Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

September 10, 2013

A Watercolour Month in London and Wales

Back to watercolours this month. The oils have made a step forward but I don’t want to loose my edge with the wishy washy stuff. I need to do some experimenting to broaden my range a bit if I don’t watch it I become too literal and don’t do enough exaggeration to lift the painting from the mundane. This is a hard thing to judge as overcooking it can be worse than understating!

Watercolour is hard to beat for a quick sketch, you can get so much down in so little time. Some of this posts paintings are only tiny but they still carry invaluable information that will help in the studio. As usual I have been going out painting plein air rather too much and not doing enough studio painting. It is especially important to keep up the studio work in watercolour as many of the techniques require deftness and quickness of touch. If not practiced regularly these skills rapidly become unlearnt. Oddly I don’t find this with oils as the process is not as dynamic. With watercolours things have to be done at the right moment and with confidence, if you are tentative the moment to get a particular effect is lost. Watercolours also require a greater degree of planning. I like to have the sequence of washes worked out in my head before starting. Also their timings as at what stage of dryness one wash goes over another can make a huge difference. For instance lay a wash over another before it is ready and the two will merge into mud. Wait until it is too bone dry and the top wash will layover the other without interaction. Get it just right and the top wash will dissolve the lower one just here and there adding interest and granularity.

I have been off to beautiful Pembrokeshire again, lucky with the weather once more. As it was a family visit I didn’t do much painting but did plenty of looking. I also saw an exhibition of Keith Noble’s lovely watercolours. There is not much of his work on the web which is a pity as he has a wonderful touch with complete mastery of the technical elements. I think some of his work will be at the RSMA as he is a member so I will be looking out for them. Seeing someone else do fantastic work always inspires me, I want to go straight home and try to catch something of it myself. On the subject of the RSMA I have managed to get a picture in myself again which is the second year running. Details here: RSMA 2013


Plein air Thames, London, watercolour

After a bad day when I seemed to get nothing done I went up to town to catch the last of the light. The light was going so fast I went at this like a madman.

No drawing and I kept the palette deliberately narrow to speed things along It is just ultramarine and transparent red ochre, a tiny bit of cad red for the life

rings as I recall. The best thing was it lifted my mood and made the day feel worthwhile. 1/4 sheet of truly horrible Two Rivers paper, like blotting paper and

very irregularly sized, there was another two inches to the right which I had to crop off as it had two completely unsized areas. It is of course the Thames.


Hampton Court, Thames, watercolour

A Wapping Group day at Hampton Court. Lovely weather but I was rather slow to start. I did this wee 7in by 5in to get me going. Then I did a truly execrable

oil which made me grind to a halt again. The only solution being to slope off and eat a full English and read the paper!


Molesey, Hampton Court, Bridge St, watercolour

This is Bridge St. No more oils as the threaded bit on top of my tripod fell out and into the reeds. This is Bridge St in Molesey, over the river from Hampton

Court itself. About 8in by 11in. Hard work as it is a very complex subject. The sun was beating down and I was quite baked by the time I was done!


Thames, Molesey, watercolour

Another 5in by 7in. Molesey lock in the distance. Quite an easy subject and it was pub time once I was finished. Very pleasant to finish the day with a beer and a chat!


Newport, Pembrokeshire, Wales, sea, watercolour

Here we are in Newport Pembrokeshire. I have painted this scene many times but it always seems different. About 8in by 10in. It was quite breezy and

I struggled to keep the paper still. The key here was the the tone relation of the distant bay to the foreground. I actually painted the headland in the same

colours and tones as the foreground. Then at the very end I laid a wash of pure ultramarine over the nearby field to darken and mute it.


Newport bay, watercolor, Dinas head

I did this while waiting for areas of the previous painting to dry. It is Dinas head. Only 3in by 5in but enough there to tell the story.


Manorbier Castle, watercolour

This is Manorbier Castle. The light was super it was a real pleasure to do this little 5in by 7in sketch.


Porthgain, pembrokeshire, Wales, Watercolour

This is Porthgain. Painted in an absolute gale I had to finish the boats after as the paper was flapping about too much. I often mute colours but this scene

was so full of delicious hues I didn’t hold back… a little bit technicolor but never mind! 9in by 11in. Another difficulty was that the wind was blowing the paint!


Porthgain, wales

Another from Porthgain. I found a sheltered spot to do this tiny 3in by 5in.


Whitesands, pembrokeshire, wales, watercolour

This is from a photo of an earlier visit but with the light of the recent one! It is Whitesands near St Davids. I liked the composition but the light wasn’t great.

However on this visit I took some pictures on a different beach where the light was super. Not too hard to graft the two together. 1/4 sheet Arches.


  1. Amazing that you can paint such complicated scenes without a drawing Rob.

    Love that one of Porthgain harbour.

    Comment by Doug — September 10, 2013 @ 9:36 pm

  2. You are spot on with what you say about watercolour Rob. The timing, the planning and deftness of touch. The confidence required. It’s strange that despite all this, many beginners in painting start their journey with watercolour when arguably, it’s the most difficult to master. It’s just practice I tell myself but, oh my, it can be a long and very rough road!!! Some fabulous pictures as usual here Rob. To think you did those moored boats without any drawing. Incredible!!

    Comment by Kevin — September 11, 2013 @ 5:11 am

  3. Thanks! Of course I do draw but in volumes in the paint itself. In the one with the boats first off I painted in the shape of the dark hull of the Rt hand boat taking care to get it in the right place and size. This was a key shape. Then I worked out from there, I did all this in a blue then laid the big establishing washes right over the top. The under painting softens which is great as you can then refine in stronger tones. So the drawing does happen but just not with pencil! The trick with complicated arrays of shapes is to choose one simple shape that you can feel confident of getting right and then add the next simples/biggest, as you go on it gets easier to place each shape as there is more on the page to judge from. The other advantage is that you find you don’t have to put all the complex detail in as it is easier to stop when there is just enough. When you draw out fully it is very easy to get into the mode where you “colour in” each shape and loose track of the whole!

    Comment by Rob Adams — September 11, 2013 @ 11:33 am

  4. Hi Rob,
    I really enjoy your blogs and paintings.
    Don’t stop!

    Comment by Doug Myers — September 12, 2013 @ 7:25 pm

  5. Thanks Doug, oddly enough the blog makes me paint more… I actually start to feel guilty that I haven’t done enough painting to make up a post!

    Comment by Rob Adams — September 12, 2013 @ 8:35 pm

  6. Rob, these are lovely. I particularly like Bridge St. and Porthgain. And your thoughts are so right on, often describing something I’m also struggling with. I will take to heart your comment above on drawing the big shapes with the brush.

    Comment by Bobbi Heath — September 13, 2013 @ 2:02 pm

  7. Thanks Bobbi, Best Rob

    Comment by Rob Adams — September 13, 2013 @ 7:20 pm

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