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.

Challenge 1: (3 hours / Acrylic Paint) Create a painting which captures the atmosphere, spirit and heritage of Dartmouth Naval College after a period of research - and what this means for them

The artists had two hours to do their research using sketches and photographs and then three hours to create the painting indoors.

If there's one thing I know, artists cannot paint to order per se. Some places simply do not do it for you. It was very evident that this choice of location for the first of the final challenge really dented Claire's confidence. She simply didn't relate to the building or its history in any way. No surprise there, my guess is a very large number of people would have felt the same way and not all of them would have been young women!

By way of contrast, the location was an absolute gift to Richard with his services background and he came up with a great idea for a painting.

I don't know who looked more nervous when Claire announced to the Judges that she was going to do something abstract - which she'd never done before - and paint one shape. Daphne summed up Claire's choice rather neatly
Claire has taken a very, very brave step. She's decided to go completely abstract. Well that's a very dangerous strategy which will either be brilliantly successful or quite a failure.
I remember thinking that I wish she'd paint with a much bigger brush.

Interestingly Amy was the artist who had the complete meltdown and gave up on her painting. She knew that there was something missing from her composition. I hope she takes away from this experience that there is some point to planning out a design in a sketchbook before you start.
It's the first time I've ever given up on a painting.... It's the worst thing I've ever done - it's complete rubbish. I just wish I'd stopped half way through and done another painting - a completely different painting.
as, of course, she has done before to good effect!

Amy's approach to painting - the terrific energy at the beginning to get paint on canvas fast and the commitment to driving it forward are admirable - but it will always result in mistakes and failures because not every painting will work out.  I've got a great book about composition and design that I'd love to recommend to her!

Paul's painting was well designed and the lighting worked well. He also attempted a narrative - but split the judges as to its success.

My impression was that Richard's painting was seen as OK but not outstanding.  I keep wanting to remove black and white from his palette as he's a little too monochromatic for my taste.

Claire felt that the judges comments were fair and she knew she need to get back to what she knew how to do. She was right in that assessment.

In my view, those critical of the judges and their comments need to review the way they gave Amy her critique given that they knew she was very upset about her painting.

Challenge 2 : the Quick Draw (40 minutes / Charcoal, pastel, pencil) Draw at high speed using dry media. Capture the movement, energy and dynamism of a whole platoon of naval cadets marching in formation as they perform a sword drill.

It was a HUGE challenge and extremely difficult. Lots of information and lots of noise!

It's very difficult to make an assessment but it did strike me that Claire seemed to me to be looking too much at her paper and not enough at what she was observing. For me that would make the challenge even more difficult.  She found it really tough and just seemed to be totally confused by it. For me she was totally out of the running by the end of this stage.

Paul's use of perspective for the platoon and inclusion of context made for a much more successful drawing in terms of depth and movement.  Paul's performance was beginning to look very solid - and I did note that he had managed to get perspective and proportion into his responses for both of the first two challenges in this episode!  I think he had been listening to the amount of comments on both those topics in Episode 5.

I began to see the reason why Daphne likes Amy in this session and I liked what she achieved with her drawing. She "got it" and was back in with a chance.

By contrast Richard was absorbed in detail again and drawing every individual as an individual. There was no sense of numbers and not much context. I couldn't quite see him being able to come back from this drawing.

Lachlan's advice session was particularly useful for those who haven't tried drawing moving people before.  I remember being told many moons ago to always go for the big shapes when drawing lots of people together. Don't try to separate them out until you've got the big shapes sorted.  (Tip 155 in my book "Map out the big contour first"!)

Challenge 3: (3 hours | Oils and large panoramic canvas) Capture the fluctuations of light and atmosphere of a picturesque and visually complex scene - Dartmouth harbour.  

This challenge included lots of aspects of topics and challenges addressed throughout the series which ALL needed to be addressed yet again in the final painting.

They were very lucky to have a narrow area between houses and the harbour wall to paint - with nobody peering over their shoulder but the judges! It made me think of how many people would be looking over their shoulder if they were plein air painting in Dartmouth but hadn't been able to use somewhere more private or fenced off!

As it happens this is a public area so presumably had been fenced off...

I'm a dab hand at finding locations via Google Maps and found this one without too much trouble. For all those who  would like to have a go at painting the final view in The Big Painting Challenge you need to go to Bayard's Cove in Dartmouth - just south of the Dartmouth-Kingswear ferry

This is there the artists were sitting.

This was Amy's view - and those are very probably some of the small boats she was painting!

I loved the very brief shot of them holding up their small picture frames to what was in front of them trying to see what worked best as a composition.  I don't think that was something we saw at the beginning of the series. However they seemed to be using a conventional format for their viewfinder  (looked 4:3 to me) and their canvas was very panoramic. I think they'd have done much better to select the 16:9 format on their cameras and look through the viewfinder of their camera!

It occurred to me that an essential bit of kit for any future contestants is a tape measure to measure the format of the paper or support that you are given to work on. You can't do a really effective small thumbnail sketch if you don't know what format your given support is.

Paul's approach of sorting out the complexity in a simple three value sketch before starting to paint made a huge difference to his painting and the overall result. Future contestants would do well to make note of this point! He did a very good painting in alla prima style with great colours which were very much 'of the place'. It looked like Dartmouth!
I'm proud of what I've done. This was definitely a "me" painting
I really liked Amy's approach with her painting with this one - and it was the painting I liked the most of all the ones she had done. However yet again her drive meant that she carried on past the point where I really liked it!  I think Amy would benefit hugely if she were to develop a set of brakes. How about an enforced timeout in the middle for a few minutes of reflection?

Richard's colours seemed to me to be completely wrong - they were very muted, which is a range of colours he obviously likes. It certainly did not look like a painting of a place where the sun was shining. My problem (not his) is that I can't get past this if the colours look odd to me.

Claire continued to seem all over the place and very indecisive - and in the end didn't manage her time well and didn't complete the painting. She's obviously a very sensitive artist. I think that the fact it was "The Final" meant that she just had a really bad day not helped by getting off to a bad start through being confronted with something which meant nothing to her.
For me it was the best I could do in the time I was given. There are other people here who on the day, under the pressure, have been able to pull it out of the bag
For what it's worth I think she has clear potential to be a very good artist and, in my estimation, probably the best of of all four in time - (say) about five years time - when she has had acquired much more knowledge, painted a lot more and developed a strong sense of her own unique style.

In summary:

  • I wish all the contestants well with their painting and future endeavours - and look forward to meeting them at the Private View for their London Exhibition - The Bigger Picture
  • I really enjoyed some of the expressions on Daphne's face in this episode - no words were necessary!
  • I wish the BBC would ask for feedback - I can think of a few things I'd like to suggest they change for the next series - if there is one. However I do think they should keep both Judges - almost all of the time they were absolutely spot on with their comments.  I'm sorry that some viewers felt that they should only be kind rather than accurate in their judgements. 
  • I hope this programme does for painting what Bake-Off did for baking!

and finally......

Watch out for a final post from me on the WH Smith blog - which has been publishing interviews with the artists. [Update - this is it Katherine Tyrrell: Ten Artistic Tips Learnt From The Big Painting Challenge]

There should be one coming up called Top 10 Tips which summarises the key learning points from the series. I'm pleased to say I think every single one of them got a special mention in the final programme and I wrote the article nearly a week ago! :)


  1. Spot on Katherine!
    It's been a real good watch on a Sunday evening, and I've enjoyed your comments. How brave were all the contestants. I agreed with you that Paul was the one to watch, and when he had a wobble last week my heart was in my mouth. Ten times better than the Bake Off.

  2. Very good review, can't find anything to disagree with :)

  3. The best man won, I thought. Good programme - more would be welcome in this genre, rather than more cookery programmes. Judge fair and helpful in their comments to contestants. Like the two presenters but Una's whispery little voice became intensely irritating. Shame because she does obviously love painting.


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