Category Archives: Heatherly

Colour as Music

Madonna Transformation 3

After a series of interim studies based off The Aldobrandini Madonna I ultimately produced this. It is fair to say that the coincidence of our project with the Bridget Riley exhibition at the National Gallery influenced my direction. I took the core colours and geometric shapes in the picture, to form the basis of preliminary studies. I used the shapes and colours to build up repetitions and movement across the image, firmly based in the original but having a life and energy of its own.

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Analysis of Pictorial Structure

Madonna Transformation 2

Like many images from the era, The Aldobrandini Madonna, is firmly based in geometric structure. The central part of the image, The Madonna, Baby and Saint Catherine define an equilateral triangle, while Saint Catherine and the baby are contained in a pentagon, a favourite from the era. The ‘background’ of the images supports this core structure with 1) an inverted triangle balancing the main one, 2) an outside frame that holds it all 3) an extended diamond shape that relates John the Baptist and some shepherds to the main protagonists.

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Tony Mott – transformation 1

Madonna Transformation 1

This exciting project was based around paintings in the National Gallery. The idea was to examine the pictoral construction of images from different time periods, in particular before and after 1500. Using that analysis to reconstruct the image in a more analytical form. Ultimately, resulting in a transformed piece of art based off the original, often in 3D.

I worked on 4 pieces, but the one that I took through to a final work was this one. It is The Aldobrandini Madonna, by Titian from about 1532. The picture is of the baby Jesus with The Virgin. Saint Catherine is holding the baby while a young John the Baptist looks on.. The John the baptist is wrapped in camel skin and carrying his traditional reed cross.

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Susan Engledow double portrait

Order from Chaos

This double portrait project with Susan was challenging and for a shorter period than most of our painting projects.  The main objective was to require us to work with a background that was constantly changing, needing to be simplified it into a coherent image.  Secondarily, Susan wanted to give us an opportunity to explore the compositional possibilities of two models sitting together.  These two objectives were realised by putting two models on chairs in the middle of the room with people working around them and moving about.

For something where so many bits went fine, I am a bit disappointed with this picture (though it is not as bad as this photograph suggests).  Perhaps I went too fast into the painting, in the face of a short painting time, about 15 hours.  I liked the play of the back of the head against the other model looking.  Yet if I had taken the time to work through the composition it would have been obvious how lopsided the weight of the picture would be.  Mainly due to the dark and ‘heavy’ head of hair.  Also I am unhappy about the pastel feel of the colours, especially in the background.  Perhaps it would also have been helped by working with the light rather than against it (which creates large dark areas)

However, there are many individual bits that I liked:


The hair has worked well, with form, colour and interest.

The form and tones of the bodies of both models works,

The interaction of the chair back and other chair arm is good,

The overall feel of the space is strong.

I like the result of partially drawing some of the objects in the background into the space, it helps define it clearly, while not being overly specific.



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Steve Duncan – anatomy 2011

Direct Drawing

We started the term with a great week focused on anatomical drawing taught by Steve Duncan. Steve is a sculptor specialising in human anatomy and its representation. The week was taught in detail and despite having a good amount of theoretical and physical experience in anatomy, I got a lot from it.

I guess that the key learning was to understand the value of knowing what to expect to see and understand how that is translating into what you are actually seeing. I would like to do a lot more practise of this, perhaps I should focus on self drawing.

I also used the week to focus on my drawing technique. Most of my usual drawing is preliminary to painting rather than an end in itself and I do that by focusing on where forms break. Here the drawings are an end to them selves and I was experimenting with very direct mark making and using different types of marks, especially linear shading overlapping where appropriate and line.

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Half Term Review

Plenty to Work On

We were lucky to have a mid course review session with an excellent group of commentators, including Alistair Adams, Susan Engledow, Tony Mott and John Walton. They spent half an hour commenting on each of our work, its strengths and weaknesses. In general, I came away happy with the direction that I am going (I was particularly pleased with the reaction to the picture here top right), but that there are several things that I need to work on. The main points that I came away with to work on were:

More variation in marks. I have a tendency to use relatively similar types of mark making across the picture, at least not planned differences. AA suggested looking at John Virtue (also Paul Wright). He also suggested practising tonal drawing to work at different marks.

Colour consistency and planning, while I do this naturally on similar paintings, I can lose it on larger and more complex paintings. An early colour planning process would help.

Giving equal weight to the non object part (background) of the paintings, in composition, paint application and thought of colour use.

Colour integration, in particular the impact of reflections so that the image settles into one. JW in particular sees my pictures as having a stain glass effect where objects do not relate enough to each other, although in fairness that is more oriented to my older work.

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Linda’s Challenge

Learning by Challenge

The last project of the year was a challenging pair of portraits with Linda Nugent.  The challenge was set in a number of ways, first, by limiting the picture construction to a square and filling the frame with the full figure.

Second, by working with limited local colour, white walls, white/cream sheets, white skin tones and one colour wraps. Lastly, using time pressure with 40 inch square canvases, the morning on one and the afternoon on the other.  Inherently, considering the difference between having the light behind and the light in front, ie. contra jour.

For me there were several key points, many of which I would like to focus on more in my coming work.  Perhaps the most interesting to me is the idea that resolution and strength in a work largely comes through struggle, deep involvement and commitment to continuously improving, looking for the weaknesses etc.  When things are going ‘easily’ it all too often means that there is not enough content, at least in my work.  Although I start out working on the main lights and darks and the main points of colour, I have tended to work on it a point at a time, rather than thinking of it as tone/light and colour planning.  This has become much more noticeable in this exercise where local colour is quite limited and so colour consistency is an issue.  I think that the focus should be the flow of light across the image and how that is used to make both the form as well as the abstract image.  Similarly, the use of colour and temperature equivalents to make the form as well as the abstract image.  The third issue that I want to work on is the shapes across the whole of the picture plane, in particular those that are not the object itself, ie the pattern of negative shapes.


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In the Particular

Own Time

This is the next experimental portrait that I did of Fiona. The point was to build the picture based off marks initially made all over the canvas, with large square brushes. Ultimately, bringing it all together with hogs hair rounds, linking up the various passages and integrating the image, as well as building up the paint more thickly. This process seems to be giving good results for me, at least so far. In my mind this is the best picture that I have done and more importantly it is the first one of Fiona that she likes. Every time I threaten to do some more to it she rushes to stop me.

I am really liking the combined palette of traditional earth colours, alongside passages and mixes using a combination of Viridian and Alizarin. For those that follow my interest in only using non toxic paint. The form of Chromium used in Viridian and Chromium Oxide green is the stable and believed to be non toxic Chromium III (it is used naturally in the body), rather than the highly toxic Chromium VI.

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Andrew James Portraits 2

Building up the Portrait

My second portrait of the project was quicker and smaller, but leant even more on working all over the picture and bringing it together in the end with a few small changes.  Due to the short time, I was not able to work in as many layers as I did in the previous picture, but was helped by the benefit of a face of great particularity.

In both these pictures I have used considerable emphasis on the contrast of warm and cool colours and their natural vibrancy, ultimately allowing me to get that vibrancy with cleaner individual marks than I have used in the past.  Looking forward I think that I should tone down the saturation of the marks made with nearly pure colour, as these stand out too much and lead to a sense of more fragmentation.

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Andrew James Portraits 1

Large head portraits

Andrew James Vice President of the Royals Society of Portrait Painters, was teaching our last assignment.  You can see his work at:

He is one of the leading portrait painters in the UK and largely self taught.  I would characterise his work as linked to contemporary life, with strong design and love of paint, the act of painting and colour.


The focus was primarily on close in head portraits and the main teaching points for me were:  Building up a density of paint and marks, focusing on what is particular/unique,  balancing harness and softness (as important as balancing tone and temperature),  making a clear decision when two things are in conflict, balancing fragmentation with a whole picture unity and routes through the picture.


The first picture was a large 40X30 inch head portrait of Alona.  I changed my working practise in this in two ways, 1) doing more marks all across the portrait, rather than from the centre out, and 2) working many more layers, allowing for more adjustment and pigment density.


In the end I primarily liked using colour temperature to create contrast and emphasis.  The background was a much more positive support to the painting as a whole as well as the key colours in the head.  The new challenge for me that I liked was creating spaces and routes through the picture to bring it all together.

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