Reimagine by Bessie Millar

Reimagine by Bessie Millar
26th April 2019 Helen Bullock
In Unison News

Reimagine … Colour, atmosphere and memory in soft pastel…

 For the past three months I have been immersed in an exciting project – to reimagine objects and subjects from Richmond Borough Art Collection culminating in a group exhibition at Orleans House Gallery in Twickenham.

Working from old black and white photographs of the local landscape I have created a body of work that captures the essence of these past places through colour and light using pastels.

The Process – new ways of working

After working from a number of tonal grey and sepia images depicting ghostly landscapes I decided to focus on these three images.


Two of the photographs were taken across the Thames in 20th Century. The final large photograph was of Rhododendron dell in Kew Gardens – date unknown.

I do not normally work from tonal images – my usual process is to be outside painting and drawing from life. These sketches that are nearly always in colour are then taken back to the studio and developed.

I found this new process of working from these grey-scale images enabled me to tap into my imagination and focus on depicting the atmosphere of these past places through colour. Pastels were the perfect medium for my explorations.

The qualities of my materials

Pastels are a magical medium, from these thick luscious pigment sticks a whole new world can be depicted. I like to build my images gradually. I always start my pastel paintings with a watercolour under-painting where I establish my lights and darks and the tonal range.

I then work on top gradually building layers of colour, smudging some areas and leaving some strokes sharp and visible. Pastel can be skimmed lightly across the surface of the paper to create hazy hints of colour. It can be applied thickly like you would an oil paint, where the marks of application are visible. Pastel can be used to evoke a multitude of textures and colour combinations can be layered to exploit colour stimulation.

Colour Chords

To enhance the feeling of atmosphere I decided to restrict my palette and work with different colour chords within a close tonal range to create a harmonious palette.

Colour Chords – a selection of colour notes that harmonise or are exciting when combined together.

I work on the images as a whole – building gradually, tweaking colour relationships and layering colours of a similar tone. Once I am happy with all these colour relationships I then begin to add movement and pathways through the paintings with accent colours – I am continually reassessing all these colour partnerships as they continually change as different colours appear next to one another.

Pathways – Ongoing

A reoccurring theme within this project was the idea of past pathways – I wanted to revisit Rhodendrum Dell in Kew gardens and this has led to a development of a new body of work inspired by pathways found.


Reimagine at Orleans House Gallery – Tuesdays – Sundays 10am – 5pm will be showing until 27th July.

My pastel paintings will also be on show at Wimbledon Art Fair, London 9th – 12th May.

Instagram : bessiemillarart

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