Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

February 9, 2019

Loose and free…

Filed under: Devon,Dorset,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 11:57 pm

Loose and free, so so many voice the desire to arrive at this painterly nirvana. This transcendental moment when we express our selves in paint as naturally as breathing. Intuitive, expressive, instinctive… these words are often dancing in close attendance when artists convene to share their hopes and ambitions. I hear this mantra again and again… and in weaker moments I have supinely agreed. It is after all received wisdom that nearly all would accept. Except I don’t. It speaks to the part of us that would like hard things to be easy or at least become easy. My experience is alas that it never becomes easy, or even easier.

The dreadful thing is that to an external observer watching you do your thing it does look easy. Many artists make a good living churning out videos with tinkly music as they make paintings fly effortlessly off the brush and never ever go wrong. They never stamp on their daub and go off in a huff. They almost all, with a few honourable exceptions, recite the mantra of keeping it loose. They also raise the fear of the demon that hovers at the shoulder of many painters… the demon of overworking, the wicked being that lures you into making one stroke too many. If you make that evil stroke the painting will be ruined there is no going back.

Always there is the nagging, don’t put in too much, less is more, let the brushstroke lie and don’t fiddle. For beginners I feel this is a little cruel and also I suspect not entirely honest. I would lay money that all these super free painters have dark secrets in the bottom drawers of their plan chests… those early drawings where every leaf is defined, every root lingered over. There is also the heretical suspicion that maybe they gained the ability to appear loose and free via an extended period of drawing kittens with every hair defined! Maybe there is even that secret pencil drawing of Elvis done from a photo using an 8H pencil with a scalpel point.

Why is control and cool calculated precision so evil? If it is then we must avoid enjoying Breughel or Van Eyck. Escher is a no no. None of the beautiful books of hours are worth a candle. Chardin, Vermeer and so many others must be consigned to the dustbin. Degas because he fiddled for France, so much so that you can’t date many of his works as he fiddled with them over decades. He liked to comment that the just flown off the brush appearance is a lie and likened it to a crime done in secret. Which is interesting as it is about this moment that the myth of instinctual expressiveness was being developed. There was nothing Degas enjoyed more than tweaking the noses of other painters if they got too above themselves.

Really the whole unify, simplify, keep it loose mantra only refers to impressionism which is only a very small style backwater. It is essentially the art of painting something that looks like you did it while squinting when you left your glasses at home. This allows the viewer to squint in turn and marvel at how clever they are to manage to see the donkeys and holidayers frolicking on the beach with only a few well chosen blobs of paint as clues. I am being deliberately provoking here obviously as it is the area of painting I am involved in myself. What I do want to get across though is that it is only one avenue out of many to explore. Not a gold standard that needs to be stuck to or indeed a formula for good painting.

I have just trawled the internet for good how to do its. Most are unbelievably bad, but one thing that stands out amongst the ones I felt were good is that they were all very systematic. They always went from A through to J (X  or Z would be over finishing obviously) there seems to be no getting it wrong knocking it all back and bringing it forward again. The watercolorists especially work from broad to key details and from light to dark. The oil painters patch areas together like a quilt over a mid tone block in. All in all not very free or exuberant even if the final result looks that way. This in turn makes me wonder about the anally retentive tinkly music… if you are free… really really free, surely you would be painting to the Pogues and pogoing while you splashed paint in the general direction of your canvas. I might float the idea with APV films.

There we go that is most of the painters offended, now for some of my own crimes.

Dartmoor, Devon, plein air, oil painting

I have a new development… I have always fancied having a painting wagon so I could overnight without getting cadmium red all over a hotel’s towels. So I could camp out near my scene and be up and at it before the sparrows had broken wind. So I finally bit the bullet and purchased a suitable vehicle with spartan but adequate internal arrangements to cook and sleep. This is my first outing… yes children it rained… oh God how it rained. In the middle of the night on the middle of Dartmoor I needed carry out a call of nature. The rain was horizontal so I decided that taking all my clothes off and just getting wet was the best option. Very bracing I have to say and now several sheep are in therapy. However as the rain was approaching I just about had time to paint this. 12in by 7in Oils.

Moretonhampstead, Devon, Dartmoor, plein air, oil painting

Next morning Dartmoor was entirely absent and the rain and wind were rocking my little home from home. Bodily needs were nagging me again too. I had passed through Moretonhampstead on the way and noted a public loo in the carpark… which pretty much decided my next painting venue. After eating a breakfast that knocked at least a year off my lifespan I parked my van inconveniently for all the locals and painted this from under the shelter of the back lifting door. 10in by 7in Oils.

Blytheswood, dartmoor, Devon, plein air, oil painting

I decided to head for the coast but got distracted in Blytheswood by a let up in the rain… I got 30 min on this before the heavens opened again. I must fiddle with the trees on the left but painting the water was great fun. 10in by 7in Oils.

Sidmouth, Devon, plein air, oil painting

I was just getting near to Sidmouth when I found a cosy carpark with a great view. I have to glaze the right hand side to soften it but it was great fun perched on a narrow bank trying to get this wide view in. Then to bed in the van feeling a little more cheerful but still a little damp. 24in by 8in Oils.

Sheep, Dartmoor, oil painting

Next day it bucketed down so I just drove home. The day after I painted this from a phone snap taken through the rain smeared windscreen. It sort of summed up the whole expedition… one of the sheep winked at me as it went by. A few days later I went shopping in Lidls, they had fold up buckets for a fiver… I bought one. 24in by 8in Oils.

Twyford, Shaftesbury, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

After the trauma of Devon I went out to Shaftesbury and on the way came across this scene which I had painted before in less than ideal light. We had to wait for the rain to stop but the wet road made a wonderful ribbon of light as it led away to Twyford. 24in by 8in Oils.

Off to Wales next… but staying in a nice warm bungalow…


February 4, 2019


Filed under: Dorset,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 12:05 pm

In 1827 through to 1885 the way we saw the world and ourselves changed. From Daguerre via Fox Talbot to Eastman selling film the photographic image had arrived. Slowly over the following decades it became the dominant way in which we see our ever-changing world held still for examination. We forget now that when such images arrived they were at odds with the way people expected the world to look. People were used to prints and paintings where the world was carefully composed and tidy. Photographs after the novelty was over did not at first really catch on as a medium to record everyday life. It was portraits where the sitters were arranged before painted backgrounds to mimic paintings that first became a commercial success. Once the cameras found their way into amateur hands that all changed.

At first due to the limits of long exposures groups of sitters still look contrived, but mostly gone is the attempt to ape the qualities of a painting. As the exposures shortened it was possible on a bright day to capture the hustle and bustle of a busy city, with the horses, carts, hawkers and jaywalkers making up the general hurly-burly. People were cropped off frame and caught in unbalanced poses. It was the Impressionists who first noticed it was a new way of seeing and many of those impressionist masterpieces you know and love were painted or refined from photographs. Monet, Degas and Renoir were all keen photographers.

After that the hand painted view of the world was in irreversible decline. In the following decades we see the majority of representation both private, commercial and public recorded by the mechanical eye. Hand drawn illustrations have become in the minority and such work has largely been pushed to the edges of representation where a thing is imaginary, does not exist yet, or does not exist any more.

Nowadays In am guessing the bulk of figurative artists probably work at least in part from photos, it being more convenient and cheaper than the alternative which might include hiring models etc. An important reason however is also that photographs are now how we see the world. None of us can help comparing any handmade representational image to the photographed image. Starting from an early age we all just see so many photographs that we cannot see any other way. It is hard to believe that when people first saw photographs of the familiar world they lived in they thought they looked wrong. We can never recapture how they saw or even recreate it by imagination.

Now we tend to accept all the distortions that photographs suffer from without even noticing. The tonal compression the distortions of form, colour and proportion. We accept the perspective warping in wide angles or when we point the camera up or down, without a thought. If we look at one of those pictures of a social group 20 people wide then we do not notice that the ones at the edges are twice as fat as the ones in the middle. Artists even emulate the photographic inaccuracies, lens flare etc, to give extra veracity to their pictures! You frequently see people watching video in the wrong screen scaling, either squashed or stretched, without being aware that something is amiss.

So where does this leave the observational painter of today? Well there seem to be several tactics. Firstly you might give your work a quirk that goes against the photographic grain. Do it in angular shapes in thick paint, incorporate dramatic drips and smears that cry out hand made. I often like paintings done in these ways, but there is always the uncomfortable feeling they are a bit like cheesy photographic effects applied to holiday snaps. Indeed Photoshop artists now regularly steal the quirks developed by painters in order to get that painterly feeling into a photo.

I have to end this little essay without a conclusion. We have perhaps still not finished developing our relationship to the mechanical image. Indeed with digital photo editing tools the photograph can become more “handmade” than many paintings on canvas. An observational painter such as myself has no alternative other than to play second fiddle to the captured image. I still wince when someone comments, “I thought it was a photo at first!” I know they mean well…

More catching up on the oils now.

Portland Bill, Dorset, oil painting

Sometimes paintings are a real struggle. After one session I ended up with this widescreen take on Portland Bill. Working from reference taken with a few variations I was having trouble getting the whole lot to come to life. I find paintings that have some good bits but don’t quite add up to a whole the hardest to resolve. This one was so much so that I put it face to the studio wall and promptly forgot it! Later when I came across the canvas I decided to have a do or die bash at finishing it.

Portland Bill, lighthouse, oil painting, Dorset

Unfortunately I am missing a stage, the above is the final version. However on the second bash I changed the sky to give it more focus. However the general colour was still in the grey/ tan range. It still didn’t quite do what I wanted so I let it dry for a week or two and then glazed transparent colour over the top. To do this you must make sure you choose a transparent colour and use a decent glaze medium. You mix down the medium 4 parts turps to one part medium and then add colour to taste. You don’t want to make the colour too strong and it is best to build up in layers. On this I had just two glaze colours a quinacridone red and ultramarine. Glazing is very much like doing a watercolour over a grey painting, with the added advantage that you can wipe off and redo as many times as you want. 24in by 8in Oils.

Old harry Rocks, Dorset, oil painting

I did an earlier plein air of this one of Old Harry and at the time wished I had brought a wider board with me. So I set about a wider version. I think as with the previous painting this is a first stage. I can see potential but it needs more “zing” and focus. Again glazes are ideal for this sort of adjusting as all the fresh underlying brushwork is retained so you do not run the risk of it all getting too overworked. I will post the end result and try and take some photos of the different stages. 24in by 8ins Oils.

Portland Bill, lighthouse, oil painting

This is a very quick but quite large sketch of Portland for a bigger painting. We had a series of days with wonderful skies so I wanted to do a large studio painting where the sky was the main event. This works OK but I didn’t really finish it as I felt that the land was still too important and could be reduced to a smaller scaled simplified strip at the bottom. I might adapt this one before setting out on a bigger canvas, we shall see. 16in by 16in Oils.

seascape, oil painting, waves

I had enjoyed working on the larger square format so I did a sea study on the other canvas I had ready. I wanted to use cleaner hues than I usually do so I exaggerated the colour a little. I had intended to glaze it later but having had it on the wall for a week or two I think I will leave it be. 16in by 16in Oils

Corfe Castle, plein air, oil painting, Dorset

After a string of studio paintings it was great to get out and do some plein air at Corfe Castle. We got up early to catch the first light, but alas still arrived an hour too late! I think for this view you need to be there before dawn and paint it as it happens. Still this was great fun, painting from real life is in some ways so much easier than photos! 12in by 12in Oils.

Corfe Castle, oil painting, plein air, Dorset

There same view a little bit later. I nearly always find the second painting of the day is better than the first, it takes one painting to get proper focus perhaps. 12in by 6in Oils.

Golden Cap, Dorset, Jurassic Coast, oil painting, Dorset, sea

This was done as a demo for a local art group. It is always a little nerve wracking doing a painting live while an audience watches. I told myself before starting it would be educational for them if I made a dogs dinner of it… it would certainly have increased their vocabulary! I was in the end quite pleased with the result. I have to suppress the detail in the sea to the right with a glaze or two to focus the main interest on Golden Cap and then it is done. 24in by 8in Oils.

I am still not caught up so more waffle quite soon I expect.

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