Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Big Painting Challenge starts 22nd February on BBC1

The Big Painting Challenge starts on Sunday at 6pm on BBC1. It's part of the BBC's new initiative to get creative. You will also be able to view it via iPlayer.

What's The Big Painting Challenge?

Ostensibly it's about a nationwide search for the best amateur artist. I wrote about the initial search for participants a year ago in February 2014 - The Great British Paint-Off: BBC1 searches for best amateur artists

It seemed to me at the time that essentially this was going to be
a competitive art series on BBC1 which I guess will be the art equivalent of the The Great British Bake-Off and The Great British Sewing Bee!
In other words, three challenges per programme and somebody voted off each week by the two judges who are experts in their field.

It would appear I guessed about right!

Interestingly the search for people threw up a definition of an amateur artist in the terms and conditions
The competition is not open to anyone who is currently a professional artist, or artists who have already won professionally recognised prizes or awards for their work.4. To qualify as an amateur, individuals should not earn more than 50% of their annual income from their artworks, or be represented by an established gallery. 
The Amateur Artists and Una Stubbs and Richard Bacon (the Mel and Sue of Painting!)
at Alnwick castle

In general, this type of programme seems to be a tad confused as to whether it's a competition to find the best amateur whatever or whether its aims is to make "good television" because it has people with interesting back stories with the programmes then going on to show "the journey" for the individuals. Are they expert amateurs or are we going to see them develop their skills as the series progresses? I'm all for it being a journey so long as nobody actually goes around saying the winner is the best amateur painter in the UK!

After all, not everybody wants to appear on television!

The Episodes

There are six episodes and the first two episodes have been announced. The first - at 6pm on BBC1 on Sunday night - is about Landscape
    The competition starts in Alnwick Castle in Northumberland - known to many as Hogwarts - where expert judges Lachlan Goudie and Daphne Todd OBE set their first challenge to see each artist's unique painting style for the first time......The second challenge each week is a quick-draw challenge. In this episode the artists must sketch, at speed, a delphinium flower. Expert judge Lachlan Goudie shows us his tips on how to capture the beauty and complexity of a flower. Their final challenge is to paint the formidable castle from across the banks of the River Aln. Getting a sense of depth into their paintings proves more difficult than many think. While some thrive painting outdoors, others who've only ever painted in the comfort of their spare bedrooms have to adapt quickly to the challenges of the changing light.
The second episode is about Portraiture
For their opening task, the judges give the artists just four hours to paint an image they see every day in the bathroom mirror - their own self-portrait. But for many, success isn't staring them in the face as they struggle with proportion and scale.
In the quick-draw challenge the artists have just 30 minutes to capture the likeness of a complete stranger. And in their last chance to impress before someone is sent home, the judges want to see how the artists cope with two very well-known faces
I'm already speculating as to what the next four episodes are about - and apart from being fairly certain one is about "Still Life" I've no idea what they are about.

Looking at the book, I'm thinking Seascapes, Cityscapes and People in movement are a good bet. I'm also guessing at least one challenge one might well involve taking people out of their comfort zone and getting them to use art materials they're not used to.

Clips from the show

You can see some clips from the first two episodes on the website here

Who's taking part?

The artists were picked from some 6,000 entrants! On the website you can view:
  • the artists and their profiles - it's interesting to see there's rather a lot of middle aged artists participating. I know one of them - Anne Blankson-Hemans ( - and her work and I think she could well be in with a chance.  She featured in a programme a number of us remember well - Show me the Monet. I wrote about that one in this 2012 blog post - Show Me the Monet - X factor for Artists?
  • the presenters including the judges Daphne Todd OBE PPRP and Lachlan Goudie ROI. 
    • Daphne Todd is best known for her portrait work but is also an excellent landscape painter. She and was the first female President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and has also won the BP Portrait Award (see Daphne Todd wins BP Portrait Award 2010). Four of her portraits hang in the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery (Sir Christopher Ondaatje, Spike Milligan, Lord Sainsbury and Dame Janet Baker). She's well know for piecing panels together as a painting grows while she is painting it.
    • Lachlan Goudie is a member of the Royal Institute of Oil painters. He paints landscapes and portraits but I know him best for his very distinctive paintings of still life.
Daphne Todd commented
“I was delighted to learn of this new series celebrating the amateur painter, because it will help spread the word that painting from observation is such an enthralling, totally absorbing and ultimately, life-enhancing activity. Some of our greatest minds have been amateur painters: Churchill painted for pleasure; Prince Charles consistently makes time in an unbelievably hectic schedule to dash off a landscape. If THEY can, WE can! I shall be looking for a sense of personal development in the finalists, a sense that they will pursue and defend their own vision, whether they are attracted by detail or the broad sweep, by the story element or by abstract qualities. Above all the challenges will be great fun!
For those who can get to London you may be interested to know that both of the Judges have got exhibitions coming up.
  • Daphne Todd will have an exhibition of recent works at Messum's, now at 28 Cork Street, London, W1S 3NG between 1st April and 17th April.
  • Lachlan Goudie is having a joint show of New Painting: Lachlan Goudie and Tim Benson with Tim Benson at the Mall Galleries between 23-28th March 2015

The Events and Activities

The website includes a page devoted to events around the country

There's also A Live Lesson for children. This is an interactive Live Lesson focusing on illustration and drawing people. It will be streamed to classrooms across the UK for 45 minutes from 11am onWednesday 25th February 2015. This one is aimed at kids as the person giving the lesson is the illustrator of Tracy Beaker. Click the link to find out more.

A Little Painting Challenge

As well as The Big Painting Challenge there's also The Little Painting Challenge - which has already started!

In summary:
  • the aim is for people to have a go at art – by drawing or painting a picture on a postcard in whatever medium they like. 
  • winners will be selected from three different categories: 
    • over 16 beginners, 
    • over 16 experienced and 
    • 7 to 15 year olds. 
  • Entries must be received by 5pm on Thursday 2nd April 2015
  • These are the full terms and conditions
You can get a postcard free from
  • the Radio Times 
  • libraries across the UK from 17th February 2015
  • or use a standard A6 postcard  (105 x 148 mm/4.1”x 5.8”) and download the entry form and stick it to the reverse of the artwork.
The winners will receive prizes including art equipment to the value of £500 (for 16 + categories) and £250 (for 7 – 15 years old) and 1000 of the artists will have their entries displayed at the Whitworth.

Then there's a book.....

I bought the book - The Big Painting Challenge - today at half-price in WH Smith. (I note it's the same price on Amazon so do ignore the fact it's priced at £20 and aim for a £10 deal!).

The author is Rosa Roberts

Its aim is to be a practical guide to painting and drawing.

I found it really interesting to look at a book which in many ways seems to have had a not dissimilar brief to the one I had - notwithstanding mine was about drawing and sketching only and this is about painting and drawing. It's fascinating to see how the author has translated that into topics within the book. They got 250+ pages to deliver the end product in as opposed to my 160 and by and large that translates into much bigger images and much more emphasis on step by step projects.  Which makes it not dissimilar at first look to a number of other books about painting and drawing.

I do like the emphasis that is given to exercises for newbies and ones for people who are more experienced.

I've by no means gone through it all as yet, however for those in the UK who are familiar with the art magazine market, initial impressions suggest it's leaning rather more towards 'Leisure Artist' (ie older person who enjoys painting as a hobby) rather than 'The Artist' ( younger audience including some who aspire to become semi-professional or professional painters).  By which I mean the artwork in the book is the sort more likely to be seen at the annual exhibition of a local art society.

Having not seen the series yet it's difficult to see how close the tie-in is between episodes and series. Having studied the descriptions of the first two episodes and the related content in the book there appears to be some that is related and other content which is more general relevance.

I'm guessing (given how long my book took to produce and write) that the book was in all probability produced in advance of the filming - on the basis of an intended script - with images from the filming slotted in towards the end - hence the discrepancies.

Books are very much associated with these BBC programmes. I know I went out and bought a slew of Mary Berry books after the Great British Bake-Off. On balance I think I'd have rather seen a book by Daphne Todd who brings a wealth of experience to her judging role. She's not yet produced a book of instruction. If the series takes off, maybe this will be the trigger for one to be produced in future? I know I'd buy it if she did.


  1. Thanks for this, I had forgotten it, hopefully I will enjoy watching it

  2. This is so cool.. While american reality shows are about the worst aspects of human kind, great britain has art-shows. In sweden they have garden-reality shows.. I just love these kind of things.

    As you say - this will definitely not be a way of finding the "best professional artist" in Britain, but it really seems like something that could interesting to follow. It also goes to say something about the "general culture" in the country.. That's sort of uplifting!

  3. I'm looking forward to it, but the definition of amateur made me wonder a bit. Any artist who manages to make 50% of their income from their art is doing pretty darned well already!

  4. Thankyou for the background information

  5. It would be more fun to have truly amateur artists who paint for pleasure

  6. well, under those rules, I can enter, for goodness sake!! But I'm too busy being professional!

  7. Really looking forward to this programme, although I wish there were more TV opportunities to support and promote those who are trying to make a living as full time artists!

  8. I think you'll find ALL the BBC programmes of this ilk ALWAYS feature people who have developed expertise in their spare time.

    The BBC's mission includes an aspect which is to inform and educate. It doesn't have any sort of remit in relation to promoting professional artists.

  9. Julie - I think there's a lot of artists out there who thought they were semi-professional or professional who might well agree with you!

  10. @onedrawingdaily - the programme never set out to find the best professional artist.

    It is however advertising itself as a competition to find the "best amateur artist" to which I would add a rider to the effect "who wants to appear on television"!

    Not everybody does want to appear on television!

  11. I tuned into this program after you posted about as I am all for any program promoting art, something that is sadly lacking in the US. However I am confused by the term amateur. This is a comment I made on a facebook page about it.
    Well, having looked at the profiles and being a bit of internet stalker, most of the artists in this show seem to no more amateur than I am. More than half have been to art school, at least 3 fine art. Several of them have exhibited in national competitions, not once but several times. So given all that information, the quality of the work is quite disappointing and the ones I found interesting, have already had considerable success in open competitions. The blogs a few have written about the process of the first episode which were very interesting. I will keep watching though but now I will know the judges remarks are probably based on the knowledge these people on the whole are not amateurs.

  12. I think we need to remember that the term "amateur" - as for all occupations - means somebody who engages in an activity but on an unpaid basis ie they "do not earn a living from what they do". See the definition which I reproduced in this post.

    Amateur does NOT mean "has not been educated in art" or "has had no success to date".

    You can teach and be an amateur tutor and yet not earn a living from it. If you did, we'd call you a professional teacher.

    So basically these are people who can paint - to some degree - and don't earn their living from being an artist right now.

  13. @Katherine Tyrrell. Utter rubbish concerning your comments about what is an amateur and what isn't. Van Gogh and many other artists of his type never earned a living from what they did. Are you saying they were amateurs?

    And your example of tutors doesn't make any sense. What about untrained teaching assistants? They get paid,are they professional?

    The reality is that an artist is an artist the moment they decide to be such, regardless of whether they're earning or not. Amateur and Professional don't even come into it unless it's on a dull, patronising BBC1 show like this one.

  14. Max - your examples are fallacious.

    In addition, having observed your listed interests on your blogger profile my guess is you're very probably an "attention seeker" and a troll.

    Do you need a definition for that?

    Basically it means I'll remember in future to refrain from publishing any more of your comments! :)

    For the benefit of the rest of my readers.......

    Vincent van Gogh was supported for his whole career as an artist by his brother Theo. If there had been no brother, there would have been no paintings. Since his brother dealt in paintings I guess you could argue he was sponsored and received money for his art in the same way that artists have been sponsored by dealers before and since.

    So no I am not calling Van Gogh an amateur but by the same token I'm not calling him a professional artist either. I'm calling him a very talented artist who was extraordinarily fortunate to have a generous brother. That's the only reason we can see his paintings today.

    Untrained teaching assistants receive an income for the work they do.

    Being paid as an art teacher doesn't make you an artist even if you've been educated and trained as an artist. Art teachers are paid for teaching art. They are not being paid to be an artist!

    People can believe what they want to believe and use definitions they believe to be true. However the general rule if you want to have a meaningful conversation it's often best to stick to definitions which have a wider application.

    For the record, we've had this debate on this blog before on this topic of "what is an artist".

    The conclusion at the time was that the critical issue revolved around whatever 'label' was attached to the word 'artist'.

    That's why my comment related purely to the definition of the word 'amateur artist' as used by the BBC.

    See if you can make a distinction between the labels 'Hobby artist' and 'professional artist'.

  15. I agree 100% with Kathryn on the issue of what makes an amateur! If you make a living from something, you're a professional.


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