Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Review: Episode 2 of Landscape Artist of the Year 2019 at Herstmonceux Observatory

The heat for Episode 2 of Landscape Artist of the Year 2019 was held at Herstmonceux Observatory in Sussex - and experienced the worst rain ever on Landscape Artist of the Year!

(I'll be doing the review of Episode 1 tomorrow - as I was in New York when it was broadcast).

Tiny pods (top left) next to huge domes and lots of shiny mirror spheres at Herstmonceux Observatory

This is the fifth series of the show, which is produced for Sky Arts by London and Glasgow-based independent production company Storyvault Films. 48 artists took part in six heats over the course of June and July

"Artist of the Year" is one of the most popular programmes produced by Sky Arts and the audience for the landscape artist of the year programme seems to grow with every series.
LAOTY boasts the titles of “best-performing, non-scripted series of all time” and second-biggest series ever for Sky Arts, with viewing figures growing over the course of the series.
You can view it
  • on Tuesday evening at 8pm on Sky Arts
  • anytime you like using the NOW TV app to watch on a mobile device or your own TV - if you have a subscription (which is what I do - see my blog post about how to do this)
Now for the episode which aired last night.

The Location

This is what the subject SHOULD have looked like - on a good day!

I suspect the above images of the set-up of the pods in front of the Observatory were taken before or after the hours in which they were in use by the artists - when the skies were grey, there was thunder overhead and the rain was bucketing down - for hours on end!

This was the reality in the rain....... Judging by where the artists have set-up and the amount of rain on the front half of the platform, it very much looks as if the front half of the pods were unusable.

Very wet pods in the rain under a grey sky

Herstmonceux Observatory is no longer the official observatory (which moved to Cambridge in 1990) - although the telescopes are still there. It's now an educational building for science related matters - and the mirror spheres represent the solar system!

The Judges as always are Kathleen Soriano and Tai-Shan Schierenberg and a very pregnant Kate Bryan.

The Artists

Links to websites are embedded in their name and links to their social media sites follow their name.
Interestingly Sky Arts are now routinely highlighting the website and social media links of each artist in each episode - on this page - however they've also had somebody insert links who has  EXCLUDED the colon in virtually every URL - so they don't work!

You can find the LIVE LINKS below!

Four Professional Artists 

There were four professional artists
  • Pippa Cunningham (Instagram) - from Brighton, Sussex. Studied printed textiles and graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1994. She paints in a gestural, sketchy and bright colourful way - and her paintings often include overseas locations. She has undertaken commissions to do paintings for a diverse range of clients.  This was her submission
  • James Hayes (Instagram | Twitter) - Born in Cork in 1987. He studied architecture at Dublin University College - Bachelor of Science (2009), Bachelor of Architecture (2012) and Masters of Architecture (2013) and holds a Post-graduate Diploma in Professional Practice in Architecture (2016) from the University of Westminster. He is a chartered architect in Ireland (MRIAI) and the UK (ARB).  He is a free-lance illustrator, visual artist, practicing architect (and all-round wearer of different creative hats..) based in the south-west of Ireland. He encompasses a range of media from hand-drawing to oil painting to a form of hybrid digital image making - combining traditional techniques with a few modern ones - based on his architectural background. In my opinion he draws extremely well - but I'm unclear how much is derived from digital images. This was his submission.
  • Patsy Moore - lives and works as an artist and tutor in West Sussex. Exhibits regularly with the Association of Sussex Artists and on several occasions with the Royal Society of Marine Artists and the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour. She teaches art via a weekly art class, one-to-one individual tuition, demonstrations and workshops with art societies, residential and non residential art holidays and art classes onboard cruise ships. 
  • Stephen Royles (Instagram) - Born in Withington, Manchester, 1982. Lives and works in Bolton, Greater Manchester. Studied at Bath Spa University, 2003 and U.C.L.A.N, BA (hons) Fine Art, 2006. He focuses on urban landscapes - so I guess they thought he would be good at weird buildings! This was his submission.

Four Amateur Artists

  • Roy Carless - lives in Hartlepool. He won the Wildcard Artist in the Episode of Landscape Artist of the Year 2017 at South Gare on Tees (see this blog post which features his painting)
  • Drew Carr (Facebook Etsy) - a Glasgow based architect - who paints landscape paintings based on running and travel adventures. This was his submission. (He needs a proper website!)
  • Tamara Savchenko (Facebook Instagram Twitter) - from Russia; lives in Exeter. Likes to focus on straight lines and in particular triangles. Exhibits her art regularly and is a member of Devon Artists Network, Exeter Abstract Art Group, Exeter Cultural Partnership and The Cult House, London. This was her submission
I lived in four countries, graduated as a doctor and had a PhD in medicine. I worked as a librarian, a researcher, taught anatomy in a medical school in Russia; a sales assistant, an Avon representative, a science technician and finally a science teacher in the UK. In addition to it I have been a mother of two children and a wife to a successful professor of physics.
  • Chi Yien Snow (Facebook Instagram) - Relocated to Clevedon, near Bristol from London in 2017. Mother to two young girls. Graduated with a degree in film and animation.  Spent over 15 years working as a graphic designer. Works in acrylic and oils. This was her submission

....and this is her blog post GOODNESS GRACIOUS GREAT BALLS OF HERSTMONCEUX about the day the episode was shot - and what it's like being an artist in a pod!

50 Wildcard Artists

50 Wildcard artists were nearby but painting a completely different view - of Herstmonceux Castle - which has a moat with brown water according to Tai!

Wildcard artists arriving and beginning to set up in front of the castle

I think we've all guessed where the wildcard artists will be when the pods are set up in front of the castle!

Here's a comment in a newspaper article by one wildcard artist who had maybe not given quite enough thought to thorough preparation for this event. (seemu summary of learning points below)
Mr Boyle, a cabinet maker but also a keen amateur artist who dreams of turning professional, said his choice of using chalks backfired when it rained.
"It was a wash out," he said. "Most people's paintings got wet and mine got soaked. I have still got the painting but I'm not really that proud of it. I was using chalk on paper so obviously it could not have been worse for when it rained. I was crouching under an umbrella most of the day. I had never actually painted outside before either, so it was quite challenging. Normally I am in the studio and take hours over it mainly from photographs or sometimes sketches or just from memory."
"Despite the rain it was very interesting experience and I got some valuable advice from the judges."

Reading for those who aspire to taking part next year

Faye Bridgewater has written a great blog post - with excellent photographs of what it takes to be a wildcard artist on an extremely rainy day. She was the lady with the broom and the very large orange poncho.

I never knew there were RULES about umbrellas - although I don't think anyone was being picked up on breaking the rules given the nature of the rain!

Themes and Learning Points

As with all my other blog 'Artist of the Year' posts, I tried to detect some learning points within this episode - read on for more of these.

Finding clothing / kit solutions for extremely challenging weather

If you are wet and/or cold you are not going to paint at your best.  Plus you will need more kit.

There's no getting away from it, this was quite the worst weather I've ever seen on Landscape Artist of the Year - and the Judges thought so too!

The problem - even if you are in a pod and hence do not have rain descending on you from above - is that the atmosphere is still loaded with water and can also be very cold and/or windy.
  • Watercolour is simply never going to dry. (Just as it dries far too fast on very hot says!)
  • If you're a wildcard artist watercolour could disappear off the page completely.
  • oil paint can feel weird and sticky - but will not disappear
  • rain can get unto everything - including the wood and ferrules of your brushes
This is a very useful post by Marc Dalessio about plein air painting in oil in the rain. Worth a read by those who have never experienced this before.  Note in particular his invented rain bonnet for his easel!

Even if it is summer, there is absolutely no guarantee you'll get good weather and it's absolutely ESSENTIAL to keep a close eye on the weather forecasts for the venue and pack assuming the worst!

The trick to maintaining concentration is to get used to painting plein air in not such good weather - and then you'll work out a set of wet weather or cold weather clothing gear and other kit you need which works for you.
  • Avoid layering up and then being hardly able move your arms 
  • Avoid using an umbrella over your easel which reduces the light on your support when light levels are really poor to start with! You'll end up painting gloom in an even gloomier set-up!
Showerproof is not good enough for the meteorologically challenged. You need clothing for rain storms - such as that worn by fishermen!  You also need very robust / large umbrellas because rain often brings wind which can turn an ordinary umbrellas inside out in a twinkling.

So far as the wildcard artists are concerned, there is no question that something like a poncho which covers you from head to toe can be advantageous - so long as it has decent arm holes! Ditto wet weather hats which drain water down your rainproof back and not into your neck and down inside your wet weather gear!

Skies are important: what to do about a grey sky which keeps on changing

Being good at skies gives you a head start on everybody else. I rather got the sense that some of the artists had not practiced skies enough - whereas one can expect at any venue, wherever that might be, you will get a sky. - and that this sky might well be challenging.

The nature of plein air painting is that the sky keeps changing. The best way to tackle this is to do a lot of plein air painting and then you'll work out various strategies for dealing with this.

Grey skies are difficult. Vaporous cloud is difficult to do - and practice makes perfect - as could be seen in the work of James Hayes who was by the best painter of skies in this episode - and the only painter to give lots of space to the sky.

The value of a coloured support

One of the reasons why the winning painting looked rather better than the rest on an incredibly dull and grey day is that it has started from a walm salmon ink support. This colour - seen in just smidgens in the finished painting - was enough to warm it up - and also act as a really good mid tone against which to measure darks and lights in the full range of tonal values.  The winning painting had by far the best sense of depth - if objects being in front of and behind one another - and not just lined up across the horizontal axis - and the associated tonal values.

Don't dodge the complexity (What to do when you don't like the subject)

Not painting the subject has a track record. You can do this and get away with it - so long as you come up with an excellent painting and enough content that it doesn't suggest you've just dodged the difficulty / complexity of what you were presented with.

After all this is an examination - and the first rule of examinations is "answer the question!"

One artist, Pippa Cunningham, really did not like the subject. You could see it really made her feel nauseous just to look at the domes!  Others seem to have been somewhat challenged by the number of round shiny spheres which also included reflections.

I don't think there's any question that those who had a really good go at painting both domes and mirror spheres were always going to come out ahead of those who reduced the number - and then didn't really add in enough alternative value into the rest of the empty space on the canvas. For example, a painting which had a large expanse of complex and well painted sky might very well have done well as an alternative.

So if you don't like the subject you're faced with, you better come up with a convincing - and challenging - alternative - with lots of content and good painting!

Where have the tablets all gone?

I saw people with sketchbooks and cameras - but I don't recall seeing any tablets. Maybe I need to watch again. Or maybe the cameras have been instructed to keep filming of tablets to a minimum.

As I have demonstrated previously, tablets are there for when the cameras and crew obscure your view of your subject - so there is a really good reason to have one hand to hand.

The Results

Episode 2 Shortlist

The lineup for the shortlist call

The artists shortlisted were (in the order they were called)
  • Roy Carless
  • Patsy Moore
  • Drew Carr
It's been all about the balls today. Kathleen Soriano
These three have really risen to the challenge 
So two amateurs and a professional - and they all painted the complexity of the mirror spheres in front of them.

Below you'll find the line-ups of submission painting plus plein air painting for each artist - and below are the same paintings in the order they are lined up in the above photo.

The panel of Judges may take the Shortlisted Artists’ Landscape Entry(s) and their Additional Works of Art into consideration during this judging process, and all of the criteria for judging and the decisions of the Judges shall be at the discretion of the Judges and the Producer and shall not be not open to dispute or discussion.
I'm going to quote what they said re. the artists and their paintings to try and explain their eventual selection of who would go forward to the semi-final.

Submission and Heat Painting by Roy Carless

The echoing of the spheres in the sky had been controversial earlier in the day.

The Judges said:
  • Kathleen said "the echoing of the spheres - the whole thing is just wonderfully weird really but also precise and accurate"
  • Tai - I really like the colour of the copper - it's so well observed - the age and the wetness from the rain. He's caught it perfectly. and I got some sort of scifi soundtrack coming through the clouds and the vibrations make it more interesting
  • Kate - I'm pleased to see that he took one step into something a bit more more surreal. I think he really raised his game today, 

Submission and Heat Painting by Patsy Moore

I really liked the original submission - which had both an unusual subject (a shanty town on the side of a hill) and a very distinctive palette and excellent atmospheric perspective.

I also thought she had a good sky - with some sense of the atmospheric layers.

The Judges said:
  • Kathleen - I think Patsy's been really clever - she's given us just enough of that deep rose pink
  • - there's a more organic nature to the work she made today
  • Kate - her choice of her ground is really sensible and it comes through just enough
  • Tai - She's a really great colourist 

Submission and Heat Painting by Drew Carr

The Judges said:
  • Kathleen - he didn't put a contrivance on top of the work
  • Tai - the subdued colour and simplification work really well - but I'd have liked a more vital surface
  • Kate - this is not a characterless sky

Note - by implication some of the other skies in this heat were somewhat characterless.

Episode 2 Winners - Overall and Wildcard

The final three with their paintings - (L to R) Patsy Moore, Roy Carless and Drew Carr

The winner of Episode 2 was Patsy Moore - and we'll see her again in the semi-finals.

I thought it was an excellent choice. She's a fine painter with an excellent sense of colour and tone and a good eye for size, shape and perspective.

Patsy hears she's going through to the semi-final

The Twitterati appear impressed. Here's a representative comment.
OH. MY. GOD. The judges have again picked the three best pictures for the final & then picked the best picture as the winner two weeks running now. It’s a miracle!!!

The Wildcard Winner

The Wildcard Winner - with just a sliver of castle in the painting - was Sue England.  They liked in particular the way she had blocked out the trees in diverse shapes and colours.

Tai with the Wildcard Winner Sue England

The next episode

Episode 3 will be located at the Gateshead Millennium Bridge

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