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

Georgia O’Keeffe at Tate Modern

Off to London to see the Georgia O’Keeffe at the Tate.


Just to set the visual scene….. I took a couple of photos yesterday that have spurred me to choose the particular O’Keeffe image above. This most monochrome version of the three “Black Place” landscapes on show in London sprang out at me from Google thismorning when preparing to set off for the show. I saved it. Then I saw it on my iphone photos, alongside this photo taken yesterday :-


I think that it is unkanny how the brain makes associations and it’s great fun to unpick them. It’s not the whole story of making, but probably a more important one than I tend to give it credit for. The composition on this very industrial scene in Sheffield’s Don Valley taken yesterday clearly influenced my decision to pick that particular O’Keeffe painting above thismorning. I just didn’t realise until I saw them both together.

Here is another O’Keeffe image. I wonder if I can make it work back the other way?


It’s a bit of a challenge this, and obviously not operating at the same unconscious level as the previous choice. Anyway I’ll give it a go…..

A bit contrived and the figures don’t add anything but it’s not unsuccessful:-


What can a Prisma filter do? …..


Hmnn, very much not an O’Keeffe, but maybe its got something going for it…..

In the meantime, this old painting of mine popped into my head:-


I think that it has some of the organic elements of O’Keeffe’s works and also the large areas of colour. The whole thing is not really in the same class though, with the more textured flat areas and the slightly confused complexity in parts. Some of the tonal work has merit though and I need to think of that when moving on to painting (rather than blog rambling:)).

Having been around the exhibition now, I am struck by several things:-

She was a really good black and white artist whose drawings and subsequent painting drew heavily on photography and the influence of her partner at the time. Then later on her friend the photographer Ansel Adams. (Apart from her own photos of course).

Also she did a whole load of work based on buildings in New York:-


So is my London architecture playfulness/experimentation perhaps so far off the mark?  Certainly the factory silhouette at the start of this blog could fit in quite neatly with some aspects of O’Keeffe’s vision. How about this photo from earlier today also?


I really was struck by her responses to New York, but when it comes to it my response to London architecture (wonderful as it is in all sorts of ways)  is not to get excited about the idea of painting it. She lived in New York  I do not live in London.  I do live near the Don Valley factories though and I think that is the difference. The factories and silhouettes against the Don Valley light, move and inspire me and make me want to paint. London (fantastic as the late Summer light and architecture are) does not. So Georgia O’Keefe leads me confidently back to a place that matters.

She clearly had a much broader vision than the popular “sexuality metaphor” reputation that was promoted by her husband initially and then vociferously denied by her for decades afterwards.

I particularly liked the “Bones” paintings and think it is all well and good that they represent the beginnings of a partial iconography for 20th century America:-


Much more than the narrow surrealist interpretation offered by some critics at the time. This is not Dali.

The importance of place is the thing though as I have hinted at earlier. It comes through with power and dignity in her work. Clearly this is what she is about to a huge extent. I was amused by her quote, “God promised me that if I painted the mountain enough times, then he would give it to me”. (Words to that effect).

So what does one take from this?

……in a few words, the importance of place, a confidence around abstraction, a boldness of colour, a sparing but necessary use of black, the power of painting in series and an unerring projection of personal emotions.



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

Painting a Bridge

I really like bridges. The big ones like over the Humber and even small ones like the one at Bakewell.

But what I really like are the cast iron industrial railway bridges like this one in the Don Valley in Sheffield:-


Ask me why but I’m not sure I can really answer. Something about the triumph of function over form at one level, but it is something more than that. I hesitate to say that it is an aesthetic in its own right, but it really does stamp something on my psyche.

I was walking down the road to pick up my car from it’s service and found myself wandering through this semi-indusrial area of the Sheffield Don Valley. Every now and again a train would thunder across the bridge and I would miss the photo opportunity.

I don’t suppose they are all that “northern” as the railway network covers all areas, but they remind me of being 11 yrs old in 1971 nevertheless. Trainspotting and associated record keeping and worship. All of which was undoubtedly the same for my peers in Kent at the same time….



I can’t help being transported back to that northern childhood and feeling in touching distance of any number of other experiences.

It is a kind of “Life on Mars” thing, infused with timetravel mystery. And from a painting and making art point of view it can provide a backdrop for a narrative as yet undiscovered.


This is the underpainting I will work with and then paint the further layers of context and narrative over and around it. The above photos will inform what I do and tease out some sort of story I hope.

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

Dreams and Art

How do we use dreams in Art?


“Allotment Sheds”: Oil on canvas

60″ x60″: Claytor 1982

Just been rooting through my old paintings for one that fits with this idea. Sheds, gardens, ramshakle structures etc.

The artwork is not really complete for the Aragorn tower dream yet though. I don’t want to create the impression that I am always having these super cathartic dreams that point the way foreward in both my creative and social life. Nevertheless, this was an absolute corker! ………

I’m sure I could do a very telling starter drawing for the idea. I have always been fascinated by barns and structures that serve the countryside and this dream nudges me a bit further and beyond just the stage set of all that.

This dream first needs analysing though. At least to the point where I can begin to outline some kind of narrative.

Keywords here are:-

Freud, tower, (ooher :)), release, responsibility, forgiveness, gardens, families, collapsed, nature, friendship, salvation, build.

I have always been struck by how really good narrative paintings are so nuanced. So that the representation of even the shortest tale can have a myriad different facets, depending on the point where one hitches up to the story.

Dream pictures such as those by Dali on the other hand are kind of fixed perspective illustrations that represent the idea behind the original dream. They might be more inclined to take on the keywords as a starting point and allow what Freud described as “secondary elaboration” to play its part. i.e. Speculation on its message via the complexity of symbolic meaning.

The narrative approach is perhaps more concerned with character and personality as expressed through the realism and staging of a particular point in the tale.

For myself then I do not willingly forgo any of the creative nuences. However, I admire some of the reflective stillness of the Surrealists. Their ability to create a stage set is unquestionable. My allotment piece above is perhaps in that catagory. The Summer aftenoon mood is perfect. Yet I (as the viewer) desire to fall asleep and dream in front of its stage to see what will happen. What are the tales of release and forgiveness that are told like an extra photoshop layer on the surface of my old painting?

So I hope you get the the two main paths that I have outlined here. The stage set and the nuanced narrative.

With a dream gift such as the one described in my previous blog, then maybe the obligation is to bring the two together. Not just the time and place illustration and not just the subjective character reponse in all its subtlety. But an overview containing some kind of real time google earth perspective that shows that ideal moment in perfect detail before allowing us to wake up.

Try this book for good measure:-

Freud: “The interpretation of dreams”


Posted on

Facebook or blogging/Aragorn and the Tower

Aragorn Tower

Burnt Tree: Chatsworth Gardens 2016

Facebook or blogging

The great thing about a blog as opposed to Facebook for instance, is it being implicit that a more opinion based diary content is expressed. I feel a bit freer to say whatever is on my mind, rather than tailor it for the limited Facebook audience that I have. In a seeming contradiction, I therefore feel as if my audience is easier to address for being smaller (and at the moment -none existent). Talking to no-one at all (or potentially everyone in the world) via a blog is more liberating than the guaranteed audience of Facebook. For me, Facebook is a bit like a parental filter on what I feel able to say. I incline to get wrapped up in trying to be the correct version of the slightly different person that I am with all my different friends and acquaintances.  It is not that it is impossible or unrewarding, it is just that I am struck by the more relaxed nature of the writing when “Facebook approval” is removed, and inspired rather than daunted by the idea of communicating with the “anonymous World”. Another way of putting it is that my idea(s) take priority and once they have formed then the audience will follow. Say something and then see who listens.

With this in mind I am going to describe a dream that I had last night (which is unlikely to reach Facebook) and reflect upon where it came from as well as how I might use such an experience from a creative point of view.


Chatsworth House wrapped in scaffolding July 2016

Aragorn and the Tower

I was looking out over my back garden which sloped gradually upwards. I became aware of a strange scaffolding like tower in the middle of the garden that I felt responsible for. A couple of families with small children wandered up the slope of the garden past the tower and then out of sight.

I began to feel slightly anxious. Wandering over towards the tower I could see that it needed some renovation work. However I was increasingly concerned that the tower was in too bad a way for me to repair it. I held it by one corner wall and the whole thing seemed in danger of falling; swaying a little. It stayed up at this point though and I looked closer to see a part of the scaffolding with a missing bolt. Had it been sabotaged? What did this mean?

I started looking for a replacement bolt as well as considering some other tasks that needed completing to restore the tower.

At this point I notice the tall Norwegian approaching from behind me to the left. Just before he reaches me, the tower starts to tilt and collapse and then just disappear in an evaporation of dust.

This provokes an overwhelming sense of relief. I am surprised and utterly grateful as I turn and face the tall Norwegian who has become Aragorn from “Lord of the Rings”. He looks at me knowingly and I feel the sense of release that I have always associated with realising that something doesn’t matter. Very close to forgiveness.

I wake up.

Posted on

Football as Art


“What is Stiles saying now: Whistle down the Wind”, Claytor, 1990

I kind of get it when people talk about this, whilst always feeling a little uncomfortable with the idea. Art/Sport; Sport/Art? It is genuinely meant as high praise, but I suppose I don’t really want football to be an ‘Art’ as such because the later means something else to me.
Similarly with martial arts. It is perhaps a little bit closer from a personal, reflective and meditative point of view. -Still no ‘art object’ though.
Art whilst retaining a valuable status, is also seen as notoriously pretentious as a matter of course by many. I don’t go along with this for the most part (because I genuinely tend to enjoy most art I come across). Artistic achievement is consistantly undervalued and misunderstood even when on display in its own arena . This does not mean however that I want to migrate it into the sports stadium and designate any aspect of football as ‘art’ though.
I want to admire a Messi goal differently. It is unnecessary (and pretentious) to describe it as art. Any number of other superlatives suffice in the heat of the moment but lets avoid ‘art’ (and ‘poetry’ while we are at it) ‘cos in many ways Lionel is better than and certainly different from that.