Thursday, January 30, 2020

Review: Episode 2 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2020

The very odd thing about Episode 2 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2020 is that I need to be completely upfront and declare an interest....

Three of my former clients are in it!
  • I went to this heat because one artist asked for some advice and we met up the week before the heat.
  • Another artist is somebody who I already knew who asked me to deliver a lecture at an Art Conference; and 
  • the third became a client after the Heat. 
I'll tell you who they are at the end - but you might be able to guess if you look at my photos of this Heat on Facebook - see 48 photos - including pics of all the completed portraits in Portrait Artist of the Year 2020 (Episode 2)

Episode 2: The Artists, Self-portraits and Sitters

Links to the artist's website are embedded in their names. Links to their social media sites are also provided.

You can see all the speeded up videos of their portraits via the profile page

The professional artists

The professional artists are:
I happily admit that when I got the phone call from Sky saying I had a got through to the televised heats, I was slightly in shock. Oh yes! Oh NO!!! The challenge is to paint a portrait in 4 hours, while being filmed constantly, with a live audience, and popping outside at regular intervals to be interviewed...
So I had about 6 weeks to practice painting portraits, in 10% of the time I would usually spend on a painting. I would like to thank everyone who so kindly modelled for me.
  • Enda Griffin (Facebook | Instagram) - an established artist with over 15 years' experience of teaching art, craft and design, recently completing a masters degree in socially engaged art with Limerick College of Art and Design. He was selected to be one of 12 finalists to represent Ireland from over 1400 entrants in the Irish heat of the SKY ARTS portrait painter of the year in 2014.  Interestingly his portrait paintings are nothing whatsoever like what he did in the heat. I think I'd have preferred to see his more conventional style.
  • Mark Mulholland (Facebook | Instagram | Twitter) Contemporary figurative oil painter. Has exhibited in BP Portrait (2014); Royal Society Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition (2017) and  Scottish Portrait Awards (2017 & 2018)
  • Sophie Goudman-Peachey  (Facebook | Instagram | Twitter) a London based artist whose work combines painting, collage and printmaking to reconstruct existing narratives surrounding womxn in society. Graduated with a BA (Hons) Fine Art: Painting in 2017 from Wimbledon College of Art. I like her printmaking.
  • Dorian Radu (Facebook | Instagram | ) a hyper-realist artist who has worked on commission for both the Romanian Royal Family and the BBC. He's exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy Open 2018, the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, winning the L. Cornelissen & Son Prize in 2017. He's an Associate Member of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters and won their top prize at their annual exhibition in 2019. His aim is to balance the virtues of both traditional and contemporary portrait painting.

The amateur artists

The amateur artists are
  • Sian Costello (Instagram) From Roscommon in Ireland. Painter studying at Limerick School of Art and Design. 
  • Chris Longridge (Instagram | Twitter) - Amateur because he's got "a proper job". Loved the bit during the episode where he confesses to being a TV journalist!! He's currently the Associate Editor of Digital Spy (and prior to that was a Senior Editor of Heat for six years).  He has a really interesting take on the similarities between interviewing celebrities and teasing out their characteristics and personality when painting their portrait. There again he does have a degree in social anthropology from the LSE! No art website that I can find. (He should get himself one - he's good!)
  • Louise Ann Saward (Instagram) - based in Liversedge, West Yorkshire. Graduated with BA Hons Degree in Fine Art from the University of Northumbria in Newcastle

The self portraits

Not one of the self-portraits was conventional. You can see all the self portraits in my album of photos on my Making A Mark Facebook Page.

The self-portraits which stood out for me were those by Dorian Radu and Julie Douglas - mainly because they were different. I particularly liked
  • Julie's side profile in the brass instrument - I've never seen that done before
  • the fact that Dorian had tackled his entire torso AND a background with perspective AND made it the Grand Hall of Battersea Arts centre where the heats took place last year!

The point about the self-portraits is that they NEED to be different - "ordinary" does not cut it. Plus because decisions about who makes the shortlist include the submission painting. Thus you are halfway to the shortlist as soon as you submit your application. Artists also need to demonstrate a consistency with the painting produced in the heat - and every shortlisted artist has been able to demonstrate that in recent times....

The Sitters

The artists are all competing to win a £10,000 commission to paint Nile Rodgers for the Albert Hall - which possibly explains why we might have more sitters with a similar skin tone. I say "might" because in this Heat it was 2 out of the 3 sitters!

The sitters in this heat were:
  • Noel Clarke 
  • Trevor Nelson MBE  - a British DJ,  presenter and pioneer of the urban music scene.
  • Ashley Roberts an American singer, dancer, actress, model and television personality who used to be a member of The Pussycat Dolls (an American pop girl group and dance ensemble)
[Next week's sitters are: Len Goodman, Tinie Tempah and Harriet Walter.]

Episode 2: Themes

Under-drawing vs straight in with a brush

An interesting conundrum faced by many artists is how to start to get accuracy in terms of size and features. Should you do a drawing first or get stuck straight in with a brush?

This episode is worth watching because of the variety of approaches - and you can see the extent to which they worked well (or not) and can hypothesise about that was.

My view is that those who started to paint the head with a brush from life - rather than from technology (and check who did and who didn't via the speeded up videos) - demonstrated very clearly that they'd done this (a lot) before.

Those who tend to draw in and paint in different ways in their studio to my mind made a less good impression. Two artists had a VERY different style.

TIP: You can save time by not doing a drawing but instead drawing/blocking in with a brush. However this is a risky approach unless you've done this before and it's like second nature. The best approach to preparing for Portrait Artist of the Year is to do a lot of painting people from life (NOT photos).

Background or no background

Interestingly the themed backgrounds to each sitter have so far been a lot less intrusive than in previous series when they have on occasion been seriously distracting (ie. somebody forgot what the programme was about!)

Of the paintings produced:
  • six artists ignored the background which existed, 
    • half painted it a colour which was not the one which existed and 
    • half ignored backgrounds completely. 
  • Of those that painted the background it was more a "nod" in the direction.
I have a lot of sympathy with this approach. Why on earth, given the very limited time available which is subject to constant interruptions, would artists spend time painting backgrounds when they need all the time they can muster to do the best job they can on painting the individual?

I will return to this topic when we get to the semi-final! ;) That's a hint......

What does the palette look like?

I'm an inveterate starer at "painting kit / brushes / palettes". I'm a great believer that the kit tells you a LOT about the nature of the artist and how experienced they are.

You don't get to see a lot of this in the programme and interestingly I took relatively few photos of kit this time (more in the semi finals and finals). [Note: There's a nice but very quick sequence at the beginning (c. 2 minutes 25 seconds) when they're setting up minus the public and crew when you can see what they've brought with them and what they're putting out to use.]

However there was a comment passed during the programme, by Kathleen, reinforced by Tai, about one artist's palettes which suggested to me that Judges do the same thing - and assess knowledge and expertise by how artists lay out their paint and handle their palette tones

This was my favourite palette - nicely organised with enough space to develop some colour strings for the flesh tones (see below)

Chris Longridge with his palette

Skin colours and tones

There was some very messy development of skin tones - in terms of both over development and under development and not very disciplined use of paint.

At least one sitter would be in hospital if their skin really looked the way it was painted.

This is a portrait painting competition folks. Competence in painting skin in a short space of time should be "a given". (That's how people who work to commission do studies for their portraits). 

Which makes me wonder why people (over the course of current and past episodes) arrive to paint when they've not developed any skills in how to develop colours and tones related to skin - no matter what the ethnicity of the sitter is.  Also if you're not going to paint realism and are going to (say) try and emulate a colourist you have to have a really excellent understanding of how different colours work as tones.  You have to spend a lot of time looking at colours and tones and then trying to match them with non-natural colours to do that.

With respect to disciplined and efficient colour mixing, here's a couple of online articles about colour strings which portrait artists really should be using if they want to paint fast in the heats
(If anybody knows better please contact me).

Decision Time

Sitters choose portrait to take home

Turning the easels - and the portraits - to Trevor Nelson
  • Noel Clarke chose the painting by Chris Longridge - but thought all three portraits looked like him. He was really pleased with the effort
  • Trevor Nelson chose the painting by Dorian Radu - for his mother "who will love it"
  • Ashley Roberts chose the painting by Mark Mulholland after some very interesting sound effects while she pondered.  I have a theory as to why she chose that one....

Noel Clarke chooses a portrait from what I thought was the strongest group

Judges choose shortlist of three

The Judges choose by putting portraits next to one another. It's one thing to look at a portrait in isolation and then to look at it next to a 'close competitor'

(Left to right) Mark Mulholland, Enda Griffin, Dorian Radu, Chris Longridge,
Sian Costello, Louise Ann Saward, Julie Douglas, Sophie Goudman-Peachey and Rebecca Asghar

I've found that one of the interesting things about attending a heat is I constantly behave as if I'm a Judge and keep mentally making notes of who is in contention for a place in the final three. This is helped by the fact everybody else seems to be doing the same thing, so members of the audience end up having quasi-Judges discussions around the room while the heat is going on!

For me two out of the three were a "done deal" and so it came to pass - but the third one was debatable - and the Judges decided to go with the "exciting but bonkers" option.

I gather I wasn't the only person who got two out of three right.

Things the judges liked:

  • a sensational likeness which was not overworked
  • portraits which demonstrate a real sense of the person
  • confidence in building the head

Things the judges were less keen other paintings

  • a portrait which ages the sitter
  • eyes which are not quite real enough
  • portraits which don't achieve a likeness
and anxiety about what people were going to do wrong!

The Judges shortlisted

As always they tried to elect a diverse set of paintings....  The painters they selected were:
  • Dorian Radu
  • Chris Longbridge
  • Sian Costello
who were rather surprised as well as very pleased!

Three out of three are gobsmacked, astonished and very pleased they've made the shortlist
(left to right) Sian Costello, Chris Longridge and Dorian Radu
Portraits by Dorian Radu

The Judges observed that Dorian clearly came with a plan - to approach it as if he was producing a sketch for a commission. However although all the Judges thought his painting of the head and the sense of physicality was excellent, Tai had reservations about him having effectively stopped and that while the likeness was very good he hadn't progressed it to becoming more of "a work of art" i.e. generating a likeness was not enough.  I think it was also possibly something to do with the fact that he had the head finished very fast and then took a long time over the rest of the painting - which was a bit odd. I think Tai wanted to know what it could have looked like - rather than the safe option.

I agree and disagree. I'd have liked to see him work it up a bit further. It certainly didn't need a background - but more refined hands and more development in the clothing would have taken it up a notch. I think then it would have been a very close call between Dorian and Chris. However I do think Dorian was also very sensible in avoiding ruining what he'd achieved so far. It was a very close judgement call at the end of the day.

Twitter had a few things to say - this was typical!

Portraits by Chris Longridge

Chris Longbridge was a very quiet and totally unflashy painter who just "got on and did". He talked to Judges and Presenters when required but I think he was mainly focused on getting on with his painting - so much so that he worked through most of lunch.

Portraits by Sian Costello

Sian's was a VERY odd painting not least because the head was totally out of proportion to the torso and legs - however having seen other works on her website - and her submission in particular, it's clear to me that Sian has something. I bet she'll be back again - but I hope she paints a lot more in between times as I suspect that's what's going to make her art more accessible to others.

PS I did keep wondering why they called her "Cyan" rather than "Sharn (silent r)/Shaan" which is the correct pronunciation of Sian.

This is the point at which Joan Bakewell nailed it when she asked
Does outcome matter more than motive?
Discussion of the shortlist

Episode 2 Winner

Shortlisted artists with their heat paintings
Note none of the shortlisted paintings are small and none are "just heads" - there's a bit of torso with each head and hands with one. The biggest head was painted by Sian and the smallest by Dorian while Chri's is about life size.

The Judges opted for Chris Longbridge as the Heat Winner.

the announcement of the heat winner

For me Chris was a very slow burn who lit up towards the end.
  • He seemed to know what he was doing from when he started. It takes some confidence to go straight in with a broad brush building the structure of the tonal shapes from the outset - even if he was referencing his smartphone as well as the sitter.
  • I began to realise he might be a serious contender when I saw his palette of skin tones (see my photo above) 
  • He worked through lunch - minus sitter and other distractions. This is a strategy that far too few artists use to make up the time lost to interviews and photoshoots and just the cameras getting in the way.
  • By the time he got his background going, his painting was really beginning to take off as the likeness was good and there was a clear sense of 3D about it.  This was an artist who had very clearly worked from life in the past and who has a very good understanding of the anatomy of a skull.
  • He nailed 'simple and truthful' and achieved a good likeness 
  • He did enough but not too much (i.e. didn't fiddle and ruin it!). 
  • Importantly he created a portrait which was consistent with his submission (i.e. not a one trick pony)
  • I think the only thing I had reservations about was the colour of purple he chose for the background.
Noel Clarke was pretty pleased too.
The general consensus on Twitter is that he was a worthy winner.

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and finally......

My former clients are......

My former clients are:
  • Dorian Radu - following his appearance in PAOTY 2019, he asked me to provide advice as to options for development and and different approaches to this heat. I do remember emphasising:
    • the importance of hands as most artists neglect to attempt them and 
    • to make sure that he practiced skins of a different colour!
  • Julie Douglas - commissioned me for a lecture and panel discussion at the Ulster University Festival of Art & Design in 2015.
  • Rebecca Asghar - met with me to review approaches to developing her career and approaches to other art competitions (a very popular topic for advice amongst my clients! :) ). 

this is me - at 33 minutes and 30 seconds!

Despite spending a lot of time avoiding cameras, I was in shot for a second or two! Say "Hello" if you see me at the Heats in March!

Me (on the extreme left) laughing at a remark during the review of the portraits

A second go

Like many other artists before them, some artists return to their studios to paint another version of a portrait of their sitter - although this time not working from life - and there's a bit of a difference. Which just goes to emphasise the importance of consistency of submission and heat portrait....

This was the heat painting - in front of the sitter

Unfinished portrait of Ashley Roberts by Mark Mulholland

This was the painting developed in the studio

More about Portrait Artist of the Year 2020

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