Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

July 22, 2014

Competitions, Clubs and Criticism

A lot of my painting days out are done as part of a group. With the Wapping Group painting every Wednesday and the Brass Monkeys every other Sunday I keep quite busy. I do feel perhaps I am not doing enough going out and painting by myself. The dynamic is quite different with a group of fellow painters, very pleasant of course with chatting and coffees to punctuate the painting. I think most of this posts offerings are in the group category. Rather a large gap in posting this time too as my laptop died and needed bits replacing.

I also attended the Pintar Rapido competition in Chelsea which was great fun. I was a little more organised this time and went there a few days before to decide on a subject. The previous year I wandered about looking for one and had to settle on a subject I wasn’t wholly in tune with.

The results when seen in the exhibition were as last year a mixture of all styles and levels of attainment. Interesting to see what I guess are art school students trying to paint the real world. They have almost no skills as such and have this naive idea that if they just go for it then a miracle will occur. Alas miracles are thin on the ground, but their self belief in unshakable. I talked to a few and they all seemed to feel skill was a minor consideration in painting. On the other hand they all seemed to admire it in others. I didn’t say I felt it was vital, as I wanted to gauge their feelings on the matter rather than impose my own views.

In the exhibition it was plain that some of the buyers didn’t think craft mattered either, but on the whole the well crafted sold better than the randomly intuitive, which is cheering. Another thing that struck me when whispering critical comments to a companion is how thin on the ground criticism is. We were whispering in case the artist was hovering nearby and our opinions overheard. In essence so that the person who might be the most likely benefit couldn’t possibly hear! Passing comment to the artist doesn’t really happen in the clubs either. I do sometimes offer an opinion if I see something really wrong that is easily corrected but try and restrain myself for the most part as offence is a very likely result.

It’s not that the criticism isn’t made, we judge and evaluate automatically. We also share our views with each other… but almost never with the artist themselves… which is odd really as they would surely be the ones most likely to get the most out of it. The result is that you tend to only hear anodyne  positives or inscrutable silences. I am in the habit of forcing the issue and asking for comments. This makes some uncomfortable and others will just tell you all is well whatever the real state of affairs!

Politeness is of course the reason for this lack of plain speaking. There is the uncomfortable fact that none of us welcome hearing that one of our efforts falls short and even less that it has fallen short in some way we hadn’t spotted. The truth is though we would all benefit from the clear sight of an uninvolved eye however bad the news, especially if that eye is educated.

What is needed I suppose is a forum where praise is banned and only observed room for improvement is mentioned. You would need rules of course. A comment like, “That is rubbish!” is of no use to any one. But a comment like “The perspective is out on that building.” or  “I’m not sure about that red patch as it takes the eye too much.” is useful as it gives a clue about putting something right. I have seen some attempts at this, the most successful being in the Life Drawing forum on WetCanvas. There people commented on anatomy and other aspects without too much bad feeling being expressed. However I think a forum where only critical comments were expressly required might work better. There are some I suppose for whom any negative comment is undermining and damaging for confidence, but IMO excellence in art (or indeed anything else) is a hard road and if you are that delicate then perhaps serious pursuit of it isn’t for you. On that harsh note some pictures… feel free to make painful but valid comments!


Erith, yacht club, drawing, Thames, Wapping Group

A day out with the Wappers at Erith Yacht Club. Very hot day and I was late getting there. I had just received a set of new sketch books with reproduction “Turner blue” paper. I hatched the sky but should have blocked it in with the white acrylic pen as the line work is too fussy. I might start to use white chalk as Turner himself did.


Erith, Thames, watercolour

I liked the way the light had developed so I did the same scene again. I am rather liking doing watercolour on the hot pressed paper. I tried using it years ago with little success but rather like its qualities now. I softened the clouds a little after this was scanned. I was pleased at how easy that was.


Amboise, france, watercolour, chateaux

Another historical paper effort. This is on “Girtin” type paper. Again an interesting effect. Wet into wet is almost imposssible as the paper cockles brutally.


Amboise, Romanesque, france, watercolour

This is the door of the church of St Denis in Amboise. The Romanesque part dates from 1107AD. Denis lost his head due to an axe. After his head was chopped off Denis is said to have picked it up and walked six miles from the summit of the hill preaching a sermon… 12in by 9in Watercolour. Done on Arches 140 paper from a large roll, I’m very glad I stocked up before the quality dropped!


Ransomes Dock, thames, London, Barge

Another Wapping day. This is Ransomes Dock near Albert Bridge. 10in by 10in. I thought of taking this further but decided not as it might ruin the feel which I rather liked.


Albert Bridge, Oil painting, plein air, thames, London

I had a short while on the foreshore to paint this as the tide raced in. Albert bridge is very pretty but I don’t like bridge pictures a great deal and wonder now why I bothered to paint this… dull but worthy alas! 10in by 16in.


portobello, london, pen and wash

This is Portobello, a great day with the Brass Monkeys. The road was full of life despite is being a non market day. I am enjoying the pen and wash it is great fun to splash over the pen work.


portobello, london, watercolour

Another very quick sketch, leaving out the pen this time. Portobello again.


portobello, london, pen, drawing

Last one from Portobello… it’s that Turner blue again.


Sloane Sq, chelsea, London, Pintar Rapido

Here’s my effort from Pintar Rapido. Not the greatest photo of the painting as I forgot to snap it in the open air and had to take the picture in low light at the exhibition. 12in by 16in Sloane Square, Oils. I had set my heart on a rainy painting and the forecast looked to be on my side. When I arrived the streets were wet from earlier rain but that was the last rain we saw! The reflections therefore are imaginary. I enjoyed painting it hugely and was delighted that it sold. If the buyer reads this they are welcome to bring it to my studio in about 3 months as it will need varnishing!


Rob Adams, Pintar Rapido

Here I am painting away in a somewhat colour coordinated manner.


  1. Ho Rob.
    Rob, apart from your wonderful paintings ( no criticize, only a slap on the back )I agree with you regarding criticizme. Something that would help the Artist, rather than upset him. You can criticize mine any day, it would probably help me. I don`t mean something like, Rubbish, as you mentioned. Good old plain criticizme. By the way, nice paintings. All the best.

    Comment by victor Errington — July 22, 2014 @ 2:12 pm

  2. Love seeing the variety and versatility of your work. You are a master with that pen. Reminds me of some of van goghs work. Especially like that first portobello ink and wash piece. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Carol — July 22, 2014 @ 2:57 pm

  3. Rob. I agree with what ya saying, to many people say thats good then walk away thinking rubish or something along that line and the artist thinks well that must be better than i thoiught it was. So he or she liked it and on they go making the same mistake over and over again. when a kind word like that colour looks wrong it does not blend in with the rest of the picture would be of some help, even if the artist did no agree it would make him or her think about it.
    As Vic say’s you can criticize mine any time I welcome it. I take what I think I need and throw away what I don’t think I need at the time, but I can always come back to it. My family use to say to me that looks good when I new it was wrong and not what I was looking for.
    It’s a long leaning curve and any help is welcome and can save the artist years of hard work. I know I have been that person.
    But when I see some of the Brass Monkeys paint I learn so much. Just by watching them paint and talking about what they are doing and why they are doing that in that way helps so much.

    Thank’s brass Monkeys ( all of you )

    John Dee
    John Dee

    Comment by John Dee — July 22, 2014 @ 4:37 pm

  4. Rob. This is a very good post giving plenty of food for thought. I whole heartedly agree that we all can tend to be over-polite or cautious when making comments to the artist on their work, I guess that we all have it engrained in our make-up to be sensitive to others feelings making it sometimes difficult to be completely honest without the fear that we may offend or slight in some way. This may be due to our life encounters with people in all fields of life/interests that cannot take criticism in any shape or form no matter how well intended, lets face it we have all met them.
    I for one have no illusions that I have a way to go with my painting and like to feel that I am always open to constructive hints and guidance on how it might be improved but would feel miffed by hostile attacks with no constructive reasoning behind them. Some while ago Michael Richardson messaged me and asked if it would be ok to make a few suggestions about one of my paintings that I had posted. Far from being offended, I was very flattered that he had taken the time to look at my work, see what was wrong and feel that I was approachable to give me some advice. Above all I was grateful that he had taken the time to offer help. The forthcoming tips were helpful and much appreciated and I did not feel in the least put out by his honesty. I have also taken a few hints from you and others and noted your advice to others when out with the Brass Monkeys. I have always felt that I have come away with something worth knowing on those occasions.
    As you rightly said the manner in which the criticism/guidance is given is perhaps the important factor. Some of us do indeed put the hours in but still could do with the occasional nugget of friendly advice or a nudge in the right direction to take that extra leap to improvement. IMO we are only denying ourselves if we are not able take what often can be good advice with the possibility to learn by it. We all can tend to narrow our vision find it difficult to see what we are not getting right in our own work but we can often see what is ‘wrong’ and how one might improve someone else’s effort. I’m with you all the way on this one Rob if such a forum does come into existence you could count me in.

    Comment by Terry Preen — July 22, 2014 @ 5:28 pm

  5. We rarely offer that feedback because the criticiser has little to gain and risks a relationship. The only time I would comment is when comments are invited, and even then with enormous care! Since you just did that, I searched your latest offerings for something construcive to say, but alas my only criticism is that you are too good to follow. I am loving the drawings with white pen, and have borrowed the idea. Not getting the same results, but having fun trying!

    Comment by Geoff — July 22, 2014 @ 8:25 pm

  6. The Arch of St Denis is splendid – and huge even for a High Romanesque Church and this watercolour captures the actual grit and heat of the stone. It really makes one feel present in the action.

    The nice Turner Blue paper may not suit pen and ink without any wash – it just looks rather cold and bleak compared to the watercolour underneath. I decided not to try coloured paper for long LD’s as I seem to get good results on paper coated with acrylic tinted Acrylic Gesso with whiting stirred in giving a rough matt surface to Saunders or Bockingford. This suits watercolout pencil very well.

    Comment by ERNEST BARTON — July 23, 2014 @ 1:45 am

  7. The Portabello Pen and wash is really alive – I am not sure why but it looks so much more active than say the Barge picture . I feel sure the Barge colours are more accurate but the dancing brush in the street scene makes one feel excited. It is perhaps a matter of the way the eye takes in real scenes as a series of flash images and these pen wash sketches seem to do that too though the timescale involved is much greater. This is only a THOUGHT – I have not really considered this as a metaphor for a mechanism of seeing.

    Comment by ERNEST BARTON — July 23, 2014 @ 2:02 am

  8. Thanks all, I obviously hit a nerve with the criticism thing. It is a difficult area because people’s reaction to comments in my experience is immediate and often very emotional. This is good in that people deeply care about their work, but difficult in that they will not hear what might help them in their ambitions. Many painters, including myself I am sure, have stylistic quirks or errors that they repeat without realising it. In a teaching environment comments from a tutor are a given, so offence is not as likely. In a more casual, out with friends painting, context it is a lot more risky. In my experience the better the painter the riskier it is. Some feel I suspect that they have “cracked” it and need no further input, alas these are often the very people who are stuck in the mire and need a push to get them going again! I once gave advice to a well known painter that they had missed an important shadow out and the reaction was not pretty and of the, “who are you to tell me anything” variety. I would now be delighted to be told I had got something easily fixed wrong, but that would not have always been the case. I used to tear up my work if my mother criticised the tiniest thing. She was a very capable painter so I essentially cut myself off from a valuable source of learning.

    Comment by Rob Adams — July 23, 2014 @ 8:57 am

  9. I have noticed you have a tendency to have buildings leaning to the left. In the case of medieval buildings this might be a possibility but then one might expect to see an equal number leaning right. Some architect types would rule verticals first which would instantly fix the kind of drawing it was so I can see why you don’t. I think the one looking up at the tower is a very good example of how to tackle this problem – nothing vertical or horizontal because these would immediately jar.

    Comment by ERNEST BARTON — July 24, 2014 @ 12:47 am

  10. Yes, it is helpful to know what you are doing wrong. However, it is sometimes just as hard to know what you are doing right. Knowing what went well often seems to steer a person as usefully as criticism. See, there, I am being critical. Gary

    Comment by Gary McCarty — July 27, 2014 @ 1:47 am

  11. So tell me what makes a picture look better if you leave it for a few days. All you have done is not touch it just left it alone. Not worked on it or even thought about but by some magic power it looks better not alway great but better than when you left it. .??

    Comment by John Dee — July 27, 2014 @ 5:53 pm

  12. THE BRAIN RESETS ITSELF – resets horizontal and vertical,resets colour relationships and tonal values – or at least it does if you give it enough practice. I have also noticed with young art students that they do not reset anything, do not compare their work to the original body , do not select from it . Whatever comes out is THE WORK not part of a continuing process.
    I have to say in most cases this attitude is adopted by those who run life drawing classes as well they are either not interested in what is produced period or set the bar so low everyone can skip it. This is understandable from a financial point of view – without an endeless supply of drop ins the serious bottom feeders would have to pay more for the model…

    Comment by ERNEST BARTON — July 27, 2014 @ 6:36 pm

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