Wednesday, February 25, 2015

So what did you think of The Big Painting Challenge?

So who watched the BBC's The Big Painting Challenge and what did you think? 

Did you guess who would be going home?  I must confess I did!

This post provides
  • a few comments on the Landscape episode shown last Sunday 
  • PLUS more information about what is coming up in future weeks - and what the challenges are each week
  • PLUS a link to the "How to guide" for each week's episode
  • images from the programme

Also just to let you know I've been invited by WH Smith to write a supportive tips post for their blog as they intend to support the series by posting helpful articles for those inspired to draw, sketch and paint by the programme!

The group of painters lined up to paint Alnwick Castle 'plein air

What do we think of the challenges?

Each of the challenges was exactly that - a very real challenge. Each had a strict time limit and some imposed the art medium which had to be used. In my opinion, they very definitely need to be a challenge otherwise you might as well have a routine art competition and choose the best artist to give a prize to on the basis of the artwork presented for scrutiny - with the artist having total control over media, style and time used for the artwork.

They're following the classic format:
  • "Signature Challenge - show us what you can do" (3 hours painting time) - painting in acrylics using reference photos and sketches). I felt sorry for those who had never painted in acrylics before. Although I think if I was selected for a programme like this I think I might have given the media I wasn't familiar with a whirl before the cameras started!
  • "Quick draw technical challenge" (drawing a spire of delphiniums in 30 minutes using coloured pencils). I was surprised how many people had never drawn a flower. Here the "tips" clip about "how to draw flowers". It was an exercise which rapidly revealed who could draw and who couldn't.  Some participants didn't rate coloured pencils however my personal take on it was that the exercise revealed just how versatile they are in terms of people having different styles. 
Let's not mince words, this is horrendous! (Anthea - contestant)
  • "the showstopper" - all the artists had 3 hours to paint 'Hogwarts' (Alnwick Castle in Northumberland) from across the river. Again I found it surprising how many people had never ever been outside to paint a view before.  I was half expecting a repeat of 'Watercolour Challenge' and in some ways it was very similar.
Lining up for the big picture challenge

What do we think of the contestants?

I admire any amateur artist prepared to put themselves in front of several million armchair critics - good luck to all of them Facebook commentator
Probably one of the things that most people felt when watching the episode is how brave the participants must be to put their painting up for scrutiny. In particular, when it became very clear that some of the subjects, media and settings were very unfamiliar to at least some of the contestants.
Anybody can paint. A monkey can paint. There's a difference between splodging colour on canvas and actually producing something which will move other people (Lachlan Goudie)
However I think I'm in agreement with a number of other people who commented on my Facebook post which posed the same question as this post. A number were rather surprised that the overall calibre of contestant wasn't rather better - and I am too.

There again, it's the first episode and some people take a while to get going. Also it may well be that we're seeing what happens when people who look good on paper become exposed when expected to paint from subjects in front of them rather than from photos (although they were allowed both their own reference photos and sketches for the first challenge).

I guess the standard of painting is also reflecting what people are used to painting. It was surprising how many had never ever tried plein air painting within a time limit before. That's a classic exercise beloved of very many painting tutors for workshops and painting holidays.

What do we think of the presenters?

You can only judge by the judges' comments (Melvyn)
Some have characterised Daphne Todd and Lachlan Goudie as Miss Blunt and Mr Even Blunter.  I think many people will have been surprised by the directness of their comments. However one of the things I value about these BBC series is that they don't fudge when things go wrong. I also like people who are direct - you always know where you are - but then I am a northerner!

Others also liked the judges comments
Refreshing to hear constructive feedback, so much better than slushy flattery! Facebook commentator
I can see where they were coming from. Its very like the art exams at school Facebook commentator
I thought they were pretty spot on throughout...very astute, observant and fair. Anne Blankson-Hemans (one of the participants)

In my view, the judges also differentiated nicely between
  • "basic errors" (e.g. Melvyn's conflicting shadows) 
  • feedback about things people could have done to improve the work (e.g. knocking back the objects which are further away rather than drawing them precisely the same as those in the foreground). 
  • Plus they also highlight things people are doing well and explain why that works (e.g. Paul's warm and receding colours for the interior painting) - and I'm hoping this is where a lot of armchair artists will be making notes or at the very least getting a refresher.

Daphne Todd ("my husband calls me Miss Blunt")and Lachlan Goudie who is refreshingly direct and to the point
Interestingly I'm not detecting a lot of enthusiasm for Una as a presenter with some finding her quite irritating. I confess I liked her much better as a voice off camera than on. I guess it's difficult to find the right type of presenter for a programme. My particular bete noire is Fearne in the Allotment Challenge - she hardly ever smiled and seemed very flat and turgid so anybody better than her is an improvement in my eyes! :)  It did however dawn on me why comedians with a stand-up routine often work well as presenters for this type of programme where there is interaction with the contestants - so long as there is empathy.

So who are the front contenders - and who's at risk for future episodes?

I think everybody is in agreement that Paul (the stay at home Dad) is way out in front based on the evidence of Sunday's programme. It's difficult to contemplate him going home before the final.

It's probably easier at this stage to say who's more likely to go early! I'd say Jan might be a front-runner although with portraiture coming up next he ought to do better than some of the others - and if he doesn't then I think he might go.

In general terms of "who's for the high jump?" in future programmes, I'll just pass on a tip garnered from my near religious watching off the Great British BakeOff and Sewing Bee and The Big Allotment Challenge! It's always someone who gets featured a lot in that particular programme. Just to spice it up there are usually three of them per programme. If you're not seeing a lot of an individual that means they're not going home!

Future Episodes

Future episodes will be as follows. I've included a link to the How to Guide by Lachlan Goudie which is already on their website.  That way you can have a go in advance of each programme! :)

Episode two – Portraiture

Location: a converted Victorian warehouse on the South Bank of the Thames. (Although it's difficult to imagine there not using there a certain warehouse well used for dressmaking in Wapping on the North Bank of the Thames!)
  • Task 1: four hours to create a self-portrait from their reflection using oil paints - the traditional medium for portraiture
  • Task 2: a 30 minute quick draw to capture an anatomically accurate likeness of a complete stranger.
  • Task 3: a four-hour sitting with two EastEnders’ stars - Rudolph Walker, OBE and Pam St Clement
  • Insight: Una talks to Royal Portraitist Nicky Phillips about painting The Queen, Prince William and Prince Harry. (I met her at the NPG and spoke with her about her practice and she's very interesting - definitely one to watch!)
  • How-To: How to draw faces Lachlan advises on proportion and scale and creating the perfect portrait

Episode three – Still Life

Location the grounds of Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire
  • Task 1: (4 hours / acrylics) a composition of objects of personal significance to them
  • Task 2: (30 minute quick-draw / black and white chalks)  tackles perspective and scale, and light and dark - drawing a giant chess board and pieces
  • Task 3: (? hours / their choice of media) Paint the fa├žade of Blenheim Palace and capture the drama of the architecture
  • Insight: Una meets Emma Soames, granddaughter of Winston Churchill to talk about his lifelong love of his birth place, and how it inspired some of his own amateur paintings.
  • Lachlan’s How-To guideHow to draw buildings
Apparently there's a shock decision by the judges about who goes home this week. I think that means two go this week!

Episode four – Human Form and Movement

LocationTate Britain
  • Task 1: Capture the anatomically correct body shape, proportions and flesh tones of two Greek God life models(!)
  • Task 2: (30 minute quick draw / coloured pencils) Capture a rhythmic gymnast and her flickering ribbon
  • Task 3: Paint a powerful and passionate flamenco dance in coloured chalk and pastel.
  • Insight: Una meets Heidi Wigmore, the English National Ballet’s artist in residence to look at how Degas influenced the depiction of dance and dancers
  • Lachlan’s How-To guideHow to draw movement

Episode five – Liverpool Cityscape

Location: Liverpool
  • Task 1: (Watercolour) Paint something that appeals to their personal interpretation of the city 
  • Task 2: 30 minute Quick Draw in charcoal, pastel and pencil - sketch the view, architecture and perspective of the Liver Building
  • Task 3: Paint the Liverpool skyline from across the River Mersey.
  • Insight Una meets L.S. Lowry’s close friend Harold Riley, and explores Lowry's works that captured the northern industrial landscapes
  • Lachlan’s How-To guide: How to draw perspective

Episode six – And the Winner is…

Location: Devon
  • Task 1: Capture a sense of Britain’s seafaring heritage at Dartmouth Royal Naval College
  • Task 2: Quick draw - capture at speed a sense of the naval platoon in motion 
  • Task 3: Capture the light and atmosphere of Dartmouth Harbour
  • Insight: Una meets Amy Concannon, assistant curator at Tate Britain, to learn more about the influence of JMW Turner
  • Lachlan’s How-To guide: How to draw crowds - tips on how to capture constantly moving crowds of people.
Finally the first ever BBC One Big Painting Challenge winner is announced!

Previous Posts


  1. This is great Katherine and very well put together. I get the feeling the general public have some empathy for us contestants and not a lot of patience for the judges but I guess with all TV programmes there is a format they are required to follow. This is the first in what I hope will be an annual series and I hope the beeb will take some of the feedback that has been provided and tweak it some...
    I have to say we were the pioneers in this show and as we had no precedents we weren't sure what to expect. Those who follow behind us will always have a better advantage; they will know the format and that makes a lot of difference.
    I don't think any of us were bad or mediocre artists but all of us (having spoken with the others) struggled to adjust to a new way of creating our art. It's a pity they aren't showing so much of our 'back stories' considering they filmed with us at home for about 14 hours on average but without a doubt the passion was there.
    personally i'd like to make some notes to pass on to the beeb based on my experience I hope will help future shows.
    The one thing I can say, I thoroughly enjoyed the process and would do it all again... With the benefit of hindsight of course ;-)

  2. Most interesting post, Katherine . Nice to see the format for future programmes. Challenging indeed ! Good that coloured pencil is specifically chosen for some of the challenges. Perhaps it will help the general public to realise how versatile CP is.
    I assume Una was chosen as a presenter because she had two paintings in last years RA Summer Exhibition.
    See the current Radio Times !!!

  3. So enjoyed watching the contestant's creative process, because each was unique.

    This show is almost identical to the show that was shown on Channel 4 from 1998-2001 called Watercolour Challenge, which was hosted by Hannah Gordon, and, had well known artists, such as Ken Howard, to Judge in the final.

    This was really the bench mark show for this kind of art program, and their aim was to find Britain's best amateur artist. It became something of a cult program, as a lot of proffessional artists stopped work to watch it on daytime TV (myself included!)

    So the format for the current show is already tried and tested.

    Long may it continue.

    Coral Guest

  4. I would love to watch these episodes, but they are unavailable to me because I am outside the UK. Most disappointing. Ruth

  5. People should say this and maybe the BBC will sell this series overseas!


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