Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

November 23, 2015

The Making of a Masterpiece

Filed under: London,Painting,Satire,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 3:32 pm

People who don’t paint tend not to realise the agonies that a true artist goes through to produce a painting. They just swan into a gallery and sweep a brief dismissive gaze across the works on show. They do not care about the blood sweat and floods of tears that have been expended upon its creation. So I thought to give a give a warts and all description of the agonised emotions and spiritual turmoil that goes into making a painting.

1. The Conception: Oh how to put over how painful this stage is! To reach deep into oneself, tearing open the half healed wounds of a tragic childhood through to a melancholic and lonely adulthood. Separated from ordinary mundane people by the great rift that being an artist occasions. Even though I dimly perceived the misery ahead the creative urge wells up within me like a great dark river and I must find a subject that encompasses my turbulent emotions of pity for my fellow humans and the pointlessness of existence. After several sleepless and fevered nights I was struck by the lightning bolt of inspiration which ran burning and sparking through my whole self. Shopping, it had to be about shopping. I now had a concept, I didn’t want ordinary shopping I wanted top drawer pure un-adulterated by practical needs shopping. So Harrods it must be!!

2. The Subject: I arrived in the afternoon on a cold day in Knightsbridge and looked at the various viewpoints I could choose. It was to be a representational painting but not a mere illustration, any representational or skilful qualities must be purely ironic and contemporary. At each possible vantage point I centred myself and chanted a few Buddhist mantras. I tried to draw the very essence of the place and the urgency of the shoppers into my inner being. As is so often the case I could not see my way forwards so I retired to a cafe to read Proust in the original French. Finally with a Herculean effort of will I girded my artistic loins and set forth again.

3. The Sketch: Almost immediately a place just by a pelican crossing called to me. The artist has to be sensitive to the smallest flows of energy. The people crossing the road, the traffic, the busses stopping all spoke to me with voices like razors across my very soul. Seething with anticipation I set up my paints and prepared to tease out the very essence of what lay before me and set it down in paint. The next hour passed in a semiconscious daze as I stepped into a higher plane. I rose like a phoenix from a fire of ubiquity encompassing for a moment an almost god like perception. Then inevitably I fell like Icarus to the hard stone pavement spent and grey with pain. Once I had dragged myself up to my feet I saw what my agonies had brought into the world. I’m sure you will look at the image below differently now you know what it cost me!
Harrods, Knightsbridge, London, plein air, oil painting

4. The Block In: This is of course only the first step in an arduous climb to the snowy unattainable Everest that is creating a piece of Fine Art. To transfer the gold mined at the rock face of cruel reality I needed to go through the process to purify and concentrate the image. This means reducing it to its absolute and inner simplicity. First I blessed my studio with rosewater and chanted a mantra or two. I had to stop after the next door people started banging on the wall. Do they not realise what delicate alchemy I am performing? It was too late though they had broken the spell. After weeping abjectly I went to see my therapist friend Silvia and shared my agonies with her for two or three hours. The next afternoon I rose and began the process again. I whispered my prayers this time and began to put out paint upon my palette. I tried to be aware of the smallest act, the squeezing of the tube, the small noise of the pallet knife as it sensually conjoined the different hues. Then I began to apply the paint to the surface. At all times I had to remain true to the given surface and remain honest to my materials. Once again the red blaze of raw creativity rose up and overwhelmed me. I don’t know when, but at some point darkness claimed me and I knew no more.

Block in

5. Developing the Theme: Once I had recovered consciousness and struggled up from the paint bespattered floor of my cold unheated studio, the above is what I saw. I cried out at the sheer force of it. It was only the merest beginning, but it cried out to me. Should I stop? If I did more then all could so easily be lost. I rang Silvia but she wasn’t answering. I was on my own with an aesthetic monster to wrestle. To prepare myself I popped down to the spar for some irrigation. I needed to be pure inside and out for the next battle. I dropped in on my friend Josh and spent several hours explaining my concept and sharing the agonies of being an artist. He is a musician and can only know the smallest part of what I feel but nonetheless he is a kindred spirit if only a very distant and lowly one. It was only next morning I began again. I tiptoed into my studio as if I was Theseus about to confront the Minotaur with only the thin fragile thread of my inspiration to guide me. How to describe the battle that followed? The sweeping strokes of the brush that outlined and delineated the world like a lover’s touch. The harsh jabs and cutting strokes that came as if from a duellist wielding an epee. I felt both triumph when my strokes hit home and despair when they went astray destroying what had gone before. So all day the battle line heaved to and fro, with me crying out in joy as some ground was gained in an exquisite passage of scumbling to weeping with despair as some delicate nuance of application evaded me. Eventually my energy ran out and I had to withdraw, battered, wounded but still unbeaten. Unable to look I fled the room and went to sleep wondering how I was ever to find fuel stoke my inner creative fires to continue.

6. Resolving the Parts: The next day I felt trepidation as I entered my studio. Oh Joy! Somehow I had defined the undefinable. Oh Despair! The battle was won but the war still had to be resolved. I could not immediately face the enemy. I rang Silvia but she still wasn’t picking up. Josh wasn’t answering either his home or his mobile. My heart sank I was a lone pilgrim without support. This is the moment a true artist is born to confront. I reached deep into the abyss of my being and gathered my strength. I approached the canvas with the steely uncompromising strength of a lone warrior, armoured, weary, but stern as a Judge. I now worked with a cold calm fury. I laboured as the blacksmith does taming and forging the paint with unrelenting blows. Here I struck mightily with the sparks flying and here I struck softly merely caressing the surface. I realise in such moments why there are so few of us amongst the great hordes of mankind. This kind of mastery is given only to a few, both a blessing and a curse.


oil painting

7. Confronting the Devil of Detail: Now was the time for the last act. In truth I did not know on that cold morning whether I would survive the trials of the coming day. I knew my body would live but would it contain my spirit or be a mere empty shell, a husk? This time I approached the work as might a poor ash strewn hermit or some bearded eastern fakir with only a begging bowl in his hand and a rag about his loins. I put aside all pride and ambition and arrayed myself in the sack cloth of pure unalloyed art. I tried to apply the paint as a humble prayer asking only for the truth. At last as my light was fading the inspiration welled up and guided my hand. Is it some ancient spirit that reaches through us to inscribe in paint what we could never conceive of? It is not for us to know, I am just grateful the struggle is over and I can rest until the cruel mistress of Art calls her poor soldier to fight the good fight once more.


Knightsbridge, Harrods, oil painting, art

So here it is. A poem to shopping. None of the agonies that created it show in the surface but they are there I assure you! Silvia and Josh are still not answering… odd. 12in by 20in Oils.

September 16, 2015

Checking on Reality

I am in the last stages of assembling my first ever one man show. There is a lot to do with the touch ups that I had never got around to, varnishing and the considerable effort of framing. I could pay to have them framed but to get what I want that would cost £200 quid a picture at least as against £20 and a couple of hours of my time. During this process, which I quite enjoy as I get pleasure from the making process, I have thought a good deal about picture making in our current age.

One thing that strikes me is that there are so many people painting. Just look on line and there are thousands of sites with the title: “The Art of ……….” . It seems certain there are many more being painted than there are walls to put them on. It must be a minority in our society that has an original work upon their walls. A vanishingly small group have one of mine! So I must ask the question: Are these paintings being painted to go on walls or to be seen on a laptop screen? If they are never going on the wall then you might as well paint them on the same reused bit of board and save money and space! I am actually considering this for plein air sketches and ho hum studio ones. Certainly I could paint on both sides of the board.

The question still bugs me. Am I painting for people’s walls or laptop screens? Because if it is the latter then I might go about it differently. I could for example re work them on the computer. I already do this to decide how to make changes to paintings. I scan it in and try out things before committing myself to paint. With over all glazes especially this is a great boon. Would people care? I would feel honour bound to make the process clear. Painters would generally disapprove perhaps. This is not, I might add, a course I intend to take I am just thinking it through. I cannot abide the idea that I am doing all this work just to please myself. I get pleasure from the process of course or at least it keeps me sane, however I equally loathe the idea that I just do it for therapy.

There is the element of being noticed, it is nice to be noticed. Though maybe few would admit it a hundred or so Facebook “likes” bring a certain warm feeling. We most of us, if not crave, at least enjoy attention for ourselves and what we do. We call this fame I suppose though that is usually now reserved for the moment when the searchlight of organised media picks one out from the crowd. Do we secretly hope that might happen? I don’t think I do, but I suppose a small bit of me might like the idea. We are in our society almost all brought up with the idea of success and “making it”.

I often consider the world of music making in relation to painting. I really do make music for therapy. I don’t play for others it is something for me. Also a tune played is in the air for a moment then gone leaving no trace. With paintings the evidence of our creativity takes concrete form to haunt our future. Part of me wants to just paint away and not worry my little head about such things. Another part wants this skill I have invested so much of myself into to survive and spread and there is no better way of doing that than by example.

Another area I consider is history. If I look back then I see almost no examples of making beautiful things being done purely for the pleasure of the maker. That the craftsperson relished the making might be true, but it is the desires of others to own that drives the process. It is hard to pinpoint when the change in the primary artist’s intent changed from the satisfaction of others to the satisfaction of self. Slowly over a fair span of time. France with the mostly leisured gentlemen who liked to paint overblown historical subjects in opulent studios is perhaps the beginning. Then there came a prolonged tussle with the technical aspects of the nature of an image. The impressionists considered how we see, and then moved on to from where and what aspect we might see, then inevitably to why we see. Which it now seems is a dead end as there is no plausible hope of any hint of an answer or even any halfway interesting way of framing the question.

When I stopped doing useful paid work I did so with an excitement for getting all the things I had not had time for done. All those pictures I had imagined, all those accomplishments I coveted, but had not had time to learn. To put to use the skills already attained over many years of pleasing others to my own purpose. Like all dreams after a while the reality must be assessed. I am making progress, I am enjoying the process, I am not loosing momentum or interest. All plusses so far. It has however opened up some questions I have few answers for. I have settled on the world about me as my subject. Not a conscious decision, just that having decided to make representational paintings they must be of something. I had to choice between imagination or actuality and perhaps surprisingly even to myself I seem to have chosen the latter. Odd since I have spent 40 or more years doing mostly the imagination part. What is strange is that it plays almost no part in what I do now. As a young man I dreamt of painting fey maidens, castles and dragons, but now older, if not wiser, I paint people, houses, hills and trees.

Well, no answers I fear. Just a feeling that I may be missing something obvious that I should be seeing. One thing is becoming clear, the process of displaying what has been produced takes up far more time than the production itself. This is not a complaint as I feel doing so is an integral and inseparable part of the whole activity. It is more that I am irritated that, despite it being quite obvious given even a moments thought, I had not properly anticipated the fact.

Well this has been a while between posts as the show mentioned above is now sorted and at the Gallery on the Square in Poundbury until the 19th October. It has also meant not much painting had been done either. Below is a snap of the show.


Gallery, poundbury

It was great to see all my stuff hung in one space and am very pleased with the result. A picture sold on the preview which is heartening!

I’ll start this post with a few of duff oils!


Kingston, thames, plein air, oils, painting

Well this one isn’t too bad. Difficult light that couldn’t decide whether to be dull or bright. It actually looks much better to me now than when I painted it which shows how mutable and unreliable the artist’s own view of their work is! This is the riverside park in Kingston upon Thames. 10in b y 8in Oils.


Kingston upon Thames, pen and ink, drawing, art

The day turned really dull so I drew the market square in Kingston which is still quite pleasant. Only 2 things held me back… I had forgotten my pens… a nearby Rymans supplied some nasty felt tips and a seemingly endless supply of garrulous drunks clutching tins of Tenants Super Lager! It was also preparing to rain which is why this is so frantically scribbled.


Thames, Kingston, pen and ink, drawing

This vantage had the advantage of being under a dense tree so the rain could not get at me. I was accompanied by several Wappers as it was aWapping Group day, we all gave up and went to the pub in the end as the rain got really determined.


Richmond Hill, landscape, Thames, oil painting, plein air

This is the much painted view from Richmond Hill. It is a wonderful sight with the curve of the river. I got into a bit of a mess with this but I think I can still make it work. The building needs knocking back so it does not compete with the river. The sky is a write off and needs repainting. As I finished some lovely dashes of sunlight made their way across the landscape so one of these should finish the job! The board was an old one that was very smooth which really does not suit my style. I need the drag on the brush and it also means that dry brushing is not an option which is quite limiting. 12in by 16in oils.


Thames, Richmond Hill, oil painting, plein air, landscape

It was a relief to get on to this old canvas board! The day had changed so much it was a completely different scene. I did this very quickly no more than 20min. 10in by 8in oils.


Mudeford, Dorset, fishing, oil painting, plein air

A very quick sketch of people crabbing at Mudeford near Christchurch in Dorset. I bashed this in very quickly so lots wrong. I got some great photos as the light came round though so this sketch will be invaluable when I do the studio painting I have planned. 10in by 12in Oils.


Mudeford, Dorset, boats, painting oil, plein air

The day went flat on us but I enjoyed painting this on a tiny 10in by 5in off cut of board. Hard to know what to do with such sketches I have so many of them now.


London, Canon St, pen and ink, drawing

This started as a working sketch for a painting, but it got distinctly out of hand! Tremendous fun to draw. I had to take great care of the tones in the distance. Something easy in paint but hard in pen and ink. Cannon St towards St Pauls. Pen and Ink 12in by 10in.


Wooland, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing, landscape

This is near Wooland in Dorset. I only got a pencil sketch done on site as what appeared to be a quiet lane was actually a mad race track. I was drawing from infront of my car which was in a passing place so I felt very exposed! For the best in the end as the inking was quite laborious with all those darks. It is important with pen and ink not to completely cover the paper when doing dark areas. Little bits of paper add sparkle that is easily lost. It is possible to use solid blacks but they are compositionally very strong so care is needed. I usually apply them with a brush rather than the pen. If I was to use that method here I would use it on the car which has the largest area of solid black. 9in by 12in pen and ink.

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