Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

June 18, 2018

Making an Exhibition of Myself

Well I have had 16 days of open studios. More than 600 people marched or mooched, depending on mood, through my house and admired my decor whilst briefly glancing at the pictures on the walls. I sold 25 pictures so a buyer every 24 people… though less actually since some bought more than one. I set myself up to paint and draw throughout as a sort of educational how to do exhibit or should I call it performance art? I had about a hundred works on show so I am pretty pleased with the way it went.

I am not shy about painting while people watch, that is one thing being a plein air painter prepares you for. What was fascinating though was watching people look at my paintings. There seem to be a few different sorts of art gazers. There are the skimmers, they zip round in a trice, some seem merely to revolve once in the room and they are done. They seem to scan in order every picture getting the briefest of glances. Their visits are over in minutes and they never buy anything. Next fastest are the skippers. They take a more random approach flicking past most paintings then diving in close for a better look every now and again. They don’t look in order and if they return to a painting more than twice it is time to chat with them… a sale is unlikely but you never know. Next are the browsers. They are going to look at everything in order. Some paintings are briefly assessed others given the third degree. They often look at a painting move on then dodge back again as if something has struck them. Browsers are definitely potential buyers. Next slowest are the indexers, they give each work the same length of gaze and do them in order, they never go back to look twice and never buy anything. Then we have the enthusiasts they bounce around admiring things gasping and ooing and ahing if they like something. They raise your hopes but alas they are usually other artists! Then the rarest bird of all, the collector, they always grab a price sheet and move quite briskly from picture to picture pausing occasionally to make a note against a  title on your list. They might go away without buying but if you are lucky they will return once they have thought about what they like and they might buy more than one.

After you have watched a hundred or so peruse your efforts it becomes clear that some pictures are the stars of the show. Mostly they are not the ones you expect to appeal. There was one small, soft and subtle painting of Portland which garnered many gazes despite being in a corner and high on the wall. Damned if I know why… but if I could work out a theory I’d be rich! One thing that pleased me was that my pen drawings were a hit. I had put them in amongst other works last time and they got rather lost, so this time I grouped them on two adjacent walls. It worked almost too well, they out sold the oil paintings! It has decided me to work towards an exhibition of just pen drawings at some future date. Prints also went down well so I shall persevere there too. Now it is all over I am at a bit of a loss, but am painting in France soon so that will perk me up.

So here are my efforts from the 16 days. It was a little odd getting just 10min here and there to work. Short bursts interrupted by chatting to visitors and meeting and greeting.

Corfe castle, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing

I had decided to do Corfe from Nth, Sth, East and West, this is looking South. As I was marooned in my house I had to work from reference. I remembered I had needed to clamber all over the hill when I was taking photos to get everything in an interesting relationship. The day had been dull so the lighting here is largely imaginary, the result could almost be moonlight.

beaminster, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing

Another day another drawing. Beaminster was my next victim. On this day I had painted one view of the church only to find a much better one a few yards round the corner! With no time left to linger I had to take a quick snap and moved on. With tonal pen drawings the more dark the image the more work it is. Here though I used my new Fude pen that can make very broad lines, which somewhat reduced the task.

Corfe Castle, pen and ink, drawing, Dorset

Here is the next view of Corfe looking West. Monday was bit slow with the visitors so I could take my time. I love the chunky marks the Fude pen makes, you can really give weight to the foreground tones.

Corfe Castle, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing

Tuesday was another Corfe drawing, here we are looking East. I actually didn’t get this completed so it was Wednesday’s drawing too. Usually I would complete one of these in a couple of hours so a drawing dragging on over two days was a little odd.

Corfe Castle, Dorset, Pen and ink, drawing

The last of the Corfe ones this is of course looking North. You can see the thick Fude lines in the shadow on the road. This one sold next day.

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing

During the brief snow we had here in Dorset I had climbed Hambledon hill to paint and was amazed at how the snow had brought out the shapes in the ground. Not the easiest subject in pen and ink but great fun to do. It will I hope become a Lino cut at some future date.

I realised at this point that I had better start pushing the oils, so I changed medium.

Dorset, plein air, Plush, oil painting

I actually got out to paint this quickie near Plush. The evening light was gorgeous and it was great to be outside to paint after being mewed up indoors. Oils 16in by 10in.

Wellington Clock Tower, Swanage, Dorset, oil painting

Back to working from reference. This is the Wellington Clock Tower in Swanage. I did a watercolour of this en plein air, as I was packing up the clouds rushed in and I rather liked the mood, but had no time to paint it. Oils 14in by 10in.

Dancing ledge, Jurassic Coast, Dorset, sea, oil painting

Next day I felt like doing a bit of sea. Also I have to give a talk on sea painting later in the year. I have done several others for the talk, but they keep on selling! this is Dancing Ledge, I went several times a year ago as I had a commission. 14in by 10in Oils.

Corfe Castle, Dorset, oil painting

I had enjoyed doing the drawing of Corfe so I decided to do a painting of the same view. It was a very busy day so I painted this in fits and starts. 14in by 10in Oils.

Fortuneswell, Portland, Dorset, oil painting, Chesil

I was getting into the swing of it now so I took on this view of Chesil looking over Fortuneswell. It had to be seriously reorganised to make any kind of a composition so it was fun trying out different options from various reference pictures I had taken on different days. 12in by 10in Oils.

Pembrokeshire, cliffs, oil painting, sea

More sea! This time it is Pembrokeshire. I wanted to experiment with the knife to try and get the sparkle of the water. I was really getting into the routine of painting a bit chatting a bit now so I just did the knife work in stages. It was vital here to get the underlying tones of the sea right. It is very easy to get it too light then the highlights won’t sparkle. 10in by 14in Oils

Portland Bill, lighthouse, Dorset, oil painting

This is the lighthouse at Portland Bill. Another one where I took a quick snap after finishing a different view. This one had been sitting as a basic block in up in my studio for a month or more. Again very good control of tone was needed a many areas were quite close toned but the contrasts had to be there without being too harsh. 24in by 12in Oils.

cardigan, sea, waves, oil painting

Another bit of sea for my talk. A bit more Welsh sea near Cardigan. You have to be so careful painting stormy seas as too much structure and there is no movement, not enough and it is just foam soup! Here I merged the features of about 10 photos picking bits here and there. I kept on defining and then blurring back until I felt I had the right balance of movement and structure.

That’s it I was surprised how much I got done during the exhibition. Many thanks to all those who came and took a look and even more thanks to those who made appreciative noises or even bought something. Being a painter is an odd business and a little bit of positive feedback really spurs you on, now I have to get back out and paint pictures from the real stuff!

April 28, 2018

What is Style?

Filed under: Dorset,Drawing,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 10:38 am

Looking back over the years I have been blogging the word “style” has cropped up a few times. I have always been dealing with aspects of it though, not really considering the attribute itself head on. We use the word for personal appearance, dancers can be stylish, architecture and decoration are categorised by it, all in all it seems a covetable attribute to have and one worth acquiring. It sorts the hens from the geese, cats are stylish dogs less so, sorry dog lovers it’s just the way it is.

Eric Furnie says it is a “…distinctive manner which permits the grouping of works into related categories”. Now this is less attractive, it is now a kind of pigeon hole that some art historian wishes to shoehorn you into for their own convenience. Like so many things you think you know the meaning of, when you take a closer look the edges soften and definitions become soft and hard to pin down. The word actually seems to be two rolled into one. It has a meaning as an identifier of an individual or an individual belonging to a larger grouping. It also has a usage as a compliment on an interesting and exciting manner of being or means of creating. One tends to be applied to a thing that is made and the other mostly to the maker.

However much you wish your style to be you own and only your own you are, in this interconnected world, doomed to failure. Someone or indeed many someones paint, make, dress or whatever just the same as you do. In our age millions upon millions of people paint pictures. When Rembrandt wielded his palette there were far far fewer. There are probably more good painters in the world now than ever before, but that just makes it harder to stand out from the crowd.

Ah! I have said it… “Stand out from the crowd.” Along with the fascination of doing and learning a craft there is the wish to be noticed for doing it well or even not so well. For that to occur we must bring something to the table, either in ourselves or our work, that is remarkable. I have long puzzled at the popularity of my pen drawings. In my own opinion they are no better or worse than my paintings. They are made by the same hand and mind. I had a friend round and we were discussing what I should exhibit. She said, “Oh you must put in the drawings they are so unusual.”

Afterwards on considering it a small penny dropped. My paintings are “usual” you can find a load of painters doing the same or better than I. If you search for people doing tonal pen drawing to a high standard then there are very few. It is relatively easy to stand out from the host of felt pen stipplers copying photos of Elvis. This makes the decision to go larger on the drawings in my upcoming open studios and easy one. It does not however change my course as far as getting generally better at my craft. The “style” of the drawings might be a hit, but you must never let style drive the direction of your endeavour.

It is similar to when you allow technique to overwhelm the meaning of what you are trying to say. Allowing some style element, or desire to be different for the sake of it to dominate, is just as bad. It is difficult, when being a herd mammal on its way to being a hive mammal, to be lumbered with an incongruous sense of personal individuality. Hopefully this sense of individuality will slowly atrophy and we will become blithely busy uncaring bees.


I am busier than a bee at present organising my open studios which is part of Dorset Arts Weeks and runs from Saturday 28May to Sunday the 10th of June. This involves allowing the public to traipse through your house and studio whilst curling their lips at your home decor and ignoring your pictures. I will be there to sign the occasional autograph, but mainly to receive overwhelming amounts of money and adulation. So come along, cash, credit card, bitcoin, PayPal, praise, scorn  and Facebook likes all gratefully accepted.

The amount of work involved in such a venture is a little forbidding. Pictures to be framed labeled and wired, hanging systems and lighting to be installed. Just the decision as to what and what not to exhibit is tricky. Cards must be printed, prints mounted and inserted into cello bags. Your home has to be reorganised and walls space cleared for pictures. Half your furniture, including the fridge freezer, has to go in your shed. Due to my shed being full of furniture I have to add a Gazebo to take the volume of pictures.

Once the rooms are cleared out the lamentable state of your decor is sure to be revealed so painting the walls is inevitable. You have to, in this contactless age, take card payments so an iZettle card reader is required. Signs must be put up at key road junctions, leaflets and maps created printed and distributed. Social media must be saturated with plugs and all your friends, previous buyers and acquaintances spammed with emails.

Now I have you all weeping in sympathy at the artist’s plight here are a few scribbles and daubs.


Chesilbourne, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing

Here I am perched on a stool in a graveyard next to the smelliest compost heap in Dorset on a very chilly day. This is the church at Cheselbourne in Dorset, tricky to get the best view as it was in the middle of a track frequented by Range Rovers so this was the next best. I used my Sailor brush pen to speed things along with the darks. A5 pen and ink.

Christchurch Priory, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing

This is Christchurch Priory. These sorts of subjects can be overwhelming at first. But if you get the box and the underlying divisions of the box in place then filling in the gaps becomes easier. A5 Pen and Ink.

Child Okeford, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing

This one of Child Okeford was done from a photo whilst invigilating at an exhibition. There is a strange meditative pleasure in hatching large areas, though you have to beware of it becoming too mechanical. Pen and Ink A4.

Shaftesbury, Melbury Hill, Plein air, oil painting, Dorset

Back to the oils before Venice! This is the view across to Melbury Hill from Shaftesbury. I love the structure of this view and have done it a few times now. Very hard to get the relative tones here as the roof highlights directly reflecting the sun were easily the brightest thing, so the rest had to be subdued to make them ping out. 10in by 10in Oils.

Shaftesbury, St James, plein air, oil painting, Dorset

This is the church of St James from the same vantage point. A good time of year for this view as the leaves obscure the church in the summer. I enjoyed the transparent layer of the trees. It can be quite a challenge as if you paint neat roofs and then paint branches over them it looks dreadful. So I paint the buildings seen between the branches as negative shapes which prevents you getting over involved in things you cannot quite make out. If a thing is hard to resolve by looking directly then it should usually be hard to resolve and slightly vague in your painting. 10in by 16in Oils.

Larmer tree gardens., Dorset, plein air, oil painting

This is the Larmer Tree gardens in Wiltshire. Designed by Augustus Pitt Rivers it contained theatres and stages for the general education and entertainment of the masses.  It became hugely popular in the 1880’s attracting 40,000 visitors a year. Quite hard to find subjects, a real contrast with Venice where it is hard to find bits which aren’t potential paintings! I settled on this upward view to a small rotunda. Not overdoing the mass of shrubbery was the greatest challenge here. 10in by 14in Oils

Larmer tree gardens, Wiltshire, plein air, oil painting

A brief study of a concrete statue… well I didn’t know it was concrete until I looked closer. My heart wasn’t really in this… I enjoyed the light on the leaves… but straight on to the “sand it off” pile! 10in by 10in Oils.

Dorset, landscape, Cranbourne Chase, plein air, oil painting

A relief to get away from gardens! This was on the way back over the Cranbourne Chase near Win Green. A quick 15 min splash on a small board, but much more my cup of tea… 10in by 6in Oils.


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