Friday, December 03, 2021

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

This is my review later than usual review of the last Episode  of Series 8 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2021. 

Judges reviewing the self-portraits in the final episode of #PAOTY 2021

If I'm still around and not in brain-numbing pain after my ankle surgery on Monday,  then the review of the Semi-Final will follow next Thursday. 

For the record, I monitor social media each week before writing these reviews to see what the wider public think. I start by using the hashtag #paoty and noted this week that Instagram beats Twitter by a ratio of 2:1 - and Facebook has very, very little (i.e. lots over time - but very little for this series).


I've got the impression that portrait artist of the week was used as some sort of melting pot for identifying potentially good people for the main event.
I've noticed a lot of the artists taking part this year have 
  • also taken part on Facebook in Portrait Artist of the Week.
  • got a site on Saatchi
The Artists sat outside during the Judging

Professional Artists

I've got the overall impression that there haven't been as many professional artists participating in this series compared to previous series. I haven't counted - it's just an overall impression. I wonder why that is?

The three professional artists in this episode are:
  • Jane French [Instagram | Twitter] - Gets my prize for the best written short summary of who she is on her website. Since September 2021 she's been engaged in a 100 Heads project which she is posting to her Instagram account
Based in Leicester, Jane French is an accomplished figurative artist and portrait painter. She is a proud member of the Contemporary British Portrait Painters collective (CBPP) – a group of some of the best portrait artists working in Britain today. Having originally studied Fine Art at Newcastle University, and later an MA in Design at De Montfort University (Leicester), Jane worked as an illustrator and graphic designer before focusing professionally on her own practice. She is also an art and design tutor, working online and at art centres and FE/HE institutions across the UK.
  • Karen McKeon [Facebook |  Instagram | Saatchi] 4 years at Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland - has a Dip AD. Originally studied sculpture. Now a practising professional artist painting in thin oil on canvas. She lives in Var in France.
  • Christos Tsimaris [Instagram | Saatchi] Lives in London. Participated in PAOTY 2020 and reached the semi-finals where he had a bit of a meltdown and a bad day - as I stood and watched. (see my review of the semi-finals - which incorporates comments on what I watched - in April 2019 - but did not make the screen)
    • 1996 - 1997 - Masters Degree, European Fine Art, Winchester School of Art, Winchester
    • 1995 - 1996 - Post Graduate Studies, Byam Shaw School of Art, London
    • 1988 - 1993 - B.A. Hons Degree, School of Art of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki

Amateur Artists

The six amateur artists in this episode are:
  • Terry Coyle [Facebook | Saatchi] - a part-time maintenance worker and amateur artist who comes from Derry in Northern Ireland.
    • 1996-1999 University of Ulster: Belfast College of Art - Batchelor of Arts , Fine and applied art.
  • Robbie Jeffcott [Instagram] Based in London. Studied Fine Art Westminster and then trained as a tattoo artist.
  • Hlumelo Konini [Instagram] studying architectural technology at Aberdeen University
  • Helen Kelly [Instagram] - Mother of three small children; Studied fine art and printmaking and used to be an FE Lecturer but now works as a horticulturist focusing on health and sustainable habitat in Stourbrige
  • Amber Lewis [Instagram] Based in Birmingham and wants to study art at University.
  • Jacob Walden [Instagram] Age 16, studying for his A Levels and lives in Warwick.


The final sitters for Episode 8 were:
  • 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. She is a teaching fellow in the African Languages, Cultures and Literatures section of the African department at SOAS, a Visual Sociology PhD researcher at Goldsmiths and has written some seminal books
  • Daniel Mays - actor who starred in Series 3 of BBC drama Line of Duty as Sergeant Danny Waldron


Have you experience of painting Hair - from too little to a LOT?

Hair had a starring role in this week's episode. Emma Dabiri (author of Don't Touch My Hair has a huge amount of wonderful hair, Ian Hislop has very little and looks positively cherubic at times as a result and Daniel Mays favours prominent gangster stubble!

All three therefore had everything from lots of hair to very little which, in turn, provided a major challenge for the artists in terms of structure, shape, volume, tone and colour - because there is nothing that undermines a portrait more than not getting the hair (or lack of) right.

For me the important thing is to recognise that you need to work out the shape of the skull underneath the hair before drawing / painting the hair - otherwise you run the risk of getting it very wrong.

I'd urge artists contemplating an entry in next year's competition to make sure they practice painting hair - because this episode proves it can be a make or break factor in the final assessment!

How to cope with painting in 4 hours

As always the four hours is not four hours - unless you work straight through the lunch break - because you get interrupted etc etc etc.

It's always interesting to watch 
  • how different artists determine different strategies and shortcuts to employ for dealing with the time constraint; and 
  • whether they arrived at the Battersea Art Centre with a thought through strategy - and practice under their belt 
  • or whether they were making it up on the day in terms of how to paint this sitter in under 4 hours.
Most interesting was Hlumelo Konini who decided to continue his 'letterbox' perspective on subjects - and just drawing the eyes, nose and ears.  However, although interesting, it doesn't provide the scope to demonstrate that you can do more than that.

Working from dark to light

It's a treat for me when we get a properly trained painter working in oils who works from dark to light. 

Even better if he or she is also an art teacher who can verbalise the mantras provided to students about how to approach painting from dark to light.
Don't rush the highlights - highlights are the treat at the end of working from dark to light 
Jane French was a major treat in this respect. I loved the fact that she was not in the least bit put off by one of the Judges commenting half way through to the effect that her face shadows were very dark - when she's been laying in the underlying darks and not fussing with the lighter tones which SHE KNEW would come later!


Sitters choose a portrait painting

Daniel Mays chose the painting by Karen Mckeon. Like Daniel I also loved this painting - but it didn't look like him! However it'll look good on his wall. 

Ian Hislop chose the remarkably good painting by Jane French which had the advantage of being an excellent portrait which also looked like him in 'contented cherub' mode.

Interestingly all the paintings of Ian were good - but very different.

Ian Hislop by Jane French

Emma Dabiry chose the portrait by Christos Tsimaris. I think this may be because it 

Judges choose a shortlist

Did you work out which were the five they made their final choice of three from?
"It was difficult going from five to three"
Waiting for the shortlist

The three artists the Judges chose were:
  • Helen Kelly
  • Christos Tsimaris
  • Jane French

Paintings by Helen Kelly - self portrait plus heat painting of Daniel Mays

Helen Kelly was extremely surprised to be shortlisted. I'm guessing quite a lot of other people might be too. However when you see the two paintings together, it's obvious that this is an artist who has a well developed sense of what she wants a painting to look like.

However I did think for a very long time that she was never going to correct the awful distortion of the head shape which was present for a very long time as this painting developed. But she did!

Plus I thought it was pity she gave him a beard when in fact he has heavy stubble. It completely changes the sense of the individual.

However, and you may think surprisingly, I think she actually captured the best sense of Daniel Mays. 

Paintings by Christos Tsimaris

Tai very obviously loves what Christos does in terms of process and application of paint. Which is basically about saying he does things which Tai finds very absorbing. However, while I can well understand the enthusiasm for the technique, in my book, that doesn't necessarily make you a good portrait painter.

I thought Kate's comment about the portrait "looking a bit shrunken" was absolutely spot on. My feeling was that her arms are just plain wrong and her arms and torso seemed to be out of proportion with the size of her head. i.e. her head was smaller and her hair was bigger. Too much focusing on the face and hair and not enough on proportions and the rest of the painting to my mind.. However I did think his self-portrait was very good - but quite limited in the sense it's just a head and shoulders.

My main gripe about Christos is he has a tendency to "go murky".  My main concern about him is I think he gets quite nervy in competitions of this sort and it will be interesting to see how he copes with the semi final this time.

Paintings by Jane French - self portrait and heat painting of Ian Hislop

The Judges commented that Jane is a traditional painter who is very good at painting clarity of form and light - and that she brings some airiness to her paintings. Which I'd call giving a sense of volume and of being a real person sitting in front of you.

I thought Jane was exceptionally good at capturing both form and likeness, tone and colour - and her paintings look 'clean' for wantof a better expression i.e. the reverse of murky!

I also liked the fact her self-portrait was her upper torso including both hands - and both those hands are rendered extremely well

Although her painting of the clothing was unfinished, I think that it's very likely that she will get a large number of commissions on the strength of her appearance on this programme.

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The winner of Episode 8

The winner of Episode 8 was Christos Tsimaris.

I wasn't surprised - because anybody who gets asked back and/or selected for the heats for a second time is obviously favoured by the Judges to some degree.

My winner was Jane French.

Next week - Semi Final

The Sitter for the Semi Final is  drummer Nick Mason of Pink Floyd, who now looks like a very dapper bloke who used to work in the City of London.

Nick Mason - the sitter for Portrait Artist of the Year 2021 semi finals

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