughly by how much. In the studio I scanned my too light road and repainted it 3 tones darker which improved the whole picture hugely. 10in by 12in oils.


Stour, river, dorset, plein air, landscape, painting

An unresolved one here. I find this sort of picture very hard. I have painted everything adequately, but it is at the end of the day boring. I considered adding a canoeist, but whenever you have such thoughts it is probably a sign that the painting should be consigned to the bin! The story of this picture was the reflection, but that was upstaged in reality by the field, a problem which will not be resolved by adding watercraft or hippos to drag the eye back to the river. 12in by 20in oils.


Le Croisic, nocturne, oil painting, France, plein air

France at last! This is the harbour in Le Croisic. On previous visits I have struggled with oils and the first I attempted this time did not bode well and was wiped off. This one I painted after eating and drinking so I was relaxed and bashed the whole thing in in 25min or so. I was very pleased that I had got the coloration mostly right, just a little strong in hue. 10in by 14in.


Le Croisic, salt pans, oil painting, France, plein air

Le Croisic again. I wanted to paint the salt pans which are one of the main features of the area. My problem was I could not get a backdrop I liked. On the way to the salt pans I saw a great view of Guerande and I had the idea I might combine the two… so foreground and background are about 1Km apart! Only a very slight sketch but I enjoyed painting it. 6in by 10in oils.


Le Croisic, France, boat yard, plein air oil painting

I walked back to the town along the shore as the tide was out. This brought me into the local boat yard. I was very taken by this “into the light” subject and also delighted that there was the shade of a huge mobile boat lift to paint from. All very quick to do I actually mixed all my tones before starting which is something I often forget to do but I always find makes life a lot easier. It probably took me as long to mix the tones as it did to paint the picture! It was only as I left the yard by the road that I saw the sign forbidding entry to the general public… 8in by 10in oils.


Le Croisic, France, oil painting, plein air

More Le Croisic. I rather over tidied this later, but was pleased that I got resolved an issue that had been plaguing me in this bright light that seemed to bounce around everywhere. I wiped my first painting of the town because all the shadowed buildings went muddy and dirty. In this one I found a solution by mixing Quinacridone Magenta with various earth colours. This allowed me to get the feel of shadowing, contrast and age of the surfaces without the end result being grubby. 10in by 12in Oils.


Honfleur, France, Plein air, oil painting, church

This is Honfleur. I was really starting to enjoy the oils now. This tremendously bright morning scene was such fun to paint. I was in an awkward spot with shopkeepers setting up around me so I splashed it in as quickly as possible. I won’t mess with it as I love the feel and immediacy of it. I decided against people as it seemed to suit the, early morning before many folk were about, feel. 10in by 10in Oils.


Honfleur, France, plein air, oil painting

Honfleur again. A complex scene for a small painting. I really wanted to catch the intensity of the light on the square. I had to be very quick, no longer than 45min as the sun was coming round on to the facades which changed the whole scene beyond recognition. 7in by 10in Oils.

That’s it just the Watercolours to come…

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