Thursday, October 29, 2020

Review: Episode 2 of Portrait Artist of the Year Series 7 (Autumn 2020)

This is my review of the second episode of Series 7 of the Portrait Artist of the Year (Autumn 2020).

I thought it might be nice to recognise the end before we begin. The tradition is that everybody claps when the four hours are up. Normally it's the audience clapping the artists - but in these heats in the time of Covid-19 the artists clapped each other

The clapping at the end of the four hours

It's also really interesting how the new series is being received by the television commentators. Here's some of their reviews published after the first episode.

The show is as funny as it is high-minded. It should tick the boxes for art aficionados and amateurs alike.
Nothing could undermine the show’s soothing quality; watching people quietly stroke paint on to canvas is, it turns out, quite the tonic for our times.
and yet in relation to this episode we have the following
“It was more nerve-racking than being on a stage being a character, because then you can hide behind that. Whereas people were asking me questions as myself and it was just a new experience. It was actually an amazing experience and I loved it, but I was just a bit nervous beforehand going into it.

“It was strange coming from a world of just seeing my family to a big room full of amazing creative people. It was a really beautiful break in my lockdown.”

Episode 2: The Artists, Self-portraits and Sitters


Note that I test the links on the page which lists the artists with their speeded up overhead videos and social media links. The ones on this page all work. I'm afraid that's NOT the case for all the ones on the Profiles Page constructed by the Sky Arts people 

Can I just note that I'm also far more likely to use links to social media postings by participating artists IF they have made a suitable post about their episode!!! Not all do - by a long way! (That's a hint!)

The Artists

The Professional Artists


This heat had seven professional artists
  • Jamie Ampleford ( Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter) - an artist based in West Sussex. His website suggests he works a lot from photos.
  • Danny Byrne ( Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter) an ex political cartoonist who is now a professional artist in Bristol. He has exhibited at annual exhibitions by the Royal Academy, Royal Society of Portrait Painters, Royal Institute of Oil Painters, Royal Pastel Society and the Royal Society of Watercolour Artists. (I thought I recognised his work!)


  • Francesca Currie ( Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter) - a full time artist based in Cheltenham. She studied for a degree in Fine Art at The University College of the Arts in Norwich and afterwards at the London Atelier of Representational Art. Member of RBSA.
  • Helen Fox - a self-taught artist from Stroud, Gloucestershire.
  • Suzon Lagarde ( Website | Facebook | Instagram) - an emerging artist based in London whose small paintings I see regularly in various exhibitions (i.e. the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours (2020-2019), the Royal Society of Portrait Painters (2020) and Royal Institute of Oil painters annual exhibition (2019). She took part in the part in the ‘In The Studio’ program with the Mall Galleries. So she's working hard at getting past 'emerging'! Currently studying Portraiture at the Art Academy London.

  • Patrick Morales Lee ( Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter) A professional illustrator who is also an artist based in Whitstable. Represented by Central Illustration Agency. Member of two art collectives: ACE Club and the new 'Contemporary British Portrait Painters'
View this post on Instagram

Well, that was fun (kinda), very odd to watch yourself back. But very honoured to be part of it, massive thanks to the judges @katebryan_art and @kathleen.soriano and to #taishanschierenberg who’s work I’ve just adored for friggin years, so to hear the comment above is great. Overall I was actually disappointed with my drawing, my approach and composition I was happy with, but I played it too safe, got worried about time and didn’t push it to an interesting place. Overall I didn’t feel it was a true sense of my work. But equally, no doubt overthinking. Big thanks to @artistoftheyear and @storyvaultfilms for a brilliant production and being so welcoming. - And a final thanks to @suzonlagarde and @curtisartist - two brilliant artists who you should follow if you don’t already. Personally I thought Curtis’s work was outstanding, and half way through the day, peeked his work and said he would win. So great to see someone pushing contemporary drawing forward. - #art #drawing #contemporarydrawing #portrait #paoty #paoty2020 #judges #winner #runnerups #patrickmoraleslee

A post shared by Patrick Morales-Lee (@patrickmoraleslee) on

  • Katy Papineau ( Website | Instagram ) Based in London. Her work  work has focused on everyday, intimate interior scenes. Currently based at home during Covid and exploring themes of theatricality, dressing up and decoration within the home. 


The Amateur Artists


There are two amateur artists
  • Curtis Holder ( WebsiteInstagram ) - Born in Leicester and based in London. Curtis is a part-time primary school teacher and an artist who draws on paper using graphite, watercolour and ink pencils. His work focuses on portraiture and the human form.  He's got a solid art education: Foundation Diploma at Loughborough College of Art and Design (1988); BA (Hons) Graphic Design from Kingston University (1991); Postgraduate Diploma in Character Animation (2005) from Central Saint Martins as well as a PGCE.
  • Paul X'Arc ( Website ) - a photographer from London who likes Gothic themes

The Self Portraits


Interestingly I learned yesterday from one of the participants in the previous series that individuals working for the film company are dispatched to the artist's homes to collect the self-portraits in advance, meaning artists in fact do NOT have to worry about bringing them on the day and the team could also get them hung in advance of the artists arriving.

The Self Portraits Wall

I continue to emphasise the importance of the self-portrait to the eventual result of a heat. 

This is a summary of the size, format and content of the self portraits in this heat
  • SIZE
    • Large x 1
    • Medium x 5
    • Small x 2
    • Very small x 1
  • FORMAT
    • Landscape format x 0
    • Portrait format x 9
  • CONTENT OF SELF-PORTRAIT - for me the only ones in the running for making a difference as to outcome are those that include hands and/or are full size.
    • full size x 0
    • torso including head and hand(s) x 4
    • head and shoulders x 1
    • head x 4

The Sitters

The extremely well behaved and disciplined Sitters were:

  • Sir Trevor McDonald - a Trinidadian-British newsreader and journalist, best known for his career as a news presenter with ITN.
  • Mirren Mack - a Scottish actress who has appeared in three episodes of the Netflix series Sex Education as Florence and as Kaya in the BBC drama series The Nest 
  • The Vivienne - a British Drag Queen who was the winner of the first Ru Paul's Drag Race in the UK. She has also voiced as Donald Trump in the BBC Three documentary Trump in Tweets.

Episode 2: Themes


The Court Jester Role


I'm starting with a theme related to the programme rather than the artists or the competition. It revolves in part around the notion of the programme being entertainment for people other than the art fraternity and that the stars of the show are NOT the artists (i.e. It took a lot of very pointed comments from me BEFORE television companies on the BBC and Sky Arts started acknowledging the names of the participating artists!!)

Am I the only person who finds the Court Jester Role played by Stephen Mangan to grate in the absence of the amazing Joan Bakewell who has always been intelligent and enquiring in an entirely appropriate way?  I find Mangan "naff" quite a lot of the time and many of his "jokes" seem to reside around the level of schoolboy humour. I know the programme is entertainment but not everybody shares his sense of "humour" and for all those experiencing nerves who he might relax, he's probably irritating and annoying the rest. (If I was participating I'd tell him to "Naff off" to his face - having previously been televised over several days while painting (by the BBC) when I worked out exactly how to get them to stop interrupting me). Whether it's a Director's instruction or the natural temperament of the presenter I don't know - however I do know I much preferred Frank Skinner, his predecessor, who seemed to have a more gentle approach to lifting mood. To me, Mangan just seems really unsympathetic and 'needles' in an inappropriate way at times which seems to revolve around making him look clever. It doesn't.

Critically I find the approach of television companies who treat the public a "things" to be poked and prodded to get a reaction to generate "good telly" as an example of the type of behaviour which is now regarded as wholly inappropriate in a lot of other contexts. We should never ever see the public treated as "things". (Think about it!) It's beyond patriarchal and superior and the Producers and Directors of the production company - and Sky Arts - really need to take some time out and think about what they are doing - and how it comes across to some of us.

Every single artist deserves to be treated with respect - at all times. Period.

Meantime, Kathleen Soriano seems to have taken on Joan's role as the empathetic, listening and encouraging older woman - who stops artists from getting too wound up. She's doing a fabulous job!

Media


Now for a comment I've made before in previous series.  If you choose to send in a submission in unusual media, it's almost certainly going to get more close scrutiny than yet another oil painting - and it might well mean you get selected. That's because they do seem to make an effort to show how artworks can be created in media that most people might be unfamiliar with. 

So for this heat we had:
  • Katy Papineau - who had submitted a good looking monoprint - and who then proceeded to make her own paint in the heat - mixing pigments with medium
  • Curtis Holder - who was drawing using coloured pencils.
  • Plus Helen Fox used white charcoal which was unexpected - but very interesting.
I must confess I was rather surprised that Kathleen couldn't recognise a monoprint. I was less surprised that the Judges had never seen drawing in coloured pencils as Curtis does. Maybe that's because you need to be part of the coloured pencil fraternity to know what's possible? 

However I found that the way Curtis draws reminds me a LOT of 
  • drawings used by Charles Reid in his instruction books - and he certainly encouraged the notion of preliminary contour drawing by looking and not lifting the pencil. 
  • coloured pencil drawings by John Smolko - and his own practice of continuous contour drawing - see my blog post John Smolko's Top Tip for Drawing. I included one of his drawings in my own book to demonstrate what can be done with coloured pencils! 
Finally, you might get shortlisted with unusual media - but there are never any guarantees.

Preparation for the Heat 

"if you fail to prepare you are preparing to fail"
I've made a lot in past posts about this series, about the need for artists to prepare for being filmed completing a portrait in four hours - which will actually be less than 4 hours once you've eliminated all the interview time and other interruptions

It was interesting to see there's STILL a wide variation in how artists prepare. 
  • From one lady who had done 43 drawings in the the run-up to the heat and interestingly had made the very wise decision to move from 
    • charcoal on white paper - used for her self portrait submission
    • to white charcoal on black paper - because it helped her complete her drawing more quickly within the four hours
    • she also created an interesting crop which also eliminated additional drawing. I've maybe not focused enough on how to finish by eliminating the need to draw/paint!
  • Patrick had brought a great trick for speeding up doing hair in graphite. His technique was highly realist - merged with some impressionistic elements. He spritzed the graphite with turps which then enabled him to push it around the page using sponges and then work back into it
  • One would expect Danny Byrne, as an ex political cartoonist to have the ability to work to deadlines. However he kept saying he'd practiced but not yet succeeded and wasn't sure how he would do. Yet he produced a very finished illustrative type work.
  • one chap who is a photographer rather than an artist who kept switching between two very large supports - and who didn't seem to have practiced finishing within the time limit.  I kept wanting him to sit down for 10 minutes and do nothing but THINK about what do next.
I have a personal theory along the lines of you can tell who is likely to struggle with painting in four hours by 
  • how long it took them to complete their self-portrait submission (unless very big and complex).
  • what their job is i.e. illustrators often do well because they routinely work to deadlines and know "how to make pictures which work"
I cannot emphasise too much that:
  • those who are VERY experienced painters have a much better appreciation of:
    • how much they can do in four hours
    • what size of support is a good one for them to work on - for that time period
    • how to speed up if they fall behind
  • those who have not painted a lot - or not a lot to a time limit - need to PRACTICE if they are not going to embarrass themselves through either failing to finish or not doing themselves justice
  • if painting in front of people phases you - then practice by painting in front of people!!
Remember:
  • you know all the constraints beforehand (or should do if you read this blog and past posts about this series. 
  • the only thing you don't know is who you will get to paint - but you can still practice by 
    • drawing/painting both men and women. 
    • practicing different skin colours so the artist already KNOWS what colour combinations work best to capture skin tones accurately
  • Only the artist can make the artist look bad - and you can do yourself justice by remembering to prepare properly.

The different approaches to creating a portrait


It's interesting to see the different approaches people use. For example:
  • I noticed a lot using grids. I think this might because there are apps which use grids for photos they had taken. 
  • There are those who start at the top in one corner and work down and across. This was the approach adopted by Helen Fox with her very nice white charcoal drawing of Trevor McDonald
  • There are those who don't start until they've done a lot of drawings or quick sketchy paintings. These are used essentially to learn about how the structure of the person and the physiognomy work - but also to reduce nerves. Not all studies need to look great - but they're pretty pointless unless you learn something from them.  Curtis Holder was down on the ground drawing away on very large sheets of paper and did several drawings - and one got a strong sense that he was learning as he looked and drew. 
  • Then there's the ones who start with what looks like a mess and work through refining until they get to the detail. For me Suzon Lagarde was one painter who did this extremely well - whereas others did not.  She only goes for the final likeness once she has got all the structure and tones correct.
  • Those who contour and block for tones very often seem to get the drawing and 3D right IF they are artists who are practiced at painting portraits - which was why Francesca Currie produced a successful portrait.


The ESSENTIAL need to select / edit / learn from mistakes

I think it was Kate Bryan who said something along the lines that those who impressed were those who looked and didn't try to paint everything in front of them - but rather knew how to 
  • select intelligently, 
  • edit out what didn't need to be there and 
  • learned from any mistakes they made - and did not repeat them.
I scribbled a note down after she said this which goes something like this.

For me, the process and experience of making a portrait is:
  • NOT just about "doing" and TECHNIQUES i.e. drawing or painting 
  • it's ALSO about "managing" choices when creating and MAKING ART i.e.
    • selecting
    • composing 
    • editing
In other words being good at drawing and painting is not enough. 

To be really good you also need to know how to make pictures and how much information you need and how best to arrange it - and then draw and paint.

Without that sound underlying structure and set of choices you won't achieve a good portrait of the person.


Decision Time


Now for my commentary on what happened after the painting stopped.

Sitters choose portrait to take home


Interestingly none of the sitters chose paintings by those shortlisted by the Judges.

Portraits of Sir Trevor McDonald

Sir Trevor McDonald chose Francesca Currie (in the centre) 


Portraits of Mirrin Mack

Mirrin Mack chose the painting by Danny Byrne - which incorporated something she said during the sitting.  However she was very impressed by the all the paintings - which I thought was an accurate reflection of the standard of work in this section. They were all very good.

Portraits of The Vivienne

The Vivienne chose the painting by Jamie Ampleford (on the left)



Judges choose shortlist of three


Judges liked

  • evocation of atmosphere eg "magical and moody"
  • innovative approaches to using media
  • impressive powerful images
  • creating a backstory and reflecting the character of the sitter eg an analytical drawing which reflected a penetrating interviewer

The Shortlist 

 
The three artists shortlisted were
  • Suzon Lagarde
  • Curtis Holder
  • Patrick Morales Lee
Suitably socially distanced clapping of the announced shortlisted artists
(left to right numbers 3, 6 and 8)


Episode 2 - The Winner

Here's the lineup with the six drawings / paintings of the three shortlisted artists

The shortlisted artwork

Then two coloured pencil drawings by Curtis Holder

Coloured Pencil Drawings by Curtis Holder

The Judges commented on the fact that the process was scratchy, rough and energetic and yet Curtis created a drawing outcome which was both serene and calm and looked startlingly new.

Drawings by Patrick Morales Lee

The Judges commented that they saw paintings rather than drawings because of how he used and manipulated his media - and that Patrick was somebody who tells stories with his artwork.

Paintings by Suzon Lagarde

The Judges very much liked the way Suzon worked on her painting and pulled the portrait off the canvas.

The Heat Winner was Curtis Holder - who was amazed and very shocked to go through to the semi final.

This apparently generated a lot of comment online from those who somehow seem to think that it's not proper art if it's not painted!! Kathleen and Kate both addressed this during the Portrait Artist of the Week session on the Sky Arts Facebook Live session last Sunday - so if you want their explanation of why there were two shortlisted artists who drew I suggest you watch that.

I'm assuming all the comments were made by people who were totally unaware that Gareth Reid won Portrait Artist of the Year 2017 while drawing every artwork entirely in charcoal - until he got to the commission portrait which was a superb rendition of Graham Norton in oils!! 

Has anybody else noticed that amateur artists have now won both Episode 1 and 2?

For those interested in how Curtis draws see the video he's made which is on YouTube. Plus do look at his Instagram account and website if you want to see how skilled he is



Episode 3 was broadcast at 8pm (and is available on demand on Sky and Now TV) and the sitters were Deborah James, Eamonn Walker, Melanie Sykes. 

Another review tomorrow - and then I'll be all caught up - but now I'm off for a nice chat with a doctor about how to get three broken shards of bone out of my ankle!

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