Tuesday, 2 July 2013


My 15-year old niece Kitty kindly gave up a day to sit for me recently.

Unlike most portrait painters I actively avoid working from photographs.

I see a portrait's true purpose as being a way of capturing something of the subject that a photograph can't.

Spending hours with someone; moving, sitting, chatting with you – means that the character, attitude and personality of that sitter will make an impression. And it is elements of that which I will try to capture.

A photograph freezes a moment lasting just a fraction of a second.

When an artist copies a photograph, it is unavoidable that the photograph itself will dominate in their painting, no matter what other observations and approaches they use. The photograph effectively dictates what the painting will look like before the painting is even started.

Conversely, having someone sitting in front of you – moving, breathing, talking – forces the painter to have no option to look. And look they must – for hours on end.

That's not to say that photographs don't have their place – as art in their own right, and as useful reference material. A real portrait should give much more than the click of a shutter can offer you.

Equally important in portrait painting is the fact that – unlike a landscape or still life – the subject of your painting is actually themselves working hard too.

Sitting still, being sensitive to the studio environment and the needs of the painter, is far more taxing that one might imagine.

With Kitty I felt very privileged to have such a beautiful model who sat very still.


My first ever 'proper' painting in oils of flowers was of tulips in a pewter vase in front of a window.

I was aged about fifteen, and was inspired by the work of my mother – herself a Slade-trained artist who was taught by William Coldstream and Patrick George.

Ever since then my motivation to paint flowers has never ceased. It is a unique and frequently denigrated subject matter in art, which actually requires huge control and discipline. I've written about this several times before.

My preference is always to paint garden flowers. I pick them immediately before starting the painting in order that they are fresh, vibrant and long-lasting.

This year I once again planted Cosmos in my garden, in great quantity.

The first time I painted Cosmos was when my late step-father John Hinchcliffe brought some round for me to plant. I went on to produce a series of paintings of those Cosmos that year, which I consider to be some of my finest work. They are now owned by Tresco Estate.

I'll never forgot John's friendly laughter on seeing these paintings, remarking with a hint of artistic rivalry that that was the last time he was going to bring me Cosmos!

Like my mother John also painted flowers, often using textiles as a background – reflecting his roots as a designer in textiles and ceramics.

My strength in painting flowers therefore comes from those strong traditions, and also from my own study, influences and tastes.

Over the last few months garden flower paintings have been my main focus.

The latest can be seen here, and are available for viewing in my studio.