Thursday, March 28, 2019

Review: Episode 7 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2019

Episode 7 produced a bit of a pink shortlist - three girls on the shortlist with a dominant pink tinge to the portraits with colour, a graphite drawing was accompanied by a vivid pink scarf and the background included some very strong pink!

Lucy Fall, Annie Lee and Catherine Noone waiting to find out the winner of Episode 7
- who each draw or painted one of the sitters

The Artists, Self-portraits and Sitters

I'm beginning to think the descriptions should be Students, Amateurs and Professionals.


  • Hun Adamoglu (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram) - video - took 4 days to create his self-portrait which was about his connection to his Cypriot heritage.
  • Neequaye Dsane (Dreph) (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram) - video - He has an Art, Design and Media degree and is as influenced by comic books as old Masters. He's well known as the street artist Dreph and has worked for three decades producing street based painting in Asia, Africa, the UAE, Central and South America and throughout Europe. He produced street murals - do have a look at his websites and in particular at his giant portraits in the street. He now produces giant murals for publicity for events eg Idris Elba's film Yardie and Michelle Obama's book 'Becoming'.  This is his webpage about painting Jamael Weston
he is best known for his large-scale murals and oil paintings. His portraits and their accompanying backstories present an alternative narrative, a tribute to living unsung heroes and heroines.
  • Lucy Pass (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest) - video -  She paints within a certain constrained palette and also draws.  She's from Lancaster, draws and paints great eyes and confessed to being a big fan of Steve Mangan! Not a lot more about her on her website. 
  • Khushna Sulaman-Butt (Instagram) - video  - Born in Lancashire. Graduated in 2016 from Oxford University with a BFA Fine Art. Artist-in-Residence, Kensington Aldridge Academy (the school at the foot of Grenfell Tower).  Currently doing an MA at the Slade. I recognised her straight away as she was selected for the BP Portrait Award Exhibition in 2017.  Her portrait was of a group of the friends she made, while studying at the Ruskin School of Art, Oxford University.  I met and interviewed her at the time - see BP Portrait Award 2017: Artists with their paintings
  • Phil Tyler (Twitter | Instagram) - video - an experienced British painter who has exhibited his work throughout the UK who is also an Art Lecturer at the University of Brighton - which I guess is why the idea of a whole day to paint sounded such a luxury to him. He has exhibited in the ING Discerning Eye, Royal Institute of Oil Painters, The Lynn Painter-Stainers prize.  He was also shortlisted in the 2018 Heat - and lost out to the eventual winner of the Portrait Artist of the Year 2018.

Amateur Artists

There were four amateur artists - two of which ended up in the shortlist - and one of them won!
  • Annie Lee (Annabella Lee) (Facebook/ Twitter / Instagram) - video - Took her art A Level a week after the heat. Now studying at Central Saint Martins. Spent an hour plotting features before starting to paint.
  • Catherine Noone (Instagram) - video - Widnes based Animator, Illustrator and Designer. Attended the Manchester School of Art for an MA Illustration with animation
  • Emily Sharples - video - student and part-time hairdresser; about to start an Art Foundation Course at Camberwell
  • Sharon Wright - video - A retired receptionist who lives in Suffolk. She is a regular painter who prefers to paint from life. She's a member of the local art society who entered for the prestige of the programme. 

The Sitters

The sitters for Episode 7 were:
  • Angela Griffin - a well known actress who worked for many years on Coronation Street before becoming involved in other series such as Lewis.
  • Gina McKee - an English actress who won the 1997 BAFTA TV Award for Best Actress for Our Friends in the North
  • Jamael Westman - an actor who Graduated from London's RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) in 2016 and has the lead role in the American musical Hamilton in the West End

The Self Portrait Review

Add caption

Discussions and Observations

The better the sitter the better the portrait

The artists were very lucky with these three sitters - they all maintained very steady poses - with no slouching, twitching or nodding off!

That said they might not have been there for some of the artists because they were only looking at their technology.

How rude to paint from technology!

There was a comment from Sharon in the episode to the effect how rude it was to the sitter to paint from technology when they had taken the trouble to sit - without moving - for the four hours that the artists got to paint. I agree. To be presented with a model and not to use that opportunity to paint them from life seems to me to be pretty silly.

Moreover I don;t think the judges are a fan of technology unless used in a practical way as just one of your tools.

That said I do well understand why artists have iPads and the like. They also have to contend with an enourmous number of people passing by and standing inbetween them in the artist. You don't see very much of this in the programme - but just watch all the videos of the individual artists and you'll see exactly what I mean. So the artist needs something to do when they can't see the model!

I studied all the Vimeo videos - which provide a speeded up uninterrupted view of each artist completing their painting and watched to see :
  • whether they used technology
  • where they fixed the technology
  • what impact it had on their painting
Interestingly I think some of the artists did themselves no favours by neglecting to bring a proper support for their iPad or iPhone if they were using it as a reference.  You need a fixed point of reference. This is where the unmoving model comes in!!

I created a chart of what seemed to me to be their use of technology and their success in getting a likeness. (By which I mean essentially whether the draughtsmanship is good rather than whether all the colours are spot on)

This is what I came up with. It also reflects in part the comments of the Judges (eg Tai's comment on Khushna's portrait)

The main thing I noticed when we looked at the painting from above - and could see the image and the iPad next to one another was that he proportions were all wrong.

Tai made a comment - which I agree with - about the fact that people were either:
  • not looking carefully enough
  • not standing back to check what they'd done.




From life

Tech (drawing)

Tech (painting)

Good likeness

Annie (painting)  Lucy

Annie (Hour 1)  Catherine


Likeness nearly there


Neequaye (check tones)

Likeness needs resolution - one or more fundamental weaknesses

Phil (50:50) 
Phil (50:50)

What was worrying to me were those painters who didn't seem to appreciate the problems with their painting.

I prefer those who know they've not got what they needed to achieve or just found the whole experience a bit too much.
I'm ignoring the face for the moment because it's too overwhelming

Size of the Painting

As often happens people were working on supports of a very different size. Some went big and some went small. They then had to choose how much to include. Yet again everybody ducked hands. Only Phil attempted the whole figure - and was going well but was hampered by the fact that he couldn't get the likeness in what had become a tiny head.

There's a lot to be said for painting a very good small head - with the emphasis very much on the words "very good". (It's just like Masterchef - if you go simple you must produce excellence)

Size - and proportion - of the Head on the Canvas

I noted that artists who failed to get a good likeness had often painted heads which were too small or malformed.

What I also noticed is that people were getting the proportions of different parts of the head badly wrong.  It's not enough to be good at painting eyes and mouths. You must also know the relative size of features to the whole and from one to the other. 
  • one artist basically flattened the skull of the sitter suggesting a lack of knowledge of basic dimensions of the head
  • another consistently got the width relative to the height wrong and placed features in the wrong place
  • angles and shapes were consistently drawn badly
Tai commented that failure to slow down, stand back and reflect on what you've done relative to what you should be looking at explains a lot about why people go wrong.

I appreciate that it's not easy in that space to pace backwards and forwards - but it is essential. Even if you sit down you must get up periodically and check what you've done from a distance.

One reason I think they got things wrong was because the format of their support and the format of their technology were different

It can get very confusing if you don't create a boundary within which to work which echoes the format of your reference.

TIP: If you regularly use photos as a reference try this trick:
  • make sure the format of the photograph is identical to the support you are using eg. 
    • square to square is the easiest to get right with phones
    • my mini iPad gives me 16cm x 12cm = 4:3 ratio
    • You can measure the format on your phone of tablet to work out what support to work on or what boundaries to plot
  • use an app to get a grid from which to work and then grid up your support to suit
This explains why Annie spent an hour on her drawing at the beginning getting placement of the face on the canvas and the placement and proportions of features right - and then was able to spend the rest of her time painting from life, secure in the knowledge she had a good baseline drawing

Bottom line - like anything else in life, time spent at the beginning on looking and sizing up and measuring proportions and angles is rarely time badly spent when it comes to portraiture

There may only be four hours - but you can 
  • either choose to spend that time wisely 
  • or rush in and start painting and then realise after the event that this was not a wise move!

Good paintings vs good likenesses

How many paintings do you need to paint?  For me, unless discarded quickly at the beginning for a bad start, multiple paintings are a sign of:
  • either a failure to spent time LOOKING carefully at the beginning
  • or an artist who has a major full-on panic.
  • or both!
Two artists produced multiple canvases.  Phil produced three and finally started to get Angela's likeness at the end - even if the proportions were still wrong!

You get a better likeness quicker if you look long and hard and carefully at the outset - and then you get to save time because you don't have to start over - and start another painting and get panicked about whether you will have enough time. So at the end of the day those who start slow can often spend their four hours wisely!

The challenge of skin tones

Skin tones are difficult to get right - whatever skin tone you're painting because they all change depending on the light - and if the light changes too it gets doubly difficult!

Knowing how to get colour into skin that is effective rather than random is a technique that only some artists can pull off. Generally those who have been painting for a long time.

However every television company has learned it need to be diversity conscious. Consequently you can 100% guarantee that the models for a portraiture competition will always - across the competition as a whole - include people who don't have an Anglo Saxon heritage.

In this heat there were two people who had a mixed heritage background.

Your part in the challenge presented by this competition is to arrive having tried painting skin tones which are different to your own (whatever that might be) - and there are as many skin tones as there are paint mixes - so you won't be completely thrown if you get a model with a skin tone that you are unfamiliar with.

Your main mission is to know how to convey colour in different skins so it doesn't look flat and dead. We very definitely had at least a couple of people in this episode who were caught out badly by the skin tones.

What should I do/practice/get in advance?

  • Make yourself a recipe book of skin tones to refer to when you're under pressure. It saves time!
  • Bring a protractor (a measuring instrument, typically made of transparent plastic or glass, for measuring angles) and CHECK the angle of different parts of the head which you can see in front of you with the angles you've laid down on your support and revise as required.
  • Read about portraiture and how to place a head on a support. (My own mental checklist is eyes on a thirds line - usually the one a third from the top - and ideally on the sweet spot. It's boringly predictable but it's in general it's a safe option because it works if you're only going to do the head or the head and a bit of upper torso.
  • Study and learn the typical proportions of the head - from all angles - and how each of the features relates to the others.
My proportions crib sheet!

Decision Time

Sitters get to choose the portrait they'd like to take home
  • Jamal chose Neequaye's portrait - I suspect because it was the most finished portrait and maybe because it meant he had a portrait of himself painted by Dreph. He said he loved it!
  • Angela chose the third painting by Phil - which took him an hour to do. I think she was just bowled over that anybody could produce a portrait in an eye
  • Gina chose the painting by Annie - which came as no surprise to me.  She said it captured the spirit of my personality.

Things the Judges liked

Overall there was a feeling throughout the day of people nearly getting a likeness but not quite.  Hence below I've got some points which weren't positive points at the end - but had been raised as queries during the day

Judges were impressed by:
  • artists who look hard and really examine what makes their sitter unique
  • artists who make good judgement calls on proportions in their under-drawings
  • capturing the mouth and expression at rest really well
  • the good use of colour in paint
  • emotional representation of the sitter
  • artists who keep their cool and don't panic - and keep their focus as a result
Judges queried
  • whether an artist is a one trick pony in terms of colour palette (more a question than a criticism)
  • the use of outline - but them around to it at the end as it served to lift the head off the page
Judges were less impressed with:

  • people who did not look carefully enough
  • fundamental errors of drawing the head 
  • errors in drawing which remain uncorrected due to a failure to review and compare at a distance

The Shortlist and Heat Winner

Waiting for the announcement

Catherine Noone, Lucy Pass and Annie Lee

The Shortlist

The Judges noted that all 

Review of the shortlisted portraits

Self portrait and portrait of Jamael Westman by Lucy Fall
Tai described it as a portrait of a pensive head. Everybody started the day by drawing his head too small - but she corrected it.

They thought that Jamael was her perfect sitter for her - a romantic sense that was contained.

Self portrait and portrait of Angela Griffin by Catherine Noone
Catherine kept her focus and at some point during the day had introduced an objective distance into her drawing which served to lift it off the page.

Self portrait and portrait of Gina McKee by Annie Lee
Annie is very good at observation and examination. The comment made was that Annie had responded to Gina's likeness without slavishly trying to follow it and in doing so has made a work of art which also happens to be a great portrait of Gina.  Tai thought it a wonderful achievement for somebody so early in her career.

Episode 7 Winner

The youngest artist won the heat because the Judges chose Annie Lee as the Heat Winner.

She was described by Tai as having been very receptive to her sitter which resulted in a portrait which shows great empathy.

In my opinion, she also produced the most complete portrait with the best likeness of a model who has a quirky look which is not easy to capture.  The painting of her mouth was exquisite. Annie's use of the beetle in the necklace as a motif in the background 'sealed the deal' as she introduced an element of personality into the portrait and made it more meaningful for the sitter. Small wonder then that it was chosen by Gina McKee to take home.

My guess is that Lucy ran her a close second - and that if she'd tackled Lamael's hair she might possibly have won.  Catherine also bottled on the hair. Both got the outline in but made very little progress with the vacuum they enclosed.

Annie is a natural artist with a real talent. She has a very good understanding of portraiture and a mature approach to developing her work - despite that fact she was only 18 years old at the time and was sitting her A level exam in Art a week later. It just goes to show how good she is. I expect to see her work in the art exhibitions of national art societies and and major art competitions in London in the future.

Annie Lee hearing that she has won the Heat!

Her fellow shortlisted artists were also both very complimentary about her skills and thought her a worthy winner,

VERY SADLY The video of her painting for some reason has been made two seconds rather than two minutes - so I'm going to include it here and then have a quiet remonstration about this off screen!

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

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 watch if you don't have Sky

How to watch PAOTY 2020 LIVE!

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