Monday, April 23, 2018

Review: Waterscape - The Big Painting Challenge 2018

This week, Episode 4 of The Big Painting Challenge was the Waterscape Episode.

Seven painters and two mentors face the Big Waterscape Painting Challenge
As it was plein air week, they of course had REALLY BAD WEATHER!  I'm not sure that they were planning to have quite so much water in the air as well as in front of them.

Mariella announced at the beginning of the programme that they were on the banks of Loch Lomond "at the tail end of a hurricane" - which I think this means it was being filmed in the third week of October and they had to go north to still have leaves on the trees! 

Here's a taster of how bad it got.

What was really odd was the variation in clothing - and you could really tell who had previously painted plein air (or was used to being outside in Scotland) and who was more used to painting in nice warm studios i.e.
  • who knew what it was going to be like (Pascal - head to toe in red waterproof oilskin of the type worn by fishermen and Tilly - who had layers on her layers and both had really effective hoods)
  • who didn't (Oliver - rocking a laddish V neck sweater and absolutely no visible waterproof whatsoever!)
Pascal in waterproofs

Pascal had a really bad week. He made Jane cry and then this....

Anyway - back to the normal challenges........

Below is my digest/review of what happened in this week's episode. This post follows on from my earlier posts (see end for the first two series and my posts about this series so far)

The First Challenge

The first challenge was painting boats and their watery reflection - within what was very changeable, very wet and very windy weather - meaning the colours changed all the time!  Plein air with knobs on!

Under a tent on the banks of Loch Lomond being buffeted by the wind and lashed by driving rain
L to R: Oliver, Tilly, Callum and Susan - painting the blue boat

The less explicit challenge was about painting colours
it's the use and interplay of colour that the mentors will be particular looking at
The way the two teams split this week is as follows - meaning four people swopped teams
  • Diana's Team - Callum, Susan, Oliver and Tilly - painting the blue boat
  • Pascal's Team - Anil, Chris and Jane - painting the red boat
I'm beginning to wonder if there is a giant matrix somewhere where they count how many times each participant has been with each mentor.

We had more mentor soundbites which made me want to scream - this from Pascal
Paint thoughtfully but quickly - paint with economy
A little demonstration of what this means would not have gone amiss!

I was amazed at not one word being said about how to paint reflections (which is technically challenging) or tricks for conveying water in advance of the challenge.
  • If they're doing this then why are they not showing it?
  • If they're not showing it then why are they not teaching people the basics first and then asking them  to put the instruction into practice?
  • If they're not doing it at all - but choosing very inexperienced amateur painters - why call it a competition at all - since they eliminated the better painters in the auditions (according to comments emailed to me)!
Making the first challenge an exercise without instruction just leaves the mentors going around making comments and interrupting each painter's concentration.  ASK before interrupting! 

This is where painting competition programmes make such a joke of testing an artist's real abilities.

TIP: Take ear plugs and then you won't hear the interruptions!

Susan painting the blue boat - with gusts of horizontal rain in the background

I was impressed with Susan who was making a very real effort to respond to previous criticism that she was very heavy-handed with her paint. She almost went to the other extreme - however that was maybe not a bad thing as it will make finding the balance in the middle easier and I look forward to seeing what she does next week.

Oliver did a lovely simple painting early on - and then added vegetation at the bottom and spoiled it. I'll never ever forget the time I did the "Bottom Edge Fringe Thing" while on a painting holiday in Italy and had feedback on why it spells "amateur painter" - and have tried very hard never ever to do it again.  Definitely a once learned never forgotten moment!

I also very much liked Chris's painting which was one of the better ones. It was interesting that he revelled in being outside and really enjoyed the bad weather! I'm rooting for him to do well every week as he's up for a challenge but also very humble about his own efforts.

Critique by Diana

I thought Diana's crit about Callum always leaving the things he doesn't like doing to the end and then not giving himself enough time was spot on. It's a pointer that lots of artists who paint within limited timeframes would do well to remember.

Chris got excellent feedback from Pascal while Anil was criticised for his painting lacking any focus.

Jane unimpressed with Pascal's critique - and blokes doing what blokes do when a woman cries

Jane had a bit of a meltdown in this episode when Pascal was providing feedback about her fictional colour - after Jane had responded to Mariella and thanked her for standing up for her when Pascal criticised her observation of colour. It turned out that Pascal was the reason for Jane becoming upset and he looked suitably gloomy about it all.

I thought Jane's comment in the programme said it all in terms of where she was coming from and why a certain sort of critique might leave her out of sorts.
"Be happy when you are painting, that's the main thing"
The thing for me is that I always expect those advising painters to also have some credibility in understanding that "one size of critique does not fit all!" and that they need to "read painters" as well as "read paintings"! 

It's a skill both Mentors would do well to develop.

TIP: One of the important strategies for doing well in this programme was revealed by Anil in this part of the programme

"One of the reality important things is impressing the Judges - that's the really important thing"
In other words, the mentors can advise all they like and crit as they see fit - but the only important people at the end of the day are the ones who can send you home - and those people are not the mentors.

(Anil's opinion was also that Daphne was an angel compared to Lachlan!)

Listen to the Judges and don't get upset by the Mentors.

Masterclasses in Colour Matching

The purpose of the masterclasses this week was to examine Colour - in terms of colour temperatures, hues and tones - and how to mix them.

"Masterclass" with Pascal Anson

I thought this masterclass in mixing colours using only three primaries and white was a really educational exercise - and a very useful one within a context where there was so much subtlety within colour groups in terms of the colours they could see.  They needed to be able to see that subtlety better.

The idea was that a perspex "window" was covered with half a dozen white stickers - which had to be made to disappear against the landscape by mixing the correct colours.

Plus the really small spaces focused the big brush slap it one tendencies of some of the painters and they really had to look and go small to get the exercise right.  It looked as if it produced one of the better result so far in terms of artists being focused and actually doing what they're told!

Until the next challenge when what they learned was less evident in practice.

"Masterclass" with Diana Ali

This is a a one minute video about the Masterclass in colour matching

The four contestants worked in pairs for Diana's exercise which was a great exercise to see how many colours and tones can be achieved from three primary colours and white - mixed on what looked a bit like matte acetate.

I found it very surprising that Tilly had no idea how to mix brown. However she worked with Susan and they finished first - and achieved a remarkable range of colours and tones and ones which reflected the hillside well.

A painting of the hillside in tonal colours that has depth and shapes

One of the better paintings completed during the weekend was actually completed by Tilly and Susan during this exercise. I'm coming to the conclusion that both seem to have better listening skills and both try really hard to improve.

I thought it was a pity that the contestants didn't get a bit of extra tuition in how to mix a colour value string which I'd expect any painter to show them how to do.....
See for example:

The Big Challenge

Introducing The Big Challenge

The Big Challenge this week was to create a panorama of an atmospheric and colourful waterscape.

Daphne's criteria was that she wanted painters to be:
  • confident about their composition
  • posses a good sense of colour
  • demonstrate a passion for the subject in front of them
Lachlan indicated that what he was looking for were
  • painters who were developing, growing and responding to the things they have said
  • not making silly mistakes

What's a panorama?

One of the revelations was just how many of the artists knew what a panorama was. There again given the choice of candidates I'm not sure we should be surprised - especially as they had not had lesson in the different aspect ratios for paintings and when they might be most appropriate (eg portrait painting; landscape painting) - and what's a suitable aspect ratio for a panoramic painting.

Congratulations to Susan and Chris who both chose the correct panoramic canvas - apparently without any prompting!

The Set-Up

As before they were located under a tent at the edge of the loch - but the weather seemed to be relatively calm compared to the previous day.

Only one painter, Tilly turned left and painted the view including Ben Lomond.  However she focused on the area above the water and rather neglected both the water and the bank of the land they were standing on in the foreground.

The rest of the painters painted a great stretch of water and a long thin range of hills in the background.

two tents on the banks of Loch Lomond
The biggest challenge seemed to be what to do with about the water - and yet we heard virtually nothing about how to paint water until the feedback when Daphne commented about how the lines / ripples of water can have both hard and soft edges - which I don't think anybody succeeded in demonstrating.

Also I don't remember anybody commenting on watching out for the shapes of clouds on the water or any distinction to be made between shadows and reflections.

Diana's team: left to right - Callum, Susan, Oliver and Tilly
Chris - inspired by Pascal's imperative that he needed to sketch less and paint more - and sketch using paint got stuck into his painting from the start - and consequently found he had a lot more time to work with and complete his painting.

By way of contrast, I got the impression that Jane was mulling over what to do for rather a long time - and that Pascal was very wary of intervening. As a result she seemed to spend a long time sketching and working out a format - and then at the end was complaining she didn't have the time to observe what she was painting.

TIP - learn how to manage your time - I made the comment during the Sky Portrait Artist of the Year that NOBODY should enter an art competition on TV until such time that they have
  • learned some skills in how long it takes them to do things and 
  • learned how best to manage their time - given all the other interventions which will take place during the painting time.

Chris and Jane and their view of Loch Lomond

Overall I thought most of the painters did better overall across most of the programme.

Judgement Time

The Public Judgement

The public this week were a Ramblers Group who know the loch and the Trossachs well - and who were asked to take a look at the paintings and decide which they liked best.

Anil was smiling at the back and looked to me very much like he was expecting the Public plaudit for the third time - he'd certainly done a good (and big) painting - when it turned out to be Susan who got the 'nod'.

I'm not surprised. I know Scotland well and to me she seemed to me to grasp the Scottish colours best - even if they might only be seen momentarily.  Not surprising given her Scottish heritage!

The painting which got Susan a "pass" through to the next episode

The Judges Feedback

A lot of the feedback was "more of the same" which we'd heard in previous weeks.

As always most of the actual tuition in the programme comes from the Judges and I think it's a great pity that people should see this negatively.

One of the really interesting bits came in Daphne's assessment of Chris when she suggested that his challenge was to paint what he actually sees - and to show them what a view looks like to a sight impaired person i.e. if it was blocks of colour with no detail that was fine. I'm very much looking forward to seeing how he does with this advice next week.

The Final Judgement

Two of the paintings came from Pascal's group of three painters and one painting came from Diana's group of four.

The three weakest paintings of this Waterscape Episode
(left to right: Chris, Jane and Tilly)
I think two of the paintings were included because the challenge was supposed to be a waterscape and their paintings of water were very weak.
  • Tilly's painting was included because her water had effectively disappeared and just looked like a flat space. I think however she got some brownie points for having tackled a different view and persevering wth trying to include a mountain which kept disappearing from view!  For me she also got lots of points for knowing it was an awful painting before anybody criticised her work.
  • Chris's painting was working better in the land and in the sky than in the water. Again another waterscape where the weakness in the treatment of the water meant he ended up in the final three.  Given Daphne's advice to him I sort of knew he wasn't going anywhere.

Jane's painting was the converse of a panorama - which was odd since a panorama was what was requested. It was a triptych i.e. three vertical and narrow formats (as opposed to one wide format) - that didn't really convey the scene in front of her.  When asked by Lachlan why she had chosen the format, she replied it was to try and "be different" - i.e. maybe chosen for reasons to do with rebellion following on from her difficult and upsetting day, the day before.   Or possibly if she had to submerge her instinct for colour then she'd find another way of injecting herself into the painting. I did also wonder whether she had interpreted "waterscape" as requiring a painting involving more water. I couldn't work out why her painting was so pale - except for the fact that she acknowledged that she needed to 'not be so colourful'. I wasn't sure whether she was painting in watercolours or acrylics with a lot of water but her painting was very watery and pale.

Completely unlike the colourful paintings which had made me think hitherto that she might well be a contender for the final.

Jane's Triptych (in watercolour?)

Lining up for the Results
In the end, Jane was the person identified as the person leaving at the end of the episode.

It seemed somewhat ironic that the one person in the group who enjoyed colour should go home in the episode about the use of colour - however I wasn't surprised.
  • I identified her halfway through as being almost certainly the person who was going to leave - but that was more about camera time and despite the fact she hadn't started her final painting.
  • I also got what both Pascal and the Judges were saying about exuberant colour isn't the only way to paint and wishing to see what she can do when she paid more attention to observation.
  • I just wished that somebody had given Jane a copy of Jeanne Dobie's Making Color Sing and pointed her in the direction of the chapter about the VALUE of "mouse colours" or coloured greys when painting colours.
I find when watching the programme twice you pick up all sorts of clues and code within the comments and the way it's edited that you can miss first time around. Or rather I hear and see them first time but maybe don't recognise them so explicitly.

It was interesting however that an effort was made to make Jane feel better about her love of colour at the end of the programme.

Viewers can be very critical in their tweets......

You can view this week's episode on iPlayer in Episode 4 of The Big Painting Challenge

The Next Episode

The fact that this was Waterscape week means I assume that they're saving the "Urban Landscape and Really Big Architecture" for the Final.

That's because they revealed that next week's episode will be "Movement" and it looks as if it's gymnasts and some interesting masterclasses!

More Big Issues with The Big Challenge

I listened hard this week for more clues to what this programme is supposed to be about.
six intensive weeks of artistic endeavour
they will be tutored
I don't think so. More like six long weekends mostly filled with
  • getting to and from locations around the country, 
  • filming demands i.e. not being able to see your subject 
  • being interviewed while trying to paint, 
  • no lessons in advance
  • words flying around without any context in terms of actual lessons or what the words mean
  • constant interruptions from people telling you what to do

That might be intense - but it's certainly not a lot about learning about art!

working with professional mentors
I don't think so.  This is a painting challenge and neither of these two tutors have painting as a solid part of their artistic endeavours. This is a mistake in my opinion.

In my experience, the people who teach painting well are painters. The BBC also need to remember that the programme is also not just endeavouring to teach the participants - it should also be teaching those who watch.

Painters certainly teach people to paint much better than those who have not demonstrated anywhere I can see online that they can do what they purport to be teaching.

There are people absolutely screaming on social media online to see whether the two mentors can do what they are asking the participants to do

I think that's a reasonable question.

There is absolutely no question in my mind that the two Judges can paint well. I know - Ive seen their paintings up close in exhibitions and I am not hypothesising about their abilities to paint - as many are online.

For those who missed my links to their past exhibitions - by both Daphne Todd and Lachlan Goudie - you can view past blog posts of mine about their exhibitions that I've been to
Plus you can currently catch Lachlan Goudie's current (very colourful) exhibition Shipyard in Portsmouth

This week I got a late comment on last week's episode which went like this.
The portrait episode amplified to a deafening level the faults that you had identified in your earlier reviews. In particular the BBC's odd choice to have a competitive program with unskilled/limited experience participants. Like others I feel sorry for the contestants asked to paint very difficult set ups that are way beyond their competence levels with little instruction.

And I would have loved to have heard Daphne talk to them for even 5 minutes about how to begin a portrait or the important elements of getting a likeness or any portrait painting topic. It seemed a waste to have such a talented portrait painter not share some knowledge with them.

It's hard to watch because the discomfort I feel for painters put in impossible situations. But I also get so annoyed and frustrated at the poor decisions made throughout by the producers. Not exactly the enjoyable entertainment I'd expect from a program like this.
This was among others which were very sympathetic to the contestants and critical of the programme.

What's your comment this week?


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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. If the BBC describe this format as amateurs who are willing to learn, then why not use the Strictly Come Dancing format and team each one with a professional artist as a teacher. In SCD they don't put amateur on the stage and say 'today you're dancing the tango', they go through an intensive one-to-one training and priactising week.

  2. The majority of the painters seemed simply afraid of the scale of the subject in front of them, and a lot more afraid of the mentors and judges (apart from Anil, who has realized the mentors are of little use to him). I liked the painting that 'won' - the colours worked to convey the actual scene.

    I didn't dislike Jane's triptych - but it was a suicidal decision to paint it that way, it was no panorama. Some of them are SO hesitant - and if you can't even draw a boat, I don't know what you're doing in an art competition: it wasn't exactly a full-rigged yacht, was it?

    I said last time, and you've said this time: the mentors aren't painters - they may have been once, but they aren't now, and while they hit on the occasional truth (proportions, last week, to Anil) they also miss the point with regularity.

    I've seen some very stupid comments online from people who obviously wouldn't recognize a good painting from a barn door, criticizing the two judges' painting abilities. They'd do better to look at the mentors' work, and stop silly attacks on the judges who have to distinguish between some fairly bad paintings to determine which is the worst of the lot.

    I'm having to force myself to watch the programme now - you feel that with such a dearth of art programmes, you ought to support the ones offered.... but it's becoming an unwelcome experience, getting marginally worse by the week.


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