Thursday, February 01, 2018

Review: Episode 3 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2018

The sitters for Episode 3 of Portrait Artist of the Year were Ross Kemp, Freddie Fox and Vicky McLure.

The portrait artists again split across amateurs and professionals.

I really think Sky Arts ought to publish the NAMES of their contestants - either on screen or in the credits list at the end! I've tried to listen carefully to the names five or six times and there is NO WAY I'm going to get the spelling right for all of them let alone find their websites! [Update - many thanks to Jean Edwards who had subtitles on and hence picked up the names as published in that format!]

Here they all are - lined up at the end waiting to hear who has been shortlisted....

Portrait Artist of the Year - Episode 2 contestants
(from left to right: Anirudh, Chiara, Bríd, George, Jack, Shanti, Catherine, "Gosha" and Rebecca)

The Professionals

  • Shanti Panchal - whose work I know very well (and admire) and see very regularly in the exhibitions of prestigious art competitions and the open exhibitions of national art societies. Born in Bombay he came to the UK on a British Council Scholarship in the late 70s to go Art School and he now lives and works in London.  He also used to be artist in residence at the Winsor & Newton Paint Factory - when they still had one in the UK.
  • Catherine McDiarmid - a portrait artist who lives in Cumbria and teaches at a local art centre. She's had her portraits selected for the BP Portrait Award on two occasions.  She also participated in Portrait Artist of the Year in 2015
  • Gosha Sabinska- worked in watercolour and did a sketch and then a final painting
  • Bríd Higgins Ní Chinnéide - lives and works in Dublin. A a figurative artist who works primarily with oil paint and is interested in painting people. Studied art at the St Petersburg Academy of Arts in Russia in the late 90's and early 2000's. Regularly selected for groups shows at a national level. 

The Amateurs

  • Anirudh Shenhoy - no website. This is the one who's a medical student who paints at weekends. His self-portrait was the first time he had painted himself.
  • Jack Freeman - no website. has a degree in fine art from Falmouth (who I've noted have supplied a lot of heat contestants in the past) and hopes to teach art
  • George Metuwonyake - no website. Age 17, George is the one who draws with a pencil using a technique he invented for himself. He grew up in Nigeria and came to the UK 6 years ago.
  • Chiara Crompton - no website  She had never worked with a life model before.
  • Rebecca Oliver - no website. She's a retail manager for a large fashion outlet.  She tried to paint the entire sitter - on the basis that she'd have less to do on the face. 

I THINK I'm right in saying that none of the amateurs had websites.

I'm intrigued as to why artists who have not displayed their art on websites would want to show what they do on television. I can't work that one out....

Would you apply for a painting competition on the television before putting your work up on a website?

The Sitters

The sitters were Ross Kemp, Freddie Fox and Vicky McLure.

Discussions and Observations

Before I start, the major bonus for me of this episode is I now understand how Shanti Panchal works with watercolour - and it looks like magic! I knew what it was in theory but seeing it happens makes complete sense of how his paintings look. This episode is worth watching by people who paint in watercolour for that 'reveal' on its own.


In this episode, there was at least one and possibly four artists who were out of their depth. It's not an age thing, it's an experience 'thing'.

I'm puzzled by the way the contestants for the Heats are chosen. For example:
  • the heat involves painting to a rigid timetable of four hours with regular stops over a period of six hours.   There is no way that you can produce a decent portrait in that timescale unless you've painted from life and practised painting to that sort of timescale before.
  • while the entry conditions require a self-portrait, there is no requirement for it to be painted within four hours or from life
I wonder why they don't vary the conditions so that artists can submit:
  • a self-portrait painted any which way they choose to work
  • a self-portrait, painted from life in a maximum of 4 hours of elapsed time
  • evidence of the extent to which they have worked from life with a third party sitter
That way the judges would have a much better sense of who can cope with the constraints of the Heat and which artists may well the challenge a bit too much - and be much better equipped to whittle down their long list to a short list of people invited to participate in the Heats.

There again - is the notion of picking people with very little experience that you have people who 'connect' with the amateur painters who are watching?

Maybe the aim is to demonstrate that there is a benefit to having an art education and/or drawing/painting a lot?

For example, George might only be 17 years old, but it's very evident he draws all the time and is quite obsessive about it - as many future art students are at that age.


Those who tended to comment on the time seemed to me to be those least well prepared for the challenge.

Those who have experience of painting to a specific period of time (as painters working on commission frequently have to do) are just going to get on and do.

While there are undoubted exceptions, how much people achieve in the first hour is a pretty good indicator of who knows how to get to the end in four hours and who is behaving a little bit like "rabbits in the headlights". While  the latter is perfectly understandable given the selection process, it might be a more enjoyable programme if it focused more on candidates who how know best to use the time available.

One way in which prospective contestants can make life easier for themselves is to do LOTS of practice of working on a painting in THREE hours - so as to give themselves some contingency time for being distracted by the context.


One way I can very quickly tell the difference between 'proper' professional painters and the amateurs is:
  • the format they choose for their portrait
  • the size of support they choose to work on
  • the way they place and map it out on the support
  • the fact they tend to complete the painting within the crop lines they have created for themselves
It reminds me of a blog post I wrote exactly 10 years about Composition - the four most important lines.  I go back and reread it myself from time to time as a refresher and I think it has stood the test of time!  You are very welcome to go and have a read!

It's interesting to listen to how artists planned:
  • what they chose - just the head - or the torso or whole figure - and the reasons why
  • how they placed it on their support
I have every admiration for those who can paint head and torso - including hands - for the right reasons!  If you get it right it demonstrates an artist with expertise.


I've been watching the previous series and have just got to the end of Series One. There's a feature which I saw cropping up in that series and again in this.

Artists get the breadth and dimension of shoulders wrong if they don't map them in at the beginning. Almost invariably when painting them in towards the end they make them too small and too narrow.  Watch out for it in future episodes. I'd be very surprised if I don't see it yet again!

Decision time

Presenters on the left and Judges on the right (and what has Kate Bryan got on?)
Once the artists have left the room it's always interesting to hear what the judges have to say when they're being filmed but not in front of the contestants.

There were no portraits of Freddie Fox in the final, which was was due to the fact that two of the artists painting him - including Shanti Panchal - failed to capture a likeness.

It's very clear that getting a likeness is indeed a key component in their criteria. Although I was surprised to hear that in Series 1, Tai Shan Schierenberg was very surprised to find that Sandy Nairne, the then Director of the National Portrait Gallery, made getting a likeness a really critical criteria for choosing the winner. Obviously this has now been taken on board!

The shortlist

The shortlisted artists were Bríd, George and Catherine.

Episode 2 shortlist - Bríd, George and Catherine

The Judges then deliberated on the artwork completed in the Heat and the self portrait completed beforehand and sent in with their entry

Paintings by Bríd Higgins Ní Chinnéide

The Judges liked the painterly quality of her work - which doesn't come through brilliantly in this photo - but does so very much when watching the programme - especially when sat watching on an iMac on my desk!  The quality of nuances in her change of colour and tones also came through exceptionally well. She was also the only person to attempt to do a more complete portrait (i.e. more than just a head) and got and kept the proportions pretty much.

I think she is a strong contender to be in the Final.

Pencil drawings by George

I loved his crop and placement. I'm not in the least bit surprised that Vicky McClure chose to keep it.

It seemed to me that George got near to but didn't actually capture a proper likeness of Vicky McClure. She looked as if she was not much older than George whereas she's actually 34 years old.

That said, as recognised by the Judges, to be age 17 and to have already invented your own language for drawing is pretty stupendous.  He will go to art school - and this programme will help make that happen - and he will do well.

Paintings by Catherine McDiarmid
Clearly Catherine is a good painter - but the painting ended up looking too 'dirty' for me. A bit more work on the complexion - while retaining the structure and tone would not have gone amiss.

Also I found the 'technique' of staring straight out at the viewer to be pretty "full-on" confrontational. I'd have liked to see if she had any other way of painting people - notwithstanding she was in the 'full frontal' position for painting Ross Kemp.

Heat Winner

The Heat Winner was Bríd Higgins Ní Chinnéide - which makes three Irish women making the Semi-Final in the first three episodes. Maybe this programme should just relocate to Dublin! :)

This is the interview with her on the Cass Arts blog

The announcement of the Heat Winner
How did you find the whole experience? What were the main challenges?
The experience of painting “competitively”, under time pressure, was exhilarating and exciting, and it was great to be in the company of some other wonderful artists. The gathering audience and increased frequency of interviews became a bit stressful as the day went on. I was exhausted at the end of the day!

REFERENCE: Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2018

Previous Years


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