Sunday, March 08, 2020

Review: Episode 6 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2020

Regular readers of my reviews of the Portrait Artist of the Year 2020 episodes on Sky Arts will have realised that I've had a recent hiatus due to technological problems and
  • the need to try and fix the old iMac, 
  • then go out and buy a new iMac, 
  • then go out again and buy a thunderbolt adapter so I can upload old files to new iMac
  • then collapse in a heap after I've got through all the stresspoints!
So this week we're going to have a Portrait Sitter of the Year overload.
I've not even watched Episode 7 yet as I didn't want to get confused when writing reviews!

Episode 6: The Artists, Self Portraits and Sitters

Episode 6 was an interesting one for me because I remembered straight off who won - because I saw the artist in the semi-final and remembered the portrait painting too. 

It was interesting to see if I'd arrive at the same conclusion while watching the progress from self-portrait to development of the portrait of the sitter.

As always links to the artist's website (if they have one) are embedded in their names.  Plus I include links to their social media sites - but only if they've used them recently. Dead sites don't count!

You can see videos of their Heat Portraits on (Episode 6)

The artists in Episode 6

Professional Artists

This episode had 7 professional artists
  • Christobel Blackburn (Instagram) - an artist who studies and specialises in the human form. Degree in Classics at Newcastle University followed by studying portraiture in Florence and completing a further two years at the London Atelier of Representational Art. Her style is pared down and minimalist. This is her self-portrait
  • Leo Crane (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) - an award-winning animator, painter and co-Founder of creative studio Figuration. graduated with an MA (Distinction) in 3D Computer Animation from Bournemouth University. Has created animations for cultural institutions across the UK, from The Hepworth Wakefield to Dulwich Picture Gallery. He has been selected for festivals across the world for his animated films
  • Chris Eastham (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) - Fine Art degree from Trent University, Nottingham and a PGCE in Art and Design from Reading University. Has taught art and design for many years and is currently teaching drawing and mono printmaking. Previously a wildcard contestant on Sky Landscape Artist of The Year 2019 at Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire
  • Jacqueline Marr (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) - Born in Falkirk and lives and works in Scotland. BA Hons, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, Dundee University. Her work is included in the following collection: Royal Scottish Academy Archives, Edinburgh, Halifax/Bank of Scotland, The Royal Bank of Scotland and Standard Chartered Bank London and Dubai.
  • Thomas McGregor (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) -  born in Sidcup, raised in London and the Scottish highlands and now lives and works in London. He studied at Edinburgh college of art in 1995-99
  • Lee Putman (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) -  an illustrator who combines client work with street dance. Take a look at his sketchbook series. Started painting in oils 9 months ago. The first portrait he painted was the one for the submission and started gridding in the week prior to the heat.
  • Nick Richards (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) - portrait artist based in London. He's just been preselected for the next New English Art Club exhibition
I'm waiting for the artist who includes the camera crew in the portrait painting......
(I used to draw the other people in the life class as well as the sitter!)

Amateur Artists

The two amateur artists were
  • Sebastian Bishop (Instagram) - painter based in Edinburgh
  • Wendy Wallis (Facebook) - Uses pyrography for portraits. I was impressed by her work - although I can understand why the Judges thought it lacked impact oompfh.

The Self Portraits

I've included comments about the submissions by the shortlisted artists under the review of both submission and heat painting. 

However I noted that each impressed at the initial evaluation - and before they'd seen much of the artists painting their sitter.  Like I have said many times before - the submission painting is critical to how well you do in the competition. It needs to be
  • a good likeness, 
  • having an individual approach is good and 
  • it MUST be consistent with what you do in the heat.

The Sitters

The Sitters for Episode 6 were:
  • Ricky Wilson - English singer-songwriter, and the frontman of five-piece band Kaiser Chiefs
  • Adrian Dunbar - an Irish actor and director who stars in Line of Duty
  • Zawe Ashtonan English actress, playwright and direct, best kjnown for Channel 4 comedy roles
Overview of Episode 6 - with Ricky Wilson in the foreground pod

Episode 6 Themes

The themes I identified were:
  • likeness of of paramount importance
  • a strong style is also important
  • portrait paintings need to have wall appeal
  • Colour grabs attention and lack of colour can reduce impact.

Likeness is of paramount importance

Being able to produce what looks like a good painting of a person is not enough. It also needs to be recognisably of that person - whatever style you use. Again and again when it comes to judging - particularly in a strong heat - whether or not the portrait is a good likeness of the sitter becomes one of the over-riding criteria for deciding who gets shortlisted

A strong style is also important

The Judges always base their shortlisting decisions and their final decision on both submission and painting done on the day. Having a strong style demonstrates a number of things:
  • you actually painted the submission!
  • You've spent a lot of hours painting a lot of portraits and hence have worked out the individual and preferably unique way you like to paint people. It might still be a work in progress - but you've come a long way already
  • Your style can accommodate having as much time as you like (for the submission AND the commission) and at the same time can adjust to accommodate having to paint a portrait in 4 hours (minus interruptions etc.)

Portrait paintings need to have wall appeal

I've borrowed a term used elsewhere by an art collector to determine which paintings she buys.

The term "wall appeal" means that the painting has intrinsic elements and interest which mean it speaks to the art collector. In the same way, paintings which get selected for competitions, get shortlisted for prizes and progress towards the top prize must have some strong element of wall appeal. They make you want to look at them and study them - ideally up close but also from a distance.

In the context of portrait painting, one important element of wall appeal is that the painting would not make the sitter wince. It's not about flattery via portrait painting so much as don't make them look worse than they do already!

Colour grabs attention and lack of colour can reduce impact

At the end of the day when all the portraits are lined up together, colour is one of those elements which has a happy habit of being very influential.

  • Portraits which impressed in terms of likeness failed to deliver in terms of impact - which is critical when a monochrome medium is being used.
  • Portraits can be OTT in terms of colour - but it only works when the portrait painter knows what they're doing - and isn't experimenting on the day!
  • Colour which is layered can be impressive - but again only when the artist is skilled in its use.
  • The winner paid a lot of attention to colour - but not in a "shouty" way.

Decision Time

Sitters choose portrait to take home

I always wonder if the sitters go off and check out their artists during the breaks!
  • Ricky Wilson chose his portrait by Leo Crane - he was 'gobsmacked' by it.
  • Adrian Dunbar chose the pyrography portrait by Wendy Wallis
  • Zawe Ashton chose the portrait by Chris Eastham - see below

Judges choose shortlist of three

Episode 6 at the Battersea Arts Centre - waiting to hear the shortlist decision
These are the pros and cons of the finished portraits by ALL the artists on what was judged to be a strong day.


  • an interesting and individual approach to delivering a likeness 
  • good likeness of the sitter
  • palette chosen for the portrait and good use of colour
  • choosing to do the whole figure
  • storytelling within the portrait
  • thought about the background
  • lively painting
  • interesting painterly shorthands
  • strong sense of style across the submission and self portrait


  • good portrait - of somebody else i.e. lacked a good likeness of the sitter
  • lack of colour
  • lack of impact
  • distracting backgrounds

The Judges chose the following shortlist
  • Christobel Blackburn
  • Chris Eastham
  • Robert McGregor
One of the comments made was that two of the Judges - Kathleen and Kate - were interested to know what the artists would do next - as in competitors in a competition.

The Episode 6 shortlist - from left to right: Thomas McGregor, Chris Eastham and Christobel Blackburn

The three shortlisted artists were described as very contemporary and non-traditional. Slightly quirky painting in which you could see the artist's own personality as well as the sitter they were painting.

Self portrait and portrait of Adrian Dunbar by Christobel Blackburn

  • Joan thought she had a strong style which would enable her to recognise her work in a gallery window.
  • Kathleen loved her cool palette and the sharpness, freshness and delicacy it gave to the portrait of Adrian. She considered Christobel to be a a minimalist artist, who removes the background to isolate the sitter and then produces a tight painting with a cool Scandi feel about it 
  • Tai thought she'd got a good likeness and that the green in the back was inspired as a colour for skin tones to work against.
  • I thought the style was really good and her classical training and drawings of people (see website) enable her to render with truth but with the minimum of line and brushwork. However it left me wondering what might happen if the sitter was not wearing black.....

Self portrait of family (truncated) and portrait of Zawe Ashton

  • His submission portrait was described by Kathleen as a tour de force.
  • Thomas was considered by Tai to produce portraits which involve impeccable placing of every element if the subjects on the support. 
  • He draws you in - through the gaze on the children's faces and the strong red shoes - both of which are in the foreground.  
  • Kathleen thought the portrait had a lot of story telling within it - a cross between a comic book hero and a vampire!
  • Tai liked the fact he tackled the whole body.
  • They felt his portraits were imaginative and almost abstracted but very believable with a strong element of story-telling.
  • I think he's a very strong portrait painter with a somewhat illustrative style which might well appeal to a younger clientele - especially those wanting family portraits or a subject with a story.

Self portrait and portrait by Chris Eastham

  • Isolated figures dreaming in a painted space. 
  • A very intuitive method which delivered energy and liveliness in the painting. 
  • Kathleen liked the really heavy sweep of white around the profile.
From which I deduced that Christobel and Thomas were the two frontrunners and that most of the debate was about who would be the third painter in the shortlist

Episode 6 Winner

Interestingly none of the shortlisted artists had done "just a head".

One full figure and two which included the upper torso and some thought about where it went on the support. I think that's a lesson for those wanting to have a go in future.
Waiting to hear who has won
The winner of the heat shown in Episode 6 was Christobel Blackburn.
The artist displayed a strong sense of their own style and an interesting approach to likeness.

Christobel Blackburn - on hearing the news she had won the heat.

I think we'll also be seeing Thomas McGregor back again.....

Next Episode (7)

The sitters next week are Ken Stott, Mike Leigh, Lydia Leonard.

More about Portrait Artist of the Year 2020 and 2021

Portrait Artist of the Year 2020

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

Portrait Artist of the Year 2021

It's now too late to enter Portrait Artist of the Year 2021. However:
  • The 2021 series of Portrait Artist of the Year will be filmed at Battersea Arts Centre from 24 March until 2 April 2020 (not including the weekend). Doors open to the public from 9am and all are welcome.
  • If you're interested in details in applying for entry for 2022, take a look at the details of how to enter 2021 - which can be found in my blog post Call for Entries: Portrait Artist of the Year 2021

No comments:

Post a Comment

COMMENTS HAVE BEEN CLOSED AGAIN because of too much spam.
My blog posts are always posted to my Making A Mark Facebook Page and you can comment there if you wish.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.