Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

March 8, 2013

Ways of Seeing.

Filed under: Drawing,Kent,London,Painting,Thames,Uncategorized — Rob Adams @ 12:40 pm

Surely there is only one way? Well, perhaps not. I have written a little about how we see in various posts, but not as much about what we choose to see. This is prompted by discussions on Wetcanvas where I posted an inspirational drawings thread recently. Inspirational Drawings The fact that the subject matter was constrained rather pointed up the variety of approaches. It and other threads also showed that people for the most part thought their own particular way was the more correct/valid one! As I tend to do myself of course!
It is quite hard to break down the various approaches, on the one hand there could be the Photographic/Realist/Impressionistic view and perhaps an Abstracted/Expressionistic view might at the other. Or it could be the difference between, what I “saw/perceived” and what I “thought/felt” about whatever subject.
Obviously works at the extremes are rare, most will have elements of both. Academic drawing for example has a large amount of observation, but also a considerable degree of analysis in attempting to understand and demonstrate the form to the viewer. The result is that not a great deal is left to the imagination and subtle changes of tone are pumped up to bring out underlying structure. Knowledge of anatomy and formal methods of describing form are brought to bear. It tends at the end of the day to deliver a rather idealised view. Proponents are often very focused on the technicalities of the act of drawing rather than the response it might elicit in the viewer.
The impressionistic approach is in essence just observing patches of tone or colour and getting them more or less in the right place and relationship. Any structure or form is a mostly bi-product of this simple process and does not need to be expressly defined or delineated. As I remarked before a photograph does this by merely registering the values and recording them. A pointillist for example might build up the image in dashes of colour with the figure and surroundings treated completely equally. The viewers automatic recognition of the human form supplies the focus of attention.
Both these approaches are I feel perhaps a little narrow and not very intellectually or emotionally sophisticated, but as they do indeed often produce beautiful things maybe sophistication is not always a requirement.
I am ruminating on this as I am immured in the studio doing some larger paintings. Which is going unaccountably well, I have finally come to terms with working on a set of oil paintings rather than a single one at a time. For practical reasons alone this is necessary due to drying times. It also brings some dividends in getting a good result. It actually helps a great deal with seeing what needs and does not need doing on a painting. Although becoming involved in the act of painting is great, it can lead to a painting going off track because you cannot distance your self from the developing painting. It is that distance that allows you to cry “Enough!” and stop before you kill it by over working. Only one in this post however as I am waiting for a day when the day is bright enough to photograph them.
The other thing I am doing a little more is revisiting older paintings. Previously it was a very rare event for me to revisit a painting that had been set aside as complete. Even though I can often see things that could easily improve it. To some degree I suppose I have the feeling that they represent a particular time and to add anything later would confuse the linear history of my work. However I don’t see why this should be true, so I have been over working some things from the last couple of years that didn’t quite make the grade. Strangely the process is quite fun. You are working over something where the work is mostly done, at the fun stage really. There is always the risk of ruining what has already been done but no fatalities as yet.
In truth most of the amendments are where my use of oil paint was a work in progress, so much of the time I am just over working areas that are poorly handled. A few paintings…

trafalgar square, london, sun, contre jour, oil painting
This is Trafalgar Square in a moment of magical lighting. I did a very quick lay in on site after a mission to buy paint. Getting it all in was hopeless so I deliberately just tried to get the basics in place. I took many photos of the passers by so that I would have plenty of reference. The main thing I wanted to nail was the blaze of light on the paving as that was what set the scene for me. I also had the idea to use foreground figures to describe the flow of light, the problem with this is that the figures will dominate so they would have to be carefully chosen.
Next day I adjusted the photos in photoshop to have as much of the tonality and colour of my block out as possible. Then readjusted to how I would “like” it to be. The result was nor quite what I wanted but looked very promising, so on the next fine afternoon I went back do try to pull the thing together on site. I was so lucky that the light was far better than my first visit, it had rained a little which lifted the pavement and there was a slight haze that pushed the far side of the square back. 40 mins rather rushed work completely lifted the feel of the picture. All I did after that session had dried enough was to tidy up and unify the handling. 17in by 10in oil on board.

Henley, plein air, oil painting
This is a finished off plein air of Henley. Prompted by my recent visit I dug this out which was just a set of silhouetted shapes. I spent a pleasant hour finishing it off. 12in by 10in oils.

Rotherhithe, thames, london, river, city, plein air
An outing with the Brass Monkeys in Rotherhithe. An absolutely gorgeous day and Tony Lawman and myself painted away while the going was good. The tide was low allowing access to the foreshore of the river. I probably should have used a bigger board but might well do a larger oil from this. 10in by 8in.

Rotherhithe, London, thames, oil painting, plein air
This is the view from the other way. I would have done another as the light was getting fantastic, but I had folks coming to dinner! 10in by 8in oils.

Rotherhithe, shard, London, thames, river, plein air
This one has appeared before but it is of Rotherhithe again. I saw this view as we were leaving the previous day, so when the next evening looked good I popped back as it is near to me. This was such an easy picture to paint the light at that time of day reduces everything to simple forms. I spent more time mixing the tones than I did smearing the stuff on the board! 12in by 6in.

Faversham, kent, creek, fishing boat, mud, plein air
Another Brass Monkey day. This is Faversham Creek a favourite haunt for daubers. The weather forecast had been flat and grey so this was an unexpected treat! The foregound needs something on it a lobster pot or some such as the eye tends to drop off the bottom of the picture. Something more substantial than a shadow anyhow. 12in by 10in oils.

Faversham Creek, plein air, kent, oil painting
Another up Faversham Creek, we painted this in a group which is always very pleasant. There was at least an hour of companionable silence as we painted away! 16in by 10in oils.

Faversham creek, kent, watercolour
The same scene but a water colour sketch from earlier in the day. I must give the watercolours a re-visit soon as I have been rather concentrating on the oils.

Faversham creek, oils, plein air, kent
Last of a very fine day. Mike Richardson was still hard at it as the light faded so I joined him for the very last of the day. Only about 30 min but that’s enough to give an impression. 10in by 8in oils

The Strand, London, plein air, oil painting, urban, street
Even though I was meant to be sticking to the studio, I couldn’t resist taking my paints with me when I went up to get materials. This is the Strand the light was gorgeous. This needs a bit more doing to it but I might make a bigger picture of it. I want to do a few more in the way I did the Trafalgar Square painting mixing plein air and studio. 10in by 8in oils.

Thames, London, plein air
Done straight after on the embankment from near Blackfriars. I only had this 7in by 15in due to forgetting to put in spare boards. Something not right about the ship, though when I look at the photos it looks odd in that too, still will need changing nonetheless. Due to the odd size I had to carry the wet panel on the train at rush hour. It got “Tonked” a few times by other passengers, fortunately none of them noticed their clothes being ruined…


  1. I very much like the luminous skies in the Rotherhithe and Henley oils. The Henley one with the buildings in near-silhouette is great, bold without quite going over the top.

    Comment by Colin — March 8, 2013 @ 8:54 pm

  2. I came across your work on the urban sketchers fb page. I have started working more on site rather than from photos and sketch sources. I have found your words and images to be very interesting and useful.

    Comment by Eamonn McCrory — March 8, 2013 @ 10:14 pm

  3. Yes, really the some of the best light if not weather for landscape is this time of year. Also due to the shorter days dawn and sunset are at more “sociable” hours!”
    I must work through my pile of unfinished stuff… we all say this but I don’t seem to be able to do it.

    Comment by admin — March 9, 2013 @ 9:34 am

  4. Thanks Eamonn, it is important I feel to work on site as just being there doing that intense looking gives an immediacy to the work that is hard to get any other way.

    Comment by admin — March 9, 2013 @ 9:36 am

  5. Interesting discussion & enjoyed the paintings…really like the last one…agree that the boat needs a little something, but like the scene very much.

    Comment by Maribeth — March 9, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

  6. Thanks Maribeth! I might do a bigger version of the last one, I will have to go back to sort out that ship.

    Comment by admin — March 9, 2013 @ 1:56 pm

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