Thursday, October 28, 2021

Review: Episode 3 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2021 (Series 8)

Another good episode in this year's series 8 of Portrait Artist of the Year which I think has gained a lot more viewers since Sky Arts moved to Freeview Channel 11!

This is my review of last night's episode.

The Artists

At some point we might get all the artists looking to camera!

Just like last week's episode there was a major imbalance between professional and amateur artists - repeating the 2:7 ratio we saw last week

Links to websites are in embedded in the name and social media links are provided if self-evident.

Professional Artists

The two professional artists were 

Amateur Artists

plus seven amateur artists

  • Sophie Spreadbury [InstagramTwitter] - an actress who does voiceovers and portrait commissions and who lives in London. 
  • Mish Fernandez - a part-time Registrar (weddings or medicine?) who paints using her hands
  • Lucy Bartholomew [Instagram] - an art teacher from Maindstone whose Lino print self portrait of her with her baby was made during her maternity leave. Her Instagram indicates she's one the more proficient people at drawing. (Mind you working as an art teacher makes you a professional in my book!)
  • Kevin Judge - an art design graduate from Dublin. This is his rather surreal self portrait"Painter, Sculptor, Lighthouse keeper, Striker. In that order." according to one website
  • Liam Dugan - grew up in Aberdeen now based in Edinburgh who works as an Interior Designer. Now does portrait commissions via social media and was in the Scottish Portrait Awards 2018
  • Will Terry - from Reading. On a gap year before going to university to do an animation degree. 
  • Leigh Roberts - [Facebook | Instagram] - a painter, illustrator is also one of Santa's little helpers. This is her self portrait and this was her portrait selected for the Scottish portrait Awards 2019
Methinks programme makers have been trawling some of the other portrait competition websites.....

The Self Portraits

Overall, I have to say I think the standard of the self portraits have improved this year.

I RECOMMEND you listen very carefully to the JUDGES' comments at the very beginning as it becomes every clearer how important the self portraits are to who gets shortlisted and who wins.

I have to say it's entirely possibly somebody at Skys Arts is listening to me - after my rant last week - as we've got a better shot of the self-portraits this week! Mind you not without some effort on my part to correct the fishball!

I made a LOT of parallax adjustment to get this shot!


Landscape format x 1
Portrait format x 8


Large x 4
Medium x 1
Small x 3
Tiny x 1


full size or most of body (including hand) x 1
upper torso (no hands) x 1
head and shoulders x 5
head x 1


The Sitters

The sitters the week were
  • Philip Glenister - actor (notably 'Life on Mars' / Ashes to Ashes) - who apparently trained as a draughtsman and is rather good at drawing buildings in pen and ink
  • Nish Kumar - a comedian and television presenter (The Mash Report)
  • Alexa Chung - characterised as a 'global style icon', a fashion brand and a writer

Episode 3: Themes

Sizing and proportions

There were a couple of portraits in this episode which had some serious sizing issues.

One was a full portrait - which I think was drawn quite well on paper of one size and format and was then translated onto canvasser board which seemed to be a different size and format - and bits started to get squeezed

TIP: In sketching to start with it's a great idea to make a proper working drawing which indicates proportion much more EXPLICITLY on the page - in terms of 
  • finding one length to act as the scale - and then 
  • mark up others as being multipliers - up or down from that length - EXPLICITLY as a reminder for the transfer.
One was a head - which started in the middle with the eyes and just grew and grew until it became a very big head - because there was no measuring happening. If there had been it would have never got as big as it did. Kathleen Soriano's "expanded" comment about it - when assessing the three portraits for every sitter - was very telling. 

The people who got the sizing and proportions better were those who kept measuring with their eyes as they looked at the sitter and back to their artwork.

How to establish forms and features

The programme commented on how some artists started the process of trying to find the form and features by drawing and sketching - while others used paint straight from the off.

Some looked at the sitter in front of them and worked direct from the sitter, while others worked from the image on their smartphone or tablet

I didn't see a lot of measuring going on - which was odd - but might well account for the fact that a number of the portraits actually diverged quite a lot from the actual shape and form of the head and Aldo also included features which were inaccurate.

It was a big week for those who could get both form and features right - as in the most accurate portrait won the heat.

TIP: I'm not sure accuracy will be the sole reason why an artist wins a heat - but it never does any harm to try and be as accurate as you can be - because it avoids more polite remarks.....

How and when to do the eyes

Eyes were also a bit of a theme this week - with at least three portraits being commented on in relation to eyes. 
  • one artist who loves painting eyes and other than leaving them to the last she prefers to start with them. My personal view was that she would have been better served by sorting out the proportions of the head she painted - which was just plain wrong. It was interesting listening to the polite comments expressing this point.
  • one artist who thought they'd got one eye sorted and just needed to sort the other - but I'm afraid had misjudged how sorted the first eye was 
  • one artist who painted the eyes and then removed them and then painted them again - and came in with pencil at the end to get definition around the iris - and very effective it was too.
My basic tip about eyes is LEARN about the anatomy of an eye and remember you are always painting something that is globular in parts and you need to convert three dimensions and never ever two.

BIG brushes for watercolour

For all those who loved the end result of Sarah Harvey's painting in watercolour, I recommend you watch the programme again and just look at the SIZE(!) of some of her watercolour brushes! 

Small brushes give small results - those working wet in wet need some rather bigger brushes....

You don't need a press for Lino Cut printmaking

As soon as I learned that Lucy was working in Lino print I was intrigued as to how she was going to get her "press' so she could pull a print.

We learned that se reckons it takes her 20 minutes to prepare to print (i.e. ink up, prepare the paper, press the Lino into the paper and then pull the print) - and she took three during the programme

However what was intriguing was that she was using a wooden kitchen spoon to press her print! I've come across various curious things that Lino printers use for printing - but I've not come across a wooden kitchen spoon before. 

Decision Time

As per normal, the three sitters chose a portrait to take home.

Sitters choose portrait to take home

  • Alexa Chung chose the full figure portrait by Lee
  • Nish Kumar had to three good portraits to choose from and liked the one by Lucy Bartholomew because it was the best one of his hair and Joan Bakewell said it reminded her of Bob Dylan!
  • Phillip Glenister had three very different portraits to use from and to my mind there was only one seriously good one - the one by Sophie which he chose

Judges choose shortlist of three

Episode 3 artists lined up in front of their self portraits for the decision on shortlisting

The three artists shortlisted for the further review were:
  • Sarah Harvey - watercolour
  • Liam Dougan  - oil
  • Lucy Bartholomew - lino print

As Joan Bakewell noted, one who paints in watercolour, a linocutter and an oil painter - which has not happened before.

I have to say I was very surprised by the choice of Liam Dugan - and so was he!

Here are their self portraits together with their heat painting

Self portrait and heat portrait of Alexa Chung by Sarah Harvey

For me, Sarah was the very obvious winner because she'd not only achieved the best likeness of the heat, but had also produced an aesthetically pleasing picture - with a very good and subtle use of colour - made using some unusual ways of working with watercolour which are not often seen in the land of portraiture.

Remember when a coloured pencil artist won last year - using a medium that the Judges were not aware could be used like that for portraiture....

I predict she will make the final if she doesn't mess up in the semi-final.

Self portrait and heat portrait of Philip Glenister by Liam Dugan

This is a very, very clear example of an artist getting through on the strength of a very impressive self portrait - which both referenced art history and provided two self portraits in the painting of the head and the painting of the shadow. It's a great self portrait.

However if you put the heat painting in front of a bunch of average UK citizens I think it very unlikely that any would guess that the sitter was Philip Glenister.

Tai considered him to be a very interesting picture maker - but that comment can only really relate to hi self-portrait.

Self portrait and heat portrait of Nish Kumar by Lucy Bartholomew

Judges commented that Lucy had "gone big" with both portraits. I think they also liked that she has good strong drawing skills and she starts by making a drawing.

They then liked again what they saw as innovative use of Lino cut - and which I thought meant they've been living a relatively sheltered life and don't get out to enough art exhibitions with a decent representation of fine art prints - which include Lino prints. Lucy is very good - but her practice is not innovative, even if it is unusual to be quite so calligraphic when she make cuts.

Incidentally I can think of some good reasons why other artists in the heat were not selected for the shortlist - although there were some who I thought were in with a good chance of making it. 

I think they should take consolation from the fact that there was never any doubt who was the winner....

Heat Winner

Sarah Harvey looked fit to burst on hearing the news - she was VERY pleased!

The Heat winners was Sarah Harvey - so that's three female winners to date. I dare say a male winner will turn up eventually! ;)

The decision was based on the fact that she had used her watercolours in a contemporary way to create a distinctive portrait. I'd argue that he covered all the givens and basics about what you need to do when creating a portrait so that one's eye could enjoy all the aspects to do with use of the medium and the very subtle use of colour.

Interestingly Tai waxed lyrical at the end about Sarah demonstrating that watercolour is very much not the poor relation to oils. 

Episode 4

The sitters in the next episode are: Celeste, Lydia West and Alastair Campbell

Series 8 of Portrait Artist of the Year

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