Pointillist portrait

I’m struggling to get a good image of this painting, but these should give a general idea. The one of the painting on the wall is closer to the actual colours and also gives a sense of the painting in the round. Its 30cmx30cm. I dismissed painting a portrait in this style for ages and didn’t think it would be worth trying. I have only seen very few pointillist portraits that I felt were successful. Seurat did make some of the most beautiful drawings ever made, but I wasn’t sure about the painted portraits. I’m still not completely sure about this, but after painting some landscapes using a ‘pointillist’ method I thought why not attempt it? Even with the landscapes it’s only recently that I realised it was a way of working that I could stick to. We shall see about the portraits. I wanted to paint a picture that was pure decoration of a surface. I like the way dots animate the surface as they interact with each other. But I find i have to be careful as they can become visually jarring.. I say dots but they are really small brushstrokes, moving in different directions. If they are too uniform they look mechanical, boring, repetitive. Best results are achieved by having no method. Just keep working, one brushstroke after another. Thanks for reading, I hope you’re having a good day!

Changing light across dartmoor

Landscape oil painting of Dartmoor by contemporary British landscape painter Matt Harvey, available for purchase framed on my website
Changing light across Dartmoor

Here the change from light to shade, and the kaleidoscopic colours that result across the hills on Dartmoor in typical English weather. I loved painting the blues and deep violets against the ochres and umbers in the shadows. I love colour! That’s why I love painting. This is all painted in a looser style than my pointillist paintings, and I feel more comfortable painting in this way. Its faster, in the sense that I can record my feelings more directly.

2 styles of landscape painting

Hi there I wrote this for a presentation as part of a show recently, so I thought I would put it up here

I spend a lot of time in the local landscape, especially Dartmoor. The landscape here is always changing and the main subject of my paintings is the depiction of this changing light and weather, and how the landscape can look so beautiful as it reflects this. 

So I wanted to introduce you to two different painting styles that I use to try and depict this change. I’m now bringing these two styles, the first focussing on pure colour, and the second which is more gestural and focussed on mark making, together.

pointillist landscape painting by british artist matt harvey, oil on board using michael harding oil paints

This painting shows my so-called pointillist style, using small brushmarks across the painting surface. Pointillism or divisionism was an art movement started by Georges Seurat in the late 19th century. Henri Matisse also used this style early in his career. Painting with dots enables me to keep inventing while painting a landscape. I want to surprise myself with new combinations of colour that I did not anticipate before I started painting. There is a magic in discovering new things in a painting. It felt like pure painting because a spot of colour can work in any number of ways, depending on the other colours surrounding it. It does not change itself, but we perceive it differently as it reflects these other colours. 

The dots also display subtle patterns on the surface as they swirl and move about. I like this because this is something I cannot foresee and it is only when the painting is finished that this becomes fully apparent. If I try and plan this or make it happen as I work it ends up looking crude and contrived. So I can discover something I have never seen before which also reflects the idea that nature moves in rhythms and patterns which are not easy to discern. I can see afterwards that I am also a part of this rhythm and this is reflected on the painting surface.

I’m interested in contrasts of light and shade and how they bring out each others qualities.

This next painting is of a view looking east from Haytor on Dartmoor. I was up there recently and the light was very beautiful as the sun set behind me, with everything changing every second. The beauty of the landscape at this time of year and the colours deeply moved me. I hope to convey some of this emotion and would feel that my painting has been a success if someone else feels that too when they see it. I work fairly rapidly and use the brush with more movement, like chinese calligraphy, where the calligrapher lets their emotion show in the movement of the brushmarks.  I am always trying to find the simplest and most effective way to express my feelings. Because of my background in sculpture I see these two styles as being akin to two different sculptural disciplines. The pointillism is like carving, where the brushmarks build up to create the forms which crystallize on the surface, like when I am carving stone and the chisel marks grip the form and condense on the stone. The more gestural painting is like working rapidly with clay, moving the paint around on the surface, manipulating it as matter. That’s all painting is – matter pushed around on a flat surface, and there’s a beautiful magic in it for that.  

When I am in the landscape, and when I am painting these landscapes I feel happy, I feel the joy of life pulsing through nature and myself. I hope this feeling is communicated and shared through my paintings. 

Dartmoor from Haytor, first pass

This is the result of the first go at this painting of beautiful Dartmoor. I will definitely give it a glaze but its nice to have a record of this stage. The important thing is not to overdo it! Like Pisarro I have been trying to ‘escape the dot’, and am relishing a return to a more open painterly style.

Oil painting of a view of British landscape in Devon, showing Dartmoor as seen from Haytor. This painting is for sale on my website.
Dartmoor from Haytor, oil on board, 40x50cm

Thoughts about dots and landscape painting

pointillist oil painting of landscape in Devon England, showing moorland and Dartmoor in changing light
Changing light across Dartmoor

I had to write a brief statement for an upcoming show so thought I would share it here:

The British landscape has always held a deep fascination for me. Living in south west England means I spend a lot of time in the local landscape, especially on Dartmoor, a beautiful landscape in all seasons, and everything is always changing. The main subject of my paintings is this change itself, the depiction of this changing light, and how the landscape can look so different through the seasons, the time of day, and the weather. You can’t paint landscapes in England without painting the weather. 

I would like my landscape paintings to be the result of a dialogue between myself and the environment I am in. I feel that any landscape is always alive; changing, growing, and my paintings are the result of a communion I have with the landscape. I try to feel with the landscape and capture some kind of emotion and connection I experience when I am in the landscape. 

I paint in a so-called pointillist style where I use small brushmarks or dots to build up the image. I see each dot as a jewel sparkling with life. Each dot is like a full stop and a comma, an exclamation mark and a question mark. All around each dot are others that sparkle like gems in their interrelations. Dots express the beauty and purity of colours, where unchanging in themselves, they appear to behave so differently next to different colours, more beautifully expressing their intrinsic qualities. They are the simplest and purest expression of colour as it is, like musical notes. The dots also unintentionally appear to express rhythms and patterns on the painted surface which reflect rhythms and patterns in nature.

Pointillist landscape painting

I’ve been on a journey this year, as has everyone else. In the studio I have started painting landscapes again, and my artistic journey, with many twists and turns and uneven paths, has led me to a series of pointillist landscape paintings. It ties many different strands in my work, but I think the main reason this style suits me for the moment is that dots allow me to respond to the landscape with abstraction. I can begin to invent things which feels good. There is much to say about all of this but for now here is a recent painting. I will show some of the highs and lows from this journey in future posts.

This landscape looks across Dartmoor in the south west of England and shows the viewpoint looking from the shadow cast by a cloud towards hills with shadows on. You can’t paint landscapes in England without painting the weather. Its not all bad, as you can see the suns out over there! Thats a beautiful thing for me and has always been one of the themes of my landscapes. The light is beautiful precisely because of the shade, and there is always change, things never stay the same, there is always hope.

abstract landscape painting in pointillist style by Matt Harvey. Pointillism was invented by Seurat and was a post impressionist movement. Notable painters using this style were Signac and briefly, Matisse
Dartmoor, oil on board, 40x50cm


This blog has been filled with a lot of portrait paintings and thoughts about portrait paintings, but I also make other work which I add from time to time!

Harlequin copy

This is a fairly recent work, that I have been working on it for the last year or so, and it has developed in a surprising way, with dots! I have been banging my head against walls for a long time, trying to find a way to add paint to a canvas with less ‘style’. Its ended up here, but the journey here took a lot of different turns up blind alleys. I think the end is sculptural, combining a love of drawing, working with the figure, with colour. I have been trying over the years to combine both figurative and non figurative elements, and have explored many differing ways of painting with oils. Here there are 3 different ways of approaching a painting, or using paint; drawing, glazing, and something like pointillism.

The initial subject of the work was a figure dancing. I like the theme of the Harlequin, and this has obvious art historical references like Picasso or Cezanne amongst others. I used a photo of the dancer Arthur Mitchell which had the right quality of expression – not too stylised. I didn’t want to paint a picture of ‘dance’ but rather paint a human being in motion, in a state of change. After drawing the figure in paint – using one consistent line around the silhouette in a burnt umber, I glazed the traditional checked pattern of the Harlequin’s costume over the figure, overlapping so that it wasn’t limited by the figure and had the quality of something floating on another part of the picture plane. The picture plane is an imagined space, and I was trying to imagine a series of spaces within the same picture plane. 1 There is the figure in its own space, which is 2 dimensional as a silhouette. But when I make a drawing of a figure I am always thinking of the figure in the round, moving through a space. An inspiration could be Michelangelo’s slaves. I ‘carve’ the line as I paint, and this is a process of refinement and cutting the line. My first natural discipline is sculpture, specifically taking away, or carving. 2 there is the suggestion of a costume, but one that hovers in a space different to that of the figure. 3 the dots, which is a solution I have found that helps me paint with less style. Dots feel like both a blessing and curse, and like Pisarro now I’m there using them all I want to do is try and paint without them. But for now I am sticking with them and we will see where they take me.

This stayed in the studio for a few months and I wasn’t sure what to do with it, like so many paintings I have made.

But one day I started reworking another painting, using dots to map out some abstract spaces of a composition. This failed and I abandoned the attempt.

Portraits in a landscape

a painting of some boys rockpooling with nets in Cornwall in oil and acrylic by Matt Harvey portrait artist

Rockpooling, acrylic and oil on canvas

I can’t take too much credit for the composition of this one which was originally photographed on the Cornish coast, one of my favourite places! I like the dribble of seawater coming off the net on the left. Its a good dribble. This was another painting that I began in acrylics and finished in oil paint, and its a method I am going to return to. My dilemma is that there is nothing more pleasurable than pushing oil paint around a painting surface and acrylics lack this quality as they dry so quickly. I learned how to paint using oil paints and still feel acrylics are not the most natural method for me. They are dry before you know it and I have always found this difficult to manage. But then building them up slowly in layers has other advantages. When I was younger I wanted to draw like Giacometti and used biros and gouache paint to build up meshes of lines and daubs, and that is echoed in how I have been glazing acrylic paint when I use it. Because I don’t want to commit too much as the paint won’t let me manipulate it before it dries, I use thin layers of acrylic to slowly render the form.

I have mentioned I find this similar to carving. Inverted carving, as it is adding and not taking away. But each line or glaze of paint serves to refine and tighten the drawing, but unlike carving the mistakes add to the whole effect and in the end strengthen the drawing. When I carve stone every ‘mark’ with the chisel has to count. Every cut moves the sculpture closer to completion.

Portrait in acrylic and oils

A portrait painting by Matt Harvey in acrylic and oil paints. built up using a glazing method on board.

posthumous portrait in acrylic and oil (detail)

This is a portrait I did a while ago but have never shown it. Its actually a posthumous portrait from a photo. I found it in a folder titled ‘other portraits’ and not having seen it for a while I thought in the end it is probably something worth revisiting. Its interesting because I was trying to work out how to start a portrait in acrylics and then glaze with oils. I’m still trying to find a way of painting that I can settle on. I’m a bit of a technical magpie and am always hopping around seeing what works and what doesn’t but never quite satisfied with where I am. So often I find portraits from a while back and I can’t remember how I did them! Looking again at this I can see that maybe there is a way to construct a painting that has a subtle quality I’m seeking. I have different drawing styles too and one way I build up drawings is to add a lot of lines, tightening and sharpening the drawing as I go. This reminded me of that because I have used thin glazes of acrylic paint to construct the head which gives it a quality that appears both taught and is open enough to breathe. This way of slowly building up an image also reminds me of stone carving. In stone carving though there is no room for error! This way I can continue correcting, adjusting and tightening the image until it works. I thought about learning how to paint a portrait alla prima, and I may still do this as I don’t have a way to paint a portrait quickly ie in a single sitting. I have held back from doing it because there is something that irks me about the way all alla prima portraits seem to look the same as if they were painted by the same artist. All the artists I know who use this method have been taught how to do it in the same way, and for me there is something overly technical and not natural about everyone doing something in exactly the same way. People and artists are all unique individuals and surely art education is about trying to pull out that potential and individuality in a person’s work. Maybe its just sour grapes as I couldn’t do it as well as other artists. My modernist art education still hangs heavily over me and it goes against the grain to think about doing things in the same way as everyone else. But the question remains, what to do and how to do it?

Here is the first pass on the acrylic:

IMG_3161 copy

portrait in acrylic and oil – acrylic underpainting


Then I use oils to give it a bit more depth. Its all about the process for me. I get a lot out of slowly building up layers of paint, and having some room to breathe, allowing some human error to infiltrate the photo reference. I don’t actually mind working from photos and perhaps there is no difference between working from photos or from life as everything is photons bashing against my eyes anyway. I believe you can know someone from a photo and that you don’t have to meet them to know them in this way. Obviously it helps to meet someone in person but how well do we know people really anyway? I don’t feel I know myself sometimes and I discover new things about myself all the time. I really believe that there is a reality of a person that the photograph has captured and its the power of the artist’s subjectivity that can reveal this in a painting. Photos are different to paintings because they capture only the most fleeting moments of life. The life is still there though but sometimes photos don’t capture someone because the moment held is so bried it is almost a fragment of life. So there are good and bad photos when it comes to painting from them. I feel that an artist working from a photo can extend the moment captured and develop it into something deeper and longer.

Taylor Swift portrait in the manner of William Bouguereau

An oil painting demonstration showing how to paint like William Bouguereau by Matt Harvey Art

Portrait of Taylor Swift in the manner of William Bouguereau. An oil painting demonstration

Hi there I have just painted this portrait of Taylor Swift to demonstrate an aspect of Bouguereau’s technique, working straight into colour from the drawing. I worked on it for around 4 hours including the drawing stage. Below is the drawing stage which I completed using Burnt Umber and Linseed oil medium in a kind of ‘bistre’ effect. I did model some of the lights and darks in the hair but that was only so that I could clarify the drawing. A true bistre might also model the forms of the face, but here my intention was to finish the drawing so that I could focus on the colour in the video demonstration.

bistre drawing of Taylor Swift, oil on board using burnt umber and linseed oil medium. By UK portrait painter Matt Harvey Art

Portrait of Taylor Swift – Burnt Umber bistre drawing

Here is a before and after picture. The first colour glaze took about 90 minutes

Portrait of Taylor Swift showing the drawing stage in burnt umber and linseed oil medium, and then the first colour glaze

Portrait of Taylor Swift showing the drawing stage in burnt umber and linseed oil medium, and then the first colour glaze

In my portraits I would use this colour layer as a kind of underpainting and continue to refine the modelling in further glazes. The demonstration is on my youtube channel, link below.