Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Review: Episode 6 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2019

Episode 6 pf Portrait Artist of the Year 2019 was one of those where it was clear who definitely needed to be in the shortlist - but then there were a fair few also rans.

What follows is my review of the sixth episode - with a commentary on themes - and there's more about how choices are made later on.


The Artists, Self-portraits and Sitters


Below is a short description of each of the participating artists. The links are to websites and social media sites in the artist's name. Most of the group were not social media savvy.

If I've made a mistake with any of the links or details please let me know. How to contact me is in the side column of this blog - or you can comment on the link to this blog post on my Facebook page. I'll then correct PDQ!

Professional Artists 


Tai talking with Jixuan Chen about how he draws and paints in ink and the brushes he uses
  • Jixuan Chen (Facebook | Instagram) - video He paints in ink on paper - with two brushes in the same hand - one for outlining and the other for tone - and the change over between the two is too fast for my eyes! Art Education: 2018: MA (Painting Course) Royal College of Arts. London; 2015~2018: BA (Fine Art-Painting), Wimbledon College of Arts (UAL). London. Got to the final 200 in BP Portrait Artist Award in 2018. He completed his submission in 130 hours.
  • Salvatore Fullam (Facebook | Twitter) - video A professional artist from from Lucan, Co. Dublin. He paints from photos and technology but can also paint from life - as he did in the heat.  Not really got to grips with social media other than Facebook.
  • Sarah Gibson (Facebook) - video - From Cincinnati, OH. A contemporary realist artist, specializing in figurative works, portraits, and still-lifes. Spent seven years in Florence, with formal training in drawing and painting from the Angel Academy of Art and The Florence Academy of Art. Currently lives and works in the seaside town of Largs, on the west coast of Scotland - with her husband. Teaches part time at the Edinburgh Atelier of Fine Art and sells her own work.
  • Emil Nikolla (Facebook | Instagram) - video Lives and works in Beckenham in London. He drives a bus, teaches art and paints. Studied at the ΑΝΩΤΑΤΗ ΣΧΟΛΗ ΚΑΛΩΝ ΤΕΧΝΩΝ Athens School of Fine Arts - Greece's premier Art school ). He has exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition
  • Rosso Spoto - video Born in Sicily. HTrack record of pre-selected for major competitions - but not yet selected. Website not kept up to date. No social media presence - although her work gets posted on social media.
I strive to create a visual imagery with which the viewers can easily connect and engage creatively and critically.

    Amateur Artists 


    • Sebastien Bishop (Facebook | Instagram) - video. The consensus was/is that he produces some interesting drawings
    • Takwonda Mtawali - video an engineering student at the University of Sheffield. She paints using only primary colours.
    • Ellie Preston (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram) - video A Fine Art Graduate who works in an ice cream shop, paints every day and aspires to becoming a professional artist. Won the Brenda Landon prize for portrait painting at Chelsea
    • Stephen Wood - video An army veteran and part-time carpenter with no formal art training. His submission was only his third painting and his heat painting was his fourth. He paints in watercolour and uses the grid method

    The Self Portrait Review


    I loved Ross Spoto's passport photo approach to her self-portrait which provided personality as well as a clear indication of an ability to paint well and consistently - as is also evidenced by her website. Her self portrait charmed the Judges.

    Observations included:
    • disturbing and brilliantly off - "but I think that's why we liked it" - about Salvatore's large self -portrait
    • "lovely to have somebody working with watercolour in a different way". I thought this was an odd comment. It assumed watercolour is only painted in one way. I felt like sending the Judges on a watercolour appreciation course!
    • a tondo within a square was a very unusual composition which caught the eye.

    The Sitters


    The sitters were
    • Sophie Ellis Bextor - a British singer, songwriter and model and multi-platinum selling recording artist - who has an absolutely fascinating face
    • Adrian Lester - an Olivier Award winning actor on film and in television dramas. He's also a director, and writer.
    • Nitin Sawhney CBE CBE is a British Indian musician, producer and composer - who writes songs and music for film. In 2017 he received the Ivor Novello Lifetime Achievement award

    Discussions and Observations


    Getting likeness by half way


    The Judges obviously appreciate the artist who finds a likeness and they are less appreciative of those who never find one and/or lose it after they've found it.

    Some artists who tend to focus on figurative work are less bothered by achieving a likeness, whereas those who do commissions appreciate the importance. It occurs to me that artists who work to commission know that they don't tend to get paid if the client isn't happy. It's a great way of learning how to capture likenesses!

    It's begun to strike me that those who have established a likeness by half way are more than halfway to the shortlist.  Judges will be keeping a closer eye on them in the second half.

    Avoiding over-working paintings


    There was a fair bit of discussion about the amount of work required - and how to complete the painting but avoid over-working. This is a perennial theme.
    • some knew the penalties of over-working
    • some with (I think) rather less experience were totally overwhelmed by how much work was required and the fact they didn't have enough time - and would have welcomed the opportunity to worry about over-working!
    • Others were (I think) very much thrown by the fact that the heat does not actually provide four hours. Yup - it's a total fiction folks. 
    Practising painting people in three hours is a jolly good exercise for those artists who have been selected for the upcoming Heats who want to train. You can't overwork if you know you can paint a good head in three hours. You just need to know when to put your brushes down.

    To clothe or not to clothe


    There's an interesting debate to be had about how much of the torso and clothing people should paint. Proper portraits involve a lot of clothing - however we're just not seeing people painting clothing for the most part - because most stick to the safe head shot.

    For my part I think it's great if people can demonstrate they can paint more than a head. Knowing how to paint different textures in terms of clothing is a bit like knowing how to paint different hair styles - you only get good at it by lots of practice.

    If I ever got the opportunity to rewrite the rules I'd want them to:
    • require them to do an upper torso to include both clothing and hands
    • either in the Heats - which would need to be longer
    • or as the self-portrait
    (I have a wicked grin on my face as I write - but I know we'd get better results if we did this). 

    The benefits of the big brush


    I wondered how many artists try using different sized brushes. A lot of them could speed up significantly if they used bigger brushes.  They don't lay in with big brushes and then refine with smaller brushes - they try and do the whole painting with smaller brushes - and that just takes forever!

    When I see people using small brushes to paint (i.e. not draw) I just want to reach into the screen and take it off them. Either that or send them on a course using big chunky pastel sticks - which is where I learned not to use small when you move onto tones and colour.

    My view is that a lot of painters could benefit from learning how to use bigger brushes at the outset and in laying in initial layers - and reduce the size of the brush used over time.

    I loved seeing the brush with the huge body of hair which was going to be used by Jixuan Chen to paint the eyelashes. It had an incredibly long tip with a fine point!


    Splitting the Judges


    This heat was marked by Judges being quite split about different people. Frankly I was pleased to see this. I don't mind when they all have the same view (as me!) but sometimes I think they need to explain more why they liked people and why they disagreed.

    In this episode they did - and it was much better for it. If you didn't hear it watch it again.

    The Judges summarise the pros and cons of each artist

    Decision Time


    Sitters choose portrait to take home


    • Sophie Ellis Bextor chose the painting by Ellie Preston - as the one she could see in her mother's house
    • Adrian Lester was 'gobsmacked; when he saw the portraits and took a while to speak. He chose the portrait by Emil Nikolla
    • Nitin Sawhney chose the painting by Sarah Gibson as being the one he recognized the most

    Things the Judges liked

    • artists who find a likeness
    • being able to watch a journey in painting - with a resolution
    • painters who paint the body - and not just the head - and get a likeness in terms of posture
    • the way artists put paint down - which is different and new 
    • using colours intelligently - whether this is bold or sensitive
    • integrating the background i.e. making some thoughtful decisions and not just making it a flat colour

    Judges were less impressed with

    • portraits which lack likeness
    • starting well with a drawing - but failing to improve when painting
    • cartoon like qualities
    • unfinished portraits
    • painting too big and then not finishing
    • "weaker" paintings (i.e. ones which look OK until you put them next to a stronger painting of the same sort)
    It seems clearer and clearer to me that if the Judges are choosing one of the ways they do this is put those painters who have painted in comparable styles together (eg graphic style) and then the Judges compare them and pick the one they prefer. This means it's pot luck whether you get through. You need to be the best of your style of painting in your Heat.

    Kathleen Soriano summed it up in a rapid fire statement as follows
    ....it's difficult for us because we're wrestling with so many things when we're trying to pick winners. We're looking for somebody who is bringing something new but you're are looking for somebody who knows what they're doing; you're looking for something that is fresh and different but is not cheesy or cliched - so there's a lot of different things we're trying to doing when we're trying to choose winners each week.
    If you're in the new Heats for Portrait Artist of the Year 2020 - starting next month at the Battersea Arts Centre - I suggest you copy that statement out and post it somewhere you can see it every day until you attend your heat!

    The Shortlist and Heat Winner


    The Shortlist


    The Judges chose two professionals and an amateur who is a graduate of fine art who aspires to painting full time - listed here in alphabetical order:
    • Ellie Preston
    • Salvatore Fullam
    • Emil Nikolla
    I liked Rosso Porto's painting - but I'm guessing she was competing with Emil for a place on the shortlist.

    I think Sarah Gibson's was on its way. However I'm very firmly of the view that she should have been working on a much smaller format if she was going to leave so much of the canvas untouched. It just leaves it looking  as if it comes into the category of "nice painting but should have tried harder". It's insubstantial.  This is not a preliminary study and you're going to paint more later - this is it - you MUST try and produce a finished painting - as all the shortlisted artists did.

    The chap using watercolour had got a good likeness in the drawing but was nowhere near finished in terms of painting. It's a lesson in what happens if you don't practice.

    I think Salvatore got shortlisted in part because of
    • his self-portrait where he painted himself top to toe with clothing and skin and hands! (see my point earlier about clothing)
    • the fact he painted a torso and got the likeness of the individual through posture 
    • finished his heat painting (i.e. all canvas covered!)
    Self portrait and heat portrait by Salvatore Fullam

    Self portrait and heat portrait by Ellie Preston

    I'm not that keen on the portrait of Sophie Ellis Bextor - but Ellie probably had the worst position for painting somebody who has such a very strong and angular jaw line. I thought it was a better painting for the actual laying on of paint rather than the likeness. However I liked the self-portrait a lot and thought that was very good.


    Self portrait and heat portrait by Emil Nikolla
    These look like portraits by a mature painter who has been painting people for a long time. This is a man who has worked at his painting and has got results. His are also the most naturalistic paintings of all those who painted this week.

    He's the sort of chap you commission to do a portrait and you'd know in advance you'd get a portrait that really looked like the person - and that you and the sitter will never ever be disappointed.

    I think those people in south east London who have the opportunity to do classes with Emil are very lucky!

    The Final Decision


    Waiting to hear the Final Decision

    Episode 6 Winner


    The Judges chose Emil Nikolla as the Heat Winner. 

    Add caption

    This is the video of him painting the Heat Portrait speeded up


    EMIL NIKOLLA: Time-lapse painting on Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2019 from N9 Design on Vimeo.

    and finally.....


    It may come as no surprise to you that the actual heats are not televised in the order they are filmed in. That's to make sure they spread out the good ones and the not do good ones

    I'm not saying which episodes they cropped up in but two of the finalists have been identified as Heat Winners in two of Heats 1 to 6 - which means (big hint) - that the third finalist comes from either Episode 7 or 8.

    We'll all find out in three weeks time - at the end of the semi-finals - after they have identified the finalists.

    I'm still looking forward to the point after the Final when I can finally show you what a Final really looks like!


    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