Artist Andy Hamblin on creating a 14th Century vision of Battle Abbey Gates in ultra-fine detail
September 23, 2017

Andy Hamblin has created especially for Battle Festival an oil painting of Battle Abbey Gates as they would have appeared in the 14th Century, using ultra-fine detail and Old Master techniques. On Sunday 1 October he will be putting the final touches to this unique piece and demonstrating some of his tools and working practices.

What is your artistic background? From a very young age, around 6 years old I was always drawing and painting in watercolours when my parents bought me my first oil paint set at 9 years old, only weeks later winning my first oil painting competition which was displayed at The Cliff’s Pavilion Theatre in Southend-on-Sea. Even back then I was totally obsessed with the ultra fine details in my pictures. Leaving school I went to Southend School of Art & Design for four years studying an SIAD degree course in graphic design and illustration. Whilst at college I built up a reputation as an accomplished Airbrush Illustrator, getting paid work for custom car murals, photographic retouching for local photographers and a special commission to produce the world’s largest golf bag as a centre piece for the Wentworth Open International Golf tournament. Also at college, aged 18, I was commissioned to produce a fine art painting of a Falcon bird which was to be presented as a ‘completion gift’ on a rare antique gold coin deal with middle-east clients. Several weeks later I was informed that it was presented to His Royal Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani, Emir of Qatar.

Leaving college, I entered the crazy world of fast pace London advertising as an International commercial artist, designer and working my way up to Creative Director, winning several industry awards along the way. Most proud of ‘Excellent in Creative Production’ award at the ‘Quality in Print Media Awards’ for my detailed Photoshop work and use of new technology. Throughout my creative career the ‘visual image’ has always been the most important, paying attention to every minute detail and making sure every image has real life and drama. Working in the advertising industry my painting career took bit of a back seat but I still produced numerous commission pieces for corporate companies and private collectors, including the odd Lord. How and when did you develop your particular painting style?

My painting style has always been pretty consistent over the years, with my love of Constable, Turner and Vermeer all of which have been a massive influence in my style. Right back from a school trip to The National Gallery I remember sitting in front of John Constable’s ‘The Haywain’ and thinking to myself “I’m going to paint like that one day!” That initial thought has always been ingrained in my mind and still the driving force every time I pick up a brush today. Having spent many years digitally retouching images down to the last pixel it really has influenced my obsession to create life-like paintings where the viewer can imagine themselves walking off into the canvas landscape, particularly the use of light and shadow to give the paintings depth. I found the only way to get finite detail was to use a miniature 10/0 detail brush throughout, people today are stunned when they see what brush I use. As part of my process, I use ‘Old Master’ techniques including Impasto texture, Velatura Tinting and Coloured Glazes to create that historic look and feel. What drew you to Battle Abbey as a subject?

When the Battle Festival committee approached me to produce a special painting for the festival I really wanted to produce something the people of Battle would be proud to have. Knowing my surname ‘Hamblin’ first arrived in England with the Norman Conquest of 1066. ‘Hamblin’ was given an estate in Gloucestershire on granted lands by Duke William of Normandy, for his distinguished assistance at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 A.D. With that historical surname link back to the Norman Conquest I thought it only fitting that I produced a painting of Battle Abbey as it has never been seen before, deciding to produce a unique painting of Battle Abbey Gates as they stood in the 14th Century and an angle that has never been painted before. What has the creative process been and how did you begin this project in terms of research carried out?

Embarking on a journey using such an iconic building and one that has been painted numerous times over the centuries was daunting to say the least. I knew I had to get a bit of the 14th Century period surrounding the location of Battle Abbey but really wanted the Abbey Gates to dominate the painting, as it would have been quite an imposing structure back then and still is today. Working with English Heritage at Battle Abbey and David Martin, architectural historian from London College University I knew I was in safe hands. David and his wife Barbara had spent almost 50 years researching the history of Battle buildings in the town between 1066 and 1750. Once we had established plan drawings of the surrounding buildings and the structural differences of the Abbey Gates in the 14th Century I set about creating photoshop visuals of how it must have looked. I wanted to include a few characters in the scene so I turned to Michelham Priory’s 14th Century living history bowmen who kindly agreed to be my models. I embarked on many a long day taking hundreds of reference photographs of the Abbey at different times of day, Michelham’s Bowmen, old horse breeds, the worn tracks around Ashdown Forest, old trees surrounding Battle, even the oak beams of my own 16th Century cottage studio in East Sussex. These were all used to create the definitive reference image to start the painting. Could you tell us about some of the tools/brushes you will be using to complete the painting?   Throughout the painting my main brush is always a miniature ultra-fine 10/0 detail brush along with a very soft, long bristle size 1 brush to gently soften the hard detailed brush strokes, giving a sense of distance to certain parts of the painting. At the public unveiling of the painting on 1st October, I will be using an ‘Old Master’ technique of Velatura Tinting on the final touches along with my detail 10/0 miniature brush. I will also be talking and demonstrating with some ready-made examples of how I build up coloured glazes on top of Impasto textures using under-painted white oil paint mixed with French chalk, along with a few unusual tools to create certain effects on paintings.   Approximately how long will it have taken for you to complete the work from start to finish?

I first started this project back in March this year and spent over a month photographing, liaising with English Heritage and David Martin and re-creating in Photoshop the historical part of the image, over two weeks pencil drawing the image onto canvas and four months fine art painting over hundreds of hours, accurately re-creating every block and stone in the building. To me, as this is now such an important historical painting for Battle and future historians to refer, it had to be highly detailed and very accurate… perfect for my style of painting.  

Andy Hamblin will be putting the final touches to his painting of Battle Abbey Gates on Sunday 1 October, 2.30-4.30pm, at Battle Memorial Halls, FREE ENTRY.