Friday, January 20, 2023

Review: Episode 2 of Landscape Artist of the Year - Royal Ascot

This is a review of Episode 2 of Landscape Artists of the Year 2023 - which was at Royal Ascot - which covers (as usual):

  • the location and weather
  • the artists' profiles
  • themes arising during the episode
  • who was shortlisted and who won
Left to right: Grandstand, the Racecourse, the Pods!

Episode 2: Royal Ascot

Location and Weather

The artists, judges and presenters turned up early in the morning to where the pods were located across the course from the Grandstand at Ascot Racecourse during Royal Ascot. I'm assuming it was the first day, as they filmed the Royal Procession.

My theory is that, given it was the Queen's Platinum Jubilee AND she was a well known devotee of racing and Ascot, that it would be a 'dead cert' that she turned up for Royal Ascot - and the filmmakers were hoping for paintings including the Queen. Sadly, as we all now know, her health was deteriorating over the summer and HM Queen Elizabeth II did not attend Ascot for the first time in very many years and she died in early September.

A drone's top down view of Royal Ascot

I gather it was the hottest day of June - which presumably made the dress code for the chaps interesting!

The Dress Code

Below you can see the "usual suspectsin top hat and tails, dresses and fancy hats - except for Joan who looked amazingly sensible. I've seen her look much more glammed up at Battersea Arts Centre when filming PAOTY!!

I gather the crew also had to be dressed appropriately!

the usual suspects in top hat and tails, dresses and fancy hats
- except for Joan who looked amazingly sensible. I've 

Here come the artists - looking rather smarter than usual. They all had to wear remote mikes of the pink bud which sits next to your mouth variety. I'm assuming there was probably an issue re which bandwidth they were recording on given the amount of media at the event.

The jackets didn't last long once they got into the pods!

Left to right: Veronica Valeri; Anna Rotheisen, Yian Chen and Toby Gawlor

Left to right: Tim Wait, Susanna McInnes, Mark Southey and Bob Higgins

I gather friends and family rather enjoyed the outing to Ascot - especially the female friends and family!

Next you can find out more about the artists....

The Artists in the Pods

The Ascot equivalent of sitting on the steps of Battersea Arts Centre
while the judges judge!

Episode 2 pod artists are listed BELOW in the alphabetical order of their surnames
  • Links to their websites are embedded in their names. 
  • Social media platforms are also referenced.
The artists for this Heat were an International bunch!
  • Yian Chen (Instagram - a Chinese artist who has studied for a MFA at Goldsmith's College.
  • Toby Gawler (Instagram) - (b.1987) is originally from Sydney, Australia where he lived most of his life before moving to the Netherlands in 2014 and then onto the United Kingdom in late 2015. completed a Bachelor of Fine Art (Painting) at Sydney College of the Arts in 2007 - but was not taught to draw or paint. A tattoo artist, currently based in Margate. 
  • Bob Higgins (Instagram ) - a retired technical illustrator from Essex who is an experienced plein air painter
  • Susanna Macinnes (Facebook | Instagram | Twitter) - Lives in South London aBA (HONS) degree in Fine Art from Manchester Metropolitan University.  Member of and Secretary to the friends of the Chelsea Art Society. She has been painting landscapes for 20 years and is an experienced plein air painter. She has exhibited in various locations over the years. Painted from her roof during the first lockdown. She took part 
  • Anna Rotheisen  (FacebookInstagram) - an artist and student welfare administrator from Hampshire who generally works from a studio in her garden. Exhibited for the first time in 2022. Painted Aldershot Railway station for her submission
  • Marc Southey  (Instagram) - a graphic designer from London who works in coloured pencils
  • Veronica Valeri (FacebookInstagram) - an Italian artist who has lived in the UK since 2012 and is based in Birmingham. Her submission painting was a hyperrealist view of a canal.
  • Tim Wait  (Facebook | Instagram | Twitter) - born in Hampshire "when the Beatles were still in Hamburg"; he followed "traditional artists’ journey of tractor-driving, building, furniture-making, singer-songwriter, car restorer and pen and ink artist." Fine art degree from Oxford Brookes and now a professional artist from Oxford. He likes painting machinery, particularly agricultural machinery and motorbikes.
You can also

    The Wildcard Artists

    They may have been located in the Car Park - but they were dressed up too - in all the necessary regalia for meeting the Ascot Dress Code (although I must confess, I thought that only applied to the Royal Enclosure!). 

    Indeed, many were smarter than the Judges or "gods in the pods"!!

    Wildcards on their way to the car park

    So 50 artists were basically staring at cars, gazebos for picnics and eating out of the boot and a rather distant Grandstand. They had my sympathy!

    Wildcards dressed up and getting ready to paint

    The Submissions

    You can see all the submissions - by the different artists - in this promotional pic created by the marketing team.

    There are 3 landscape formats, 3 portrait and one square in the above pic - and I'm wondering what happened to the eighth.
    • 4 large paintings
    • 2 small / medium size paintings
    • 1 small painting.
    Here's the Judges reviewing the various submissions - on the wall at Ascot!

    The submission paintings which impressed me were those by Anna Rotheisen (being looked at above); Veronica Valeri and Tim Wait.

    Themes & Learning Points

    What a ridiculous idea! 

    I must confess, this sort of "entertainment" approach to landscape painting leaves me completely cold. 
    they're getting stale and want to up the anti? Honestly - for me - the challenge for the artists to produce a good landscape painting under pressure (ie time limit, on TV, en plein air) is drama enough. Wish they'd stop mucking about. (comment on Facebook)
    Initially I found it very difficult to take this heat seriously and I very much felt for the artists faced who's been selected for this challenge.

    While there are a few racehorse/racecourse paintings around, they're typically painted by fans of horses and/or racing. Hence I regarded this heat as setting artists up to fail - especially since they need to get dressed up too.

    It also hardly makes it fair for all contestants across all heats!

    Is this a landscape competition?

    This is a SERIOUS question. 

    All I'm seeing are massive complicated man-made CONSTRUCTIONS e.g. Blackpool pier last week and the Grandstand at Ascot this week. (I can also list from past series e.g. Eden Project, Oil Rigs, bridges everywhere - Forth Bridge, Tyne Bridge, etc and another favorite - large country mansions!). ALL of which are so untypical of the landscapes painted by good / excellent / great landscape painters. Where is the LAND?
    landscape painting, the depiction of natural scenery in art. Landscape paintings may capture mountains, valleys, bodies of water, fields, forests, and coasts and may or may not include man-made structures as well as people
    Landscape painting | art - Encyclopedia Britannica
     e.g. I'd like to see much more locations which involve LAND in all its different forms. I sometimes feel as if the Judges are people who've never ever put a hiking boot on their feet in their lifetime!

    Moreover, I'm very puzzled by the Commission Painting which appears to be wholly about Marine Art (a highly specialised sub-category of landscape painting) i.e. a painting to celebrate the Dutch Marine Painters the Van der Veldes for an exhibition at the Queens House in Greenwich - for the Royal Museums Greenwich. (Note: The exhibition is due to open 2nd March 2023
    Willem van de Velde the Elder was renowned for his highly accurate drawings of ships and maritime life. He would even go to sea himself, paper in hand, to capture naval battles as they were raging.

    His son, Willem van de Velde the Younger, was a celebrated painter. From calm coastal scenes to fierce storms, his work captured the many moods of the ocean
    I'm at a complete loss to understand what connection Ascot Racecourse has to do with marine painting - unless it's moving 17th century ships  with small people? I jest!

    TIP: for people applying for next year
    • Given the programme makers love for complex buildings, it might be a good idea to spend some time studying architectural drawing and painting complex buildings and mastering perspective construction!
    TIP: for the programme makers
    If you can't get enough good landscape painters for this competition (as suggested by the extension of the deadline in recent years), might it be because you're not providing enough good landscapes? (as in LAND), 

    Why not:
    • consider whether the locations and venues you've been choosing of late actively DETER prospective applicants
    • consider asking landscape artists to suggest locations for you. State the criteria you use to determine a good location (e.g. provides good but different subject matter scope for two heats; provides adequate flat land for pods and good access etc.)

    Why perspective in landscapes is important

    I'm not going to say any more other than read on to see how many times I mention perspective below!

    Painting Horses and Movement

    A Perspective - Galloping past the pods..... 

    "I'm intrigued by who will do horses - and who will ruin it by adding horses" (one of the Judges
    Take away the horses and what have you got left? A monolithic boring structure which, I guarantee, nobody would have ever tried painting before (or wanted to?) - without a lot more time! 

    It was empty most of the morning and only started to fill up after lunch.

    Horses are also not something people commonly draw and/or paint and present a number of challenges.
    • the first challenge is the subject matter is going past very fast i.e. you do NOT have a static subject
    • Next you need to decide whether or not you can paint a horse i.e. will including a horse enhance or kill your painting (see comment from the Judges above!)
    • then there's the question of how many to paint and how to group them - and what angle to paint them. 
    • Horses have perspective too! In groups, you need to remember they will be different sizes - which in turn depends on the distance between them. Close up, heads will seem larger than the rear end if coming towards you.
    The artists came up with some good - and less good - solutions:
    • Yien painted a group of horses in the far distance so it was mostly heads, jockeys and legs and little need to consider perspective - so long as the size matched the part of the course.....
    • A number included just one horse. I guess on the principle of showing willing.
    • At least one chopped off the head as the horse exited at the side of the painting - to show speed 
    • at least one had the horse running the wrong way!
    • Some were accused by a judge of painting "conventional horses"!!! Sometimes you just have to laugh out loud!
    TIP: What to do when you need to include something which won't stand still
    The answer is obvious. 
    • Get your phone out and hope you've got broadband! 
    • Then start googling images of similar / identical objects. 
    • That way you can study what they look like and how they move before making an attempt to paint your version
    In this instance, I'd have been googling Degas racehorses at this point - to mug up on what they look like.

    Painting lots and lots of very small people

    The interesting thing is that very many people who paint plein air never ever paint people!  You'd be surprised how many landscapes have never ever seen people based on lots of landscape paintings!

    In this instance they were going to be challenged by the fact that as the Grandstand filled up there would be lots of very small people right in front of the artists. They couldn't be ignored - unless you decided to paint the view as presented in the morning - with no people and no horses!

    TIP: Painting people in landscapes
    • Learn about staffage e.g. 
    • People also have perspective in landscapes. Getting sizes right is the key to making their presence persuasive
    • Understand that unless isolated within the landscape, you rarely see people as individuals. 
    • Typically in crowded situations, you see big amorphous shapes rather than heads on bodies. What is required is the isolation of just enough that is more accurate to suggest the same behind.
    • Control over tonal values is also critical for suggesting depth in crowds.

    Planning a big picture - and delivering within time allowed

    How on earth can you make a plan for how you want your painting to progress, when you start in the morning with a huge construction - but no people and no horses - and you've no idea when they might arrive or how long you have to paint them!

    I thought the subject matter was particularly difficult for the artists - if not downright unfair - given it was only half there in the morning and they had very little idea of how to scale for either the horses or the people. A watercolourist would have been completely "dumped on" - and it was interesting to note that there were no watercolourists or printmakers in the pod. So maybe the programme makers had considered this?

    TIP: Basic skills help make the best of things
    Sometimes you simply just have to make the best of what you've got in front of you. It's easier if you've got the basic skills which mean you can e.g. 
    • sight size, 
    • understand how perspective works and shortcuts for how to draw it
    • identify zones within the landscape - foreground, middle ground, background
    • identify and mark out "vertical (or horizontal) measuring sticks" within your painting zones to provide scale for other objects to be included later
    However the best advice might be to work out how best to crop what's in front of you to make it more manageable

    In the last episode that's exactly what Suzon Lagarde did - while the heat winner excluded almost all the structure.

    This week the winner close cropped the grandstand to provide a clear sense of zones and depth - and was then able to create a sense of place and atmosphere

    Decision Time

    Wildcard Winner

    The Wildcard winner was Kathy Evershed from St. Albans who taught herself to pain in her twenties before going on to make a full-time career as an artist.

    She produced an excellent painting with great control over colour and tone and clear zones and depth and lots of interest. I loved her gazebos and people sat eating next to their cars - with the grandstand in the distance.

    Kathy Evershed talking to Kate Bryan after being told she'd won

    Shortlisted Artists

    I have to say upfront, I think it highly likely we might have had a different set of shortlisted artists if it had been a different location.

    The shortlisted artists were:
    • Anna Rotheisen
    • Yian Chen
    • Susanna Macinnes
    The Shortlisted Artists
    left tio right Anna Rotheisen, Yian Chen and Susanna Macinnes

    Anna Rotheisen: Submission and Heat Painting

    Judges considered that her handling of light, tone and colour in her submission was very good and they could see how she was trying to do the same thing in her heat painting.

    The horse exiting the canvas (the wrong way) gives a sense of speed. 

    Plus she's very good at structures and perspective.

    Yian Chen: Anna Rotheisen: Submission and Heat Painting

    I'm not a fan of his submission - although I realise others will think differently.

    I thought he was rather cunning with his painting of the grandstand and the course with a group of horses galloping - in the distance. But there was a large expanse of grass doing not much.

    Or as one of the judges said "it's all about the space - the openness" which echoed his submission.

    Susanna Macinnes: Anna Rotheisen: Submission and Heat Painting

    Two smallish squarish paintings - both demonstrating skill in capturing light and painted with a very skilled and "glorious use of colour". In both paintings she provides a journey through the painting from the foreground to the distance. 
    "she's soooo good at capturing light"

    Heat Winner

    The winner was Susanna Macinnes. Below you can see her with her submission painting.
    As somebody commented somewhere on social media, once you know an artist has been on the show before - and they've been selected for the pods again, they stand a very good chance of being shortlisted - and maybe winning the heat.

    Tai said about her "Her brilliance lies in within her editing of big scenes into something very small - into the compressing" and yet she retains a huge amount of information about the scene within the painting

    Susanna Macinnes with her submission

    Next Week

    The pods will be in Northern Ireland - at Castle Ward, an 18th-century mansion and estate in County Down, Northern Ireland - where Game of Thrones was filmed.


    The programme is broadcast by Sky Arts ( available on Sky, Now TV and Channel 11 on Freeview) and the films are made by Storyvault Films.

    For all those interested in entering the series which will be filmed this summer - see my blog post about Call for Entries: Landscape Artist of the Year 2024 (Series 9) 
    • The closing date for submissions is NOON on Friday 28th April 2023.

    2023 series

    All the reviews in Series 8 include themes for reference by future participants - or plein air painters working to a time frame - in terms of problems experienced and challenges overcome.

    I'll be archiving the reviews of each episode in the reference section at the end of each episode.

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