Thursday, November 04, 2021

Review: Episode 4 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2021 (Series 8)

This is a review of the fourth episode of Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 8). It follows the identical format of all the others - as does this post. Just the artists and the themes are different.

Apart from the fact that I've swopped the colour of the main headings and sub-headings after Google and Blogger got really silly some time ago about removing controls over font size for different headings. It drives me absolutely bonkers to have the main head and sub-head as options and yet they're exactly the same size when I'm doing posts with lots of sub-heads!

On to this episode. If you missed it, it's repeated tonight at 7pm.


Nine artists split into four professional and five amateur artists this week. As always I split them into the two self-defined groups and order alphabetically by surname. Links to their website are embedded in their names and social media links listed where they could be found.

It looks as if they sat on their end of session break next to the person who was wearing the most similar shoes....

The artists

Professional Artists

  • Thom Koefoed [Facebook | Instagram | Twitter] - an artist and illustrator who studied fine art at Brighton and graduated in 2009. 
  • Lionel Playford [Facebook | Blog ] - MA in Fine Art from Newcastle University. Describes himself as "best known 'up north' as a landscape painter of northern sensibility." He specialises in landscapes associated with climate change and works on projects typically as an artist in residence. He also makes sculptures, environmental art and installations.Not quite sure why he's on this show rather than Landscape artist of the Year
  • Harriet Selka [Facebook | Instagram | Twitter] - an Edinburgh based painter and photographer. Graduated with a BA in Fine Art Painting from Edinburgh University in 2015.  Has exhibited in the Scottish Portrait Awards (for photography). Was studying on the part-time Postgraduate course The Bigger Picture at The Essential School of Painting in London when filmed for this episode
  • Lucy Threlfall [Facebook | Instagram] - Studio in Royston in north Hertfordshire. Graduated with degree in Art History at UCL. In 1990 she went on to study at Charles Cecil Studios in Florence. From 1997 she worked principally as a portrait painter, undertaking portrait commissions while looking after a young family. Completed an MA in Printmaking at the Anglia Ruskin in Cambridge in 2012. She has painted portraits since 1997.

Amateur Artists

  • Rob Burton [Facebook | Instagram] - From Cambridgeshire. London-based saxophonist Rob Burton won the Woodwind Category Final of BBC Young Musician 2018. Currently studies Classical Saxophone on a full scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music. He is a self-taught artist, starting for fun at the age of ten, and going on to attain 100% in GCSE Fine Art and an A* in A-Level Art. Usually works in a combination of pencil and black ink
  • Lois Laryea - uses oil pastels
  • Holly McCann [Instagram] - draws in ink and marker pens
  • Leonardo Santomalazza [Blog | Instagram] - From Rome. Studied architecture. Moved to Cornwall to run an art supplies shop. 
  • Emily Schofield [6th form college | Instagram] She's currently in her second year at university.


Small to very small self portraits - mostly of heads

The self portraits were overwhelmingly small to very small heads and shoulders only. Very disappointing in that respect. 

Only one person produced a larger interesting format - and an interesting painting - the youngest painter in the heat!

Having seen the size of the self portraits, the interesting question for me was all about who was going to make up for the fact they had such a downsized approach to creating a portrait in the heat. In the event only one artist - Harriet Selka - tried to balance out by doing a full figure. Good for her for having a go. 

I cannot emphasise too much how the submission of the self portrait is really, really important - and "sets the scene" for how the Judges think about the participants.


The sitters were:
  • Alastair Campbell 
    • b. 1957 a British journalist, author, strategist, broadcaster and activist who was Tony Blair's Press Secretary in Downing Street
    • painted by Harriet Selka, Leonardo Santolamazza and Emily Schofield
  • Lydia Wise 
    • b 1993. a British Actress - known for her television roles in the BBC One series Years and Years and the Channel 4 series It's a Sin.
    • painted by Lionel Playford, Thom Kofoed and Holly McCann
  • Celeste 
    • an American-British singer and songwrite who has won a Brit Award and been nominated for more plus for an Oscar.
    • painted by Lucy Threlfall, Rob Burton and Lois Laryea


What you really need to focus on (aka Lucy Threlfall's Note)

There are two truisms which help artists do well in this series
  • practice painting to less than the time limit
  • have a plan
Lucy very sensibly wrote down her "to do" list for herself - with lots of sensible reminders.  It's a great idea to have your reminders to self in view which you get underway - and as a checklist to come back to as you come to natural break.

It also provides fodder for minds which can go blank - and the latter can happen to the best of artists.

Painting to the time limit

I rather liked Emily Schofield's plan which essentially was to "paint fast". She had her underpainting down in the first two minutes.

Just saying....

It's also clear that others (eg Thom) had practiced to the time limit.

HOWEVER - the key thing with the time limit is to remember that YOU NEVER EVER GET THE FULL FOUR HOURS unless you make up for the time you lose to talking to presenters / having your photo taken etc by painting through the lunch hour. But then you risk not giving your eyes and brain a break - and that wonderful feedback when you set eyes on your work again after a break and realise what you need to focus on next!

This is NOT a "Painting the Head" competition!

Artists would do well to remember that portrait painting as a practice is not defined by the head. There were a few floating heads in this Heat. 

Somewhere between the submission and the Final, it's very advisable to demonstrate you can 
  • paint a neck, 
  • sit the head on the shoulders properly and 
  • paint a hand - at the very least!
What was interesting is that two of the artists (Thom and Lionel) managed to get one hand into their self portrait submissions.

Only ONE artist had a go at more than head and shoulders in this Heat - and painted hands too.  Everybody else painted just the head - and if the sitter was lucky they got to see shoulders too. 

Below is the heat portrait Harriet Selka completed after the filming stopped. I think if it had looked like this at the end of the four hours she would have stood a good chance of being shortlisted.

I do also wish more people would practice creating larger portraits on larger supports. It's very hard to create both impact and a good impression with a small drawing or painting.

Going bigger also means getting looser. Those which look tight - or even too tight - are invariably small also. 

Going bigger can also be easier than drawing or painting small - so long as 
  • you have good draughtsmanship skills and 
  • you've developed some skills in painting larger than normal - 
  • and bought/brought the right size brushes with them! (i.e. you can't fill a mlarger canna using small brushes!)

Why not invest in some bigger brushes - you know it makes sense!

Painting Hair

Hair is part of the likeness of a sitter - and there can be some amazing diversity in the hair of different sitters

There was some absolutely wonderful hair on the two female sitters. This turned out to be something of a challenge which some rose to while others lacked volume, fell flat and/or went rather 2D.

The important thing about hair is to:
  • FORGET it's made up of strands and
  • look hard at the overall volume, shape and tonal value pattern. 
You can titivate all you like with detail only AFTER you've got that convincing head of hair is in place in terms of a 3D entity - and you've addressed any other issues which are important to how the overall image reads as a portrait.

Age of the Sitter

We had two portraits which aged the sitter
  • Alastair Campbell ended up looking a lot younger in one portrait - painted by a young artist
  • Lydia West looked a lot older and a little heavier too in another portrait - painted by a middle aged artist

It occurred to me that one's eye is more accustomed to seeing faces of a certain age group - and that tends to depend on your own age group.

Another truism of this competition: there is no way of knowing the gender, age or ethnicity of your sitter in advance - and you need to be prepared for anything.

It struck me that maybe artists entering this competition need to focus on practising fast portraits with a VARIETY of sitters - aiming for
  • every age group
  • every gender
  • as many ethnicities / skin tones as possible

Alternative Media

It was good, as always - to see some alternative techniques and use of media. We had:
  • Leo used water with charcoal to create some very interesting effects. You can see more of these in his Instagram account
  • It was good to see Lois's use of oil pastels and how she built and developed her portrait - and how it changed as she progressed. I'd love to see a demonstration close up!
What was rather more risky was using media for the first time - or the first time for a long time - as Rob did. Instead of drawing with oil, he drew with pencil. Instead of using oil throughout he started with graphite, underpinned with acrylic and finished with oil. Obviously this was to try and ensure he got the head dimensions right and to get it finished on time. An alternative approach would have been to practice "alla prima" painting before the heat - which is the approach that the pure oil painters use.


Sitters choose a portrait

The sitters chose as follows:
  • Alastair Campbell chose Emily Schofield

Emily Schofield with her portrait of Alastair Campbell

  • Lydia West chose Them Kofoed

  • Celeste chose Lucy Threlfall

Judges choose shortlist of three

Judges doing their circular perambulation around the three segments of the hub
- judging the portraits

Artists lined up with their self-portraits waiting to be shortlisted

The three artists the Judges chose were:
  • Emily Schofield
  • Lucy Threlfall
  • Rob Burton

Portraits by Emily Schofield

Alastair thought that he looked in Emily's portrait the way he felt.

Tai though her portrait of Alastair was a fantastic likeness - but that it wasn't flattering. Kathleen thought she'd flattered him with gravitas.

Tai thought she was a very more mature artist for her age.

Portraits by Lucy Threlfall
Portraits by Lucy Threlfall

Kate felt Lucy's portrait started spectacular and stayed spectacular. 

Kathleen thought the tonalities were beautiful and the colours were stunning. She also thought that Lucy benefited from the intensity of the day

Both preferred her Heat Portrait to her submission.

Portraits by Rob Burton

They agreed Rob's self-portrait was a very distinctive submission.

Kate was excited by the colour palette he used for Celeste. Tai thought he'd created a better portrait partway through the afternoon but that it was still a good portrait. He also liked the mood he created.

In my opinion it was his submission which made the difference at the end of the day. As I always say - never ever underestimate the importance of the submission for getting you into the shortlisting arena - which not all artists achieve.

Winner of Episode 4

The Judges decided that the winner of the fourth Heat of  Portrait Artist of the Year 2021 (Series 8) was Lucy Threlfall.

Lucy Threlfall with her Heat portrait of Celeste

Lucy gave us the most wonderful portrait of Celeste - its was sensitive and spiritual and I know with that Florence training and pushing at those boundaries that she's going to give us something very special at the semi final.
Kathleen Soriano
I agree. I had her marked down as the Heat Winner from very early on - just in terms of how she approached her portrait.
Wasn’t I so lucky to have the gorgeous, poetic Celeste as my sitter on #paoty a dreamlike experience all round Lucy Threlfall 

Portrait of Celeste by Lucy Threfall

Episode 5

The sitters in the next episode on Wednesday 10th November 2021 are: Kelly McDonald, Hugh Skinner and Polly Walker.

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