Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Review: Episode 6 of Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2018

Announcement of the shortlist for Heat 6
This is a review of Episode 6 of Portrait Artist of the Year by Sky Arts - with added extras about the artists not included in the programme!

You can find links to my previous reviews of the first five episodes at the end of this post.

The Professionals

Last week an amateur artist won. So the five professional artists trying to make sure they look better than the amateurs this week are:
  • Marcus Callum (Facebook | Instagram | Twitter) - Born in Scotland in 1967 and now based in York. Originally a computer programmer, he trained as an artist in New York and Sydney and spent 20 years in Australia before returning to the UK. He hads a major interest in classical realism and he's been a former finalist (three times) in the Archibald Prize (something they didn't mention on the programme) and a finalist (three times) in the Art Renewal Center International Salon (again not mentioned). He is now a professional artist working primarily as a painter but also working in digital media. He has a section on his website about the Sky Portrait Artist of the Year competition. It includes some of his four hour practice portraits (obviously painted from photos). Interestingly his self portrait for the competition was also the painting which was an Archibald Finalist in 2012. (The link tells the story of how he painted it).
  • Alex PhilippeBorn in Brussels in 1984, works and lives in London. Studied at Academy of Fine Arts, Painting. Brussels before doing a Masters at Sotheby's Institute of Art, London
  • Samantha Fellows (Facebook | Twitter ) is a professional portrait artist working on commission. She graduated in Fine Art from Oregon State University in the USA. She is also a scenic painter (with a seperate website). She paints scenery for theatre, film, tv, retail and events, as well as mural and street art commissions, has run scenic art companies and continues as a scenic art tutor. I met her in 2016 - and featured her on this blog - when she had portraits of both her daughters in prestigious exhibitions simultaneously in London. Her eldest daughter, "Pearl in the morning, ready for school" was in the BP Portrait Award Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery and a portrait of her youngest, "Rose's School Picture" was in the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy. I spotted both daughters in the audience at the Heat - they were behind their mother while she was painting for most of the programme
Samantha Fellows with her family right behind her - literally!
  • Danny Howes is a former graphic designer who is now a professional full time artist who lives and works in Birmingham. His self-portrait includes a nod t Van Gogh. He values narrative  He started painting when his gran bought him a full set of oil paints age 10. There's a lesson in there for grandparents everywhere!  This is a catalogue of his paintings by his gallery
  • Jessica Wolfson - Born in Scotland in 1972, she did her degree at the Glasgow School of Art and lives and works Glasgow. She now teaches at the Glasgow School of Art. She won the BP Portrait Travel Award in 2002.
I am a Glasgow based visual artist specialising in scribbling ,making mistakes , rubbing out and constantly painting over things .

The Amateurs

The four amateur artists participating were:
  • Niki Duffy - This is his self-portrait. b.1988, he did an animation degree at Salford University. He works mostly from photos having used friends as models.  This was the first time he had worked from a live sitter.
  • Lyn Aylward (Facebook | InstagramTwitter) - based in Norfolk, Lyn specialises in portraits and figurative studies worked in oils. She's a member of Artworks and Breckland Artists and exhibits on a regular basis.
  • Miriam Morada (spelling?) - a student from Singapore who is currently studying fine art at Glasgow School of Art.
  • Dave Duffy (Facebook | Instagram |  Twitter) - a former graphic designer and self-taught Irish artist born in Wexford who has no website.  However his Facebook Page has 10,000 followers.  Interestingly he was approached by Sky Arts to enter the programme - which suggests there are people working on behalf of Sky prowling popular Pages and Groups for likely candidates!  He was given a short amount of time to create a self-portrait - which he produced in one session of several hours. He's also a session musician and teacher.

Survey of the self-portraits

As usual, there was a lot of variation in the self-portraits in terms of size, media and pose. Clearly some were designed to attract attention while others very much focused on the quality of the painting.

If you get the opportunity to review the programmes again, the remarks made during the survey are indicative of the sort of features the judges are looking out for.

I'm now pretty convinced that the survey of the self-portraits is pretty critical to who gets through to the shortlist.

My guess it that after the review of the real portraits as opposed to the digital images, the Judges have pretty much decided which are the artists they need to keep a particularly close eye on.

In fact I wouldn't mind betting they have a short list in mind before a brush is lifted!

In part, it's a pragmatic solution to the fact that the day is long and they don't really have time to review and debate which self-portraits they really like at the end of the day. They need to have already decided which ones were "good", which were "mediocre" and which disappointed when seen in person.

Hence the importance of the submission to both getting selected and,, in my opinion, the shortlisted artists in each Heat.

The Sitters 

The sitters were all actors - Claire SkinnerKenneth Cranham, and Sope Dirisu

They were all EXCELLENT sitters - which was I think reflected in the portraits produced by the better painters.

The last time I saw Kenneth Cranham was in Wright Brothers in Borough Market on my 60th birthday! We had a chat while waiting for table...

Discussions and Observations

Strategy / Planning / Timing

I've noticed that it's very often possible to tell how well people are going to do by:
  • how they have prepared (eg have they practiced 4 hours portraits? The winner did as did at least one other of the shortlisted artists)
  • whether they have a plan
  • whether they have a timetable
  • how they start. The first hour is absolutely critical to keeping pace with any timetable an artist has set themselves. 

Those who have had a plan - and have practiced - are much more likely to cope better with the panic of the last half hour - when everything starts to tremble

It was noticeable that although Marcus was very concerned about his time-keeping, he still had time to review his near finished portrait in that last half hour, decided it needed a touch of colour in the background.  He added a pale blue in the background and revved up the painting!

Samantha referred to the need to pass over the painting - checking key aspects - nudging tones and colour up and down.

at the end of the 4 hours

Skin tones

There was a lot of comment AGAIN this week about handling skin tones.

Most particularly, there was a LOT of emphasis on looking for colours in the skin tones. My view is that the artists who do better are those who can see the colours in skin.
  • Sope really appreciated the colour artists found in his face.
  • remarks were made about how Clare had a very translucent skin
To my mind, this is very obviously one of the key ways an artist can get themselves shortlisted - assuming their assessment of the colours is good.

Those trying for the competition next year should make sure they've practiced by trying to paint people with different skin tones

Interestingly one of the artists said she had advertised free portraits online in return for people agreeing to model for her!

The Halfway Review

At half way, people are at very different stages because of the their different approaches.

The review halfway is also indicative of the need to confirm or rethink initial inclinations.  Everyone of those who made the shortlist got a positive mention - even if there were qualms about how it might turn out at the end of the 4 hours.

Decision Time

Sitters choose portraits

Discussing Clare's portrait with Marcus and Frank
  • Clare chose Marcus Callum ( see above image)
  • Kenneth chose Sam Fellowes; and 
  • Sope chose Danny Howes
Sope and Danny discussing his portrait

Judges choose shortlist

As usual the lineup makes the announcement more tense!

The artists waiting to hear who got shortlisted

The final shortlist
The shortlist seemed obvious to me. Interestingly ALL the sitters and the judges and the presenters agreed with my view as to who should be shortlisted!

I think that's the first time this has happened...

Self portrait and portrait of Clare Skinner by Marcus Callum
I was really curious as to how Marcus Callum was going to deliver a portrait in four hours which was in some way consistent with the style used for his self-portrait - but he did.

He struck me as being a very experienced painter who had a good command of structure and tonal values and could switch it up from low key to high key colours.  Then I read his bio on his website!

The self-portrait triggered different opinions with Kate in particular finding it too dark and creepy. Joan loved it though.

Self portrait and portrait of Kenneth Cranham by Samantha Fellows
I think of all the self-portraits and portraits - when looked at together - I liked these two best. Possibly because they look as if they belong together.

Samantha was the only artist to have a go at a three quarter length pose. She also got the best likeness.

I think she's great at painting portraits which are true to life but under-stated at the same time.

Self portrait and portrait of Sope Dirisu by Danny Howes
I could tell right from the start it was going to be a good portrait because his technique is very much one place one brush mark in the right colour and leave it..... Tai Shan Schierenberg called them abstract brush marks.

He started with the eyes and worked his way out with one alla prima stroke after another - following the contours. He was amazing at seeing different colours in the skin - it looked alive rather than very muted. Plus he had good proportions and his colour palette was a very good choice and he was the only one to do the top properly - which was important given its significance to Sope.

His self-portrait is also very interesting - it's been consciously designed but in a low key way. I'm guessing this artist would be a fabulous choice for people who need to commission somebody for a sitter who is not 'flashy' or status conscious but does have some objective aspect of them which needs to be in the final portrait.

Heat 6 Winner

At last a chap wins a heat!  Danny Howes won the heat with a fabulous painting of Sope Dirisu.

Close-up of the alla prima brushstrokes by Danny Howes
This is the Cass Arts Interview with the Heat 6 winner

You can follow him follow him on Twitter and Instagram @dannyhowesart

Here's the timelapse video of him painting his portrait

His recommendation to those thinking of applying to take part in Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year?
Don’t over-think it. The human face is the most natural thing for an artist to paint so just relax into it and try not to get distracted by the finer details. And definitely do some practice 4 hour self-portraits... if it usually takes you 20 hours to paint a portrait you might surprise yourself with how much you can get done in 4!

Heat 7

The sitters next week are Anita Rani, Robert Bathurst and Michael Ball.

This  programme is brought to me via the Now TV app (see blog post below for how).


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REFERENCE: Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 

This is the Call for Entries - Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2019

Below are my blog posts about the competition and my reviews of earlier heats - in which I comment on specific aspects to aspiring future contestants!

Previous Years

Gareth Reid is Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2017