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.

October 10, 2015

A Trip to Pembrokeshire

My first trip to Pembrokeshire in a while… and no chance to paint… With old friends so lots of talk, laughter, food and walking. Being a tourist rather than a painter lots of photos to bore friends with when they come to dinner… there is nothing more tedious than photographs of other people having a good time in a lovely place! All I managed while there art wise was one small pen and ink, but I still wanted to get some paintings done to recall the weekend.

So once home what can you do? I find if I am going to paint quick studio paintings from reference then I need to do it as soon as possible after the shot is taken. I find after that I really struggle to remember how it felt to be there. I do bigger studio paintings from reference but that is a different and longer process involving sketches and multiple photographs. Painting quick a la prima sketches from single images is a different and I think more difficult thing. You are very at risk of having the photo make every decision for you. To counter this I try and paint very quickly and also several times whilst painting put the reference aside and work from memory. If I am lucky I find that at a certain point the painting gains a life of its own and becomes an independent thing, a memory prompted by a photograph rather than a copy.

Once I have decided to paint from an image I first look at how I can break the image down to simple tonal areas. Then I decide what my palette is to be. I find restricting the palette helps a great deal. Then you cannot mimic the colours of your reference but have to mix equivalents. (this is a good policy I find with plein air also!) I then look at the arrangement of things and think, “How could it be better?” by better I mean have more sense of atmosphere and a simple underlying structure.  I turn the image into a monochrome version to assess the actual tones. Colours confuse our sense of tone so it is far easier to see the relative tones with colour removed.

With all that thought about if not all decided upon I mix the colours. It is so much easier with oils I find to mix the colours first. There is often not time en plein air but in the studio it is well worthwhile. When you do this you can put your lightest light and darkest dark on the palette and then set the mid tones to lie between them. I very rarely use full white in a painting so this process makes sure you do not automatically use the full tone range but set a key (range of tone) that leaves you room to manoeuvre when the time comes to accent and add punch at the end. It is far easier to paint if all the tones are there on your palette organised in hues. The mistake many people make is mixing too little. In the end you will not waste paint because the left over colour nearly always gets absorbed into the mixes for the next painting.

Once started I found the first one was very lifeless and in the end rubbed it off and started again another advantage of no time pressure and a studio setting. The next attempt went better and I got properly in the swing. When the point comes where you forget yourself and the time starts to flow by then usually the painting benefits. Before the oils I did some quick watercolours to get myself immersed in the subjects.


Tenby, pen and ink, drawing, wales, pembrokeshire

Here is the one drawing I got done. This is Tenby, a place I would love to spend a few days painting in. It has the lure of some very obvious scenes that get painted too much, but has a lot more to offer as the dramatic headland it is built over allows some great and unexpected viewpoints.


Tenby, watercolour, wales, painting, pembrokeshire

Here is one of those Tenby views. The narrow street runs steeply up from the harbour giving a great perspective. You actually could not do this painting on site as you would be mown down by the constant stream of 4×4’s driving up the hill! Only a 1/8th sheet but I painted it with a big sable keeping everything quite wet. Even though I was not trying to be very precise you have to take great care over the perspective in scenes like this where the road is going uphill. If you get lines at the wrong angle the feeling of buildings stepping up a hill is soon lost. I put a few soft lines in first to guide the angle. Watercolour.


pembrokeshire, watercolour, painting, wales, cliffs, sea

The coast path in Pembrokeshire is a wonder but tricky to paint. There is a tendency to over cook the turquoise which makes it more Med than Wales!


Chamber Tomb, Pentre Ifan, Newport, watercolour, painting, wales

This is the chamber tomb of Pentre Ifan near Newport. It is sited in a wonderful position and should be easy to paint but I have failed to paint it decently quite a few times now. This attempt wasn’t too bad and at least captures a little of the mood. I felt it was a little tight so I did it again giving myself only 20 min.


Pentre Ifan, Chamber Tomb, Newpoit, wales, watercolour, painting

Here it is again different but not really better! I shall have a crack at it with the oils I think.


Wales, Pembrokeshire, Narberth, oil painting, art

First go with the oils. This is Narberth a distinctly posh Pembrokeshire town. The first attempt got bogged down so I wiped it off and started afresh. It still needs some adjustment of the distant tones which need to be a tiny bit softer and bluer but I will dry brush over once it is dry. 10in by 14in Oils.


Coast path, cliffs, sea, pembrokeshire, wales, oil painting

This is on the wonderful Pembrokeshire coast path. I have painted here before in a force 8 gale so a studio picture was far more comfortable to do! Not sure this is quite finished some of the distant cliffs need softening a little. I have already adjusted the horizon after I made this scan as the whole thing falls off bait too much to the right. I did this to counter the lean on the figure but rather over did it. 10in by 16in Oils.


Pembrokeshire, newport, parrog, wales, oil painting, art

This is the Parrog which is the harbour at Newport. When I was walking and saw this I could see it as a painting and tried to hold on to the memory! Quite hard and close tones but fun and quick to paint. 10in by 16in Oils.


Pembrokeshire, wales, painting, sea, cliffs

Last one. Back on the coast path again. It was very still and warm for October. I painted the foreground with a knife which is unusual for me. I must use it more. I am slightly put off because I rather dislike knife paintings where the impasto seems to perform no function. For the scraggly growth on the cliff edge it was just the thing though. Like all techniques if the technique starts to dominate then it ruins the picture. Paintings about how things are painted are I tend to find rather tedious! 10in by 14in oils.

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