Thursday, November 25, 2021

Review: Series 8 Episode 7 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2021

Series 8 Episode 7 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2021 is repeated tonight on Sky Arts for those who missed it yesterday evening. This is my review of this episode

[NB Apologies for late posting - I've been sorting stuff for my surgery all day!]

The beginning of Episode 7 - waiting to start


All artists are listed below according to whether they are professional or amateur and in alphabetical order by surname. Any links to their website are embedded in their name. Social media websites are also listed if known. 

Professional Artists

The four professional artists in this episode are:

  • Martin Burrough - had a career in international reinsurance when he drew and painted as an amateur when he could find the time. Then became a professional artist in the summer of 2011 on completing the Portraiture Diploma at The Heatherley School of Fine Art. He's now a a portrait and landscape painter working from a studio in Chelsea
  • Katherine Dereli [Facebook | Instagram] - is an artist who works on commissions (paintings, drawings or sculpture) 
  • Adrian Hill [Instagram] - born and raised in a small mining village in the north of England. Apparently inspired by PAOTY to sell his business and become a painter - and is self taught. Has had his painting selected for several art competitions. Mixes oil painting with other media including inks.
  • Nneke Uzoigwe [Instagram] - After studying fashion design at the University of Brighton, Nneka retrained as a painter at London Fine Art Studios. She has received the De Laszlo Foundation Scholarship (2016 and 2017), the De Laszlo Award at the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Exhibition (2020) and the Green & Stone Art Prize (2020). One of her paintings is in the current ROI exhibition at the Mall Galleries.

Nneke, Mark, Natasha and Adrian

Mary, Martin and Jackie

Amateur Artists

The five amateur artists in this episode are:
  • Natasha Aidoman - a biomedical science student who has started doing commissions.
  • Jacqueline Gartlan [Facebook | Twitter] - an Irish self-taught oil painter. Has exhibited in my work in exhibitions in Clonmel, Cahir, Dungarvan and Naas and completed numerous commissions. Her self-portrait was painted when she was still grieving due to the recent loss of her sister Breda.  
  • Mark Oliver [Facebook | Instagram | Twitter ] - An award-winning illustrator with a background in graphic design who lives in Worthing, West Sussex. 
  • Iqra Tariq [Instagram] - a miniature portrait artist of Pakistani heritage living in Manchester who creates contemporary portraits in the tradition of Mughal portraiture
  • Dr Mary Shepperson MA PhD FSA [Twitter ] - Lecturer in Architectural and Urban Heritage at the University of Liverpool. An archaeologist specialising in architecture and urbanism of the ancient Near East - whp paints in her spare time. Very familiar with anatomy from digging up numerous skeletons - but this will be the first time she has painted a live sitter.
You can also look at their profiles on Sky Arts and see the top down videos of each artist at work

The Self Portraits

This was the second week when we actually got a clear view of the self portrait wall!

The self portrait wall


  • Landscape format x 1
  • Portrait format x 8


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


  • full size or most of body (including hand) x 1
  • Upper torso + hand(s) x 0
  • upper torso (no hands) x 5
  • head and shoulders x 2
  • head x 1


The three sitters are
  • Dame Arlene Phillips - choreographer of numerous West End and Broadway musicals, films, and television shows, dance teacher and original Strictly Judge (and currently appearing in I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here
  • Ali Jawad - a British Paralympic powerlifter. I'm just trying to remember whether we've had a sitter in a wheelchair before. 
  • Chris Packham - an English naturalist, nature photographer, television presenter and author, best known for his television work.
"sitting still is not a problem for a naturalist" Chris Packham
They should get a few more naturalists and birdwatchers on as sitters!


Skill levels

One of my initial reactions in this episode was that it was evident that some of the artist lacked the necessary skills for a competition of this sort.  

I was actually surprised because overall I've been thinking the skill level overall in this series has been better than in previous series. In a way this heat was more like heats in pat series.

Plus their paintings were NOT looking like their self portraits - which for me always raises questions.

The Judges are always looking for consistency between self portrait submissions and the heat artwork - if for no other reason that they don't want to choose an individual who might be described by that truly awful metaphor "the one trick pony". They want people who can show them what they can do - and then go on and raise their game.

So bottom line, submitting a really good self portrait is only half the battle. You then need to find a 'fast' way of doing the same for a sitter you haven't chosen in the heat. Otherwise there is no chance of being shortlisted.


When doing the profiles at the beginning of each review, I always have a jolly good look at their previous artwork and especially their portraits n their websites or instagram accounts. 

It's very often evident when people
  • have not yet acquired the skills to do well in this competition - and I'm always puzzled that those vetting entries for this competition don't do the same.
  • can produce excellent and sometimes complex portrait paintings - but there's no evidence of what they can do in a limited time period
In other words, it's sometimes very easy to see who might be expected to do well and who will struggle.

Placement and format

I was puzzled by some of the portrait submissions and the portraits in the heat in terms of the size and format of the support - and the portrait painted on it.

The size and placement of the head / torso / body didn't always seem to make sense in relation to the size and format of the support.

I suspect if some of the artists (not all) had been asked exactly why they chose that particular format and then that particular size and placement of the sitter, the answers  about the composition may have not been well grounded in thought and reasoning.

I think you probably impress Judges by choosing a composition that suits the format you choose to paint on.  

This is not an "here's an example of how I paint" competition. The portraits need to look like they could hang on walls in people's homes.

The Background


"It's a portrait competition, so the face is probably the most important important part"
There seemed to be three general approaches to backgrounds in this episode
  • ignoring the background for as long as possible and/or altogether - on the basis that the head / face is "the thing"!
  • creating an imaginative background
  • using some of the colours in the background to complement/highlight the portrait of the head
Note that all those shortlisted had a completely finished background - albeit some went in very fast at the end.

I was particularly impressed by Mark's background given he managed to pull off a deep interesting shade of brown which was subtly different to all the other browns in the Chris Packham context. It really helped make the portrait shine

I loved Mary's background which I thought was beautiful - and yet it must have gone in very, very fast - because I wasn't sure she was going to finish.

I thought Nneke's imaginative background might appeal to some but antagonise others by being very busy. It really provided competition for the main aim of the exercise i.e. painting the person. 

Make of Break

What do you need to do to get a painting finished?

Here are a few things I'd suggest
  • be sure to focus on getting a good likeness
    • Standing back periodically and having a jolly good look at your portrait compared to the sitter is a very good idea. 
    • You have to produce an absolutely stunning artwork to rise above not getting a good likeness
  • keep very focused on what you need to achieve rather than flights of fancy related to how you like to paint
  • practice beforehand so you know what you need to do to speed up and maintain your integrity in terms of how you like to paint


Sitters choose a portrait

It occurred to me that if I was a sitter choosing a portrait I might want to find out the names of the people painting me so I can whip out my smartphone and look them up in one of the breaks! ;) 

  • Dame Arlene Phillips expressed a liking for Jacqueline's painting which very much reminded her of her mother - but chose the work by Nneke
  • Ali Jawad chose the painting by Mary Shepperson
  • Chris Packham went for the angles and the dedicated and meticulous precision of Mark Oliver.

Judges create a shortlist

After shortlisting

I guessed the shortlist correctly. I can entirely understand the perspective that once you pulled those three out and looked at them in isolation they provided a pleasing group of diverse styles which together presented a strong group. 

The three artists the Judges chose were:
  • Iqra Tariq
  • Mark Oliver
  • Mary Shepperson
They produced three very distinctive portraits which each have a very distinctive style and yet all are entirely consistent with their submission.

Paintings by Iqra Tariq

Her miniature paintings are very small and are painted using, according to ai, he smallest brushes ever seen in the competition.

I was impressed she managed to get a very good likeness and maintain her style despite the limited time to paint. Plus her choice of the vignette grounded it in traditional approaches while her use - and placement - of the background made it more contemporary.

You can tell this is a strong man!

Tai very much enjoyed watching her painting a miniature - the complete reverse of what tai does!

Paintings by Mark Oliver

The heat painting looks more impressive on screen where you can see the subtle changes in browns and yellows within the painting.

I rather liked the throwback to Rembrandt's arcs that he used in portraiture.

The fact that Mark got the sense of Packham despite his highly stylised but dynamic approach was remarkable - but this chap sees both tone and colour extremely well - as well as every graphical shape and line going!

I just find angles interesting for a while - and then they make me feel uncomfortable. I like people with proper rounded flesh!

Paintings by Mary Shepperson

I loved both the submission and the heat painting. I think maybe it's the colour palette and the way Mary paints which I find very appealing.

She has a VERY good eye for likeness and I think she turned in the best 'described' heads in both the submission stage and the heat. She has a talent for capturing everything that matters simply and with good brushwork and paint marks.

I'm very glad she got the background in - it made the painting.

Mary was described by the Judges as outstanding from the start, in terms of describing the monumentality of Ali's head and how it at on his body

and get an email to your inbox every time I publish

The winner of Episode 7

Waiting for the announcement of the winner

Interestingly you couldn't tell from the description of who had won which painter had won - because the description applied equally to all of them!
"the winner brought their distinctive style to produce an arresting portrait"

The winner of Episode 7 was Mark Oliver - who was very surprised!

The winner of Episode 7 - Mark Oliver

I had Mark and Mary neck and neck but expected Mary to be picked.  That's probably due to my personal tastes. However I do rate Mark's very stylised geometric style and his approach to painting guess his style of painting will make for greater variety in the semi-final.

Next week - Episode 8

The Sitters for the last heat / Episode 8will be 

  • Ian Hislop - Writer, broadcaster and Editor of Private Eye (I never knew he lived in Sissinghurst - but I do now!)
  • Emma Dabiri - an Irish author, academic, and broadcaster; and
  • Daniel Mays - actor who starred in Series 3 of BBC drama Line of Duty as Sergeant Danny Waldron


No comments:

Post a Comment

COMMENTS HAVE BEEN CLOSED AGAIN because of too much spam.
My blog posts are always posted to my Making A Mark Facebook Page and you can comment there if you wish.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.