Hilary Burnett Cooper was shortlisted for this year’s Jackson’s Painting Prize with her work, Café Culture. This evocative painting depicts a Parisian street scene with long, cool silhouettes that stretch towards the viewer, cutting through the warm tones of the afternoon light on the pavement. Here, Hilary tells us about her methods of capturing colour en plein air, working with palette knives and the characteristics of the light, unique to different places she has painted.
Above image: Autumn Shadows, 2017, Hilary Burnett Cooper, Acrylic on canvas, 53 x 53 cm
Clare: Can you tell us about your artistic background/education?
Hilary: I’m basically self-taught. I can distinctly remember my first day at school when I was 5 and the first thing I saw was an easel and that was what I did on my first day at school. I have always had an interest in art and painting from my earliest memories and I took ‘O’ level art at school. I then started a Graphic Design Diploma course at Jacob Kramer College of Art in Leeds but decided early on that this was not for me. I dropped out and painted in my spare time and held my first exhibition age 17 in Ilkley.
Clare: Where does a painting begin for you? Can you take us through your process?
Hilary: I start by working out a composition from sketches and photographs and when I’m happy with this I sketch it onto a canvas. I like to use a bright base colour so that parts of this will show through in various areas and ultimately bring the whole painting together. I invariably work from left top corner to right bottom corner.
Clare: The way you capture light in your Paris paintings is so spectacular. I almost go to squint when I look at them and the sense of time and season is just so familiar. Did you make colour swatches en plein air for this series?
Hilary: I always use colour swatches when I’m on site (en plein air) along with plenty of drawings and notes. Taking a photograph can help back in the studio but working from a photo is never the best option as cameras do not depicting the colours and light exactly right.
Clare: What else can you tell us about your colour palette? How do you set up and what are the colours you use the most of?
Hilary: I check out the composition and colour swatches and intuitively know where to start and which colours to use. Where this intuition comes from must be through experience. My favourites are Prussian Blue, Yellow Ochre and Fluorescent pink and I have a special tub of Amsterdam Sky Blue as no one else seems to do such a beautiful hue. I use the lid of Carte D’or ice cream tubs because when I’ve finished for the day I can put the tub on the top of the lid and keep the paint fresh.
Clare: What is the attraction and benefit of using a palette knife for you? Can you tell us about moving from using a brush to a palette knife?
Hilary: In terms of my painting history I only really started to use a palette knife quite recently and still use a brush as well. I love the use of the palette knife because it allows me to put down colours that are loosely mixed or even unmixed with other colours and this adds to the interest in a painting. It allows a freer style of painting and creates movement and is more impressionistic. I literally decided to try it out one day and never really looked back.
Clare: Do you think the light in Venice is different from the light in Paris or other parts of the world where you have painted?
Hilary: Absolutely, there is nowhere quite like Venice. I think that the light on coasts is always different and more vivid possibly because of the reflections from the water. Obviously in Venice there is plenty of water and on a sunny day I can feel the blue seeping into the walls of the buildings and reflecting from the canals. There is so much vibrancy in the city from the boats, people, buildings and cafes that is so unique to the colour scheme.
Clare: What are your most important artist’s tools? Do you have any favourites?
Hilary: Obviously my palette knife and paints. I have several palette knives but prefer the flat ones. I work on an artist’s drawing board/table for stability as using a palette knife can be quite rough sometimes and push the canvas around so it needs to be stable.
Clare: How has the lockdown of the last few months affected your practice?
Hilary: To be honest I have hardly painted during lockdown as I’ve had children home from school and working and homeschooling don’t mix well.
Clare: What are your art influences? Who are your favourite contemporary or historical artists and why?
Hilary: The Impressionists, Monet in particular and Van Gogh. I also admire greatly Lucian Freud’s work despite the difference in subject matter. I am primarily drawn to landscapes with people. My tastes (like everyone’s) have changed over the years. I used to love realism and would paint that way for years. But I always felt that this was like copying a photograph and wanted to paint loser. I studied the impressionist painters and gradually learnt to paint differently. Using a palette knife has certainly helped with this technique.
Clare: What makes a good day in the studio for you?
Hilary: A good day, I presume like all artists, is when a painting is going well and you can feel the chemistry working. I don’t like to be interrupted so a good day is sometimes a good night when there’s no distractions.
Clare: Where else can we see your work online or in the flesh?
Hilary: I have a small gallery called The Frog Bank Gallery at the side of my house which I open occasionally to the public or by appointment, call: 07743 340280
Facebook: Hilary Burnett Cooper
LinkedIn: Hilary Burnett Cooper
YouTube: Hilary Burnett Cooper Art
Sign up to our competition newsletter and receive the latest updates about
Jackson’s Painting Prize.
Jackson’s Painting Prize.