Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Review: Episode 3 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2019

I was impressed by a lot of the self-portraits of artists participating in Episode 3 of Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2019

I'm guessing it was unclear to others as well as me who was going to win the Heat. Unlike previous episodes where the shortlist could more or less be identified by how much camera time each artist got, this time it seemed the cameraman and/or Editor got somewhat distracted.

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I'm not going to repeat what I've said in other reviews of this series other than this post includes:
  • a list of the professional and amateur artists participating in Episode 3 of the series
  • my commentary on themes which I spotted
  • who got shortlisted
  • who won the Heat and goes through to the Semi-Finals.
  • More about the competition and the judges in my first blog post - listed at the end.
The winner of the competition is commissioned to paint Tom Jones for the Museum of Wales.


The Artists, Self-portraits and Sitters


You will find links to:
  • the artist's website - embedded in their name - click the link to see more of their artwork
  • artists' social media accounts if I can find them online.
  • the speeded up time lapse video of each artist working on their portrait 
Please contact me (see side column or via Facebook Page) re. any inadvertent errors of spelling or links ASAP

The Professional Artists


The six professional artists were:
  • Phillip Butah (Facebook | Twitter) - video - He doesn't like looking at eyes. Has painted Prince Charles - because he asked.
  • Libby Fellingham (Facebook | Twitter) - video - trained as an architect with a First Class Degree at the Bartlett School, UCL and Diploma at Cambridge University. Based in Sussex. Tends to work with a palette knife from photos to produce portrait commissions of people, dogs and horses. 
  • Milo Hartnoll (Twitter | Instagram) - video - a painter currently living and working in Brighton. Studied Illustration at The University of Brighton, graduating in 2013.  The internet (but not the programme) suggests that in 2013 he was a finalist in Sky Arts TV Portrait Artist of the Year. He apparently does livestream painting on Instagram - which puzzled me given the speed with which he painted in the heat.
Milo is a figurative painter who mixes classical and modern techniques. His work is process driven, searching for progression through a balance of control and chance.
  • Mario Ramirez - video - an art history graduate from Seville. I could not find him on the Internet
  • Michael Sheppard (Facebook | Instagram) - video - Graduated with a Fine Art Painting and Drawing degree from Northampton University in 2017 and subsequently an MA at Nottingham Trent University. He has autism and works in pen and ink and just switches off when he draws. Uses mj the art traveller as his brand name. I found this good interview with him
“I left university a much better artist,” he said. “The course gave me confidence in my ability. I was taught all the different ways and styles of drawing. We had lots of life drawing classes, workshops and studio time with our tutors and I was surprised to see what I was capable of creating.
  • Robbie Stuart (Facebook | LinkedIn) - video - Graduated in 1993 from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art Dundee with a BA (hons), Fine Art. Based in Walthamstow. Paints commissions and does arts and crafts workshops with adults and children.

The Amateur Artists


  • Sara Lavelle (Twitter | Instagram) - video - Foundation Diploma in Art and Design (Distinction) at Falmouth University and then went on to study Illustration BA (Hons) at the University of Brighton. As a final year graduate she had only recently taken up painting. Now based in London.
Drawing upon a deep fascination with human psychology, philosophy and spirituality, my work has a predominant focus on portrait painting and figuration. I move freely between commissioned pieces and self initiated projects.
  • Megan McMullan (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram) - video - born in Leicester in 1989, she studied at De Montfort university where she achieved a first class honours in her fine art degree and also gaining a masters the year after.  Works shifts as a porter - which she finds mixes works really well with the long drying time of oils(!) - and stars in a brilliant video made by Leicester University - see below
  • Sile Walsh (Facebook) - video - Born in Dublin and now based in Tramore in Waterford, Ireland. She's painted the long distance sea swimmers of that part of Ireland. Has always drawn and has attended life drawing classes for many years. Portraiture is very new to her. This is a radio interview with her about her experience



The Self Portrait Review


I do wish they'd give us a much clearer view of all the self-portraits together. One gets a much better sense of who is the good painter. We need to see them from further away. I know the problems they have with the space - but they managed it in the last series but not in this one for some reason.

On the whole the impression gained from the self-portraits was that this was a strong set of painters - with some who displayed some 'quirky' approaches to portrait painting.

They all liked Megan's self-portrait - an artist painting herself as an artist. Sara's was much admired also - as was Libby's.

I had high hopes of Robbie Stuart and Mario Ramirez based on their self-portraits - however in the end there was an inconsistency between the self-portrait and the portrait painted in the heat.


The Sitters


The three sitters were:
  • Eddie Hall - former professional strongman who is the world record deadlift holder and who won the World's Strongest Man 2017 competition
  • Jodie Kidd - fashion model, race car driver, and television personality
  • James Purefoy - an actor - and the most portrait sitter who moved least ever!

Discussions and Observations




A lot of art school degrees

Initial impressions were that this was a strong round in terms of the artists - and that's maybe because of the number of degrees in art and/or illustration that the artists had.

I am still very very confused by how they describe themselves in terms of professional and amateur - and if I'm confused I cannot begin to think what the ordinary viewer thinks.  It was interesting that two "amateurs" made it to the shortlist in the end.

Speed of painting


I am being amazed in the series this year by the variation in speed exhibited by different artists given they all know they have a maximum of four hours in which to complete a portrait.
  • some start really fast and continue to progress quickly
  • some start fast and need to finish sooner rather than later
  • other start slowly - and then seem to get slower as the time passes
  • others start slowly and then bring it together in the last 30-40 minutes
As one pointed out, given the time limit, the artists need some stress to get them going and make progress.

Talking about art


I generally love the chats with the artists. With most you get a clear sense of who they are very fast. However, I'm very inclined to say that some artists should practice talking about their art with a critical friend before they come to a Heat.

There was one artist in this Heat who kept "performing" to the point of almost going off into artspeak. I didn't know how much of it was real and how much was nerves and how much was for effect or both! I'm sure it's a phenomenon experienced by many people - and one where real nervousness can be reduced through a little bit of practice. I'm afraid as soon as I heard the 'artspeak' that I knew this particular artist wouldn't be going any further. However a little practice beforehand and a critique by a well-informed peer might well have made a big difference.

Spinning your brush however is not something calculated to impress me - I prefer people who know how to use them to paint features!

The video perspective


Some of the overhead videos provide an overwhelmingly distorted view of the portrait - quite alarmingly so in the case of one of the painters who was painting a big man who suddenly seemed to have very slim forearms!  I don't know what the solution to this is - other than that the cameras which were more off to one side seemed to provide a much better perspective on how a painting progressed.

Overwhelmingly Pink


I'm still not taken with the themed backgrounds - especially when we get comments to the effect that this week is about 'Pop Art' and of course barcodes were not around during the era of pop art - and the bubblegum pink was a comic book colour. I was under the impression that comic art was around for a long time prior to Pop Art and that there was a lot more to Pop Art than what we saw in this episode

One begins to wonder whether there's a team whose mission in life is to produce as distracting a background as possible.

Please Sky Arts - bin the backgrounds in April, stop embarrassing your Judges and treat the artists with more respect.


Decision Time


Sitters choose portrait to take home


The sitters chose as follows
  • Eddie Hall liked the portrait by Megan McMillan best. One of the comments about it was that it made him look more gentle - and he came across as a family man.
  • Jodie Kidd chose the portrait that would work best with the interior of her house. This was the one by Milo Harnell, He also managed to get her iPhone into the portrait which she used at times while sitting for the portrait. It was interesting that it made a much more human portrait.
  • James Purefoy chose the portrait by Libby Fellingham. I very much liked that one. 
A view of the shortlisting announcement

Episode 3 Participants
(left to right: Michael Sheppard, Mario Ramirez, Megan McMullan, Phillip Butah,
Robbie Stuart, Sara Lavelle, Sile Walsh, Milo Harnell, Libby Fellingham)

Things the Judges liked

  • eyes which are painted sensitively and well
  • capturing the likeness even if the portrait does not have a 'finish'
  • physical presence
  • spiritual presence 
  • emotional content
  • contemporary palette
  • colour creating character
  • a palette knife used with care
  • portraiture which is 'beautifully undone" (as opposed to incomplete)

Judges were less impressed with

  • portraits which tipped over into cartoony
  • leaving out essential parts of a face - like eyes - is a mistake
  • tentative painting
  • weedy painting
  • failure to correct errors in draughtsmanship
  • unfinished portraits

The Shortlist and Heat Winner



The Judges chose two "amateurs" and a professional who usually paints from photographs - listed here in alphabetical order:
  • Libby Fellingham 
  • Sara Lavelle
  • Megan McMullan
Unlike other episodes I didn't have a clear list of three before the end - however I certainly wouldn't disagree with this Judges Shortlist.
  • Libby just avoided doing too much and ruining her portrait by overworking it. I felt she should really have stopped well before the end of the Heat and would have had a better portrait.  Interestingly what got her through was that although the Judges sort of knew the animal had to be painted from a photograph, they were very impressed by how she could paint from life and achieve the same qualities in terms of likeness and 'interesting painting'
  • Sara's portrait had looked very monochrome for a long time but came together towards the end as she zapped up the colour and tightened up the painting
  • Megan's portrait got better and better and grew on me

Judges and presenters with the shortlisted portraits
As always - and I don't think I can repeat this enough - the self-portrait submitted in advance clearly played a part in the shortlisting and the artist chosen as winner.

Interestingly two of the artists - Megan and Sara - painted the two self-portraits which were both highlighted and complemented at the beginning of the self-portrait review.

Self Portrait and portrait of James Purefoy by Libby Willingham
I loved the portrait of the dog! Interestingly her self-portrait looks completely natural but it's possibly the dog that lost Libby the semi-final place.

Personally I think her portrait of James Purefoy was the best and I wasn't in the least bit surprised that he chose it.

Self Portrait and portrait of James Purefoy by Sara Lavalle

Sara confessed her self-portrait had only taken her three hours and "had just worked" - which Tai loved!  You could see he felt an empathy for who she was and how she worked.  It's certainly one of those portraits where you can't take your eyes off the face and eyes.

Sara's self portrait is also one of those used to advertise the Portrait Artist of the Year 2020. I totally get the Judges comment that the head looks luminous.

Self-portrait and portrait of Eddie Hall by Megan McMillan
I loved Megan's self-portrait - it's very much a portrait of an artist. I also liked her portrait of Eddie Hall which Eddie thought made him look both powerful and kind. The interesting thing is that when you look at her portraits compared to the other two, her's look much more substantial rounded grounded individuals - and that's a talent!

Episode 3 Winner


The Judges chose Sara Lavelle as the Heat Winner. Which is interesting because the Judges comments about it presented during the review of all the portraits were distinctly underwhelming - although they were a good deal more positive at the review of the short list stage.

It was chosen because they felt she displayed
  • an intriguing approach
  • potential
  • a wonderful lightness of touch
"I know she's going to take it to another level - she's just got it in her"Tai Shan Schierenberg

Closeup of Sara Lavelle's portrait of James Purefoy

I understand what Tai is talking about re. Sara's self-portrait but I think I might have been more inclined to go for Libby Fellingham.  Plus surely this is a competition about what has been achieved and not just what appears to be promised?



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.

Learning Points re the 2019 competition

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!

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


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