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.

While Lachlan characterised it as being more like an Italian chapel than the Liver Building, Daphne Todd brought out the big guns for her critique of Paul's red, white and chalk drawing.
It looks to me whimsical.. If you're using drawing based media or watercolour you seem to go much more 'ladylike'. This is a delicate feminine building not that massive building which was in front of us thrusting, thrusting in a masculine way up into the sky Daphne Todd
I think Daphne's really worried about me. I think I'm going to have to do some sort of real alpha male work to get her back onside. Paul
It began to become clear to me that Daphne is not fond of what she characterises as an 'illustration' which describes a building so you know what it is - but not in an accurate way

Challenge 3: Paint moving water and the panoramic view of the iconic cityscape of the City of Liverpool - from across the River Mersey (3.5 hours - Any Medium)

A number of the artists recognised their need to work hard in the third challenge to secure their place in the final.

Lachlan explained that the reason for the challenge was two-fold. It forces the artists to tackle the changing light and the vast expanses of sky and the water, two elements which are always on the move, plus the panorama of the city skyline. They need to get to grips with the way everything changes as the light changes - from the clouds in the sky to the reflections on the water.  The composition also depends on what they choose to prioritise and what they decide to use to add drama to the painting.

It's "a big ask"!

The fundamental that some of the artists appeared to be oblivious of is that water gets its colour from the sky and hence the colour of the sky needs to be reflected in the water and the two elements cannot be incongruous.

In terms of the paintings
  • Claire's painting probably reflected her inexperience in painting plein air. She was upset with her painting however I thought it was one of the better ones in terms of capturing the colour of the buildings in the light and attempting to reflect these in the water. 
  • Richard was the only one who managed to get recession into his water and to make it look the size of waterway he was actually painting. 
  • Paul seemed to be painting Venice - it was big, butch and bold (rather than lady-like) but the colours bore very little relation to the light in Liverpool and it all seemed a bit disorganised. I couldn't tell whether or not he had included any boats.
  • Amy was criticised for overworking her painting - and it did seem as if it was once much better than it ended up. 
  • Anne's painting was a little too graphic and her technique did not work with this subject matter. However the colour of her river in the foreground achieved the muddiness. Plus I think she was the only person who stopped and took the trouble to get a ferry into her picture - and the ferry across the Mersey is a pretty iconic feature of Liverpool!

The exit

The judges made a big thing of needing to go back and look at all their work done so far and not just the paintings done for this challenge.

I think that might well have been done because the people they felt were justified in getting into the Final had some major wobbles.  It was very definitely Paul's worst week.

Interestingly Richard has been making some significant process in the last round and this one - and he deserved top go through to the Final.

This time Anne's bright underpaintings undid her. It might work well in a hotter content but didn't work well in Liverpool even if it is the colour of the team that plays at Anfield!

A couple of asides

One of the things I'm noticing is the artists now seem to be saying words that have said to them - but without necessarily believing them or reflecting this in their work.

When I came to the end of this review, I was suddenly reminded that I am a member of Urban Sketchers - members of which draw and paint cityscapes all the time! It struck me how many images I see produced by artists across the UK of their urban environments - while working plein air and from observation - many of which are very much better than some of the paintings we saw in this programme.

If there is a to be another series maybe the Producers could look a bit harder for the participants?


  • Keep looking until you find a view which makes you take a second look. Too often people settle for the first view that seems as if it "will do". Sometimes too little effort goes into looking round the next corner. It's much, much easier to draw or paint a view which connects with your soul.
  • Remember that the sky and the water are not separate - they're two halves of a whole. It should always be possible to detect a relationship between sky and water - because the water reflects the sky. 
  • Getting the sky colour right can be really difficult and yet it can make or break a painting - Experiment and try different mixes of colours until you find them right one.
  • Water is very rarely one colour - it has lots of colours if you look for long enough
  • Perspective also applies to water - the relationship of light in the sky and its reflections on the water depend in part on how far away you are and how much depth and recession there is 
  • Style is something which develops over time - through creating lots of art. Style seems to have been a constant theme this week.  One very clear indication of an amateur artist is somebody who changes their style on a regular basis. This is fine - it's somebody who has not yet found their voice and who is trying out different ways of expressing him or herself. However as an artist matures and they find their own way of seeing and painting the world, one begins to see a consistency of style used irrespective of the subject matter or the media used. 
  • Don't let favoured techniques overwhelm your subject. When developing a style, and using specific techniques, it's wise to make an assessment as to whether it's appropriate to the subject. 

Some inspiration for you

This week you can meet Lachlan Goudie in his current exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London this week (until 28th March). Both he and fellow exhibitor Tim Benson will be at the gallery all week in the Threadneedle Space.  I visited it at lunchtime today and Lachlan had already sold three paintings of his still life paintings!

There's Meet the Artists event on Wednesday afternoon (3-3.45pm) - plus Daphne Todd and Lachlan Goudie will be doing a booksigning between 4-5pm

Tim Benson and Lachlan Goudie - New Paintings at the Threadneedle Space in the Mall Galleries

As an added incentive, from Wednesday you'll also be able to see the paintings selected for the annual exhibition of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour at the Mall Galleries - so if you too struggle with watercolour it's an excellent exhibition to visit to provide you with inspiration to keep working at perfecting your skills.

and finally......

Below you can see a sketch I did some 10 years ago while in Venice. It's (surprise, surprise) a cityscape with a foreground of a lot of water.

It was completed as two drawings - the left and the right - while sat near the Arsenale on a cold dull grey day which kept threatening to pour with rain, I was sat looking over the lagoon to San Georgio Maggiore (the monastery island), the Giudeca (a long thin strip), and the Dorsoduro with the Salute and Dogana at its tip - plus the entrance to the Grand Canal. In truth I edited out some of the Giudeca to make a better pic on two sheets! If you click it you can see a larger version.

The View from the Arsenale
Coloured pencils on pale blue Canson paper

1 comment:

  1. Paul Bell has written an interesting post on his blog about his experience in Liverpool. He says they went their separate ways to different parts of Liverpool to sketch and take photos.


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