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.

November 7, 2015

What are we?

Is this really a topic for a painting blog? Well yes I feel so. Trying to articulate how it is to be a human being is pretty key to being an artist. Descartes decided that we are real things due to being aware of our own thinking which is on the whole good news. The bad news was that is about all he could be sure of.

For an artist there is the constant problem of only getting the odd hint of what others respond to or enjoy from their speech or mannerisms. For the rest we have to extrapolate from what we ourselves like, to make a guess as to what might float anyone else’s boat. The egoist will assume that what he likes others will like because he or she is plainly the best the world has to offer. The more humble soul will be left in a state of perhaps more realistic uncertainty.

So what is human being and how might we divine what this strange beasty likes? There is the body, with it’s cells and hormones. It seems pretty clear to me that there is no mysterious supernatural component. That does not mean that the meat is all there is though. The “nature vs nurture” debate has been rumbling on for a few centuries. Christianity  hoped to prove the existence of the divine by finding a child brought up by animals with no human upbringing. They were disappointed, legend has it, to find such a poor creature had no innate knowledge of the almighty.

It is in keeping with contemporary thought to consider ourselves in the terms of hardware and software. If our tabula rosa has no input from parents or society then there is no language and if no language none of the tools we use to visualise our own selves. I dare say such a being would have no interest in art or indeed a pleasant scene. Food, warmth, safety and shelter would be the driving forces as in any animal. It is of course not just humans that combine software and hardware, all social animals do some sort of programming the young.

It is fair to say though that humans take it further. It might even be best to think of the accrued knowledge of society as a separate entity independent of the individual. We are none of us vital, but each might add a little that gets passed on. I might paint a painting, post it online and then track the slight ripple that passes around the world briefly before fading. However small it has become part of the huge edifice of knowledge and supposition that is mankind.

If this accrued and now artificially stored information is really what mankind is, what of the individual? In our society we prize freedoms and our own personal uniqueness. I have to feel after much mental to-ing and fro-ing that this is an illusion, we make a great deal of our small differences but actually we are as alike as peas in a pod. Just as well really, as if we were really different communication between us would be all but impossible. If you look at the imagery of our planet from space you would have to conclude that mankind is akin to a hive creature. Although we don’t feel we are acting at the behest of the whole, most of us are doing just that. Is our collected knowledge of the universe honey? It makes one worry there might be a beekeeper out there somewhere!

It does give the artist a sliver of a reason to go on doing stuff. Each thing we do adds a little to the whole. How that might be used in any future is beyond prediction, but on the whole I feel that artistic activity is a plus for humanity. How is that for self justification?

Right enough of the navel gazing! Some pictures. Mostly drawing, life seems to be keeping me from my studio at present which is distinctly irritating.

Cannon St, London, oil painting, St Pauls

Over the last few years I have been rather over successful at selling plein air sketches of London. Most of the best ones I intended to use as inspiration for studio pictures, once sold however this slipped from my agenda. So I have decided to try and catch up. This is the first of several I hope. I spent a fair while messing with the composition on this. That is the joy of studio work you can add all sorts of subtleties that would be impossible in the heat of the moment on site. It is however important to try an not let that show overtly in the way the final thing is painted! 12in by 20in oils.


Pen and ink, drawing, dog

Something I don’t do very often. A drawing as a gift to an old friend. The dog was a fondly remembered pet so I was in danger of over doing the sentiment. The Victorians revelled in such stuff with the dog gazing soulfully at its master. I hope I escaped that… just! Pen and ink.

Stour, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing, river

A sketch done near to where I live in Dorset. This is the Stour where it meanders through rich pastures below Hambledon Hill. The light was very constant so I could take my time. A little too neat maybe but in a way that adds to the calm feel which was very much the atmosphere of the day. Pen and Ink


Pentre Ifan, Wales, pembrokeshire, pen and ink, drawing

This is another go at Pentre Ifan in Pembrokeshire. Slightly tongue in cheek as I am not much of a new ager! Pen and ink.


Tenby, Harbour, wales, pen and ink, drawing

This is the harbour at Tenby in Wales. This started out as the merest pencil scribble done in less than 10 min. I enjoyed developing it with the pen and will do a larger oil in a while. Somewhat of a grudge match as I made a horrible mess of an oil of this same subject three or four years ago… pen and ink.


Fontmell Down, pen and ink, dorset

I am pondering how to translate the Dorset landscape into lino cuts. I don’t want to do straight renderings there has to be a stylising and simplification. This may be the way to go but not with the celtic stuff. I might use earlier incised patterns as used on beakers found in burials in the area. The sky escaping is a bit OTT so I might just allow the pasture to break the frame. Pen and Ink.


Okeford Hill, dorset, pen and ink, drawing

The largest pen drawing I have managed on site. I used a brush pen loaded with the same ink as my pens which speeded things along. I still had to finish the foreground hatching later. Rather a painful process on site as I am suffering in the back department at present. This is Okeford Hill. Pen and ink.


Belfast, northern Ireland, drawing, pen and ink

Some countryside near Belfast. I love just using water to dissolve the colour out from the ink. I actually combine two inks one waterproof and one not to get this result. Very fast sketch about 20min. Pen and Ink.


Belfast, albert tower, pen and ink, drawing, northern Ireland

This is a clock tower dedicated to Albert in Belfast itself. A bit scrappy but too painful to sit too long. Pen and Ink.


Belfast, pen and ink, drawing, northern ireland

More Belfast. The brush pen was great for knocking in all the darks. Had to be very quick as the last of the light was fading rapidly. Pen and ink.


Gt Victoria Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland, pen and ink, drawing

With my back working again after returning I couldn’t resist doing this of Gt Victoria Street in Belfast again. I loved the grand streets in the city and would like to return and paint it properly. Pen and ink

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