Posted on

“Record Collector”

Past and present, stopping, starting and trying to find the hidden song in a piece of artwork

“Record Collector”

 Bob Claytor 2019,

       Acrylic and Oil on Canvas, 24” x 24”

This is a description of my thought processes and creative decisions whilst making the above painting; provisionally called “Record Collector” (what else?).

The image began as a photograph of this familiar record shop in Broomhill in Sheffield, that I then cropped and further changed using a vector-tracing filter to alter the overall effect.  This simplified the whole image into an arrangement of flat coloured shapes. It is a similar process to that of abstracting the image in a drawing (except that it is quicker) and also has some of the colour decisions and light effects that can be more elusive in drawings completed for the artist.

Original photo -unfiltered 

Vector -tracing version                                                      

I have spent many years tracing images for one reason or another and feel that it is embedded into my creative thinking process now in terms of how I look at the world.  This is not to say that I do not still enjoy observational drawing, I do. However, some of my need for observation, abstraction and other interpretation realises itself more in the final painting itself nowadays.

I drew out a grid on both a colour print out of the digital image and the 24” x 24” canvas. This enabled me to transfer over an outline of the image onto the canvas.

Grid transfer to canvas

I enjoy this careful transfer of the vector lines, as a technical exercise in observation, which then affords me a clear structure for painting over after I have sealed the charcoal with dilute PVA glue.

This is clearly a flat image in the sense that there is no natural foreground middle or distance in it. As such I am more at ease with the underlaying pattern that is created by the content of what is on view. I have allowed myself to relax my normal observational drawing skills around form as subservient to this flat pattern graphic effect and concentrate on the flat shapes created by the vector tracing. (I have dwelled on this lack of conventional form throughout the making of the painting however and wish to test out this process on a picture that demands more of a traditional “walk into the landscape” response).

Meanwhile, I experimented with a time-lapse film of this initial “blocking in” stage of the painting.

Time-lapse set up

Click here: This worked well with a basic punk drum track as can be seen from the link to Instagram below, but was a major distraction to my working process. Nevertheless, it did seem to punctuate that initial stage of the work for me very well.

It was clear from the final blocked in image that I still had some way to go before the picture was completed. At this point I left it for a couple of weeks before returning to complete a second stage. Discussing “finishing paintings” on Instagram gave me some other insight into my process and help me not to feel too rushed about this and “allowing my brain to catch up with the needs of the painting”. The other idea I considered at this point was that of a “finishing queue” for a number of paintings at any one time.  This was harder than it sounds however, as one inevitably begins to think in terms of “a series” of paintings and make links across them. I have only recently started painting again full time and so what had been a comfortably extended process of reflection on several paintings over a period of years was now beginning to concertina and overlap in a more challenging manner.

The idea of the “Theme” or narrative had hit me right between the eyes with this painting and yet I was imposing a rigorous abstraction of the shapes before me in the first instance, that belied the obvious narrative connotation of the image.  This was I think, a bit like pulling the string on a longbow and resisting the temptation to let go.  This was further fuelled by the time-lapse experience.  So, in the end I didn’t so much let fly with the arrow from the bow, as simply put it down and wait for the target to come to me.

View inside the shop

Shop window close up with reflections

I had returned to the shop a few times during this interim period, as I pass by on a regular basis.  On one occasion, the place was closed and I took some photos through the window of the inside (see above). At one level, the shop is very uninspiring in its dishevelled appearance, but clearly has thousands of individual stories to tell of records bought and played over almost half a century. As can be seen from the photos it is deceptively large on the inside and there is a tangible sense of tension between the surface dereliction and the promise of riches and wonder below the surface. Again, during this period, I was shopping for some paint in Town and ended up in conversation with an old guy in a shop. I told him about the painting I was doing, showed him a current picture and to my astonishment, he revealed that he had installed the halogen lights above the sign (the black squares in the painting) and also re-wired the whole shop in the late seventies (close to when it first opened I think).

So, here was the theme I had been looking for. Could I make my painting of the shop somehow ring with the music of the decades and try to reflect the dignity of its history? That all sounds rather grand doesn’t it, but it needed more than just shapes and abstraction (jaunty as that may have been) to give it some real life.  So, for the second stage of the work I repainted pretty much the whole surface in an attempt to give it the vibrancy and light it needed to be able to properly sing its story.

Paintings are always about the artist and their experience also, though aren’t they? So, my mind was travelling back and forth over my own record buying and listening as well as listening to the radio and compiling playlists on Spotify as I worked in the studio. I considered making a point about downloads and the death of the music shop in general (a little Spotify logo in the window?), but that would perhaps have been a bit trite and maybe disrespectful, so I let it go.

I got a lot of inspiration and energy from reading Sting’s autobiography “Broken Music” whilst making the piece and it has become for me “the book of the painting”. As I read about Stings much more interesting and daring life in the seventy’s music world than my own, I felt a growing sense of permission to impose some of my personal lyricism on the painting.  I guess I’ve sung along with Sting’s music hundreds of times but what I’ve tried to do here is to find and sing along with the music of “Record Collector” and express it in the form of this painting.

Coming back to the idea of finishing a painting, I really want it to be complete now and so it is.  I had started to think of the shop as a kind of “time machine”, full as it is with millions of memories.  I listened to a very interesting radio program about H. G. Well’s “The Time Machine”, which I’d actually read at some point during the 1970’s.  It gave me a lot of pause for thought, but that is perhaps where I will leave the thread of that theme for now.  I’ve not yet finished Stings autobiography either, but again, that’s ok, as we need all these unfinished ragged edges and half started beginnings when making art, as otherwise I doubt we could function at all.

“Record Collector”

Bob Claytor 2019,

Acrylic and Oil on Canvas, 24” x 24”


Bob Claytor October 2019

Posted on

Early Evening:Don Valley


The sunlight in this early evening view from the Don Valley in Sheffield casts it’s light upon the Mosque, the Church and the high rise flats of Park Hill in the background. Between them, these three buildings represent a wide cross section of both faith and community. There is an echo of a famous image from forty years ago that shows the Church and the flats in stark contrast. The Mosque is a vibrant addition to the environment, representing some of the changes within the community at large.

Posted on

Making “Through the Square Window”

Following on from the Church and the Mosque images that I worked on and posted on Twitter, here is the combination of the photos and the painting once it was combined and then applied to a 38″ x 38″ canvas:-


A4 sheets are cropped after printing and then assembled with masking tape.


Ironing of the individual sheets proved difficult to begin with.


I was always expecting some roughness to emerge, and was eventually pleased with the “old photo” type effect that began to happen.


I kind of got the hang of it eventually though and so the ones at the top are neater than the earlier ones at the bottom edge.  No matter though as can be seen, as it comes together very well when stretched up on canvas.


After coating with two layers of watered down PVA glue and drying off I finished the whole thing with a black marker.


I checked on Google for the phrase which had popped into my head from the old “Play School” kids program from the 60’s and found that it was also a book of poetry by Sinead Morrissey and a series of silk screen prints by an artist called Kate Banazi (different from my work and very stylish)

For myself, I like the tension that is created by the window idea and the thing with the windows in the picture and the picture as a window. Or perhaps a window within a window within a picture. The Hand writing is a reference back to the “In from the Cold” painting from the previous post about the Berlin Wall.

So, a long build up to this with the photos and the original painting, but I am happy for the final piece to be completed in one sitting more or less.

As I said previously though, I think there is more than one painting here.

Posted on

Bridges, River, Church and Mosque


More painting ideas


Fig 1  “Church and Mosque: Don Valley”, Photograph, Canon 1d mkiii with 28-300mm telephoto

Some further thoughts, painting ideas and developments after wandering around the Don Valley and taking some more photos.


Fig 2 “Long Shadows”; Photograph, Canon 1d mkiii with 28-300mm telephoto

Using the Canon 1d mkiii with the 28 to 300mm telephoto gave me a bit more scope than the iphone 6.

I originally intended to follow up the bridge idea previously mentioned and in a sense I am doing. However, not quite as expected.

I drive past the view of the Church and the Mosque often (fig 1) but this is the first time recently that the light has been favourable. The bridge picture is thirty yards further along than the railway bridge in the previous post.

So I got some pictures of the Church and Mosque and then went wandering to discover that the bridge over the river that I’d just been standing on to take the “long shadow” image (fig2) had this written across it:-


Fig 3 “Imagine Waking”; Photograph, Canon 1d mkiii with 28-300mm telephoto

So I suddenly felt that I had a whole load of ideas competing for attention with my “time travel” memories from the previous post.

At this point I went off, downloaded all the pictures and started Tweeting some of them in one form or another. The unintended consequence of this  was that I found a photo filtering app called “Prism” and came up with the following set of images:-


Fig 4 “Bridge and St Johns” Prisma filter


Fig 5 “24 grid filters for St Johns”

It is a really neat filter effect app for mobile phone that produced some striking outcomes. The grid effects like the one above and this one below where also very pleasing:-


Fig 6 “Church and Mosque”; prisma filter


Fig 7  “24 grid filters for Church and Mosque”


Fig 8 “Church and Mosque”; Photoshop from 30 imported Prisma filter layers  

At this point I have still got half an eye on the background oil painting canvas (fig 9) that I showed in the previous post:-


Fig 9  “Underpainting”; oil on canvas, ready to kick start one of the ideas

My intention had been to paint my first bridge ideas over it, but this idea  kind of moved on over the last few days.

Eventually I decided that it seemed to fit better with the Church and Mosque above. I’m pretty sure I have two or three paintings taking shape now anyway and I just need to start working them through.

Finally though, the last Church and Mosque picture above was made by importing all 30 filtered versions of the image into one Photoshop file over 30 layers (fig 8). The process was then to work on the top layer and remove everything that I didn’t want (which could mean almost everything) and then move it to the back of all the other layers. Then repeat the process with all the other layers in turn. The final outcome is of course much more subtle, whilst each subsequent new layer offers me the option of its own character and energy in whatever wuantity I like.

These are a couple of other photos of mine that I gave filter treatment to along the way. You can see the importance of lighting on the circuit board one in particular:-


Fig 10  “Signpost” Screenshot of initial Prisma app experiments  



Fig 11  “Circuit Board”; Just for fun Prisma filter from iphone photo

So I’m ready to move on to a new stage in this precess and now intend to start drawing and painting to produce a small body of work around this whole theme.


Posted on

5 things to do at the Berlin Wall

Pausing for thought

This is my first visit to Berlin and I guess new cities are always difficult to negotiate. The following blog explains a bit about my own approach to this and is both a reflection and a recommendation centred around the Berlin wall “East Side Gallery” and the wall’s “Memorial Museum”.


“In from the cold”:

Oil, felt pen and spray paint on canvas

60″ x 60″: Claytor 1990

1. Think about the power of Art.

Go to the East Side Gallery and walk along looking at the different bits of grafitti art. Ask yourself what was the purpose of those paintings on THIS wall. Wasn’t the job done anyway, before the paintings were  completed? Make sure that you look at the other side of the wall also while you think about this.


2. Remember your own art

Think back over any of your own drawings, paintings, film, ceramics, printmaking, photography.


Ask yourself if anything you see is like anything you have done? If so why and if not why not. The paintings on the wall are for the most part, not that attractive, but they are situated entirely in the right context. They are political in a way that most art is unable to be. Picasso achieved it with “Geurnica”, but that is pretty much the exception that proves the rule.


Social media affords some wider political context for our work as artists. Is this good enough? I ask myself how important is it to have an audience who can stand in front of my work as an artist. To be more than just a “meme artist”, do I have to literally reach my audience? Do they need to be able to touch my paintings.

3. Look really closely and close up

Study the details of the paintings on the concrete wall surfaces. Not because you will appreciate the grafitti art on the wall sections better, but because it will help you in just BEING THERE.


4. Make your own piece of art out of what you see.

This landscape is not dead. Its story continues and you have an obligation to tell it.



5. Move on to the wall museum

Look out over at the last example of the watch tower and the Berlin wall


“Its forbidden to deface or damage the wall”


Famous Gorbachov kissing picture


Crowds taking their photos


View from platform: Berlin Wall Memorial and Visitor Centre: July 2016


Concreted stained glass work: Berlin wall memorial and visitor centre


Berlin wall memorial and visitor centre


Berlin wall memorial and visitor centre. View of last double section of wall including watch tower.

In conclusion, all the walking around and climbing stairs and viewing platforms combined with museum exhibition stuff, makes for a very exciting and thought provoking day.


“In from the cold”:

Oil, felt pen and spray paint on canvas

60″ x 60″: Claytor 1990

My own thoughts turned to this painting that I started in 1989 around the time the wall came down. In the first instance it had been a response to reading “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” by John le Carre. Then watching the film of the same name staring Richard Burton. It eventually became interwoven and tied in with the events unfolding in Berlin.

It is perhaps one of my own favourite paintings and so it has been splendid over the last few days to see my original “statement of ego” (for that is what most art is) taken a little bit further after all these years. I was struck by the similarity of the close up texture and tonal work between some areas at the beginning of the gallery wall and my own “In from the Cold” piece.

The painting itself was finished many years ago, but I feel that I have only just finished it properly in my own head now, after this first visit to Berlin and the unrelenting mosaic of social, political and historical detail I have taken on board.


Posted on


Up cycling by


I really like these “upcycled” bags on a stall in a market in Berlin. They are a bit pricy at E35:00 upwards, but they are all bespoke individual pieces. Speaking to the young Polish woman on the stall, she explained how they use materials such as inner tubes, airbags and seatbelts (all car related material I note). This makes for strong, durable products that are waterproof and long lasting. There is an industrial stylishness about them which beats the commercial sports/school bag hands down.

The bags are also for sale at

I see another new curriculum GCSE project in the making……

Posted on

Testing header gifs for WordPress

Header GIFS



New header for website. Just need to get rid of the white space beneath this animation now.

Well I got rid of the white space and then had it working ok on the banner at the top. It won’t accept a banner wider than 720 pix though, or at least that was the size of the one that worked. To cover the whole page I need 1200 pix though. When I make one that size it won’t run the animation. I must get on the sites to check this out.

Here is the 1200 pix header that works ok:-


What I really want is to get a longer one like this or the slider one:-


to work on the header at full stretch of 1200 across the top of the whole page.


Posted on

The sweetness at the bottom of the pie

Alan Bradley:

“The sweetness at the bottom of the pie”

Reading this at the momentimage

Great “rattle along” mystery with good fun protagonist in Flavia. Quite a few books in the series.

I see my Summer stretching before me ….

Finished it now and so here are a few reflections on “The sweetness at the bottom of the pie”.

I guess it always takes a while to settle into a series and get to know its characters and Flavia de Luce is no different.

I see that there are seven books in the series so far and so there is plenty to go at if I completely get the bug.

The stories are set in southern England of the 1950’s. They reflect a time and place that is based on a sort of fantasy version of the “English countryside” that Bradley concocted very effectively, but from afar in Canada without ever visiting for many years.

Here is a link to an interview with Bradley where he speaks briefly of his own time in school.

The story moves along quickly and is satisfying both in terms of plot and characters. A mixture of peril and clever detecting.

I am looking forward to meeting the main characters again in the second novel. The policeman in particular seems to have a lot of potential alongside the eccentric bunch of other players.

So moving on now to:-


Cover Graphics for these books about Flavia de Luce

Just have a look at these covers to Harper Lee’s Pulitzer prize winning novel “To Kill a Mocking Bird” published in 1960.  

Clearly I am going to argue a similarity between the three covers shown here and the ones in the Flavia de Luce books by Alan Bradley. The use of the tree and the silhouettes and the birds, combined with the flat colour is pretty conclusive.

Beyond that. Harper Lee’s novel is set around 1933 to 1935 and so is fifteen years or so earlier than the Flavia de Luce novels. However this descrepency is not so important if we consider the designer of the cover as making a broad “just before and just after the second world war” reference from a stylistic point of view.

So the content is undeniable and the overall aesthetic is pitched in a twenty year window between 1935 and 1955 or so. This “style” of book cover was of course determined largely during that time by the practicalities of the printing process. Full colour litho did not come in for a while after 1960 and can only be seen in the covers of the later editions of “To Kill a Mocking Bird” where photograpy is used.

So that does add an extra poignancy to the covers of Alan Bradley’s books. The artist has clearly gone for the simplicity of technique as a deliberate choice.


Aniversary cover by Sara Jane Coleman


Two covers for the fiftieth anniversary edition harking back to the original book covers.


First edition cover

Another more generic reference for these book covers is the railway  posters image image

Various poster examples for different lines during that period

of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Again done in simple, beautifully drawn and painted flat colour illustrations. slightly more colourful and less moody than the “To Kill a Mocking Bird” covers, but completely evocative of the era either side the 2nd World War.