Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Review: Episode 3 of Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 at Loch Fyne

I felt for the artists, presenters and the judges as I watched the opening of Episode 3 of the Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 series - filmed by Storyvault Films for Sky Arts.

Episode 3 Pod Participants line up for the results of their plein air painting endeavours
After three weeks of blazing sunshine, they ran into what Scotland does best - a dreich during a heatwave i.e. mist and steady fine rain which absolutely drenches.

So there were LOTS of umbrellas in this episode - and one even found its way into a painting by one of the pod participants.

The wildcard participants - around the corner from the Pods
Below you can read about:
  • the location
  • the artists
  • my commentary. 
  • Learning Points: The themes I identified this week's episode are:
    • Dealing with a lot of landscape and changing weather
    • Knowing what format works best
    • Knowing what to leave out and when to stop
    • The importance of a sense of place
    • The need to lick your websites and social media into shape
  • the shortlist
  • the winners - of the Heat and the Wildcard entry
Warning if you continue to read but have not yet watched this episode you will find out who won!

As an aside - one of the very curious things is that Landscape Artist of the Year seems to have died on social media. I always look every week to see if I can find any of the artists and it's now proving more and more difficult!

The Location: Loch Fyne

The pods were set up in front of that universal phenomena - the Indian Restaurant - in Inverary on the western shore of Loch Fynea sea loch off the Firth of Clyde which is the longest one in Scotland (i.e. some 40 miles long).  Prior to the D Day Landings in 1945 it had been home to a base which trained a quarter of a million troops for the landings.

The day started with steady rain coupled with a low mist - and this was the view for some of the artists in the pods!

The initial view from the pods

The pods in the morning - in front of the Indian Restaurant - looking out at the above view

The Wildcard contestants around the corner and next to the war memorial - after the rain stopped

The Artists

Some 1,600 applications were whittled down to 48 for the Heats and these are the latest batch of artists to get their every move recorded by camera.

BELOW are some mini profiles of each of the pod participants - with links to their websites embedded in their names and links to Facebook and Instagram where obvious. I'm always bemused about the distinctions between the professional and amateur artists.

PS There's a point at which you know you've got the right Facebook account by looking at the faces of people who have already participated in LAOTY in the friends! ;)

Four professional artists

  • Peter Nadini - He works with acrylic paint using a dry brush which gives a pastel like quality to his work - and he likes using strong contrasts in his paintings. He's a graduate of Glasgow School of Art and has won a number of awards for his paintings. He's a regular exhibitor in the RGI, Glasgow; RSA, SAAC, Edinburgh; Paisley Art Institute and small galleries across Scotland. He's also a singer/ongwriter.
  • Clark Nichol (Facebook Page) - studied painting at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee. He taught art while continuing to paint in first London and then Nottingham. In 2002 he and his family moved to West Devon where he has focussed almost exclusively on the local landscape. In 2016 he participated in Series 2 and had a major battle with Cancer after which he changed his painting practice. He exhibits with Coombe Gallery, Dartmouth, and Stowe Gallery, St Ives
  • Sarah Long - Graduated 2018 with a BA Honours degree in Fine Arts from Crawford College of Art & Design. Now a practicing visual artist in Co. Cork, Ireland with two exhibitions in Cork in 2019
  • Michael Weller (Facebook) - Michael did a second degree in Fine Art printmaking at London Metropolitan University. Then he attended Lavender Hill Studios, an atelier-style painting school. Provides instruction at the The Colour Factory Studios, in Winchester.
  • John Skelcher (Facebook) - studied at the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design and Staffordshire University and then Angel Academy of Florence in Italy. Moved to Italy from the UK in 2005. Provides instruction in landscape painting in Italy

Three amateur artists

One of the interesting things I found was to compare the websites of the amateurs to those of the professionals.
  • Maria Rose (Facebook PageInstagram) - born in Croydon, London in 1985 and has subsequently lived the West Country for most of her life. She obtained a degree in Fine Art from the University of Plymouth (in Exeter) in 2007. She mostly paints outdoors 'en plein air' and seeks impressionistic portrayal of light and colour. She has exhibited with the South West Academy, the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, New English Art Club and at the inaugural show of the British Plein Air Painters at the Menier Gallery, London.
  • Brian Ramsey (Facebook | Instagram) - born in Newcastle, raised in South Shields and now living in Darlington and loves to draw the industrial and urban landscape of the North embedded in some of what he considers to be the best countryside in England. Take a look at his sketchbooks!  He's a trained architectural technician who works as a design manager for a construction company.  He draws with fineliners, inks and watercolour.
  • Andrea Cryer (Facebook Page | Instagram) - This is an interview with Andrea in which she talks about how she creates her work. Andrea is a former solicitor who gave up the law to become a textile artist. She completed a degree in Creative Art which combined Fine Art (Printmaking) with Textiles, and has since continued to develop her interest in textural mark making. These are examples of her townscapes and landscapes. I'd love to see her enter her work in art competitions where we normally only see more common media.
Drawing with thread is a continuous process of decision making.


It was interesting to see how artists got going. We didn't see much of them observing the scene before they started to work - however I only saw one artist sit down with a sketchbook to work out a composition.

The weather very definitely presented a challenge but I thought the confidence in being faced with the challenge was very evident among some of the more experienced artists. The starts made by some also looked very interesting.

In the end the rain did not stop during the first hour of painting - and only after that did the mist start to lift a bit and the colours and textures of the hill began to emerge

One of the interesting things about moving around the UK for the different heats is that you get to see some very different landscapes. The issue then becomes whether painters can distinguish what makes this place and this landscape unique to this place. What features provide the sense of place - so that you can tell what part of the country you are in.

The person who seemed most out of her depth was the youngest artist, the recent graduate from Ireland. While her artwork is rooted in the landscape, it seemed that her approach to its development was not best suited to a television programme like this and the time limits and constraints it imposes. The work on her website is certainly more interesting than the one she produced during the episode. Joan Bakewell clucked around her like a mother hen and brought her gifts of seaweed to stimulate her creativity - but sadly to no avail.  As Kate Bryan pointed out at the end while the work associated with the foreshore was interesting it did not speak of the place and the background hills she had included were an irrelevance.

I thought the textile artist in this episode was absolutely fabulous and the best of the ones we've had so far. I loved seeing her drawing freehand with her sewing machine and also the techniques she used to create colour in her work - and the fact that the way she used her iron when impressing colour could also create texture. It opened up a whole new area of creativity I never knew existed!

The inventions the wildcard artists came up with to be able to paint and not get completely sodden had to be seen to be believed!  This episode should be required viewing for all artists wanting to take a wildcard ticket to a Heat - it certainly illustrates what life is like outside a pod!

One recommendation I would make is to view the episode again - and listen out for the reasons why a painting did not make it to the shortlist. I could list them here but that's maybe a bit OTT. You can hear them if you listen out for them. If you make a list as you hear them you'll start to see there's more than a bit of repetition involved.

Learning Points | Themes for this episode

I've now sat through and listened to the comments from artists and judges three times and the themes which jumped out for me were
  • Dealing with a lot of landscape and changing weather
  • Knowing what format works best
  • Knowing what to leave out and when to stop
  • The importance of a sense of place
plus this one which is mine after compiling the profiles above!
  • The need to lick your websites and social media into shape

Dealing with a LOT of landscape and changing weather

At the beginning of the episode, Kathleen Soriano and Kate Bryan are discussing the challenge faced by the painters.

One of them said
(it's) a lot of landscape in a relatively small scene
The issues would revolve around the fact there was a lot of white and pale grey and how an artist tackled this would be critical. How do you vary the brush marks and hues used within a painting to make it interesting as well as truthful about what the painter experienced.

Their conclusion was the fact that painters could not see much above the level of the water meant that they would need to be flexible and go with what they've got and then work it out as the day progressed as (hopefully) more of the scenery emerged from under the mist!

For Tai, the issue seemed to be more about where you put your horizon line and what did you assume about what would be revealed.

For me, the key issue essentially revolves around 
  • the notion of whether or not you can create a plein air painting in four hours - whatever the weather(!) - and 
  • do you have the experience to call on which tells you what to do when faced with a challenge like this and how best to use your time, crop you image, choose your palette etc etc etc.

Knowing what format works best

In this instance, ALL the painters (both those in the pod and the wildcard) were presented with a very big scene - which was obscured to start with because of the wet weather and the extremely low cloud cover.

Thinking through what is the best format to use for a drawing or painting in those circumstances is something that's only easy to do if you've had an awful lot of experience in viewing scenes, weighing up options for composition and format and then selecting the right one.

One point which did not get highlighted but I thought was very telling is that if you work on paper you always have the option to cut paper down to create the format that works best - so long as you had enough paper to work on to start with.  Those working on canvas and board are stuck with the format and size they start with.....

Knowing what to leave out - and when to stop

One of the key skills of an effective plein air landscape painter is the ability to edit. Another is knowing when to stop - before you ruin a painting.

There's a bit of a wry joke which is heard often in the circles of those who write for publication. "The short version will take longer".

In other words it's very easy to chuck everything you can see and think you can see into a painting - but when you are just rendering reality, you are not helping people to see is possible for an individual to see or how you want to paint your experience of a scene.

You simply do NOT have to include everything simply because you're standing in front of it. You are creating a painting NOT a painted version of a photograph.

Learning how to compose and edit - so that you can create a clear but not necessarily complete picture which tells a story - by leaving out parts of what you can see is critical. Yet it is not so easy to learn. It takes time and the only real teacher is time - and lots of lots of work involving "looking".

In terms of finishing, rather than piling on the pressure in the final minutes to add yet more features into the painting, the intelligent plein air painter knows how to make best use of the time available and has often finished well before the four hour time limit has elapsed.

The challenge for the efficient and effective plein air landscape painter is to STOP themselves from tinkering with their painting and doing anything which would mess with the decisions they've already made about how to edit the view and create an effective composition and painting.

In other words it's not just about knowing when to finish, it's also about knowing how to leave well alone!

The importance of a sense of place

I found it interesting to hear "the sense of place" being repeated as a phrase by the Judges.

What gives a sense of place might be about tones, colour, features - any element of the image which helps tell the story of a place or your experience of a place.  It's certainly not about whether to include one boat or two.

For example, in relation to colour - I found it fascinating as Judges and presenters remarked on how the colours of the landscape changed as the day wore on including observing how they could now see the rationale behind some of the kilt colours i.e. that they were grounded in the colours of the local scenery.

I remember the first time I painted in the tropics being told to forget everything I knew about which colours to use and to go back to basics and look to see which colours were present in the landscape - and how to make them. I was now in a different place - and I needed to adjust my palette to suit the colours of that place.

I think all the artists who made the shortlist were ones who captured a sense of place - either by editing out or muting or eliminating colours - to reflect the weather experienced on that day in that place.

It'll be interesting to see if this is a recurring theme as this series progresses.

The need to lick your websites and social media into shape.

If you're aiming to raise your profile by applying for a competition, you'll maximise the benefit you gain from it if you lick your website and social media profile into shape first.

What struck me about some of the professional artists is they had maybe had a website for rather a long time - without upgrading it - and it showed.  The best websites in my opinion belonged to the amateur artists.

Similarly if aiming to promote your art you need to do this via a Facebook Page (ie commercial activity should not be done via an ordinary account) and while two thirds of the amateur artists had Facebook Pages, only 20% of the professionals had one.

The Results

As per usual, the artists lined up with their paintings - but somebody very sensibly decided this needed to be in a separate tent where everybody - and the paintings - could be kept dry!

The pod participants of Episode 3
(left to right: Clark Nichol, Peter Nardini, Maria Rose, Brian Ramsey, John Skelcher, Sarah Long,  Michael Weller & Andrea Cryer)

Episode 3 Shortlist

I was not at all unhappy with the shortlist. It's the one I would have chosen.  They all captured a sense of the place and that day - each in their own individual way.

The artists shortlisted were (in the order they were called)
  • Maria Rose
  • Brian Ramsey
  • Clark Nichol
The shortlisted artists for Episode 3
(Left to right) Clark Nichol, Brian Ramsey and Maria Rose

So two amateurs and a professional with both amateurs being people who have been drawing and painting from observation for a very long time.

The submission and plein air paintings of the three shortlisted artists were then lined up for review.

Beginning the Judges Review of the shortlisted artists' work.
Here are the line-ups of submission painting plus plein air painting for each artist - and below are the same paintings in the order they are lined up in the above photo.

Clark Nichol's paintings

Paintings by Maria Rose

Drawings by Brian Ramsey
For me they were self-evidently the best artworks produced on the day. Which is not to say there wasn't merit in the others - rather than these were the three which provided the best responses to this particular place on this particular day - and they didn't make the boat look cheesy!

Episode 3 Winners - Overall and Wildcard

The winner of Episode 3 was Brian Ramsay.

The Judges comments included:
  • he was affable and in control all the time of what he was doing
  • the success of his painting entirely depended on avoiding overpainting
  • his biggest challenge was what to put in and what to leave out
  • he did a big sky with very little paint
  • he was the only artist to fully describe the size of the place in terms of its horizontal spread and the fact that the loch goes on for miles in the background - and the fact that he did this essentially through the use of spidery lines (which are not very evident in my web images but are in the televised episode) made what he did all the more impressive
  • his network of lines holds the whole image together
  • at the end of the day he enables you see a scene in a whole new way

Sounds like a winner to me! ;)

View of Loch Fyne by Brian Ramsey

Episode 3 Wildcard Winner

Kate Bryan talking with Jonathan Mitchell, the wildcard winner

Painting of the boat and Loch Fyne by Jonathan Mitchell
The wildcard winner was Jonathan Mitchell from Dundee who lives in Argyll. This is what a website says about him
Since graduating from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee, in 1990, Jonathan Mitchell has developed a considerable reputation as a painter of the Scottish landscape with his work collected by patrons both in the UK and internationally.Primarily working in oils, his painting is firmly within the Northern European tradition; both detailed and atmospheric. Mitchell says of his work;"I am very much a realist artist. My work is a record of things and places as I have found them. However, my paintings aim at communicating to the viewer not just the physical appearance of a particular place, but also what it felt like to be there”. Alyth Arts and Crafts Guild
plus some paintings on his Facebook account indicate maybe he should have been in a pod!

Philippa Mitchell, a wildcard participant, has written a very informative blog post - A Wildcard Experience on Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2018.

This is a photo of Philippa below - and this could be YOU next year!

Philippa Mitchell must have been very glad she had two umbrellas and a hat given what the weather was like!

Next week

Next week, the team are back in Yorkshire looking the other way from the ruins of Fountains Abbey - at the Georgian water garden in Studley Royal Park, a designated World Heritage Site in North Yorkshire.
Nestled within the Skell Valley near Ripon, this landscaped masterpiece designed by John and William Aislabie in the 18th century, was deemed so special that it was awarded World Heritage Site status in 1986.

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More about Landscape Artist of the Year on MAM

If you don't have Sky then you can watch episodes (minus adverts) via the Now TV app - see my previous post How to watch Sky Arts - Portrait Artist of the Year 2018 without subscribing to Sky!


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