Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

January 21, 2019


Filed under: Dorset,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 6:45 pm

Much of painting is understanding things. Working out exactly what it is you are seeing and getting it down in an elegant a manner as possible. Or so I thought for many years. I understood that over resolving would make a picture dead and mostly I hope avoided it, but I never quite understood until fairly recently why that is the case.

I have touched on this before, but I wanted to do a post on it to organise my own thoughts on the issue. It turns I think around certainty. When you glance at a subject much about it is unclear. If you take a longer look then more things are resolved by understanding and interpreting the visual information. So you now have a composite image in your mind’s eye the visual input and the interpretive overlay of understanding and assumption. So the question is: which of these do you paint?

I have decided that for me it is just another choice. It is for me to decide how much of my understanding of the subject I transfer and to what degree. If I choose to do the first fleeting glimpse then the problem is to winnow out those elements. Easy to say but hard to do though! Painting inevitably involves looking for a period and that looking brings with it insights into what exactly is in front of you. It is very hard to regain that “first glance” moment. It takes  a stretch of the imagination to unlearn things and recreate a simulation of an initial impression.

Life drawing helps me in this regard I find. If you cannot quite make out the bottom edge of an arm because it is in shadow then defining it will probably take away from the effectiveness of your drawing. If the side of a cheek is a little hard to resolve because it curves away from you in differing degrees, then your drawing should perhaps reflect that uncertainty in some way. This in some part answers my longstanding puzzlement as to why those 5min quick poses so often produce the most satisfying result of a session. People seem to wish to believe that it is the rush and the letting go that frees you up, cutting that pesky consciousness out of the equation, but I suspect not.

So, to try and put all that together. We are not painting or drawing elements we are sure of, we are painting degrees of uncertainty. Once you start to think of it that way then all sorts of possibilities come to mind. Not just in making things less resolved here and there, but in controlling the degree of resolution that you feel suits the various parts of your composition. So what you are doing is not just unifying and simplifying, which is the usual route and often removes delicacy and subtlety from any resulting work. It is choosing which parts of your observations to put on the canvas and at the same time varying the definiteness of the information.

Plainly this cannot reliably be done by splashing and hoping. I quite often knowingly over paint a subject. This means that when you are done you can erase, blur or knock back anything that is a bit to prominent. I might even when painting plein air deliberately over detail as I know that I can simplify later. If a painting won’t come together it is far from a bad tactic to knock the whole lot back and bring it forward again as many times as is necessary.

I am blogging less frequently at present, in some ways because I have covered a great deal of ground over the years so subjects where I feel I have something useful to say are inevitably getting fewer. However I made a new year resolution to do a post per month and not to put every picture I paint up here as I had originally intended. I do however intend to carry on posting the ones that go wrong as often they are the ones that benefit from a post-mortem.

So oils it is…

Blandford, Dorset, bridge, plein air, painting

This is the bridge over the Stour at Blandford. I didn’t set out with many hopes as the day was flat grey, but this scene had some interesting contrasts. I always find bridges hard to work into a composition and this scene was no exception. What makes it work I feel is the punctuation  the reeds bring by cutting through the water to bridge line. 14in by 8in oils.

Sue Fawthrop, portrait, oils

This is my friend Sue Fawthrop who was exhibiting with me a selection of life paintings, so we decided to each do a painting of the other painting. A sort of brushes at dawn moment. I did one prior to this which still needs attention, but I had to stop as there was too much wet paint to continue. This one I did very quickly in 20 or so minutes and of course it came out better than the more worked version. However in such cases it is well to bear in mind that I probably could not have painted this without all the looking that went into the first effort! 12in sq Oils.

Golden cap, dorset, plein air, oil painting

This was a fearsomely windy day above Golden Cap on the Jurassic coast. I had to hold on to everything while I painted. Not sure I quite caught the scene as it looks quite peaceful, perhaps a flying brolly or bullock would have helped tell the story! 10in by 5in Oils.

Lyme Regis, sea, plein air, oil painting, dorset

Another wrestling match with the wind later on in the day. This is Lyme Regis, 45 min of almost continual bad language as I strove to prevent my easel and painting from heading off towards France! Great fun though a more placid day would never have delivered the same results. 10in by 8in Oils

Durdle Door, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

This is a franken-painting made up of two plein airs. It is also the first time I have painted the famous Durdle Door. Such iconic scenes always bring problems linked to the inevitable fact that everyone already knows what the place looks like. The first picture had a decent Durdle with a boring sky, the second had a poorly composed Durdle with a decent sky. So I wiped of the sub-standard cliffy bits and painted in the Durdle from the other. Finally I wiped off the first one to hide the evidence. I regret this now as it would have been interesting to compare the two before surgery. 12in by 12in Oils

Chesil, Dorset, Abbotsbury, plein air, painting

This is Chesil as seen from Abbotsbury castle. The light wasn’t ideal but a great view that I will return to. I am more and more coming to like the idea of repeatedly returning to scenes I know are interesting. It makes sense that if you get an inspiring subject on an inspiring moment you will be more likely to paint a winner. 12in by 7in Oils.

Well that is the oils partially caught up with… only 20 more to go!

October 28, 2018

Drawing accuracy, the basics

Filed under: Dorset,Drawing,How to do,Perspective,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 4:26 pm

When you have learnt something to a certain standard you often forget what gave you so much trouble when you first started learning. Parts of the process become too obvious to mention when trying to help another artist who is struggling with a tricky scene. Typically it takes me about 5 to 10 min to do my drawing out. The process is so ingrained that I find it quite hard to break down the steps I take.

I certainly take a different approach to drawing out a cityscape than I do for a landscape. So that is my first step. What needs drawing out and to what degree. A subject consisting of hills and trees requires less precision, but still requires an understanding of general characteristics. Such a subject is also more mutable so we can easily make alterations to improve our composition.

A townscape with people and cars requires more careful drawing because the bounds, between which people will feel things look wrong, are narrower. If our perspective is out then the viewer has the choice of either thinking the building is distorted, or the artist got it wrong… I’m afraid they will always go for the latter. Moving stuff around also becomes harder and really an idea of the rules of perspective is required to carry it off in many cases.

Most pictures have a focus. Where the eye will come to rest. Usually it is the key thing in the composition, a boat on a beach, a tree on a hill, a figure on a cliff. The very first thing to decide is how big and where on your canvas this thing should be.

Rule 1 is put the most important thing, the focus, in first. Take time to get it in a good place and decide how big it needs to be. I frequently try 10 or so different places before plumping for a final position, time is never wasted on this stage and don’t move on until you are satisfied.

Rule 2 is similar find what you feel the next most important thing is. Once decided you need to get it in the right relative position to the first object. An example is easier than words at this point!


Here we have both buildings and shrubbery. It is easy to see our focus, the eye is always going to end up on Corfe castle. So that is no 1, we get to the castle via the track so that is no 2.


So no 1 is our castle. I find the turning point of the track (no 2) by holding up my brush to determine the angle from my castle base (grey dotted line) I know it must be somewhere along this line. Next I estimate how much to the left of the castle the turn is and drop a vertical. Where the two lines cross will get the turn roughly in position. Holding our brush up and transferring the angles will get the rest of the track in. The skill to learn here is being able to transfer an angle from the scene before you to the canvas. To make the process easier try to get your canvas dead vertical and at eye level as this makes transferring angles a whole lot easier. If you have to have it lower make sure that it is exactly at right angles to your gaze. As a guide: if none of the edges of your board show any perspective tapering then you are about right.


The next line is the tree line (3). I have more leeway here and may want to adapt it to improve the composition. Also having the track and the castle in place makes it easier to draw in. No 4 is the hedge line and finally 5 is the foreground dark. For this scene that is all I would initially draw, perhaps 7min in total, 5min of which I would spend on the first two items. Which brings me to…

Rule 3 don’t over draw, put your time into the bits that will ring alarm bells in the viewer’s mind. People are usually the hardest to get right so time spent refining figures is never wasted. Cars, boats and buildings are also worth taking care with. Trees and shrubbery however are less crucial. Drawing details can be put off until later, indeed you might find many of them are not needed at all.

For a cityscape the process would be the same but there would just be more items and more angles would need to be checked. On the other hand there are lots of straight lines in such subjects which makes checking easy. Which brings me neatly to the final rule.

Rule 4 check and check again. Transfer an angle three or four times, don’t assume once will nail it!

You will often see people squinting at their brush held at arms length to work out relative sizes. If the person hasn’t dropped their head to put one eye down on to their shoulder then they don’t know how to use that method! It is in any case a very crude method, angles with verticals and horizontals is far more accurate and easier. However the holding the brush out and so forth looks really cool so I do it anyway to impress passers by.

A few drawings to finish, I am very behind with blogging due to trying to do too many things!

Poole, pen and ink

Here is one of Poole where I forgot rule 1! I didn’t settle on a firm focus… too late to add one now.


Poole, scalp en's Court, drawing, pen and ink

Another demonstration of rule 1 not being adhered to! The people were intended as the focus but I placed them dead centre… the best place would have been just coming through the arch… also not enough time spent on getting the figures believable. Pity really as the rest is good. It is Scalpen’s Court in Poole.

Shaftesbury, Dorset, Pen and Ink, drawing

Here finally I remembered my own rules! I have wanted to do this road in Shaftesbury for a while. The gable end of the pub with its chimney against the sky is a shoe in for no 1 and the road leading us in for no 2. Once in the rest of the picture is fairly easy to assemble. Pen and Ink.

Durdle Door, Coast, dorset, pen and ink, drawing

Not the easiest of pen and ink subjects, it is of course Durdle Door. I remember trying the arch in at least six or seven places before settling on its final position. Once in the Horizon was next, then the line of the beach. For the sea and sky I only draw soft lines as guides to directions of flow. These allow me to work fairly freely when hatching in the sea and sky. Pen and Ink.

Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, Hovis, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing

The famous Gold Hill in Shaftesbury. Here our No 1 is easy if subtle, the Church tower needs to be in prime position. The curve of the steep road is a no brainer for No 2. It is the relationship between these two that sets the scene. With the road and church in I next did the roof and chimney line, with that in position I could find the gutter line and then extend down to separate the buildings. People are tempted to divide into buildings early on, but usually in this sort of circumstance that results in the building being stretched horizontally. Lastly I drew in the Abbey wall to the left.

To find the size of my church tower I held up the paper at arms length until it covered my desired composition then keeping my arm fixed and my head still I lowered the paper vertically until I could mark out the width and position on the top edge of the paper. While I was at it I noted the positions of the chimneys as well. Pen and Ink.

Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, Dorset, Pen and Ink, Drawing

Here is the same street from the top… the classic “Hovis Hill” view. The little group of buildings at the bottom is my focus and the first thing I placed, but I then positioned the man’s head where the road passes from view so as to give it more weight. It also produces a pull between the distant turn and the nearer figure. This is just the sort of subject that foxes people as the many excruciatingly badly drawn versions you will find on Google will attest. If you are systematic though even this sort of scene with its extreme angles and unexpected relationships can be drawn out surprisingly rapidly.

I debated with myself about calling these tips “rules” so I will remind that rules are not there for every circumstance only as a general guide. I do find however that more paintings fail due to rule 1 being forgotten about in the excitement of getting going on a potential winner than any other cause.

That’s it oil paintings next blog, done the paintings I just need to pull my finger out with the blogging!

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