Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Review: Episode 1 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2019

I'm going to continue my habit of reviewing the episodes of Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2019 and providing a commentary on each as I did last year (see the end)

This time it's going to be rather more difficult because I already know which artists made the final - because I was there in the large gallery at the National Portrait Gallery where they filmed it back in June last year.

YET AGAIN No name credits for the artists

Before I start I just want to note AGAIN that the people at the core of each programme - the artists - who really make it happen do NOT have any name credit at the end of the programme.  This is just plain WRONG.  Everybody else is completely superfluous without the artists!

It repeats what happened with the broadcast of the first episode of the Arts and Crafts House on BBC - until I said how disrespectful and unprofessional this is of the programme makers (see The Artisans without a credit on Arts and Crafts House)
I'm pretty tired of seeing the various television companies make programmes involving people who have expertise without any credit whatsoever.
They don't need to include their websites and be accused of advertising.
However they do however need to respect them as adult human beings with skills and talents and NAME THEM - with surnames!
.....and then the artists tackled the programme makers about this - and by the second episode they had their "name" credits on the programme!

Like Arts and Crafts House, this programme includes professional artists who are a core part of the programme - not just an invited guest.

I'm just dropping a heavy hint. I so wish I didn't have to!  So artists - it's now up to you.....
  • If the BBC can make the change then so can Sky Arts!  
  • The route to action is via the company making the programme (as they need to change the credits). Portrait Artist of the Year is produced by London and Glasgow-based independent production company Storyvault Films


At some point during Series 5, the website for Portrait Artist of the Year acquired profiles for each of of the artist in the series (see - with
  • correctly spelt names (no more guessing),
  • links to their websites and
  • a speeded up video of the overhead camera which records how they paint their portrait
I'm not saying this was a result of the above comment - but I'm guessing it might have helped! ;)  (as indeed my intervention did with the accreditation of all the artists on Arts and Crafts House - see me highlighting the issues of the lack of credits in Episode 1 and  what happened before Episode 2 was broadcast).

The Victorian House of Arts and Crafts - Episode 1

and the result in ]

About Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year

The Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year competition ranks alongside the other prestigious UK Art Competitions covered by this blog.

That's because the artists are competing to win a £10,000 commission to paint Sir Tom Jones (the famous singer and all round British icon) for the Museum of Wales.

For reference - for those interested in being part of this competition in future
There are three well known sitters for each heat.

The portrait paintings are judged by a 'heavyweight panel'. They are the same as for previous series:
  • award-winning portrait painter Tai Shan Schierenberg
  • independent curator and Chair of the Board of the Liverpool Biennial Kathleen Soriano (who also used to be the Head of Exhibitions & Collection at the National Portrait Gallery and Director of Exhibitions at the RA) and
  • British art historian, curator and arts broadcaster Kate Bryan.

The Artists, Self-portraits and Sitters

Those selected for the Heats came from nearly 2,000 applicants.
  • Eight heats and 9 artists per heat means 72 artists were selected 
  • giving a likely success rate of applicants of 3.6%
The set - with Andi Oliver and the yellow wall on the left and Geraldine James and Pointillism on the right

We had major debates about the designation of artists during Landscape Artist of the Year.

It turns out this is entirely down to the self-designation by the artist and is not verified in any way.  Which is why very experienced artists who have sold over the years designate themselves as amateurs if their main income comes from another job. Also why students and new graduates who aspire to be professional artists but have very little experience and even less career success designate themselves as professionals.

However there is no question that the artists are a mix of those with professional level skills while others are less proficient.

The reality at the end of the four hours is that the painting speaks for itself.PLEASE NOTE - as always:
  • a link to the artist's website is embedded in their name - just click the link to see the rest of their artwork (which is why I advise all artists appearing on such shows to make sure their websites have been updated and licked into shape as I will be looking for their websites!)
  • Links to their social media accounts are also provided where I can find them. Mainly because of them not getting proper credits in the programme!
  • I'm very happy to correct any errors of spelling or links ASAP if notified which you can do via the email on this contact page or via the post about this episode on my Making A Mark Facebook Page

The Professional Artists

The four professional artists were - in alphabetical order:
  • Geoff Harrison (Portraits websiteFacebook | Instagram | Twitter) - Stockport man (which greatly appealed to Stockport woman Joan Bakewell! Undergraduate degree in Fine Art Printmaking from the School of Art in Hull; lived in Japan for several years but now lives in London. He did an MA Japanese Studies at SOAS in 2009. Involved with anatomical painting and illustration and medical arts. Has had two residencies: Artist in Residence at Barts Pathology Museum at St. Bart's Hospital + Leverhulme residency at The Royal Veterinary College (see his paintings) He has also been shortlisted for the Royal Society of Portrait Painters' Bulldog Bursary and long-listed for the BP Portrait Award. He produces portraits on commission.
  • Yevhen Nahirnyy (Facebook not a Page | ) age 19 but already taking commissions. One of the young artists taking part in the ‘In The Studio’ program with the Mall Galleries.
  • Dorian Radu  (Facebook | Instagram | Twitter) He has over 10 years of experience as a professional artis and has work selected for ROI exhibitions. He worn the he L. Cornelissen & Son Prize at the ROI 2017.
  • Chris Williams (FacebookInstagram | Twitter) a professional artist from Shropshire with a studio base in Hereford. She also paints landscapes and competed in Landscape Artist of the Year 2017 (the one with the big bridge). She exhibits about half a dozen times every year and is a regular exhibitor with the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists.

The Amateur Artists

The five amateur artists were:
  • Sophia Campbell (Facebook | Instagram | Twitter) Fine Art student at Belfast School of Art. See local press - Antrim woman Sophia Campbell's brush with fame on Sky's Portrait Artist Of The Year
  • Kelly Frank (Facebook | Instagram ) Described as a passionate amateur artist who made it to the Heats of 2018 PAOTY and painted Michaela Coel (the David Tennant episode). Her self portrait was exhibited as part of the Royal Ulster Academy Annual exhibition in 2018. Last year she also has a portrait painting in the Society of Women Artists Annual Exhibition.  She also participated in the 
Reoccurring in many of her paintings is the omittance of an eye, as described in the ancient proverb, ‘The eyes are the windows into the soul’. This phrase is crucial to her mentality as she grabbles to read and interpret her subjects. In her words, ‘People are a process, in which they slowly reveal and hide themselves’.
  • Suzon Lagarde (Facebook | Instagram | Twitter) Suzin is French but now lives in London while she studies at two independent art schools in London. She’s currently on a Portraiture Diploma at the Art Academy near London Bridge, after having studied 3D modeling for video games in France.  She's also taken classes at The Heatherley School Of Fine Art.  This is an interview with Suzon Lagarde
  • Mike Tucker (Saatchi | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter) Fine Art graduate Aberystwyth University (BA) 2011 - 2014 Coleg Harlech (Foundation) 2010 - 2011. Lives in Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire and works in admin in the Prison Service. Uses Corpse Apple as his brand name.
  • Eric Whitehead (Instagram) Studying a Foundation Course at London Fine Art Studios. Had never painted anybody from life before and had only ever done drawings from photos. Unsurprisingly he used his phone camera in the Heat.

Survey of the Self Portraits on 'The Wall'

For me the self-portraits fell into two groups.

Group 1 - reflective, well observed and very well painted. 

  • Geoff Harrison's Self portrait as Father was produced in gouache on a gesso panel and was excellent. Apparently it took 40 hours to produce. He recently became a father and it apparently reflects the feeling Geoff had when looking up at his father when he was small.
  • Suzon Lagarde's self-portrait has a curious arrangement of hands. The placement is deliberate and when you look more closely it's apparent that she has a condition which has shortened her fingers. However the paintings speak of her self-confidence in dealing with her disability - and her brushwork suggests she has no problems with painting well. The muddy colours were less appealing. 
  • Chris Williams seemed to be painting somebody else. Her eyes do not engage and the paint is sensitively applied both in terms of brushwork, tone and colour. 

Group 2: well painted and prompted questions.

  • Sophia's painting has a very well painted head and upper torso on a large canvas with n overall impression of pink. One wonders why...
  • Kelly Frank's self-portrait lacks and eye and parts are unfinished i.e. you can see the pencil marks but not attempt has been made to paint over them
  • Yevhen's portrait was arresting. The pose was very unusual but effectively painted - but I didn't understand the blood on his face and there wasn't any explanation of it either.  Apparently he likes to have a narrative underpin his work.
  • Mike Tucker's self-portrait was the result of a dream and has a very weird yellow background (and so he got a very yellow background to paint in the heat). His head is hung down so we can't see his eyes
  • Eric Whitehead's painting speaks of spirit and glamour and there's a question mark over which sex we are looking at. 

The Sitters

The three sitters for the first Heat were
  • television and film actor Matthew Goode (Downton Abbey, Brideshead Revisited etc plus he plays Antony Armstrong-Jones in The Crown)
  • stage, TV and film actress Geraldine James (who I always associate with Jewel in the Crown and Gandhi) and
  • Andi Oliver (Saturday Kitchen host and one of the three Judges of Great British Menu etc).

One of the interesting aspects of this programme is trying to work out why sitters chose to dress as they did. One looked as though they were ready for a day at the office, one was very much dressed for comfort and the third needs advice on how to find a bigger dress size. As a larger lady myself I love wearing (comfortable) larger sizes and emphatically not a fan of anybody who squashes and squeezes into a dress at least three sizes too small - especially when it's cut low in front!!!

For those interested in sitters, I understand the future sitters will be
  • Episode 2: David Gandy; Anne Reid and Ashley Walters; 
  • Episode 3: Jodie Kidd; James Purefoy and Eddie Hall; 
  • Episode 4: Anne Chancellor; Stephen Graham and Beverley Knight; 
  • Episode 5: Georgina Campbell; Mark Gatiss and Tanni Grey Thompson; 
  • Episode 6: Sophie Ellis Bextor; Adrian Lester; Nitin Sawhney; 
  • Episode 7: Angela Griffin; Gina McKee, Jamael Westman, and 
  • Episode 8: Jodie Comer, Daniel Lismore and Nick Moran.

Discussions and Observations

For the most part observations are around themes within the series as a whole as opposed to specifically referencing any one sitter(s) in this Heat.

The importance of the self portrait

Self portrait as father by Geoff Harrison
gouache on gesso
60cm x 46cm
Every year we see people saying "That decision was a mistake - xyz should have won that heat!". I've come to the conclusion that most of the people who wail about the decision-making have not always paid a lot of attention to the rules.

This is a competition where the Judges look backwards as well as at the current painting done in the heat, semi-final or final.

It's NOT just a decision made on the Heat Painting alone (or the Final Painting for that matter). Decisions seem to be made on a body of work - as seen by the Judges.

Which means every episode winner brings half their decision-making power with them - in the form of their self-portrait. That self portrait is the best indicator the Judges have about the ability of an artist to deliver a good commission portrait - one that does NOT require the portrait to be completed in no more than four hours.

Face detail in Self Portrait as Father by Geoff Harrison
At least two of the shortlisted three artists got through on the strength of their self-portraits - both of which were very impressive and extremely well painted.  They both showed evidence of experience, expertise and good judgement.  For me Geoff Harrison's was very much a BP Portrait standard painting.

By the same token, what were on first view impressive self-portraits fell away when the Heat Portrait failed to measure up to the self portrait - and indeed in some instances didn't even look as if it had been painted by the same person.

What one could clearly see in the shortlisted artists was a clear evidence trail from self portrait to heat portrait of their way of seeing and their way of working.

Bottom line - look at the self portrait next to the Heat Portrait and it starts to become simple to see who makes the shortlist.

The margin of difference

What happens when artists are 'on a par' as appeared to happen in this episode? It makes it much more difficult for the Judges to see who should be set above the others.

How do you judge who's doing better than the rest?

This is how I do it:
  • Can the artist draw? Do they need a tablet or phone to draw basic head shapes?
  • Did s/he plan or make studies - or did s/he plunge straight in?
  • Can the artist see the tonal value pattern? Notwithstanding they are painting in a atrium and the light changes all the time!
  • Do they move from large shapes to fine detail over time? Or are they anxious to put finishing touches in at the beginning? 
  • Does the artist understand perspective in portraiture? Or do they struggle with get relative sizes of different shapes?
  • Can s/he see colour?  Do they understand the relationship between different hues? Or do they use paints straight from the tube?
  • Can the artist mix colour? Or do they mix mud?
  • Is the artist a master of their chosen medium? (Or are they making basic mistakes?)
  • Does the artist know which brush to use in different contexts? Or do they use the same size brush for everything?
  • Does the artist paint the sitter? Or do they reveal themselves - again? The latter happens when their subconscious paints what they know best and not what's in front of them!
  • Has s/he achieved a likeness?  Has s/he nearly achieved a likeness? (eg if you put fingers over one part of the portrait is the rest convincing?)
  • Has s/he told the truth and resisted affectations?
  • Does the portrait have a sense of the artist's style?  Does it relate to the earlier self-portrait?
  • Is it a portrait or is it an illustration?
  • Has the artist been original?

Try watching again and see if you can spot the points at which I started longlisting some while mentally removing certain of the contestants from contention.

By the way, I'm not certain but I don't think was the ACTUAL first heat. I think this heat demonstrated very clearly that sometimes it's really not a clear cut call - and that's not a bad message for the first episode. That's why I think this heat was broadcast first.

Not so many tablets and smartphones

A friend of mine messaged me to say she didn't notice the use of tablets and smartphones to paint from. Artists appeared to be painting more from life.

I have two theories about this.
  • EITHER The production company is editing out shots which involve people looking at their tablet or smartphone - on the basis of some of the cryptic comments by sitters in the last programme about artists who spent their time staring at their technology rather than looking at the sitter (i.e. the sitter could have got up and walked away and the artists wouldn't have noticed!)
  • OR Artists have been told to paint from life and only to use a tablet or smartphone to help re detail (because they're actually a lot further away that many might usually work when painting a head - and too far away to see the detail!)

Then I saw the timelapse video of Sophia Campbell's painting and realised that she had her phone in her hand for most of the time she was painting.  So I started leaning towards the first theory.

Then I saw the time lapse videos (see below) and now I'm leaning towards the second theory.

Anybody else got views on this? (Comments on via my Facebook Page please)

The Halfway Review

Time-lapse painting on Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2019

For the record I've found the website of the people who do the time lapse videos. Below are the links to all the time lapse videos for every artist in this episode which means that even if you can't view the programme you can at least see a bit more about what's happening during the course of the programme.

Here are LINKS to ALL the time lapse videos (on Vimeo) in alphabetical order of surname

  • Sophia Campbell - right handed, paints with her phone in her left hand almost all the time (not untypical of those who lack experience of drawing from life)
  • Kelly Frank - right handed, mainly observation, some use of phone
  • Geoff Harrison - Right handed and develops and the only artist who drew the sitter first - to learn how his head was constructed - and then developed a grisaille to get the tones right before commencing colour

"If I dive straight into painting, I tend to make mistakes"
  • Suzon Lagarde - left-handed; paints from observation - the one I enjoy watching most
  • Yevhen Nahirnyy - left-handed; paints from observation
  • Dorian Radu - left handed, fascinating process - well worth watching. For me the start was brilliant - but the painting became over-worked over time. I think if he'd left it alone after lunch he would have been in contention
  • Mike Tucker (Turner?)
  • Eric Whitehead - right handed, clear understanding of relative anatomical relationships of features of the face; paints from observation and phone
  • Chris Williams - right handed, paints from observation - and she had the drawing RIGHT at the beginning!

Decision Time

Sitters choose portrait to take home

I wasn't a fan of any of the paintings produced by the painters painting Andi Oliver. There again I thought they had by far the most difficult subject and challenging background in terms of colour.  That yellow would have hurt my eyes if I'd have had to stare at it for four hours and it would have been very easy to decide to focus on the head alone given what else was going on torso wise.

The thing about people with a dark skin is it's emphatically not brown (or 'black'). It is full of the most gorgeous colours which are just waiting to be brought out. Given Andi is bald they had even more skin to paint. There again if you've never painted somebody who is "non-white" before it can be a bit of a challenge.

Andi Oliver chose the portrait by Sophia Campbell - which was the one which found the most colour in her skin and was also the brightest.

Geraldine James chose what I thought was by far the best portrait on the day - by Suzon Lagarde. To me it was not only well painted but seemed sympathetic to the sitter.

For me the other two paintings seemed to me to be far too much about the painter trying to deliver his/her style ("I always like to leave out the eye") rather than connecting with the sitter and creating something which did more than capture a likeness.

Matthew Goode chose the portrait by Geoff Harrison

Judges choose shortlist of three

The Heat Participants - waiting for the final three shortlist announcement

The Judges chose:
  • Suzon Lagarde (second from right)
  • Chris Williams (second from left)
  • Geoff Harrison (fourth from left)
It would have been my shortlist too - although I wavered over the enormous chin in one portrait - until reminded of the self portrait.

The lineup of the shortlisted artists' work - the self-portrait and the heat portrait
These are the lineup of shortlisted artists' self-portraits and heat portraits. Remember my earlier comments about the connection between the self-portrait and the Heat Portrait?

Self Portrait and portrait of Matthew Goode by Chris Williams

Self Portrait and portrait of Geraldine James by Suzon Lagarde

Self Portrait as Father and Matthew Goode by Geoff Harrison

Below are things the Judges mentioned at various points in the programme and which they took into account when judging ALL the portraits.

The artist is highlighted if one of the three and not if not selected.

Things the judges liked:
  • the fact that Geoff Harrison produced a really excellent self-portrait (in 40 hours) - but knew how to shift a gear and adapt his style to produce a heat portrait in less than 4 hours.
  • Chris William's self portrait was sensitive and well observed.  There was a sense of her looking at herself as another person in her self portrait as the eyes weren't engaging.  This resolved into a very considered application of colour and paint. This was echoed in her portrait of Matthew Goode - however it was clearly wrong in terms of dimensions of the lower half of his face
  • Suzon Lagarde's self portrait demonstrated that she was unapologetic about her disability and was using it as part of her identity. Her use of colour in her heat portrait was much admired as was her ability to capture Geraldine's likeness right from the start.
  • self-portraits which had an open-ended narrative and prompted questions perked their interest
  • they admired artists who could paint fabric and texture
  • paintings which are resolved rather than unfinished through lack of time
  • paintings with a good use of colour and light/luminosity
  • artists who apply paint well
  • artists who are not a 'one trick pony'
Things the judges were less keen on:
  • poor drawing
  • thin application of paint
  • paintings which became boring
  • caricatures and illustrations

Episode 1 Winner

In deciding the winner the Judges take BOTH portraits into account.
First the line up of three waiting to hear the judgement.

The shortlist waiting to hear the final decision about the Heat Winner

The Judges decided that the Heat Winner was Geoff Harrison.

The consensus on Twitter was that the winner should have been Suzon Lagarde - and I have every sympathy with that perspective - but see my comment about the importance of the self -portrait above.

The final painting of Matthew Goode by Geoff Harrison

This is how it was painted - using a time lapse camera

GEOFF HARRISON - time-lapse painting on Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2019 from N9 Design on Vimeo.


Here's the timelapse painting done by Suzon Lagarde - who I think we'll be seeing again in Portrait Artist of the Year in a future year.

SUZON LAGARDE - time-lapse painting on Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2019 from N9 Design on Vimeo.

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More Learning Points re. Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year

PLUS below are my blog posts from last year which contains lots of learning points about painting in this competition for those aspiring to compete this year.

How to enter PAOTY 2020 and how to watch if you don't have Sky

Learning Points re the 2018 Competition

Below are my PREVIOUS blog posts about the 2018 competition and my reviews of the heats, semi-finals and final - in which I comment on specific aspects for aspiring future contestants!

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