Category Archives: Heatherly

Allan Ramsay project

A Study in Black

This was the last portrait project of the Heatherley’s Diploma. Allan Ramsay is an outstanding painter and teacher, previous winner of the BP portrait prize, you can see some of his work at You can see an example of his painting here, bottom right. His main mantra is to focus on the major elements of the image, and not too many of them. The key points of drama, the darkest darks, lightest lights, which are warm and which are cold. Even if using photos, to support the painting, make your own decisions about how you want it to look and do let the photos take that away, again the key points.

For me this was an exercise in the use of black and a very helpful and necessary one. Jennifer was wearing black clothes and was sitting in front of an essentially black piece of fabric. I certainly ended up mixing many different black to make the painting. Using Raw Umber and ultramarine as the base (cool), warming it up with Venitian red ( can use Burnt umber instead of the raw umber to get a warm black), also shading it off to green with yellow ochre. Alternatively, for the clothing I based it on Alizarin Crimson and Viridian that gives a more grey/metallic feel to differentiate the clothing from the background.

Three interesting areas to work on are: 1) using small marks/drawing to make the turning points in the form. 2) Using Small marks to create points of emphasis, drama, bringing the nearest things forward. 3) How to keep the image open and not locked in.

Although this is far from my usual stye and, as a result, I will not use it in the final exhibition, I like this picture, in a way its a modern form of a very traditional type of portrait, with Jennifer emerging from darkness.

A Study in Black 1

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Life Diptych

Life 1 and 2 diptych

This double portrait project is one that I devised in my studio. Fiona is very generous with her time and I enjoy painting her. There are several artists that have painted clothed and unclothed portraits of the same person or couples in essentially the same pose. They appeal to me as much for the psychological impact as well as the challenge. The one that I remember most clearly was by Tai-Shan Schierenberg.

Since the paintings stand side by side and are of the same person in essentially the same pose, the challenge of representation is increased because it becomes very easy to see if there is an error in one of them.

I really enjoyed this pose because of the crossed angles, foreshortening and elegance. The composition is a very simple one so that there is no distraction from the figure.

The question that I hope it poses is this…. Which is real life? dressed as we usually are (psychologically defended by layers of pretence), or naked, not pretending, open to what comes next with nothing to hide. If the later, then why do we let most of lives be defined by the former?

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Minna Stevens – Faces

Head on Portraits

We focused on reconnecting with the head and facial expression in this portrait project. Minna Stevens was an excellent project leader, inspiring and devoted, you can see her work at One of the main points of focus was to maintain direct eye contact with the model, and capture the sense of connection that creates in the image. Interestingly, even when painting a side view, while the model has eye contact with someone else also, substantially changes the portrait from what it would have been if they did not have that eye contact.

There were many interesting things about this project. 1) Focusing on, being clear about and representing body language in a way that suits the portrait. 2) Using sensitive edges and including points that make the drawing while not being too defined. 3) the grey palette that I use of Viridian and Alizarin Crimson makes for coolish greys and the effect can be enhanced with some passages warmed up with earth colours, for contrast. 4) Finding a balance between the unconscious tendency to straighten and my conscious exaggeration of difference.

While these two pictures are rather conventional I enjoyed them for the direct sense of presence that they have, alongside a vibrancy that is clear but perhaps not overly dramatic.

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Danny – combinations

People and Places

Danny Cuming led this very interesting portrait project. The idea was to combine the figure, from in the studio with an outside scene to create a new image. in this way we could vastly expand what is possible in a portrait. The first step is to gather reference material from both the figure and the external site chosen, with drawings, colour sketches, written notes and, if need be, photographs. Secondly, to make up some small thumbnails until an overall composition is finalised. Thirdly, in my case I did a full combined drawing. Finally, to go ahead with the painting. There are several key elements to making the two work together, notably scale, eye line, reflections and lighting.

I really enjoyed this project and plan do more of this type of thing. In my case, I used the station at St Pancras international, but several different parts of it to create one image. Stations have strong and ambiguous ideas surrounding them, meetings, partings, and just going through. They are ideal for looking at the contrast between the organic human form and the manufactured and linear environment of the modern world.

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Conte with Chris Moock

Earth Colour Portrait Drawing

he last week of the term was drawing using Conte, led by Chris Moock. In part this is driven by his interest in drawing and the bridge between drawing and painting. However, it also coincides with the Exhibtion of drawings by Watteau at the Royal Academy.

I like working on a coloured ground, just as I do when painting. It allows for both dark and light to be drawn directly into the ground. The red allows yet another dimension of hot and cold. As working on an Ochre grounds adds to the potential. In many respects it reminds me of the warm and cool paintings that I did a couple of years ago, some of which you can see in the Still Life tab of this website.

I love the medium itself, the conte sticks have a velvety texture about them, they spread of the end and side of the stick onto the paper in an extremely controllable and fluid way. Since this project I have used black conte stick in life drawing instead of charcoal. Its not easy to rub out, but leaving a trace of where you have been has its own character and enforces a certain discipline.

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Atul’s Life painting

Life in a Blue chair

This was an enjoyable life portrait painting project with Atul Vohora ( who also teaches at the Slade school and is published in Artists and Illustrators magazine).The project was set up with a focus on a strong visual relationship with the back ground colours and interesting physical structure. Of the two set ups, I choose this one, which had more foreshortening, a very strong warm/cold contrast and a strong sense of the light flooding across the figure and chair.

I had to work quickly because I missed 3 days of the project, it is a bit more rushed than I would have liked, which the picture echoes. In the last few projects I have been working with more layers and under painting than I used to. In this painting I overcame the problem of the texture of the under layers adversely effecting the top layer by scraping the layers back. Traditionally the under layers would be thinned, which i do not do because of the toxicity of the thinners. However, it did work well for me and I will continue with this approach. I also worked with some more less saturated colour than I usually do, which was helpful. It makes the more saturated colours come out more strongly and helps with the sense of depth in the picture.

Overall, I like the picture, which seems to balance my usual love of bright and more differentiated marks with the need, in this case, of making a reasonably realistic image.

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My self portrait

Working over a mirror 2

This is a reworking of a self portrait idea that I started with last year. I felt that there was more to be got by working with it again.

I like the idea and angle of perspective, as well as the resulting composition. I have always been attracted to breaking the conventional moulds of portrait composition. In our daily life we see people from all sorts of different angles that are not generally examined in the world of portraiture. I find that this one implies a solidity, an honest workman like approach which suits the way I see the world and perhaps myself.

The contrast between the solidity of the seat, legs and torso, with the etherial sense that surrounds the brush and canvas, almost as if the paint is floating off the brush appeals to me. It reminds me that the contrast between what can be achieved with pure earth colours and the Viridian/Alizarin axis is interesting and something that I would like to explore more.

It is also interesting to see how I have developed in the last 8 months by comparing this to the earlier entry ‘portrait over a mirror’.

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Daniel Shadbolt – heads

Lying Down Head Portrait

This project was focused on painting head closeups, led by Daniel Shadbolt. Daniel was the winner of the Bulldog Bursary in 2008 and you can see examples of his work at His style of work and teaching approach is to focus on a searching, objective examination of the subject, with small and sometimes thin marks gradually building towards an image. The process of the search is up front in the work. To me his work brings to mind Cezanne, which is a great compliment.

I struggled in this project feeling less at ease with the style of approach than some others. On the other hand I can comfortably say it was a good learning experience, giving me a taste of an approach that is very different from my usual one. Others in the class thrived on it. In fact one of the works from this project, done by Mark Stevenson, was selected in open competition for the Royal Society of Portrait Painters annual exhibition.

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Drawing Development

Particular Portrait

This was a home project to develop my portrait drawing technique. FOr the last several months my drawing has either been relatively quick in the life drawing class or oriented to helping me get started for a painting. In particular I have tended to focus on the structure of the thing that I am looking at and where one plane turns into the next one. Whilst I find it very useful in developing a painting, it results in a very particular type of image. I wanted to go back and look at drawing where the drawing is the end product, more tonally oriented. You can see both types on this page.

The image is made up of a series of scribbles, built up in layers to form a tonal and structural pencil painting. The pencil is both creating one, but also the directions of the marks is saying something about the direction of the plane and more importantly the change in plane compared to the one next to it.

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Fiona’s Eyes

Triptych portrait

I wanted to paint a triptych portrait that would further my quest for greater presence of the subject.  To do that I looked at Fiona’s head from different points of view so that multiple angles and perspectives are explored.  I arranged the sizes so that they became more of a single piece and carried the eye over from one into the other and back again.  I used a direct view of the eye to establish a sense of strong contact, of mutual examination.

There is something slightly disturbing about the result, the sense of contact and examination is so strong that you feel as examined by the picture as you are examining it.  To that end I find it to be reasonably successful.  Fiona does have an intensity about her and she enjoys the picture and I think sees it as reflecting that part of her.

While the mark making and brush work is not as ‘painterly’ as in some of my other more recent work, it does stand on its own feet and is clear.  On close up examination it just about passes my test of being abstractly interesting in close up scale, all over the canvas.  I am left slightly unsure in my own mind of the trade off between the more painterly approach and the more tailored one.  Maybe there is some point that can accommodate and take the best from both?  Something to think about.

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