Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Learning Points from Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 - a summary

This is a wrap-up summary of everything learned from the Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 - interspersed with images from the Exhibition of the work by the semi-finalists in London (see the end for details of the exhibition)

This is the cover of the Flipbook about the Exhibition which you can find at the end of this post

Below I cover:
  • The Big Themes
  • The Artists - how to get chosen
  • The Locations - and choosing/editing what to paint
  • The Heats Process - learning points
  • What it was really like - from the perspective of both pod artists and wild card participants - LOTS of excellent learning points!
  • The Exhibition - Tour Locations and Dates
  • Links to previous blog posts - with summary of learning points contained in each
It's a bit long - especially if you reread the Heat Reviews - I highly recommend a hot drink or tipple of your choice and a comfy seat!

Tomorrow I'm going to do a post about entering Landscape Artist of the Year 2019 - and I recommend that those planning to do so READ THIS POST FIRST!

The Big Themes

Over the course of the series I noticed several themes come through in terms of things Judges were looking for and why certain people did well.

Now we ALL need to remember that what we see is down to the Editors NOT the Judges and hence the messages being given off might not be those the Judges would want to emphasise - but these are the ones I noticed

The importance of a sense of place. What makes this place unique?

Again and again, there were comments from the Judges about how artists would face the challenge presented by the location and find a way of painting it which would be redolent of place and at the same time NOT be traditional or boring.

I sometimes felt as if the challenge each Heat was to surprise and excite the Judges because you've done something they weren't expecting!

I have to say I did think that some venues were chosen very deliberately as elephant traps (as in very easy to fall into they're so big and obvious!

TIP: stand out from the crowd - demonstrate your competence as an artist to 

  • avoid painting 'the obvious'! Don't fall in the elephant trap.
  • be different - and be yourself
  • be sensitive to place.  You are allowed to talk to the locals!
Four paintings in the exhibition - and ALL are different and not what was expected
Left: Broadstairs Beach by Jen Gash
Right: Heat, semi-final and final painting by Allan Martin

What makes this artist different?

These judges have a set of values about what they want to see in an artist
  • they value artistic skills in terms of 
    • an ability to see what is possible - to interpret a scene, 
    • skills in terms of use of paint and brush, tone and colour etc 
    • familiarity with the language of art
    • originality and innovation
  • they are completely averse to the predictable and ordinary 
  • they value artists who paint the way they see it and don't "do a painting for the competition
  • they do NOT want artists who are intensely realistic or even photorealistic (e.g. I don't think they're very interested in people who routinely copy photographs - and if that's you I wouldn't bother wasting your time on an entry)
One of the things that was highlighted was that the judges recognised that for a number of the artists the subject matter and the time constraint were something which really put them outside their comfort zone.
At the same time they respected the fact that some artists resisted the temptation to "do a painting for the competition" but rather chose to be themselves. Review: Episode 5 of Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 - Broadstairs Beach
Jenn Gash - Winner of Landscape Artist of the Year 2018
The importance of editing: My view is that Judges were also more impressed by artists who knew how to edit and knew
  • what format works best
  • what to leave out
  • when to stop
It doesn't really matter whether you think this is OK or not - that's just who they are. However they can argue the toss with me as to whether or not my summary of them is accurate! :)


Did anybody else notice how your view of an artist changed when they got to the judging phase and brought out the submission piece?

Some artists instantly elevated their status because there was a consistency of persona, style, technique and view on the world between the submission piece and the heat painting.

That to me said this person has worked their way through finding out how they want to paint - and that submission paintings wasn't a fluke.

Review of the shortlisted artists to decide the Heat Winner for Episode 6 at Inverary Castle
three candidates who had a consistent style across both submission and heat painting
By way of contrast, a significant number of those who did not make it through to the Heart Shortlist had something of a gap between their submission and the heat painting (the size of the gap varied).

The thing is it doesn't need to be exactly the same way of painting. Judges know when something has taken days as opposed to four hours - but they can tell when you can't be yourself and reveal your view of the world.

The Journey

This is the corny one.

In all reality competitions, the Judges do love to see "the journey" by a contestant(s) a.k.a. development in contestant confidence and delivery during the course of the competition. 

It's the notion that the challenges and feedback provided have contributed in some way to progress made by an artist over the course of a series. It both makes for a good 'story' and at the same time flatters the programme-makers and validates the programme.
  • I know I saw development in some - and not in others.  Sometimes the development was in painting, sometimes it was in terms of their own estimation of their ability and confidence to deliver.
  • I know one artist in particular thought it was a pretty steep challenge to ask for development given his heat and the semi-final were almost back to back - even if that wasn't the way it came across on television 
(NOTE: None of the Heats were broadcast in the same order that they were filmed. You may have noticed that all three finalists came from the last three Heats to be broadcast. There's a subliminal suggested message in there somewhere about artists getting better over the course of the series!!).

The Time Limit

The key issue is whether or not artists understand what they can achieve in four hours with constant interruptions.

This is very much a recurrent theme in terms of the challenge it presented - which I deal with below under "The Heats Process". However, it would be foolish to ignore that the time limit really sorts out the painters.

Do also bear in mind they very rarely show you those who finished early and had their feet up, with a cup of tea and a chat while others were still racing to finish!

Knowing what to leave out - and when to stop.  For me the critical issue very often revolved around whether or not the artist had the experience to know how much they could get done - and when to stop painting
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 . Review: Episode 3 of Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 at Loch Fyne

The Artists

1,600 applications were whittled down to 48 for the Heats

However, I know - because I've talked to them - that some of those in the pods were invited to enter late in the day by the programme makers. In other words the programme makers go looking for people who would make good pod people.  It's why this competition invariably has its deadline extended. They do a preliminary sift and get concerned about whether they have enough good people. (Hence those who have made it into a pod should consider having another go - it's only Finalists and winners who are banned for entering again)

The submission

The Artists are chosen on the basis of their submission.

For everybody else, given some 1,500 failed to impress, it's obviously worth taking some time to work out what sort of artwork would represent you best (or better than last time if you've applied and not got in).

The trick seemed to be for the artwork to:
  • look interesting NOT boring
  • NOT be like everybody else
  • NOT look like you know how to copy well known artists
Here's what I noticed
  • The size of the artwork entered as part of the submission can vary enormously - and that's OK
  • BUT you have to carry ALL your submission artwork to the Heat, so what you enter dictates how you travel!
  • Ultimately it's about whether or not the artwork continues to impress in real life - as opposed to when a digital image is seen on a screen - which counts in terms of the impressions created - and the judging at the end.
Greg Mason with his submission piece at the Exhibition PV

Key Points about the Submission

  • it's what helps get you in - when judged digitally
  • the digital entry and the real artwork must look the same - or you'll get ruled out of serious contention straight away
  • if your work is innovative you may well find this works to your advantage
It was very apparent that some amateur artists were selected because they produced artwork in interesting ways e.g. the stencils by Sam Weston and the textile art produced by Kate Rowe. Review: Episode 1 of Landscape Artist of the Year (Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire)
  • it's what helps get you shortlisted at the end of a Heat 
  • it's also really important because when judging the Heat Winner the submission artwork is reviewed alongside the plein air painting at the end of the heat. The latter shows what happens when you have four hours as opposed to the submission which is the product of as long as you want to spend. 
  • Two works which look very different do not impress

Professionals vs Amateurs

I found out at the Private View that it's Storyvault Films who decide whether you are described as a professional or an amateur. Very clearly they got a bit confused about some of the entrants in terms of:
  • very recent graduates who aspired to be professional artists - labelled as professionals
  • very experienced painters who have a job doing something else - labelled as amateurs
The thing is I think there are a LOT of artists who enter this competition who are what I call semi-professionals (i.e. very experienced painters producing quality work and who have exhibited and sold their work over a period of time - but they happen to have a day job). It's an injustice to call them amateurs!

If you don't want to be labelled incorrectly you need to make sure you make VERY EXPLICIT in your entry how you want to be "labelled".

Incidentally, if you want to impress those who come looking after viewing the programme it helps to have sorted out your website and online presence beforehand!

Maria Rose - submission and Loch Fyne painting
one of the so-called amateurs who was very definitely an experienced artist producing good work

The Locations

Many of the locations in the series are not necessarily ones which landscape artists working plein air would necessarily choose.

The reality is they are entirely dictated by the need to be able to house the pods on relatively flat ground and have a large area nearby where the 50 wildcard artists can be located. Plus all the normal bodily function requirements nearby for intake and evacuation!

Here's some observations about the locations chosen:
  • They're in fairly obscure locations in the sense of not being anywhere near huge centres of population. I think the idea is probably to avoid having hordes descending on them.
  • Some of them are huge! This leads to big issues related to dealing with a lot of landscape
  • Did anybody else notice how four of the locations involved water? That was odd.
  • The other preference seems to involve massive architecture of one form or another.
  • This year they really upped the ante for the semi-final and Final - with two HUGE views

Carl Knibb (Heat 1 winner) was not afraid of the monumental - there again he has painted a cathedral in the past!

God forbid the pod artists should actually just get to paint a pleasant view involving some rolling hills, trees and meadows!

What's it going to be like?

Save yourself some guesswork and research the location. Once you're told where to go/assemble
  • check out the location on Google Maps - you can get a lot of insight by zooming in on Google Maps and looking at the satellite version
  • work out the compass points - i.e. where is the sun coming from in the morning and how does this change in the afternoon. It helps with sussing out what might be the best views
  • if you are near water, check the tide tables for that location on the day of the heat - and you'll know when the tide is at its highest and lowest
  • check out Google and see what it has to say are the key features of the area / venue
Jen Gash did her research beforehand and knew a massive container ship was due to arrive at 3pm!

Choosing what to paint

Your choice of what to paint (i.e. how to edit) is critical. It became very apparent as the series progressed that one of the really critical choices for any of the artists was in choosing what aspect of the landscape to use for your artwork. This needs to:
  • enable you to demonstrate your talent and skill
  • be a view that could be finished in the four hours they have to paint.

Brian Ramsey - nice chap on screen and nice chap when you meet him - and boy could he edit!
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

Just because you're looking at it doesn't mean you have to paint it.
What was interesting was that the LAOTY 2018 Final had three artists who had ALL chosen NOT to paint the view they were presented with in their Heats!
  • Greg Mason was at Studbury Royal (where I gather there was something of a pod artists' revolt given the dire prospect from where the pods were located - which is why we saw some of them walking some distance from the subject) and he took photos of other parts of the garden for his Heat painting
  • Jen Gash was at Broadstairs and painted the back of the beach - with no people
  • Allan Martin was at Inveraray Castle - and completely ignored the castle - and then completely ignored Felixstowe Docks and the view from the top of the hill at Greenwich too!
The reason artists are in pods is for the benefit of the camera crew - which means the pod artists don't generally get as much latitude as to what they paint as the wildcard artists. However that doesn't mean to say you can't stretch the limits of what is feasible.

Lesson for the pod planters: give the artists a choice of views!!

The Heats Process

The time limit

submission and Heat 1 painting by Haidee-Jo Summers - an experienced plein air painter

You can always tell which are the seasoned plein air painters as they can produce a painting within the four hours allowed - and not be thrown by the change in light/weather.
  • The seasoned plein air artist inspects the weather forecast so know whether any sun is likely to last - and knows what they need to do at the outset if the weather or light is likely to change later on from very sunny to cloudy and produce a watercolour sketch or take a photo to record where the shadows were.
  • Those who have been painting plein air for ages also know how to choose a size and a subject that they can finish within the four hours
  • Plein air painters who can draw out a good composition on their support will always win out - and gets awards and sell their paintings - over those who just do a representation of a scene without exercising their minds too much about composition!
In other words, this competition is very much NOT for the plein air painter who usually finishes their plein air painting off in their own time in their studio at home!

  • You do NOT get four hours of uninterrupted painting. You are interrupted on a regular basis to be interviewed and/or filmed and so you have to be capable of finishing a painting in (say) three hours to stand a good chance of doing your best work. Think about this when choosing the size of painting to make!
  • If you want to enter practice producing - and completing - lots of plein air paintings beforehand within 3 hours. This then allows time for being interrupted, interviewed and filmed during the four allowed for the painting.
  • Take supports with you that you know you can complete in four hours
Greg Mason told me he spent a lot of time prior to the Heat in producing plein air paintings to a defined time - because he's actually more used to painting figures.  It meant he was a lot more confident in the heat about actually being able to paint to the time limit.

Lack of preparedness and planning for plein air painting

Over the course of the series it became only too clear that many participants had:
  • no strategy for the day
  • no prior preparation 
  • absolutely no idea about what plein air painting can be like
  • no plan of how to complete a painting or artwork in four hours (or less!), 
  • not read about how the heats work
  • not a clue about what they were doing as they'd never ever painted 'plein air' before
Also the fact that the tide comes in and the water level changes relative to the background and the sun moves and goes behind clouds and the light changes seems to have been bit of a surprise for a few....

TIP: Have a PLAN!
  • work out what you will record at the beginning - to help completion as both weather and light changes over time
  • think about how you will edit/crop what you can see to make it 
    • manageable AND 
    • a good composition which draws the eye in (you can practice mental cropping everywhere you go - it's great fun!) AND 
    • achievable in the time period.
  • know what to do to slow down or speed up the rate at which paint dries in different conditions and/or you work so you can keep working without mishaps and stay on track with the timeline
TIP: develop skills in painting alla prima BEFORE you get to the venue!
I say this every time I write about art competitions involving plein air painting! The major benefit is you'll work out:
  • develop the experience to call on which tells you how best to use your time, crop your image, choose your palette etc etc etc.
  • what you need to be comfortable and warm/cool
  • how media misbehaves as the temperature changes
  • how much you can get done in a defined time period
Using a sketchbook first is extremely helpful for working out what works and what is possible.

TIPS for the programme makers
From the programme viewers' perspective it would be really great if the application form for the competition asked THREE FUNDAMENTAL questions - the answers to which should always count for more than any interesting backstory:
  • Have you ever painted plein air before?
  • Can you complete an artwork while working plein air in four hours?
  • What's the URL where we can see your other landscape paintings?
If the application form demonstrated an interest in plein air painting, I very much suspect the programme might then attract rather more plein air painters than they do at present.

Arrive on time

There's the little matter which doesn't get much mention of a REALLY EARLY START!

  • you have to be on site at the meet-up point at 7.15am (so if you're travelling any distance this needs to be the day before or a very very very early start!)
  • the Heat actually starts at 9am for the wild card painters
The Pod Artists seem to start even earlier - all artists have to be "on set" by 7am!
From start to finish in painting terms is about six hours with breaks from filming for camera pieces and interviews. Brian Ramsey

Dress - and paint - for all weathers

Wild card artists being drenched at Loch Fyne

The series this year took place during a heat wave - except it didn't quite work out like that at some of the locations and some artists had dressed for a heat wave and then found they were very cold and/or absolutely drenched.

This series had the hottest day of the year at Felixstowe, lots of sun and sea breezes at Broadstairs, huge winds on the coast at Viking Bay, no views because of the mist and then steady rain at Loch Fyne and just plain grey days.

Experienced plein air painters know about dressing for plein air painting in all weathers. Those less experienced might very well get caught out.
  • do have a waterproof of some sort. All in one bicycle capes work better than umbrellas when it's windy
  • do have something warm to put on if it gets cold. 
  • if you have brought somebody with you, they can do the fetch and carrying of whatever you need!
Plus don't forget
  • watercolour and acrylics dry really fast in very hot weather
  • watercolour runs if it gets rained on
  • easels fall over in the wind!
  • bring your own food and drink. A thermos might come in handy!

The Challenge Process

Just as I don't think anybody would underestimate the importance of the submission, I don't think anybody should underestimate the importance of the Challenge Painting - and really getting to grips with the brief given by the Judges.

Brighton Pier by Jenn Gash
Winner of Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2018

What it's really really like - according to the contestants!

Those who have ever been filmed for television (like me!) will know that what happens on the day and what you actually see on the television are two very different things. Not least because something like 90% of the filming does not survive the edit!

The only people who will tell you the honest truth about what it's really like are those who were there and who experienced it - and even then there's probably a bit of "editing".

I can't do any better in telling you what it was like than to list the blog posts / articles / interviews written by the various pod artists and wildcard artists since the Heats. If I've missed any do please let me know and I'll add them in.

I found reading the blog posts by both pod artists and wild cards to be really educational and I cannot do any better than HIGHLY RECOMMEND that those wanting to take part in 2019 get a hot mug of whatever they fancy and sit down and read their way through the blog posts etc below.

I guarantee you'll learn a lot!










The Exhibition

The Sky Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 Exhibition is currently at the Mayfair branch of Clarendon Fine Art Gallery in Dover Street London between 7th - 15th December 2018 (near Green Park Tube) - see my blog post Exhibition - Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 for more details

The semi-finalists with gallery staff at the Private View
for the LAOTY 2018 Exhibition at the Clarendon Gallery
THE Clarendon Gallery have made a Flipbook about the Exhibition - Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 - and in that you can read about what the artists have to say about their art

In the 2019, the Exhibition will partner with the Whitewalls Gallery and tour as follows:
  • Whitewall Lichfield 5th - 6th Jan
  • Whitewall Manchester 19th - 20th Jan
  • Whitewall Leeds 26th - 27th Jan
  • Whitewall Birmingham 2nd - 3rd Feb
  • Whitewall Newcastle 9th - 10th Feb
  • Whitewall Milton Keynes 16th- 17th Feb
  • Whitewall Guildford 23rd- 24th Feb

More about Landscape Artist of the Year on MAM


Exhibition - Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2018

The main learning point for me were
  • how demanding the location can be for a final
  • the importance of the Challenge Paintings (i.e. it's not just about the Heat Painting)
  • the fact that the Judges went back over ALL the paintings produced by the contestants during the ENTIRE COMPETITION in reaching their decision.

Review: Semi-Finals of Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 - Felixstowe Docks

  • the heat; the view; the wind; 
  • the interruptions from the camera crew, judges and presenters 
  • - and moving ships which obliterate the scene!

Review: Episode 6 of Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 - Inveraray Castle

The themes this week are:
  • Disney versus Dreich: a Scottish colour palette and flat light (a.k.a. or what to do when you can only see grey like Tai!)
  • How to stand out from the crowd - and avoid painting the obvious
  • Atmosphere versus Detail
  • The interesting technique tip
Review: Episode 5 of Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 - Broadstairs BeachThe themes this week are:
  • People in a landscape
  • Editing a complex scene / landscape
  • Of the now or of the past?
  • What you submit might be what you get
  • The importance of being true to YOU!
Review: Episode 4 of Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 at Studley Royal Water GardenLearning Points and themes were
  • be different
  • get out of your pod
  • what to do when you don't know what to do
  • visual trickery
  • when is a landscape a landscape

Review: Episode 3 of Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 at Loch Fyne (Loch Fyne, Scotland)

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

Review: Episode 2 of Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 (Viking Bay, Kent)

Learning points included:
  • Save yourself some guesswork and research the location
  • Practice painting plein air
  • Practice completing a painting in four hours - in changing weather
  • Have a PLAN!

Review: Episode 1 of Landscape Artist of the Year (Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire)

  • the importance of the submission piece
  • why experienced plein air painters can paint to a deadline

Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 starts tonight (October 2018)

Heats of Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 (June 2018)

Frank has gone and Sky still wants more Landscape Artists (April 2018)

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