Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Review: Episode 7 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2020

The second of my "catch-up reviews" of episodes of Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2020. This is my review of Episode 7

Titus, Christos and Annie painting Ken Stott with the self portrait wall in the background

Episode 7: The Artists, Self Portraits and Sitters

The artists lined up

Professional Artists

This episode had 6 professional artists
  • Christos Tsimaris (Instagram | Video) Born in Greece and training in both art and construction (the latter to pay the bills!). 
    • 1987 - 1988 - Private tuition, Atelier School of Drawing, Thessaloniki, Greece Less
    • 1988 - 1993 - B.A. Hons Degree, School of Art of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, 
    • 1996 - 1997 - Masters Degree, European Fine Art, Winchester School of Art, Winchester 
    • 1995 - 1996 - Post Graduate Studies, Byam Shaw School of Art, London
Tsimaris is finding his own path into the light, away from these titans of 20th Century art, his work constantly seeking to go beyond the Freudian discipline of representational art and the more gestural expressionism that we are familiar with in the figurative paintings of Bacon.
  • Titus Agbara - Born in Nigeria, Africa. Studied at the Auchi Art School, a Federal Polytechnic in Edo State. 1999: awarded Higher National Diploma in Painting and General Art. Works as a full time studio artist in Nigeria before moving to UK in 2007. Lives and works in Manchester as an NHS Health Care Assistant. Now paints as a hobby with a palette knife, mostly in oil. 
    • Won Heat 4 of Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the year 2016 at Scotney Castle in Kent with this painting.
  • Paul Moyse (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram) - Lives in Kent. teaches caricature and has written two books on the art of caricature. Also an excellent portrait artist - judging by artwork on his website.
  • John Lloyd (Instagram) Lives in Berkhamsted. 2:1 in BA Fine Art Bath Spa University. Volunteer and internship work at small galleries. Works in an art house cinema and likes using colour.
  • Kelly-Anne Cairns (Facebook) -  based in Aberdeen, Scotland. She is an artist, freelance arts tutor and works part-time as a Creative Project Coordinator. Graduated with an BA (Hons) in Fine Art from Gray’s School of Art in 1999. 
    • This is her blog post about the day painting at Battersea Arts centre. She brought her husband and four kids for support!
  • Gavan McCullough - an aeronautical engineer who became first a sculptor and then a painter. Took 60 hours to complete his self portrait. 

Amateur Artists

The three amateur artists were
  • Andie Armstrong - Lives in West Sussex.
  • Teresa Butler - community development worker from Dublin. She simplifies her image of her sitter using an iPhone app - and then works out how to create the best crop and composition.
  • Hannah Lockey (Instagram) - 17 year old A Level Student at he time. tarts from a charcoal drawing and paints over using oil.  She draws extremely well. 

The Self Portraits

The Sitters

It was nice to see two sitters in particular who were both very respectful of the creative process and were both excellent sitters.  This was a strong Heat and one wonders to what extent that is influenced by the quality of the sitter.
The Sitters for Episode 7 were:
  • Ken Stott - award winning Scottish actor
  • Mike Leigh - award-winning film director who depicts ordinary lives. His portrait is already in the National Portrait Gallery!
  • Lydia Leopard - portrayed Ann Boleyn in the television production of Bring up the bodies and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

Episode 7 Themes

    Flesh - tints tones and feel

    There was lots of talk about flesh during the course of the programme including emphasis on
    • the colouration of under-paintings or under-drawings 
    • the way paint is laid down to create the sense of "meaty" texture

    Muddy Colours

    You can tell who is going to have muddy colours in their portrait by looking at how they lay out their colours on a palette and then mix them.
    • The chaotic palette = muddy colours
    • The very organised palette = clean colours throughout the portrait i.e. any greys or browns are deliberate and chosen.
    Use of colour on the palette seems to be a function of whether or not you were taught to be organised and careful in your mixing of colours.

    Mixing cleanly and laying down clean colours has a big influence on the overall impression of the person in the portrait painting.

    Apps for scale, crop and composition

    Gridding app used to scale and position head on support

    Theresa used an app on her phone (it looked like one which enabled you to "posterise" in a reduced number of tones) to both crop and compose her photo of the sitter.

    Andie used an app which produced a grid for her photo on her tablet .

    Distance from the Sitter - tools and techniques for getting closer or further away

    The distance from the sitter is not ideal. The number of people standing behind the artist is not idea;. Hence it's interesting to note the tools and techniques used to resolve these two challenges.
    • One of the artists (I forget who it was either Paul or Gavan) used small binoculars (or large opera glasses) to take a good look at the sitter from a distance. Very sensible idea - it saves all that time walking back and too to check what you think you see and also avoids the use of the tablet or smartphone for taking photos
    • Theresa used the classic approach of turning her back and looking at the portrait in a mirror to get a fresh view from a distance.
    • As soon as I see an artist walking back and having a good long hard look, often with a squint, at his/her painting next to his/her sitter I know the artist is experienced.


    We quite often hear the Judges remarking on the contrasts in how the paint is applied to the canvas and what impression it leaves

    "Fluid" almost always seems to be used as a complement.

    Here's how one artist - Theresa Butler - got her fluid paint down fast after the start of painting! I think she's using watery acrylic.

    Theresa sponging in her very fluid paint background to the sitter

    Decision Time

    Sitters choose portrait to take home

    Turning the portraits of Mike Leigh around

    • Ken Stott chose the portrait by Titus Agbara
    • Mike Leigh chose the portrait by Paul Moyse
    • Lydia chose Kellie-Ann Cairns

    Judges choose shortlist of three

    The pros and cons of the heat paintings


    • excellent composition
    • fantastic likenesses are always highlighted
    • capturing the planes and contours of the face
    • contrasts in paint application between loose (fluif) and tight
    • not being afraid of paint


    • a figure which just floats on the support and isn't grounded
    • colour which doesn't flatter the sitter
    • sitters who look haggard relative to their age (said of a portrait of Lydia)
    The Shortlist: Paul Moyse, Theresa Butler and Christos Tsimaris

    The Judges chose
    • Christos Tsimaris 
    • Theresa Butler and
    • Paul Moyse
    I thought this was an excellent choice. As Joan Bakewell put it the three artists each presented a straightforward gallery worthy set of paintings.

    I appreciated the professionalism of Christos's approach to portrait painting and really liked the way Theresa Butler composed and painted.

    Submission self-portrait and Heat Portrait of Shortlisted Artists

    Christos Tsimaris

    • Christos was identified by the Judges as being a very competent painter at the outset based on his self-portrait submission. 
    • They commented on how he tackled the portrait in an abstracted somewhat expressionistic manner - looking at the shapes and colours in a vibrant way.
    • Christos captured Ken Stott really well right from the off. In particular, he succeeded to capture a face full of attitude.

    Theresa Butler

    • The Judges commented on how much they liked her self portrait at the beginning of the programme.
    • They also liked her compositional devices and her way of working with paint
    • I'd have liked Theresa to have finished her work to the edges.

    Paul Moyse

    • Kathleen identified Paul as a contender early on.
    • All were agreed that Paul captured a fantastic likeness of Mike Leigh
    • Tai made the telling point, that within the constraint of 4 hours, Paul demonstrated that not only could be produce a good likeness and painting but that it looked rather more contemporary than his classical portrait style of his submission. 

    Episode 7 Winner

    The shortlisted artists waiting to hear who won

    The winner of Episode 7 was Christos Tsimaris
    The winner created a portrait which responded to the strength of personality of the sitter
    I could tell we were looking at a skilled painter when he sketched in the structure of Ken Stott's head using his brush. However he's not just skilled he's also a committed painter who does not like to lose.
    I'm here to win it. I have to cancel my holiday!

    The Sitters for Episode 8

    The sitters in the next episode are Deborah Findlay, Wunmi Mosaku, Omid Djalil.

    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:

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