The Old Ways (2016). Pencil, gouache, correction fluid and gold leaf on cardboard. Photo credit: Lesley Halliwell.

When I began my practice based PhD two years ago I anticipated that it would involve a great deal of reading and writing alongside the making of new artworks. What I hadn’t fully appreciated at this early stage were the broader opportunities for research that come with being part of an academic institution.

My PhD explores the depth of surface of the pictorial plane focusing on the interplay between the outer public layer of an artwork (surface) and its inward facing components (structure). With an interest in geometry and patterns emanating from different cultural traditions, I was delighted to receive funding from the Student Development Fund (North West Consortium Doctoral Training Partnership) that enabled me to undertake three research courses during the year.

First I spent a week at the Istanbul Design Centre ( where the principles of Islamic geometric drawing and biomorphic (freehand) design were taught whilst we were surrounded by some of the most celebrated examples of Ottoman architecture.

This was followed by two further courses at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts in London ( The first, Celtic Pattern: Geometry and the Imagination, offered an interesting comparison to the Islamic geometry. Despite commonalities, the Celts encouraged a greater degree of improvisation and autonomy with the introduction of obstacles, blocks, tilted spirals and freehand improvisation into their designs. The focus shifted from the geometry to surface finish with the final course: Medieval Manuscript Illumination. Up until this point I had what one might call a ‘d.i.y.’ approach to gilding in my practice, so it was a fantastic opportunity to learn traditional methods of making and applying mordants, shell gold, gesso and transfer and loose leaf gilding techniques.

As well as developing practical skills, the research courses initiated a dialogue between my ‘habitual’ drawing practice and traditional, formalized processes of pattern generation and geometry.  The studio practice is already developing in ways I could not have predicted earlier in the year.

As featured in the Manchester School of Art, Research Degree Programme Newsletter Autumn 2016