Thursday, November 11, 2021

Review: Episode 5 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2021 ( Series 8 )

Episode 5 of Portrait Artist of the Year was broadcast on Sky Arts (Freeview Channel 11) last night. The episode is repeated tonight at 7pm for anybody wanting to catch up on that episode. 

Below is my review of this episode. It follows the identical format of all the others - as does this post. Just the artists and the themes are different. (At the end you can find a list of my reviews of previous episodes). 

Apologies for a rather later review than usual. I had a health emergency with my (200 miles away) mother yesterday - which has left me feeling rather drained - followed by my BoosterJab today. 


The artists in Episode 5

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.

You can also look at profiles on Sky Arts - but the listing below is more comprehensive!

Professional Artists

  • Caryn Koh  [Facebook | Instagram | Twitter] - Initially trained as a doctor and worked in medicine as a junior doctor - before retraining as an artist. Migrated from Malaysia to UK four years ago and has participated in numerous group exhibitions over the years in Malaysia, Taiwan and UK plus is one of the artists behind the Portraits for NHS Heroes. She also paints murals.
  • Calum Stevenson  [Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube] - graduated from Duncan of Jordanstone and I’m now studying for a MA in Fine Arts at Glasgow School of Art. He spent 80 hours on his self-portrait and focuses on getting a good likeness from the get go.
  • Ruth Swain [Facebook | Instagram | Twitter] - an award-winning portrait, figurative and still-life artist based in Oxfordshire. She works in oil, watercolour and pastel. Studied for a Contemporary Portraiture Foundation Degree at the Art Academy. Previously worked as an advertising art director and illustrator.
  • Michael Youds - Winner of the Scottish Portrait Awards 2019 and 3rd prize at BP Portrait Award 2020 He also works four-day shifts at the Scottish National Galleries in Edinburgh. Born in 1982 in Blackburn, Lancashire, Michael gained a first-class degree in Fine Art in 2005 before moving to Edinburgh in 2007.(His twin brother David Youds featured in LAOTY 2019 Episode 5). 

Amateur Artists

Some have had a considerable art education!
  • Jaimee Andrews [Facebook | Instagram] - freelance illustrator who graduated from Falmouth University in 2019 with a degree in Illustration
  • Kwasi Awotki [Facebook | Instagram] - based in Hackney with a studio in Clapton. Started his training in Atelier Fine Art at London Fine Art Studios in 2018. Also attended the Art Academy and Heatherley School of Fine Art, where he studied Printmaking and Watercolour Painting.
  • Jasmine Barber [Facebook | Instagram] - Has watched PAOTY since she was 15 years old. Based in Essex. Prefers to create realistic artworks in coloured pencils. She describes herself as a professional portrait artist on her website (so I'm left wondering when she went professional) but is typically focusing on celebrity artists while promoting commissions.
  • Amy Dury [Facebook | Instagram | Twitter] - a figurative artist who lives and works in Hove in Sussex. Studied BA Printmaking at Glasgow School of Art (1993–97) and an MA Fine Art at University of Brighton(2000–02). Head of Art at a sixth form college. Shortlisted for the BP Portrait Award (2020) and accepted for the 2021 Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize. Only started painting five years ago.
  • Yevhen Nahirny - Studied Mathematics at King's College London. Painted in PAOTY 2019 when he painted Geraldine James. 


The sitters for Episode 5 are all actor and actresses - with a big Line of Duty presence!
  • Kelly McDonald - a Scottish actress best know for her parts in Transporting, Gosford Park and Line of Duty, season 6
  • Hugh Skinner - an English actor best known latterly for Fleabag and The Windsors
  • Polly Walker - an English Actress who has also featured in Line of Duty (as Gill Biggeloe in series 3 and 5) and starred as Lady Featherington in Bridgerton


The best view of the Self Portraits came at the Judges chat at half time

Judges stand in front of the self portraits - so you can gauge relative size

There was one self portrait which stood out for me in term of its ambition and cleverness. I'm wondering if people got all the allusions in the painting. 

I thought Ruth Swain would have really had to mess it up not to get shortlisted - on the strength of that painting alone.....

Self Portrait by Ruth Swain - after Normal Rockwell

THEMES in Episode 5

Episode 5 of Portrait Artist of the Year

What to do if you get the centre spot

Being in the centre is no fun. You've got the sitter staring straight at you. 

A lot of artists prefer a three-quarters view - which is why you sometimes see so many people working from their digital devices. They hate what's in front of them in terms of composition of a portrait - so they take their digital device and go and find another / better one.

I personally think all sitters should be encouraged to stare at something in-between the artist in the centre and one of the outer artist. That way everybody gets some profile.

Backgrounds to the sitters

Enough with the segment where one of the Judge explains the reason for the colour of the background.
At least we've got them to a point where it's a plain colour or sequence of related colours.

Let's not go all arty farty about those AWFUL backgrounds! Especially not when some of the colour bore absolutely no real relationship with leaves (the "supposed" theme for this week's colours)

Plus who tells the sitter to link colours of their dress to the colour of the background?

It would be a much bigger challenge to leave the background a white or neutral midtown colour - and the see how the artists handle the background. 

The benefit then would we wouldn't get individual artists completely ruining their artwork by adding in a background in a vile colour.

Plain backgrounds to sitter - coloured or white?

I think some painters add colour late in the day to make the portrait - which might be rather pale - jump off the support. I'm not sure it's always a good idea. It's very definitely NOT a good idea to be guided by the awful colour that's behind the sitter this week!

Some painters definitely leave their backgrounds alone and allow them to be the colour of the support. This can give the portrait paintings a very contemporary edge.

For me with a short portrait the key decisions are influenced by answering these questions:
  • how does painting a background in a limited time frame tell the Judges how good I am an painting portraits?
  • Will adding a colour help or swamp the head that's been painted?
  • Is there a way I can test what adding a colour to the background might do for the portrait?
  • Are flat backgrounds better than ones where paint has been applied in a much more relaxed manner?

Working slowly - and the need to finish within the time

Artists who work slowly put the newbie jeebies up the Judges - who start to worry about whether their favourites will actually finish their portraits!

I love the way they all turn to one another and discuss how some of the artists need to speed up - as opposed to giving some feedback to the artists - in a neutral way - e.g. an announcement at half time - before they start up again
We'd like to suggest that some of you need to review whether you are managing your time effectively - and whether you are going finish.
The Judges might not tell you, but I'm happy to tell you that changing your brush size makes a great deal of difference to how fast you can cover your support.

Being a good portrait painter does not make you a good TV competition participant

I think some artists are very wise to stay away from this competition.

I really felt for Michael Youds, who has got some really great credentials for his portraits in very prestigious portrait competitions - but who I think was quite possibly entirely unsuited in terms of how he likes to paint to the quite disruptive environment of PAOTY.

It's not an environment in which everyone can thrive. When practising painting fast, you probably need to also have other people interrupting your flow and concentration every so often! Or invest in some really good headphones - as more and more painters appear to be doing!


Sitters choose a portrait

Three heat portraits of Kelly McDonald

This is when the Sitters have to choose which of the self portraits they want to keep
  • either because they really like it 
  • or they'd prefer to make sure they can keep it out of circulation. I don't think the latter happened this week but I've been certain that's what has happened on previous occasions.
The three sitters chose as follows
  • Kelly McDonald chose Calum Stevenson's portrait - which I thought was a very good choice
  • Hugh Skinner chose the rather odd painting by Yevhen Nahirny
  • Polly Walker chose Amy Dury's portrait 

Judges choose shortlist of three

Time for the Shortlisting Parade in front of self-portraits

The three artists the Judges chose were:
  • Caryn Koh
  • Amy Dury
  • Calum Stevenson
When their self-portraits were shown alongside the Heat Portraits (see below) there was a clear consistency of style across the two. The paintings by the two women artists were quite painterly, while Calum's came across as the most contemporary portraits by far.

Those wanting to participate in this art competition - and progress to shortlisting and the semi-final MUST be capable of producing something in four hours which corresponds stylistically to a portrait which may have taken very many hours.

Self portrait and heat portrait by Caryn Koh

The Judges thought her a great colourist and somebody who has a consistent style in terms of how she handles paint - or schmooshing it as Kathleen calls it.

Self portrait and heat portrait by Amy Dury

This was the heat portrait which started with Amy kneeling on the floor brushing a thin teal blue acrylic layer on to the support - to act as a dark from which to develop lighter tones.

Self portrait and heat portrait by Calum Stevenson

Keeping the background pale and white was the key to getting the consistency between the two paintings. The heat painting has got the basic structure mapped out. You can see how it would proceed if he'd had more time.

The Judges particularly liked that he's got a phenomenal likeness in the heat portrait - right from the off - when he painted the eyes first with his 5 zero brush!

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Winner of Episode 5

The winner of Episode 5 was Callum Stevenson - who was genuinely surprised. I think we'll see more of him in the future - most likely in other art competitions and open exhibitions.

I can't say I was surprised. It came across very well and the likeness was excellent- even though I think the receding side of the top lip of the mouth is slightly wrong!

This is the video of him painting the portrait

Episode 6

The sitters in the next episode on Wednesday 10th November 2021 are: David Olusoga, Maggie Aderin-Pocock, Sergei Polunin

Who? We've had more people I've never heard of before in this series than ever before.


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