Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Review: Episode 6 of Portrait Artist of the Year Series 7 (Autumn 2020)

Episode 6 was a very strong heat - with various styles and some excellent self portraits and heat portraits.

I was pretty sure who was going to win from near the beginning - not least because the artist did not faff about, started well and zoomed through to a finish - with 30 minutes to spare. Experience helps a lot when you're under pressure!

Episode 6: The Artists, Self-portraits and Sitters

The beginning of Episode 6

This is the the About the Artists page - where you can see their individual self portraits and speeded up videos of their paintings. 

The Professional Artists

There were only two professional artists in this heat - these were

  • Sarah Cowley ( Website | Facebook | Instagram | Commissions ) - Based in Loughborough in Leicestershire. A self taught artist who has over 30 years' experience as a portrait artist. She specialises in creating highly detailed works of art in oils, pastels and pencil; capturing life in minute detail - and started pet portraits 15 years ago.  Her very small self portrait ws on aluminium. A lot of her drawing happens with a paintbrush.
  • Katherine Rowe ( Website | Facebook | Instagram ) - Based in SW London. History of Art Degree from Edinburgh University. In 2019 she was profiled in the Sunday Telegraph and dubbed ‘Britain’s most sought-after dog artist’ and was pictured with her dog, Toastie, in her studio. Her portrait of Skukura Murray features on page 20 of the new book Portraits for NHS Heroes. She;s written a blog post about her experience of Portrait Artist of the Year 2020: My experience and tips for future artists

some of the artists having a break after the heat

The Amateur Artists

There are seven amateur artists - who mostly favour Instagram for sharing their art. They are:
  • Josh Donkor ( WebsiteInstagram ) Studied illustration at Cardiff Metropolitan School of Art and Design. Shortlisted for the World Illustration Awards 2020 and featured in the AOI UK Graduates to watch. Startwith the eyes and then works in blocks.
  • Rob Fellows ( Instagram ) - a primary school teacher in London. Used a completely white background for his self portrait and switched and used a completely black support for his heat portrait
  • Thomas MacGregor ( Website | Instagram ) - born in Sidcup, raised in London and the Scottish highlands and now lives and works in London as a horticultural therapist. He studied at Edinburgh college of art in 1995-99. Taught drawing and painting within the scottish prison service from 2001 until 2006. Now enrolled on the studio programme at Turps Banana, cohort 2018-2020. He likes to employ narrative in his paintings.
  • Eoin O'Sullivan ( Website | Instagram ) - an Illustrator based in London who works mainly in monochrome using pen and black ink.  Works in pencil and then moves into black ink once he's got the drawing right. He reams of a career in illustration.
  • Stuart Pearce ( Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter ) - a Marketing Manager, designer and portrait and figurative artist. Trained at Plymouth College of Art and Design and lives/works in Broadway in Worcestershire. Worked in the advertising industry as an illustrator and designer for more than 30 years. Also undertakes commissions for advertising, film and theatre set design
  • Daisy Potter Instagram ) - Based in Brighton.
  • Hattie QuigleyInstagram ) - Studied She was the Bristol Winner of the LARA Summer Scholarship Competition in 2019This is an interview with her.

The Self Portraits

This is a summary of the size, format and content of the self portraits in this heat. There was a distinct preference for head and shoulders only in this heat - which actually made those that were not stand out more.
  • SIZE
    • Large x 3
    • Medium x 5
    • Small x 0
    • Very small x 1
    • Landscape format x 0
    • Portrait format x 5
    • Square format x 4
    • full size x 0
    • torso + head + hands with another person x 0
    • torso including head and hand(s) x 2
    • Head and shoulders + hand(s) x 1
    • head and shoulders x 5
    • head x 1
Yet again we heard that immortal phrase from Tai
"We do like a painting of an artist in action"

The Sitters

The sitters for this episode were all actors in popular recent dramas
  • Sian Clifford  - played the older uptight sister in Fleabag. After its second season she won the BAFTA TV Award for Best Female Comedy Performance, and received a Primetime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series as well as a Critics' Choice nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
  • Eddie Marsan - has appeared in a wide range of film and television roles often as the villain and sometimes as the detective!
  • Paul Mescal - an Irish actor, best known for his starring role in the 2020 miniseries Normal People, which earned him a Primetime Emmy Award nomination. He's also won numerous newcomer awards.

Themes and Tips

The sitter is a long, long way away

If you doubt the truth of this statement - just look at this photo below by Sarah Cowley showing her view of Eddie. Is that the sort of distance you like to paint people from? 

This is one of the main reasons why people use technological devices for their portraits. 

They simply can't see any detail given the distance they're working from.


Bottom line you probably need at least one reference photo - even if you paint from life to get the sense of person and colours and ones right. 

So how does that work?

Getting a reference photo

Artists generally get their reference photo at the beginning - but in theory there's nothing to stop you getting another (maybe a macro) at any time. Once you've had your view obscured by cameramen and sound people, I'm sure you will realise the wisdom of having something to reference when you can't see the sitter!

Sarah and Eoin - getting a reference photo at the beginning

Of course then you need to work out how you are going to place the device which holds your reference photo. 

Many just prop their tablet on the easel - as Hattie and Josh do in this pic. If you're working in portrait format and your support is not too big is not difficult because there's enough room. So long as your support is well secured to the easel there should be few problems in terms of knocking it off.

Hattie and Josh with a reference image on a tablet propped on their easel.

However if you want your tablet at eye level and/or are working landscape and/or with a bigger support, you will need some kind of bendy gooseneck tablet holder which grips the tablet and is fixed in some way - with a strong secure vice - to the easel or table - and overall is strong and secure enough not to drop it.  That way you can line up the face on the tablet with the face on the easel. However you must make sure 
  • the holder is big enough to be able to grip your tablet size/weight 
  • AND keep it at the angle you want it - so do make sure you try it out and work with at home first!
This one is an example of what I mean - as used by Rob Fellows. Best to get recommendations from other artists as to the ones they've tried and those they think work the best.

Rob Fellow - reference photo, tablet and bendy tablet holder

Some artists work with a reference photo on a hand held phone - which to my mind just adds difficulty to the process unless this is the way you normally work - as your non brush hand is usually holding brushes not in use.

I think if I was going to do that I'd arrange to use a phone with a bigger screen.

Note that Thomas McGregor below is NOT copying the photo on his phone. His portrait holds true to the McGregor style - and using a device does not mean you become a copyist - if you have a strong mature style and aren't trying to make the painting look like a photo.

Thomas McGregor working on his portrait of Eddie Marsan - referencing the pic on his phone

The "Inner Self" and "Used to staring at them on TV"

Having a sitter who is a familiar face from television or film can be a big help. However you can also be in danger of painting a character and not the person.

After all you know nothing of the individual. Nor can you expect to learn much during 4 hours which might influence your portrait when neither you nor s/he are talking for much of the time.

Thus Judges' suggestions that artists are capturing the essence of the individual as opposed to their likeness in my book is stretching a point. You can capture a look - as in impish grins - but the soul is something else again!
  • There was a lot of very nervous laughter from the Judges at one point when Steven Mangan called them out repeatedly on comments about the portrait by Rob Fellows after all three agreed he had not captured the likeness - but instead had captured "the enigma / presence / something of the sitter"!
  • Kate Bryan stepped in and stated that a judging algorithm exists whereby if an artists produces a cracking portrait - even if it doesn't look like the sitter - they forgive the lack of likeness. 
Which is good to know - but somewhat confusing! 
Can we now know what their definition of a "cracking portrait" is?  You know one when you see one will not do!

In relation to the "Inner Self" - In my book, the only person who can determine whether or not they have captured the inner self of the sitter is the sitter. Listen to comments made by sitters about ways in which artists have captured them - and you can often hear them remark on things the artists have seen which are private.

HOT TIP: Bright lights can shine through your canvas

This TIP comes from Katherine Rowe who found that the bright lights for filming were shining straight through her canvas and making it difficult for her to paint - so she popped one of her spares behind it to make it more opaque.

Note the two canvases on Katherine Rowe's easel

Knowing when to stop

Knowing when to stop is a prize attribute which I see demonstrated more often in winners than runners up. 

The winner of this Heat / Episode stopped some 30 minutes before the end - saying she didn't want to fiddle with it any more and spoil it.

Decision Time

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

Sitters choose portrait to take home

I think one of the best bits in the programme is when we can see the different portraits next to one another - and then they turn them to face the sitter!

Katherine, Daisy and Rob painted Sian Clifford

Turning the portraits of Sian Clifford

Sian Clifford chose the painting by Katherine Rowe
- it turns out that Katherine was painting for her subject - and not the Judges - as she had researched Sian's favourite rose.........
Which is probably why her painting was chosen by Sian.

The portraits of Eddie were very variable in style and media - but they all got a good likeness. 

Eddie Merslan chose the very small portrait by Sarah Cowley

Portraits of Eddie Mersan by Sarah, Thomas and Ioin.

Paul Mescal chose the portrait by Hattie Quigley. She did a fantastic late fast paint of his hair.

Hattie Quigley with her portrait of Paul Mescal

Judges choose shortlist of three

What the Judges

  • ability to see beyond the roles played by actors and paint the sitter in front of them
  • skill in use of media
  • skilled use of tones
  • capturing youthfulness

What could be improved

  • likeness not quite there

Waiting to hear who has been shortlisted

The Judges chose a short list of three which were:
  • Sarah Cowley
  • Hattie Quigley and 
  • Rob Fellows
The Judges say they're choosing on the basis of their heat portraits - but I suggest you go back and look at their self portraits and the comments each got in the early part of this episode. I'd suggest these three artists were marked down as "front-runners / ones to watch" from the "off".

Like I have said many times before - you MUST NOT underestimate the value of the self-portrait to who gets shortlisted and who is declared the winner. Remember the eventual commissioned prize portrait (worth £10k) is not done to a time deadline......

The shortlist

The paintings by the shortlisted artists

As always the continuity and consistency of style between the self-portrait and the heat portrait was self evident among those shortlisted.

For me it's a key characteristic of shortlisted artists i.e. confirmation that this is how this artist paints.

However it was very odd to see two very small paintings in the middle.....

Self portrait and heat portrait by Rob Fellows

Rob very obviously likes black. But it's his use of contrast and shape and tonality within the black which makes it special. Such that the black of her hair was different from the disk behind Sian's head - which was a complete invention given that she was sitting with a background of water.

The self portrait was an absolute wowser - conveying both the intent of the sitter (i.e. the reluctance to acknowledge same sex partners in public) and the nature of the relationship and how hiding makes the artist feel.

Self portrait and heat portrait by Hattie Quigley

The self portrait was a real "look at ME!" painting - bound to attract attention and then comment about the rendering of the different textures of chocolate, skin and hair.

I found her background a tad distracting in the painting of Paul Mescal - but was hugely impressed with the likeness, their speed with which she painted the hair and her 'get on and paint' approach to her work. 

Self portrait and heat portrait by Sarah Cowley

Sarah paints light on faces absolutely beautifully and also is a mistress of observation - looking for expression as well as features. What's more she was by far the best painter of likenesses in the room in terms of accurately capturing the features of the face - of herself and Edie Mersan - but also a "look" which passes across the face but is "of the person" even if not one seen often.

The Judges describe her as a miniature painter - she normally paints "coaster" size - who produces gorgeous jewels as paintings. As with the best of the miniature painters - the more you look at the very small painting the more you see.

She did well to ratchet up the size she was painting at and achieve the same effect - and I'm sure that it's the 30 years experience as a painter which helped her out.

The winner

Waiting for the final decision - Rob Fellows, Hattie Quigley and Sarah Cowley

and the result.....
"The artist revelled in the sitter and as a result was able to create an engaging portrait" 

The result - Sarah won the heat!

The winner - and semi-finalist - was Sarah Cowley. I thought it was pretty obvious for from early on.  So that's one more professional artist in the Final. The professionals are beginning to catch up! 

RECOMMENDED You can watch the video of Sarah painting her heat portrait here - painting in 3.5 hours.


Sky Arts is now available on Freeview - but on demand is not.

This is probably the most important post for all those who don't have Sky or access to Freeview or want to watch on demand - 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 SkyThese 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 Does Portrait Artist of the Year ignore older artists?

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!

No comments:

Post a comment

COMMENTS HAVE BEEN SUSPENDED AGAIN due to very silly ignorant people who leave spam comments without realising they have no benefit for them.

Please feel free to comment on my Facebook Page as my blog posts are always posted there (but please note anonymous comments are not published and I block and report spammers to Google and on Facebook)

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.