Friday, March 15, 2019

Review: Episode 5 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2019

I have no quibbles with the shortlist produced by Episode 5 of Portrait Artist of the Year.

The self portrait and heat portrait of the shortlisted artists from Episode 5 (2019)
Again we have an interesting mix of "amateur" painters and "professional" painters. I think I'm now understanding that those with another job say they are 'amateur'.

Five amateur artists

  • Rubertine Allen - video - an ex fashion model who works as a billing analyst for a company in Northampton. 
  • Laxmi Hussein (FacebookInstagram) - video - BA (Hons) Architecture from London Metropolitan University. Freelance Artist/Illustrator. Mother of two small sons. Not coming across as an amateur to me - but maybe says she is because of full time her day job. Likes working with W&M Blue Drawing Ink - a lot!
Laxmi’s distinctive style has attracted commissions for illustrations and artwork from a variety of commercial clients and individuals
  • Amelia Webster (Facebook | Instagram) - video - a Devon based artist, practicing in painting and portraiture. Graduated in Drawing, Painting and Printmaking at Plymouth College of Art in 2017 and has completed a foundation course in art therapy.  Currently an artist in residence with . disability charity - Hannahs at Seale Hayne in Devon. 
  • Henry Whaley - video - taught himself to paint last year while doing Art History at school.
  • Eve Pettitt (Instagram) - video - a yoga teacher from West London who paints as a silent and solitary experience. She trained at the Heatherley School of Fine Art and The Royal Drawing School. Predominantly a figurative painter, working directly from life, she exhibited at the 2017 annual exhibition of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and has a solid exhibition record.
Increasingly concerned with colours and their relationships, Eve explores what happens when two colours meet, how they dance side by side and what occurs at the borderline.

Four professional artists

  • Anastasia Shimshilashvili (Instagram | YouTube Channel) - video - Born in Moscow. MA in Fine Art, Surikov Academic Institute of Art, Moscow (2011). BA Monumental Art V.Surikov Moscow State Academy Art Institute (2009). Focuses a substantial amount of her time on teaching fine art, running a YouTube Art Channel, and recently publishing a 'self-teach' art book based on my teaching methods in Russia.
  • Graham Duddridge  - video - Studied Fine Art and Art History at Kent Institute of Art and Design, Aberystwyth School of Art and the The Art Academy London.
  • John Gledhill (Facebook | Twitter) - video - 1977-1980: Royal Academy Schools, London. (Awarded First Prize for Life Painting, 1978) Fine Artist at Kindred Studios
    Works at University of York. Regular exhibitor at the RA Summer Exhibition.
  • Catherine McDiarmid  (Facebook | Facebook (for her Art Classes)) - video - the only professional to announce herself as a Portrait Artist in the title of her site.  Winner of various awards. Previously appeared in Sky Portrait Artist of the Year 2014 and 2017 painting Ashley Jenson and Ross Kemp both of whom chose her Portrait of them to keep. This is her blog post about My experience on Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2019. She has two works in the RI Exhibition 3 – 18 April 2019

The Sitters


The sitters for this Heat were:
The theme of the day was rather more subdued this week (thank goodness!) and covered the Renaissance in terms of colours and techniques.

Discussions and Observations


Below are my observations on this week's Heat followed by the shortlist and why they got shortlisted and who won the Heat.

The self-portrait


This time I analysed the self-portraits to see if there is a pattern - and there is, of a sort.
  • 2 artists did "heads" only
  • 1 artist did the whole figure. I think Tai called it "fresh and crude"
  • 3 artists did Head and Upper Torso (no hands)
  • 3 artists did Head and Upper Torso - with hands.
I still maintain that if you show the Judges that you can do hands -,that don't look like sausages - you're in with a shout of getting selected. Hands are after all the nemesis of those who have finally mastered the mouth!

I'd certainly recommend an upper torso with hands for a self-portrait (or an "sp" as I've taken to recording them as when making notes).

How to get started? (What sort of approach to take?)


I made a list of all the different ways people started their work - and what they said they liked to do.
  • sketching - in a small sketchbook.  (I'd be inclined to go bigger so you can draw the ratio of  exactly how much space you have on your support and work the sketches to suit)
  • using a viewfinder - always a good one - especially when it's one with twine tied across to give you a gridded image
  • using an app on an iPad to record an image (for when the painting crew decide to stand in your line of view) - and then use the gridding facility on the app and another grid on the canvas to get a good translation of basic dimensions from screen to canvas
  • using photos as a reference
  • using a board which has been underpainted in a neutral mid tone to allow both darks and lights to show up
  • sketching the painting straight on to a wood board.
  • arriving with 20 pre-sharpened pencils if using graphite for a drawing
  • starting from an underpainting - and working fast while thinking what to do next!
The Heat Winner commented
"Preparation was key for me. I knew what to expect and I didn’t let it get on top of me. I went in to produce a ‘completed’ picture, where the background had been considered. I would encourage anyone who gets into this competition to prepare as much as you can. Then just enjoy it. It is an experience unlike any other."

How to spend the final hour?


Posed the commentator. Good question I thought - that'll do for one of my themes!

What was interesting in this Heat was that one poor man Graham - had to spend the entire last hour being watched by both of his fellow female artists in his segment of the pod. They'd both finished!
Three hours is more than enough for a traditional oil sketch. Four hours is too muchAnastasia
It was an extremely smart move by Anastasia as the only thing she could do was lose the freshness of her study as she tightened up edges and colours and punched in the colour and detail.

Portrait of Mark Gatiss by Anastasia Shimshilashvili

In general, the comments related to
  • the need to stop fiddling and start finishing
  • refine edges
  • sort out brush marks
  • focus on getting the overall colours right
  • complete the background
  • add colour notes
  • refine the highlighting 
and 
"it's too late to stress now!"

Why don't artists tell sitters what's in the picture?


Every episode we get the bit where the sitters discuss what it's like to be a sitter - and it's very obvious that this is not something they will be doing again in a hurry. I'm amazed at the extent they stick to their pose throughout - especially given the fact that most artists only do the head - and maybe some of the upper torso.

Decision Time


Sitters choose portrait to take home


The sitters chose as follows
  • Georgina Campbell chose Catherine's portrait
  • Tammy Grey-Thomson chose Eve's portrait
  • Mark Gatiss chose Anastasia's tondo portrait of him

The Artists(Left to right: Laxmi Hussein, Amelia Webster, Rubertine Allen, Graham Duddridge, Eve Pettitt
Henry Whaley, John Gledhill, Anastasia Shimshilashvili, Catherine McDiarmid)


Things the Judges liked

  • not making beautiful models look too pretty
  • painting the whole model
  • capturing the likeness
  • being able to step away at the right time - and not spoil the artwork
  • love of colour
  • suggestions of the model
  • cropping to create condensed power

Judges were less impressed with

  • failure to resolve the likeness
  • lack of charm
  • silly and distracting backgrounds
  • recording with an absence of poetry 
  • not exceptional

The Shortlist


The Judges chose two professional artists - who both teach - and an amateur who has trained at two reputable art schools. In alphabetical order
  • Catherine McDiarmid
  • Eve Pettitt
  • Anastasia Shimshilashvili
Which means the Judges agreed 100% with the models this week!


Shortlisted Artists Episode 5 2019

Have you noticed how all the models are facing left?

 I thought this was the right result.  The other paintings were let down by one or more of:
  • not capturing the likeness
  • not as 'finished'
  • nothing special
  • weak painting
I liked the ink painting by Laxmi Hussein but it simply didn't rank alongside these paintings as it was just a head - with no background.

The Judges then looked at both their original self portrait submission and the portrait painted in the Heat alongside one another.

Self portrait and portrait of Georgina Campbell by Catherine McDiarmid

The Judges really liked Catherine'\s self-portrait and Kathleen was extremely taken with what she perceived as catherine incorporating the theme of the Heat into her painting. (I think Catherine was just making sensible painting decisions without any regard to the theme!)



Self portrait and portrait of Tanny Grey Thmpson by Eve Pettitt

They loved the fact that Eve loves colour and that colour shines out of her paintings. She's not quite on a par with the other two - but catching up fast.


Self portrait and portrait of Mark Gatiss by Anastasia Shimshilashvili

These two portraits by Anastasia were the most obviously by the same artist.

I do wonder if making the background brown on both did her a disservice - because it made both look quite old fashioned and like they might have been painted in the 19th century.

 I think my advice to artists who have had traditional training is make your portraits look like they were painted by the same artist - but do NOT overdo it! Vary your backgrounds, think about how you can vary your colour palette to make it look more contemporary.

The Heat Winner


The Heat Winner was Catherine McDiarmid.


Portrait of Georgina Campbell by Catherine McDiarmid

It's a very fine painting - completely resolved in terms of background and a very good likeness.


Catherine MCDiarmid looked almost tearful a few seconds previously - then learned she had won!

I think it was a close call between Catherine and Anastasia. Catherine obviously did not expect to win (she seemed to become very emotional while lining up for the final announcement) and I think Anastasia rather thought she might.

However the curse of the panel of judges antipathy to traditional painting came to the fore.

  • Was this portrait painting as Anastasia had been trained to do. 
  • Did she show evidence of a journey? 
I do feel it' really not fair to use this "artist's journey" criteria when you've seen the other main contender twice before in other series of this competition - and obviously there has been some sort of journey for them.  The essence of a competition is that everybody starts from the same place. By the same token it would seem very unfair to invite an artist back if they were not going to win!

 So where I stand is I like both portraits by both artists and I lean very slightly towards Catherine.

 My major conclusion is that I think it's a very great pity that we don't have both in the semi-final!

 PS Beware of you are in a heat with an artist who is participating for the third time! Here's the video of Catherine painting her portrait of Georgina.

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


BELOW are my blog posts from this year's series so far which contains lots of learning points about painting in this competition for those aspiring to compete in future.


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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