Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Review: Episode 2 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2018

This a REVIEW of the second episode of the new series of Portrait Artist of the Year 2018 - of the second heat, held at the Wallace Collection last April - aired on Tuesday night.
Anybody who has not yet watched and doesn't want to know who won should exit right now!

I am of course now watching care of my new NOW TV app! (see How to watch Sky Arts - Portrait Artist of the Year 2018 without subscribing to Sky!

See my post last week for how the episode works - Review: Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2018 - Episode 1

The Sky Portrait Artist of the Year set as seen from the top of the atrium in the Wallace Collection
The Heat 2 artists - lined up near the end of the programme to hear the results

The artists in the heat split between professional and amateur artists as follows (links to their websites in the names):

The Artists - the Professionals

The five professional artists are:
  • Philip Mackey (Facebook Page) - from Letterkenny, Co Donegal. He is currently employed by the Office of the Chief Herald as an heraldic artist and calligrapher based in the National Library, Kildare Street, Dublin.
  • Michelle Opuku Taylor - Her self-portrait showed her after her mastectomy holding her breast in her hand - a very powerful painting - and a good likeness.  She had graduated in law and was teaching but decided to make painting her full-time career after her treatment. 
  • Daniel Yeomans - born in Bedford 1986. Studied art, design and media at college and subsequently chose to study at the Charles H. Cecil Studios in Florence, where he trained using a technique known as ‘sight-size’. He usually paints directly from life under natural light in his purpose built studio (a converted cowshed) in Montgomeryshire.
  • Leanne Mullen - lives and works in Ireland. She studied clay modelling at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin and attained a MA in sculpture and print from the University of Ulster. She teaches art at a secondary school as well as being a practising artist. Her website reveals how good a sculptor she is as well as a painter! She was shortlisted for the Hennessy Portrait Prize in 2016 and then highly commended for her work for her work 'Someone's Mother'
  • Danielle Vaughan (Facebook Page)a recycling artist who works in ripped paper on cardboard. She trained as a Shoe Designer at De Montfort University, then after a post-graduate certificate in education became a teacher for six years then home-schooled her own children for seventeen years.  Became a professional artist two years ago and currently working on a series of works about the people and places of Leicester.

The artists - the amateurs

The four amateur artists are:
  • Ashley Kitchen - 25 year old who studied painting and printmaking at Glasgow School of art and paints whenever she can
  • Liz Ellingham - an amateur artist from Glasgow who retired  from teaching graphic design and rediscovered a love of portraiture
  • Troy Edwards - b.1979 - a self taught artist who works in technical pens and pencil -  and likes to collaborate with musicians and graphic artists
  • Andrew Kelly - grew up in Ayrshire and inspired by Peter Howson according to his Saatchi website. Now a government lawyer who paints at weekends. Exhibited at the 70th Annual Open Exhibition of the Chelsea Art Society 2017.

Observations - Heat/Episode 2

The Self Portraits

I have a new theory that judges start off with pre-conceptions about an artist based on how well the artist has managed to capture their own likeness.

There were some great self portraits which again spell out the dividends to be gained by making and effort and making it different!  There seems to be some sort of need to include a challenge within the painting
  • I particularly liked Philip Mackey's gouache self portrait of himself painting himself as if a 3D sculpture - but also showed how well he could paint himself from different angles!
  • Ashley Kitchen's use of those app thingies which put cartoon things on your face was fun - but also a great likeness
  • Danielle Vaughan's use of collage using paper ripped from magazines made for a very interesting self-portrait
There were less "look at me" portraits obviously painted by accomplished artists - although of these I really liked Daniel Yeoman's portrait (which you can see on his website - and he's also written a blog post about painting his slow selfie)

The analysis of the self portraits by the judges was again impressive. Lots of learning points for those who aspire to paint good portraits.

The Celebrities

The sitters for Heat 2 were Comedian Noel Fielding, TV presenter Reggie Yates and model Daphne Selfe.

I'm reminded of another reason why artists use iPads in this competition. Some of the sitters are more accomplished at sitting still than others and it's entirely pot luck who you get.

Reggie and Daphne were very impressive - they didn't seem, to move at all. Whereas Noel was a bit of a fidget!

What occurred to me while watching the programme

Time limits MUST be observed

This is a point I've made before but is always worth reiterating - NEVER EVER enter competitions like this unless you've practised painting or drawing or whatever it is you do WITHIN THE TIME LIMIT OF FOUR HOURS.  It's

Excellent drawings don't make for excellent paintings

It was so sad to see people who produced excellent drawings to underpin their paintings - only to lose them when they started to paint.

However it's obvious that the judges pay a lot of regard to drawing.

Interesting discussions happen all the way through

I prefer the ad hoc discussion of interesting points re approaches to portraiture and artistic practice which pop up throughout the programme. They keep my attention.

I really enjoyed Noel Field's summary of the artist behaviour towards the end! He had a set of three who seemed to spend an awful lot of their time looking at their iPads rather than at him!

The gap between self-portrait and heat portrait might be critical

It's evident that some of the self-portraits are the product of many hours work.  Where skills in draughtsmanship and painting are lost in the heat, it must undermine the assessment of the artist i.e. people tend to judge you on the weakest work when there is a significant gap rather than the strongest.

Starting over takes balls!

One artist (Ashley) was tempted to start over - but also recognised how much of a challenge she would make for herself if she did.

Backgrounds can make of break portraits

Not a lot of discussion of backgrounds, but in my opinion if you leave the background to the end you can be very surprised when you add it in and then watch how it changes the overall colour palette and tonal values of the painting.

There were paintings where I wanted to shout "just block in a background properly".

There were some very curious placements and crops. 

I think people sometimes forget to allow what will happen to a work when framed.

Judges regretted that artists "lost" something as they continued to work

... to the point some were overworked.

The judgement

After four hours the artists chose which portrait they wanted to keep.
  • Noel Fielding had, in my opinion a very difficult choice - they were all good. He chose the giant collage by Danielle Vaughan and my guess this may have been dictated by it being the one he would feel most comfortable about hanging on his wall.
  • Reggie Yates had a different sort of problem. I don't think any of the artists had quite caught his likeness although all had done reasonably well.  He chose the painting by the professional painter Daniel - and said it was the painting which would represent him for years to come.
  • Daphne Self chose the portrait by Leanne Mullen. She was impressed with the minimal painting of the earrings.
The Judges then had to sort out the shortlist of three - and discussed each of the portraits in turn.

They observed that a number of the paintings lost something between early/middle stages and the final portrait. Different portraits had different reasons - and those wanting to enter will do well to listen to some of the points made as they seemed that a number are the sort that are perennial issues e.g. over-working.

...and then the final heat winner - based on both the self-portrait sent with the entry to the competition and the portrait produced in the heat.

Judges with the shortlisted artists' self portraits and their heat paintings
The shortlisted artists were:
  • Ashley Kitchen - Kathleen Soriano was very taken with the eyes.  Frank Skinner noted that they both seemed to be 'happy' paintings.
  • Michelle Opuku Taylor - the judges praised the fact she caught Noel just as he looked at something.
  • Leanne Mullen - who attracted a lot of praise for her acute observation and her wonderful sculptural drawing and her knowledge and understanding of painting.
Below are their self portraits on the left and their heat paintings on the right.  See if you can spot who won before I tell you.

Self portrait and portrait of Reggie Yates by Ashley Kitchen
A photograph of Ashley's work does not reveal the quality of her brushwork or the way she achieves a lot in a quite sophisticated way using only a little paint. I liked the difference between her turpsy washes and the more opaque passages. The eyes were brilliant!

Self portrait and portrait of Noel Fielding by Michele Opuko Taylor
I'm not sure why she chose this format for the canvas. It's a very nicely painted portrait - but the decision to use pink on the left just draws the eye for me and almost makes his face sink in the competition with the black.  This was one for me where getting the background in earlier would have allowed more time to work the whole.

Self portrait and portrait of Daphne Self by Leanne Mullen
This painting for me started well and continued to go well - for the most part - and you could see from the self-portrait where it might end up.  For me the two together demonstrated the most consistency of purpose and approach.

The shortlisted artists - (left to right) Ashley, Leanne and Michele

Leanne Mullen won the heat - and in my opinion it was a very well deserved win. Her painting had looked like a winner from the off.  

That makes her the second Irish female artist to make it through to the semi-finals.

The judges really appreciated how she 'built' the portrait .  They felt the other two held a lot of promise and would want to see how they progress in future - but felt now was not their time.

Here are blog and newspaper articles recording Leanne's win

REFERENCE: Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2018

Previous Years


Subscribe by email

Subscribe and receive every post from Making A Mark via email.
Your subscription is only activated after you verify the link in the email you will receive


  1. I enjoyed this article as much as I enjoyed the programme; you got it exactly right with the links to the artists pages being the icing on the cake. Many thanks.

  2. I’ve watched all the series of the Portrait competition and felt personally the enormous pressure on the artists.
    1. Unfamiliar surroundings.
    2. Cameras on your shoulders!
    3. The public making comments within hearing. (its strange how people don’t consider that you can hear them!! same experience when painting en plein air).
    4.The unusual lighting both sunlight and masses of spot lights.
    5.And in some cases unfitting backgrounds!
    6.A sitter who doesn’t sit still for a minute.
    7. Not even knowing who your sitter will be.
    8. No choice of where to stand. Some have been really challenged when stuck on the end.

    I have been painting portraits professionally since the 1980’s and each one is in a situation that I am in control of - lighting both low and spotlights, comfortable seating, background (based on the sitter and their aura).

    I have completed portraits in less than 2 hours demonstrating to art groups and produced a good likeness - and also taken a month or more to complete official portraits which require complicated surroundings and backgrounds.

    Its still a compelling programme to watch. Who do you think will win?

  3. Good comments Podi!

    I've no idea who will win until I've seen all the episodes...

  4. Thank you for this blog, a lot of work but appreciated.

  5. Hi, quick question, do you the name/type of easel they use in this series?

    Kind regards,


  6. If by name you mean brand, no I don't.


COMMENTS HAVE BEEN CLOSED AGAIN because of too much spam.
My blog posts are always posted to my Making A Mark Facebook Page and you can comment there if you wish.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.