Brush strokes and fine dots

Behind the scenes with Thurlo Adams

What is the process of making art? Does an artist simply have a great idea and makes something in 5 minutes? Is it true that artists have a brainwave and implement the idea as soon as they can? Is it the final result or the beginning of a long process?

Imagine that you and a stranger are standing in front of a painting. You scan the image and see a few boats that have set sail while the sun goes down.
Can you relate to the work? Do you like the style? Do you even like boats?
The stranger is clearly impressed.

You smile but think to yourself that this isn’t for you. In fact, the painting next to it, standing on elephant dung, of a bright yellow monkey wrapped in intense greens and pinks, is far more appealing to you.

We access art in different ways. 
Impression, Sunrise or Mono Amarillo may 
have different effects on you. Art certainly 
plays different roles. It breaks molds, stirs 
things up and once they are settled, helps 
unite and empower people. Comparing 
different approaches and concepts unite 
us in debate.

Inspiration finds artists in different ways. It isn’t always clear why we are attracted to an artwork. What results is sometimes due to informed decisions taken by an artist during their preparatory stages. Let’s consider what goes into an artwork. When looking at Monet or Ofili, do we ever consider the stages that helped scaffold the final outcome? Each artist has a creative process and different ways of arriving at this point.

To get a peek behind the scenes of creating an artwork, we reached out to Thurlo Adams and asked him to walk us through his creative process.

Adams is an illustrator and mixed media artist from Cape Town, South Africa. He names four steps that he takes: Inspiration, Preparation, Creation and Reflection.


Adams is observant. Finding inspiration in portrait photography, he notes people’s expressions carefully. Each expression, a reflection of their daily lives set on the timeline of history. During his time spent in nature he is able to notice patterns which he incorporates into his work using mixed media.

Adding to nature and people, he draws from social media and his more immediate surroundings. 

Thurlo Adams, Unbent, Ink on paper,
297 mm x 420 mm, 2018


Notably, his first order of business is to ensure that all tools and materials are set out neatly at his workstation. Adams is tidy and appreciates order, in his own words “I find it calming and more satisfying to work in a space that is precise and organised.”

He runs various thought experiments on how he might combine a chosen image and his use of colour and patterns. His aim is to honour the story told by the chosen image.

Next he prints the photograph that he has chosen in black and white, as this pronounces existing facial lines. It becomes clear to Adams where certain lines meet and end, allowing him to see which areas require shading.

Thurlo Adams, Coffee Break,
Ink on paper,
180 mm x 130 mm, 2018


Adams draws the outlines for the portrait and the shapes which will fill the background using a pencil. Once he has mapped out his drawing he starts considering colours for the background. Filling each shape, he uses paint and Copic Markers to imbue a striking mix of colours.

Moving onto the portrait, he outlines all features of the face and clothing before beginning the process of stippling, the process of drawing numerous small dots. Stippling requires a steady hand and patience. It also requires tiny nibs which Adams finds fineliner markers work perfectly for. The nibs range from 0.05 mm to 0.1 mm and considering that stippling is the most time consuming part of his process, it isn’t surprising that one artwork can take up to 15 hours to complete.
Being aware that detail takes time he allocates an hour a day to an artwork.


Reflection is important to Adams’ creative process. He ensures that he does so after each completed artwork. Describing feelings of pride, accomplishment and disappointment he notes that he is never sure of how the outcome may affect him.

Quietly reviewing a finished artwork, he studies his failings and successes, thinking of ways to improve his next drawing.

Make sure to visit Thurlo Adams‘ Instagram page and his website (coming soon).


Art grows and art revolutionizes. Art is a reflection of the times. There are artists who paint with oils, concept artists who work with writing or found objects, installation artists who prepare for months to install an artwork in 24 hours.

There are sculptors who carve wood and artists who incorporate 3D modelling programs to create powerful works for society to interact with. They might comb through markets for months looking for a specific component, a unique object that will bring their project to fruition. They could be putting their hours in by sitting in front of their easel every single day, altering tiny details that the viewer might never see, using a tiny brush for precision.  

Art is fluid and every artist is invariably different. Let’s continue our journey in discovering how artists make their work, stroke by stroke, dot by dot.