Wednesday, October 13, 2021

How Portrait Artist of the Year actually works in practice

I was looking back at my previous posts and noticed how much of the Episode 1 post I've done for every series of Portrait Artist of the Year I've reviewed was taken up with explaining how this competitions works - so this year I've decided to do a preliminary post!

This looks at how it all works - in principle and what it's really like in practice! Those inspired by the programme to apply for the series next year 

Plus this is your countdown reminder that the programme starts in a few hours at 8pm on Wednesday 13th October!

Bottom line - it's classic cold dark evening in Autumn viewing!

How this competition works - in principle

Major fans can skip this but - but for the new to the programme - this is how it works.

The programme / series

  • The Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year competition is now one of the most important art competitions in the UK since the demise of a number of the other art competitions with significant prizes
  • It has been running for several years and this is the eighth series
  • The winner gets a major prize - a commission worth £10,000 - to paint the portrait of a major celebrity.
  • There are three well known sitters for each heat. Sitters are young and older "celebrities" of varying degrees of recognition - as in I don't recognise a number of the names this year. You'll do better than me if you've caught up with all the series on Sky and Netflix!
  • The series is very popular with lots of aspiring portrait artists of various ages - not least because it offers the opportunity for an enhanced profile i.e. it helps marketing if nothing else - so long as you acquit yourself well!
  • It also attracts artists who already have an established careers as artists and in some cases are well known and collectable portrait artists. Interestingly a number of more established artists shy away from it because they can't cope with the constraints - see below......

Portrait Artist of the Year is 

  • commissioned by Sky TV UK 
  • made by Storyvault Films an independent production company.
  • broadcast every Autumn - generally starting in October - by Sky Arts Channel on digital television (now also on Freeview) and via the NOW TV app.

The Judges

The judges include leading figures in the art world - who are the same as for previous series:
  • award-winning portrait painter Tai Shan SchierenbergHe studied at St. Martin's School of Art and at The Slade. He lives and works in London, Norfolk and the Black Forest in Germany and has artwork in a number of important national and regional public collections
  • independent curator, art historian and arts broadcaster Kathleen Soriano worked in museums and galleries for over 30 years. Currently Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Liverpool Biennial, Trustee of Art UK and was previously Director of Exhibitions at the Royal Academy of Arts and Head of Exhibitions & Collections at the National Portrait Gallery.
  • arts broadcaster, curator, mentor and writer Kate Bryan is also currently Head of Collections for Soho House. In 2020 she started to present a new series for Sky Arts exploring exhibitions across the U.K called 'Inside Arts'. She is also the author of:
#AD NOTE: I am an Amazon affiliate and links to the above books include link to my personal affiliate account. This means that if you buy a book as a result of clicking on one of these links I earn a very small sum. (Income earned in this way helps me finance this blog).

How each episode works

Each episode has three sitters and nine artists (three per sitter), three judges and two presenters.

The interior of Battersea Arts Centre - with one of the segments and easels and kit set-up
  • Heats are now held at Battersea Arts Centre - and, in normal times, you can view the programmes being made - as I have done.
  • Each of the three artists is seated in one of three sections of a rotunda type frame (think three segments of a pie or cake). There's no choice as to who paints which sitter - and no choice as to what angle you get on the sitter
  • Artists have - in theory - four hours to complete a portrait working from a live model - with a break in the middle of the day.
  • None of the artists know who their sitter will is until they arrive in the room. (TADAAA!)
  • Filming generally takes place in April.

What it's really like in practice

Reality is never quite what it looks like on screen
, so I've made a point over the years I've been reviewing this series (I was a latecomer!) of:
  • searching for blog posts by those taking part and 
  • asking people I met who participated what it was really like.  
Plus when I could be present I've photographed the reality - which, of course, is very different to what it looks like on screen.

For example, this is my album of photos of the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2019 FINAL
This is what the Final actually looks like in the room where it is filmed - and this is what the artists have to contend with on top of painting a portrait live in four hours!
I've been writing about how the programme works in reality and relaying tips and insight from participants in previous posts. (You can read through them all below!)

Here are some of the more important ones
  • In practice they've got a LOT LESS than four hours to complete a portrait. One of the winners thanked me profusely for making the point that you need to AIM to complete in a much shorter time period. Three hours would be a good place to start - with a view to any additional time you get being a bonus!
  • You are surrounded by other people and cameras all the time - and it's not quiet. 
    • If you are the sort of person who finds this intrusive, bring something which enables you to zone out in terms of your hearing
    • You MUST bring a smartphone or an iPad to take a reference photo - very imply because the cameras are filming for the programme - and they often get in-between you and your subject - and you will totally lose your view. That's there the reference image comes in
  • You need to have practiced painting people from life
    • It's absolutely staggering the number of people who announce on camera that this is the first portrait from life that they've ever done. Find a friend or family member and PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. Otherwise do not expect to go through to the shortlist or the semi-final.
    • you also need to understand some basic anatomy and how to check whether features are where they should be
  • Composition is important and backgrounds are not - make sure you spend time on working out the best crop and design for your portrait. Don't spend precious time paying too much attention to the background - this is a portrait competition not a "filling in the background" competition! Stay focused!
  • People who paint head and hands well - tend to do well. I've been watching for a long time - and if you can do both well I'd encourage you to do so.
  • Artists who have a submission and a heat artwork which work well together - and speak of an artist who knows what they're doing - are more likely to get highlighted and/or progress

Plus some practical points re what appearing on the programme can do for your profile as an artist, your art career - and quite possibly commissions!
  • Get your website / social media / marketing up to date and up to speed before appearing on the programme
    • In my review posts I always include an artist's website (minimum) and social media - if I can find it - in my short profile of each artist in my review blog posts. Feel free to send me the details! (I don't blab about those who get in touch before their heat airs!)
    • Make sure people can find out easily how to get in touch with you
    • If you do commissions - have a specific page on your website and explain how they work and provide indicate costs. If you've only got social media have a "for your information" sheet worked out in advance and available to send out to anybody you impress with your painting!
  • Write a piece for your local paper afterwards - it's called marketing! Make sure somebody has some good photos of you

What I do after each programme

I review the programme and:
  • provide a mini profile of each artist and links to their presence online
  • review the episode and extract what I think are the THEMES and LEARNING POINTS
You can see examples of these from past series below.

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 2020 competition (Autumn 2020)

Learning Points re the 2020 competition (Spring 2020)

Learning Points re the 2019 competition

Learning Points re the 2018 Competition

How to watch if you don't have Sky

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