Sunday, December 24, 2023

Portrait Artist of the Decade Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery - last few days

You have a few days left over the festive season to view the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Decade drawings and paintings at the National Portrait Gallery. 

Portraits of Dame Judi Dench by
Christobel Blackburn, Gareth Stevenson, Samira Addo and Christian Hook

They're currently on view in what's called the "Spotlight Space" at the very bottom of the publicly accessible floors of the National Portrait Gallery. 

Portraits of Dame Judi Dench by Curtis Holder, Morag Caistor and Gareth Reid

I visited back in November. It took me about half an hour to locate where they were!!

  • The directions within the Gallery are extremely opaque. 
  • Essentially they're down in the basement on Level -03.  
In order to locate the "Spotlight Space", you can DOWNLOAD

BELOW you can see the images of the various portraits of Dame Judi Dench on Level -03 (the minus is VERY important - as I learned on my trek around the Gallery!

You can also read my Review: Portrait Artist of the Decade

The first episode of Portrait Artist of the Year this year was devoted to the competition to find the Portrait Artist of the Decade - from the winners of the previous series.

The sitter for this momentous occasion was Dame Judi Dench - who promised to nod off in the afternoon but stayed bright and alert all day by the look of the programme.

Plus see my photographs in the album on my Facebook Page - see Portrait Artist of the Decade. This contains shots of just the heads as well as views of the complete portraits. 

When viewing the heads do remember that Dame Judi Dench is 89 years old and has resolutely NOT had any plastic surgery and boasts the wrinkles of age and wisdom! Does the portrait look like an 89 year old national treasure?

Portrait Artist of the Decade
The Set-Up for the sitting with Dame Judi Dench

Dame Judi Dench by....

Below you can see views of the paintings hung on the wall at the National Gallery - with a one line comment from me. They are ordered by time and the series won by the artist.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

So many things wrong with Oprah Winfrey's Portrait in the Smithsonian

I'm sure you are all familiar with the children's story of the Emperor's new clothes. Well I feel like I'm about to emulate the whistle blower.

This review of the new portrait of Oprah Winfrey in the Smithsonian comes in two parts:

  • a list of the unfortunately high number of things I can find wrong with the portrait; and
  • some straight facts about the commission, the sitter and the artist - because when all said and done somebody did go to a lot of effort - even if I really don't like it.
Before I go any further, let me say a few things.

I think Oprah Winfrey has achieved some remarkable things in her lifetime. As such she very definitely deserves a portrait in the Smithsonian. As described by the Smithsonian
As a global media leader, philanthropist, producer, actor, author, and entrepreneur, Winfrey has made significant contributions to American popular culture, which earned her a place in the National Portrait Gallery.
Whether it should be this particular portrait to deliver a place is another matter - discussed below.

I've personally always found Oprah interesting. I've watched a few of her programmes and some of the things she has written and have always found her interesting. I also admire what she has done in terms of building a commercial empire. I certainly don't dislike her - even if I'm not a fan of some of the company she keeps.

Oprah Winfrey (2023) by Shawn Michael Warren
oil on linen, 6 feet 10 inches by 5 feet 8 inches 
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.
The painting depicts a self-assured and joyful Winfrey holding a sprig from an olive tree. Smithsonian press release


1. Let me count the problems.....

This review is coming from the perspective of somebody who has written a lot about portraiture over the last 18 years and has viewed excellent portraits by renowned portrait artists and knows and has known leading contemporary portrait artists.

It's also coming from somebody who is British born and bred and lives in London but comes from the north. Which means I tend to be rather direct and say what I mean rather than do a lot of fawning....

I wouldn't normally call out a portrait I don't like. But there was so much OTT fawning over this one on the American side of the Atlantic and so many people saying how wonderful it was, I thought it could maybe do with another perspective from across the pond. Just for balance you understand....

I do understand that what Americans think is good art is not necessarily what Brits might think of as good art - and vice versa. It's a cultural thing - which is sometimes nearly as big as the ocean that divides us. So my perspective is coming from my cultural background.

This list of what's wrong with the portrait has been helped by those commenting on my Facebook Page when the picture of the portrait was first published.

Plus some reflection over a few days....

My post on my Making A Mark Facebook Page.

I'm going to tackle a number of different aspects in turn.


This is not a portrait from life. How do I know? 

Monday, December 18, 2023

PAOTY 2023: Commission Painting of Dr Jane Goodall

This is about the winner's story about painting the commissioned portrait in the 10th series of Portrait Artist of the Year.

Every year, the winner of the Portrait Artist of the Year Award receives a £10,000 commission to paint a specific individual for a particular organisation - who would like to have a portrait of that individual. The latter is typically famous and has contributed in a significant way to public life.

The unveiling of the commissioned portrait of Dr Jane Goodall
by Wendy Barratt
in the History Makers Gallery at the National Portrait Gallery

In this instance:

"a great painter with a sensitivity for the human condition - and that combination is magical" Tai Shan Shierenberg
  • her sitter is the esteemed ethologist (a scientist who studies animals in their natural environment), activist and conservationist, Dr Jane Goodall who nearly 90 and is considered to be the world's foremost authority on chimpanzees following her groundbreaking research with a colony of chimpanzees in the 1960s. She also continues to campaign on behalf of the natural world around the world.
  • and the organisation commissioning the portrait is the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) - who have been trying to get a proper portrait of Jane Goodall for some time!

The £10,000 commission

The National Portrait Gallery already has a portrait of Jane Goodall - as part of a Panel 1 of a newly commissioned artwork about Work in Progress for Reframing Narratives: Women in Portraiture (see below).

Sarah Howgate, the Senior Curator for Contemporary Collections suggested to Wendy that:

  • it was important for the NPG to represent more environmentalists
  • the commission portrait could be a head and shoulder, as a full figure of Jane Goodall (plus chimp) in her younger years has already been incorporated in the "Work in Progress" frieze mentioned above (on the left below).
  • plus she has an incredible face.

On the left of this "Work in Progress" frieze
is a much younger Jane Goodall with a chimp

The Portrait Process

I thought that this particular episode was particularly good because, from beginning to end, it's a complete education in how one artist pursues her process by talking and showing us what she does.

Other programmes about the commission have similarly followed the process - but I think Wendy is particularly articulate about all the stages she follows and it was a sheer pleasure to watch.

I'm going to try and note the process - with quotes - below!!  I also highly recommend that you go back and watch it again to appreciate the pathway she pursues.

Also bear in mind this is a good process for whoever you are painting a portrait of!

The process

  • meet the artist - having watched her produce three separate portraits, the programme introduced us to a bit more about the artist and how she works
    • her style is rooted in tradition - but she tries to introduce expression as well
    • she loves lines
    • she's an oil painter who does more drawing than painting - she wanted to know why she couldn't draw with a brush and then started to draw into her paintings using a small flat hogshair brush
    • she loves painting people with a story and likes to bring out the heart and soul of the sitter.
"What drives me is constant looking and learning. It's about experimentation" Wendy Barratt
  • meet the client - and find out what they want. In this instance 
    • Wendy met Sarah Howgate at the National Portrait Gallery (below)
    • she saw the new History Makers Gallery and the nature of the scale, size and style of the different portraits (see second pic below)
    • Wendy's favourite gallery in London has always been the National Portrait Gallery so it must have been intensely meaningful for Wendy to know that she would be painting a portrait for the national contemporary collection.
Wendy meeting Sarah Howgate at the new entrance 
to the refurbished National Portrait Gallery

The NEW History Makers Gallery at the National Portrait Gallery

  • First Sitting: getting to know the sitter - on their own territory. Wendy visited Bournemouth and Dr Goodall in the house in which she grew up and where she still lives. They talked together in the garden. In a way it's interesting that this approach is routed in ethology - of getting to know an animal in its own space.
"I would love Wendy to be able to capture determination and compassion..... so who can capture 90 years worth of experience and living? It's really difficult!" Dr Jane Goodall
    • Wendy brings pre-conceived ideas about what she wants to do
    • however first sittings are about trying to take everything in
    • at the same time as remaining open to her instinct
    • it's about keeping ideas about the portrait loose and fluid so it can change
"I hate looking at myself. I hate photographs" Dr Jane Goodall

    • Wendy is making notes - in charcoal - about Jane's face
    • She focuses on structures and shapes and how to achieve them
    • she takes photographs - at the end AFTER Jane has relaxed from the observation during the drawing session
Note that this section is also wonderful for Jane Goodall talking about what she did and how she did it.

  • drawing from life - Wendy is a huge fan of drawing from life and always starts her portraits by making a drawing to get to know the head and face of the sitter. 
  • taking photographs - Wendy took numerous photographs for reference to begin to try and work out what might be the best composition for the portrait
Wendy and Jane - getting to know one another prior to starting the drawing
  • more studies: 
    • working through the size, proportion of the composition and developing drawings of the face from photos and sketches
    • she also drew her while Jane was giving a talk in London - while relaxed and at her most animated without thinking - with chimpanzee noises
    • then sketching again after she's walked away from the meeting of the face while still fresh in her mind's eye.
"She's so petite and fragile but so strong" Wendy Barratt
  • use of life drawing - to stimulate expression
    •  she runs a life drawing class in Worthing
    • Wendy draws from life a LOT which is probably one of the reasons why she could capture a good likeness so quickly in the heat and subsequently
  • Second Sitting: painting from life plus more photos - a second visit brought an opportunity to paint rather than draw Jane. 
    • Except of course, Wendy drew her in first to get the shape, size and relative proportions right which underpin the likeness - using a brush. 
    • she uses a limited palette of two colours and white to get a number of related tones and develop a tonal painting
    • more photographs now she has learned her face and Jane is once again less likely to tense when the camera comes out
I know I can get likeness. That wasn't the sort of thing for today. Today was see what squidging paint around on the surface would do for the story and what I'd glean from that Wendy Barratt
Second Sitting at the Natural History Museum
"She's small and quite quiet but with a strength that sort of almost punches you in the stomach" Wendy Barratt
  • working out the final design - this is gathering all the information together in terms of drawings and photographs and different perspectives
    • she wants to go through the painful process of working things out
    • the studies have helped to eliminate some of the options
Some of the photos and studies of Jane
  • painting the final portrait: Wendy's aims include that viewers - when standing in front of the portrait - should be: 
    • drawn in by the face alone
    • see how serious Jane is
    • see also the life in Jane and her emotional spark; and 
    • for the face to give an emotion to the viewer
"It's like being at the top of the rollercoaster.... I could end up with really white knuckles and really poorly at the end!!" Wendy Barratt

"I'm not expecting her to like it - but I'm hoping she might appreciate it" Wendy Barratt 

I think she succeeded and then some. It's an amazing portrait painting.

I hope others wanting to do well will also learn from Wendy's process.


The unveiling of "the biggest commission on Wendy's life"

The portrait was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery - in the Gallery were it will hang - History Makers on Floor 0 

This gallery includes paintings of people who are really making a difference to Britain today.  It also includes the portrait of Lenny Henry by last year's winner Morag Caister - see PAOTY Commission - Painting Sir Lenny Henry (aka Len) and the 

Two women with character and strength - waiting for an unveiling
"I think we need a portrait which knocks it out of the park and nothing less" Kate Bryan

Part of this you have captured is me - and part of it is the icon. It's interesting Jane Goodall  
I thought it was a brilliant portrait and I'm looking forward to seeing it "in real life"!  I also really appreciate how Wendy shared her process so very clearly and I hope others learn from it.
PAOTY 2023: Portrait of Dr Jane Goodall by Wendy Barratt
 - for the National Portrait Gallery

Some comments from my Facebook Page 

I was in tears when I saw her portrait of Jane Goodall. I keep going back to it, spellbound.
When I saw the commission programme I knew that she was the only one who could have connected so well with Dr Jane . It was hard to imagine either of the other finalists making such a good connection. Ruth Mann
I felt exactly the same about her connection with Jane Goodall. I'm not sure either of the other two could have achieved it. It really brought it home to me that technical ability is only part of artistic talent, especially where portraits are concerned. It's the artist's ability to see things AND get that vision down on the canvas (or whatever) that makes the difference. Lesley Waring

Previous PAOTY Commission blog posts

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

The Power List 100 | Art Review

ArtReview's Power 100 is an annual ranking of the most powerful people in Art and is always worth a look. 

The top five in the 2023 Power 100 listing by ArtReview

Similarly it's always worth a read of what ArtReview are saying about what "they" have noticed has changed - see Gauging spheres of influence and schools of thought is about more than momentary fads - with "They" being their secret global panel of c.40 people who are spread around the globe.

The Power 100 list is where, every year, ArtReview exposes, enlists and accounts for the workings of international contemporary art. Not in the usual sense in which ArtReview does this (critical analysis and general commentary about the artworks that are put forward into the world), but rather in terms of the more general infrastructure of the artworld. Why is certain art being made or seen? How is it seen? (And the reversed version of those two questions.) Who decides what is seen? And what, more generally, is the relationship between making and seeing? It’s an attempt to illuminate some of the professionalised artworld’s obscured corners and track its shifts and changes over the past 12 months.
The general themes coming through strongly are as follows:

  • change is happening
  • an adjustment of the places which influence
  • art has a purpose with artists as activists
  • an increase in the number of artists who are outside the European–North American axis of influence
  • establishment figures regain prominence - as the world recovers from the Pandemic - and remain focused on the luxury / high stakes art market
  • gallerists on the list tend to be associated with multiple outlets/locations
I have to confess I haven't got a clue about most of the names. How about you?

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Wendy Barratt is Portrait Artist of the Year 2023 (Series 10)

Wendy Barratt won the 10th series of Portrait Artist of the Year on Wednesday night last week. She is, in my opinion - and in the opinion of many of those whose comments I've seen online - a very worthy winner. 

I predict good things and a lot of commissions in Wendy's future due to her skill in painting portraits. She's both grounded in drawing and traditional skills and yet has a very contemporary style of painting which both appeals to a wide range of ages and tastes - and looks good in contemporary spaces.

Wendy's PAOTY Portrait Paintings
(left to right: self portrait submission; heat (Nicky Spence);
Final (Dame Joan Bakewell); Semi Final (Emma Bunton);
Commission for Final (her husband Fred)

This week's review has been postponed while I travelled north and then moved "my inheritance" south at the weekend. The intention was to start writing the review on the trains up and back - but inevitably it didn't quite work out like that. Then I experienced a domestic emergency when I got home which delayed matters further - but here we finally are!

I'm going to do the Final and the Commission separately so Final today and hopefully Commission tomorrow.

This review covers: 
  • The Final: Artists, Sitter and Set
  • The Judges' Perspective
  • The Final Portraits - and my comments
  • Why Wendy won.
  • READ: How to enter the competition in 2023

The Final: Artists, Sitter and Set

The Finalists

The three finalists are:

For me, one artist in the Final had been a foregone conclusion since Heat 6. Wendy Barratt had 
  • amply demonstrated her artistic skills, sensitivity and mental toughness in her heat to make her presence in the Final a foregone conclusion - by me. 
  • Her subsequent calm and well considered performance in the Semi Finals simply outshone everybody else and I must confess by the end I in no doubt she would be selected for the final - but was also assuming she would win!
I was rather more surprised by the other two. Although both offered a great range in terms of style and technique, I thought there were also other artists who should have given them a challenge. Instead of which their decisions about how to impress at the Semi-Final Stage backfired somewhat. Or maybe they weren't sufficiently different.

Resulting in Davide and Lorena becoming the other two finalists. They offered:
  • Davide - the ability to paint portraits as if they were produced in the past - but always small
  • Lorena - an approach where likeness is not always delivered and a technique which relies heavily on line but is not intended to be illustrative
Of the three, I think Wendy was probably the most experienced portrait painter - from life and with reference to photos.

Sitter and Set

The Sitter

Dame Joan Bakewell

For the tenth series, the makers of the series decided to honour Joan Bakewell (i.e. The Right Honourable The Baroness Bakewell DBE HonFBA FRSAl ) by asking her to sit for the Final.

As Joan had her 90th Birthday in April 2023 - when Series 10 was being filmed - this last episode of the 10th series is to be Joan Bakewell's last appearance on Portrait Artist of the Year. She's been hosting from the very beginning - but she is now not always able to make the filming for every episode.

I for one will be extremely sorry to see her disappear - not least because her comments on the Judges choice and views about indiivdual portraits were very often much in line with mine!  

However I and am very glad to see her being the sitter for the Final. Not that she sat still a lot. In fact she was probably one of the worst behaved sitters in this series! :)
"She's a great sitter, bad at sitting"
I loved the clothes and colours which highlighted Joan's inimitable sense of style. I absolutely loved them.

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Review: Royal Institute of Oil Painters - Annual Exhibition 2023

The Annual Exhibition 2023 of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters continues at the Mall Galleries until 16th December - and this is my review of it.

This review is going to focus on:

  • The overall "look" and content of the exhibition - what I noticed about what had changed
  • Paintings which jumped out at me - in a good way!
  • Observations on framing and pricing
East Gallery + Private View

I've paid two visits to the exhibition. The first to the Private View when it was great to see a lot of artists I've not seen in a very long time. The second was last Friday when I got the chance to actually take photographs of the artwork in the three galleries without huge numbers of people in front of them!

I've loaded my photographs into three albums on my Making A Mark Facebook Page:

Unfortunately, Facebook appears to be suffering from malfunctions this week, as I'm unable to annotate all the images in the West Gallery album (as yet). 

I've tried to include all the various prizewinners - which you can read more about in this Mall Galleries post about Royal Institute of Oil Painters 2023 | Award Winners

This review is late in being published because I'm currently in the process of personal priorities related to dealing with matters related to my late Mother's Estate.

Look and Content

I've looked back at past ROI Exhibitions before making the comments below. As always it was well hung. 

Size of paintings

To me, it seems as if the exhibition lacks the number of large feature paintings - which draw attention and anchor a wall - as it normally has. 

I think the current economic context may have influenced artists to submit smaller work in the hope that it sells.

In doing so, they would be following the very well trodden path that I saw in very many exhibitions post between 2008 and 2010 during the banking crisis. 

Once you know that larger more expensive paintings are simply not selling, there's a considerable incentive to reduce your expenses in terms of shipping and framing and submit the size of works which might suit buyers pocketbooks better.

EXCEPT this then means the exhibition loses impact.

If I may be so bold as to suggest, I'd like to see all member artists sending in at least one large painting and then the rest can be any size they like. Large paintings are there to capture attention and make the viewer appreciate the expertise involved. They also help create a positive impresssion with visitors - so long as the paintings are good.


The paintings also lack colour to some extent. There's a lot of dark / grey / muted / neutral paintings. Looked at one their own - by one artist - this is not an issue. Looked at in a large exhibition, it begins to be noticeable. However I did feel the North Gallery was rather muted this year.

ROI Annual Exhibition 2023 - North Gallery

Take as another example the end wall in the West Gallery - devoted to the theme of Urban Life. 

Quite a subdued neutral wall - only the vegetation stands out!

I came away on the Friday feeling a little wintery and underwhelmed. Which is not to say that there's not a lot of excellent paintings in this exhibition.  

The Paintings which jumped out at me

Given the above comments I've decided to focus on some of the paintings which jumped out at me - in a nice way!

I typically walk around an exhibition about three times. 
  • first time round, I'm just looking at the art and not at the labels (who painted it etc.) or whether it's won a prize - just looking to get a general impression and see what jumps out at me
  • second time round, I'm looking to see if the things which appealed the first time still appeal - and this time I look at the labels and pay particular attention to who painted them
  • third time I'm collecting data on who has sold - and for how much!
So here's my top 10 - in no particular order

That said, I thought this was by far the best painting in the show. I'm not normally a fan of hyperrealistic artwork but there's such a lot to admire in this one. I was really surprised to see that it had not won a prize - particularly given the emerging status of the artist.

Sunday, December 03, 2023

Review: Semi Finals of Portrait Artist of the Year 2023

This is about what happened at the Semi Finals of the Portrait Artist of the Year 2023 at the Battersea Arts centre - which took place last April and was broadcast on Sky Arts on the 29th November. It covers

  • The Semi Finalists - covered in Which PAOTY Semi Finalists will be in the PAOTY 2023 Final? - in which I reviewed all the artists and their two paintings to date.
  • The Heat Paintings - also covered in the above post
  • The Wild Card - an eighth painter
  • The Sitter setup and setting
  • Themes - my commentary
  • Decision-making 
  • The Finalists
All the artists in a semi circle around Emma Bunton

Plus it includes my commentary on what happened in the Semi Final. Just to note that 

  • never comment on those who do appalling paintings in the heat - but only reference themes which emerged during the programme.
  • HOWEVER as we get to the final stages of a very public art competition for a big money prize, I tend to become a tad more explicit in my commentary on how artists did - albeit I lean towards describing what happened as opposed to naming the artist.  
  • Bottom line the feedback becomes more direct the closer you get to the prize.

You can also read Gail Read's blog post PAOTY Semi Final - My internal monologue! which is very interesting.

The Semi Finalists

The Semi-Finalists comprised the seven heat winners and one wild card artist. They also included six women and two men!

Four semi-finalists - Wendy, Davide, Ed and Gail

Four more semi-finalists - Anna, Yvadney, Lorena and Sara

The Heat Winners

I listed and profiled all the heat winners in my previous post Portrait Artist of the Year - The Semi-Finalists - with my view of how well they would do. 

They are - in Episode order:
The Artists: 
back row: Anna, Gail, Davide and Ed
front row: Wendy, Sara Lorena and Yvadney

This is the image from last post which reviewed all self portraits and heat paintings by the artists who won the heats and were participating in the Semi Finals.

PAOTY 2023: The self portrait and heat paintings by the seven Heat Winners
PAOTY 2023: The self portrait and heat paintings by the seven Heat Winners

The Wild Card

The Judges chose to bring back a wild card artist
. They've done this before and it's often somebody who impressed in the heats, got shortlisted byt was up against a very good heat winner.

Kathleen Soriano explained their choice as being the artist who "stayed with them" and that she represented somebody who was doing something with her paint which nobody else was. They do like to have "range"

Self portrait and heat painting by Yvadney Davis

The wild card artist was Yvadney Davis (Instagram) - who painted in Heat 3.
Born in the early 80s, she lives in South London. She pursued a career in fashion after studying at Central Saint Martins. She returned to her love of painting during the pandemic and recently has developed her art from a lockdown hobby to an award winning practice. She celebrates Caribbean heritage and the Windrush generation and uses old wallpaper for her support. She created her self portrait submission with a broken wrist.

Sitter and Setting


The sitter was 47 year old Emma Bunton, an English singer, songwriter, actress, and media personality- better known to many of us who were around in the 90s as Baby Spice of the Spice Girls - the best selling girl group of all time.

She's now very much an entrepreneur in her own right and somebody who works with children's charities.

Emma Bunton with her "Baby Spice Buffalo Boots"

As a sitter, she is that well known "trap" for all portrait artists - the beautiful woman with flawless skin and great hair!

Tai predicted she would cause them all problems and she certainly did for more than half the painters!

Her "special object" was her very old Buffalo Boots which she was well known for wearing as a Spice Girl. Apparently they were responsible for a number of broken bones!

Her suit was also pretty challenging as was the amount of red an violet in the background.


The place where the filming took place is the large hall at Battersea Arts Centre i.e. the same as for the Heats minus the pie segments set. (I'm intrigued to see next week as to whether, post pandemic, they've got back into the National Portrait Gallery for the Final)

Instead for the semi finals, they 

  • dress up the back of the room with long red velvet curtains and purple lightboxes 
  • provide a large circular red carpet and 
  • all the easels in a semi-circle around the sitter. 

Plus all the heat paintings go on the back wall - and bear in mind at this stage that 

  • the artists have only just met one another and 
  • have not seen their self portraits or their heat paintings. 
So this is the point - as they walk in - when they get to see some of what the competition can do AND get overwhelmed by the size of the set and the distance from their easel to the sitter! It's jaw dropping even if you are just a spectator walking in.

The view of the dais and chair from the easels

Battersea Arts Centre: the Heat Paintings and the set-up for the Semi Finals

Note that artists don't get to choose where they go
. All their kit and particular requirements are set out in advance.

This is certainly the episode which is most likely to cause issues for the artists in terms of:
  • they're one of eight artists painting the same sitter in a large semi circle around the sitter - and not one of three painting a sitter in a segment
  • they are MUCH further away from the sitter than in the heat - and very much further than any normal portrait painter would be from a sitter in real life. Hence one of the reasons why I'd never ever be critical of anybody who references a photo or digital image during this episode.
  • there's a lot of scope for you to lose sight of the sitter - as the cameras and the team filming the episode tend to get in the way 
  • all the artists can see all the other artists' heat portrait paintings on the back wall of the hall as they come in. It's very easy to see people who are better than you (you think!).


Size and format

I was surprised at how few artists chose to "go up a gear" either in terms of size or scope of the painting.

Oddly, rather than trying to paint more of the sitter, most of the painters opted to paint a head and shoulders only.

The portrait paintings produced can be categorised as follows:
    • 5 x portrait, 
    • 2 x landscape, 
    • 1 x square
  • SIZE: - in general size increased
    • 1 x large
    • 3 x large medium
    • 2 x medium
    • 2 x small
  • SCOPE:
    • Full size or most of body (including hand) x 1
    • upper torso including hand(s) x 0
    • upper torso (no hands) x 1
    • head, shoulder and hand(s) x 0
    • head and shoulders (no hands) x 5
    • head x 1
The one artist who courageously tackled the whole figure (and well done for trying) produced a very good composition - BUT then spent 
  • much too little time on drawing in the figure and face accurately and 
  • far too much time and space and paint application on the background - which is NOT the focus on the portrait!
It's worth noting that the focus of most of your time and effort ALWAYS needs to be on the person and NEVER the background. You can edit as much as you like when it comes to the background - including changing its colour.

The need to see progression

A number of the artists recognised that "more of the same" won't deliver a finals place.
  Each artist needed to demonstrate that they can do better than they did in the heat.

However, not only did most fail to progress, some actually went backwards.

"Today has got to be more than a likeness"

So said Kathleen Soriano at the beginning of the episode.

She might have added, the minimum threshold for getting selected for the final SHOULD be that you have achieved a minimum of a likeness
Several of them have really struggled to get the likeness right Stephen Mangan
What was absolutely amazing was how many artists simply failed to get a likeness - as in COMPLETELY FAILED. I counted five of the seven portraits did not achieve a likeness. By which I mean,  if they had been hung in a gallery and people asked to suggest who the sitter is, I would argue very few would have come up with the right name.
They really needed to raise their game and some of them did and some of them didn't 

Nerves and apprehension - and the impact on the head

I felt there were some artists who delivered their own particular response to "rabbit in the headlights".

I wondered if they thought it was going to just be another version of the heats - with different people. If they did, thwy were were wrong. ALL but one were heat winners and the evidence of what they could do in four hours was on the back wall!

The ones who failed to deliver what they are capable of included:
  • artists who could not get going properly or quickly
  • artists who lacked ambition relative to the context
  • artists who had ambition but got distracted by aspects which really did not matter
  • artists who seemed to be painting somebody else.
The most obvious way to illustrate this was how many of them completely failed to record the very distinctive structure of Emma Bunton's head and face. She has a very distinctive jawline and very pronounced cheek bones plus wonderful skin and baby blue eyes.

All of this despite the fact, most had photographic images to work from as well as working from like. Realistically at the distance from the sitter that they are required to work, the features and detail of the face and hair come from a photograph.

One artist in particular - who was very slow to get started - just totally failed to deliver the basics of the structure of any head. The structure of the eye on the far side of the artist was just so wrong it made me and Kathleen wince!
The rest of the mistakes are unforgiveable at this level Kathleen Soriano

Scaling up - go big or go home

I felt Sara had a very good chance of being in the Final. However she went for "a very big head" (and we're no longer in "the big head" era) and a VERY tight crop.

Working on a larger support was a good idea. Scaling up the head was IMO less of a good idea. I think if she'd done what she accomplished but did it with shoulders and hands and a special object she would have been a shoe-in.

As Kate observed, her colouration and handling of colour is very good - but it needed more space to breathe. 

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Decision Making

The Sitters' Choice

Emma Bunton was very kind and found something nice - or neutral - to say about everybody's painting.

However I knew she was going to choose Wendy's painting - which she did. It was inevitable. She was the only person to deliver Emma's very distinctive facial structure and colouration. I'm very sure that portrait will be now hanging in her home!

Wendy Barrett with her semi-final portrait of Emma Bunton (4 hours)

Selection for the Final

The three artists selected for the Final are:
  • Wendy Barratt
  • Davide di Tarantino
  • Lorena Levi
You can see their portraits below.

Emma Bunton by Wendy Barrett

I had predicted Wendy would be selected. Once she started painting, I knew for definite that Wendy was going to get selected. She 
  • made LOTS of very thoughtful and sensible choices 
  • did not mess up her painting - and 
  • also achieved by far the best likeness from an angle that some artists find very challenging.
I particularly liked the way she portrayed the hair through colour and tonal shapes.
A nice honest bit of painting Tai-shan Shierenberg
Emma Bunton by Davide di Taranto 
(a very small painting)

The choice of Davide surprised me. I think he maybe fell into the Judge's (very odd) criteria of "we need something different". So would somebody like to explain to me WHY we need something different?

It was very clear that Kathleen lamented the fact he didn't produce another painting like his self portrait - and I rather think he's going forward in the hope that he will in the Final.

What he did do - as did the next painter - was INCLUDE THE SPECIAL OBJECT OF THE SITTER. (They were two of only three who did). I've included that in caps as I think those going forward in future series need to think a bit more carefully about how best to include "the special object".

Emma Buntion by Lorena Levi

Lorena Levi also surprised me as a choice. Overall the painting was interesting and good - so long as you didn't know that Emma Bunton was the model as the distortions she employed - which seem to be habitual - certainly did Emma absolutely no favours. There is no likeness due to the elongation when Emma's face is characterised by horizontals (eg jawline and cheekbones) rather than verticals.

However what Lorena did do is focus entirely on other aspects that mattered and she included
  • head and upper torso
  • pattern on the suit
  • the buffalo boots in outline
  • suggested the outlines of the lightboxes and the colouration behind - in a very simple and undistracting way
  • kept the focus on the head and face - although for me there was far too little space between the top of the head and the edge of the support.
So - my conclusion from this semi-final is that I'm going to be VERY, VERY surprised if Wendy does not win this series next Wednesday.

I think she's an excellent draughtsman when it comes to drawing in - she gets size, shapes, volumes and tonal patterns absolutely spot on - and yet at the same time she paints well and produces an interesting painting of itself.

Do you want to paint in a heat next year?

This is my post about the Call for Entries: Series 11 of Portrait Artist of the Year (next year). Essential reading for all those who want to do well - it's got links to all my past reviews and all the themes and tips identified in the last five years.

Plus if you want to find out more.....

Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year - REFERENCE

Previous Finals

Here are my posts about previous finals

Dates after the listed reviews below relate to the date of the first broadcast

This year's heats are:
Very oddly, the link to the artists and videos in the Heats does NOT have an episode for the videos of the paintings made in the Semi Final.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Which PAOTY Semi Finalists will be in the PAOTY 2023 Final?

Tonight is the semi-finals of Portrait Artist of the Year 2023.

Can you predict who will get the three places in the Final - based on the self portrait submission and their heat painting?

PAOTY 2023: The self portrait and heat paintings by the seven Heat Winners

Check them out below. I've listed all the Heat Winners and included the images of the self portrait and heat painting below.

My prediction is the finalists will be

  • Gail Reid
  • Sara Reeeve; and 
  • Wendy Barratt
I say that mainly on the basis that:
  • they are all experienced portrait painters
  • they all produced very good heat portraits (judged against the seven as a whole)
  • they all seem to have the sort of temperament which means they mobilise quickly and complete within the time limit.
What's your prediction? (Answers please on my Making A Mark Facebook Page before 8pm!)

Heat 1 - Anna-Louise Loy

Anna-Louise Loy is a music student from Liverpool. Graduated this year from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama with an Honours Degree in Music (as a a Tenor/Bass Trombonist). Her self portrait is part of a series of annual self portraits.

See Review: Episode 1 Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 10) 11 October 2023

Heat 2 - Gail Reid (Instagram | YouTube | X)

Gail Reid is a Bristol based full time artist. She writes a blog and share livestream and edited video demonstrations on YouTube and Instagram. On her YouTube channel she has a large collection of demos and other material. READ my blog post about her blog post about Preparing for Portrait Artist of the Year - Gail Reid shares her experience and tips. I think she might also be limbering up for LAOTY by drawing and painting her way around France on her family holiday this year

See Review: Episode 2 Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 10) 18 October 2023

Heat 3 - Lorena Levi (Instagram)

Lorena Levi graduated Edinburgh University with an MA in Fine art 2021 where she won awarded the Astaire Prize at the end of her course. She was the overall winner of the 2022 Jackson’s Painting Prize. If the Judges knew those credentials, they'd be taking her seriously from the off... Her self portrait submission is below.

Heat 4 - Davide di Taranto (Instagram

Davide di Taranto is a miniature portraitist and fresco restorer born in Italy, but has lived in the UK since 2010 and currently lives in Southampton. After graduating at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze (Academy of Fine Art) in Florence, he worked on restorations all over the world. His self-portrait can be seen up close - and was exhibited in the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition 2018

Heat 5 - Sara Reeve (Instagram)

Sara Reeve is a Brighton-based painter who predominantly focuses on portraiture and also works as a wedding officiant. She is also a Tutor at Draw Brighton as a life drawing session leader and runs evening classes in Painting Portraits in Oils. She is also a proud @artcanorg member. Previously she worked for 12 years as a wedding photographer - so I'm guessing she knows a few things about how to make people look good.

See Review: Heat 5 of Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 10) 15 November 2023

Heat 6 - Wendy Barratt (Instagram)

Wendy Barratt is a graphic designer and artist who lives in Worthing. She specialises in portraiture and the human figure and teaches art in her spare time.

See Review: Heat 6 of Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 10) 22 November 2023

Heat 7 - Ed Lawrenson (Instagram

Ed Lawrenson is a professional full time artist based in Stroud, Gloucestershire. Studied at Winchester school of Art and the École Nationale Superiere des Beaux Arts in Paris. Currently works as a Studio Manager for a contemporary artist. (I'm pretty sure that's Damien Hirst who has one of his Science (UK) Limited Studios in Stroud). He is also a painter working primarily in figurative oil painting, with an interest in the renaissance and Impressionism. His self portrait was intended to poke fun at how seriously he takes himself. He is is currently working on a large body of mythological painting; fusing elements from the Bible with contemporary science fiction and historical painting motifs.

see Review: Episode 7 of Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 10)