Prompts from the Pros - Alex McHallam

Prompts from the Pros - Alex McHallam

Working with the Masters


There’s some much-quoted research that says that on average a visitor in a museum or gallery spends less than 10 seconds looking at a painting.  When was the last time that you really stopped and studied a work of art?    

This Prompt encourages you to do exactly that.  Choose a painting you like and ask yourself the following questions as you look at it: 

  • How has the artist used colour in their work?   
  • Have they used any colours that you didn’t expect to see in the painting? 
  • How has putting certain colours next to each other changed the tone of the painting?
  • Where is the light source coming into the work?   Are there any shadows?  
  • How has the artist created a sense of perspective in the painting?
  • What is the painting really about? 

These are all things we think about, sometimes subconsciously, when we are making our own work so it is good to look at how other artists work and to learn from them.

For the making part of the Prompt, take a small section of your chosen painting (not the whole thing!) to recreate in mosaic, so that you make exactly what YOU see when you look at your chosen section of the picture.  I suggest you create a small piece (around 10-15cm square) and use whatever material you have in your studio.  It can also be useful to do two small mosaics of different areas of the painting so that you can compare them. 

Please share your work with BAMM along with a copy of the painting (don’t forget to acknowledge the source), tell us why you chose it and what you learnt from the experience.



I looked at Sunflowers (1888) by Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890).  Here’s a summary of what I found when I asked myself these questions:

Van Gogh used a wide range of shades of yellow in this painting.  I expected that, but I didn’t expect so many different shades of it and the table, background and vase are all painted in yellow – not just the sunflowers.  Details have been added in orange, green, brown and white.  Slightly different tones of yellow next to each other give each flower a distinct personality and shows them on their journey from newly opened to nearly dead.  The light source is shown by a small dab of white pain in the centre of the vase.  There are no shadows but highlights on some of the flowers.  Perspective is shown by some of the blooms being slightly smaller than others.  The painting is a study of a bunch of flowers placed, rather than arranged in a simple vase.  Each flower is given the same importance in the detail in which it is painted.   Each is an individual study as well as being part of a whole.

The Making

To help decide which areas to paint, I used the trick of looking at the image in black and white.  You can do this easily on your phone.  This makes contrasts more defined and brings into focus things that might be hidden behind the distraction of colour. Based on this I chose the sunflower on the bottom left which is in profile and incorporated a corner of a seed head in it; and the sunflower at 10 o’clock with the Lockdown hairdo!  Although the painting is vibrant, the individual shades are subtle and so I used unglazed ceramic tiles as I had a greater range of yellow tones in these.  Even with this wider palette I found it a challenge to make work using so few colours and really distinguishing between each part of the image. Once they were finished I realised my images were very much own interpretation of the painting rather than a copy of the painting itself.  As I had used the same colours in both pieces I then grouted them in different colours to see how the choice of grout colour changes the outcome.    

I hope you have enjoyed this Prompt and have found it useful. Please share your Prompt with BAMM #bamm_mosaic and please tag me in, @alexmchallam, with a copy of the painting (don’t forget to acknowledge the source), tell us why you chose it and what you learnt from the experience, and of course, include images of your mosaics too.