Monday, March 13, 2017

Review: The Big Painting Challenge - Episode 5 (Movement)

So - we now know who's in the Final of the The Big Painting Challenge 2017!

I won't spoil it for those who don't yet know but will be revealing who went after this Semi Finals episode near the end of this post. (I found myself missing Angela - who went last week - as the episode got under way.)

David, Jennifer and Alan tackling Movement as the Episode 5 Big Painting Challenge
One of the more interesting aspects of this episode was how the artists behaved once they'd been brought together as one group, given they'd previously only known how the other painters in their group painted.

It kept reminding me of painting holidays where you always have the painters who want to see what everybody else is getting up to - especially as the competition was "hotting up".

There seemed to be a general consensus that Jennifer and Suman - who had each achieved two free passes to the next round - were the ones to watch as matters progressed with this challenge.

The setting for the Challenge for Episode 5 (iPlayer Link) was very familiar to me. Painters Hall in Little Trinity Lane in the City of London is the home of The Worshipful Company of Painter-StainersThe Livery Hall in particular, where the Second Challenge was shot, was where the first few exhibitions of the Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize used to be held. So it's very well used to playing host to a painting competition!

The Briefing for the First Challenge

The First Challenge - Ballerina dancing 

The Big Challenge this week was to paint or draw the body in motion. 

Mariella characterised this part of the episode - with a glint in her eye - as "the short warm-up before the main event tomorrow".

The first challenge was to:
  • paint or draw a solo dancer performing a series of repeat movements very slowly  for two hours - with short breaks
  • achieve both a sense of proportion (or as Daphne put it - that the arms, legs and head all belong to the same person!) 
  • plus a sense of movement
  • using the medium of their choice - in two hours
Their faces when they first saw the ballerina and what she was doing were 'a picture'!

Jimmy about to enhance the curves of the dancer
I thought Jimmy was the person who produced the best painting from the first challenge - in the sense that it might not have been accurate in proportion but it was the only one with a real sense of movement.

Suman's was probably the most accurate drawing but it didn't flow.  That may well have been because she ran into a practical problem of finding that the available paper wasn't suitable for the charcoal which she loves using - and has used a lot in the past challenges. (Dear BBC - there's no excuse for not providing artists with the paper they need!)

I'm not sure Alan is thinking about the composition of his painting before he starts it. I think maybe he'd a got a bit of a gung-ho approach of getting started before he has worked out what happens after he's got something down on paper or canvas.  I'd love to see him making much more use of a sketchbook to work out compositions. (Or maybe he does and that gets edited out?)

Alan with his short challenge painting

Tips from the Mentors

This week the tips from the mentors seemed to be quite influential in terms of building confidence and introducing new ways of thinking about how to paint

Pascal - who has visibly relaxed as the episodes have progressed (he was even caught smiling and smirking this week!) - took them to Peter's Hill (between St Paul's Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge) to paint people passing.

His technique was to ask them to get away from detail and to simplify and try and capture each person with just one vertical stroke of the brush. That and paint a 100 people!

The giggles you get after the Mentor asks you to paint 100 people as one stroke

However, it worked! Both produced convincing monochrome crowd scenes using what I assume was ink and water (see below).  This is David's blog post about this episode Big Painting Challenge 5 (Movement) - My Comments  which includes comments on this task.

The 100 people painted one vertical stroke at a time
Diana Ali's group were moving paint around with card - although I rather suspect there was another part of the exercise which was about drawing stick people (there was a very prominent stick drawing) to make sure you've got proportions and perspective sorted before you start.  Jennifer took to the card painting like a duck to water - and promptly incorporated into the next challenge.

The 5th Big Painting Challenge - Swan Lake!

The BIG Painting Challenge of the series to date was to paint a troupe of dancers performed sections from Swan Lake! Like you do....

The artists were being judged on:
  • The composition of the painting
  • accurate proportions
  • a sense of movement
This was an exercise to sort the women from the men! ;)

Jennifer and Suman both took a gamble and got stuck in using the techniques they'd just been taught to get a better handle on how to tackle this challenge. It was a pleasure to watch them being visibly stretched in front of our eyes as they incorporated new knowledge into their normal painting styles.

Easy? Right? Four dancers and a bit of Swan Lake to get down on canvas? No probs!
I don't know whether it's because we're getting near the end that we're hearing more comments from mentors and these are more focused on specific individuals.

I do know however that I'd have been suffering from a bad case of the full blown screaming abdabs if I'd had to listen to Diana Ali doing her rapid fire and incessant crits on paintings during the challenges. She REALLY began to irritate me a lot in this programme. Maybe because she had the two weakest participants in this episode?

Mind you I've always had an aversion to tutors/mentors who've got absolutely no appreciation of how disruptive the volume of their comments is to their concentration and focus of others. Much better are those who talk quietly with the person they are teaching.  In terms of the BBC and sound levels for the programme - all they had to do was mike her up so they could pick up comments delivered at a lower level. Mind you that still wouldn't have tackled her rata tat tat delivery. Her comments completely wore me down over the course of the programme. I stopped listening to the content.

Suman Kaur's painting of the dancers - much liked by the Judges
In terms of how everybody got on:
  • Suman's was wonderful because she had so many dancers in the painting - and they all looked like they were dancing!  Plus she controlled her palette so there was some unity to the whole.  Pascal's injunction to "stop now" was probably very helpful!
"It's like a map of thinking I think. I just started in one spot, didn't plan it at all" Suman
  • Jennifer's painting of just two figures had a wonderful sense of colour and I liked the way she'd used the paint to produce both a sense of volume and movement. Now she's no longer wedded to the dreadful hair extensions, she's becoming a much more interesting painter.
  • David's painting of three dancers on their points was quite unlike anything he'd produced previously and was good to look at even if it didn't give any sense of the body in motion. However I think the dancers really liked his painting.
  • Jimmy's painting simply didn't look like it was going to work right from the beginning due to composition, perspective, anatomy and colour. I'd have been trying to persuade him to start again. The heavy and unrelated colouration of the background was not helpful and the amount of space given over to the people relative to the pictorial space was very odd. Plus his people seemed rooted to the spot. More time on the sketchbook working out a better composition and colour palette would have been time well spent.
  • Alan's painting just didn't work. I'm beginning to think maybe he has no sense of tonal values and issues relating to depth of space. His red curtains killed the painting of the dancers stone dead - they totally distracted from the dancers in the foreground. His dancers were also technically not accurate betraying maybe a lack of observation. On the other hand, he is clearly a painter who likes to have more time to resolve issues and he is probably the most handicapped by the time limit of this competition.  Alan wasn't happy with it and to his credit knew it was not a good painting.
I thought it was a toss up between Alan and Jimmy as to who went home.

The Judgement

The public viewing panel this week were professional dancers. They got to decide who got a pass straight through to the final.

The panel of professional dancers and the finished paintings
Unsurprisingly their choice was Suman - although, apparently, it was "neck and neck" in terms of voting. Her painting was the only one which had lots of figures and a real sense of movement

In terms of the Judges, fewer fireworks this week
  • Daphne really liked Jennifer's painting - particularly the composition, colour, proportions and the sheer romance of the painting. 
  • Predictably Alan's curtains attracted comment and the disjoint between the background and the foreground. As usual David Dibosa's comments were at variance from those made by Daphne and Lachlan. Daphne thought his was the worst painting.
  • Jimmy's painting attracted a lot of comments relating to anatomical accuracy and the lack of movement. Judges felt he was the one who was struggling the most.
  • Comments on Suman's painting ranged between bold, brave, energetic and a painting with guts
  • David was commended by Daphne for his lightness of touch and the composition - for his division of the support using vertical and horizontals which actually contributed to binding the whole painting together
"I think it's a very successful paintingDaphne Todd about David White's painting

The Judges decision - who goes

The Final Judgement - the judges arrive in the Livery Hall
(otherwise known as walking out of the corner where there is no door!) 

Jimmy Mackellar was the painter who went home - with a flourish. I was tickled pink to hear his closing remarks - addressed to 'proper painters' he knew back home in Glasgow. This is because I know one of them who only realised last week that "our Jimmy" was in the programme - and I know she will be watching this episode!

For those hoping to come after him, he gave the following quotes to his local newspaper
“It really was a life-changing experience. It was the most incredible, challenging and exciting experience of my life, I loved every single minute of it. It took over my life. The production crew were wonderful, the other contestants were lovely and we were like a big family.”

The Big Learning Lessons

I think the big learning lessons from this week's programme are as follows:
  • You need to develop your memory skills if you want to paint people doing things. It's important to be able to 
    • select and "freeze frame" a moment
    • sustain engagement with subject matter which is not stationery over several hours
  • It is entirely possible and, for most people, absolutely essential to simplify both people and movement in order to create a realistic figurative painting - if painting from observation.
  • Potential tricks artists can use to help give a sense of movement were identified as:
    • use an off-centre composition
    • use looser brushwork
    • crop figures at the edge of the canvas to make the viewer believe the action continues beyond the frame
    • use gestures and be physical
    • be fluid
    • don't work too close to the canvas
  • Mastery of composition, tonal values and colour palettes are still absolutely vital skills which make an enormous contribution to the success of a painting - no matter what the subject.

Next week

I instantly recognised from the trailer where they're going next week for the Final.  It looks like they're also going to be painting in the Queen's House at Greenwich and on a boat.

Below is my sketch of the view they will be painting. It's the Canaletto view of Greenwich which you can read all about in my blog post from nearly ten years ago - A Canaletto View - and see my sketch I did at the time below!

    © Katherine Tyrrell A Canaletto View
(the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich from Island Gardens on the Isle of Dogs)
8" x 10", pen and sepia ink and coloured pencil in Moleskine sketchbook

My money is still on Suman to win. She's raised her game a number of times when challenged and I think she is the one who best responds to being put under pressure.

She's also somebody who copes well when she needs to find ways to simplify the subject in front of her to make it both fit the criteria of the challenge - and doable within the time limit!

In other words, she has the best attitude and tactics as well as artistic skills. I shall be really surprised if she doesn't win.

David and Alan are still a tad too literal for me. They are the sort of painters who will greatly enjoy spending many hours deliberating on how best to create a realistic painting (within their style) and getting it just the way they want it. However as this series has proved, getting to grips with the criteria for the challenge and making decisions fast - with no procrastination - is the best way to come out on top.

The unknown is Jennifer - who could either win or produce a mess which ignores the criteria for judging the painting. She's probably the one who has made the most progress in terms of moving outside her comfort zone and she's also very determined to succeed. So who knows what's going to happen?

Who do you think will win?  Leave your comments below...


Participant websites

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

The Finalists

Gone but not forgotten

Others blogging about the series

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


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


For those who want to revisit the 2015 Big Painting Challenge you can find all my past blog posts still available - and listed below!
PLUS my article for WH Smith - Katherine Tyrrell: Ten Artistic Tips Learnt From The Big Painting Challenge


  1. It would be interesting to see how any of the well known contemporary painters would do. Obviously any abstract painter would be out. The only well known painter I can think of who would succeed is Ken Howard.

  2. Maybe the ROI should have a "moving target" for their art event this year? ;)

  3. The series does seemed to have improved as it rolls along, unless I'm now immune to all the niggles.

    It's still interesting to me to hear commentators trying to define what constitutes 'proper' or 'good' art. Realism v Abstract v Gutsy v bold v romantic. In the first episode, for example, one of the artists was criticised for the way their bedroom furniture was 'out-of-kilter'. They muttered that they were only copying what Van Gogh had painted.

    "Ah, but it's only good art if Van Gogh does it ... ?" could easily have been the answer echoing around the art world.

    A great commentary, once again - many thanks

  4. I think this week was the most challenging so far. It would have helped the contestants if they had spent more time on sketching the dancers whilst they were moving as they did in the first challenge to work out composition and movement. From what I saw they just watched the dancers and then painted them, so it depended on their memory entirely.
    I do think the format of the program could do with some alteration. Maybe another 'challenge' in the middle rather like the Pottery Throw Down so that we have more to watch and judge than the two current challenges, and to make it more dynamic in content.

  5. Insightful as always and thank you Katherine. Like you I think Suman will be crowned winner. It as usual takes me back some as I relive this penultimate episode with a twinge. I was keen to do all the challenges if anything for the fun of it. I have to agree with Jimmy and the interview he gave to his local paper... it has been a life changing experience in many ways just like learning to drive... you don't really begin to learn until you get out there on your own. Hoping we will see some of this crop at urban sketchers and plein air painting in Norfolk, Ireland or wherever...
    well done to all of them.

  6. I really enjoyed this episode and thought the contestants coped really well with an exercise that none of them were familiar with. Doing quick studies like this as a warm up before a life drawing session is not the same as painting a moving scene. I would definitely struggle with this challenge.
    I particularly enjoyed Pascal's exercise with the alcohol based ink sketch for crowds and both sketches worked really well. To me, he is the breakout star from this show. I bet his students love him.
    The devil in me wants to see how Daphne and Lachlan would cope with all subjects so far. That would be a masterclass LOL


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