Monday, November 11, 2019

Review: Episode 4 of Landscape Artist of the Year 2019 at Herstmonceux Castle

This review of Episode 4 of Series 5 Sky Arts Landscape of the Year is rather later than I had planned having been sideswiped by my errant iPad Pro which managed to go missing at Terminal 3 of Heathrow Airport when I was flying out to the USA last month. It popped up online and then needed retrieving from Lost Property - and that was the day I'd planned to do this post!

I have to say I found this episode somewhat disappointing. I'm not sure whether it was artists not used to painting plein air or the nature of the day or what - but much of the art produced was actually very disappointing.

However I am even more convinced that one of the key criteria for the shortlist selection is the extent to which the painting produced in the heat have some sort of relationship with the one submitted at the Call for Entries stage.

In other words if the two paintings don't look like they were painted by the same painter, there may be no point in entering!

The Location

Pods in front of Herstmonceux Castle and its moat

Heat 2 of Landscape Artist of the Year at Herstmonceux Castle morphed into Episode 4 of Series 5.

One of the contestants wished that the pods had been pitched further away from the red brick crenellated castle - and I agree.  So did Kathleen - she commented that the view was almost too close.

We had too much full on castle and not enough reflection on a building within a setting - and not a lot of scope to include the water because they were too close to the edge of the moat.

It was clear from the filming from above on a sunny day that it looked very different when there was good light.

I wonder if the person pitching the pods knows anything about how artists size up a view - or what happens to a subject when the light is bad.

The weather

They didn't have the rain of Heat 1/Episode 2 at the nearby observatory. Instead they had 

  • a very grey sky with no light arriving to enhance the subject - a lot of brick castle and some greenery 
  • and WIND! Paintings were taking off from the easels!

The light issue turned into the key factor that Tai wanted addressed in this heat. How were they going to tackle the fact that the day was grey and the light was no helping them.

The Artists

Artists in their pods - waiting for the start

In the listing of participating artists below you will find links included to
  • the artist's website - embedded in their name - for those wanting to know the standard of work by artists who get selected
  • their social media - which follows - should you wish to follow them
  • blog posts written about the day - IF they've written one

Seven Professional Artists

  • Satdeep Grewal (Facebook | Instagram) - Born and raised in London, Satdeep now lives in Hampshire where she exhibits, produces painting commissions, and delivers art workshops. Describes herself as 'British artist painting chaos/science/nature'. 
  • Gary Jeffrey (Facebook | Instagram | Twitter) - Gary seems to live in south west London. he's painted a lot over the course of 15 years - for 10 years after college in the 1980s-90s; then a break of 16 years (four years in retail and 12 as a layout designer in children's publishing) and back to painting in 2015. He always works from life and really enjoys plein air painting. He's a gallery artist at the Riverside Gallery in Barnes and also sells paintings from his website. I'm just really surprised I've not seen his paintings more in the open exhibitions of the FBA societies based at the Mall Galleries. He's a natural for at least three of them! I like the way he holds his brush.
  • Ian Leaver (Facebook | Instagram | Etsy) - Brighton based mural artist with a penchant for vintage movie posters

My nightmares were vivid and frequent.
Terrible weather, no light, impossible subject and worst of all, a disastrous outcome.
Some of my fears were realised, but do you know what? I had a bloody good time on the day and I’d definitely do it all again
. Sarah Manolescue
  • Fatma Ummanel (Facebook | Instagram | Twitter) - The youngest participant - age 25. Fatima is a Graduate with a BA Fine Art: Painting and Drawing, MA Fine Art and MA Art Psychotherapy (Trainee)
  • Colin Watson (Facebook | Courses website) - Colin lives and works in Belfast and teaches painting in Morocco. He uses a home made blend of treated oils - incorporating a wax medium.  He mixes his colours on the canvas. He has held seven solo exhibitions in London, at John Martin Gallery, the Pym’s Gallery and at Simon Dickinson Fine Art, as well as in Dublin, Northern Ireland and Morocco. In October 2008, Colin was invited by HRH The Prince of Wales to accompany him on the Royal Tour of Japan, Brunei and Indonesia, as his official Tour Artist. He has also exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts, the Royal Ulster Academy and the Royal Hibernian Academy, winning awards at the latter two. He's had portrait paintings accepted for the BP Portrait Prize Exhibition, The Royal Society of Portrait Painters annual exhibitions and at the Discerning Eye at the Mall Galleries.
  • Issy Wingham (Instagram) - Issy is a professional artist based in Norfolk. She graduated with a BA (Hons) Illustration degree from Norwich University of the Arts. She mainly creates drawings of the beautiful North Norfolk coast and surrounding villages - and sells digital prints of her work via Etsy.

One Amateur Artist

  • Russell AshcroftInstagram ) - describes himself as a permanent student

the artists - after they had finished

I continue to be surprised as to who gets into which category of artist. 
There again one can debate the label "professional" at length. I think maybe Sky Arts need to provide them with a bit more help in terms of what is an amateur artist and what is a professional artist.  Or why not just call them all artists since the categorisation has become so very meaningless.

Indeed, very often, those painting as wildcard entrants sometimes produce much more interesting paintings than those in the pods.  There again - that's probably because they include quite a few professional painters trying to get noticed!

50 Wildcard Artists

Just look at the amount of stuff which the wildcards bring with them!

Wildcards lugging their gear out to....
....the orchard where the wildcard artists were situated for the duration.
More about trees than castle which can be just be seen peeping out behind the trees in the background

Tip to the Editors of the programme - we can tell who is going to win the wildcard from the beginning!

Themes and Learning Points

Those who are regular readers will know that I offer up my comments on what I see as being the main themes of the episode - and try not to repeat those comments made in previous episodes.  If you want to see a summary of what I came up with last year have a read of Learning Points from Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 - a summary

What to do when it's a grey day with bad lighting

This was a theme which came up throughout the programme
The light is so bad and grey that there is no contrast. They've got to find some colour in this because it's the only way to make it interesting.Tai
I'm with Tai. People needed to look for colour - and all but the winner failed to do that - and that for me is of one of the key reasons why he won.

Tau was very interested in the people who found a way around the bad light.

Learning Point - even when the light is bad always look for the colour

Buildings versus nature

I'm beginning to suspect that an awful lot of the subject matter and choice of this series is being dictated by the subject matter for
  • the semi-final (big metal structures in the ) and 
  • the final (Battersea Power Station).
Now and again, me - and rather a lot of viewers - yearn for some pure landscape! No buildings or structures in sight!

Kathleen suggested that they needed to give a really strong sense of Herstmonceux Castle and its detail and also the really lush landscape surrounding it.

The other view - which would have stopped them fiddling with brickwork and fenestration!

What to do about a very BIG building which is very full on?

The castle was very BIG - and its scale presented a major challenge as a result.  The sheer size can overwhelm artists unless they have experience and skills in working out how to deal with it.

If they cropped in then they got more detail to deal with if they cropped in a lot they also lost the context.

The issue of course was how to handle it within the time available i.e. how does
  • "the way you like to paint" +  "a sensible crop of the subject matter" 
  • divided by "only four hours" 
  • = "an interesting painting that will get shortlisted". 

It's was interesting to see how artists chose to represent the castle on their supports. About half - in my opinion - did NOT make a very good choice re the crop lines. It was clear that for at least one this was because an artist lacked skills in making a decision and then translating that into how much gets on the support. Telling a Judge that you're not including the water because you ran out of space is not the way to get shortlisted!

It became apparent towards the end of the programme when the Judges were assessing the work that there was a possibility that they had deliberately placed the artists there to sort the "wheat from the chaff" as it were. To see who had the experience to know how to handle it when faced with that sort of "full on" building - and who was going to succumb to the challenge.  A bit mean - but a good way of sorting out who has the knowledge and skills to handle different challenges.

There's no question in my mind that if this strategy was in play, that it helped them enormously in coming up with the right shortlist.

Learning Point 

Something along the lines of "work out what the Judges have done to make life difficult for the artists - and how best to address that".

Practical tips from a pod artist

Pods a.k.a. wind tunnels
This was not from the programme - this came afterwards. However I'm including it here because it is wisdom based on practical experience and is something all participants need to know about!

Sarah Manolescue, one of the participating artists provided some useful tips for those participating in future in a well written blog post about the day!
  • Bring/wear lots of layers – the pods are wind tunnels and despite it being June I did get cold.
  • Take photos on the day – I completely forgot to (thank you to fellow artist Louise Berrill for taking some!).
  • Stick to what you know – familiar tools and equipment. Don’t try anything new or be too ambitious.
  • Wear comfortable clothes that you can clip a mic pack to.
  • Remember to eat and drink – it’s a long day (around 12 hours).
  • Pace yourself and don’t panic - it’s just a painting like any other.
  • A disposable palette with tear-off sheets is a bad idea if it’s windy! Mine blew off a few times.
  • Stay somewhere local the night before. I stayed 15 minutes from the Castle and still had to deal with unexpected road closures on the way in.
  • Do it for the experience! Enjoy yourself and take it all in!
Smile for the Camera: Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year


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The Results

We want a lovely composition and some interesting painting. Tai-Shan Schierenberg
So now you know! To be honest I could discount at least half the works produced on the basis of the composition alone.

Artwork produced on the day

Artists lined up to hear who made the shortlist

Episode 4 Shortlist

The normal process of discussion of each heat painting was followed in arriving at the shortlist.

The artists shortlisted were (in the order they were called)
  • Gary Jeffrey
  • Colin Watson
  • Sarah Manolescue
These were the ones who had managed the challenge of the size of the castle and embraced it - and also found a way around the really bad light on the day - capturing the mood and colours within the castle.

The three shortlisted artists waiting to hear who has won(left to right) Gary Jeffrey, Colin Watson and Sarah Manolescue

Submission and heat painting by Gary Jeffrey

Kathleen really likes the brevity of the paint and the feeling of the heat in Gary's submission which was painted plein air while on holiday in Majorca. Tai was very impressed by his painting 'shorthand' and the way in which you can really get the feeling of being there.

Gary's described the castle as "looming" and his aim was to "break the monotony of the edifice and try and make it come to life".  He was also radical and put down the colours opposite to those of the local hue - so he started with a bright green castle.  Kate called this counter-intuitive way of painting the castle and the Fauvist approach to painting the castle.
"I'm holding my brushes right at the end and I'm daring myself to be loose and blobby right up to the end..... the quandary is how loose to make my shadows" Gary Jeffrey
Tai liked the subtlety in the drawing and the ebullient colour use. Kate commented that he'd toned down the colours from where they had been - and thought the end result was excellent.

  • the fact that is an out and out colourist - and uses colour to create form and interest. 
  • the way he painted the painting - starting with complementary colours 
  • how he held his brush (at the end) - which stops you fiddling with details and requires you to be both careful and approximate - which stops the painting from looking boring.

submission and heat painting by Colin Watson
Kate observed that Colin Watson's submission indicated he had a very dry way of putting oil paint down.

Tai loved the way he's put paint on and the atmospheric - but thought he'd gone a tad too far as the paint surface had lost its lustre. Kathleen liked the complexity of the work which showed he was an experienced and sophisticated painter. She also really liked the tree and how it balanced out the castle.

I thought Colin Watson had it all sewn up - and then he seemed to need more time to complete what he was aiming to produce. He was obviously a very good painter. That's when he "lost the heat" - although he could have won it. His colours and textures on the brickwork all began to merge and although it's still an OK painting, to my eyes it seemed a much less good than it had been earlier.  In fact it's one of those paintings which, if scanned and then converted to greyscale, I reckon would come out as more or less one tone.

submission and heat painting by Sarah Manolescue
Kathleen thought Sarah's submission was a powerful little piece.  She also commented that Sarah had a confident approach. Kate worried that she might have too much time.

Sarah's philosophy for the day was to take her time and to try hard not to overpaint it.

Tai thinks she is a very good painter and liked her understanding of subdued colour but found the composition quite oppressive. Kate was pleased she didn't overpaint it and thought she'd painted the best water of the day - it was well observed.

Comments about the work which was not shortlisted


  • painted the moat and the greenery as well
  • good at observing nature and natural forms
  • loved the suggested reflection

Not so poisitve / Critical

  • little bit simplified
  • not so keen on marks introduced which were artificial
  • overpowered by the size of the castle
To be honest, the comments were some way adrift from those that I might have made if I was being blunt.

Overall winner of Episode 4

DO NOT FORGET when assessing the shortlist......
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.
The overall winner of Episode 4 was Gary Jeffrey - whose Dad (one of the wildcard artists) was rather pleased - but his wife was rather surprised.

I thought he was a very worthy winner - and I'll be very interested to see how he copes with the challenges of the subject matter in the semi-finals.  I think there's a good chance we might see him in the Final - because he likes taking risks and paints extremely well - and Tai really likes what he does!

Heat 4 winner: Gary Jeffrey's painting of the castle

This is the video of Gary completing his painting

LAOTY_S5_HEAT2_CAMH_GARY_JEFFREY from Storyvault Films on Vimeo.

Gary's Dad congratulating him

The Wildcard Winner

The Wildcard winner was, rather predictably (according to the mount of filming) was the young woman who got her dissertation results for her art degree - which indicated she might get a First.
Hannah Buchanan from Kent produced a smoky ghostly painting of trees.   This is an interview with her for her University

The next review

The next review should, with any luck, appear on my blog on Wednesday.  The location for Episode 5 is Gateshead: Tyne Bridge


More about Landscape Artist of the Year 

on MAM and by participants

2019: SERIES 5


2018: SERIES 4








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