Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Review: Episode 5 of Landscape Artist of the Year 2019 at the Tyne Bridge

Welcome to Episode 5 of Cityscape Artist of the Year. Landscape Artist of the Year is so old hat as are landscapes without buildings!

Five episodes and five really odd buildings and bridges and rather a lot of rain have been the big challenge so far.

In this episode it was yet more bridges and rather a lot of wind.

The pods in Gateshead looking at the Tyne Bridge and Newcastle.

The Location

The Tyne Bridge - and three more bridges beyond that!

This episode the big challenge was
  • the Tyne Bridge viewed from the Gateshead side of the Tyne and 
  • the fact that Kate Bryan was in London having her baby.  
  • So just Tai and Kathleen as Judges this week.
The view was a major challenge because the scale of the Tyne Bridge was HUGE and they were very close to it. Their only real option given the proximity of the pods to the bridge was to crop.

Some artists engaged in compositional studies of how make sense of the scale and the "bittiness" of the background in terms of scale vs detail.

The challenge lay in going bigger to make choices about construction simpler or to go smaller, making it easier to cover the surface while at the same time requiring that you are crystal clear about how to edit and simplify and only suggest detail.

The weather

The day was dry - but the wind was strong and gusting and particularly affecting the Wildcard Artists who were much more exposed - especially those that sat on the footbridge over the Tyne

Episode 5: The Artists

The artists after they had finished and the Judges were in a huddle

Six Professional Artists

  • Clare Bowen (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram) - Used to be a ski instructor but is now works as professional landscape painter who frequently works plein air. She was greatly influenced by Carol Marine's book 'Daily Painting' and the confidence she gained through daily painting helped her with her switch to plein air painting while working in oils. She's now one of the artists on the Mall Galleries online 'buy art' website. READ her very informative blog post Sky Landscape Artist of The Year Contestant!
  • Leavon Bowman (Instagram) - a studio based artist
  • David Fox (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram) - Based in Dublin, he works as an Operations Manager for a bus company. Previously participating in the 2016 series - at Scotney Castle.  Note: David should take a look at this painting!
  • Leigh Glover - Inspired by an exhibition of collage work by Matisse to develop his own collage art. Studied at Oxford Brookes University and Heatherley’s School of Fine Art, London. He's exhibited in the Royal Institute of Oil Painters (2008), Royal Society of Portrait Painters (2009), Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize (2010), BP Portrait Award (2011) and the ING Discerning Eye Exhibiton (2014).
  • Andrew Halliday (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram) - Born into an artistic family in 1969, he now divides his time between Barnes in South-West London and Lymington in Hampshire. Studied at Bournville Schoolof Art before graduating with a BA honours degree from Wimbledon School of Art in 1991. Heat finalist in 2018 at Inveraray Castle. He's obsessed with high rise architecture and love drawing and painting cityscapes READ his blog post Landscape Artist of the Year 2019: My time on the Toon
  • Joanne McAndrew (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram) - an Irish artist based in Dublin who specialises in landscape, still life and figurative painting. Not a cityscape artist. She is currently attending self-directed life drawing Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin

Two Amateur Artists

  • Wei Deng - Chartered Landscape Architect who was trained to paint in watercolour in the traditional Chinese way by his father who was a painter.
  • David Youds (Twitter | Instagram) - Lives in Hyndburn and works as a site supervisor at Accrington Academy. Has five daughters. Fits in his painting as and when he can. His submission was the view out of his sitting room window painted using a head torch. See Talented school supervisor to appear on Sky for Artist of the Year

Note: Professional vs Amateur

Following my comments about professional vs amateur status in the last review I've been asked to clarify what I mean by those terms. 

In brief I've written previously about these terms in these posts
I'm guessing rather a lot of the artists in the Landscape Artist of the Year are actually semi-professional artists i.e. they also work at another job which may or may not be their main source of income but might well generate enough turnover as an artist to be required to declare it to the taxman (as opposed to using the new hobby allowance - see ​The bonus if you're selling art - but not a lot!)

The Wildcard Artists

The march continues at the beginning of every Wildcard event.

This pic now gets labelled the "Wildcard March" - you have to be able to carry or push all your kit!

However the wildcard artists then tend to split up - this time as before along Gateshead Quays - the Gateshead Millennium Bridge on the left and the Baltic on the right.

Random perspectives from random Wildcard Artists

Here's one of the reasons why one woman took part as a Wildcard Artist ‘He would have been proud’: South Shields mum to appear on Sky’s Landscape Artist of the Year show in tribute to son

Themes and Learning Points

Today, these are:
  • Studio Artist vs Plein Air Painter
  • How many different ways can you paint the same view
  • Where is the sun?
  • To shadow or not to shadow
  • Don't be twee
  • Different tools for different folks
  • Learning points from the participants

Studio Artist vs Plein Air Painter

Painting in the open air is completely different to painting in a studio. You get to soak up the atmosphere.

I continue find it disappointing that artists who are predominantly studio artists (i.e. "I've never painted outside in my life") can get into a pod. Mainly because
  • I know there are lots of great plein air artists in the UK who not getting a place in a pod - and 
  • There are groups in the UK which people can join if they want to try painting plein air - without the cameras watching you display how little you know about what it's like to paint outside.
Sure it's interesting for others to "learn by viewing" that there's a LOT more to painting outside compared to painting in the studio. Studio painters provide an education for viewers - and very occasionally they get shortlisted through being very experienced painters. 

The thing I find the most obvious difference between plein air painters and studio artists is how they identify zones and blocks of tone / colour and how they record detail. 
  • plein air painters squint a lot and tend to see the landscape in terms of shapes of the same tone or local colour - while studio artists will often try and paint individual buildings rather than the shape of a group of building which are all the same hue and tone
  • studio painters often like to paint detail (when often you can't see it when you squint) while plein air painters are happy to indicate a feature with a brushmark. 
There are some other interesting differences
  • plein air painters actually observe more that matters than studio painters who are typically overwhelmed with the level of detail - and can see all the leaves on the tree and the bricks in the wall. 
  • plein air painters know more about how to simplify and what to leave out - and studio painters can have a tendency to retreat into the detail if it all becomes a bit overwhelming.
  • plein air painters are used to working in a four hour time window. Indeed Clare commented that she was worried as she usually works to 2-3 hours and she worried she might have too much time. Studio artists are used to being able to carry on working until they think they have finished - even if that's weeks later!
The problem with being a studio artist is also very practical. If you've never ever experienced painting in heat, rain, wind etc you won't have your handy kit of essentials to allow you to deal with problems that arise and keep going. 

We watched a lot of supports jump off easels and easels fall over in the wind at the Wildcard Artists end of the riverbank - probably due to lack of experience of dealing with "weather"!  Plein air artists know how to weight their easels and secure their canvases
For the heat I decided to bring with me my trusty, albeit rather old handmade easel that I built out of my dad’s old stretcher bars when I was fifteen. It worked a treat, holding up my board on which I had a primed A1 sheet of thick watercolour paper. The production team looked a little nervous at this however, and remarked that the breeze might blow it all down. I had a handy screw to fix my board to the easel – I wasn’t worried ;-). Andrew Halliday (and indeed if you watch the video you can see his easel was rock steady to the end)
Just look at how many weighted bags they've got on the bottom of each easel
so that they don't fall over or blow away!
I make it five or six bags per easel!

The other thing is that it can be very challenging for people who are not used to the different way paint dries when it is outside - either faster or slower depending on the temperature, the wind and the humidity. I wonder whether the collage artist failed to finish because he got caught out by the drying times for his hand painted paper - and nowhere to hang them up to dry.

How many different ways can you paint the same view

I think for the first time ever, everybody painted the same view - a cropped bridge including the towers on the Newcastle side plus buildings underneath and the River Tyne.

What was interesting was how many of the artists got the basic proportions and the angles wrong.  I'm not quite sure why since they weren't too many problems with the weather.

This isn't anything to do with what angle they were looking at it - it's to do with the size of the piers relative to the height and the angle of the arch of the bridge. Some didn't come close when looked at carefully - although perfectly believable when viewed as a painting away from the bridge.

However I did notice a lot less measuring in this episode - and when you're painting buildings it does pay to work out measurements and proportions. Speaking personally I always find one large upright vertical and then measure everything in relation to that (twice as big, a third of the size etc etc). In this instance the outer edge of the nearest pier would have done fine in that regard.

Nobody mentioned measurements - however I have a sneaky feeling it crept into the assessment of who got shortlisted.

For me it began to reveal who painted plein air a lot and who didn't.

Where is the sun?

I learned something new this week!
"I've got an app which tells me where the sun's position is going to be" Clare Bowen
I didn't know that there are apps which can tell you about how the sun will move relative to where you are - what height the sun will be relative to the day in the year, where it comes from and where it moves to - and when this will happen.  The better apps allow you to find out about what the sun will do without you being there.  The better apps also seem to be only made for phones or tablets.

The ones I've looked at online which appear decent seem to come with a price tag - but it's not excessive if you think you might get a lot of use out of it e.g. in terms of finding out where to place yourself to make the most of the golden hour and where the light and the shadows will be.

I'm not surprised that Clare Bowen had an app and knew how to use it such that she knew exactly what was going to happen to the light in relation to the bridge so she could plan her painting.

an example of a screen for an app which is looking at how the sun moves around the Sydney Opera House.
(from Sun and Moon Seeker)

Just put "sun" into your search function on your app source and ignore all references to newspapers and you'll find a number of different apps for finding the sun.

Personally speaking, when I was young I was a Brownie and then a Guide and I know about compasses! I've always found that knowing where north is and what time of day it is works for me, for the most part, in terms of how the sun will move and what will be in shadow by when - approximately. When the sun is out. This approach doesn't work quite so well when it's cloudy and you can't see where the sun is to confirm your calculation!  Except when you have a handy tree with moss growing on it. Hands up what that tells you.....(answers on Facebook!)

But an app saves time in terms of working things out without having to use braincells - and is certainly better at predicting times and golden hour zones.

(Recommendations for apps you use in the Facebook post please

To shadow or not to shadow

It's interesting how many people leave out any sense of light or the impact of light on both hue and tone. If the light is absolutely flat as it was last week at the castle that's understandable - but then you need to start looking for other ways of making your subject less boring.

People who are not experienced in plein air painting can mix up their shadows or paint some of them and not others or fail to recognise the implications of shadows for colour and tone.

I'd very much recommend before participating in a heat whether in a pod or as a wildcard, if you're not experienced at plein air painting that you should practice painting shadows over a period of three - 4 hours - and see what happens!  Then assess for whether they are black holes in your painting or enhance the atmosphere and sense of depth and place within the location.

Don't be twee!

This week we found out that Tai does not like people, cars, or birds in paintings - which was interesting.  Kathleen also seems to have an aversion to the twee - and I can understand why.

I then took a look at Tai's website - and I VERY MUCH RECOMMEND you take a look at the paintings on Tai's website. It explains a lot!

As soon as I saw a seagull appear on Leigh's collage I knew he was "done for".

However, by way of contrast, David Yoads introduced vans and cars into his painting - and he was fine. Maybe because they were gestural and painterly and suggested rather than super accurate?  In the same way that Andrew Halliday introduced cars into his painting of Manhattan just through a single brush mark - and they admired those.

Maybe Tai means he doesn't want to see people, cars or birds that actually look too real. They can of course be very distracting - because your eye instantly starts oscillating up and down the reality scale - and that hurts the eye! Maybe 'twee' is shorthand for  'too real and jarring'?
"There are ways of doing it without being too twee" Tai

Different tools for different folks

One of the very educational aspects of these programmes is looking at the different tools that people use to create their paintings and artwork.

This week we had
  • Chinese brushes used by Wei Deng - and how these are held - for his traditional Chinese watercolour
  • the Credit card used with a lot of invention and dexterity by Joanne McAndrew
  • the hand painted papers - with brushmarks - produced by Leigh Glover for his collages - plus notes on when he cuts and when he tears
  • new brushes for the a special day - bought by David Hoads as a reward for getting in a pod. 
I always think the latter has the potential to be a bit of a problem since new brushes behave differently to old brushes. However if your old brushes really need to be retired then it seems like a very wise investment!

Learning Points from the participants

This is what Clare Bowen had to say in her blog post Sky Landscape Artist of The Year Contestant! and where I get to feel embarrassed on the one hand and want to toot toot on the other - because somebody actually read all last year's posts and the tips I suggested - and they were useful!

Anyway, I shall return the favour and suggest that these tips look most useful and I RECOMMEND you read these too!
My Learning Points
  • Competitions are always tough and pressured.
  • On the day don’t change your routine or materials; I should have worked on a board!
  • I wanted to stand out and make an impact with a large canvas but it was too big given the complexity of the subject and the interruptions. The winners painting was 10×10″ mine was 16×17″ Also realising that a small painting of mine is good enough!
  • I need to practise talking about my art – people like to know what’s behind the painting, which isn’t always easy to describe or reveal, especially when there is a camera in your face!
  • How to deal with adrenaline – putting it to good use in firing me to paint and not crippling me with nerves!
  • Making sure I enjoy the experience – it’s such a special thing to do and be a part of.
  • Would I do it again? Yes, with the experience of doing it once under my belt I will be definitely be trying again next year. (Watch this space!)
  • I would recommend it to other artists. It’s not for the faint hearted but it is a challenging and out of comfort experience and afterwards it feels like you can do anything!!


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The Results

Episode 5 Shortlist

The judging this time was interesting because they had all chosen the same view - with some variation as to how much they had added on in terms of foreground water (Wei and Leavon ) and bridge (Leavon).

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

For Tai he thought it highlighted how well chosen the crop was, the extent to which they observed the volume under the bridge and the big stone towers at the end. (which I read as meaning, to some extent, whether or not they had got the drawing, volume and proportions right).

Announcement time - who makes the shortlist?
(from left to right) David Fox, Wei Deng, Joanne McAndrew, David Youds,
Andrew Halliday, Clare Bowen, Leavon Bowman and Leigh Glover

The artists shortlisted were (in the order they were called)
  • Joanne McAndrew
  • David Youds
  • Clare Bowen
(left to right) Clare Bowen, David Youds and Joanne McAndrew

[Note" I'm going to publish now and come back and write up the comments re the artists later as it's now 9pm and I want my dinner!] NOW COMPLETED!

Joanne McAndrew

Joanne McAndrew: submission and heat painting
The Judges comments included:
  • Kathleen said Joanne has a very good eye for framing a scene and providing lots of information with very good elements
  • Tai said she really responded to the engineering of the bridge. She got the sense of building - she "built" the bridge. Incredibly well constructed.  Used her credit card to stamp the lines on to the wood.
  • He added that she showed in her submission that she was very good at leading the viewer through the painting and did it again with her heat painting.
I liked the fact that there is a distinct sense of foreground (the water), middle ground (the bridge) and background (the buildings).  She's also one of the artists who got a better sense of proportion and angles between the bridge towers, the bridge arch and the background buildings. I thought the flash of light turquoise on the lower bridge struts was a flash of genius which just picked up the whole painting.

David Youds

David Youds: Submission and heat painting

Kathleen said thought that his work has a charm in its apparent naivete which is apparent more in the submission that the heat painting; but that he'd begun to get close to the lusciousness of the submission painting. In the heat painting she liked the way the oil paint is applied in little blocks of oily luscious oily colour and the darkness of those arches sitting underneath the bridge and the reflections in the water. There are small passages which are really strong - and she was really pleased he'd managed to get the cars in as well

Tai said he has a beautiful touch in the way he puts the paint on and although there's very little there you get the whole sense of the space across the river. He introduced traffic lights and traffic and you get a sense of a working city behind it and it was really nice that he could do that on such a small scale.

Getting close to the lusciousness. Lovely touch n the way he applies paint

Clare Bowen

Clare Bowen: Submission and Heat Painting
Joan thought her submission painting was romantic (but I'm not sure she meant that in a good way!)

Kathleen commented on how she is really comfortable painting working outside. She liked in particular how she paints the light and the shadows and that what she has cleverly done created circularity in the shadows so there's a lot of movement in the painting

Tai said loved the jumble of buildings which are not rendered perfectly but we get a real sense of the volume. He also through what what had really come to the fore was Clare's understanding of colour - which holds the painting together - and that he thought it was beautiful.

Again for me she's got a better sense of the size of the bridge compared to the buildings behind and the angle between arch and towers. For me she provided a definite sense of place in terms of zones and depth - in part because of her the way she painted light and shadows.  She also went for it and got three bridges in and not just one!

Clare was rather pleased about being shortlisted and bounced a lot! Her blog post commented on the challenge of handling the huge bundle of nervous energy she had on the day.

Positive and negative comments on other paintings


  • some good painting today
  • being true to yourself
  • paints the shadow and creates the place
  • suggests people without being precise
  • feeling of volume - which makes sense of the picture
  • knows what he is doing - but needs more time


  • not providing any sense of the place
  • a mix of literal with suggestive
  • Newcastle on the Riviera

Overall winner of Episode 5

The overall winner this week was David Youds - and I think I understand why. His method painting was much more painterly and he's really good at getting important shapes and tone and colour right.

This is his video

The Wildcard Winner

Yet again, thanks to the editing, I spotted the Wildcard Winner around about this shot.

Tai talking to Rosy Barnes
The Wildcard Winner was Rosy Barnes from Edinburgh. I thought she was very sensible sticking to drawing given the wind on that bridge!

The next episode

The next episode is on the 19 November 

Heat 6: Drake’s Island from Plymouth Hoe - where Maria L Smith and John O'Neill were wildcard artists! Filmed on the 20th June and not so sunny!

More about Landscape Artist of the Year 

on MAM and by participants

2019: SERIES 5


2018: SERIES 4








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