We caught up with Adam Barsby at his studio for a chat about his current and past work, and a whole lot more. You can view all of the original painted work by Adam, on the Adam Barsby Profile Page.
What or who first motivated you to start creating art?
I realised from about the age of seven that I had some ability to draw. I won a Milky Way in a classroom competition.
We were asked to portray ourselves in an unusual setting, which seems a bit deep for kids of such a young age but it got me going and from then on I used to draw alot when I got home from school.
I had a mate who could draw well too, and we would go round his house where his dad (for some reason) had a load of wallpaper rolls stashed away. We used to roll out the paper on his dinning table, sit at either end and draw battle scenes with ships, planes soldiers and bombs. We would create huge battles until we had destroyed each others armies.
This made me realise (somewhat subconsciously) that art could be fun and that it could portray a story or a message – something that has stayed with me to this day.
Do you feel that you were born with a certain artistic talent that you nurtured over time, or do you believe that most people can turn their hand to art in one way or another, given enough training and practice?
I think you have to achieve results and be happy with what you do to continue. If that happens regularly enough for you to keep going, then you have something to build on. Some people would call that talent I guess, but we all have areas where we are stronger at some things than others.
Having said that, I knew people who had bags of ability but chose either not to push it or concentrate on other things. I guess because I absolutely loved creating art, it kept me going and improving.
Did you receive a formal education in art, and if so to what level?
Yes. I studied at art college in Maidstone doing Illustration. I got a first class honours BA. After that I took time out and was asked to apply for an MA, but by that time I’d got used to having money in my pocket that I didn’t pursue it any further.
How important do you feel art education is in developing a career in the creative industries, either as a fine artist or elsewhere?
I know artists who have done very well in the art industry who didn’t have formal education. However, I wouldn`t recommend it.
I absolutely loved what art college offered me. Not just the practical pursuits which stretched us enormously, but the time it gave us to ask questions about ourselves. There were countless tutorials which focused on what made us tick.
It was a journey of self discovery, a fantastic time which prepared us for what was out there not just in terms of art but how we operated as individuals in life in general. I wouldn’t have missed that for the world.
Was there a specific point in time in which you realised that you had developed a distinctive style that you could call your own? How much hard work did that take to achieve?
The final year at college we were encoraged to develop a style we could call our own. I looked at artists work that I admired and this influenced my style initially, but once you’re off and running, you develop naturally just by completing one painting, evaluating and moving on to the next.
How important is diversity of style to you? Is it important to maintain constant progression and agility as an artist? What happens if you stay still for long?
My styles have changed over the years several times. There was a point early in my career where the demands wthin the commercial art industry required me to stay the same for many years. However, this is an unatural way to work and since then I’ve explored various styles.
The last few years have proved more creative because of it.
What artists have you looked to for inspiration, either historically or current? How much have their ideas and style influenced your work?
My early work was influenced by Alfred Wallis, Ben Nicholson and the St Ives group of artists. Stanley Spencer was also a favourite, but these days I try to keep an open mind and appreciate many different artists and genres from traditional to modern. I think it’s important to broaden one’s artistic vocabulary which in turn provides a greater awareness within one’s own pursuits.
Can you tell us a little about your studio and working environment? Do you have a specific place in which you work, a home studio, a dedicated external studio, a managed studio, something extravagent?
I used to have a studio which I loved but had to give it up, sadly. I now work from home which I really enjoy. It’s not cold or damp thats for sure! I enjoy the creature comforts and its more flexible. I can work whenever I want and its nice to keep looking at what you’ve just done that day which helps evaluation. I’m comfortable working in most places really. When I was going through a messy divorce I even painted in hotel rooms!
How important is a structured workflow to you? Do you create spontaneously, or is it a more methodical process than that?
I treat painting as my job and I’m pretty structured about it.
I feel guilty if I don’t put in the hours so I work until the light goes which isn’t that long through the winter months, but I make up for it on the computer or researching for the next day.
I have phases where sometimes I like the radio on or music playing. Other times, I work in complete silence and this isn’t a concious thing – I just begin doing something and then realise after a few hours that all I hear are the birds outside. Quite nice really.
I’m very comfortable being alone during the day as it’s filled with what I would describe as visual conversation so I don’t feel alone at all. I do love it though when my wife and son come home. I find it interesting that the atmosphere within the house changes from work to home when they come back.
Are there any particular techniques that you use to maintain focus and high productivity?
The pressure to pay the bills is more than enough!
Would you agree that having a good idea is just 1% of the task, the other 99% is just plain hard work?
A good idea if it works is way more than 1%! You can work for days on something just to realise that actually your first idea wasn’t that great. Getting the balance is important and so time thinking is invaluable.
Similarly you can labour a painting all day and it looks the worse for it, other times you can make a few light marks that just look fantastic. Being in the moment is what it’s all about. It’s when everything is working in tune with itself so much so that it happens without much thought. I think sports men and women call it being “in the zone”.
Is it difficult to seperate your life and work at times? Have you developed techniques that help you address the balance between the two, or do you find yourself thinking about your artwork all the time?
My work is an extension of myself and its who I am so I don’t make the distinction. For example, I may be watching the TV or talking and my mind will wander back to painting. I enjoy it so switching off isn’t an issue. I’m not a slave to it either. If I want to do something else, then I will and the break from work does me good.
How successful an artist do you see yourself? Does it give you pride to know that you are successful in creating artwork professionally and living off the proceeds?
I used to feel pride but now I just push on. There are peaks and troughs as with many things. I’ve had a few knock backs too which stops you from getting carried away. I don’t think its for me to assess my relative success and anyway on what would you gauge it by – money? How many paintings I’ve sold? How many years i’ve been doing it? I think I’d be wasting my time thinking of those things. They’re not important. Being happy is and I have a great wife and kids and I’m in good health thankfully, so that’s what counts more to me.
How do you know when a piece is finished? Do you ever find yourself overworking something? Is finishing something you find easy or difficult? Do you ever procrastinate from finishing?
It’s nice when you do something new because you’re not sure where the end is. In most cases its when it just feels right to leave it as it is. Finishing a painting is just the final word in the visual conversation I mentioned earlier. I don’t get too hung up about the end as theres much more going on before that point. Some days I’ll go back over something if l feel it needs it but after so many years l know when to leave it alone.
Where do you look to for inspiration outside of the art world?
Gathering reference material is very important and the internet is invaluable for sourcing all sorts of information. If I’m out walking I’ll always keep looking at things. For example it might be people walking in the town or the way trees look in the park which might be useful to commit to memory. Outside of that, I listen to music or become focused on books or the TV. I enjoy finding out about other people’s lives and experiences. It helps me to understand how my life fits in with things.
Do you actively seek feedback from your friends, family, or viewers of your work? If so, is it important to take that feedback on board and use it to develop or change direction?
I find it extremely useful to get other peoples opinions on things. My wife is my biggest critic. Lets face it she knows more about what I do than anybody, and I value her opinion. She’s no artist but I suppose I like to think she represents a general view. However, I know to take other people’s opinions for exactly that. Everyone has their own likes and dislikes so one has to take a balanced view. The voice inside my own head is ultimately the most important!
When you’re struggling with a piece, stuck for an idea, or disappointed with how something is progressing – how do you motivate yourself to do better, to get going again, or just to get out of bed?
The pace that I set for myself has always been pretty quick. I am prolific so if I have a failure I don’t get hung up on it. I believe one of my greatest strenghts is just to keep going no matter what. I listen to the commitment others put in to being successful and they all put it down to determination to continue despit the setbacks, no matter how many you get.
Dealing with failure is essential to success.
Away from the studio, can you tell us a little about Adam Barsby? Who is the artist behind the brush, what do you do to relax, and what things are important in your life beside painting?
Like most people, I enjoy spending time with family and friends. I like restaurants, coffee shops and of course pubs! My wife and I are keen runners. Its a great stress buster and gets me out of the house. I can’t stand gyms and anyway, after doing my back in a few years ago, my doctors words were “gyms are bad for your health!” In my case that was true as I slipped a disc on one of the machines and needed an operation to rectify it. Running may not be the best thing for my back, but I love it.
I love to spend time with my three year old son too, he certainly keeps us on out toes!
For many years, I used to be in bands playing local venues. I play the drums and a little acoustic guitar. I like my music and often relax trying to learn a new song if the chords aren’t too difficult! Music has been in my family for many years so it was a natural hobby to take up.