Monday, April 30, 2018

Review: Movement - Big Painting Challenge 2018

It was semi finals week in the Big Painting Challenge this week. Six people were left - which meant that two people had to go before the Final next week.

The six semifinalists and their Mentors - just read the body language.....
So I wrote down in my notebook I use when watching each episode the four people I thought would make it to the Finals two minutes into the programme - and come the end I was proved right.

Who will be in the final? 
Mind you, I think that's because I pay attention to the way the edit by the production company leaks subliminal clues from the very beginning of the series! Pay attention to who gets highlighted in the opening sequence - particularly in relation to episodes not yet shown - and how much time they get!

This week the theme was ostensibly Movement - but was actually about looking - and the need to look, study and memorise movements and work out a strategy that worked for them about how to depict movement.

The comments on social media continue to be overwhelmingly negative about this programme on both Facebook and Twitter #BigPaintingChallenge. Indeed I can't think of another "how to paint" programme which has ever produced this reaction.

The theme underlying most comments is how unfair and mean the programme is to the artists.

Even the Daily Mail decided to comment - see Judges on The Big Painting Challenge are branded 'bitchy and cruel' by viewers - who say they're more interested in 'crushing' amateurs than the quality of their art (although their final sentence - not the one below - defies logic!)
Judges Daphne Todd and Lachlan Goudie were branded 'unbelievably brutal' by contestant Susan, from Northern Ireland - and many viewers strongly agreed
I've been a defender of the Judges until now - but this week was not good.

If this programme is not reconstructed into something less "gameshow" and more educational and appropriate for an early Sunday evening slot in future I shall be very surprised.

I do hope the BBC take the opportunity to fire the production company at the earliest opportunity.  The direction and editing is just plain nasty.

The First Exercise

On the whole this first challenge was a much better tempered and less upsetting affair compared to last week. Pascal seemed to be on best behaviour and was extremely pleasant.

I concluded there had been a post mortem after the previous week and a commitment made to have no more tears.

How wrong was I?

The artists were divided into two teams. Tilly, Callum and Chris were with Pascal (with Callum working with Pascal for the first time) and Anil, Oliver and Susan were with Diana. They both worked for two hours with two endurance athletes - a marathon runner and an endurance cyclist - to capture movement to ensure the subject is continuously moving.
The task this week will be about showcasing movement in human form
For the first challenge they all work on the same size canvas and can use their own paints, brushes and tools.

The big question was how were they going to plan to capture movement.
  • Pascal's view was that there were two methods - sequence or time lapse.  
  • Diana was of the opinion that they would make mistakes if they did not look at the model enough. They could end up with a model who looks static.

The first challenge for Pascal's Team - Tilly, Callum and Chris
For some reason, we got  a big debate about why Callum wasn't at art school in the middle of the challenge.  This seemed to be a question designed to get him to confess on air that he was dyslexic and that he had been humiliated at school. Why this was good television is beyond me.  Nobody explained that lots of artists are dyslexic - just as lots of artists are left-handed.

It struck me that the mentors, particularly Pascal, were being more directive in terms of what direction each artist should be doing
  • "Why not take out that figure?" - because it looks like it's going to run into a brick wall - without exploring the option of including part of a figure which has passed through the edge of the picture plane
  • "Why not give him six legs?" without mentioning that if he has six legs he should also have six arms.
  • "Just go for it" - but what does that mean?
The First challenge for Diana's Team - Anil, Oliver and Susan
Diana's crit of Anil's painting was spot on - and she highlighted how his somewhat formulaic approach to laying down backgrounds quickly before he starts can undermine his painting by competing with the foreground and his main subject. Susan needed to think more about her brushes to avoid becoming too chunky. Oliver used chalk markers with his paints (did she mean pastels?) but was accused of not being lively enough - without explaining how he could enliven his painting.


My major critique of these masterclasses is that the term is normally used for people who DEMONSTRATE how to do things.

However the term "masterclass" is a complete misnomer in the context of this programme as all we hear is words and we never ever see any demonstrations of what to do - and I take this to mean there is no demonstration. Certainly none is ever filmed.

All of this means that the mentors have to be super articulate in describing what people have to do (but this varies) - and the artists need to be super alert to understand what they have to do.

How about giving the artists a break - and just demonstrate - as most mentors or any masterclass would?

The other thing which keeps jumping out at me is how often mentors or Judges talk straight to the camera - but never to the artists - about really important points. It's as if the presentation of these facts suggests that the artists need to guess what these are.

What's the problem with actually showing mentors saying things to artists direct - rather than telling us via the camera?

It's not as if this is BakeOff where in that programme  they chose people who are already highly skilled and the issue is essentially whether or not the baker will remember a skill they should already know.

In this context we have a bunch of people who very clearly still have an awful lot to learn and probably thought they were going to get lots of tuition - but apparently this is through a process of osmosis....

I think I've rarely seen a programme which is such a complete antithesis of what good educational practice should be where knowledge and skills and feedback are involved.

Pascal's masterclass

The end of Pascal's exercise where they are looking at the outlines of the three different poses.

The exercise for Pascal's team was focused on separating the exercise of looking and painting.  He wanted them to understand that the looking was at least as important - probably the more important of the two in terms of how they spend their time.

They had to study part of a a chap and then turn around and paint from memory what the outline looked like - three times with different poses each time.

Diana's masterclass

Looking at the acetates overlaid to see whether the different marks suggest movement.
Diana's exercise produced some gaping mouths. Chalk markers and sheets of acetate were used to record a figure in motion doing 'walkover' cartwheels.  It was interesting to see who looked and who didn't.

Her emphasis was on the need to be more gestural and the use their whole arm to create fluid marks with direction.

However, there was NO DEMONSTRATION of what she meant beforehand - and no indication of what they would do with the acetates at the end.

Nobody was drawing without looking at their acetate - which is the only way you can draw by looking at the model all the time. (I'm typing this looking at the words on the screen and not at my fingers typing on the keyboard - but this is not a skill which comes quickly or easily).

Oliver was stressed out by the exercise. He said he hadn't thought it through properly - whereas I wondered whether it has been explained adequately to him in words and visuals. I wondered how much less stressed out he might have been if his mentor had shown and demonstrated what she meant VISUALLY.

The Big Challenge - Movement

What struck me at the end of the masterclasses - which were both useful - was the disconnect between the other two teams - between the mentors and the two Judges - and the different ways they explain and judge what is good.

As with the Mentors - I don't understand why the Judges are filmed speaking to camera and saying important things - but NOT speaking to the artists and saying the same things.

Daphne Todd's view was that what was required this week
In week 5, I need to be convinced that the artist has been able to depict movement, they have brought themselves to the canvas, that it is their work, their individual vision of how to depict movement on the canvas
We'll come back to this.

Lachlan Goudie's view was that design and composition is really effective at creating a sense of movement - where you place a figure in the rectangle

It just doesn't feel like a programme which is planned as a whole so much as a programme where the two teams - of Mentors and Judges - each control their own segments - and never the twain shall meet.

The painters had to paint gymnasts in movement - lots of short sharp movements. They were repeating their routines over four hours. Essentially it was about looking and absorbing what they were seeing.

The challenge was to
  • make fluid use of paint to successfully create a sense of movement and drama
  • plus accuracy in observing and depicting figures in motion.
Artists needed to use their powers of observation of recall and decide whether to depict in terms of a sequence of movements or a single well observed snapshot.

It was obvious that getting scale right was still very much a challenge for some.  Proportion was also something which got lost for others. (Where's the learning I keep asking myself)

Callum seemed to feel very uncertain and was struggling with focus and was back to starting again and again and again and presenters were back asking him again and again about why he wouldn't go to art school. Why distract somebody who is struggling with focus I ask myself - other than that the Director thought it would be a good idea? Now that's my definition of a really mean man.

Then there was Pascal's well "observed" drawing of gymnasts.......... 

Judgement Time

We start hearing from Mentors that the artists haven't followed all of the criteria....

To which I think were they 100% clear what the criteria were. Were they told round about the same time as they were shocked to find out what their challenge was? Talk about setting people up to fail....

I'm left wondering why they don't give them a printed note of what the criteria are. It took me three goes at getting how they were judging the paintings this week - and I could keep repeating the video unlike the artists.


The feedback was not good and has been the subject of much criticism.

The one which really annoyed me was the first - which was Chris.

Chris was criticised for not looking and observing and described as "failing completely" to observe the actual movement. The fact is this is a man who has got a visual impediment who cannot see properly and who was encouraged last week to show the judges how he sees. I was absolutely incandescent!  How can you base judgements about observation if you don't know anything about how well they can see - but you know their vision is impaired?  We have never ever seen at any point in the series an explanation by Chris to the Judges of what he can and cannot see. Why not?

By way of contrast - if we look at what Daphne said she was going to judge people on (quoted earlier), then Chris met that criteria - precisely!

The Feedback

The reiteration of "Callum needs to go to art school" had by this point started to sound like bullying.  It's bullying by the Director because he's the chap who decides what gets said and what gets left in after the edit. It also totally lacks empathy if the reasons why somebody who is dyslexic might find that proposition very challenging is simply not recognised. Pat on the back to Mariella who recognises bullying when she sees it - even if she is one of the people who asked the same question earlier.

The Judges eviscerated poor Oliver who was extremely upset by the feedback. Judges need to remember this is an amateur painter not somebody in an art school.

The best bit of the feedback was given by the Reverend Richard Coles who talked about challenge as being the way to learn, grow and change.

One of those commenting on social media said that the judges needed to learn how to deliver the marmite sandwich ie.
  • say something nice, 
  • identify an area for improvement and why and how
  • say something nice.
I will add in here a private comment sent to me which seemed to me to express very clearly what annoys people
Take the guy with the eyesight problems "Show us what YOU see" "He has not looked" I think with a little more time and opportunity to re work, to live with the ideas a bit longer and to formulate his concepts what he produced would develop into something dynamic and if he brought into the painting a quality of materials the work would be of great merit. My question to Lachlan and the others is what can you do in two hours ... and because you have practiced for ten or more years stick a handicap on that ... what can you do in an hour. The program is unreasonable and as you saw heart breaking, soul destroying and will put people off painting.

The Public Judgement

Oliver was the winner of the public vote - and got a pass to the Final. This judgement was delivered hot on the heels of his very unhappy experience in the feedback session which reduced him to tears.

The public do not want to see participants crying on their screens on a Sunday evening.

Judges review

This week all five of the remaining artists were up for review as to which two were going home.

All five paintings up for review

Paintings by Susan and Tilly
The response to the news that Susan and Tilly were going home

A nice sign-off this week.

Jane - who left last week after tears - got a message to her ice cream parlour

Plus here's the 2017 winner - Suman Kaur - and what she was doing today.


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This post follows on from my earlier posts

The story so far for Series 3 (2018)

Series 2 (2017)

Series 1 (2015)


  1. Agree with all the above....and saw how Pascal tried to be more gentle and even Daphne attempted to be open and jokey at one point which didn't last long. Why with Tilleys painting of "gender less dancers" did it not get likened to Matisse's dancers. Not so dissimilar and enough of a compliment to go home on. Lachlan liked Chris's final painting which was then shot down in flames by Daphne and Oliver hit the nail on the head with his work as his gymnast showed wonderful movement across both canvasses, which was the brief....I don't think the brief mentioned paint with soul.....considering the tough challenges all the contestants have done a great job considering how far out of their individual comfort zones they went. This could be and should be such a nice programme...and no...I do not like the work of the judges themselves. B

  2. I’ve never been in a painting class/workshop that didn’t begin with a demo by the instructor. Imagine if they had an athlete moving and Diana and Pascal had demonstrated two different ways to depict movement with some commentary on what they’re doing and how it creates the illusion of movement, a short version of what the painters are going to be asked to do. THEN do the master class and only finally let the painters begin to paint. Why the master class is in the middle is a total mystery.

    "It just doesn't feel like a programme which is planned as a whole so much as a programme where the two teams - of Mentors and Judges - each control their own segments - and never the twain shall meet.” Excellent observation. I hadn’t seen that but thinking about it, it explains a lot. There does seem to be a lack of a guiding hand that has a defined idea for the program and ensures that segments are coordinated and support that idea and work as a whole.

    There was a lot of editing this week especially to heighten the meanness factor. Showing Oliver saying he thought it was his best work in the program only to be followed by the harsh criticism he received was cruel. I haven’t agreed with many of the social media comments that have often seemed to say that any critique is too much. But what we were shown this week especially wasn’t helpful. I do wonder what fell on the editing room floor. Or were the judges as cruel as they were shown?

    and I'm sad that both Tilly and Susan are gone.

    I worry that the BBC will just axe the program instead of making the needed changes that could transform this into both an enjoyable and educational experience.

  3. I know in the past, you've wondered why they have some a large on screen team, and why they need two hosts... I think this week at least, that was a wonderful thing. Although I didn't find the critique quite as mean as some other people, I think the host were the only people keeping it from turning into something quite unpleasant.

    After last weeks post, I looked up the mentors, who I had just been assuming were established painters and teachers, and was astonished to see their work has nothing to do with this at all. I've still been enjoying the program, but when I think of what it could be...

    hopefully at some point they're restructure a few things.


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