Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Review: Nature - Big Painting Challenge 2018

This post is about the Second Episode of the Big Painting Challenge 2018 which focused on:
  • Nature - painting dogs and trees
  • Alternative ways of handling paint
The group and tutors ready for The Big Painting Challenge Episode 2

It follows on from my earlier posts:
This episode is available to watch on BBC iPlayer for the next 27 days.
Nine painters continue in the artistic bootcamp, which this week sees themworking with their professional mentors, Diana Ali and Pascal Anson, to conquer paint-handling techniques to depict nature in all its glory.  BBC website

Continuing issues for me

Before I start I want to thank all those who took the trouble to comment on the blog posts and also on my Facebook Page where I post my blog posts once finished.  It's always really good to see if my comments resonate with others and also to get your own perspectives on how things are going - which might be summed up as Sky Arts 1 BBC 0.

Episode 2: Coherent or discontinuity

I'm having major problems with the format for the individual episodes. Last week we had two awful abortions masquerading as still life set-ups and went from those via two fast (but useful) exercises to a vast interior which was in some way supposed to be 'a big still life'.

Absolutely no teaching of perspective in the content of the programme - and then somebody gets sent home for not grasping that her perspective changes when her eyeline changes.

This week we have:
  • the reverse of still life - the two teams each had a dog to paint, neither of which was still for very long
  • exercises about how to use tools other than brushes to handle paint and make different sorts of marks
  • a discussion by Fraser Scarfe (who has morphed into a replacement of Lachlan Goudie) 
  • a big challenge about painting lots of trees - and leaves - and how best to represent these through the handling of paint

Teaching: Imperative vs. interrogative

I've still got my hackles raised over Diana's teaching style and tried this week to try and find the reason why.

I concluded that she instructs in a very imperative way - essentially "don't do that, do this" a.k.a. "my way is best". Plus she's just plain RUDE and says some completely outrageous things - a bit like a "shock jock"! (This coming from somebody who is renowned for being somewhat direct!)

It's not very energising - I'd absolutely hate to be in her group - in fact I'd walk and/or insist on being in the other one.

Diana's group gets its dressing down about the dog pics

It was interesting how Ray was swopped to Pascal this week after the the "don't use watercolour, use acrylic' imperative last week.

By way of contrast Pascal's instruction is much more carefully scripted and articulated - plus he asks questions "May I show you?"  I'm very definitely warming to him in this series.

Again, Daphne who everybody seems to think is an ogre - and who I think is just a plain-speaking who makes intelligent comments - is very interesting in the way she asks members of the group questions as she goes round the group.

At some point they will realise that she's actually asking them whether they have considered an aspect that might be worthy of consideration. There's an awful lot that both participants and the audience can learn from the questions she asks. She's very perceptive and perspicacious ie. almost always spot on!

I do think those who "parrot" comments about "her unfortunate manner" might want to bear in mind that their experience to date of painting tutors might be limited to those who say nice things to them all the time because they'd like them to keep paying fees for tuition!

Give me Daphne's feedback any time if you want to make some serious improvement as an amateur artist!

I liked Fraser Scarfe who stepped in for an absent Lachlan (of whom there was no mention). He also provided some sound assessment and judgement and was a nice foil for Daphne. (PS Do take a look at his website - he's got some paintings of trees featured!) His book is called How to Paint Atmospheric Landscapes in Acrylics - I've not seen it or read it - but it looks like the sort of book Ray might find very useful! :)

The First Challenge - doggies!

Ostensibly the next step up from painting something very still is painting something that moves.

However the real learning objective behind the first part of the programme was to think about paint handling techniques

I still think this ought to come AFTER the exercises showing them different ways of how to handle paint. i.e.

  • first I'm going to show you techniques for how to handle paint when you're painting something that has LOTS of multiples
  • next I'm going to give you shorter challenge of painting a dog where I want you to focus on how to use paint to suggest all the hairs - and we'll look half way at which methods are working well and which are working less well
  • then I'm going to show you paintings by past masters and show you just how IMPRECISE their painting marks were - here's some pics of Constable's techniques seen close up
  • finally we're going to paint lots of trees plein air - and you are going to employ everything you've learned in a four hour challenge exercise.
If you rerun the episode Pascal neatly encapsulated what the whole programme was about in his short speech about how nature challenges artists to find ways of handling their paint in a way which suggests the hundreds, thousands and millions of ways you might see multiples eg dog hair, blades of grass or leaves on a tree.  The episode was all about how to convey the impression without painting every one!  

So - a good challenge - because this is one which very many amateur artists struggle with on a regular basis.

Anyway, given the order the producers chose for information to be shared, the dogs were lovely, but the paintings were almost all predictably awful. Some were more awful than others.

Except dog lover Oliver created a dog with an unnervingly accurate stare - you can always tell those who know animals, it comes across in how they paint!

Jane's dogs in pen and ink
Personally, I loved Jane's dog drawings. This was an "use any media you like" session, so she chose ink. I thought this was a neat way of being able to engage with drawing rather than painting. She produced a sheet of shorthand drawings of a dog which were delightful - and also very like the dog for the most part.

The Exercises

Next were the two mentor sessions where they demonstrate "new techniques" related to the learning objective.

I'm not sure once you've seen white underpants being used to apply paint you can unsee them.

Nevertheless Pascal's quick exercise for showing his painters how you can get a lot of paint down very fast using gestures (aided by underpants) to indicate leaf forms meant that they were less likely to fall into the trap of automaton leaf painting.

He also demonstrated and got them to try how using a paint brush to draw a line then suggested more clearly leaves on the paper.

It all felt very zen to me!

Will we EVER forget the white underpants?
Diana's group investigated the use of natural materials found in nature as tools for applying paint. Wonderful to see Tilly say how much she had enjoyed the exercise.

What I keep wondering about is how come we see so few of them with inadvertent paint marks on their trousers, tops or coats!

The Big Challenge at Westonbirt Arboretum

The final BIG Challenge was to paint trees in the Acer Glades at Westonbirt Arboretum.

Episode 2 of The Big Painting Challenge in the Acer Glades at Westonbirt Arboretum
They had a lovely day for it, the acers were on the turn but hadn't yet lots lots of leaves. Daphne and Fraser turned up for this part of the programme and watched the participants as they got to grips with their view.

Diana's group gets to work on the big challenge
I rather liked the big tent they'd got for the two groups. It meant the view was much more open and it also looked like somebody had done a good job of tying down the guy ropes - they were taught!

Pascal's Group - painting millions of leaves in the Acer Glades

In terms of the painters
  • Chris was really brave and went for a big canvas
  • Callum repeated his habit of start new canvases all the time - three this challenge. (I felt really sorry for him - he had the most awful swelling around his eye from a bite - and I bet he really didn't feel like painting!)
  • Bokani joined in and also used three canvases - one huge and two small. I wondered why, for a woman who obviously enjoys using lots of paint, she chose to submit the one which was positively minimal in its approach.
  • Oliver chose a panoramic format and was the only one who got really strong sense of depth in his painting. (He had a good episode!)
I've begun to get a sense that you can tell which painters are going to be in the final three or four for the chop by how much air time they get during the course of the programme and/or challenge!

The consensus at half time was that a lot of the painters had made some really good starts on their paintings - but that some were very busy losing the merit seen in their early paintings.

Fraser was impressed with the standards. I took that to mean he was judging them against the more typical amateur painting group.

Half time - the judges get quizzed

Judgement Time

Back in the Tractor Shed to hear the Judges Assessment

There was absolutely no question, both Judges were really impressed by the way Chris pulled off something quite magical with his painting towards the end - when he introduced the light and sunshine on the ground and in the trees. Daphne talked about magnificence and being able to feel as if she could walk into his painting - and Chris choked (see below). His one ambition with this episode was to impress Daphne - and he had achieved it!

My favourite bit of the programme by quite a distance - it made me gulp too in sympathy!

My favourite bit of the whole programme!
The  staff and friends of Westonbirt Arboretum took a look at the paintings and decided to choose Anil's painting as being their favourite - which meant he had a pass into the next round. I can well understand why they did. Notwithstanding some imagination on Anil's part, it was the painting which best gave the sense of the colours of acers and that "looking through the leaves" which you get when walking through a lot of them.

Daphne and Fraser went off into a huddle on their own - and chose three paintings to focus on - by
  • Ray (who's done too much), 
  • Susan (who's also invented and not painted what was in front of her) and 
  • Bokani (who had gone minimal - but also hadn't observed what was in front of her).
The style over substance approach used by Bokani who's never given me the impression she's studied her subject matter closely did not impress - and Bokani was chosen as the one to leave this week.

I found her a curious choice for the programme (very interesting back story not withstanding). I didn't get the fit between how she liked to paint and what the programme was about.

and finally......

I'll leave the final comment to the winner of the last series Suman Kaur. I think her first two points are good - but I don't agree with the third.

and another good point.
She's doing LIVE reviews of each episode - I can't compete with that! ;)


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The story so far for Series 3 (2018)

Series 2 (2017)

Series 1 (2015)

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