Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

June 11, 2013

A Different Light

Filed under: France,Painting,Uncategorized,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 2:11 pm

Well, I have returned after 10 days painting in Brittany. It is always a mixture of pleasure and disappointment when you view the results of such adventures. Before I set off I always research my destination on Google to see what might be there. This might be a mistake as it gives you ideas of paintings that might not be there in reality. Although you need a good subject or motif, good lighting and mood is probable more telling. I have found that an unprepossessing road in London with a great moment of light makes a better picture than all the towers and battlements of Windsor Castle on a dull day! The trip this time was organised by Michael Richardson and his partner Kate Borg, who do a great job of shepherding 20 or so painters around a foreign land. I always take far too much painting stuff, a simple calculation should tell me that 30 oil boards is too many, but better than too few I suppose.

Once you arrive  of course reality takes hold. It is impossible to go from one painting to another, there is always the wandering about looking for something that might make a picture. So 3 paintings a day is about all I can manage. Most of those are small sketches and oddly the small quick impressions are nearly always my personal favourites.The Île de Ré was this year’s destination. After last years weather I took a suitcase full of inappropriate rain gear… which I didn’t use. Trevor Chamberlain was with us and it is rumoured he can control the weather so it was sunny throughout.

I always find it a little tricky to adapt to a new place. The light seems different somehow and the local colours always are distinctive. This means a new palette has to be found by trial and error. Some colours go out and others are added. This time Burnt Sienna got the chop and was replaced by Terra Rosa. Cobalt blue went into storage and Ultramarine and Turquoise were added. Cadmium red was too potent so it got replaced with Magenta. Despite this change around I really struggled with the oils, and despite my packing 20 or so boards only 5 or 6 rather poor oils got completed. My oil painting is really at an early stage and although I can usually get what I want in the studio the rigours of plein air cause rather a lot of misses. This was compounded this time by the fact that I just could not find the right hues for the buildings. The trouble is that after the first few go wrong you loose confidence and that makes the next effort all the harder.

In contrast the watercolours were flying off the brush! There is something in that bright light and warm hued buildings that is easy to catch in transparent media. You always have the light of the paper shining through suffusing the painting with light. I did one subject twice once in oils and once in watercolour, the comparison was a little painful with the watercolour far superior. This means I will have to mostly to put the watercolours to one side for a while and concentrate on the oils. This may seem illogical but getting better in any area means a certain amount of pain and in order to do good paintings in a different media  the requisite number of bad ones need to be painted!

I’ll do the paintings in order as best as I can remember, but some were done on two visits. There are a few complete car crashes which I will keep private!!


HMS Warrior, portsmouth, ship, watercolour, plein air

I travelled down to Portsmouth to meet the coach and was a little early. No trouble passing the time though as HMS Warrior is moored at The Hard and

the light was spectacular. This is a very quick 7in by 5in but I shall be attempting a bigger one similar to this.


St malo, France, Brittany, street, watercolour, plein air

The ferry docked at St Malo and I was eager to paint there as my last visit was pretty much a washout due to rain. This was a bit of a monster of a scene

but I wanted to feel I was properly started. This is one of several streets stuffed with posh shops. Rather a lot to squeeze into 7in by 5in but great fun.


St Malo, Brittany, France, watercolour, chapel, plein air

This is a little chapel we came across. The sun was only there for a moment so I had to try and keep it in my mind as I painted. I sketched the line of the

shadow on the building to the left of the chapel in the first few moments of drawing. Once you have that clue it is possible to work out what the rest of the

lighting would be. I couldn’t resist the car, people laugh at me for putting them in but they are a feature of our world and bring the picture up to date. You also

have to consider that in 40 years time that oh so modern car will look quaint! Easier to draw too than the horses and carriages that earlier painters were stuck

with. 7in by 5in again.


St Martin De Re, brittany, france 2cv, watercolour, plein air

The next morning I bounced out of bed at dawn to do this quick sketch, then settled down and painted a truly execrable oil which I wiped off before going

to have my breakfast in a somewhat chastened state. To add insult to injury the next watercolour was a stinker too! 7in by 5in.


St Martin de Re, brittany, France, watercolour, plein air

The next morning it was a relief to paint this which was fun to do. I spent the rest of the day wandering about to get the feel of the place. I did start a pen

drawing of a nearby street but a shop keeper placed a huge post card stand right at my feet so I had to abandon it! 9in by 7in in an old Whatman pad.


St Martin de Re, brittany, France, watercolour, plein air

Next morning I settled to painting this larger picture. The close streets are quite hard to find subjects in I find and I didn’t want to do a straight architectural

study. Not a complete success but quite interesting. 14in by 10in.


St Martin de Re, Brittany, france, plein air, watercolour.

The next victim was a more conventional view of the same scene. Done on the last of an old Whatman pad that must be 50 years old. 10in by 7in.


Citadel, St Martin de Re, Brittany, France, watercolour, plein air

Before heading to the restaurant Graham Davies and I walked out to the old citadel now a prison that has this magnificent gate. It is easy to get caught up in the

architectural detail in a subject like this. If you are doing a study of the carving themselves this is fine, but in an impression you are trying for the effect of a

briefer look even a glance. In this case the detail must be indicated rather than defined which is in some ways harder but no more or less worthwhile in my

opinion. 7in by 5in.


St Martin de Re, Brittany, France, oil painting, plein air

The first of the oils I can bear to post. It is a collection of parts that just doesn’t make a picture. There are passages I like but if it doesn’t coalesce into a

whole then they are worthless. Some of the problems are compositional a good figure or two would help focus the picture. I knew it wasn’t working and

started to pack up only to realise my camera had been stolen. Either filched from my bag or I might have carelessly left it on view after snapping possible figures.

Fortunately I had transferred most of my pictures to my ipad but I still lost a day. When things like this happen there is no point in letting them ruin the trip,

that would mean they had stolen more than just a few circuit boards and a bit of glass! 10in by 8in oils.


La Flotte, Il de re, France, Brittany, watercolour, plein air

Nowhere sold cameras in St Martin so I had to go to outside La Flotte the next town along the coast where there was an industrial park that had a camera

shop. The walk along the coast was lovely but I was focussed on getting a new snapper. After a great deal of looking, asking and a fair few kilometeres

I succeeded and on my way back through la Flotte I very quickly painted this. It’s only a note really but such 10 minute scribbles are amazingly useful

if you come to do a studio version from a photo. When I got back and we had all eaten we did a nocturne of the harbour… the result seen next day was

interesting but probably not art! 5in by 7in.


St Martin de Re, Brittany, France, Watercolour

This was done over a few days. The drawing was done on my way back from La Flotte. I then next day did most of the washes and finally

finished it off from memory in my room. It needs its tree shadows simplifying now I see  it on screen, but that is easy to do. 10in by 9in.


St Martin de Re, harbour, france, boat, ship, oil painting

Another go at an oil. This was done over two days as well. I wrestled with the building tones, wiping out and repainting I forget how many times. The

composition is irredeemably lopsided a ship on the left might help I suppose. Once home I toned down the blues a little as they were a bit “tubey”.

Again some nice enough bits but no cigar. I never really finished the boats but probably won’t bother now. 14in by 10in.


St Martin de Re, Brittany, France, oil painting, plein air

I decided to give myself a bit more of a chance and do an oil of a subject I had already done in watercolour. It mostly went well, certainly

an improvement on previous oils. I am still struggling with the building tones especially the lit ones. This will be OK I think with a bit of cropping

an inch off the bottom and the right will improve the picture I feel. 10in by 12in oils.


Nocturne, St Martin de Re, Brittany, France, oil painting, Harbour

It was nocturnes again that evening. I had taken the precaution of removing the more dangerous colours before starting. The light is only there for 10

minutes and thereafter it gets increasingly difficult to see either the subject, your palette or indeed the painting! A bit over the top on the Turquoise but

great fun as there were ten or so of us lined up on the harbour wall much to the amusement of passers by. 10in by 8in.


St martin de Re, Brittany, France, watercolour, plein air

Very near to the first oil. Oh so much easier for me in watercolour. To a large degree confidence I realise but watercolour just catches the feeling of Light.

10in by 8in.


St Martin de Re, brittany, watercolour, plein air

This is another of the great fortified gates into St Martin, the citadel is to the right. 7in by 5in. The last one from St Martin.


Dinard, Brittany, France, watercolour

We had a few night in Dinard near St Malo to finish off our stay. The weather had broken and I did this quick painting of the wet streets in the evening.

A coach whipped along the narrow road and nearly removed my brolly and left arm so I finished this off back at the hotel! 7in by 5in.


Dinard, waterclour, France, beach

Up soon after dawn again.The beach at Dinard, so posh that the beach huts have stone columns. So beautiful at that time of day. 10in by 8in.


Beach, Dinard, France, oil painting, plein air.

After stuffing myself with coffee and croissants I went down of the beach. The tide had dropped and the reflections in the sand were lovely. The wind however

had gone in the opposite direction to the tide and was blowing at 40 knots! I had to hang on to everything and my paint rag is still there somewhere! I did much

better on this one. I had ideas about what I would do in the studio after but in the event I just left it as it was. 10in by 14in oils.


Dinard, france watercolour, plein air

Later I walked over to the other side of the town with Mike Richardson. He painted the bay but I was taken by this odd scene. 7in by 5in.


Dinard, brittany, France, watercolour, plein air

Dinard is strewn with mad gothic mansions all around the bay. I could not resist painting a few of them. I nearly got cut off by the tide doing this one.


Dinard, france, watercolour, plein air

Last one another mansion against the fading light. A fantastic trip which I enjoyed hugely despite ups and downs. Such a pleasure to paint

in company and spurs you on to greater efforts. I must set to and get some studio work done before the memories fade.


  1. I think you are a bit harsh on yourself with some of the oils! I’m interested in the colours you used for the watercolours- you mentioned ditching burnt sienna and Cobalt blue, but I wasn’t sure if this just applied to the oils. Certainly some of the watercolours looked to have Burnt Sienna in them. I ask because I came across a comment the other day that suggested getting rid of this because of problems of muddiness. As I use it in every painting pretty much, a second opinion is always welcome.

    Comment by Karl — June 11, 2013 @ 4:08 pm

  2. Hi Karl, It was oils I was referring to, though I did find myself dipping into a quinacridone red to add to skies more often than I would here. I don’t use burnt sienna in watercolour at present, I use quinacridone burnt orange which I find more transparent and a better mixer. The quinacridones are great colours but very strong so care is needed!

    Comment by admin — June 11, 2013 @ 6:18 pm

  3. I think these are a wonderful record of the trip with probably a wider range of subjects than anyone else. Some are quite dramatic and funky! You commented ” I am still struggling with the building tones especially the lit ones.” My observation from this set is that you are keying your skies a bit darker in your oils than in your watercolours. This means you have to compress the tones in the rest of the painting more than if you keyed the skies lighter. Could this be why your watercolours have a more light and airy feel to them?
    If you have “fallen out” with burnt sienna you could try transparent red oxide?

    Comment by Michael Richardson — June 11, 2013 @ 8:34 pm

  4. Thanks Mike, yes it is hard to judge the positioning of the sky tone because so often in that light the lit walls of buildings are lighter… I adjust this automatically in watercolour which sit higher in key in any case, but not in oils. I have and used the transparent red in watercolour but not in oils I shall have to give it a go. I found the terra rosa a bit too “muscular” in mixes.

    Comment by admin — June 11, 2013 @ 11:13 pm

  5. Terrific work Rob. I naturally lean towards the watercolours. I wish I had the skill to go straight in with the brush like you.

    Comment by Doug — June 15, 2013 @ 7:22 pm

  6. What a fantastic record. How prolific you are! I really enjoyed looking at your paintings – they are so evocative of that part of France. I think you should get them (along with your commentary) published in a book. Thank you for sharing them – a real inspiration, Simon

    Comment by Simon — June 30, 2013 @ 12:03 pm

  7. Thanks Simon, great to see the word “evocative” as it pretty much sums up what I am attempting to do!

    Comment by admin — July 1, 2013 @ 8:39 am

  8. Rob, your new blog has said ‘database error’
    I tried to tell you that your latest work is great. Thanks for the most interesting post.
    Green…. at one point I stuck to sap green and added Prussian blue or more neat sap green. a bit of a rut for me but emerging now more into watercolours.
    Best regards Doug

    Comment by Doug Myers — July 1, 2013 @ 10:25 pm

  9. Thanks Doug, seems fine I expect the server had a hiccup. I’ll refresh the database anyhow!

    Comment by admin — July 2, 2013 @ 9:01 am

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