The Art of Reading heads for Heatherley’s!

If you haven’t yet seen the Art of Reading exhibition that opened at Waterstones in Bloomsbury last year, and toured to the Cambridge Literary Festival, you can catch it as it completes its tour at The Heatherley School of Fine Art at the end of this month.

Artist Katherine Firth portrayed Dame Gillian Beer DBE, ex-President of Clare Hall and King Edward Vii Professor of English Literature and a distinguished author and literary critic.

If you would like to learn more about her reading habits – and those of others portrayed – go to http://www.blurb.co.uk/b/7438580-the-art-of-reading to find The Art of Reading Catalogue.

The exhibition at Thomas Heatherley 75 Lots Road SW10 0RN (closest tube Fulham Broadway) runs Tuesday 26- Saturday 30 September 10am – 4pm. It is staged in association with Book Trust.

Katherine Firth on Painting


Another Heatherley graduate, Katherine Firth, who has a previous career as a Picture Editor, answers our questions about portraiture and painting below.

Katherine Firth

Katherine Firth


A Chat With Katherine: 

How did you become a painter?

I have painted most of my life, but studied History of Art at University and had a career in publishing as a Picture Editor before I had my children.  Once they were born, I made a concerted effort to take classes when I could, culminating recently in my studying for the Portrait Diploma at Heatherley’s.

What drew you to portraiture? 

I have always been compelled to capture likenesses, from my schooldays when I used to illustrate my exercise books with caricatures of my teachers, and it’s a fascination which I never seem to tire of.

Which other artists or painters do you look to for inspiration and why? 

Sargent for his drawing skills, genius at catching light effects and his virtuoso brushstrokes, Degas for his sense of drama and mystery, Rembrandt for his apparently effortless drawing and wonderful ability to capture character, Andrew James for his honesty, colour and vigorous brushwork.

What, to you, constitutes a good portrait? 

A good portrait is one which of course captures a likeness, but one in which one can sense the personality of the sitter.  It should ideally say something about the moment in which it is painted, which is possible if painted from life, but rarely achieved if done from photographs.  I want also to be interested in the surface of the painting and in the composition; both of which need to be complex enough to keep my attention over a long time.


‘Lisa’, 2013, 10″ x 12″, oil on board

The painting above was painted as part of an ongoing project I’ve set myself; to do a number (I’ve done about 12 so far) of quick sketches in oil, mostly taking about 2-4 hours.  I was particularly interested in capturing the moment with this young girl (18) as she talked about what her plans were for her future, but also to make a painting about the surface; keeping brushstrokes lively and immediate.

Do you have any current projects that you’d like to tell us about (exhibitions, articles, websites, commissions, personal projects)?

I don’t have a website.  My father and I will be holding a joint exhibition in Cambridge in the Spring (date t.b.c.)

Many thanks Katherine! We look forward to seeing more of your work soon.