Thursday, December 17, 2020

Curtis Holder wins Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 7 Autumn 2020)

Last night. Curtis Holder won the FINAL of Portrait Artist of the Year (Autumn 2020)

The title of this art competition is Portrait ARTIST of the Year - not Portrait Painter - and there's a reason for that. It allows those who are great at drawing to also win

Portfolio of portrait drawings produced by Custis Holder for
Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2020 (Autumn)

This post contains
  • Profile of the Artists and Sitter
  • Observations on the Finals Process
  • Decision Making
  • Where to read more if you're interested in applying in future years
    • Call for Entries for PAOTY 2021
    • Learning Points re. Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year
I'll post my post about the Commission in the next few days. The Prize for winning the competition is a £10,000 commission. This year the commission was to paint Carlos d'Acosta for the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. So a not insignificant prize and a not insignificant sitter to paint for posterity.

The Three Finalists - and the sitter

The three Finalists were 
You can read mini profiles of each artist in the link to my review of the Episode which they won - plus a little bit more below.

Sally, Curtis and Kofi

Judges comments on the artists in the final - and what they wanted to see
"any of these artists would be a really worthy winner"

"three very different personalities but their personalities are so counter to (competing/winning) that it's going to be very interesting"

"they need to raise their game and use us something new and fresh" 

Meeting Eddie Izzard and getting ready to start the Final 

The Sitter was Eddie Izzard (in the red dress below) - the stand-up comedian, actor, writer, political activist and marathon racer who is gender fluid and announced that he'd like to be referred to as female in future.

One of the odd things is he referred to them all as up and coming artists - which of course they are in terms of their profiles on television. However I think some readers may be surprised by their respective ages (see below for more - I know my jaw dropped at one point in the programme!!)

The Final was held at Battersea Arts Centre rather than the National Portrait Gallery. 

One of the major bonuses of being at Battersea - where the Heats and Semi-Final were also held - was we got to see the three artworks done to date by the artist in the Final on the back wall (i.e. submission; heat artwork; semi final artwork) - which gave a sense of their relative size and impact.

SEE BELOW for more about what they looked like. Kofi's paintings "bounce" off the wall.

Submission, heat painting and semi-final painting by Kofi Ferris
- and the first time I've noticed that all three faces have a very similar expression
- very "full on" faces which look very similar - excluding hair on the head and the face.

Alvin Kofi Ferris (age 59) is a very experienced professional painter with his own way of working - he paints using a very constrained palette on thin wooden panels - and the grain of the wood can be seen in each painting. (see his posts about his road to the final)

Submission, heat painting and semi-final painting by Curtis Holder
- the first time I've noticed that Curtis opted for three profiles

Curtis Holder (age 50! Did your jaw drop like mine?) entered as an amateur artist. However he had his 50th birthday this year and the programme revealed that he had reduced his teaching of primary school children to one day a week while he sees if he can make it as an artist. He's got a BA (Hons) in Graphic Design as well as various other qualifications including a PGCE.

He works in graphite and coloured pencils - or "crayons" as the uninitiated will insist on calling them.  His drawings emerge gradually from his "scribbles" and follow on from studies he makes first.
You can read his informative posts about

Submission, heat painting and semi-final painting by Sally Ward
- worked the smallest of all three painters
- but produced three portraits of three very distinctly different individuals

Sally Ward (age ??) has been one of the approximately 100 non-member artists who have had their portrait paintings selected from the open entry for the last two annual exhibitions of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. You can read her posts about the PAOTY series:

The Final


Various observations of things I noticed
  • they forgot to tell Eddie Izzard 
    • not to cross his legs (shot of him pummeling the dead leg back to life at one point in the programme) 
    • or that he could do what he liked with his legs as they weren't painting them!!!
  • Very nice sequence as they start up showing how they each approach their artwork in very different ways
    • Kofi draws in quickly loosely using his photo on his phone - and then applies thin tonal washes. 
    • Curtis makes sketches sat right in front of the sitter - and asks questions to get to know the sitter. He also uses (I think) an Accurasee Proportional Divider to measure features while observing from life and transfer to his drawing. I also spotted some Derwent Procolour Pencils (the black ones with the coloured ends). These are the ones which combine the preciseness of line of the harder Artist's pencil and the laydown capabilities of Coloursoft by the same company.  
    • Sally also uses a photo - gridded up on her tablet - and then transfers it to the support which she has also gridded up. I'm intrigued by her brushes - because I don't recognise them!!
  • The Judges observed that in terms of techniques and approaches
    • Sally was the most technical artist - very considered and using traditional methods
    • Curtis was the one with the most psychological approach - he needs to understand the person to draw them
    • Kofi fell somewhere between the two 
  • Curtis and Sally will have each done three women - at heat, semi-final and the gender-fluid final. This suggests they need to address how they do men in their commissions.
  • Both Kofi and Curtis has their headphones off to tune out everything else that was going on around them.
  • Sitters turned up to the Final - and I guess that meant the Judges could check out in person how good the portraits were! Neat trick! ;) 

The Final Artwork and Commissions

There's something about the Final which means artists very rarely produce their best artwork. Which is where the commissions come in.

The Judges made a very astute comment in the programme - about having learned not to come to the Final with any favourite because the commissions play such an important part in the final decision

This year, the artists could not, of course, undertake proper commissions. Instead they were asked to produce a painting of somebody close to them - so that there were no issues re covid-19.

However, the Commissions are, like the Submissions, an opportunity to show the Judges what they can do when working on their own and not constrained by time i.e. a fully realised portrait. (Remember how I bang on and on and on about the importance of the submissions?)

Here they are next to the paintings produced in the Final. 

Waiting to find out who won - and gets a @10,000 commission

Kofi Ferris - Final Painting and painting of his son

I thought Kofi's painting of his son Emmanuel was superb in terms of the composition and treatment of his subject.  Kofi decided he needed to demonstrate that he could do a portrait that showed more of the person. However I was not so taken with his painting of Eddie. Eddie said it reminded him of President Merkel - and I can see his point. It's a likeness but it's also is lacking warmth - and his blue eyes.  I'm left wondering if Kofi works better when the sitter is looking directly at him>

I said in my my review of the semi-final that I thought Kofi would win - but that it was also his to lose. As the Final drew to a close, I found myself thinking that his Final Painting was not quite good enough. I think he maybe tied up a bit with the tension and importance of the Final.

It certainly lacked the blue in his eyes and the jacket.

However the Judges thought that his painting of his son made sense of his painting of Eddie - in terms of seeing where it might have gone.

Curtis Holder - Final artwork and drawing of his family: partner Steve and whippet Freddy

"She has the most amazing eyes so that's a starting point"
Curtis excelled in the Semi-Final and both raised his game and got a good likeness. In the Final he displayed great nerve in opting to focus on the eyes alone. As we saw with Kelvin Okafor in Episode 8 it's perfectly possible to capture a likeness of an individual on eyes alone (oe one in Kelvin's case). What he drew was a good likeness - and I understood why he focused on the eyes - but I'd have also liked to see him draw some more. 

He reduced the size of the paper he was working on late in the day to provide a better presentation of what he'd drawn.

By way of contrast his drawing of his partner and dog reminded me of Lucian Freud's portraits of David Dawson and Pluto and/or Eli - and was a really successful drawing and portrait. Definitely a "wow" portrait.

Tai commented that it demonstrated that Curtis was not somebody who drew fragments and was capable of delivering a fully realised portrait

Sally Ward - Final painting and painting of her friend

Sally got the best likeness of Eddie - and nicely balanced his piercing blue eyes with the pale blue of his jacket - and she completed her painting. Sally’s commission was of her friend, role model, former teacher and artist, Yeside Linney. 

They were both accomplished paintings - Eddie said she had certainly captured his "resting face" - and Sally should be proud of them. However, for me, they sadly they lacked the "wow" factor which you hope for with the winner.

It was however a very good Final with good competition - in terms of content - between the three artists.

The Judges decision

The general consensus was that the commissions were streets ahead of some done in the past (which i thought was a bit unfair to some in the recent past!). 

As announced at the begging Curtis Holder won Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 7) - in part because his approach demonstrate excellent draughtsmanship and a fresh approach.

Curtis is a bit stunned at his win!

I think we can conclude that Curtis's decision to give 'being an artist' a oproper go was very wise! Hasn't he done well so far?

I should explain I am a coloured pencil artist who has been promoting the notion that coloured pencils do not need to be used so they look like oil paintings. Indeed they are all the more effective when they are used to layer and scumble and are used optically to produce effects which can only be produced by pencils. I've seen this style before - and like it - but I rather think the Judges hadn't. 

However I can do no more than highlight that after Curtis's heat I made a point of highlighting him on my Facebook Page and said 
Anybody doubting that Curtis Holder should not have won Episode 2 of PAOTY last week needs to take a serious long look at his Instagram account or his website (see below) - and keep scrolling. His drawings are way better than most professional artists of several years experience! ...and then have a read of his article about the experience of the Heat 
I was extremely pleased to be able to repost that post today on my FB Page.  He was the only artist this series whose work I'd highlighted on my FB Page. (Just added another one to my track record! :) ) 

I also said in my semi-final review that I thought either Curtis or Kofi would win. I thought Kofi would have the edge - I guess because the idea of a coloured pencil artist winning a major portrait competition seemed so alien to everything I've seen and experienced in the past.  It's so refreshing to see that the Judges all appreciate the great draughtsmanship which Curtis displays. 

However I'm ecstatic that "up and coming artists" might be stimulated into giving coloured pencils a go!

I wish Curtis Holder all the very best for his future as a professional artist and (hopefully) teacher of drawing!

Interested in participating next year?

This is my post about the Call for Entries: Portrait Artist of the Year 2020 (Season 8)
  • Entries close at at midday on Friday 29th January 2021.
  • So now you know how to spend your spare time at Christmas....... 
  • READ ON if interested.....

More Learning Points re. Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year

  • you have VIEWED at least some of the programmes from the current and previous series. (I'm amazed that people enter never having seen any of the programmes!!) 
  • READ at least some of my reviews of the episodes - in which I make observations about themes in the episodes and learning points for all those wanting to participate in future.  I try to make them different in every review - but some points are perennial - such as the HUGE importance of the commission and how to get it noticed!
BELOW are my blog posts from four PAOTY series in 2018-2020 which contains lots of learning points about painting in this competition for those aspiring to compete in future series of PAOTY.

Learning Points re the 2019 competition

Learning Points re the 2018 Competition

Below are my PREVIOUS blog posts about the 2018 competition and my reviews of the heats, semi-finals and final - in which I comment on specific aspects for aspiring future contestants!

How to watch if you don't have Sky

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