Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Review: Episode 3 of Portrait Artist of the Year Series 7 (Autumn 2020)

This is my third commentary on an episode of this year's series of Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 7 / Episode 3). It follows exactly the same format as my two previous reviews

The explanation about this art competition for a £10,000 commission to paint Carlos d'Acosta is set out in Episode 1 review below. 

I've added in a few of the range of comments that pop up on social media when the programmes are broadcast - such as this one.....

Episode 3: The Artists, Self-portraits and Sitters

The Artists - outside Battersea Arts Centre

In alphabetical order the artists are listed below
  • As always definitions of who is professional and who is amateur is determined by the artists and does not necessarily follow convention.  
  • For the record mine is that you are professional if you have to list being an artist as an occupation on your self-assessment tax form - because you make too much money for it to be considered amateur!

The Professional Artists

This heat had 5 professional artists
  • Nicola Fitzgerald Website | Facebook | Instagram) lives and works in London; teaching, continuing to study (University of the Arts London Foundation in Fine Art; Heatherley School of Fine Art Diploma in Portraiture) and undertaking commissions. She specialises in portrait and wildlife paintings and prints. The majority of her work is in oil or in watercolour and ink.
  • Naila Hazell Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter) - grew up in Baku, Azerbaijan. She is a British contemporary artist working in London. She was taught by renowned Soviet social realism painter Boyukagha Mirzezade while studying fine arts and builds in colour.
  • Susan Macfarlane Website | Instagram | Twittera Scottish artist based in Hampshire. Trained at Edinburgh University/Edinburgh College of Art and at postgraduate level at The Slade School of Fine Art. Her website suggests she specialises in painting small children.
  • Carole Nataf Website | Instagram) - an experienced London-based artist who was born in France. She has exhibited in galleries in the U.S., Paris and London. Has an MA and a PhD in the History of Art from the Courtauld Institute.
  • Jayson Singh (InstagramPortrait/figure painter based in London. Community Mural artist. CSM & Heatherley’s art school graduate

The Amateur Artists

Plus 4 amateur artists
  • Andrea CryerWebsite | FacebookInstagram) - a Textile Artist who draws with thread to create unique portraits, landscapes and townscapes. She has a degree in Creative Art  and combined Fine Art (Printmaking) with Textiles. 
  • George Ellinas ( Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter) Self taught artist, mainly portraits in pencil and acrylics
  • Victoria Kitchingman (Instagram)
  • Sally Ward ( Website | Instagram) a contemporary artist based in London, specialising in portraiture. Her work has been exhibited by the Royal Society of Portrait Painters (RP) at their Annual Exhibitions in 2019 and 2020. Member of the Kingston Artists Open Studios. 


The Self Portraits

Not a very good view if the wall of self portraits

Not a particularly good shot of the wall of self portraits this year. I'm not too sure why the self portraits are social distanced too.

We had a better view - albeit obscured somewhat - during the lineup for the shortlisting - and I now get the spacing! They've got every artist spaced a metre apart and lined up in front of their own self-portrait!

Artists with their self-portraits

I thought there were some good ones.

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 
    • Landscape format x 2
    • Portrait format x 5
    • Square format x 2
  • 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 5 ( although two only had bits of hands)
    • head and shoulders x 2 
    • head x 1
    • head + torso with another person x 1
I am more convinced than ever that painting proper hands properly will help your passage through this competition ( as in ALL the hand!)

The Sitters

The three sitters were:
  • Melanie Sykes - an English television and radio presenter, and model - who had never sat for a portrait before and was really looking forward to it
  • Eamonn Walker - a British film, television and theatre actor. Best known for playing Kareem Saïd in the HBO television series Oz and (since 2012) Battalion Chief Wallace Boden on Chicago Fire - who knew the portrait he chose better be one his wife would like!
  • Deborah James aka bowelbabe - who hosts You, Me and the Big C is a British podcast about life with, treatment of and other topics relating to cancer - who was not used to sitting still

    Episode 3: Themes

    Working on more than one portrait halves the time to finish one properly

    We've had two heats in succession where artists worked on two portraits during the heat - without a good result. 

    Having seen the result, I am now going to RECOMMEND that ALL ARTISTS participating in PAOTY in future seriously think about LIMITING themselves to:

    • quick prep in a structured / practiced way 
      • using no more than half an hour in total 
      • resolving how they are going to approach this particular sitter in the time available 
      • enabling them to maximise time to work on "the portrait".
    • using a sketchbook ONLY to work out options for alternative formats, crops and content
    • producing a very quick painted study to work out any colour issues (only if needed)
    UNLESS they are an incredibly experienced portrait artist with years of experience of being able to produce prep - and then paint very fast to finish (eg as Charles William did in Heat 1 of 2020 - see Review: Episode 1 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2020))

    Otherwise I can see more yet people failing to finish a satisfactory portrait - which is very disappointing for the artist - and also the viewers.

    The size of the head relative to the support

    There is one thing for me which is a complete "no no". That's putting a small head in the middle of a large support - and then not painting enough of the person and not covering all the support. 

    • You can't do a head and shoulders view with acres of space around it. 
    • An unfinished painting in terms of background lets itself down.
    • it tend to lead to artists fiddling with the face in a space which is far too small for the media / brushes you are using - and it can just end up confused and/or muddled in terms of tone and/or colour. Which is what happened this week, in my opinion, to one of the artists


    The other problem is that 

    However if you position a small head correctly 

    • AND then paint a full figure 
    • OR at the very least three quarter head and torso view 
    • AND do it well, then you can earn yourself some brownie points for not opting for the safe option.

    You MUST size your portrait to the support. If you don't it just makes you look like an amateur.

    So if you feel more comfortable limiting what you attempt and doing a head study only - which then needs to be very good - just bring small supports. But if you bring bigger supports be prepared to go big!

    Of course there's nothing to stop you bringing a choice - and I seem to recall there's a choice of supports also available at the Heat!!

    Bottom line - do NOT leave lots of empty space unless you are an absolute expert at making the right sort of judgement about negative space.

    Focus on finishing the portrait (practice / practice / practice)

    There were two artists in this heat who I think lost out to following their "process" a bit too much. Neither finished their portrait to the level of finish required to become serious competition for the short list.

    The problem with having "a process" which you traditionally use before painting a portrait is it might not suit a time limit of 4 hours - which in reality is a bit more like three.

    You need to arrive in the room where the heat is held AFTER:

    • PRACTICING creating portraits in THREE HOURS (a lot!) 
    • got yourself loosened up so that your drawing and painting flows - start drawing when you get up on the day of the heat!
    • finding an effective way to relax and get rid of your nerves - which does not take too long! (If you can't get rid of nerves and focus then this is an art competition which is not for you)
    The winner of PAOTY 2019 told me he read my comment about the need to practice a LOT and did just that before he started his heat - and thanked me afterwards!

    Here's one such note in Review: Episode 3 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2018 which bears repeating.

    Those who have experience of painting to a specific period of time (as painters working on commission frequently have to do) are just going to get on and do.

    While there are undoubted exceptions, how much people achieve in the first hour is a pretty good indicator of who knows how to get to the end in four hours and who is behaving a little bit like "rabbits in the headlights". While the latter is perfectly understandable given the selection process, it might be a more enjoyable programme if it focused more on candidates who know how best to use the time available.

    One way in which prospective contestants can make life easier for themselves is to do LOTS of practice of working on a painting in THREE hours - so as to give themselves some contingency time for being distracted by the context.

    The importance of likeness - and coming and going.

    The issue of likeness is important - but it's not the only thing that's important. 

    It's not uncommon in this competition for the likeness to come and go. The trick is making sure you've found it again by the end of the heat!

    The reason for raising it in relation to this episode is that Sally Ward (who won) painted a portrait which missed the likeness (or maybe caught Melanie not being smiley) - in the sense that she made a very smiley person look very stern - and then went on to win the heat.  She had however caught her own likeness in the self-portrait - and also caught Melanie's likeness at times during the course of the heat as well - even if it went a bit towards the end. At the end it comes down to which painter of the three shortlisted the Judges think will progress best in the next round. 

    It will be interesting to see whether she captures the likeness next time around - because you don't get that sort of "pass" twice.

    Melanie Sykes by Sally Ward

    Missing colour

    You can miss colour in more ways than one.

    One way that Sky is promoting more diversity within its programmes is by having more sitters and more artists from diverse backgrounds. I remember vividly telling one of my clients last year to make very sure that he painting people of different skin colours is practiced in advance of the heat so that he had worked his way through how you can find colour in skins which are not white and find the colours which represent the colours and tones best.  The main objective is to avoid skin looking like mud!

    However it's still proving to be the case, that one easy way to fail is painting people with an Afro Caribbean background as 'brown'. I could see all sorts of colours in Eamonn's magnificent head - but found it very disappointing that this was not reflected in all the portraits by the end - although I thought Jayson's portrait was well on the way there.

    Another way to miss out colour is to leave it too late to add in enough - which I think is what happened to Andrea. She had clearly demonstrated that she knew how to add colour to her sewn portraits (which was a totally fascinating process) but was rushing at the end to add in background colour - which her portrait completely depended on to have impact. You only see the face properly when it has a solid colour next to it. 

    Andrew Cryer with David Hockney - self-portrait

    Making the sitter emotional 

    To make a sitter emotional about a painting always bodes well for the painting. Just a pity the Judges didn't see this, this week and/or somebody forgot to tell them.

    Tai might not have liked the background to Naila's portrait of Melanie but it was by far the best likeness and the portrait produced a genuine emotional reaction when she saw it - and absolutely no hesitation as to which one she liked best.

    Deborah also had an emotional response - in a more restrained way - and went with the one which for her demonstrated the inner self and not just an outer likeness - although again for me it was the best likeness of the three.

    Decision Time

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

    Sitters choose portrait to take home

    Paintings of Melanie Sykes

    Melanie had a complete emotional reaction to Naila's painting - in the middle - and had no doubt this was the one she wanted. I don't blame her. I guess it helped that it was also the one which looked most like her!!

    Paintings of Eamonn Walker

    Eamonn chose the painting on the right by Victoria Kitchingham - on the basis that it was the one his wife would like best.

    Paintings of Deborah James

    Deborah chose the painting on the right by Carole Nataf - and responded to it on an emotional level in terms of what she felt the painting represented.

    Portraits of course need to be about the inner self as well as the outer appearance - and that's always important when you are famous for being yourself and how you meet a challenge (eg bowel cancer which has metastasized) - as Deborah has done. 

    Judges choose shortlist of three

    Judges liked

    • fantastic likeness - when achieved
    • energy in the painting
    • effective backgrounds
    • effective use of the shape and size of the support
    • linking skin tones to background colours
    • how the paint is applied
    • the use of colour (other than the 'obvious' local hue) in skin tones and hair
    Judges were less impressed with
    • lacking a likeness
    • portraits which were half finished or unfinished - although they recognised that artists associated with these had better self-portraits
    • creating a background and/or textural effect which overpowers the portrait
    • lack of 'weight' in a portrait of a powerful sitter (i.e. the sense of the sitter needs to come through as well as the likeness)
    • a search for looseness which took up too much time - when more time needed to be spent on the finished portrait.
    • using media which makes life more difficult for the artist (e.g. white charcoal on black paper - as per last week - works within the time - but coloured pencils do not).

    The Shortlist 

    The three artists shortlisted were
    • Nicole Fitzgerald (professional)
    • Victoria Kitchingman (amateur)
    • Sally Ward (amateur)
    clapping the final announcement of the third artist selected for the shortlist
    Sally Ward

    I think they got it wrong. I'd have kept Sally and put through Naila Hazell and Carole Nataf to the Heat Final.

    Episode 3 - The Winner

    First the lineup with the six self portraits and heat paintings of the three shortlisted artists - from left to right they are:
    • Sally Ward
    • Nicole Fitzgerald 
    • Victoria Kitchingman
    The shortlisted portraits - self portrait and heat portrait x 3

    First two oil paintings by Sally Ward

    Self portrait and heat painting by Sally Ward

    "Sally is just a fabulous figurative artist. The likeness might not be totally be there but I'm in love with this painting today. - and it chimes with her self portrait"
    Tai Shan Schierenberg
    "Really beautiful sensitive choices about how to put paint down. I'm an absolute sucker for this little square - it really pulls me in"
    Kate Bryan

    The editor FORGOT to give us the shot of the two paintings by Nicole next to one another! This is AWFUL but is the best I can do. You can see the heat painting properly on her Instagram account.

    Self portrait and heat painting by Nicola Fitzgerald

    Nicola gives us character.... you've got a focus and an intent Kathleen Soriano

    She's just good at putting paint down and capturing interesting passages of paint Kate Bryan

    Note that Victoria is the ONLY artist whose self portrait submission gave us a conventional sitter portrait with HANDS! 

    self portrait and heat painting by Victoria Kitchingman

    Victoria is really good at suggesting form - you can see in her self-portrait the ear isn't really there Kathleen Soriano

    Victoria's good at doing something without doing too much and actually I like what she did today more than her submission Kate Bryan

    Awaiting the announcement of who has won.

    The artist the judges selected created a great painting as much as a complex and nuanced portrait
    Sally Ward won the heat and goes through to the semi final. 

    Read the article about her experience on her website.  


    Kate commented afterwards
    We're always looking for an artist who knows who they are as an artist, who makes interesting choices based on their stylistic concerns and what interests them - and when I saw Sally's painting today with her submission I was like "there's the artist" and we all felt it.
    Having scraped in under the deadline for this review, the next episode is tonight at 8pm on Sky Arts when the sitters will be:
    • musician Ray BLK
    • actor James Nesbitt
    • designer Pam Hogg


    This is probably the most important post for all those who don't have Sky or access to Freeview - it's how I watch the competition "on demand" - except I now use a Now TV stick plugged into my television
    How to watch Sky Arts - Portrait Artist of the Year 2018 without subscribing to Sky

    These are previous posts about the competition

    Learning Points re the 2020 competition

    I've just spotted that I didn't write up the Final - because of the surge in Pandemic changes I think. Must correct that!
    plus my blog post which highlighted a
    However How to watch heats of Portrait Artist of the Year 2021 was followed by PAOTY 2021 Heats Closed to the Public - which is why there will be none of my photos of the process this year.

    Learning Points re the 2019 competition

    Below - my blog posts from last year which contains lots of learning points about painting in this competition for those aspiring to compete this year.

    Learning Points re the 2018 competition

    These are my reviews of the competition in 2018 highlighting learning points - as it was broadcast. More than one of those artists who participated in 2019 thanked me a lot for the commentary and advice - including some who went a long way!
    plus previous posts re other years

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