Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Review: Episode 5 of Landscape Artist of the Year 2021 at West Wycombe House

West Wycombe House in Buckinghamshire was the site for Episode 5 pf Season Six of Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year filmed last summer and broadcast in 2021

 This is a review of that episode which, as always, considers:
  • the location and weather
  • the artists profiles
  • themes arising during the episode
  • who was shortlisted and who won.

Artists are still being asked to stand in front of their paintings - and obscure them!


LAOTY Episode 5 at West Wycombe House in Buckinghamshire


Location

The location this week was West Wycombe House - which is looked after by the National Trust

This is a RANT! I've got a major issue about where the pods were located. 
They were MUCH TOO CLOSE to the REAR of a large and complex stately home which should have been viewed much more from a distance - and from the front!

How to have your nose up close to a flat facade - with columns.

Kathleen asked at the beginning
What are these artists going to make of a traditional English landscape?"
Well for starters this view was absolutely nothing like a traditional English landscape! In fact there was precious little "land" about it.  
  • This particular view was entirely of a Palladian house inspired by Italian villas of the Renaissance with a bit of grass and a tree!!! I think even the tree might be a non-native species! 
  • Notwithstanding it's also located in the middle of a landscape designed parkland - so again not a "traditional English landscape" as in that experienced by the many and not the few!! 
  • Making the question posed very odd indeed.
She then went on to say that the artists needed to get to grips with proportion / scale / perspective and monumentality - and the geometrically challenging dimensions. Monumental was a word which kept coming up in the programme.

"Why?" is the simple question I would ask. The commission this year is about open landscape in Wales. It has got absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with stately homes!  

If the deal with the NT was that the house needed to be included in one of the views in one of the heats then proportion/ scale and perspective are just as challenging from a considerably more distant view - which would also have allowed for it to be seen in the context of the Estate. (For example - produced by one of the pod artists in preparation for the heat!)

The view selected was also a classic of the "mistakes amateurs make" variety. Much too full on and OTT - so that most of the artists had a completely flat view - as in there was so much house, there wasn't much inspiring by way of an alternative.

Rory Brooke captured it extremely well in his blog post.
I convinced myself they would put the pods near West Wycombe Park lake with long views and interesting reflections. Instead we were on a sort of amphitheatre shaped sloping lawn close up to the façade of the house. It was like having to sit in the front row of a cinema with the action uncomfortably close.
I was utterly gobsmacked when I saw what the artists were looking at.  If it had been me, I'd have got my iPad, got up, walked a very long way away from the house (probably all the way round to the other side) and taken a photo, brought it back and worked from that. 

That's because there was absolutely no way they were going to get excellent landscape paintings given where the pods were located.  They might produce "so so" paintings - but that's not what a heat should be about. We should be seeing the best artists can do given a decent subject to paint.

Interestingly I don't think the Judges have any say in where the pods were located - based on some of the things Tai said (and I think he was equally appalled by their location!). As in...... 
"I'd run a mile. I'd be looking for exit routes" 
Tai Shan Schierenberg (when asked how he would deal with this view
I'm just a bit overwhelmed by how much house we're getting!
Tai Shan Schierenberg (voiced at the view of the completed paintings)

If he wanted less house the pods should have been much further away!

 

Weather


To top it off, the flat colonnaded facade of the house was complemented by the completely flat light associated with a cloudy day. As in the nightmare scenario of very little tonal pattern and no focus of interest.

There was no guarantee that the weather would change and most of the decisions about how to proceed had to be made within the context of this awful view on a very disappointing day for light.

It also brightened up in the afternoon - which then created the "do I / don't I change the painting because it's now got shadows?" conundrum

I really felt for the artists. I just knew this was going to be one of those "I did my best in front of an uninspiring subject on a very dull day" sort of day.

The Artists


The socially distanced pod artists on a break 
- on the other much more interesting side of the house!!

This heat had four woman and two men artists. This link contains the profiles of each artist and a video 

For more detail see below. Links to their websites are embedded in their names (if they have one) and social media links follow plus a profile based on available information online.

Professional Artists


Three professional artists participated in the pods for this episode. They were:
  • Clare Lord (Facebook | Instagram) - Raised in North Yorkshire, she's now based in Staffordshire. Used to be a head mistress but she now works as a full time artist and art teacher from her studio outside Milwich in Staffordshire. She is an artist who loves to work outdoors. She also doesn't mind painting larger artworks and complex structures.  Below is a pencil version of the scene she painted for her submission


  • Eden Mullane (Facebook | Instagram) - Eden is an Artist and Textiles Designer with a First Class Degree in Textiles: Design & Innovation from Loughborough University who lives in Norfolk. She has a mixed cultural heritage and her submission was about her grandmother's family home in Jamaica. She likes exotic foliage and painting with bright tropical colours.  Her artwork becomes the inspiration for her textile designs.
  • Dawn Blatherwick (Facebook | Instagram) - Dawn previously took part as a Wildcard Artist at Fountains Abbery - which is when the nickname for the pod artists was born. A pod artist was  called a "God in a Pod" - and this time around Dawn had been elevated to being one of them.

 

from left to right:
Dawn Blatherwick, Claire Lord, Tilly Commons, Gary Ite, Rory Brooke and Eden Mullane


Amateur Artists


Three amateur artists were "Gods in the Pods" in this episode. They were:
I was inspired by Birmingham Print Workshop and sought out fellow printmaker artists in East London with a common interest in promoting printmaking and developing resources for artists and the community to use.
  • Gary Eite (Instagram) - Based in Kenilworth in Warwickshire. Works as a Chartered Commercial Interior Designer and can certainly handle perspective and brought his drawing board, set square and rulers with him. His submission was an architectural drawing of an industrial interior done in watercolour and marker pens
  • Tilly Commons (Instagram | Twitter | Etsy) - Based in Evesham in Worcestershire. Tilly seems to take a flexible approach to her second name. She prefers less considered aspects of landscapes - and likes drawing corners and alley ways. She draws using pen and ink and marker pens for flat colour.


The Wildcards


The estate was so big it had no difficulty absorbing some 50 artists who settled down at various points around the Estate between house and lake.

The Wildcard Artists marching across the much more interesting front facade of the House
- the facade which is designed to be in paintings and prints!!
- but not the one which was being painted by the pod artists!

Wildcard artists in the parkland

I spotted Paul Alcock who was a semi-finalist in 2018 in the group of Wildcard artists in the parkland - and this was his painting


Themes and Learning Points


Working in different media - silkscreen printing and marker pens

Silkscreen Printing


Rory Brooke imported a complete downsized screenprinting studio into his pod!!
(Apparently there had been extensive discussion in advance to work out how to make it all work)


One of the things to applaud this programme for is the way it has consistently selected and championed pod artists who make art in different media i.e. it emphasises that making art plein air does not have to be all about drawing or painting.

I was absolutely amazed to see that one artist was planning to do silkscreen printing on site. We've seen lino printing before - both in the pod and by wildcards - but silkscreen printing is something else given the kit that is needed. Reading his articles (see his profile above) it also became clear that he'd had a lot of help from Storyvault Films, the people who make the programme.

This programme was a real education in how you can take a process and reconfigure it to mke it work in a small pod in four hours!

I hope Rory does a separate Zoom Class or video about how to screenprint outside! I'm sure lots of people would love to know how to follow him in his great endeavour.

Marker Pens


These were used by both Tilly and Gary. Marker pens are frequently used in illustration - often because they are a very fast way of getting colour on to drawings - they go on fast, they dry very fast and they don't change the surface of the support - which means you can work on top.

I realised I was surprised to see that these had not been used more often in pods by artists.

The interesting question for me is can you paint over marker pens - and I got distracted looking up the answers. (I know you can draw on top - using a variety of media). It was interesting to find that this question seems to be asked most by parents whose kids have just used their marker pens to decorate the walls.......

Give the artists a proper chance to do well

This is NOT the view the artists should have been given as a subject for their artwork

This one is targeted at the Production Team.
  • Something went VERY wrong with the person responsible for researching locations and then locating the pods.  The backside of the house is NOT the view to paint given the ample choice on this estate.
  • Somebody with an eye for good views - which were EVERYWHERE on the estate - needs to be involved in locating the pods. Preferably with the involvement of the Judges or at the very least Tai.
  • Somebody with knowledge of what is boring / unlikely to bring out the best in artists needs to have the final say on suggested possible locations - and editing out the mistakes.
To do otherwise is to hobble even the best of artists. 

This location was grossly unfair. To see why you only have to go to the websites of artists who had done some preparation e.g.

How to use a frame to find a picture

Claire Ward was seen using a small card frame to find the best option for her painting.  I know when I see somebody doing that they're more experienced and have a better idea of how to create a composition. Too often on LAOTY I find that artists have determined their focus without sufficient time given to how the edges of the painting will both contain the image and enable dynamic and creative tensions. Edges are absolutely critical to the success of an artwork.

Key points about using a frame to find a picture are:
  • a frame enables you to find the important edges of the artwork. See my blog post Composition - the four most important lines for more explanation of why the edges are important when trying to find the right picture format and picture ratio.
  • it must have the same proportions as your chosen support
  • ideally it can be adjusted so that you're in a better position to choose the most appropriate shape of support

Coping with the weather


The British weather is notorious for changing at the last minute and not doing what you want it to. For those painting plein air it can create all sorts of problems.

For artists, coping with the weather means knowing how different weather contexts (in terms of temperature / wind / moisture in the air) impact on the media you use. Last episode we heard about really hot days affect the viscosity of paint. Really damp days - and this episode seemed to start in drizzle - also have an effect on supports and how they behave.

It's a bit like being a golfer playing in windy conditions who needs to know how to adjust his swing to make sure the ball gets near the hole.

What the artist likes to paint - and what happens if you avoid aspects you don't like


A perennial theme which comes up among pod artists and wildcard artists alike is they often know what they like to paint.

Wildcard artists have the major advantage of being able to choose where they place themselves and what they look at. 

Pod artists don't have that luxury - although there are those who have turned their back on the proposed view and done something completely different. (Remember Allan Martin the 2018 semi-final?)

What can happen next is that the artist who knows what they like - and what they don't like - is they will avoid the latter. They then spend more time on what they like a lot and enjoy drawing/painting - leaving the bits they don't like until near the end - and of course they then don't finish their artwork properly because they run out of time.....

Unsurprisingly this happened this time. 

I've noted that paintings which are not finished (in the sense of some parts are still fairly rudimentary or ignored) rarely get selected for the shortlist. 
  • So ignoring what you don't do well is rarely a good strategy for doing well in a heat.  
  • Time would be better employed in trying to improve your skills in aspects you like least before you find yourself in a pod. 
I'd like to see the competition ask for two digital submissions - one urban and one rural - to check out whether an artist is wedded to one subject matter or not and whether they can paint another - and then the artist gets to nominate which one he/she wants judged as a submission if they get through to a pod.  If you look at two paintings - as opposed to one - you get a much better sense of an artist and their work.  You get an even better one if you look at their website or social media accounts - but that's another matter!


The darkest darks and the lightest lights

What's really difficult on dull grey days is finding a tonal pattern which works when the extremes of the tonal range are less than explicit.  On a dull day, tones cluster tend to cluster around the middle - obscuring for interesting tonal patterns and potential focal points - which probably makes interesting painting of coloured greys the best way out of a challenging scene.

One school of thought is that if the sun comes out you need to register where the darkest darks are and the lightest lights and whack them in - before the sun goes back in!

For me I didn't feel as if any of the paintings had really exploited the potential tonal range - although some where doing better than others

I wondered how many had taken a photo of what they were painting and had then reviewed it in greyscale to see what that threw up in terms of the placement of tonal values to review. Tones in a photo are not accurate - but they're a good indication of the scope of the tonal range.


Greyscale of the house
- columns are lighter than the sky
- extremes of the collonade are the darkest areas
- differentiation between the two stories in terms of tonal value
i.e. it's not the same colour yellow everywhere


Episode 5: the Results


I've started doing these in the order they come up in the programme.

The Wildcard Winner

The Judges commented that 
  • the location offered so many different views of a well designed landscape
  • there was no end of talent to the wildcard artists in this heat. Maybe they were displaying their best because they got to choose their subject!?
The winner of this heat - among the wildcard artists was Antony Perry of Oxfordshire - who lives (I think)  about 20 minutes away. He joins the pool of Wildcard Winners from which one will be chosen to join the heat winners in the final.

Antony Perry and Kathleen Soriano

Interestingly - as you can see from his painting below - he was using gouache for his painting.  It can look like oil / acrylics - but be a lot easier to handle in terms of moving media and artwork!



Shortlist

Below is the completed artwork from the heat.

As Tai commented, there's an awful lot of house - and nobody should be surprised about that!  He came up with another gem.

It's amazing how they've had to adapt their language to this monolithic subject
Tai Shan Schierenberg

Heat Paintings lined up for judging


The shortlist selected from this heat's "Gods in the Pod" were:
  • Rory Brooke
  • Dawn Blatherwick
  • Claire Lord
Artwork of the shortlisted artists
left to right: Rory Brooke, Dawn Blatherwick and Clare Lord

The Judges comments that in the heat the shortlisted artists all produced three very different interpretations of the colonnaded rear of the house - and introduced something of the way they produce art. Without, in my opinion, producing the best artwork they're capable of.

It's shown below - along with their submissions (on the left).

Rory Brooke


Rory Brooke: Submission and Heating Painting

What the Judges thought
  • they loved his industriousness
  • another panoramic view - but smaller
  • very harmonious, sophisticated use of his colour palette
  • maybe too much detail re. planters
What I thought
  • shortlisting came as no surprise
  • submission was impressive and much the better artwork
  • I'm amazed that he produced a silkscreen printed artwork at all
  • the heat artwork was a product of the time limit - he demonstrated he could produce a class artwork with his submission

Dawn Blatherwick

Dawn Blatherwick: Submission and Heat Painting


What the Judges thought
  • connection between submission and heat artwork through the windows
  • distinctive sense of time and place in both paintings
  • wonky/shonky architecture
  • introduces the domesticity of the stately home
  • uncompromisingly face on
What I thought
  • liked the lockdown view from bedroom window painting - not a great painting but great sense of what lockdown was like.
  • not really a fan of the full-on / cropped bottom and sides view of the house - but she, like the others, were dealt a very challenging view!
  • tonal values need to be more developed - everything leans towards being too light. The architecture would have been better developed with darker and more differentiated darks.
  • I think she's got the variation in values between the ground floor and the upper floor the wrong way round i.e. ground floor should be darker
  • Not sure what either painting tells me about whether they can paint proper landscapes

Clare Lord


Clare Lord: : Submission and Heating Painting


What the Judges thought
  • they loved her submission - and they like the fact she likes big pictures of complex structures (which I'd understand better if she was going to paint Battersea Power Station - but that was last year! This year the commission is all about Welsh hillsides!!)
  • raised an inconsequential section of the house to monolithic status
  • the green of the tree fulfils the same function as the blue bin in the submission
  • parallels between the two paintings in terms of the treatment of horizontals and verticals
  • worth noting she has worked on a larger canvas
  • the overall painting is much better than its parts
What I thought
  • her submission is impressive and unexpected
  • better observed differentiation between top and bottom floors - but tonal values still too light - the colonnade would pop more if the darks were darker
  • not a fan of the crop - but I'm very much not a fan of the view they were given - and totally accept this is one way of dealing with it.
  • the green vegetation would have worked better if she'd included more grass and then got the tree on to a sweet spot (i.e. same crop - but with more grass and sky)
  • I'm still left wondering whether she can do landscapes proper.....

Heat Winner

Clare Lord (on the right) wins this heat

The Heat winner from the pod artists was Claire Lord. 

I knew she was going to be shortlisted as soon as I saw the size and complexity of her submission. She also did extremely well to produce a big painting in the heat which covered most of the bases - even though as she said herself it wasn't finished.

The same applied to Rory Brooke. Of the two, I leaned more towards Rory for the winner - but that's a matter of personal taste - and because I thought his panorama was stunning and he was incredibly brave to attempt silkscreen printing in a pod!


The Next Episode


The next and final Heat is being televised tomorrow evening and they're back at the West Reservoir in Stoke Newington. However based on the view which is part of the opening sequence, I think they've moved across to the nearby reservoirs which are near to the River Lee - which is what I think is in the foreground of the view down to the Olympic Park - but I can't work out where. I've ruled out lots of locations so far.....





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Call for Entries for the Next Series of Landscape Artist of the Year


In my blog post - Call for Entries: Landscape Artist of the Year (Series 7) - I provide
  • my overview of the call for entries - plus tips
  • links to my reviews of past episodes - which also contain quite a few tips (also see below)
    It includes:
    • Key Features of the competition
    • So you want to paint landscapes on television?
    • Who can enter
    • Eligible Landscape paintings - for submission
    • Your digital entry (and what will disqualify you)
    • What are the Judges looking for?
    • My Reviews of Previous Heats in 2018 and 2019
    The deadline for entries to LAOTY Series 7 is currently NOON on 30th April 2021 - although this deadline has sometimes been extended in the past.

    Take a look at my reviews of the last two years - which includes lots of pics - to help you have a think about whether you want to enter.

    Or better still watch the last two years in a major binge on Sky or Now TV - where all episodes are available

    Past Blog Posts


    Below you can find
    • the link to my reviews in the current and previous series
    • THEMES for each of my reviews are highlighted under the link for each review of the episode
    • links to blog posts written by the participants - always very helpful!

      2021: SERIES 6 


      EPISODE 1

      EPISODE 2


      2019: SERIES 5

      EPISODE 1

      EPISODE 2

        EPISODE 3

        PLUS
        EPISODE 4
        PLUS
        EPISODE 5
        EPISODE 6
        SEMI FINAL
        • Review: Semi-Final of Landscape Artist of the Year 2019 at Cromarty Firth
        FINAL

        ______________________


        2018: SERIES 4


        HEAT 1

        HEAT 2

        HEAT 3

        HEAT 4

        PLUS 

        HEAT 5

        HEAT 6 

        SEMI-FINAL


        FINAL & EXHIBITION


        SUMMARY

        • Learning Points from Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 - a summary The main learning point for me were 
          • how demanding the location can be for a final 
          • the importance of the Challenge Paintings (i.e. it's not just about the Heat Painting) 
          • the fact that the Judges went back over ALL the paintings produced by the contestants during the ENTIRE COMPETITION in reaching their decision.


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