Friday, February 24, 2023

Review: Semi Finals of Landscape Artist of the Year 2023

This is a review of the Semi Finals of Landscape Artist of the Year 2023 which took place at the edge of the Thames Barrier Park - in the Royal Docks area of the London Borough of Newham - with a good view of the Thames Barrier.

The Thames Barrier from the Thames Barrier Park in Newham 
- with Woolwich in the background

It's going to be very different from my previous reviews of the Heats of Landscape Artist of the Year 2023.  Not least because I've highlighted who has got to the Final before I comment on the paintings. It just seemed to make more sense that way round!

  • Location & Weather
  • Themes & Learning Points 
  • Decision - the Finalists (and comments on the Judges Approach)
  • My take on the Semi Final Paintings

As always I'll be offering TIPS on the way through! NOT guaranteed in any way to help you do better - but they might! People have told me they've appreciated them!

The Artists

The artists waiting to hear their fate

The Artists were 
  • all the Heat Winners - We already know who all the artists are - and I did a recap of them yesterday in my post LAOTY Semi Finalists + PAOTY Call for Entries Deadline extended - so no section devoted to artists in this post!
  • plus the chosen artist from the Wildcard Winners. The Wildcard Winner selected for a Pod was 17 year old school student called Luke Sturgess. His work was different in that he drew in monochrome using pen and ink. Which left me wondering whether being a wildcard whose work did not look like any of the other semi-finalists' work.          
The Artists in the Thames Barrier Park

Location & Weather

The view was of the Thames Barrier, which is one of the largest movable flood barriers in the world. It spans 520 metres across the River Thames near Woolwich. 10 steel gates can rise and protect 125 square kilometres of central London from flooding caused by tidal surges.

The location for the pods was the north side of the River Thames on the edge of the Thames Barrier Park run by the GLA. Yet again, I'm reminded that the programme is beginning to seem more like a marketing exercise for anniversaries and new sites 

Opened in November 2000 it was London’s largest new riverside park for over 50 years.

This is a link to the Google Map of the area should you want to visit or have a go at painting the Barrier for yourself!

Interestingly, although the barrier seemed very big on screen, I think it probably looked a lot smaller from the pods. I think that's because most of our views were from drones and involved close-ups. I don't think we ever saw a long view from a pod.

Here's a couple of views which suggest it might look other than we think it looks to the artist.

The Pods on the edge of the Thames Barrier Park.

What the Thames Barrier looks like from just above a pod.
Doesn't it look an awful lot smaller?

The weather was mostly grey - which meant artists had to work much harder at both tones and colours. Personally I thought the clouds in sky were rather interesting quite a lot of the time.....

LAOTY Semi Final Locations

I wrote this in a previous semi final post!
The location for Landscape Artist of the Year Semi-Final
....MUST be:
very different
include huge and difficult structures
Accompanied by water - and reflections

I did a tot up of all the venues for the semi finals in recent years - and almost all had one thing in common. Large complex structures often near water. Links in the list below are to my reviews of each semi-final - where you can see pics of the structures

  • 2015 - Potters Fields Park in central London - painting Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and the City of London
  • 2016 - Margate Harbour - painting views of the harbour
  • 2017 - Castle Farm in Kent (the exception which proves the rule - given what happened the next year) - painting enormous fields of lavender 
  • 2018 - Felixstowe Docks - a container port with very big cranes and ships and stacks of containers - complete with an ocean going container ship turning up halfway through. (The eventual winner of the series knew it was coming as given a vague idea of where the semi finals were she'd had the foresight to look up both tide tables and arrivals and departures!)
  • 2019 - Oil Rigs in the Cromarty Firth - extremely peculiar vertical structures sat in the middle of the Firth?
  • 2020 - change of timing of broadcast (the year of two PAOTYs)
  • 2021 - the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park at Stratford in East London (filmed under Covid constraints in 2020 and broadcast changed to Jan-March slot in 2021) - looking south down the River Lee - towards the Olympic Stadium and the ArcelorMittal Orbit in the distance.
  • 2022 - Forth Bridge - a VERY meccano set over the Firth of Forth
  • 2023 - Thames Barrier - next to the River Thames!

TIPS For LAOTY Semi Finalists (and Pod artists)

  • Expect a big structure at some point - polish your perspective chops
  • A panoramic format might be a very useful option for your support
  • Take suitable tools for drawing/painting structures e.g. take 
    • a ruler (for measuring) 
    • large pieces of stiff card (for very fast delivery of sharp edges)
    • flexi curve or french curve for bends
    • Binoculars - because sometimes the structure is a VERY long way away!
  • Make sure you know how to paint effective water quickly and easily
To my mind, this preponderance of structures is fine IF you've not had anything complex as a structure BEFORE this semi-final stage.

BUT in Series 10 we've had piers, rollercoasters and giant grandstands! I just don't see the point of yet another weird structure. A very ordinary green landscape would be a much better test of the artists at this stage given what's been thrown at them so far!

It's also divisive in the sense that
  • such locations won't suit those who lean towards greenery, vegetation and a more natural environment (most landscape painters!)
  • but may well suit those who like structures but are awful at vegetation.
PLUS I cannot make any connection between the locations chosen in this series and the commission required - based on the fact I saw the Van de Veldes Exhibition in the Queens House at Greenwich at the press preview on Tuesday this week!

Although one person commenting on my Facebook Page made the case for the barrier structures looking a bit like sails on a sailing ship - which is a reasonable point.

Bottom line, whoever has been selecting locations for the series in 2023 needs 
  • a very stern talking to; and
  • needs to try getting out and about in the UK countryside a bit more!
The weirdness of the locations needs to be explained. My theory is that "somebody" (any guesses?) decided that the series needed to be made more interesting and changed up a gear and become more innovative - and that while they were at it they could reinvent landscape art as well! 

To which I have one response. Poor choice. You're losing your core audience! 

I suggest a return to basics in the next series if you don't want to lose your audience altogether. 

We'd all very much like the series to continue. If anybody is bored then there's always the option of moving on.......

    Themes, Learning Points and Tips

    We need to see more than before

    This is the programme where artists need to be prepared to raise their game. It's expected. 

    I think it's a perfectly reasonable expectation. I don't think many, if any, delivered.

    What that means is that another square painting exactly the same size as the ones you've painted so far is probably not going to cut it - no matter how nicely you've painted it. I think that possibly explains the absence of one artist from the Final.

    Artists need to push boundaries without becoming silly
    • A panoramic subject is best served by an appropriate support
    • Demonstrate that you are not completely wedded to one type/size of support. 
    • Demonstrate that you can paint bigger if you've not delivered a larger painting yet. (Clients don't actually want small paintings if they've paid £10,000 for a commission!!)
    • Demonstrate that you can do all the basics: drawing / perspective / skies / water / structures / vegetation
    • Don't make it look like anybody else - make it your own
    • Be good at time management and sort out your mistakes in good time

    Where were the skies?

    Skies are a huge part of landscape

    What I kept noticing was how interesting the clouds were in the sky - and how few of the artists were doing them justice. 

    I was seriously unimpressed with both crops and painting for the most part.

    Admittedly it was a grey day - but it was almost as if everybody edited out the interest in the skies - and just focused on the barrier structures - with the exception of Ann and Susanna.

    If the land is very flat, do remember that Constable did not become a leading landscape painter just by painting trees! 

    TIP: Have a Skies Workout before the competition

    One winner of an Artist of the Year competition once said to me that he was ever so grateful for the fact that he'd read my suggestion that people who wanted to do well really needed to practice producing good looking paintings in less than four hours. I'd advise the same thing for key potential features of any landscape.


    When gritted determination is sometimes not the right answer

    We had a classic example in this semi-final of somebody who:

    • can clearly paint - in different circumstances - 
    • got carried away with the idea that battling through is the answer to all artistic conundrums.

    He was wrong and it became painful television. Indeed so bad that hardly anybody is mentioning it.....

    TIP Your first thought is not always your best

    There are various other ways to tackle a composition and avoid making mistakes. Great artists make loads of mistakes. The clever ones know when it's time to stop - and start again!
    • Stopping when you know it's not working is a brave - and very sensible - thing to do. 
    • Study composition in depth BEFORE you end up on television
    • Use a sketchbook routinely when creating art
    • Thumbnail sketches are the place for experimentation
    • Play it safe: stick to formats you're familiar with and comfortable with


    Decision Time: The Finalists

    The Judges judging

    The Finals have been very female dominated for a while. It's therefore maybe not so surprising - in these days of gender equity - that two of the three finalists were men.

    The Finalists were:
    Social media was not impressed. This Tweet more or less summed it up - it certainly got a LOT of support.

    I also noted that there was a LOT of what I'd call "non-response" to the social media posts by the film company.  Which spoke loudly in my book.

    I do NOT think they were the best three paintings. 

    Indeed I'd go do far as to say that I was rather underwhelmed by what was produced in the semi finals.
    However as I've said many times before, this is where the submission painting can come into play.
    TIP: "Seal The Deal" at Submission Stage.
    Every one of the Finalists has an impressive submission.
    If you've submitted a very impressive painting when entering the competition then you've helped yourself as much as you can. Submitting a large impressive painting means you don't need to paint large for the rest of the competition because you've already demonstrated that you can go big when a commission warrants this.

    The Judges Approach

    The Judges were NOT interested in picking the three best artists. They clearly wanted three approaches which were VERY DIFFERENT. I've seen them do this before. It's worth calling it "a habitual response."
    Three very distinct but different artists for the Final
    Frankly, I must also confess I found some aspects of their characterisations of artists and their artwork borderline offensive i.e.
    • Stefan has great imagination and great technical ability (as described by Tai - which was fine)
    • Finn is an "ancient, other worldly vintage artist" Pardon?
    • Helen is a "little French Impressionist" Patronising!!
    Artists are NOT CARICATURES - and should be treated with more respect. 
    Kate's comment 'otherworldy, ancient and vintage' made me chuckle :D
    Finn Campbell-Notman
    Judges who opt for "soundbites" rather than accuracy and finesse rarely impress! I'm very surprised the Director didn't make them go again. One day an artist is going to bite back!

    One day they'll pick the best artists who have produced the best paintings for the Final and when they do I'll cheer! The issues with this series lay back in the choices made for locations and who won some of the Heats.

    My take on the Semi Final Paintings

    Below are my comments on the Semi Final Paintings. 

    For the record I don't typically say anything negative about heat paintings. However when we get to the crunch end of an art competition, my view is that ALL paintings are up for public critiques - or else you wouldn't have entered an art competition on television. 

    The order of artists is as per the line-up. Whether or not they are a finalist is indicated after their name.

    Artists lined up with their paintings to hear who's made it to the Final.

    Stefano Ronchi (FINALIST)

    Stefano Ronchi

    I've revised my opinion on this painting since the programme - for the reasons set out below.

    Stefan opted to paint on black - as he did with his submission. If you get the colours right, it really helps an image to "pop". Whether it's still popping in 6 months time depends on whether the support soaks up the colour - or not. 

    He also created an imaginative painting - which, I now understand, incorporated a LOT of the interesting shapes to be found in and next to the Thames Barrier Park behind him - even though the park and its contents were never ever referenced in the programme! Certainly if the Judges noticed it, their comments were edited out.....

     Very much a 360 degrees approach to making art.

    However, on the basis that I don't call either comic artists or Dali "landscape painters", I'm still of the opinion that this approach to landscape art could do very serious damage to the competition if he won. 

    Just think of the message it would send to those who approach landscape art in a rather more conventional sense. 
    • Would they get any people entering? 
    • Could they seriously try and run another series?
    So bottom line it's a very good painting BUT still not what I would call a landscape - even if I acknowledge and appreciate Stefano's very obvious creativity and high level of skill and think he's a very nice chap.

    Anne Byrne

    Semi Final Painting by Anne Byrne

    I predicted Ann would be in the Final.

    Ann was the ONLY artist to take on the whole panorama and provided a sense of the distance and space from her perspective. This was very brave - and I applaud her for that. She certainly tried to raise her game.

    However I didn't like it as much as her Blackpool painting which I thought was really inspired in terms of how she handled a very difficult challenge.  I also thought she might have done more with the sky. it all became a bit too diagonal.

    The Judges were right to highlight the highlights on the barriers - but these were minor issues within the context of the whole and what she attempted and I thought this was emphasised too much, compared to some of the issues and faults occurring elsewhere.

    It occurred to me that she maybe did herself no favours by possibly spending too much time on her prep. sketches - and not enough time on the actual painting?

    I thought she was a shoe-in for the Final. My take on it now is that there were three female Impressionist/colourist painters in the semi-final and the Judges only allowed one to make the Final.

    Which is how Anne lost out. 

    Finn Campbell-Notman (FINALIST)

    Semi final painting by Finn Campbell-Notman

    I had great expectations of Finn - but for me he didn't deliver.  Although he was one of the artists I predicted to go through to the Final - mainly on the basis of his submission.

    I liked his idea of including some of the shoreline and demonstrating some of the markings which would have added interest and texture - but it could have been much better in that respect.

    I found the colour scheme really unhelpful. As Finn himself admitted there's not a lot of differentiation in either colour or tone between the structures and the sky. Overall it looks very flat and frankly I find it boring. The shapes of the structures are also badly drawn.

    More importantly for me, although I know the painting contains a boat, I cannot see it easily and I think it gets lost in the middle. Great idea - poor execution.

    Helen Lloyd Elliot (FINALIST)

    Semi Final Painting by Helen Lloyd Elliot

    This painting was more colourful than the weather suggested.  It was all the better for that. Her colours are slightly hyped versions of the real colours so the scene still looks convincing.

    I thought her drawing of the basic shapes was more or less spot on and I loved her sky.

    Aerial perspective looked a little weak to me and the painting lacked a little depth as a result. I think it might have been improved if the far distance had been knocked back a tad.

    Helen is a very effective colourist and observer of scenes who delivers more than can be seen by more ordinary mortals. 

    I'm hoping she wins the Final.

    Steve Nice

    I felt really sorry for Steve as he is obviously somebody who can produce decent paintings. I just don't think he's got the experience for competitions of this type which have obviously taken him out of his comfort zone

    Frankly my jaw dropped when I saw him prop up his panoramic format as a vertical slice - and it stayed dropped all the way through - with occasional expletives.

    This was a really bad idea, very badly executed caused by 
    • the fallout of inappropriate comments by Judges (I think he was seeking to "be innovative")
    • the classic example of not picking the right artist to win the heat.
    I'd have been very happy with either Alison Boshoff or Tushar Sabale or Luke Adam Hawker - which would have been my shortlist. Any of them would have produced something very much better than this.

    Susanna Macinnes

    Susanna excelled at her sky, the water and nearly got there on the shore in the foreground. She had a good go at the structures but they lacked the rounded feel they have in reality - although I really liked the colours she used.

    I think she let herself down by sticking rigidly to the same size of painting all the way through. At no point has she demonstrated what she could do with more time. Indeed in this semi final she did demonstrate that with more time her preference was to start a second painting!

    Just think what might have happened if she'd opted for much larger support and she'd raised her game and painted a bigger picture.

    It's an almost but not quite for me because of that - although I have liked her paintings.

    Luke Sturgess

    I was pleased to see Luke being given a chance to shine in the semi-final. He was a worthy semi finalist.

    I think Luke ruled himself out of the final when he opted to just do one of the structures - on a large piece of paper. I got the rationale and thought it interesting but I'd have preferred to see more of his pen and ink work. In effect he didn't raise his game.

    I also think he maybe needs to become better acquainted with professional charcoal dust and a brush for more finesse in finish.

    He'll be kicking himself if he goes to the Van De Veldes Exhibition and sees all the truly amazing pen and ink paintings produced by Van de Veldes the Elder. I can well imagine he could have produced a superb pen and ink painting of his own!

    Your challenge

    Look back at each of the artworks and decide which three you think should have been in the Final - and why.

    Next Week

    It's the Final and you need to allow for a two hour viewing stint as the Commission Programme follows on from

    I'll be whizzing over to Greenwich - probably on Friday next week - to see the completed commission in person!


    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.

    Landscape Artist of the Year 2024

    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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