Monday, March 23, 2020

Review: Episode 8 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2020

I was just about to write the review of the last heat of Portrait Artist of the year when Coronavirus began to erupt - and I seem to have been writing about nothing but the impact ever since.

So this is my shorter than normal review of Episode 8

Tomorrow I will post my review of the Semi Final - 8 painter painting Elaine Page - from a rather large distance.

...and then the Final is on Tuesday evening on Sky Arts!

Interior of the Battersea Arts Centre

Before I start - another note on the impact of the Coronavirus Crisis
It is with a heavy heart that we have been obliged to postpone filming of Portrait Artist of the Year. As soon as we are able to resume production we will post new dates and very much hope to be in a position to welcome the public to the heats. Artists should continue to submit their submission artworks for Landscape Artist of the Year as normal.
I did wonder if that might happen after the National Portrait Gallery closed.... and now it has.

The Artists in Episode 8

Professional Artists

This episode had 4 professional artists
  • Gail Davis (Facebook | | Twitter | Instagram) - studied at Berkshire College of Art and Design. Worked as become an exhibition design manager. Has been a professional artist for 12 years with a full order book for commissions, Recently exhibited at the The Royal Society of British Artists Annual Exhibition 2020
  • Toby Michael (Facebook | Instagram) Lives in Buckingham and went to Stowe School. Graduated from Winchester School of Art in July 2018
  • Tina Willis Jones (Facebook | Instagram) - a professional portrait artist from the Midlands. She accepts commissions and also teaches and delivers portrait demonstrations for Art Societies and Groups. Enjoys drawing and works in conte pencil. Exhibited in The Pastel Society Annual Exhibition 2020, Mall Galleries, London.
  • Tommy Golunski  (Facebook | Instagram) - an artist based in the south of England, working in primarily in Oils and Charcoal.He'a also a part-time art teacher.

Amateur Artists

The 5 amateur artists were
  • Jonathan Chan (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram) - an architect who attends life clas and paints in his spare time. Likes to limit his palette to red, ochre black and white which produces constant colour harmony.
  • James Mellon (Instagram) - a 16 year old and the youngest artist ever to feature in the Heats. His self portrait was done as part of GCSE course work.
  • Heather Rankin - a university student from Scotland.
  • Dan Robbins (Twitter | Instagram) - lives in North Staffordshire. 
  • Julia Page (Facebook | | Twitter | Instagram) - she paints a great nude!

The Self Portraits

A very varied set of self portraits.

"a very delicate pencil drawing which is difficult to date"
by James Mellon

crop of "a very effective painting" of a self portrait by Gail Davis
good "observation of light" - crop of a self portrait in conte by Tina Willis Jones

The Sitters

The three sitters were:
  • Deborah Findlay - seasoned actress with a career spanning four decades who has won an Olivier Award
  • Wunmi Mosaku - graduated from RADA at 2007, an actress who has won a BAFTA
  • Omid Djalili - a multi award-winning British Iranian comedian and actor with a prolific career in film.
Theye were all very good sitters!

This tweet nailed for me something that niggles me in every programme!

Episode 8 Themes

Painting skin types

Often the sitter has anglo saxon 'white' skin - but not always. In this heat we had
  • a woman who had the sort of auburn hair and creamy skin which challenges many portrait painters
  • a woman who clearly had an African heritage; and 
  • a chap who was born in Chelsea to parents who were both Iranian (i.e. Middle Eastern)
This year I advised one of the painters in one of the earlier heats re strategies for the competition. One of the very clear pieces of advice I gave was be sure to practice painting people with a different skin colour. Mainly because a Heat of Portrait Artist of the Year is not the time to start practising how to paint skin which is anything but Anglo Saxon white!

I walked into the Heat he was in and there were two people with brown rather than pasty white skin.I smiled to myself as one of them turned out to be in my client's Heat!

People with a different skin solour have regularly cropped up in Heats of Portrait Artist of the Year. This year it's happened a lot more and I assume in part this is because year the winner has to paint Nile Rogers.

In fact, I did get to a point during the course of this competition where I began thinking they were putting the people who they thought might be the best painter with the celebrity with the brown skin tones.  Of course, artists have a way of upsetting that particular apple cart....

There's also an issue about how to represent non-white skin in monochrome - and it is entirely possible to get a good result

Painting stereotypes rather than the individuals

Kathleen highlighted her concern that two of the artists - half way through - were painting sterotypical views of Wunmi.

I took that to mean a caricatured version of the individual based on being a representative of "a type" of person.

One painter pulled it back and ended up with a good work - and the other one didn't - and ended up with a caricature.

A different sort of digital device / aid

I don't think I've ever seen anybody set up their laptop ( as opposed to a phone or a tablet/iPad) as their digital aid!

However take a look at Toby Michael's set-up.  That's a laptop - and not a small one!

A laptop aid to painting - on a tripod

Finish Early and Finishing Fast

I really admire those painters who know when it's time to stop - irrespective of the time left to paint. That takes courage when you've got a big audience and a camera watching you - and you just know that somebody is going to dash over and ask why you've stopped.

By way of contrast we saw artists who appeared to be caught out by the amount of time left and had to rush to finish their painting.

It's always worth keeping an eye on the clock and aiming to finish in less than the time - because there are these people who keep talking to you!

Last minute issues 

There are three things you can do at the last minute
  • apply a few judicious tweeks
  • overwork the painting and ruin it
  • paint the highlights so that the painting "pops"!
There's always one magic moment in a painting when you add a little flick and the person who emerges out of the painting
I think we saw all of the above.

Decision Time

Sitters choose portrait to take home

  • Deborah Findlay chosethe painting by Heather Rankin
  • Wunmi Mosaku  chose the painting by Toby Michael
  • Omid Djalili chose the painting by Juby Page.
I also really liked Tommy's painting of Omid.

    Judges choose shortlist of three

    The pros and cons of the heat paintings

    Pros included:
    • capturing a tenderness / a delicacy
    • achieving a good likeness
    Cons included
    • lacks gravity / feels slight
    • not paying enough attention to likeness
    • not being and bold enough

    Left to right - Tina Wllis Jones, Jonathan Chan and Toby Michael

    The Judges chose
    • Jonathan Chan
    • Toby Michael
    • Tina Willis Jones
    As always they considered both the self-portrait submission as well as the heat painting.
      Add caption

      Jonathan Chan - self portrait and portrait of Deborah Findlay

      The judges thought his self portrait was a tour de force - a rythmic  exercise in beautiful tones. They also liked his staccato mark-making

      Toby Michael - self portrait and portrait of Wunmi Mosaku
      The submission self portrait is a stunner.

      He also captured a good likeness in this Heat and Tai very much liked the application of paint.

      Kathleen liked how he has a contemporary take on classical painting.

      However Tai had problems with Toby's use of black - and so did I. As Kathleen indicted, when discussing another artist's portrait, black has the capacity to absorb all the light.

      I wasn't such a fan of this painting:
      •  too much in the mid tones. If you dropped this into greyscale I doubt if it would look impressive
      • I didn't think he got the lighting right - the tonal contrast between the two sides of the face appeared much more marked on screen 
      However, my feelings are maybe influenced by the first time I saw the heat painting - which was at the semi-finals. I was puzzled as to why it was heat winner worthy. Something seemed to have happened to the paint and all the colours were very dull. It was if the colour had sunk into the support......But maybe that was how he painted it?

      Tina Wllis Jones - self portrait and portrait of Wunmi Mosaku

      The Judges thought that Tina had produced two fine drawings

      The head was constructed like a Jenga block and she then went to achieve a very good likeness. Both her drawings held up well next to the paintings.

      Episode 8 Winner

      Toby, Tina and Jonathan - shortlisted artists with their heat painting

      The winner was Toby Michael.

      The Judges concluded that he
      created a wnderful likeness as well as a compelling piece of art
      He's obviously a very talented painter. However, I thought it a pity that Tina - who is obviously a very accomplished drawer didn't get a chance to be in the semi-final - if only so we didn't have all painters in the semi final!

      after the announcement

      The Sitter for the Semi Final

      The sitter for the Semi Final is Elaine Page - and it's a bit dramatic!

      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 filming of the 2021 series of Portrait Artist of the Year has now been cancelled. See the note near the top of this post. Hopefully this means that when they start filming again, the public will be able to attend.
      • 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.

      1 comment:

      1. Having now seen the final. Toby is an decent painter but we have seen better artist with a similar style, who have not got through. His work felt unfinished throughout, due to the 4 hour time limit.

        I preferred Tina's final image and like her pencil work but again, it didn't feel finished but she was able finish the face and then do enough for it not to be a distraction.


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