Monday, March 20, 2017

Review: The Big Painting Challenge FINAL 2017

I was metaphorically on the edge of my seat last night watching the Final of The Big Painting Challenge on BBC1 - willing my prediction to do well.

Which was a bit silly when it dawned on me that this was filmed last summer and no amount of positive thoughts from me would have made any difference to the result!

However to my mind 'attitude' made a big difference to the result last night.
"Being in the Final, what it says to me is you shouldn't be so negative about your possibilities" David White
The Final Judgement
Not only did we have a worthy winner in Suman Kaur (who I had a lovely messaging chat with in the week - where she didn't betray a thing!).

We also saw four artists who had genuinely been - in those cliché words much beloved of TV people - "on a journey".

If you've missed my earlier blog posts about this series (and the last series) you can find them at the bottom of this post - along with links to the websites of all the participants in the series (including the Judges and Mentors - unmissable!).

Now for the final!

The Penultimate Challenge

The location was the Queen's House in Greenwich - which is a magnificent building and a beautiful setting for this challenge.

Hearing that the Penultimate Challenge is a Portrait

The presenters indicated that
  • The final episode would contain two very different challenges which would show how far they had progressed during the series. (Let's not forget that the different aim of this series was a much more educational slant to the programmes and continuous mentoring throughout up until this point.)
  • The ultimate aim was to identify the Finest Amateur Artist of 2017. (I'm guessing this is because Sky has already nabbed the Artist of the Year title - and this BBC series wants to emphasise its relationship with amateur artists across the country).
The Finalists were also told that the big difference in the Final was that the Mentors would NOT be able to counsel and coach - and they were on their own for the first time. That was a smart move - it made the first five episodes seem like lessons and tests and this was "The Big Exam" at the end of term!

So the first challenge was to be a portrait - but they were not told who was going to be the subject. So much speculation with the favourite being that they were going to paint their mentors.

They had tips from the mentors
"Think about your strengths that you've got remember to keep looking, keep observing. Think about composition, could be the face, could be the whole thing, think about the background, think about colours. You're going to be on your own. Just have my voice in your head saying 'Do that, do that!'." Diana Ali
"If we can get this triangle right between the bottom of the nose and the centre of both the eyes, no matter whether it's square on face or three-quarter view, if you get that right you can kind of do anything you want with the painting. You;re going to do the best painting you've done so far - I'm 100% sure." Pascal 
This challenge was WAY BETTER than the penultimate challenge from last year's series which was completely unrealistic in terms of subject matter and how people respond to it.  You can't make people paint subjects that don't mean anything to them - especially when the subject is the Royal Naval College!

This year, the penultimate challenge of evoking an emotional response for a painting was so much simpler when the artists were given the chance to "paint a parent"!  (Well done to the parents for agreeing to sit and be painted!)

The challenge was to paint a portrait in 3.5 hours AND:
  • to showcase all they have learned
  • to paint a portrait which demonstrates the character of the sitter
The overdub opined that painting parents can actually be a very real hindrance to painting a portrait BECAUSE of the emotional reaction. However I think the BBC forgot that compared to the challenges they had put painters in previous episodes this challenge apparently felt like a bit of a walk in the park. Well maybe not that relaxed - but definitely one which stimulated them to do well but without making them stress about the subject.

In fact, the presenters kept commenting on how much more relaxed the session was! Nobody was stressing out in a corner........

The episode also enabled the programme-makers to give a potted summary of "the progress the artists have made so far". They're particularly interesting on reflection because in a lot of ways they're not untypical of very many other amateur artists out there who have similar issues re. skills and areas they need to improve

The summaries went something like this....


  • her abstract style contributed to the success she had with the public panel
  • she's made big improvements in skills in observation and drawing
  • she recognises that she always needs to impress the judges if she's in a competition


  • A brave artist who is not afraid to experiment
  • On the other hand he has a tendency to "rampage through different styles"
  • His analytical approach tends to result in removing his emotional engagement with a subject


  • one of the most inexperienced artists in the competition
  • despite this he produced one of the strongest portraits in week 4
  • he has a willingness to listen and learn


  • wants to get it right all the time
  • her confidence in her own abilities has grown enormously through the series - because she won immunity three times
  • she has a strong desire to push herself and improve
I really want to emphasise how much I was impressed by all their portraits of their parents. I thought they were amazing - and particularly so for being done within the time limit.

For me they emphasised how much people had some of the artists had progressed during the series - with David's and Alan's paintings being the ones for me which showed the most progress in relation to how they were painting at the beginning - AND they were great portraits.

Portrait of Alan's Mother by Alan Tsang

The end of the first day - stood outside the Queens House, Greenwich
- hearing about the next challenge
"With the next challenge we're really pushing the boat out...." Meriel Frostrup
David wasn't far wrong when he said at the end of the last programme
"What will they have us do next - watercolour on roller-skates?" David

Mentors Tips

Since the Mentors were limited to Tips ONLY this week, it was interesting to see what they chose.

This time Diana decided to tailor her tips to the individuals.
  • Diana decided to try helping Jennifer with her observation and proportions. The technique of using a cut out in a piece of card to make marks to locate relative proportions and sizes is a good one. However only if you locate the top and bottom first - because otherwise everything varies depending on the distance you hold the card from your eyes - and that's an ESSENTIAL bit of information!
  • I liked the exercise she gave to Alan who always likes to think long and hard about what he's doing - and then seems to use the smallest brush possible when he starts to paint. She gave him a big brush, a big dollop of red paint and told him he could portray the scene in front of him using only 10 marks. I wasn't quite sure about her interpretation of what constituted a mark. However, it certainly got him thinking - and it resulted in a more interesting painting later on.
Pascal's painting with mops exercise was very funny but was just what two people who like to be precise needed to loosen up! I think he was making the point that you can apply paint with a lot more than brushes

but you might find the clean-up afterwards a tad more challenging! This from the Producer....

The Final Big Challenge

It doesn't get much bigger than being asked to paint the view portrayed by Canaletto. Just a reminder.....

Greenwich Hospital from the North Bank of the Thames (BHC1827) by Canaletto (1752)
oil on canvas, 686 mm x 1067 mm; Frame: 833 mm x 1217 mm x 60 mm
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection
You can see the real thing at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich (which is behind the hospital, to the right of the Queens House and below the Observatory!) 

This is the view - with backlighting and great sky!
This is a view which has been painted many times before by various painters. To my mind asking them to paint it from a boat didn't do it justice as you need to stand back (i.e. as Canaletto did - on the opposite bank of the Thames) to get it 'in proportion'.
(I've provided a tip on where best to locate to paint this view on Facebook - basically go to Island Gardens via Docklands Light Railway or the slipway of the slipway of the Poplar, Blackwall & District Rowing Club ).
I'm trying to enjoy it and not get too worried about the situation David White
 I'm going for a bit of energy. I think I've done realistic now... I feel like I need to do something slightly different.  I just want to be free and have fun! Suman Kaur
I quite like these drips. It would be quite nice to let some of the under marks show through Alan Tsang

Plus points and perplexing points

It was great seeing
  • All of them use sketchbooks to try and work out what to paint on their canvas
  • The boys getting much more relaxed about how to apply paint to the canvas - it was quite a revelation!
  • Suman down on her hands and knees using a great big sponge to get a base coat of a coloured mid tone down on her canvas - FAST - to eliminate the white

The paint dripped down Alan's canvas and he didn't care!
His painting was probably the best in terms of colours of the subject
and he included some clouds. He has great colours in the water.

Some things that perplexed me expressed as queries below.

Set-up- created by the BBC

Looking directly into the sun became part of the challenge
Diana and Pascal had the same view as the artists
  • The set-up was directly into the sun - and yet nobody gave the artists sunglasses! You can get a blinding headache looking into the sun all the time. I assume nobody checked what the sun would be doing if you looking south for five hours at that time of day.....
  • The angle of their easels
    • Why with huge canvases do they have to peer round the end of the canvas to see the subject? 
    • Why not angle them so they can look to and from subject to canvas and back again with ease? 
    • If angles were all to suit the camera angles the BBC need "shooting"!  Cameras should work around the artists not vice versa!!!
  • Weight on the easels
    • Why are these easels not weighed down so they can't fall over? Basic rule of painting plein air - don't let your easel fall over - use weights!  These needed to be supplied by the BBC given the fact handy rocks are not close to hand!
  • Why did the BBC not supply panoramic canvases for a panoramic view? I couldn't see any.
  • Did anybody consult the tide timetables and provide information to the artists about whether the boat was going to be sinking or rising as they painted? (If they did I didn't hear it!)
What the artists found - a very tight set-up in very small space
given the amount of "studio extras" that have to be accommodated

Artists' behaviour

  • Why do the artists NEVER draw out the format of their canvas in their sketchbook so as to see better what view is best suited to that particular format of canvas? (Does nobody supply them with the size in inches or the format ratio or teach them about ratios?)
  • Why don't they increase the size of their brushes when they increase the size of their canvas?  Huge brushes exist for a reason!
  • Why did NOBODY paint a great sky? One of the things about this view is that it seems to attract great clouds - and yet nobody seemed to have painted a good cloud - and clouds do balance a landscape!
A lot of these are down to the people making the programme rather than the artists. Let's hope they read this and make suitable notes for next time!

You can also add your queries and comments for BBC digestion below! :)

Landscape paintings

Painting Greenwich Hospital from a boat #1
On the day, for me it was between Suman and David - with Alan improving by the minute! Jennifer got the exact sort of subject she hates painting and was sea-sick to boot! To my mind she very rapidly became an 'also ran' which was a great pity as I had high hopes of her given her performance in recent episodes.

On review, and it was really difficult to tell while the programme was running, David's painting seemed better drawn but was very muted. Suman's painting was 'edgier', used colour better and included the odd detailed touches which can make a painting come alive.  You can see the contrast in colour in the image with Daphne in below.

Painting Greenwich Hospital from a boat #2
Now bearing in mind I know this view well and have drawn it in the past and know the problems it presents......

David's painting of Greenwich
slightly odd composition and crop - but looks finished
great foreground and water (his water has perspective!)
however I think his buildings have stretched in the middle
and the hill in the background is absent (but when did he paint it - see below)
For example, how much you can see of the hill in Greenwich Park depends entirely on what height you are relative to the buildings - and whether your boat is rising or falling.........

(I wrote a comment in the middle of my note-taking which went "which clown thought a boat would be a good idea?" which I think came after it left Jennifer having to exit to be sick!)

Suman's painting of Greenwich
Close crop of the subject; great depth with the
Queens House and a bus in the background all obvious
Water is less wonderful overall (but good in parts);
Trees could do with being knocked back a bit for spatial perspective
the buildings either side and side of the painting are unfinished

The Final Judgement

A few people in the room for this one - with family and previous participants brought back for the Final Judgement.

I thought it was a real pity the exhibition of both portraits and landscapes was held on the boat because of the really weird lighting you get on boats. Everything is in shadow with very bright backlighting and the colours all get a very odd tint.

It would have been so much better if they'd held it in the room in the Queens House where they painted the portraits.

Daphne Todd commenting on Suman's portrait
(in the picture David's portrait and half his landscape and Suman's portrait and a bit of landscape)
Are the muted colours what was painted or due to the context of the lighting?
To be honest I thought, the final was a really close run thing. The challengers raised their game and each of the girls were not quite on top of their game as they had been in previous episodes - which made for a much more close run final than I was expecting.

(I felt really sorry for Jennifer suffering from motion sickness on the boat!  That was a challenge too far in my book. I don't think we'll be seeing any more boats featuring in challenges which are about skill in painting and not whether you can keep control of your stomach contents!!  There is a perfectly respectable public park across from the view which would have been a great place to hold the Final.)

I'm still not sure whether the judgement was in relation to just the Final - or the Final and everything that had gone before. For me the latter is always the fairest judgement, although in painting competitions it very often tends to be the painting you produce and submit which creates winners and those who just don't quite make the cut at the end of the day.

Judges comments were interesting and I'm reprising some of them below

Please note I've changed the colours slightly to get back to a proper white somewhere in the picture.  Everything seemed to be cream colour on the television!


Jennifer's paintings
"This portrait is a striking success and it has enormous potential" Lachlan Goudie
"It's a pretty good attempt" Daphne Todd
Judges were less complementary about her landscape which is hardly surprising given the problem with seasickness.

However, they were much more complimentary about the enormous distance she had come during the competition.


Alan's paintings
"This portrait is a great leap forward because you've been able to bring out the depth and get away from the tendency to flatness in your work." David Dibosa
This is a building you would immediately recognise, it's got the grandeur, you've used your proportions to make sure that we know that we're small  Daphne Todd
I think David acquitted himself very well in the Final. His indecision and tendency to want to work slow and be a bit pernickety went out the window and he painted boldly and with a lot more confidence. He's really improved a lot.

The judges also felt he really redeemed himself in the final and proved why he was in it by both being bold and retaining his sensitivity of touch and observation and considered he had produced some of the best work he had done in the competition.


David's paintings
David's paintings for me came across as being by the same painter - for once! It's as if the series has calmed him down and he's more relaxed about his own painting.

The judges wondered where the understated David in the final had come from. They wondered whether painting his father had engaged him more in the subject and lost the need for the theatre.

I think Daphne nailed it.
You've attempted the most difficult thing in a portrait - which is a fleeting expression. Hardly any great portraits are of smiling people. A smile can be very cheesy and I think you've just edged to the right side of that. You've lightened your touch considerably and I think that has helped you to see more. Daphne Todd
I enjoy this painting very much. You've put all of the techniques together and created an integrated whole. It's gentle, it's calm it's very easy to be with.  David Dibosa (about the Greenwich painting)


Suman's paintings
The judges were universally complimentary about her portrait of her father and to my mind that's what helped her win the competition. She should do more portraits!
This is a commanding portrait. Not just because of the commanding presence but also because of the command you are showing as a painter.... The colours are muted and yet describe very clearly the presence of this man. David Dibosa
You can look at this painting on several levels. Your proportions are wonderful, there is a sense of surface, your detail is lovely. I think it's a really successful portrait. Daphne Todd
Greenwich - we've got boldness, we've got colour, we've got oomph.... I believe this painting, I believe the structures, I believe the sense of scale and the architecture. I love the red bus that once again is a key point which makes me motor my way through to this part of the painting. Lachlan Goudie
After the announcement of the winner, Suman was of course interviewed - and this is what I mean about WHY attitude can make a BIG difference when you take on a Big Challenge!
"I've always said 'Just go for your dreams, go for your dreams'. In the back of my head right the way through this process, I've been 'This is right for you. This is what you need to do. Just believe in yourself, believe in yourself' - and it's worked!" Suman Kaur
This tweet summed up the whole competition for me - and why Suman's win has been so popular om social media.

The Future

I like the Big Painting Challenge - I hope the BBC do it again, while continuing to focus on ways they can improve both the programme and the experience for the participants.

You can REGISTER your interest in taking part in a future series

Also, if you're suffering from withdrawal symptoms, there's a BBC Get Creative Weekend due on 7th April - of which more in a later post.


Participant websites

The websites of the artists who have participated in this series are as follows.

The Finalists

Gone but not forgotten



Remember, painting is not just about structure and technique. It's about emotion, energy, unexpected ideas and points of view. Painting is magic. From a blank piece of paper you can conjure up new worlds. Lachlan Goudie

Others blogging about the series

I've also found links to more people who've been commenting on the series - including the artists themselves

My Blog Posts for The Big Painting Challenge

Making A Mark - SERIES TWO

I'm maintaining a list of my blog posts relating to each of the episodes as the series progresses

The NEW BBC Painting Show - which outlines the process for entering.
BBC's NEW Big Painting Challenge
Review: The Big Painting Challenge - Episode 1 (Still Life)
Review: The Big Painting Challenge - Episode 2 (Landscapes)
Review: The Big Painting Challenge - Episode 3 (Animals)
Review: The Big Painting Challenge - Episode 4 (Portraits)
Review: The Big Painting Challenge - Episode 5 (Movement)

PLUS my blog post about the run-up to the new show in 2017 in The NEW BBC Painting Show - which outlines the process for entering.

Making A Mark SERIES ONE

For those who want to revisit the 2015 Big Painting Challenge you can find all my past blog posts still available - and listed below!

The Great British Paint-Off: BBC1 searches for best amateur artists
The Big Painting Challenge starts 22nd February on BBC1
So what did you think of The Big Painting Challenge?
The Big Painting Challenge - Episode 2
Review: The Big Painting Challenge - Episode 3
Review: The Big Painting Challenge - Episode 4
Review: The Big Painting Challenge - Episode 5
The Final of The Big Painting Challenge
The Bigger Picture - the Big Painting Challenge Artists have an Exhibition
The Big Painting Challenge - the artists' blog posts

PLUS my article for WH Smith - Katherine Tyrrell: Ten Artistic Tips Learnt From The Big Painting Challenge


  1. lol I don't know what this fixation with painting on a boat has come from but it very nearly happened to us in series one when by some divine providence an email was sent to the wrong Alison (this one being one of us -a contestant) and the idea had to be scrapped. I think the idea then was to have us paint waves which would definitely have sent the contents of my stomach over the sides of the boat.
    I enjoyed this episode and indeed have enjoyed the entire series and like you hope to see further series with new and improved tweaks.
    I think all the 10 contestants did really well and it was great to see massive improvements particularly in David and Alan.
    I have to admit I put my hands to my face and shrieked when Jennifer pulled out her trade mark hair extensions but it all came good in the end especially for Suman who has such a positive attitude and a great future.
    Well done all!

  2. I finally caught up watching the final last night, and I don't know what I missed in episode 5 but the progress the artists had made was staggering, especially the two men. I think David's portrait of his father was my favourite work of the series.
    Suman was a clear winner from the start, and I'm glad it was given to her.
    I agree about the production though, why on earth didn't they get in an artist to consult on the practicalities of set up?! Watching them struggle with their flimsy easel, and bob back and forth behind them was agonising!

    I thought the series proved, resoundingly, how art is a metier than benefits from tuition, rather than just learning by intuition.

    A great series, it seems to improve with each run. Next time - higher starting standards, and have professionals in each genre painting alongside?


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