Monday, February 21, 2022

Review: Semi Finals of Landscape Artist of the Year 2022 - Forth Bridge

The finalists for Landscape Artist of the Year 2022 have been selected. Below is my review of the semi-final programme broadcast on Sky Arts - and some thoughts about who the winner might be.

Judgement time in the Semi Finals of Landscape Artist of the Year 2022

Before I start - apologies to those who have subscribed to this blog using Mailerlite who seem to keep getting repeat mailings of the same post if I do a correction (eg re. spelling of people's names). I'll try and find out why this is happening - and, more importantly, how to stop it!

LAOTY Series 7 Semi-Finals: Forth Bridge

The Location - the Forth Bridge

"It is the semi-finals - we have to give them a challenge"
The venue for the Semi Final pods was on the north banks of the River Forth at North Queensferry overlooking the Forth Bridge crossing the Firth of Forth (Estuary) between Fife and Lothian in Scotland. 

The Forth Bridge is an important emblem of Scotland. Some facts about the Forth Bridge:
  • It opened in 1890 and is 2.6km / 1.5 miles from shore to shore
  • it's built from 53,000 tonnes of steel and 6.5 million rivets!
  • At the time it was built, its cantilevered structure was groundbreaking in design materials and scale. It was the first major structure anywhere in world made entirely in steel
  • 4.5k people worked on the bridge at the peak of its construction
  • The Forth Bridge was designated a world heritage site in 2015.
If you want to have a go at the view, I've concluded they were located at the North Queensferry Boat Club.

"It's the semifinals, we have to give them a challenge!"

The odd thing is that Tai - who hates boats - absolutely loved the location - even the boats! Mostly because there were so many different ways of tackling it.

Personally I was not impressed with the choice of view for the semi-finals. This is because this is a very unusual and divisive subject. 

  • It won't suit those who lean towards greenery, vegetation and a more natural environment. 
  • By the same token it may well suit those who like structures but who are awful at vegetation
Possibly it counterbalances the location for the Final - see the end of this post - except that is also highly structured. There again there's been nothing very natural about the locations in this series.

Do the Judges know something we don't know as to what subject locations Manchester Art Gallery has in mind in relation to the prize of the £10,000 commission for the winning artist? 

The Gallery's Commission for the 2022 prize is intended to celebrate two key features of the landscape of the North West - BOTH the:

  • natural beauty of the landscape 
  • AND the structures associated with its industrial heritage 
i.e. half of it is about structure - but the other half is about the beauty of the natural landscape which has been very sadly neglected by this series.

The Weather

This was an episode of two halves weather wise.


It was a very grey gloomy day to start - with very flat light. 

Then at midday the Scottish Mist began to burn off and the light improved and it went on to become very sunny with a clear blue sky. Or as my father used to say "typical Scottish weather!"


The change in light was a challenge for the artists in terms of thinking how it would impact on their composition, colour palette and the degree of detail they included - and what it did to the shadows and reflections.

The Artists

Before we start, this is the Cass Arts "LAOTY Series 7: Meet the Artists" blog post which they produce each year as part of their association/sponsorship of the series.

Professional Artists

There were three professional artists from the Heats
  • Elisha Enfield [Instagram] a figurative and landscape painter working between London and Berlin. She graduated from the University of Brighton in 2011 with First Class Honours in Fine Art Painting. Some very impressive paintings on her website. Come from High Wickham.
  • Thomas Macgregor (Instagram) - a painter and printmaker living and working in East London
  • Rebecca Noelle Purvis (Instagram) - an American born artist who is now based in Northumberland. Studied illustration and printmaking at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She has taught art for over 20 years in both private classes and in University classes. She now teaches in Northumberland and for commissioned classes. She works in mixed media on brown paper (from brown paper bags).

Amateur Artists

Plus two amateur artists
  • Desmond Downes [Facebook | Instagram] - He's a a Design Professional in the Animation Industry working from his studio in Louisburgh, near the coast in Co Mayo. He studied Studied Design Communications at Waterford RTC. So basically very skilled in visual art - on the commercial side. He has some very impressive landscape paintings on his website - which seem to sell regularly! This is his submission - which is of Cregganburn in County Mayo.
  • Afsheen Nasir [Instagram] - Comes from Karachi in Pakistan. She is self taught and works as a civil servant. She paints landscapes in oil and loves skies - but this was her first time painting 'en plein air'. She exhibited at the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in 2019 and previously appeared in "Show me the Monet". This is her submission.

Wildcard Artist

The wildcard artist chosen from the five winners in the heats was Helen McDonald Mathie who was born in Newcastle Upon Tyne and graduated from Reading University with a degree in fine art. She has lived in Kilmacolm, Inverclyde, for over 20 years. She paints mainly Scottish landscapes.

She's the Wildcard artist who did the diptych (i.e. the wide painting in two large halves) of the lake and bridges in the first heat at Compton Verney, Meaning she can obviously paint a lot and paint well in four hours. 

The Semi-Final: Issues, Themes and Comments

Choice of the Wildcard Artist

Bear in mind that the judges know what the semi final location will be when selecting wildcard artists at each heat. Think about that for moment.

They need for that person to be 'good' at painting the semi final view suggests to me some of the choices of wildcard artists in the heats could have been be a bit disingenuous.

When looking back at those chosen it seems to me very clear that 
  • some were chosen as 'the wildcard winner' on the day for reasons of personal preference 
  • while others were serious contenders to be chosen for the wildcard placement at the final - on the basis of what the subject was.
Plus it always helps with the programme budget when the artist also lives near the semi final location!

To be clear I'd have always chosen the wildcard artist who was chosen (or had her as one of my top two) but given the fact that 
  • the subject was an iconic Scottish Bridge
  • she did a diptych (i.e. panoramic format)
  • which included both a bridge and vegetation 
  • AND she lives in Scotland 
makes her in my eyes as close as you can get to a racing certainty to be chosen - especially given the fact the other close contender lived in Cornwall!

Overall, I'm beginning to lean towards the view that painting big as a wildcard is quite a good strategy for getting picked as a wildcard winner in the heats and maybe progressing to the semi final.

The challenge for the Composition

It's a big red bridge, there's no getting away from it" Afsheen Nazir
Various issues presented for those considering how to tackle this subject.
  • It's both monumental and an imposing iconic structure. 
  • The BIG ISSUE is how to tackle the huge scale - and get it right as a composition.
    • do you go for a big support and most/all of the bridge?
    • or do you go for a smaller support and then crop down - but which bit do you choose and still portray the bridge well?
    • Do you go for an emphasis on shape overall - and forget the detail?
    • How much detail is the right amount?
    "the key is to make it look as if there's a lot of detail when there isn't"

  • Lighting was also a huge disappointment and a challenge when they started. The lighting in the morning was very flat - with a grey sky, no contrast, no shadows and no clouds 
    • this had an impact on interest within the subject and the colour palette and tonal range. 
    • This meant it could become a calculated gamble as to whether or not the sun was coming out - and hence which approach to use for painting different parts of the scene.
  • Storytelling - train or no train?
"we're looking for people who can capture a strong sense of place" Kate Bryan
That's what I said last week! Pity the sentiment is not matched by the choice of paintings....

What was missing? Accurate Reflections!

"the reflections in the water to make up for lack of sky"
One issue was more or less common across the artists - which reflected either a lack of knowledge, observation or experience of plein air painting.

It was also not spotted by the Judges (in terms of making it into the broadcast edit of the show). 

The size and angle of most of the painted reflections were either missing or inaccurate (as in painted incorrectly) in most of the paintings.

This phenomena started right at the beginning when people drew the shape of the bridge but NOT the size and shape of its reflection on the water. 
  • It was if the artists had discounted the reflection as important - and yet this is what told us that the bridge was over water and not land i.e. the bridge would have 
    • a shadow on land
    • a shadow AND a reflection on water
  • To a large extent it demonstrates the extent to which the artists were painting 
    • what they 'thought' they saw in front of them as opposed to actually looking at what was in front of them.
    • how they thought reflections work
It’s as if they’re painting only half the bridge - in terms of its impact on the overall landscape!!

Some (notably Rebecca, Afsheen and Helen) noted that the reflections would become more important given the lack of interest in the sky in the morning.

An awful LOT of artists get the technical aspects of reflections wrong. This also happens with well known artists (e.g. Monet!)

It's clear to me that, with the exception of Rebecca and possibly Desmond, the artists appeared unaware of HOW reflections work.

For example, Afsheen said she was planning her painting to focus on reflections but she then got some right and some wrong!

There are a few simple things to remember about reflections on water - but the explanations of why can be rather complicated - so I'm going to do a seperate post about it - probably on Wednesday.

Spot the Finalists

After you've watched this Episode go back and look at the first five minutes -and see if you can predict who will be in the Final.  I could!

I wrote down 
Lot of coverage of bloke with beard at the beginning which is ominous
mainly because his is the only heat winner's painting I absolutely hated!


With reference to my last post (What did we think of 'Watercolour Challenge' 2022?) , the contrast between Joan's calm and announcement of 5 minutes left and Ferne's infantile shouty countdown for last 10 seconds was very marked for me!

Decision Time

"it's always difficult to reinvent something which is so well known"

All the artists made different decisions about how to paint the same subject. 

Quite a few of them - because of the marked change in the lighting - feel unfinished.

paintings of the Forth Bridge from the semi-final

What did I think?

From left to right, here's my assessment of the artists' artwork and their representation of the Forth Bridge and its context.
  • Thomas McGregor - Thomas went big - and it's not a bad idea as a way of impressing Judges. He was the only artist to attempt the whole bridge - for which he is to be commended. He looked as if he got the scale and proportions pretty well spot on. There again, he'd lived nearby in Edinburgh for 12 years and had travelled across the bridge on many occasions - plus the red/green colours very much suited his palette (which made me wonder whether these facts were anything to do with why he was selected as heat winner in Episode 4). However his reflections are wrong and his painting of the sky and water are 'messy'. I hated it less than his heat painting. It  reminded me of a train poster for the LNER. But he still hasn't demonstrated to me he can paint countryside and vegetation so it looks anything less than completely abstracted.
  • Rebecca Noelle Purvis - She likes panoramic formats - both landscape and portrait - for drawings of landscapes. Confronted with a panoramic landscape view she initially went portrait and eventually square. She produced the a very accurate drawing - and to my mind was the only person to represent reflections correctly throughout. However she made a major mistake of not doing ALL the reflections she could see after she'd got the struts drawn and started her intention of creating a portrait format drawing. Kate was signalling clearly what she wanted to see - and if Rebecca had NOT  cropped (with an unnecessarily heavy black line) and lost most of the reflections I think she'd almost certainly have been in the Final.
  • Elisha Enfield - She was working on an aluminium panel for only the second time - but it's very smooth non-absorbent. Reflections were totally absent - which I guess is okay when the painting of the bridge was also very abstracted. Oddly it gave quite a strong sense of the bridge despite not being in any way realistic. Somebody (but I can't remember whether it was Elisha or the Judges) characterised the scene and the painting as a quite like a post apocalyptic movie! To my mind she's the quirky contemporary art card which keeps both Kate and Kathleen happy i.e. it's not so much about landscape painting so much as different ways of seeing things.
  • Helen McDonald Mathie - Helen also went big - and I thought she was looking like a potential finalist for a long time. Nice colour palette, best sense of depth and light in any of the paintings. She made the sensible decision to take her glass off so she couldn't see the detail - but that only works if you remember to out them back on again periodically to check how your painting looks next to the real thing. Her bridge struts were just far too thin and fragile looking - and it just didn't "look like" the Forth Bridge. If she'd got the big strut widths looking much more robust (and she was getting big clues from Kate that she needed to do this) and better reflections I think she might well have been a finalist.
Helen McDonald Mathie

  • Desmond Downes - To my mind, based on paintings on his website, he's the only person who would have done a great painting of the bridge - BUT he just didn't bring a big enough support to do a large enough painting. He also seemed very nervous of going bigger - and this was definitely a "go big or go home" days for him.  His composition was disappointing - because it was limited by the size of his support - but to my mind he was the only artist to paint the bridge accurately in terms of structure, and colour palette - and it provided a great sense of the size and weight of the bridge - but not of the place. I think he was rejected because, put very simply, he disappointed and failed to live up to expectations. It's ALWAYS better to deliver more not less than your previous performance has promised. PS You could tell from the beginning that Desmond was not a finalist by how little camera time he got!
  • Afzeen Nazir - For her second time painting plein air, Afsheen (as a great lover of clouds) was confronted with a completely flat cloudless sky. I think the thing I most admire is she didn't panic and worked out how best to compensate for this. She took a long time to get going - but in part that was down to focusing on her composition which I think worked to her advantage. I'm not sure she needed to spend quite so long on her drawing - but I'm guessing it maybe made her feel more secure going forward to the painting - plus gave her time to see if the light would change! I LOVED her island under the arch - it located the bridge and provided a great sense of scale and depth. Plus her painting - as usual - was very interesting. She's not shy of using paint.

The Finalists

the artists waiting to hear who progresses to the Final

At half time, Kathleen said she was thinking most about which painters she wanted to see more from in the future. I'm left wondering if she was thinking of this final listing.....

The Finalists are:
  • Thomas MacGregor
  • Elisha Enfield
  • Afsheen Nazir
To be completely honest, I'm not impressed with this set of paintings. I also don't think I'm alone in thinking this

The Judges commented that they were looking both for promise of what was to come and who has fulfilled their potential.

Thomas McGregor

The Judges commented that: 
  • Thomas produced a painting of tremendous energy and character
  • it was helped by the abstract way he painted water (which to me is a euphemism for they recognised it was not painted with the same accuracy as the bridge!)
  • he turned up colours to 11

Elisha Enfield

The Judges commented
  • the bridge is wrong - but it's a reinterpretation
  • there's a nicely observed sense of place andatmospherer and light
  • she made an imaginative leap - there's an impression of an animalistic / gaping jaw

Afsheen Nasir

The Judges commented that
  • There is a discrepancy between Afsheen's mark-making and what it suggests
  • they love the mood and colours
  • there is both a lightness and weight to bridge (need to check this comment again!)
  • her painting transports you to the island
  • there's a lot of interest within painting

I don't think this is the same list as those the Judges were expecting to put through to the Final. It was very clear to me (at least in terms of what the edit allows us to know) they regretted choices made by Rebecca, Desmond and Helen. Helen certainly got a lot of camera time - and that only happens when they think they've spotted a finalist. Who knows - if those artists hadn't made those choices we may have had a completely different final!

A bit of me is hankering after seeing the other three go to the same location at the Final - and create drawing/paintings too - and see what they come up with.

Just to see how it might have panned out at the end of the day.

Bottom line - the Judges may have chosen variety in terms of painting styles but I don't think they've thought enough about who's might produce the best commission.

This is going to make the Final - and the Commission - very interesting. I haven't got a clue who is going to win. 


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The Final

Next week is the Series 7 Final - which will be held at Levens Hall at the gateway to the Lake District National Park and 5 miles south of Kendal in Cumbria.

The pods will be set up in the garden - which is home to the world's oldest topiary.

(Note: The gardens are open from the beginning of April to the beginning of October.)

Past Blog Posts

Below you can find
  • the link to my reviews in the current and previous series
  • THEMES for each of my reviews are highlighted under the link for each review of the episode
  • links to blog posts written by the participants - always very helpful!

2022: SERIES 7

All the reviews includes themes for reference by future participants - or plein air painters working to a time frame - in terms of problems experienced and challenges overcome.

2021: SERIES 6


  • Review: Episode 1 of Landscape Artist of the Year 2021 at Chartwell + themes
    • Artist profiles
    • Composition and completion
    • Simplification and what to leave in and what to leave out
    • The importance of shadows
    • Highly Coloured Grounds
  • PLUS participant blog posts
    • Landscape Artist of the Year 2021 | Stuart Jarvis
    • Preliminary drawings of the day. | Stuart Jarvis



    • Review: Episode 5 of Landscape Artist of the Year at West Wycombe House
      • Working in different media - silkscreen printing and marker pens
      • Give the artists a proper chance to do well (one for the production team!)
      • How to use a frame to find a picture
      • Coping with the weather
      • What the artist likes to paint - and what happens if you avoid aspects you don't like
      • The darkest darks and the lightest lights

    2019: SERIES 5








    2018: SERIES 4

    HEAT 1

    HEAT 2

    HEAT 3

    HEAT 4

    HEAT 5

    HEAT 6 




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