Thursday, February 06, 2020

Review: Episode 3 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2020

I watched the third episode of Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year this morning having been occupied with Life Drawing Live on Tuesday night when it was broadcast. (Why do they always do the good art programmes at the same time?)

What was unusual was that I realised right from the off that I was going to be watching the whole thing knowing who was the winner - having met the artist at the semi-final. It was interesting because having heard comments made by Judges about the heat winner's painting in the semi - and their reference back to the heat painting - I've been really interested since last April to see how the portrait was developed!!

discussing the shortlist

Episode 3: The Artists, Self-portraits and Sitters


The artists lining up to hear who got shortlisted

As always links to
  • the artist's website are embedded in their names.
  • their social media sites are also provided.

The professional artists


The professional artists are:
  • Cara Dunne (Facebook | Instagram) Completed her degree in Fine Art Painting and History of Art in the National College of Art and Design, Dublin in 2016. Her chosen medium is oil paint on canvas or board. She also works in graphic design, illustration, film-making and social media management. Last year she did a project 27 Portraits in 27 days. In January she was exhibiting at The Royal Ulster Academy Annual Exhibition 2020
  • Inge Du Plessis (Facebook | Instagram) This is a link to her self-portrait The Woman who Stood Still for Too Long (90 x 55cm) - about her turning 50. Originally from Cape Town, South Africa she moved to the UK in 2009 and now lives in Maidenhead in Berkshire. Completed a Fine Art Honours Degree and have been painting professionally since 1999 - after many years working as a cabinet maker and running her own design and manufacturing business. Previously participated in PAOTY 2016.
  • Owain Hunt (Facebook | Twitter | InstagramBorn in 1994, he is self taught, paints in his bedroom and developed his artistic practice whilst studying for degrees in Economics and History from the University of Bristol, reading, observing and experimenting between lectures. Since graduating in 2016 he has pursued a career as a painter, working to commission. Is currently showing a drawing in the Pastel Society Annual Exhibition which opened today at the Mall Galleries and will also be showing in the Royal Society of British Artists 2020 Show later. He's also very accomplished at marketing his profile to the press.
  • Mark H Lawrence (Facebook Instagram) Born in Edinburgh in 1968. Studied BA Fine Art (Hons) Grays School of Art, Aberdeen (1990-94); MA Fine Art at University of East London (2009-10);  PGDE Art & Design Secondary Education, The University of Edinburgh 2018. He currently teaches Art & Design in secondary education, and practices art in London. One of his double portraits was selected for the BP Portrait Exhibition 2018 - and I remember it well but I don't think I met him as he's not in my artists with their paintings post. 
  • Michael James Monaghan (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram) a Scottish artist and Celtic fan who lives and works in West Lothian. 
  • Neil O'Driscoll (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram- This is a link to his VERY different self portrait. He's a multidisciplinary artist based between Ireland and the UK with qualifications in art, crafts and film-making. Has worked between the fields of illustration and film for the past ten years, whilst expanding into video design for theatre. Currently based in Margate, Kent, Neil works largely from home and undertakes private commissions for illustration, portraiture and landscapes. He used pastels for the Heat
  • Michael Sheppard (Facebook | Instagram) - video - Graduated with a Fine Art Painting and Drawing degree from Northampton University in 2017 and subsequently an MA at Nottingham Trent University. He has autism and works in pen and ink and just switches off when he draws. Uses mj the art traveller as his brand name. I found this good interview with him.

The amateur artists


The amateur artists are:
My entry was really last minute, I got it in right on the last day and I was panicking. I sent in one of my portraits, and I had to write a lot about myself and my art.

The self portraits



What marked out these self portraits was a couple of really unusual ones by Inge Du Plessis and Neil O'Driscoll. They both had a surreal, whimsical element to them.

As usual a number of the portraits were nothing like the way people painted in the Heat - while others had a great deal of continuity.


The Sitters


The sitters in this heat were:
  • Len Goodman - ex-ballroom dancing world champion and the Head Judge of Strictly Come Dancing and is still the Head Judge of Dancing with the Stars (age 75)
  • Dame Harriet Walter - the actress - who was a stunning sitter and a woman who was not afraid to acknowledge her age (she's 69)
  • Tinie Tempah - a British rapper, singer, songwriter and entrepreneur - who had his bluetooth earphones in and fidgeted the whole time as he listened to music.

The interior of the 

Episode 3: Themes


Smiling faces


I remember when Sandy Nairne was Director of the National Portrait Gallery he commented - in response to criticisms about their new commissioned portrait of their new Patron (the Duchess of Cambridge - see Paul Emsley and the Duchess of Cambridge - two videos and a drawing) that you could probably count the number of portraits in the NPG of somebody smiling on the fingers of maybe one hand. That's because nobody can hold a smile for a life sitting - it's just far too painful. 

So it was interesting that when Len asked whether they'd like him smiling and started to do so that nobody pointed out that he'd be unable to keep it going.  As I expected the smile came and went and came and went etc etc.

Kathleen suggested matchsticks to prop up the grin.

I know with absolute certainty any time I see a self portrait which contains somebody smiling, I'm  99.99% certain this has been painted from a photo rather than from life i.e. even an artist would give up on trying to paint themselves from life smiling!!

Painting older people - and lines


Two of the sitters this week were older people. One just short of 70 and the other in his mid 70s. I liked the fact that Harriet speculated about how many artists were brave enough to paint people looking older

The thing is older people need to look their age. If you flatter them too much, they just look odd. They need their lines and they need the changes to skin colour that come about with age.
Harriet has lots of different lines and she's interesting to drawa six year who was drawing from her position spread eagled on the floor
Oddly enough the only person I thought captured the age factor was the youngest ever artist in the competition.

Portrait of Harriet Walter byJean O'Riordan
using Copic markers and coloured pencils
- by far the best likeness

Learning points:
  • when practising make sure you paint older people. They have absolutely fascinating faces to draw and paint - and they're far more interesting than young people!
  • if you can't get older models make sure you look really carefully and note the changes in the shape of the face, the nature of the skin, the bits where both flesh and skin have sagged or bagged
  • whatever you do don't make them look too young - because that's all you're used to painting!


Painting people who fidget

If you get a sitter who sits as still as Harriet Walter you are very lucky. Tai thought she was rather marvellous and wants to paint her!

Quite a lot of sitters get tired and slump over the course of the day.

However some sitters fidget and move and toe tap - as Tinie did. If you get a sitter who moves all the time you have to focus on working out a strategy for how to incorporate the movement and working with the moves.

Friends and family


I'm never very sure whether having friends and family there is a bonus or a major distraction.  It's great to have support and advice of you're somebody who doesn't mind people commenting on your paintings while they're in progress.

However if you really don't want any comment until they're finished there's something to be said to asking them to come along near the end of the painting time!

Completing to the edge


Nobody commented on this - however I noticed in this Heat that I was much more well disposed to the shortlisted artist who covered all her canvas. If none of them quite finish, I don't notice so much - but when one produces a "completed painting" (right up to all the edges) I really notice the difference.

Given that most are painting a plain background I don't see what the problem is in completing the painting by "finishing the edges".

Decision Time


Sitters choose portrait to take home


  • Len chose the portrait drawing by Neal O'Driscoll - to hang in his son's home in due course.
  • Harriet chose the painting by Michael Monaghan - because it made her look 30 years younger and reminded her of her mother
  • Tiny chose the portrait by Owain Hunt - he liked the layers of paint on the face which gave it an air of mystery

Judges choose shortlist of three


Episode 3: Shortlisted artists are (L to R) Inge du Plessis, Neil O'Driscoll and Owain Hunt

The artists the Judges shortlisted were:
  • Owain Hunt
  • Neil O'Driscoll
  • Inge du Plessis

So the sitters agreed with two of the three artists selected by the Judges.  But did one of them pick the winner?

Self portrait and portrait of Tinie Tempah by Owain Hunt

  • Tai thought that he adapted his style (to the time available) really well - but that the shorthand re the hand and arm wasn't effective
  • Kate liked how the background anchored the tones used in the face.
  • Kathleen felt that he built a likeness of Tinie
His self-portrait was much better than his heat painting in my opinion. Owain is an accomplished portrait painter as his website demonstrates, however, there's something wrong with the foreshortening on Tinie's left arm and hand - it's looking stunted.

self portrait and painting of Len Goodman by Neil O'Driscoll
  • Len referred to the heat artwork as a formidable pastel sketch.
  • Kathleen loves the eccentricity of Neil's self portrait and liked the sense of Len the performer was concerned about whether there was too "too sweet" with too much colour
  • Kate liked the way he captured Len's gentle smile and sai she regarded it as a 'tour de force' i.e. one demonstrating real mastery
For me, while the drawing was fine and use of pastels was good, for me there was a bit too much discontinuity between the self-portrait and the portrait of Len. I also have a thing about artists who leave unfinished edges - Len's portrait would have looked so much better if the left hand edge and the bottom edge had been finished to the edge

Also I think it would have worked better with a Holbein turquoise as the backdrop - he went far too  green with the curtains and there's a competition going on between the jacket and curtains and red kerchief which detracts from the head.
Self portrait and portrait of Tinie Tempah by Inge du Plessis

  • Kathleen thought she captured the way Tinie was sitting and she's got a real sense of his weight.
  • Kate thought Inge really delivered. She liked the scale and colour and that the portrait had presence.  What you get is a serene portrait in a vibrant setting which reflected Tinie's energetic fidget!
  • Tai thought Inge's skill is in creating a drama in how she places a head or his body in space
For me I thought these were the two paintings with the most congruity and impact when lined up side by side. Inge knows how to make a portrait capture your eye.

Episode 3 Winner


Here's the shortlisted artists lined up next to their Heat Portrait. As always the decision is based on BOTH the self portrait and the heat painting and not just the latter. Who would you choose?

Note that each portrait is of the head and upper torso and two of them are what I would call medium/large. To my mind size, if you paint well, can have a real impact when you line up all the paintings next to one another.

Waiting for the announcement of Heat Winner

The Judges chose Inge du Plessis as the Heat Winner.
The winner displayed an interesting and dynamic approach to composition and scale.
I think she was a very worthy winner. She was by far the most painterly painter and used some beautiful analogous colours in the background.


More about Portrait Artist of the Year 2020 and 2021


You can see all the self portrait submissions from Episode 3 in a larger size on the Artist of the Year Facebook Page.

My reviews of previous episodes of this year's competition can be found below:

Details of how to enter Portrait Artist of the Year 2021 can be found in my blog post Call for Entries: Portrait Artist of the Year 2021 which will be filmed in March and April 2020 this year for broadcast starting in January 2021.

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