Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

August 12, 2010

Large scale painting

Filed under: Painting,Scenic,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 11:16 am

I have over the years designed and painted many theatre backdrops, 10 or more ballets for the National Youth Ballet, which gives ballet-mad kids a chance to perform on a big London stage. Alas I have few records of this work and almost none of the final results. I have done murals here and abroad some of which I have included pictures of. Large canvasses are either painted on the floor or upon a paint frame. There are alas fewer and fewer paint frames in operation, I used to work at the beautiful Elms Lesters Painting Rooms in Flitcroft St Covent Garden, but now it is the home of contemporary artists as an exhibition space. Large format digital printing is eating away at the scenic artist’s business, in  the end I fear the skills will be lost. I have put some images below of paintings I have done over the years, where possible I have added an image of the process itself. The other method is to paint on the floor, which is not so hard as you might imagine, we tape our brushes to sticks and put the paints in trays that sit on the canvas… kicking over the paint is, as you might imagine, a disaster. I’ll start with one done recently by this method.  I made a special effort to take a few pictures.

scenic painting bear ice arctic polar

Here is the small scale design for a recent ballet cloth. The production is The Rainbow Bear based on the book by Michael Morpurgo, and will be danced by the National Youth Ballet. I painted the model (the reference drawing is called the model) on the computer in photoshop. I wished to get the wide open top of the world feel so I wrapped the image into an arc. This was definitely one to paint on the floor, painting on a frame would have meant a cricked neck with the weird angles!


Bear scenic polar arctic ballet

Here you can see my friend Anna painting an iceberg at about a half way stage, everything is blocked in ready to be refined. It is important a theatre cloth remains soft, so the work is done using the paint as thinly as possible rather like a watercolour. This cloth is 40ft by 24 ft in old money.


Bear polar arctic snow ice

Here is a photo of the final cloth, fortunately the space we were painting in had a gantry in the roof so I could get this shot. The light wasn’t great so it’s a bit grainy. Often you can’t get back from your painting which means you have to rely on experience to know if the whole thing is working.


bear polar arctic

Here is a close up, as you can see it is painted quite freely, there is no need for your small sable on a painting this size! The big challenge painting wise was to get the glassy feeling to the ice. Everything had to be kept very high key.


VE painting frame

Here is an even bigger painting, my friend and fellow artist Sue is in the picture to give the idea of scale. This was only one cloth of 10 or so and you can only see the top half… Projects of this size are very much a team effort, there were four of us on this epic. It was for The VE celebration in Hyde Park London in 1995 as I recall.


Tussauds New York

Here is a clearer view of the paint frame on a different job. The canvas is attached to a large frame that sinks into the floor. This is an 18C frame the modern ones have moving gantries and are not as good. The added factor for this painting was that I had to make a rotating stretcher so I didn’t have to paint historical portraits upside down! It was for a ceiling mural in Madame Tussauds in New York and is still there as far as I know.


Madame Tussauds New York mural painting

Here is the finished thing, I was sick of painting balusters by the end! It took 2 weeks to complete.


Ceiling Mural Hard Rock Mural Rome

Here is a mural that had to be painted on site on a domed ceiling in the Hard Rock Cafe in Rome. This was a wonderful job that required me to be in Rome for 4 weeks. I did the initial design in acrylics which I have now lost, and then did many studies of putti actual size to be traced on by pricking and pouncing with chalk in the traditional manner. I had to paint the whole thing lying on my back on a scaffold tower, which was quite a challenge… the paint drips on your face and runs down your arm. But the painting was so engrossing I soon stopped noticing the discomfort.


Hard Rock Cafe Ceiling Mural

Lastly a couple of close ups, in my imagination all the putti were all different rock stars which was which I’ll keep a secret!


Hard Rock Cafe Ceiling Mural

On the drum I’ve paid tribute to another ceiling painter in Rome! If his Holiness reads this I’m available, that chapel ceiling needs bringing up to date.

August 1, 2010


Filed under: Drawing,Painting,Portraits,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Rob Adams @ 3:15 pm

Well here we go, portraits. One of my favourite subjects for paintings in the work of others. I love the humorous and often wry series of self portraits by Rembrandt, the touching family paintings by Rubens. Others I enjoy are the wonderful bravura brushwork of Hals, Sargent or Zorn. The portrait is still with us the BP award happens every year, but most paintings have some stylish quirk that serves the painter rather than the subject, others are plainly from photos taken on a wide angle and too close, but the judges are too poorly educated in the nature of seeing to spot them, (I don’t give a damn about using a photo but use a good one for heavens sake.) in amongst all however there are some lovely things on show. Just one fine sincere painting in a show makes the whole thing worthwhile.

What is it this thing a portrait? There is a difference you see between a study and portrait, in a study you seek the form, but in the portrait you seek the person. Of all sorts of painting I think portraiture is the hardest, the most freighted with the possibility of failure. Skill and dexterity are all for naught if the feeling of a thinking being is absent. Indeed the more perfect your rendering the more lifeless it is likely to become. The paint must allow room for the moment to moment interpretation of the marks on offer, in a similar way as the perception of a real person is made up of quicksilver reinterpretations of the person before us. We may see perfection as say in a Vermeer portrait but look closely and you see softening of edges diminution of detail in the shadows etc that gives the space for mystery to breath.

No wonder the prospect of attempting such alchemy is an unsettling idea. Once started however I find them exhilarating and frustrating in equal degree. The tiniest alteration around the eyes can transform the result entirely, but perfect accurate copying of the same feature will lack life. The only way I ever get the result I seek is to paint and if failure results, scrape out or obliterate and start again, for freshness is of great importance it has to look as if it “just happened” as indeed people do. I’ll post a few below I’ve done over the years, some better than others my hit rate of even partial success is very low in this area I fear. Not that I need be shamed by that, a quick image Google for oil portrait brings up very few arresting images. Even if you discount the badly drawn the success rate is very low. Even Sir Peter Lely a hugely successful portraitist in his day painted very few mugshots worth a second glance. Frans Hals though the author of some of the most masterly examples of the genre is hugely variable in quality.

I am much attracted by the wizardry of Sargent, who has an almost pre-natural mastery of his medium, but such bravura work required him to paint every part in one wet into wet pass, so although it looks as if he dashed a portrait off in a moment of casual brilliance he actually often scraped out and repainted a head many times before being satisfied, with his work requiring many sittings. Though I love his sheer brilliance, it rarely digs deeper than the surface gloss and glow of a living thing. His wonderful landscapes and “holiday” paintings which, though many people don’t realise it, make up the bulk of his work are sadly barely known.

Rembrandt is another matter, he works over and over, building up the image with all the searching and seeking on display, he displays (especially in later life) little certainty, but a huge degree of sympathy which I feel elevates his portraits above any others I have seen.

Rubens too, his paintings and drawings of his wife and children are an incredible display of pride and tenderness.

Photographic portraits are now the norm but ones that catch a revealing moment are very few and far between and never I feel reach quite the heights that a painted work can do… but then I am biased.

You note I don’t put any illustrative images from the artists mentioned above. Well how could I? My poor offerings would be swamped and have no room to show whatever small charms they might possess in such company.

painting monk oil

This is a painting from the late 80’s. It was done as a prop in a photograph and was my first attempt at a portrait other than drawings, it was later used as a book jacket. I remember struggling mightily to get it to work almost giving up in frustration a few times.


self portrait painting

A self portrait painted not long after in the early 90’s I would guess from the long locks. I painted three or four of these as I recall painting them one after the other spending about an hour on each, this is the best of the two survivors. It was an improvement I feel with lighter handling, but really only a sketch.


portrait painting

This is the first portrait from life where I did drawings and photos in preparation. I had been struck by how beautiful my friend Jane looked with the light streaming through her window. Her flat was on the third floor and a large tree grew outside through which the light was filtered. Being very shy it took me some while to pluck up courage to ask her to pose.


Self portrait painting oil

There is always one person willing to pose and that’s yourself. I only had a small shaving mirror which I perched on my easel next to my painting. I did several in a row with different expressions, this is one of the only ones that does not look like an entry into a gurning competition.


Sofa portrait papers

Jane again, quite a few years on from the previous one, I fed her so much dinner she had to retire to the sofa. I was struck by the black of her clothes and the richness of the cushions against the blandness of the rest of the room. I don’t think it took more than an hour.


Portrait painting

My good friend Richard had just bought a new camera, and I took this snap while we were testing it. Afterwards I was struck by the composition and felt it would make a painting. I tried to focus the whole thing by controlling the handling of the paint from broad strokes to finer but retaining as free a quality of mark as I could manage.


Portrait self painting

A final one I thought I should do another self portrait. It’s an odd thing but doing a self portrait is more like painting a stranger than a friend, also there is no pressure to flatter!

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