Thursday, April 04, 2019

Review: Episode 8 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2019

I don't suppose that when the producers of Portrait Artist of the Year asked Jodie Comer to sit for Episode 8 that they realised that they would have an actress who has been nominated for very many global awards in the period between sitting and broadcasting.

Just goes to show how important portraits are for recording moments in time....

Jodie Comer sits for Portrait Artist of the Year 2019

The Artists, Self-portraits and Sitters

I'm pleased to say that you can see the names and profiles of all the artists in every episode of Series 5 on one page on the Sky Arts website.  Just the credits at the end of the programme to get fixed now.....

Professional Artists

There were four professional artists - with a variety of backgrounds and experience.
  • Olga Godovaniuc video - From Moldova where she went to the Children's School of Art. Now based in London. She handpaints luxury fashion accessories. Likes unusual colours for skin tones. Describes her painting style as "fantastic reality".
  • Martin Ireland video - taught life drawing classes for over 20 years. Worth watching for the faces he pulled when he saw his sitter.
"We have a fabric situation here"
  • Colin Pethick video - a fine art painter and freelance art tutor, based in the Tamar Valley. Became a professional artist after a back injury as a bricklayer. Born in Devon, he studied Fine Art at BA Honours degree level at Plymouth college of art and the University of Plymouth Grinds chicken bones into his paint. His wife loved the programme - but passed way the previous October and had entered the programme to honour her.
  • Duncan Shoosmith (Facebook/ TwitterInstagram) - video - based in Wiltshire; combines painting at home in his garage with looking after his three young children.  He does great portraits of kids if you take a look at his website!

Amateur Artists

  • Tasha Davey (Facebook | Instagram) - video - an 18 year old studying for her A-levels. Worked almost flat from her iPad and I think didn't see the problem she made for herself re. perspective
  • Tom Mead (FacebookInstagram) - video - Always nice to see a website which includes evidence that the artist goes to life class and can draw from life! Currently doing a BA degree in Painting at the University of Arts (Wimbledon).  He creates paintings with a multifaceted perspective on individuals which suggest movement.  Loves to paint in acrylic.
The face is the most important thing
Start with a mistake and keep correcting it. It's sort of a life philosophy

The Self Portraits

Starting the review of the self-portraits - with the one by Tom Mead
It's always worthwhile listening to the reasons why the Judges like the different self-portraits. I think I like Kathleen's the best - she's the most articulate in my opinion - although I don't always agree with her!
"we want something that surprises us"
I did think one self-portrait gave the editors of the programme some amusement given the cut between the self-portrait and the artist!

The Sitters

Amazing what a difference a year makes - hence the voiceover for Jodie Comer.
  • Jodie Comer - an English actress, known for her roles as the assassin Villanelle in Killing Eve (for which she has received numerous nominations for awards), Chloe Gemell in the comedy-drama series My Mad Fat Diary, Ivy Moxam in the BBC3 miniseries Thirteen and Kate Parks in Doctor Foster. She has a wonderful unaffected Scouse accent - which must have come as a surprise to some viewers of Killing Eve.  
Her bone structure is beautiful Tai
  • Nick Moran - A British actor who has featured in a number of films over three decades and gained fame from the Guy Ritchie movie, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. He portrayed Scabior in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.
  • Daniel Lismore is a London based artist, designer, creative consultant, celebrity stylist, writer and campaigner. Described as England's most eccentric dresser by Vogue.

Discussions and Observations

I heard three key themes in terms of comments from the artists - and I assume that they may well be asked the same question - and then include those which worked best and/or got the best answers.
(I remember being filmed once and giving the BBC producer an answer I KNEW they would not include in the programme because it was too trite for words!)

Interestingly, when you watch the programmes through three times as I do before writing these reviews, I often pick up on things I don't spot the first or second time watching. Like how often certain artists speak - and say something really insightful - or something really stupid. It's a great indicator for who's going to be in the shortlist!

(Bear in mind thought that they're editing AFTER the event - and they have every reason to make their Heat Winner look/sound good. Other artists may also have said great things on the day - but not come up with a good portrait. )

How to maintain your focus under pressure

The artists were obviously asked something along the lines of what did they find to be pressure and how did they cope with it.

What follows are some of their random comments
  • the journey is full of anxiety
  • the main problem is not being overawed 
  • it's difficult working in what feels like an exhibition of your own work
  • it's hard work baring your soul to the public. This is the equivalent of writing the first draft of a novel and you're publishing it before it's had a good edit and you've removed all the rubbish
  • it's a bit like the Apollo 13 syndrome. You need to find your way home with a toilet roll and a bit of sticky backed plastic (For those too young to know about the homemade repair to Appollo 13 - see What went wrong with Apollo 13)
Bottom line this is NOT a process for the overly sensitive or the faint-hearted. You need to believe you can cope.

Those with routines and experience probably find it easier in some respects and more difficult in others - as in they know what they're doing or have done wrong! As opposed to those who can't see their basic errors of draughtsmanship.

I find a walk around is always good when you need to stop and have a think. Walking believe it or not actually helps you think. a break and coming back afresh also helps you see more clearly what's working and what's not working.

How to find your way to a likeness

Every face has its own challenging characteristics.
  • Many would think the very fine bone structure and good skin exhibited by Jodie Comer was a doddle to paint. It's actually the reverse because it actually makes it more difficult to make it interesting.
  • There again Daniel Lismore would be some people's idea of a nightmare. How do you handle so much information about the sitter? However Tom didn't have a problem with it.
I found an interesting contrast between
  • professional painter Martin - who saw his sitter as being all about the clothes and the fabric and left the painting of the face until towards the end
  • student Tom who was wholly focused on getting the face right - and added in elements of the garments and adornments around the head as he could once he'd got most of the head right.
Making a good choice about what you can do in three and a bit hours (remember it's never 4 hours after you discount the time for interviews/chats and people getting in your line of sight) is absolutely critical to getting a good likeness.

Perhaps the most critical thing is planning enough time for getting:
  • the basic structure of the head right
  • a likeness
  • the eyes right
  • the mouth right.
Knowing the anatomy of the head and face helps enormously - because then you can compare what you see with the way you know a head is constructed.  There's a little section within the programme where Duncan explains basic anatomy - and it's something a lot of people could do with watching.

It reminded me of my most valuable life class ever - which was on a day of dreadful weather when the model and most of the class didn't turn up. So the tutor taught us all the basics of how the head works and where certain features are and how they line up with one another.

TIP: If you want to get a likeness start by making sure you have studied the anatomy of a head!

How to avoid over painting it

One of the major problems for painters who paint fast is continuing to work when they can easily ruin their paintings by layering on more paint. 

One might think this is a problem that is not not experienced by those who need more time. However they often need more time because they have overworked and overpainted one part of the painting too much - and not left enough time for the rest of the painting!

There was an interesting comment by Duncan to the effect that there comes a point when you know you've done enough for a study. In effect the portrait can be improved but it will take days in the next stage not hours.

One of the common tactics is to tighten a painting up as you get towards the end and then leave the detail to the end. That assumes that you have judged correctly just how much time you need for detail. Those who are less experienced try to put in all the detail - and of course always fail. Others are more selective and only tackle some of the detail, knowing that the eye can fill in the rest. This is an approach which works only if your draughtsmanship and construction of the underpainting and tonal values and choice of colours has worked well in terms of developing the structure and overall shapes of the head.

It's not detail which creates a likeness, it's fundamentals.

Decision Time

Sitters choose a portrait to take home

It was interesting this week. Two of the painters did not go got the painting I thought they'd choose.
  • Nick Moran chose the portrait by Colin Pethick - because he liked the brushwork a lot
  • Jodie Comer loved Duncan's portrait but chose the egg tempera painting by Emily Wolff. It has that cool stare she does so well!
  • Daniel Lismore loved them all but chose the one by Becca - because it looked like his Aunty and he deemed it to be a nightmare version of himself. Which seemed like a weird reason to me - but whatever rocks your boat!
Emily Wolff and Jodie Comer - and Emily's portrait in egg tempera
(with thanks to Emily)

What follows are things I heard the Judges say about various portraits or work by artists at different times

Things the Judges liked

  • well observed features
  • a fabulous likeness
  • really captured the lighting on the face
  • fabulous colours in the shadows

Judges were less impressed with

  • a lack of invention
  • wild colours
  • portraits which lost their vitality over the course of the day
  • artists who spent a lot of time on other aspects of their painting - and painted the face too late
  • painting a head which was too big - when a smaller head would have given them more time to complete the painting.

The Shortlist and Heat Winner

The artists waiting to hear who has been shortlisted
The Judges chose:
  • Duncan Shoosmith - who painted Jodie Comer
  • Tom Mead - who painted Daniel Lismore
  • Toby Michael - who painted Nick Moran
Left to right - Toby Michael, Tom Mead, Duncan Shoosmith

Personally I think I'd have had Emily Wolff in my shortlist - her self-portrait was very good and while I think her heat portrait could be improved, to my mind she actually got a better likeness than Duncan - who I think paints faces a little bit bigger than they actually are.  I'd still have had Duncan though - and Tom. Emily would have been my third place.

The Shortlist

I always think one of the most interesting sections of the programme is the assessment of the double portrait line-up re the shortlisted artists.

The double portrait lineup
Comments below come that section of comments by the Judges
Self portrait and portrait of Jodie Comer by Duncan Shoosmith

The Judges thought it was a powerful portrait of Jodie. They really liked the way Duncan constructs his paintings and how he puts on paint in broad brush marks.  Jodie loved the hair!

The Judges concluded that Duncan knows exactly who he is as a painter and knows how to manipulate paint. They enjoyed watching him paint over the course of the day - and if anybody wants an objective for making a good impression on Judges that's a jolly good one to have!
It was a good painting all day
Self portrait and heat portrait of Nick Moran by Toby Michael
The Judges really liked his self-portrait a lot. They thought it was very mature and that Toby was full  of potential. I think his SP was one of the main influences on him being shortlisted - emphasising yet again how important the self-portrait is.

They felt there was a melancholy narrative behind the heat portrait. They liked the harmonious links between the background and Nick's jacket.

Self portrait and portrait of Daniel Lismore by Tom Mead
They felt that Tom was authentic who produces arresting paintings which are rooted in his observation and vision of his sitters.  They didn't see his fractured approach as a trick. Tai felt that he got better today and that he moved up a gear.

The Final Decision

Waiting to hear the result - and who has got through to the semi-final
The Judges found it difficult to make one selection - and consequently put two artists through to the semi-final.

Episode 8 Winners

The heat Winners were Duncan Shoosmith and Tom Mead.

The Judges really rated both painters for different reasons - one for his self-knowledge and experience and the other for his progression during the course of the heat. These are perennial themes associated with other heat winners
Two very pleased winners

and next week..... the Semi-Final and Courtney Pine - the British Jazz musician - with his sax(!) is the sitter.  There's going to be nine painters from 8 heats (see below) fighting for three places in the final at Hackney's Round Chapel.

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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