Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Big Painting Challenge - the artists' blog posts

One of the things about blogs is you get to say what your experience was like as well as showing people what your painting looks like.

That's all the more important when you're painting on BBC1 and your paintings are being criticised in full view of the nation - and your comments get edited down (as do the Judges!)

So here for posterity are all the blog posts I could find  by the artists participating in The Final of The Big Painting Challenge - plus a couple of the other artists who blogged about their experiences.

Paul Bell - The Winner

You can read Paul Bell's posts about how he became the winner on his website's blog http://paulbellart.co.uk/#blog.

He was also the only artist who managed a blog post about each episode - so well done Paul on that count too!

Claire Parker - Finalist

You can read Claire's post about The Final - Worse things happen at sea - on her website Home is where the blog is.

She writes well and has some interesting blog posts written as a spinoff to her experience - do have a read.

Richard Salter - Finalist

Richard has been painting studio responses to his episodes

Amy Goldring - Finalist

Amy doesn't have a blog but you can read The Big Painting Challenge: An Exclusive Interview with Amy Goldring

Other artists 

You can read interviews and blog posts using the links below. You can
Plus you can read all about Anne Blankson-Hemans and her art in a five page article in the May Edition of The Artist Magazine - now available online and in the shops.

This evening I'm going to a Private View of Daphne Todd's latest exhibition at Messum's in Cork street which opens tomorrow. I have my critique book to hand.... ;)

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Final of The Big Painting Challenge

So, it's over and we now know who won The Big Painting Challenge 2015.

However, like a number of other people, I thought I knew who would win from Episode 1 - and we were all right on the night!

So congratulations and well done to Paul Bell for recovering from the hiatus of Episode 5 and producing a sound performance for the first two challenges of the Final and then creating an impressive painting for the very last challenge. Best wishes to him for his "semi twilight great art career"!  You can see his final painting and still life painting at Tate Britain from now until 12 April 2015 in the Manton Foyer, Tate Britain

The series ended as it had started for the final challenge - painting plein air - in front of the subject within a time limit. It's always a very sound test of those who can observe, design, create a picture and then paint it!

Episode 6: The Final set-up for the Final Painting 
of the River Dart and Port View between Dartmouth and Kingswear in Devon
It's not normally this empty - see below

Paul was always the one to watch and the one who overall produced the best performance across the series as a whole. Notwithstanding a few hiccups along the way - but then that happens to the best of us! It was always his award to lose and all Episode 5 did was prove to us that this was a distinct possibility - which made Episode 6 all the more watchable. :)

So what happened? Let's have a recap of Episode 6 of The Big Painting Challenge

Series recap

Both contestants and judges recapped their experience to date. The contestants highlighted what they'd learned about painting and the judges revealed what they thought about the contestants. What was interesting to me was the different perspectives of the judges. I usually found myself agreeing with both of them!


The topic was Seascapes and the location was Dartmouth in South Devon.

I can understand the attractions of the harbour and the boats and the views - Dartmouth is very pretty. However I'm completely stumped as to why anybody ever thought that Dartmouth's Royal Naval College would provide an inspiration?

Episode 6 - Seascapes: The Challenges

Since this is the final, I'm going to make some of my comments about the artist a little more personal this week.  However all are related to their approach to painting and the particular challenges encountered this week.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Who's made a mark? #264

Claude Monet's Poplar Series - five paintings from around the worldIncluded in the Inventing Impressionism exhibition at the National Gallery
My biggest thrill of this last month was going to the Bloggers Evening for a special preview of the Inventing Impressionism exhibition at the National Gallery - which is essentially about the artwork collected and sold by .

All the exhibition is good but one room is exceptional - and that's the one holding five paintings from the

This photo is a tease. Despite some very odd lighting which was a major challenge I have better photos of the series of five paintings - but I'm saving those for the review!

Reviews from others to date confirm my perspective that this is a very definite MUST SEE exhibition.

This is the most significant Impressionist show we’ve seen in this country in 20 years, says an awe-struck Richard Dorment

So now for the other things which caught my eye or caused me to comment during March.


Every year two artists are awarded The Turner Medal - one member from the Royal Watercolour Society and one member of the Royal Instutute of Painterst in Water Colours.

Andy Wood PRI presents Deborah Walker with her Turner Medal
  • Deborah Walker RI was awarded the "Turner Medal" by Andy Wood, President of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours - at the Annual Exhibition at the Mall Galleries. Her painting 'Detail' also won two other prizes - the The Escoda Barcelona Award and the Anthony J. Lester Art Critic Award. (BTW Click the pic - Isn't Andy's President's regalia absolutely marvellous!)
  • David Brayne RWS is the RWS recipient of this year's Turner Medal. I wrote about David and his very interesting working methods back in 2007 in this post Royal Watercolour Society - artists and their working methods 
We had a bit of a giggle - or experienced a jaw drop (depending on your perspective) this month when we found about what Nelson Shanks did to his COMMISSIONED portrait painting of Bill Clinton.

Art Competitions

Art Exhibitions

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Bigger Picture - the Big Painting Challenge Artists have an Exhibition

I've been really enjoying The Big Painting Challenge  and am looking forward to the Final tomorrow night on BBC1

However that's not the end of it! In April the artists are holding a Joint Exhibition under the title The Bigger Picture - and I've just had my Private View Invitation! :)

The Bigger Picture Exhibition

Here's the details of their exhibition for your diary:

Exhibition Dates: 15th - 26th April 2015

Exhibition Venue: Lauderdale House
Highgate Hill, Waterlow Park, London N6 5HG (tel : 020 8348 8716)

Exhibition Open: Wed-Fri 11am-4pm; Sunday 10am-5pm

There's a special "Meet the Artists" Event on Sunday 26th April between 11 - 5 p.m

Tate Britain exhibition

Two paintings by the winner will also be displayed at Tate Britain between 30 March – 12 April 2015

The Artists

The 10 artists who participated in the The Big Painting Challenge were the "last painters standing" from the 6,000 who applied to be part of this televised art  competition

These are the websites of the artists involved in the series. The first link is to their page on the Bigger Picture website and then their website and social media links after that.

I look at hundreds if thousands of artists website each year and found it very interesting to look at the artwork on their websites and Facebook Pages. I suggest you take a look.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Annual Exhibition of Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours #2 - Open Entry

Yesterday's post 203rd Annual Exhibition of Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours #1 was about the prizewinners plus the events and free events and activities being held in the Mall Galleries between now and when the exhibition closes on 11 April.

Today's post is going to focus on the Open Entry and paintings in the exhibition that I liked.

Paintings by Lilias August RI - I loved the one at the top called Seven Brushes
you can see more of her still life paintings on her website
A different kind of still life paintings by the ever popular Shirley Trevena RI
Shirley's books are in the Mall Galleries bookshop
Paintings by John Raynes, Bob Rudd and Colin KentBob Rudd kindly told me how he achieved the saturation in his paintings!
RI Members small works - North Gallery
It was pleasing to see that the smaller paintings hung in this room were ones
of a similar standard to the rest of an artist's work
One important point to make before I start is that I very much liked the way that there's a much better mix of paintings and members work across both the West and North Galleries.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

203rd Annual Exhibition of Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours #1 - Prizewinners and Events

This year I'm doing two posts about the Annual Exhibition of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours  (RI) at the Mall Galleries.
  • this one is about the prizewinners (links in the artists' names are to their websites) and 
  • the events in the gallery - which focus on members who are going to be demonstrating, showing their sketchbooks, giving tours of the exhibition or just answering any queries people may have. All events are free with admission to the exhibition
  • and, if you're interested in exhibiting with the RI you can find links to my reviews of previous exhibitions at the end.

Four and half hours into The Private View yesterday and it's still busy!

The exhibition is, as usual, a very good standard. More importantly, this is very clearly an art society which likes exhibiting paintings which look like they were painted with the use of water! While there are some works in acrylic, most are painted using proper watercolour paint and a few also use gouache.  I'm a big fan of watercolour paintings and I like this exhibition!

You can read the e-catalogue and seee some of the paintings on Issuu

The bonus for those coming to London to see the exhibition is that they can see two exhibitions by watercolour art societies at the same time as the Spring Exhibition by members of the Royal Watercolour Society opens on Friday

The RI exhibition at the Mall Galleries is the larger of the two. If your first love is watercolour and you plan to visit both, I definitely recommend you start with the RI exhibition as the RWS exhibition is more a "works done by RWS members - including other media" than a watercolour show per se.

The exhibition opened to the public today (25 March) and continues until 11th April and is open from 10am to 5pm daily. The price of admission is £3.00; £2.50 concessions, (Free to Friends of Mall Galleries, National Art Pass holders and under 18s).


This is an art society which doesn't award all its prizes to members. A number of artists whose work was selected via the open entry were also selected to receive an award.

President Andy Wood presenting Turner Medal to Deborah Walker RI 2015
President Andy Wood PRI presenting Turner Medal to Deborah Walker RI 
Photo courtesy Ted Sepple
Deborah Walker RI won three prizes - including the Turner Medal at the Awards Ceremony yesterday. Her large painting 'Detail' was responsible for all these prizes and is currently enjoying pride of place in the middle of the end wall of the West Gallery. It took a long time to get this photo because of the number of people studying it - inscribed into the painting are lots of notes which are partially readable.

Detail by Deborah Walker 
Her three prizes were:
  • The Turner Medal (a medal, in honour of Turner, awarded to a member of the RI and the RWS on an annual basis)
In 1856 J. M. W. Turner bequeathed the sum of £20,000 pounds for a gold medal for landscape painting. From 1859 until 2008 the Royal Academy awarded the Turner Medal every two years at their Summer Exhibition. Since then the award of this much prized Medal is an annual event jointly organised by the two senior royal watercolour societies; one is given to a member of the RI and the other to the RWS. Only two medals are struck (from bronze) each year and are engraved with the year of their making. 
  • The Escoda Barcelona Award (A set of Escoda Brushes for an outstanding landscape painting) and 
  • the Anthony J. Lester Art Critic Award (an outstanding artwork chosen by the art critic and broadcaster)

Deborah's background is she was awarded a first class honours degree in Fine Art from De Montfort University in 1985 and was in April 2011 was elected a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours. You can follow her on Twitter @DebWalkerRI

Other Award Winners

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Threadneedle Space Exhibition

This week Lachlan Goudie and Tim Benson are exhibiting new paintings in the Threadneedle Space at the Mall Galleries.

I've seen quite a few exhibitions in the Space now by FBA Artists and others and have always wondered what's involved in running your own exhibition - so this week I asked!

[Note: This post has been updated since first published last night - I thought of a few more things to say and show when I woke up!]

Lachlan Goudie and Tim Benson with New Paintingsin the Threadneedle Space at the Mall Galleries
continues until 28 March
Tim came up with the idea of putting on an exhibition.

Motivation related to testing out whether he could do as well as a gallery at selling his artwork. Renting a gallery space instantly eliminates the 50% commission on sales which most galleries charge. Plus if you put on your own show, you get to curate the show and decide what work is hung and how it is displayed!

Still Lifes by Lachlan Goudie and Landscape by Tim Benson
The rationale for using the Threadneedle Space is that it's a great location with good footfall - plus it also has the spinoff of visitors who have come to see the other exhibitions. It's also got a great hanging team and the reception staff can handle the sales.  Moreover as FBA artists they're eligible for a discount on the weekly fee for the Threadneedle Space (£7k + VAT).

As Tim pointed out for one artist, even with a discount, that's still quite a hefty sum. However it makes much more sense if you do a Joint Show with another artist. For example, it makes it very easy to calculate how many paintings you need to sell to offset the costs of an exhibition and move into profit.  Plus two people can share the workload involved.

The rationale for their partnership for the show was that they were of a similar age, their work was sympathetic i.e. bold, colourful and painterly; their subject matter was complementary. Plus they are both members of the ROI.

Rocky Headland, Cap Spartel, Tangier
Tim Benson VPROI
Once they had decided to do the show - at the end of August - they asked for a slot. They decided that they wanted to have an exhibition at the same time as an art society generating a lot of traffic - and so they got this week - which coincides with all the people visiting the first week of the Annual Exhibition of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Review: The Big Painting Challenge - Episode 5

The subject matter for the five artists  remaining for the fifth episode of The Big Painting Challenge" was Cityscapes. Liverpool and the River Mersey provided the venue and views for this penultimate round of this televised art competition on BBC1.

Episode 5: The Cityscape Challenge

Episode 5 of the Big Painting Challenge is available on iPlayer

Challenge 1: A painting representing the artist's personal interpretation of Liverpool (watercolours)

The challenge started with the artists getting out and about around the city with cameras and sketchbooks to dins images that inspire them.

I don't know quite why but I have a notion of them experiencing "guided exploration" - something along the lines of being moved around the city by minibus and dropped off at different locations to check out certain possible views. I guess that's because this is a bunch of artists who mostly do no such thing from what I can make out from previous episodes.

I was rather surprised at the subjects people chose to do. I don't think any of them would have said "Liverpool" to me.  Maybe the terraced houses going down to the Mersey are somewhat cliche - however there's an awful lot of that housing in Liverpool!

For some reason, two of the artists (Anne and Claire) completely changed their painting styles for painting in watercolour.

I thought  Paul's watercolour was both disappointing and surprising for a former architectural illustrator - it seemed something and nothing to me.  He readily admitted it hadn't turned out as he intended.  It was described by Lachlan as being more like Trumpton than Toxteth!
It's looking like the village green! Lachlan 
It's awfully pretty, 'lady-like - why?..... It's'nice'. - Daphne Todd
Oh don't say that- Paul 

Challenge 2: Quick Draw - Sketch of the Royal Liver Building Clock Tower from the top of the Cunard Building (using charcoal, pastel and pencil)

Judges were looking for the artists to draw a building at high speed. They also needed to get to grips with the complicated architectural features of the Liver Building and get the proportion and perspective right.

The Clock Tower has the largest clock face in Britain! Una Stubbs told us that the judges were looking for:
  • sketches that captured the monumentality and structure of the building 
  • with accurate depictions of the multiple planes of perspective.
I'm very unclear as to whether or not the artists know what criteria they're going to be judged on BEFORE the assessment.  I know what we're told but are they?

Discussing the masculine and feminine when it comes to drawing buildings
Daphne let rip and Lachlan's face was a picture!
Paul continued to have problems with his quick drawing. It produced one of the best moments of the series so far - at least so far as humour goes.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The growth - and demise - of Etsy?

Etsy is up for sale. It wants to go 'public' - but it also wants to maintain its ethos and credibility. Some would say they lost it some time ago.

There are quite a few articles around at the moment about Etsy. They've been prompted by two things
  • the filing by Etsy of an Initial Public Offering (IPO) of its common stockIn other words Etsy intends to market its stock on the financial markets. When it happens it will be the biggest technology initial public offering (IPO) in New York since 1999. (Guardian)
  • comments about whether or not Etsy can hold on to its "indie" integrity - assuming it's not already lost that long ago
  • lessons to be learned from Etsy's growth. After all if you start out as a small site you want to get bigger don't you? Or do you?
From a personal perspective I find Etsy interesting as its been online for just a bit longer than I've been blogging. I've highlighted it on a regular basis in the past - mainly in relation to how it grew as an independent outlet for art sales as eBay stumbled and then declined as an outlet for independent artists and artisans.
Etsy has grown from a startup built by crafters and for crafters to a juggernaut on the verge of an IPO Grace Dobush
Below you can read about the issues associated with flotation and why $2 BILLION may be realised - possibly at the expense of its credibility and relationship with crafters and artists.

Etsy Mission and Values - are they clear to everybody who matters?

Etsy: Key Stats

Etsy is a marketplace where millions of people around the world connect, both online and offline, to make, sell and buy unique goods. The Etsy ecosystem includes entrepreneurs who sell on our platform, consumers looking to buy unique goods in our marketplace, manufacturers who help Etsy sellers grow their businesses and Etsy employees who maintain our platform.

As an ex-accountant I know full well that it's key stats which get people to take you seriously - and down the bottom of Etsy's About Page we have the numbers.

Here are some key stats for Etsy - as of today's date

Friday, March 20, 2015

Royal Society of British Artists 2015 - Annual Exhibition

It was a pleasure to walk into the 298th Exhibition of the Royal Society of British Artists yesterday  - particularly after my very disappointing visit to the RWS Contemporary Painting Exhibition on Tuesday.

I write very few negative posts about exhibitions - one was this week (see above) and another was three years ago - see RBA 2012: An exhibition of Middle England? Since that post both the RBA and the exhibition seems to have come on in positive leaps and bounds. It's good to see that the problems I alluded to in my 2012 post are much less evident and/or have disappeared. In particular the issues in relation to the calibre of artwork seem to have disappeared.

In addition, I do remember it thinking it was somewhat ironic that I was seeing better watercolours from artists selected from the open entry than I did from artists selected for the RWS competition's exhibition.

This is an exhibition worth entering if you want your artwork to be seen in London and/or want to become a member of a national art society.

Things to note about this exhibition

Paintings and sculptures in the Threadneedle Space
More paintings and sculpture
Includes: (top left) The Davison Award for Oil Painting - won by Olwyn Bowey RA RBA
(column of small paintings - The Alfred Daviels 'Personal Favourite' Award - Barbara Richardson

There is LOTS of artwork in this exhibition - covering every type of media except digital, photography and video. Most but not all is figurative/repsentational artwork.

This is also an art society which believes in well and truly using all three galleries and getting a lot of artwork on the walls and around the exhibition. I personally love this!
  • 504 artworks in the main part of the exhibition from members and selected artists via the open entry

Thursday, March 19, 2015

See the results of the Sketchoff

The 90 minute WHS / Derwent Pencils Sketchoff (spin off from The Big Painting Challenge) on Tuesday night is over.

some of the entries for the WH Smith / Derwent Pencils sketchoff.
You can see 

It's always  interesting to see how so many people can see and draw the same image differently!

The three winners of the prize on offer from Derwent Pencils were:
Here's my "fast" 20 minutes pen and ink version in my Moleskine sketchbook with a little bit of coloured pencil added in at the end.

my pen and ink sketch of Una Stubbs (8" x 5")
in my Moleskine Sketchbook

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Review: RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition 2015

The exhibition for the 2015 Contemporary Watercolour Competition run by the Royal Watercolour Society finishes today. This post is for 
  • all those who might be thinking of applying next year
  • members of the RWS.
The images selected by the judges have been online on the RWS website since the exhibition opened at the Bankside Gallery (click the link above to see them) - but these never give you a sense of size or what the exhibition looks like in reality. Which is a major reason why I like to do these reviews for the artists who might next year be submitting work.

Also one of the other benefits of going to an exhibition late is you can see how well it has been received by the buying public. Let's face it, the only reason art competitions like this can run at a reasonable entry fee to the artist is if they actually generate sales and commission for the gallery where the exhibition is held.  So sales are really important and it's can never just be "art for art's sake" unless you have got really significant sponsorship!

I'd like to say I had a grand plan to visit late - but in fact with other commitments it's just the way things worked out.  I had originally aimed to go last Friday but was just too tired after flying in from my Ulster Festival of Art and Design "gig" last week.

Below you can read:
  • who won the prizes
  • what the exhibition looked like - on the walls of the gallery
  • why I think this competition and exhibition has lost its way
  • PLUS details of two NEW watercolour exhibitions opening in London later this month.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Value is in the eye of the beholder?

Somebody sent me the link to an art video about an exercise to find out what a piece of contemporary art is worth. I I thought you might find it interesting.

It's in Dutch but it has excellent subtitles so no problem understanding what is going on.

The video takes place in the Museum for Modern Art in Arnhem, Netherlands. The host asks visitors to the museum for their thoughts on a work of art by a Swedish artist called Ike Andrews - and then asks them for their opinion of its value.

I'm not sure whether to characterise it as social comment on contemporary art fans or a wicked piece of brand merchandising.

Maybe a bit of both?

So what would you have said?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Review: The Big Painting Challenge - Episode 4

Episode 4 of The Big Painting Challenge was a really serious challenge for any artist. I can think of a number of professional artists who would have struggled with this one.  The reason why is:
  1. they were drawing and painting the human form
  2. two of the challenges involved a moving human form - and not in an easy way!
For those who missed it you can now see it on BBC iPlayer - and see if you can do any better

At the end of this post I provide:
  • some tips for aspiring artists who want to draw people including those who don't just pose for you!
  • links to interviews with some of the artists
  • a note of a Live Sketch Off Competition taking place at 7pm tomorrow night (Tuesday 17th March)
GOOD NEWS for those living outside the UK - Episode 3 has been posted on YouTube.
BAD NEWS The BBC sells its programmes overseas and this link may become defunct in the very near future! It's so small it made me think somebody has been videoing their iPad!

BBC iPlayer - The Big Painting Challenge - Epidsode 4

This week the programme was based at Tate Britain - which is also where the winner will get their best painting hung for a couple of weeks starting 30 April (basically two weeks either side of Easter) .

Episode 4: the human form and movement challenges

Challenge 1: To create a static life drawing of a semi-nude male life model assuming very classical poses (3 hours) 

Life model clip The links to clips from the programme won't work unless you live in the UK.
The judges were looking for:
  • anatomically correct figures
  • accurate proportions
  • realistic flesh tones 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

An Education in Classical Painting

While in Belfast I met John Angel, Head of the Angel Academy of Art in Florence and a prominent portrait painter.

This is a video of John Angel introducing the three year programme of work associated with developing skills in classical painting undertaken by the students at his school. The school teaches a traditional curriculum associated with Past Masters - identified by the School as being Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, Velasquez, Rembrandt, van Dyck, Lord Leighton, Alma-Tadema, Bouguereau and, more recently, Annigoni. Angel was himself taught by Annigoni and alluded to him a few times when discussing his own art education and his school.

This video is a very good overview of a number of techniques which people may be familiar with - but people may be very surprised how long his students spend on each stage of the curriculum. For example, they don't start on colour until Year 3!

Here also is a blog post by James Gurney about Academic Methods, Part 1: John Michael Angel

I had dinner with John and his delightful wife Megan on Wednesday evening (and there'll be a sketch about that later on my sketchbook blog).  Interestingly I discovered that his early education had been close to my own in Manchester - in adjacent neighbourhoods.

The School in Florence makes quite a contrast with the very modern Faculty of Art & Design and the Built Environment at Ulster University where we were doing the session for the Ulster Festival of Art & design

Faculty of Art and Design at Ulster University
PJ Lynch and John Angel in the entrance hall of the Faculty of Art & Design at Ulster University
On Thursday morning, I sat with John Angel on the same Panel for the discussion of 'Drawing Together' - which was absolutely excellent. My regards to John and all the other Panel participants:

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

From Artist to Author - Ulster University Festival of Art & Design

This time tomorrow I'll be in Belfast. That's because I'm a speaker at two events in the Ulster University Festival of Art and Design.  This is the 8th year that the Festival has run and it covers all the creative disciplines in art, design and the built environment on the Belfast campus of Ulster University.

The focus of both my events is Drawing.

My first talk is 'From Artist to Author' a talk about the experience of producing my first book about drawing - with an opportunity to ask questions about the process.

That's tomorrow night at 6pm in the Lecture Theatre on the Ulster University Belfast Campus in York Road, Belfast.

The second is Drawing Together - a panel discussion on Thursday in Room F05 between 11am and 1pm
A panel of artists and designers including Michael John Angel, of the Angel Academy, Florence; PJ Lynch; theatre designer David Craig; Katherine Tyrrell and Julie Douglas join together to talk about how they use drawing and sketching in their practice, and its importance across different creative media. From a doodle in a notebook, to a scaled draught, how does drawing influence, shape or result in creative work?
Both are part of a much bigger programme of events taking place all this week - see the main website for more details of the various events happening each day across a full range of Art and Design activities. I'll be trying to get to some of them myself!

Thanks to Julie Douglas for organising the Drawing events and inviting me to be a speaker.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Review: The Big Painting Challenge - Episode 3

More commentary on The Big Painting Challenge - which this week was in Oxfordshire. Episode 3 was all about Still Life - which I personally think might have been more accurately described as being about perspective and proportion. It went from an arrangement of still life objects to painting the facade of Blenheim Palace!

You've got 29 days left to watch it on iPlayer.

The Big Painting Challenge - Episode 3 on iPlayer on my iPad Mini.

Episode 3: The Still Life Challenges

A still life is a group of several inanimate objects grouped together, often with an over-arching theme
The challenges were again very challenging!
  • a four hour painting in acrylics of a still life arrangement of objects personal to the artist
  • a 30 minute Quick Draw of giant chess pieces on an outside chess board in black and white chalks. The aim was to capture perspective, proportion and tone. It was a challenge which I think would have got many artists running for the hills within that time scale!
  • a 3 hour artwork in the medium of their choice of the facade of Blenheim Palace! This one would have many a professional painter feeling pretty challenged. Those who felt swamped by it had by sympathies! I'm not quite sure how this one qualified as a still life. Most buildings don't move too much - although the light does!

What was interesting was that the extent of experience that the participants bring to bear on the subject matter is reflected very clearly in the choices they make in terms of set-up, scale and composition - before they even start painting!

In relation to the set-up of the still life, Lachlan emphasised four factors that the painters all needed to address the fundamentals of creating a strong picture
  1. create strong composition
  2. balance out their colours
  3. suggest  illusion of natural light
  4. convince us that objects have three dimensions
Working out the placement - and, by definition, the four lines that go round their subject matter - seemed to be something that some people lacked skills and confidence in. (see my blog post on this topic - Composition - the four most important lines)

I was actually very surprised to hear that some of them had never done a still life or done very little and/or never really painted using the media they chose. I simply can't imagine being filmed for BBC1 doing something I've never done before!
I haven't been practicing with watercolours, although I did get a book out from the Library..... I'm enjoying finding out how to do it but learning on the job is perhaps not ideal in this situation!
Claire Parker
The fact that it was clear that people could have practiced their still life - but didn't - made me wonder why they made life difficult for themselves. If you take a look at Paul Bells's website you can see "one he made earlier". I'm saying that in the sense that the positions of objects and the colours in the shadows are different. This is his blog post about Episode 3
I was very comfortable with my painting, the hours of practise paying dividendsPaul Bell
I was also really surprised to learn that Paul Bell had previously worked as an architectural illustrator. I guess that accounts for why he's way out in front in the skills department!

Judges comments

The Judges also considered that some of the artists had made life very difficult for themselves in terms of:
  • the objects they had chosen
    • objects which were very shiny and difficult to paint, 
    • objects which were very dissimilar in size and shape - and therefore difficult to meld together into an interesting composition
  • their ability to draw their objects and achieve the right size and shape
They also observed that artists varied in their skills in putting objects together to create a strong composition.

They liked the artists who controlled tone and managed to describe the 3D aspects of their objects - particularly in relation to perspective and depth - and those who had clearly thought about what they were doing.

The conclusion

Richard Salter really impressed in this episode. With every challenge he seemed to do better than I was expecting based on previous performance. It was great to see him introduce colour in the last challenge.

It struck me that both Paul and Anthea made a really smart move in demonstrating their abilities in a new media.  I had Anthea identified as possibly being at risk this week. However she applied herself in a  much more focused way this week and also worked in pen and ink and watercolour and was rewarded by taking herself out of the frame.

The judges also seemed to like those who went on a journey and tried new things (Richard and Claire) - and made a good attempt at using their new approach (colour and watercolour respectively)

I think this episode provided some very clear tips for those selected for subsequent series of this painting.

Here's what I noted down as being some of the lessons learned in this episode:
  • make sure you've tried painting all the different types of subject matter
  • master the basics in different media
  • become skilled in observation 
  • learn how to draw accurately
  • give yourself challenges in terms of shape, proportion and tone
  • develop your abilities in the use of colour and composition 
  • think hard about what you want the end product to look like before you start
  • practice your still life before you start on site
  • think about how you can demonstrate your versatility with different media
  • don't focus on what you don't like - focus on what you can do
One could tell that Alison, Heather and Anne were in the frame just from the amount of time devoted to their experience of the challenges this week. Heather in particular seemed to be very fed up by the end of the day. However I must confess I thought Amy was going to be one of the two going home based on some of the comments made in the challenges.

My prediction for the next episode

Episode four is all about Human Form and Movement so I'd expect those who dislike drawing and painting people to have a problem

Paul continues to be way out in front. Richard and Claire have demonstrated their ability to have a go and pull it off - plus they were all on the better side of average in Episode 2 (Portraits). I think they're all safe.

I don't know if I've misjudged Amy in terms of expecting her to go this week. I certainly haven't seen everything the judges saw.  I think it's very definitely the case that I'm struggling as Amy's style of painting is not one which I'm a fan of - and that's purely a question of taste.

Anthea seems to become a lot more focused and seems to be intent on pleasing the judges rather than being flamboyant. On that basis I think she might well be OK.  There again there's a rather ominous segment within the film at the start of each episode where Daphne Todd makes a remark about some flamenco dancers (next week's third challenge) - and I think it relates to Anthea - so maybe not OK?

I'm not convinced that Daphne thinks Anne can draw or likes her style which tends towards the flat and graphic - although it's very clear that Lachlan likes her use of colour. It's entirely possible she will be a candidate for departure next week. However she clearly demonstrates an ability to listen and to address issues that are raised - and that's something judges always like!

James Hobbs, Anne Blankman-Hemans and Katherine Tyrrell
at the Mall Galleries "Meet the Author" event this week
I met Anne during the week - when she came to my booksigning at the Mall Galleries - and bought my book Sketching 365.

You can see her on the right with me and fellow author James Hobbs and his book.

I was very pleased to hear that she has been carrying a sketchbook and doing a lot more drawing since the programme.

The good news is that, once the series has finished, she has agreed to give me an interview for this blog. I shall endeavour to find out what it was really like to be an amateur artist painting while being filmed by the BBC!

My drawings from the weekend

Again - in the spirit of participation - I'm going to share my own drawings from last week.

On Saturday, I spent the afternoon drawing with London Urban Sketchers at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

It was so very nice and sunny that I sat in the courtyard in the sun drawing all the other people sitting in the sun!

I should add that I avoided trying to draw the architecture of the building because I've tried that before at the V&A and it's very, very challenging! So I decided I'd use my time to better effect and focused in on something I felt more comfortable doing - drawing people. They were my "still life"!

For those who've got my book you might want to take a look at pages 86-87 in which I provide some tips about drawing large groups of people.

Any time you're in a situation like this you have, in effect, got free models for practising your life drawing - except they are apt to move around a bit and do have a tendency to just get up and walk away.  The fact I don't know them and don't have their permission to draw them means I don't ever draw faces in detail.

The trick is to find one or two people who become your measuring sticks for everybody else. I started with the chap who was sat against the outside corner of the building and noted how he related in size to the cornicing.

I then moved to a single woman sat on her own on the steps just to the right and below him and drew her in relation to him....

...and then continued across the page drawing people in and relating each to the other. That way I get less worried that I've lost their relative proportion. In fact I have got some wrong - but they're not so wrong that it jumps out at you - I think!

Sunny afternoon in March - Courtyard of the Victoria and Albert Museum
pen and sepia ink in A4 Moleskine (11" x 16")
I then sketched three London Urban Sketchers who were sketching the architecture. That's Jean Edwards on the left and Pavel Miller on the right.

London Urban Sketchers sketching in the V&A Courtyard 7 March 2015
London Urban Sketchers sketching in the V&A Courtyard 7 March 2015
pen and sepia ink in large Moleskine

Saturday, March 07, 2015

So you think you have problems painting?

Every now and again we're all apt to hear from fellow artists who are having a problem with their current painting or have hit a 'painting block' - and just can't paint anything.

It's something which happens to many people and the usual trick is to take a proper break and then get stuck into doing something related - like sketching or reading art books - which may well trigger the urge to create a painting.

However suppose the 'block' you hit was that one morning you woke up and you were totally blind.

Would you even try painting again?  Could you even paint if you're blind?

Well the good news is that you can.

Take a look at these two videos.  The first one is just over 4 minutes and is about the blind painter Sargy Mann.  It's a BBC news 'Real Life' video interview.

The second is a much longer documentary video made by his son Peter Mann.  This shows much more about how he manages to paint and tells you even more about about the inner resilience and creativity of this blind painter.  I greatly admire him for looking for ways of doing working out how to paint within the constraints he's been given to work within.

Sargy Mann from Peter Mann Pictures on Vimeo.
Sargy Mann produced and directed by Peter Mann in 2006, funded by the British Documentary Foundation (BritDoc)
Shown at BritDoc 06, Melbourne International Film Festival 07, LIDF, and Voyages European Film Festival. Peter Mann's film about his father the artist Sargy Mann as he goes through the process of making a unique series of paintings, the subjects for which were the last things he ever saw, and painted after going completely blind in May 2005.
You can see his paintings:
These are articles about Sargy Mann:
I suggest you bookmark this post so that the next time you have a problem painting, you can return to it and watch these videos again and be really thankful you still have your sight even if your inner vision has temporarily deserted you.

Then do what he does - and get back in the studio and have a go!  Try drawing blindfold and see what happens....

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Update re: Nelson Shanks portrait of Bill Clinton

Daphne Todd OBE (Past President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and currently judging the BBC programme on 'The Big Painting Challenge') was invited to speak on yesterday's Today programme on Radio 4 on the topic of hidden motifs in and the ethics of Nelson Shanks painting of Bill Clinton - and the rights of the artist.

Daphne does not hold back and is very amusing!

"It's not one of Nelson Shanks's best paintings"

She is joined by Georgina Adam who is the Art Market Correspondent at The Financial Times and Art Market Editor at Large at The Art Newspaper.

You can listen to their comments in yesterday's Today programme on BBC Radio 4 iPlayer Radio http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05413jv

Start listening at 2:54:30

I found Daphne's comments that it's the artist's right to paint the portrait they want to paint to be very interesting.

Her comments as to why it's wise to be nice to your portrait painter are also very funny!

Also see my previous post Can a portrait artist play fast and loose with a commission?

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Book signing: Books on Sketching at the Mall Galleries

Book signing

Tomorrow (Thursday 5th March) you can meet me, see some of my sketchbooks and get your copy of Sketching 365: Build your confidence and skills with a tip a day signed at a "Meet the Author/book-signing" event in the bookshop at the Mall Galleries between 3pm and 7pm.Sketching 365: Build your confidence and skills with a tip a day

I'll be joined by fellow urban sketcher James Hobbs who is author of best-selling Sketch Your World who will also be bringing his sketchbooks.

The Mall Galleries is going to do a discount deal for anybody attending the event between 3pm and 4pm - you'll be able to buy both books for £20.

Pastel Society Exhibition & Art Event Evening

My book contains a section on pastels and a number of wonderful images by Pastel Society member Felicity House.
If you come to the book signing you might like to stay on and

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Can a portrait artist play fast and loose with a commission?

Do you think Nelson Shanks has been rather underhand in his portrayal of Bill Clinton?
Is it ever OK for a portrait artist to undermine your client or subject?

The big art news story today is that a portrait painted by Nelson Shanks of Bill Clinton contains, according to Shanks, a hidden allusion to the Monica Lewinsky affair.

This is the portrait - painted in 2005 - which now forms part of the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in the USA (I'm sure they'll be thinking twice about accepting another portrait by Shanks!)

It's actually impossible to get a link to the page which is a rather odd way for a museum website to behave. However if you want to take a closer look at it go to the National Portrait Gallery's Portal to American Portraits then use the quick search and the search term "Shanks Clinton" to generate the portrait in question.

Once you've got it you can see an enlarged image - although the best images would appear to be in all today's papers!

Here are just some of the 450+ newspaper reports about it.  The various comments make fascinating reading. If Mr Shanks thought that this 'reveal' would enhance his reputation it seems he is sadly mistaken

Monday, March 02, 2015

The Big Painting Challenge - Episode 2

This continues my commentary on The Big Painting Challenge and focuses on the second episode which was about drawing and painting people.

In fairness to the contestants, it also features some of my dodgy drawings of people while working from life!

The reason for including my drawings is because, first, I drew did the drawings in the lecture theatre in the bowels of the National Portrait Gallery on Friday night. I attended a sold out class on Life Drawing: Sargent Style given by artist Andy Pankhurst (the link is to his drawings of people from life)

My second reason for posting them is because I've been reflecting on what I thought about second episode since watching it.

I've really found myself wondering to what extent it's now revealing the differences between those who predominantly work from photos ( as a matter of habit) and those who have developed skills in working from life. I've known workshops where people who have been generally regarded as very good artists revealed that they were rather less accomplished when working from life.  It's often the case that people can present as quite skilled until you take them out of their comfort zone, away from their time lines, and generally "off piste" when it comes to painting.

I think the practice of working from life is a salient point to raise with those aspiring to improve as an artist. It's working from life which gives you the skills to work from a photo.  If you've only ever worked from a photo you're apt to be 'all at sea' when asked to work from life.

The best bit of advice I ever had was to make sure I went back home from my painting holiday and sign up for a life class. That was when I really started to learn how to use my eyes and coordinate what I saw with the marks my hand made. Which is not to say you can do it straight away - as my drawings below will illustrate!

Episode 2: The challenges

I thought the challenges were very fair:
  • painting a self portrait in oils
  • drawing a stranger in black and white chalks
  • painting a 'celebrity' actor
The artists had enough time to do something decent - and yet the time allowed was enough to cause problems for those not used to planning their work or who like painting fast - and then continue and overwork a decent painting.

I was really surprised at just how many demonstrated an inability to draw well from life. I'm thinking maybe it might have been fairer if they'd been given 10 minutes to warm up via some quickies whether we might have seen much better performance by the participating artists.  There again I guess they could have sat around with a sketchbook and drawn one another while waiting for that session to start!

In relation to painting, I was surprised that few also demonstrated an ability to think about the four lines around the portrait - and what the best crop might look like. Some were painting without actually making a decent picture.

The Judges' comments

I know some still think their comments are harsh. However they seem to be around the Paul Hollywood or Simon Cowell scale to me ie very direct and very accurate.

Personally I don't have a problem with them - and quite enjoyed watching on Sunday and mouthing quite a few of them before the judges got a chance to say exactly the same thing. I'm guessing there were quite a few other people doing the same thing.

The conclusion

Jan, the retired police sketch artist went home at the end of this week's episode. Which means the judges agreed with my prediction made last week after the first episode as to who would be next to go.

Oddly, I think the reason he was sent home was because in general he was failing to observe what he saw in front of himself - even when this was a self-portrait. I have no doubt he greatly enjoys painting and will continue to enjoy it in his own unique way.

My prediction for the next episode

Episode 3 is nominally about still life - but actually seems to be about perspective and scale given the diversity of the challenges (see my last blog post for more details - it's everything from personal objects through giant chess pieces to the facade of Blenheim Palace!).

I'm therefore expecting that those who have been having problems with scale and proportion might well struggle with this one. Looking back over the first two episodes, I'm thinking Anthea might be in the frame. She's produced some good paintings - but for me she has had the worst fail so far in terms of coping with subject matter which is unfamiliar to her in terms of sizing and poor design and placement within the format.  I thought Daphne's description of her last painting as being catastrophic got it about right. Anthea also doesn't seem to be able to stop and start again when she makes mistakes. "Soldier through" seems to be her motto"

This is what her comment is on her profile page
Criticism from the judges was sometimes harder to take than at others. Observe was the main lesson and I learned I was not always accurate. Making sure everything was in proper proportion stuck with me afterwards.

Who do I think will be in the Final

I think I now have two candidates for the final. Paul Bell continues to impress despite his wobble in drawing this week and making his colours muddy in the painting through over-working. (See website http://paulbellart.co.uk and his blog and his post about Episode 2)

However young Claire Parker has very definitely surged forward this week. Both her self-portrait and her painted portrait of an actor were absolutely splendid. (See website/blog of her year abroad - with added painting: http://claire-parker.weebly.com plus her Twitter account @clairesparker)

Top tip from this episode

The bit of advice that all seem to need to remember is know when you need to stop - and start again or walk away.  Some are better than others at this - and I know this is a perennial topic many struggle with! :)

Take a look at this clip from Episode 2 which neatly demonstrates this point.

My drawings from life class

Three x 10 minute drawings

Oddly the class on Friday started with three 10 minute drawings. I'm more used to these coming after the very fast quickies.  I need my quickies to loosen up!