Saturday, January 14, 2023

Review: Episode 1 of Landscape Artist of the Year 2023 - Blackpool Beach and Pier

  • the location and weather
  • the artists' profiles
  • themes arising during the episode
  • who was shortlisted and who won
The new (eighth) series has 
  • 48 artists in pods over six episodes (prior to the semi-final and final) 
  • plus 50 wildcard artists 
  • at each of the six locations they filmed at during Summer 2022. 
They filmed before the 2022 extreme heatwave got underway so it'll be interesting to see what weather challenges get presented.

Episode 1: Blackpool Beach and Pier

Location & Weather

Pods on the Promenade at Blackpool
with the North Pier and the Irish Sea in the background

The location for the first episode was Blackpool. It involved the Pods lined up on the Promenade in front of the Beach and to the side of the Victorian North Pier which is: 
  • the longest and oldest pier of three piers in Blackpool and dates back to 1863. 
  • the only Blackpool pier to hold Grade II listed status and 
  • often classed as a family favourite for visitors.
Blackpool is a coastal seaside resort in Lancashire which rose to prominence with the advent of the railways in the 19th Century - becoming a regular holiday destination for many living in the northwest. 

The broadcast included photographs of Dame Joan Bakewell as a small child on the beach at Blackpool - which looked incredibly similar to photos of my late Mother on the same beach! I suspect many others who grew up in the northwest have similar photos!

The day started dull and overcast and brightened up as the day went on. But no rain.

The view was described as being one of their most challenging subjects - with the potential for not a lot happening for ages and then a lot happening all at once.

The Usual Suspects

We have, as always, the same regulars as previous series - so no changes there. I don't think Tai got the memo about the white shoes....

Left to right:
Judges: Kathleen Soriano, Kate Bryan, Tai Shan Schierenberg
Presenters: Dame Joan Bakewell, Stephen Mangan

The Artists in the Pods

Below is a synopsis about each artist - in alphabetical order. In the past I've highlighted some of the problems associated with artists who were allowed to decide whether they should be designated professional or amateur and in this series Sky Arts has stopped dividing them into professionals and amateurs and so have I!

TIP: If you were selected as a pod artist for LAOTY 2023 - and will be appearing on this blog in future episode reviews:
  • do try and make sure you've licked all the places you can be found online into a good shape before the broadcast - I'll be looking for them!
  • make sure it's very easy for me to find a profile of who you are and what you do. Those who get the longer profiles below are those who provide the "easy to find" info!

Episode 1 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. Read the above tip to find out how to get a decent profile....
  • Steve Brooke (Instagram) - a care worker and Scottish contemporary landscape artist from Glasgow. He's self taught and usually works indoors.
  • Finn Campbell-Notman (Facebook | Instagram | Twitter) - a professional painter and illustrator. Born in London in 1970, he grew up in rural England as part of an artists' commune. His art education also includes BA (Hons) in Fine Art at U.W.E. Bristol and at Wolverhampton (to 1993), a double First Class B.A. (Hons) in Illustration from Falmouth College of Art, Cornwall, UK. (1998-2001) and an M.A. in Communication Art & Design from the Royal College of Art, London (2002-04).  You can see his illustration work here. Since 2020 Finn has been without a studio or permanent home and divides his time between Bristol and Andalucia. 
  • Susanna Heath (Facebook | Instagram | - a painter and art tutor from County Durham. She is a figurative painter, predominantly working plein air, using the alla prima method of painting directly over my oil sketch. 
  • Suzon Lagarde (Facebook | Instagram | - an emerging artist who is French but at the time of filming was based in London. Following her studies at the Art Academy and the Heatherley School of Art, she has worked as a full-time artist for two years, creating original and commission work. Teaching is also an important part of her practice. Suzon also appeared in Episode 1 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2019 and has had her artwork selected for the annual exhibitions of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours (2022, 2021, 2020, 2019); the Royal Society of Portrait Painters (2020) and Royal Institute of Oil Painters (2019). Has now left London and is currently heading to Nepal via India in 2023. She had never painted the sea before!
  • Jesse Lezama (Facebook | Instagram) - born in Trinidad and now based in Swansea where his family settled. He's a figurative painter who employs a very limited palette of colours - with a strong bias towards an orange/brown.
  • Gregory Millar (Instagram | - Gregory Millar is a printmaker based in Leicestershire who specialises in linocut printmaking. Gregory studied graphic design and printmaking at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee, before following a career in graphic design at the BBC in London. He has also worked with creative agencies on brand identity projects around the globe. He has now come full circle and returned to his loves of linocut printmaking and oil painting. He likes compositions for his linocuts which have a strong narrative. Gregory is a member of the Society of Scottish Artists and the Leicester Print Workshop.
  • Rose Strang (Facebook | Instagram | Twitter) - Lives and works in Edinburgh. BA (HONS) Fine Art and Related Arts. Chichester University (1997) Post Graduate Diploma, Museum and Gallery Studies, St Andrews University (2001). Worked as an arts curator and lead artist on public art projects until 2012 when she began to focus solely on painting. Elected as a professional member of the SSA (Society of Scottish Artists) in 2018. She's had a number of solo shows and also participated in Group Exhibitions. Represented by the Limetree Gallery
  • Efua Thomas (Instagram) - a Whitstable-based painter and art teacher.
You can also 

The Wildcard  Artists

As always the wildcard artists arrive with a LOT of kit for working plein air - influenced by 
  • either many years of painting plein air and knowledge of what they need and what can be safely left at home
  • or total ignorance - and this is their first time!
the wildcards arriving on the promenade

some of the wild cards set up on the promenade

  • Note that you can't always assume you'll have ground into which you can hammer pegs for umbrellas or tents! Sometimes you get concrete underneath!
  • Sometimes it's worth noting where the wind is coming from and where other people are settling before deciding on where to 'pitch' your easel. That's because it's possible to have a good view and use other people as a wind break!
  • ALWAYS remember to dress for every type of weather - it may be baking hot or lashing with rain.... Waterproofs from climbing shops which pack small can be very useful. 

The Submissions

Below is a very useful image from the social media team for Landscape Artist showing all the artists holding their submission paintings.

It gives an EXCELLENT perspective on the subject, size and palette used by the artist for their chosen subject.

top row: Efua, Jesse, Suzanne and Rose
middle row: Suzon and Steve
bottom row: Gregory and Finn

ALL the artworks adopt a landscape format. There are:
  • three large paintings
  • three medium size paintings
  • two small paintings
  • seven paintings and one original print.
The ones that impressed me were by: Suzanne, Finn, Suzon and Gregory.

Themes & Learning Points

Different perspectives on composition

With views like this one, there's a lot of scope for making different compositional decisions - and that's precisely what happened.

We got variations on:
  • Lots of sky and not so much sea
  • Lots of beach and not much sky
  • Lots of pier and not a lot of sea or sky
  • Not a lot of pier and an emphasis on sea and sky
  • everything from the promenade to the pier - in a straight line!
The issue for me when making compositional decisions in this particular context is how do you make your painting NOT look like anybody else's i.e. 
  • going for conventional options is maybe not the best idea
  • being very clear what your focus is on from the very beginning is essential

...and then the weather changes.....

One of the things which always seems to amaze all those who participate in this 'competition' - and yet are completely new to plein air painting - is the weather is more likely to change than not. This is, after all, the UK.

The changing weather can bring very radical changes in both light and colour - and subject matter is you're including a sky! This has a tendency to throw artists who've never experienced such changes before

That said, some places are also more likely to have changeable weather. 

One of those places is the coastline which:
  • can have weather which is completely different to other places nearby
  • can manage to have four seasons in one day on occasion.
  • very often has some strong winds.
So what can you do?

As soon as you know the location:
  • Get the apps for BBC Weather (Apple / Google Play) and the Met Office Weather Forecast (Apple / Google/android) . 
    • They're always different but tend to be much more reliable than other apps constructed by people who don't live in the UK! 
    • You can use them to get a pretty good idea how the day might be by looking at the forecast by hours.
  • Prepare for the Heat
    • ESSENTIAL: Paint plein air before the heat as much as you can
    • Practice for different types of weather. 
    • Study cloud forms - decent clouds are very persuasive re expertise!
    • Paint skies for a week
    • Work out your preferred strategy for changing weather and changing light - and stick to it!

Big structures and how to tackle them

a small section of Blackpool's North Pier

This location was obviously chosen to see what the artists would do with a very big and complicated structure.

In the end everybody featured the pier - but in varying degrees.

Some wisely ignored it almost completely by:
  • cropping most of it out of the picture and focusing on the beach and sky instead (Finn; Gregory) 
  • being very selective as to how much is included (Suzon)
Others strived to create an impression - without any attempt to cover all the detail
  • editing the subject matter - who needs all the struts? (Efua)
  • an impressionist suggestion (Rose - watch her video to see how she does this)

  • Find the horizon line and check which lines:
    • diverge - moving up and away from the horizon
    • converge - move towards the horizon
    • (they're actually the same but people often look at them differently)
  • Practice perspective
    • learn the basic principles - it's less about being precise so much as suggesting an acceptable level of precision
  • Take a ruler and some tools for creating straight lines quickly
  • When it comes to drawing / painting buildings and other large structures (which LAOTY are very find of) I'd recommend you:
    • work out what you're good at and what you're awful at (my verticals tend to elean if I don't check) - and compose accordingly
    • decide which works better for you and your subject matter
      • positive painting (painting the actual structure) or 
      • negative painting (painting the spaces inbetween) 

The Sea as a subject

There is one absolutely essential thing you need to know. What's the tide doing? 

You MUST research your location. Is the tide going to be coming in or going out? Is the beach going to get bigger or smaller? Are the boats going to stay afloat or become beached?

Eliminating surprises makes for better compositions and a more relaxed painting!

The programme makers often do not tell you the precise location of the pods - but you can take an educated guess based on what they do tell you.

Jen Gash told me that once she knew the location for the semi-final for her series in 2019, she guessed it was pretty like to be Felixstowe Docks and looked up the tides. Plus she also consulted the arrivals and departures of container ships. She was not in the least bit surprised when the absolutely enormous container ship arrived half way through the semi-finals and moored by the jetty - completely removing the subject for some of her fellow painters. That's because she knew it was due to arrive!! (READ Review: Semi-Finals of Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 - Felixstowe Docks for the full story)

  • Once you know the location, if it's on the coast / tidal area, you NEED TO KNOW the tides. Tidetimes provides details of tides on different days for 700 different locations around the UK. Below is the information for Blackpool for a specific day in February
Information about tide times at Blackpool on 13th February 2023

  • Use "arrivals and departures at UK ports" to identify the available information about the movement of ships. Remember they have to book themselves in and out of docks - they cannot turn up on spec!
  • Do a sketch of what the tidal situation looks like when you begin - and that helps keep you anchored in your original intention as you - and the tide - progress through the day
Finn's sketch taped to the upright of his easel above his painting
Note he's marked up the thirds on the horizontal axiz

Tracking the eye

Painters vary in their approach to guiding the eye through a painting. 

Creating movement and interest which means the eye is not held static but wants to explore the painting usually creates a more interesting artwork.

In this episode, we had a painter (Suzanne) who was clearly keen on guiding the eye by the lines she used within the heat composition in a similar way to how she had composed her submission painting which was very good.

However tracking isn't everything and in this instance, Kate's comment was that the foreground - which accounted for half the picture - was not interesting enough.

Decision Time

Wildcard Winner

The wildcard winner was a 17 year old school student called Luke Sturgess from Chester who'd taken the day off school to participate as a wildcard artist. 

Luke Sturgess being told he was the Wildcard Winner

I thought it a very nice gesture by the Judges that they had him on their shortlist for the wildcard winner and gave it to him - as they knew it would make a very big difference to both him and his future.

I also liked the fact he was drawing the pier using graphite, stumps and erasers so that it looked interesting but not mechanical.

Wildcard winning drawing

The Shortlist

Episode 1: Judgement Time

LAOTY Episode 1: Lining up to hear who's been shortlisted

The shortlist selected from this week's artists were:
  • Efua Thomas
  • Finn Campbell-Notman
  • Suzon Lagarde
I thought Rose Strang was unlucky not to get selected. I thought the observation that her second painting didn't address what had gone wrong with the first one was particularly astute. If she'd done that I have no doubt she would have been shortlisted. I don't think her submission painting particularly helped her though....

I was also expecting Susanna Heath to get shortlisted for a long time, mainly on the strength of her submission - but she didn't quite pull it off.

Heat paintings of the three shortlisted artists are shown below along with their submission.

First ALL the artworks - submissions and heat paintings - lined up next to one another - which I find always tells you an awful lot about style, maturity, ability to handle paint etc etc. Plus size does matter.  

As I keep saying repeatedly never ever underestimate the importance of the submission - as an indication of what you can do with more time. It is also an indication of your ability to handle a commission worth £10,000 - which should not be small!

Shortlisted Artists: Submissions and Heat Paintings

Then each of the artists in turn. First Efua Thomas.

Submission and heat painting by Efua Thomas
Submission and heat painting by Efua Thomas

Next Suzon Lagarde - whose paintings are much smaller. She also took a very unusual "slice" view of the Pier from the Promenade

Submission and heat painting by Suzon Lagarde
Submission and heat painting by Suzon Lagarde

I particularly liked the way she painted the pier - which was an inspired but tiny rendition which for me was the best by far of all the painters in this episode!

Finally, Finn Campbell-Notman

I liked the idea of what Finn was doing with his heat painting - but I don't think he quite pulled it off. On the other hand his submission painting was outstanding and I'm very sure this is what won him this heat. It shows what he can do when he's got more time.

One look at his website also tells you he's a very accomplished draughtsman and painter.

If I were a Judge I'd certainly been taking a quick look at what's available to look at online before making a final decision on a winner. I don't know whether they do - but I very definitely would be. I'd want to know I'm banking a good one!

Heat Winner

Efua, Suzon and Finn - with their Heat Paintings waiting to hear who has won

Finn Campbell-Notman won the Heat - and here he is with his submission painting which, to my mind, won him the heat.

Finn Campbell-Notman with his submission painting of the family home in Spain.
A1100 (Uleila Del Campo -Tabernas) 2021
Oil on Canvas, 100 x 73cm

Interestingly, if you went through all the websites and social media sites prior to viewing the programme, I'd have very definitely been selecting Finn for my shortlist for this heat.

Indeed I think he might stand a good chance of making it to the Final (see below)!

an afterthought - by me!

  • The winner of LAOTY 2022 was the winner of the first heat
  • The winner of PAOTY 2O22 was the winner of the first heat
I know I have a formula for writing these posts. Do the production team from Storyvault ALSO have a formula for which episode they decide to air first? 
(Bearing in mind the order in which the heats are televised is NOT the same as the order in which they were filmed).

Next week

The pods are going to be at Ascot Races.
Which should make for an interesting dress code!


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.

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.

2023 series

All the reviews in Series 7 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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