Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

June 13, 2014


Someone recently commented in a slightly disparaging tone that my work was very “conventional”. Slightly miffed, but not showing it I hope, I asked them to elucidate. After a little probing I found that in this case conventional meant old fashioned and dated. Modern cars, I pointed out, hoping for a re trial. Alas no reprieve for automotive contemporaneity. What you are doing is better done by photographs, my nemesis concluded.

So, convention, what is it? All through my art education following one was considered a negative unless you were “playing with conventions” or even better subverting them. If you adhered to any of them it was plainly a bad thing. Conventions though are, to my understanding, rules you adhere to by choice. We have social conventions, we do not spit on the floor of a friend’s kitchen, though we might on the ground if walking in the country. We shake hands, kiss each other on the cheek etc, etc. Conventions are everywhere as a sort of framework to guide us along.

Art conventions seem as thick on the ground as they ever were. We put pictures and other art objects into galleries, once the object is placed in the approved gallery situation it can then be appreciated as art. This is quite a recent convention of course, hardly more then a few centuries old. It is especially necessary now when much art could not be discerned as such without the explanatory context of a gallery space.

So rather hesitantly I am proposing that conventions are often positive things. Also that working within them rather than subverting or ironically playing with them is a perfectly valid thing to do. They give you a framework within which to work. Where would the novelist be without the conventions applied to books? A novel with the pages arranged randomly rather than sequentially would not be much of a seller. It would, somewhat oddly, be I suspect quite acceptable as a conceptual artwork, it’s that playing with convention thingy!

Georg Baselitz shocked the art world by putting his rather cack-handed portraits upside down. Why this made them more interesting is a puzzle. True they were pretty grim the right way up, but I could discern no improvement by inverting them. As a challenge to convention it was pretty weak. If they had been abstracts no one would have noticed or cared. I could argue I suppose that through following certain conventions by choice I am breaking the current convention of ignoring convention… bleeding edge or what?

What my critical friend really meant of course was that I was unfashionable. A crime to which I plead guilty M’Lud. Fashion is I suppose partly convention, but it is more a guide to tell you how to be perceived in a good light by others. If your furniture is fashionable you are not necessarily purchasing it for its utility or craftsmanship, but for how it will be perceived by others and what status they will ascribe to you in consequence. People’s choices as to what they like or dislike in art are often driven by the same wish to shape how others will see them. If you say you like Francis Bacon, people will assess your sophistication differently to how they will if you say you like Constable. Whether you actually give a fig for either is moot of course.

So I work within the conventions of observational picture making. I mostly fill a flat right angled quadrilateral. I adhere within limits to one or other of the geometric conventions for depicting an immersive three dimensional world upon a flat surface. I mostly, but not always, use materials that have a long pedigree. I use these conventions not because they are just what I was given and I can conceive of no other way, but by choice. Not only that I choose them by informed choice. If some better way that suited my purpose came to my attention I would adopt it without a second thought. I did this I suppose with computers and the amazing possibilities they bring to constructing an image.

A complete hodgepodge of work this time. I am at some kind of crossroads but won’t know what kind until a way down the road. I am still avoiding oils but am taking them on my next trip to France so I hope for a rapprochement.

Upnor castle, medway, kent, pen drawing

I’m still on my pen drawing kick. I dusted off my Rotring Art Pen to do this. What a horrible pen! How could a pen company design such a crappy instrument. Ink flow is terrible requiring you to draw at a snail’s pace and the nib is an insult to a thousand or so years of nib making. The nib has no flexibility at all so produces an unvarying line, so zero points to the Art Pen I won’t even bother keeping it. Now I have that off my chest I can tell you that this is Upnor Castle on the Medway in Kent.


Upnor, Medway, Kent, boat, drawing, pen

This is Lower Upnor which is distinctly boaty. This is the front of the local pub. I reverted to Fibre tips for this, nasty but better than the appalling Rotring.


tower bridge, thames, pen and ink, drawing

In desperation I have bought some fountain pens to draw with, not least because of cost! Decent pigment fibre tips come in at 3 quid or so. They also have a very unvarying line. This is done with a Noodlers Nib Creeper which cost a very reasonable twelve pounds and have a decent amount of flex in the nib. I must say they are amazing value for a pen that draws really well. Their ink is good too. I did the pencil outlines for this a week or so back and as I was passing by after an ink buying mission I set too with my new pen. It is such a relief to get the variety of line that I am used to with dip pens. Also the Noodler is so fast to draw with, no matter how fast you move the pen it keeps up and delivers ink to the paper. I needed it on this too as I underestimated the work and had to scribble frantically to get the thing done.


Florence, Italy, Arno, motorbike, watercolour

A studio watercolour from my trip to Florence. This was early in the morning before the mad tourist rush. It is done on the Girtin style paper which is very interesting to paint on. Quite different to a modern paper. It is very hard sized, I think you could scrub the whole thing back to white if you chose! Not altogether comfortable with it yet but has a lot of potential. It does give me a clue as to why 18th and early19th century watercolours look as they d0. This is the end of the Ufizzi where the Vasari passage comes out. 10in by 15in


Florence, Italy, tuscany,

Another studio watercolour. This is the Piazza della Signoria, the Statue is The Fountain of Neptune by Bartolomeo Ammannati. The man is cleaning off chewing gum, the hour is 5.30AM! 12in by 10in.


Kings Cross, st pancras, London, Brass Monkeys, pen and ink, Whidborne St

Further exploring the possibilities of fountain pens I bought a 100 year old Waterman 52 which has a wonderful flexible nib. They needed them then so people could write in copperplate. Better than the Noodler it is effortless to draw with. This is Whidborne St near St Pancras on a day out with the Brass Monkeys.


Grand Union Canal, Kings Cross, pen drawing, London, barge

My new old pen really flew when used on bristol board, just so much easier and faster. It would have taken at least double the time to draw this with my Sokura pens. This is the Grand Union Canal just behind Kings Cross.


Queenborough, Kent, Sheppey, church, holy trinity, graveyard, pen drawing

More pen… sorry I am getting addicted! This is Holy Trinity church in Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey. A Wapping Group day.


Queenborough, Sheppey, watercolour, church, graveyard

The light was being a little here and there so I stayed where I was and very quickly splashed this in. On Saunders Waterford, better than the Arches pads at least the washes have some life in them.


Queenborough, Sheppey, estuary, boats, watercolour, Sheppey

I had met up with Mike Richardson and we went out on the long slipway at Queenborough to paint the light and the mud. The light was getting better minute by minute so as I felt this was a little too polite I did it again with more verve.


sheppey, queenborough, watercolour, plein air estuary

Here it is again with a bit more splash and dash!


  1. Keep on showing us your “unfashionable” and conventional paintings, Rob. I love them as I suspect most of your viewers do. Really like the pen & ink sketch of Grand Union Canal – nice perspective and I think it would make a good watercolour. I’ll have a go if you don’t mind – shall have to imagine the colours and tones.


    Comment by Michael Trask — June 13, 2014 @ 11:13 am

  2. Ive beenreally enjoying your pen drawings Rob and have been inspired to do a few more myself. I’m tempted to chuck out my current set of pens though after reading your post- any suggestions for a fast pen that isnt 100 years old?

    Comment by Karl — June 13, 2014 @ 5:11 pm

  3. Hi Karl there is a link to a pen supplier under the Tower Bridge drawing!

    Comment by Rob Adams — June 13, 2014 @ 5:42 pm

  4. For me your watercolors are going from strength to strength. Working in the studio seems to have given them a variation between loose and crisp that I like.

    As for your ‘friend’ – I hope they weren’t someone whose opinion you valued. This insistence on novelty is why I shy away from the a-word. I like painting so that’s what I do and that’s what I’m going to call it. The simplicity of watercolor and the fact it is deeply unfashionable and out of favor goes a long way to convince me it’s the right thing for me to do. If it consigns me to the backwaters of artistic expression then so be it.

    The pen and inks look fantastic but to be honest I’m here for the watercolors and always look forward to a new post from Mr Shark.

    Comment by Michele Clamp — June 15, 2014 @ 7:52 pm

  5. The composition of the Uffizzi watercolor is great – the contrast with the open space to the right really emphasizes the scale of the arches to the left, and the bridge railing coming forward into the foreground is icing on the cake. You were in the right place at the right time (I’m assuming that this was from a photo).

    Comment by Another Mike — June 16, 2014 @ 10:19 pm

  6. I’m not going to get embroiled in the convention arguement Rob, simply because it seems that the the ultimate in convention is to argue about it – it’s been going on for centuries- I’ve never understood our need to to categorise as much as we do, I suspect it’s market driven. I’ve so enjoyed your ink drawings here, particularly the Grand Union view, there’s a lot of light and space in this for me and this sort of scene is close to my heart. Absolutely love the Ufizzi watercolour, so full of atmosphere and found your comments on the paper interesting. On paper, you used Saunders Waterford in the Holy Trinity watercolour. I know you usually use Arches. I use S. W. most of the time now. As an amatuer, I’ve always felt Arches is a bit expensive for my efforts. I would be really grateful to know how you think they compare. As always Rob, your musings are also a pleasure to share.

    Comment by Kevin — June 18, 2014 @ 7:45 pm

  7. Conventional indeed! At least you can recognise the subjects.

    Keep it up Rob, someone has to maintain the standards.


    Comment by Doug — June 26, 2014 @ 7:44 pm

  8. Hi Mike, yes from a photo, or rather a set of photos done early in the morning.

    Comment by Rob Adams — June 27, 2014 @ 2:25 pm

  9. Hi Rob,
    Great to see your Amboise work online so soon. Well done.


    Comment by Paul O'Kane — July 1, 2014 @ 5:32 pm

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