Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Review: Semi-Final of Landscape Artist of the Year 2019 at Cromarty Firth

You know how I like to draw out the themes in Landscape Artist of the Year....?

Well it struck me as I watched the Landscape Artist of the Year 2019 Semi Final very late on Tuesday evening, after getting in at 10am from a Private View, that it seems to be an absolute given that......

The location for Landscape Artist of the Year Semi-Final

....MUST be:
  1. very different
  2. include huge and difficult structures
  3. Accompanied by water - and reflections

Previous Locations

Hence the locations for the previous semi-finals
  • 2018 - Felixstowe Docks - painting a container port with very big cranes and ships and stacks of containers (see Review: Semi-Finals of Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 - Felixstowe Docks)
  • 2017: Castle Farm in Kent (the exception which proves the rule - given what happened the next year) - painting enormous fields of lavender 
  • 2016: Margate Harbour - painting views of the harbour
  • 2015: Potters Fields Park in central London - painting Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and the City of London
Get the nature of the challenge. Sort the wheat from the chaff. A big challenge means a cracking final? etc etc etc

Well the semi-final for 2019 topped Felixstowe in my book.

The Location

Anybody doing their research in advance based on the very broad information you get as to location would NEVER EVER have deduced that some oil derricks and platforms had been brought into the Cromarty Firth for maintenance.

I googled the location on Google Maps when I heard it was there - for my post about Landscape Artist of the Year 2019 - Heats and Semi-Final Locations - and there was nothing! I worked out the location for the pods on Marine Terrace and was spot on - but there was NOTHING to look at other than rather a lot of water, some distant hills and awful lot of sky!

So I'm guessing there were some rather surprised artists when they turned up at the pods - and looked at what was in front of them!

the village of Cromarty with the pods on Marine Terrace
- looking out to the oil platforms in the middle of the Cromarty Firth

Who knew they were going to be painting extremely peculiar vertical structures sat in the middle of the firth?

The thing is they weren't in front of them. The cameras zoom in but eyes don't. They were quite a long way away and while they had lots of detail you'd need ace eyesight to see it all.

The weather

  • Next they almost had every kind of weather in one day. This can be a major challenge for anybody who is not an experienced plein air painter.
  • When they were setting up they couldn't even see the subject properly (how many times has that happened in this series?). 
what the oil platforms looked like at the beginning of the day
  • The wind was blowing - as one might expect of a maritime location adjacent to the North Sea in north east Scotland! 
  • Finally they were needing the white umbrellas to stop the glare on the painting because of the very bright sun!

The Artists

The Artists were all the Heat Winners plus the chosen artist from the Wildcard Winners

The Semi Finalists lining up to hear which three are to become Finalists

4 Professionals

2 Amateurs

Chosen from the Wildcard Winners

  • Sue England (Instagram) from Heat 4 at Herstmonceaux Castle was chosen. She is a very experienced graphic artist who started painting after she retired. However it turns out that the heat was the first time she had painted plein air!!!


Writing about themes in semi-final week is a bit different from the rest of the competition. We know that all these artists are competent - they've been chosen as heat winners!

Taking people away from their comfort zones

...and back to my comments at the beginning about the location!
How do you create a level playing field for everybody? It seems the answer is that you take them all somewhere that is not familiar, not routine and gives them ALL a major challenge!
In this instance they got an overwhelming view with:
  • major contrasts between the verticals of the oil platforms and the horizontals of the panoramic natural landscape
  • totally unpredictable weather - with changing light, tones and colour throughout the day
  • the tide - the sea levels below the platforms changed over the course of the day!
  • stiff competition between the very mechanical and precise nature of the giant meccano set in front of them and the natural features suffused with atmospheric perspective

Interestingly - unlike last year - nobody turned away from the big challenge and painted something entirely different!

Practice and prepare

It does seem a very good idea to have a think about how you can prepare - such as researching the area - or looking back at what sort of challenges they have presented to semi-finalists in the past.

The start - spotting likely locations becomes easier when you realise that....
.....they need a long stretch of nice flat ground on which to put all the pods
..... in front of a really challenging prospect!

Some people prepare BEFORE the semi final - in various ways

Some people make sure they prepare for their painting with a quick sketch where they work out what they're going to do as the composition - and make their mistakes and identify them in their sketchbook - rather than on their support.

Getting the balance right

It's no wonder that Patsy was heard saying very early on that the big trick with this painting would be getting the balance right.

Getting the balance right can mean any number of things - colour for example. I was really expecting Gary to go through to the Final - but, like Tai, I was somewhat disappointed with how the colour worked on the day. It just didn't quite work.  His FB post below illustrates to me something about why it was 'out of whack' - and I think it's something to with the tones.

When is a landscape not a landscape

When it needs to use a portrait format to do the subject justice.

I think this is probably the most important lesson to take away from this episode of Landscape Artist of the Year. There is nothing that says that a landscape must use a landscape portrait - and I have a feeling if more of the other artists had broken away from the landscape format then they might have given the finalists a better run for the money! Literally!

Here are the seven landscape paintings in the order that the artists are listed at the top. The name of the artist who created it is in the caption. Note the media used is a guess by me based on what I saw in the programme (please feel free to correct me via my Facebook page)

Linoprint by Kathy Reddy
Pen/brush and ink by Fujiko Rose
Oil painting by Patsy Moore
Acrylic painting by Gary Jeffrey
Oil painting by David Youds
Oil painting by James Murch
Oil Pastels(?) and oils by Sue England

The astute among you will have spotted that
  • ALL the women abandoned the conventional landscape format and went with a portrait or square format and 
  • ALL the men stuck to the conventional landscape format for their artwork.
Even if it did take Kathy Reddy over an hour to arrive at the conclusion that the only way to tackle the subject effectively was to go with the verticals. Give that woman some credit for working her sketchbook hard - and still finishing on time!

Could this be the key consideration.....?

The Finalists

This of course is the episode where we don't reduce down from the shortlist of three to the heat winner at the end of the programme.

That's done in the Final - and after they have painted their landscape assignment.

The Finalists are ALL WOMEN! They are:
  • Patsy Moore - who is very clearly a very accomplished artist with a very good eye. It's interesting she mainly works in watercolour but uses oils for this competition.
  • Fujiko Rose - who has a completely unique style and way of seeing and recording what she sees
  • Sue England - very much a surprise (I can't remember whether they've had a wildcard in the final before) and somebody who has a lot of experience as a graphic artist which I always finds means they know how to compose instinctively) with a great sense of how to abstract 
(left to right0 Sue England, Fujiko Rose and Patsy Moore

They were my chosen three. There was just something about the way they thought about the challenge and worked out what their approach and how they were going to try and create their artwork - they said some incredibly sensible things during the course of the programme.

I very much RECOMMEND that you rerun the episode and listen carefully to what they had to say. 

Note in particular what formats they used for their "landscape" paintings!

(left to right) Patsy Moore, Sue England and Fujiko Rose
all their work is either square or portrait format
Every single work abandoned the conventional landscape format. None of them struggled with their composition - they knew what they were doing pretty quickly.  They knew where to place their horizons. They knew how to control their tones and colours. They got a lot done in the time!  Sue even finished early!

Next week: It's the FINAL!

The Final was held at Battersea Power Station in September. I'm wondering what assignments they got to paint in advance of the Final.....  Hopefully not something big and very structural as we've had rather a lot of that in this programme.

I've got another evening commitment so I might get my review of the Final up on the Wednesday but it might well be the Thursday.

DO NOT COMPLAIN if I put the name of the winner in the title! Spoilers are for when people say what happens BEFORE the episode is broadcast. I can't accommodate the whims of everybody who decides to put off viewing the episode to whenever!

Then it's the Exhibition

Make a note of the location and date of the exhibition when you can get to see the artwork up close!

Finalists from this series will be exhibiting
Register your interest to attend the exhibition at (020 7499 0947)

More about Landscape Artist of the Year 

on MAM and by participants

2019: SERIES 5








2018: SERIES 4




Review: Episode 4 of Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 at Studley Royal Water Garden - Learning Points and themes were
  • be different
  • get out of your pod
  • what to do when you don't know what to do
  • visual trickery
  • when is a landscape a landscape
PLUS Sky Arts Landscape Artist - Winning Heat 4 | Greg Mason

Review: Episode 3 of Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 at Loch Fyne (Loch Fyne, Scotland) - the themes which jumped out for me were
  • Dealing with a lot of landscape and changing weather
  • Knowing what format works best
  • Knowing what to leave out and when to stop
  • The importance of a sense of place
Review: Episode 2 of Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 (Viking Bay, Kent) - Learning points included:
  • Save yourself some guesswork and research the location
  • Practice painting plein air
  • Practice completing a painting in four hours - in changing weather
  • Have a PLAN!
Review: Episode 1 of Landscape Artist of the Year (Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire)
  • the importance of the submission piece
  • why experienced plein air painters can paint to a deadline

Previous Years