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.

July 31, 2015

Landscape Art

In my newspaper today there was a review of Richard Long the land artist. When I was a student he and Andy Goldsworthy were first making their mark. I, as almost everyone else, quite liked what they did, indeed who wouldn’t. The work is engaging pleasant and made of nice stuff often in a beautiful setting, hard indeed to find anything about it all that is not pleasant. They make what is called “interventions” on the landscape. The defining factor seems to be that it should not be a practical intervention such as a useful one like a drystone wall for keeping animals in. Oh and also it shouldn’t be a folly either like the great estate owners were fond of… now I think of it garden design has to be omitted too… whoops, some ancient monuments have to be excluded as well. So really it has to be made by a person who defines themselves as an artist. You could have four identical drystone objects one crafted by an artist one by an architect and one by a landscape designer and one by a drystone waller and it seems that the art cognoscenti say only the artist made one would be art. If they were placed side by side of course it would be impossible to tell one from another. So did the “artiness” come from the object being made or you being told it was by an artist? I seems to me plain that the “art” ingredient was added by you being informed of the fact not the object being made nor you perusing it. So by my way of thinking the art act was the labelling of it. So group of friends hiking might come across an intriguing drystone construction and one of them might pipe up, “Oh that is a Richard Long” all the group would then have an “art” moment. The piper might be wrong, but regardless of that the art experience was had. Was the hiker actually the artist? Well it’s a thought.


A few different land art sort of items, can you spot the art?

Now you may think I am going to deny the artiness of the monkish Mr Long and fey Mr Goldsworthy, but no I want to say that they are all made with craft and therefore capable of being looked at as art. My argument would be that they are not a particularly high individual achievement. We ascribe special status to folk like Rembrandt because very very few human beings through history are going to be able to do what he did as well and with as deep long term appeal, depth of expression  and subtle nuances. Perhaps one or two in a generation. However anyone with a bit of patience could make a Richard Long you would not have to wait half a century for another person good enough at arranging rocks! So an object made by man might be lovely to look at, it might be instructive, it might be moving. But it is not that which we celebrate. We celebrate the high points of human achievement. Most of us write, but very few of us write War and Peace. So we value Mr Tolstoy and his works. So the land artists could be safely placed in “pleasant essay” territory rather than “towering achievement”.

With high jumpers we celebrate the person who leaps over the highest bar. We may clap if a portly person makes an impressive attempt at a much lower bar but the record books won’t be adjusted. So to my mind the difficulty of achieving a result and the amount of life that has had to be expended to be able to do that thing is a large factor in the art value of a made thing. With the difficulty of attainment comes rarity and in most cases with rarity comes value. All of the objects both rare and common may well provoke a pleasant and meaningful visual experience. But the rare one is an example of high human achievement and it is that event that we should celebrate.

This edition I am offering a bit of landscape art rather than land art. I am at last getting to grips with painting different subjects now that I am finally full time in pastoral surroundings. Not that it is easy, I am being fairly experimental in my approach so a good few failures will result.


Honfleur, France,  Notre Dame de Grace, pen and ink drawing

A few orphans from France that needed finishing later due to a high shrubbery content! I added a raw sienna wash to my media on the last day just to add another element. Very nice for adding bulk to trees and differentiating areas. This is Notre Dame de Grace high above Honfleur. I would like to have painted but I found it on the last day and didn’t get the chance.


Le Croisic, France, drawing, pen and ink

This is Le Croisic, I added the wash after and am pleased with the result I found a subtle mix of the sienna and the white I use made a lovely warm white which contrasts nicely with the cooler version used in the clouds.


Swanage, Dorset, pen and ink, wellington clock tower

This is the Wellington clock tower in Swanage which rather oddly originally once stood at the southern end of London Bridge in London. It was moved to the seaside in 1854 at a cost of £700 as it did not keep good time and with increasing traffic it had became something of an obstruction. The faulty clock never came. I am told it used to possess a spire but that became unsafe and was removed in 1904. A very quick sketch, I was out on a pier and in the way of fishing folk.


Corfe, Dorset, pen and wash, drawing

On my way back from Swanage I couldn’t resist this view of Corfe castle with the train. It is on a reproduction of paper as used by David Cox in the 18th century which is a pleasant oatmeal colour. Fab view which I shall come back to. Although it looks arcadian you have to imagine lorries belting past a couple of feet behind me!


Hambledon hill, drawing, dorset, pen and ink

A bit of pen and ink madness, I started this last winter on site, but having done Hambledon hill I decided on a wild circular hatch for the sky… slow work so I had to give up when hypothermia set in! I finished it off a few days ago sitting in the sun in my garden. Has a slightly Samuel Palmerish feel, maybe the first signs of madness.


Salisbury, carving, cathedra,l wiltshire, pen and ink, drawing

A visit to diy store Wickes in Salisbury. The store was a bit boring so I went on to the distinctly more drawable cathedral. This is a carving on the facade warning you of what might happen to you if you sin… I got a crick in my neck doing this!


Salisbury Cathedral, wiltshire, pen and ink, drawing

Yes it’s that famous view Constable painted. I decided to have lunch in a pub by the river but got lured into doing this. By the time I got to the pub they had stopped serving which served me right for getting distracted.


Hambledon Hill, water colour, plein air, painting, art

This post is a bit Hambledon Hill heavy I fear! I am determined to get some paintings that catch the character of the place. It is easy enough doing distant views but although it is fantastic visually up on the hill itself, making a painting that catches that is very hard. It is like those wide views that you photograph when on holiday. They look wonderful when you are there but once you are home the photos look ho hum. Photographs taken from the hill have that same quality. So I set out on a blustery hazy afternoon to do my best. This is looking right out over the verdant Blackmore Vale and I am quite pleased with it. I might try some different formats, tall and thin or square the straight landscape proportions don’t quite work for me. 1/4 sheet Watercolour.


Hambledon Hill, watercolour, art, painting, Dorset, hill fort

I started very boldly here with a full and very wet wash. I need maybe to strengthen the fore ground to push the distance back. I might do a studio version to try and get the balance better. It was so windy the painting blew away a couple of times! 1/4 sheet Watercolour.


Hambledon Hill, hill fort, Dorset, watercolour, painting, art

Not the most cheery of watercolours of Hambledon but I am quite pleased with it on the whole. It was quite different day with the wind driving rain showers up the Stour valley unlike the previous dry windy days the washes just wouldn’t dry. Still I must get up there on some wet days with the oils as I love the mood. I struggled down the hill after carrying my painting gingerly at arms length as it was still very wet. 1/4 sheet, Watercolour.


Fontmell Down, watercolour, Dorset, painting, art

I got up at the crack of dawn to do this, even before the dog walkers, but not as you may have noticed, the sheep. Only a little 9in by 6in but it was lovely to do. Not a mood for wild wet into wet washes so I did it in areas which gives it a calm still mood perfect for the scene. People do go on about “wet into wet” and so forth as if it is the only way to paint. I like both the wild and splashy and the carefully laid down and find that the approach can be infinitely varied from the exuberantly expressive to the quietly meditative to suit the feeling of different subjects and moods. The rule is for me that the technique should be at the service of the subject not the other way round. The subject here is the wonderful Fontmell Down.


Eggardon Hill, Watercolour, Dorset, painting, art

This is the view from Eggardon Hill another hill fort in Dorset. A studio painting done on the David Cox paper. Very hard to stretch as it wrenches any gumstrip off. You have to staple all round the edge and even then it pulls free. I must use my Artmate paper stretcher in future. The paper is much thinner than what we use today and is technically quite hard to paint on. Too wet and it turns into an impression of the alps cockling fiercely. On the other hand the beautiful surface with little flecks of brown and yellow gives a lovely quality. You soon understand why the 18th century masters used body colour. To get a bright wash you just have to add some white to the wash. Not enough to remove the transparency but just enough to add brilliance to the colour. I enjoyed doing this tremendously and love the quality it brings to the paint. 14in by 9in, watercolour.

That’s it for this edition. I feel some oil painting is due as I have neglected it in the last week or so, like everything if you don’t keep doing it you loose the edge that comes with regular practice. Painting is very not like riding a bicycle you do forget all too easily!




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