Thursday, October 12, 2023

Review: Episode 1 Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 10)

The first episode of the new art competition to find the Portrait Artist of the Year for 2023 kicked off last night 

The first episode of Series Ten will be repeated at 7pm tonight on Sky Arts. If you've not yet watched, you might want to stop reading now as this review continues in the same pattern as all the reviews I've written since series 4 in 2018 

i.e. this review post considers:

  • the sitters
  • the artists
  • the self-portrait submissions
  • themes observed during the episode - and observations on different approaches
  • the Judging
  • the Shortlist
  • Episode 1 Winner
Remembering that last year's winner was the winner of Episode 1!

Overview of the filming of this episode

Portrait Artist of the Year Series 10

Portrait Artist of the Year is

  • commissioned by Sky TV UK
  • made by Storyvault Films an independent production company.
  • filmed at Battersea Arts Centre - generally in April
  • broadcast every Autumn - generally starting in October - by Sky Arts Channel on digital television (now also on Freeview at Channel 11) and via the NOW TV app (if you want to look back at an episode after it's been broadcast)
This year, as always, the features of the series are:
  • a prize of £10,000 for a commissioned portrait of a celebrated sitter for distinguished institution
  • 3 sitters and 3 artists allocated to each sitter. One sitter and three artists are located in one of three sections of a rotunda type frame (think three segments of a pie or cake) in the large room at the Battesea Arts Centre where the PAOTY series are now filmed. This allows the cameras to rotate around the room
  • None of the artists know who their sitter is until they arrive in the room.
  • There's no choice as to who paints which sitter
  • There's no choice as to what angle you get on the sitter
  • Artists have - in theory - four hours to complete a portrait working from a live model - with a break in the middle of the day.
  • Two presenters - Stephen Mangan (age 55 - who likes to dye his hair and appear younger!) and the inimitable and extraordinary Dame Joan Bakewell - who hit 90 earlier this year
  • Three Judges: who are the same as for previous series:
    • award-winning portrait painter Tai Shan Schierenberg. Studied at St. Martin's School of Art and The Slade. Lives and works in London, Norfolk and the Black Forest in Germany. Has artwork in a number of important national and regional public collections
    • independent curator, art historian and arts broadcaster Kathleen Soriano worked in museums and galleries for over 30 years.
    • arts broadcaster, curator, mentor and writer Kate Bryan is also currently Head of Collections for Soho House.
(L to R) Tai Shan Shierenberg, Dame Joan Bakewell, Katheleen Soriano,
Stephen Mangan and Kate Bryan 

In terms of people watching the proceedings, the Series is limited as to who can watch Sky Arts in the UK - on terrestrial Channel 11 or Sky or Now TV.

It does become available overseas - IF your local channel buys the series from Sky!

What's New in Series 10?

So far as I can see, it's virtually the same as always. Except there are a few things. 

  • No mention of who the celebrity sitter will be for the final episode - except I happen to know it's going to be the world-renowned conservationist Dr Jane Goodall, DBE (as previously announced by Sky!)
  • It was the first time we've had a couple being two of the sitters.
  • it's the first time we've had a CAT as a sitter!
Also, theoretically this first episode with actual real contestants is the SECOND episode (as they had a Celebrities versus the Kids Special as the first episode - but this does not count so far as I'm concerned for these reviews) this is THE FIRST REAL EPISODE of the Series 10

I suggest Storyvault/SkyArts need to call it Episode 1 like I am (and rechristen the Special as a "special" like the Decade episode!)

Episode 1: The Sitters

The sitters for the first episode are 
  • Fleur East (Singer),
  • Emma Freud (Broadcaster) - with the family cat Badger (which was a first!) 
  • Richard Curtis (Screenwriter) - which famous films and tv shows has he not written?
Emma and Richard are not married but have four kids and have been together for over 30 years.

Episode 1: The Artists

The mandatory photo of all the artists in this episode
sat on the steps outside Battersea Arts Centre

All the artists are listed below alphabetically by surname - but are not differentiated between professional and amateur. The link to their main 'contact' site is embedded in their name and social media sites follow - if available.

This year the artists are allowed to write about the heats in advance - so long as they say nothing about the heat itself - and can then wrote about their experience afterwards - and I've highlighted posts I came across below

I don't know if the programme makers are only asking for their Instagram accounts - but the change in social media references for artists since I started writing these reviews has been quite amazing.

TIP: I'd always recommend that any artist who gets selected to appear in this televised competition should make sure they have a website BEFORE they appear. Even if it's only page.
  • Léa Brunet-Wong (Instagram) - A student at Central Saint Martins in London. Interested in multidisciplinary arts. This is the self portrait she completed to enter the competition
  • Allegra Gordon (Instagram) - based in London. A freelance illustrator who works in a pottery cafe. Completed ‘The Drawing Year’ at The Royal Drawing School in 2022 after graduating from the University of Kingston with a First-Class Honours in Illustration and Animation. Her drawings on her website distort perspective and have a look of early Freud.
  • Tim Hall RSMA (Instagram) - Comes from a family of artists. Graduated from Kingston with a degree in fine art in 1989. Currently a professional painter and teacher who provides painting holidays in Cornwall. Member of the Royal Society of Marine Painters and has won prizes for his work.
  • Sinead Lawless (Instagram) - an artist and teacher from Cork in Ireland. She is a professional member of Visual Artists Ireland and the Dublin Art Society and teaches at the Schoolhouse for Art in Enniskerry. She has exhibited in open exhibitions at the Mall Galleries and the Royal Hibernian Academy.
  • Anna-Louise Loy - 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 po
  • Matthew Lyons (Instagram) - a Nottinghamshire-based figurative artist, living and working in Beeston who is a design standards manager. Find out more about Matthew's experience here. - It's a very realistic assessment of what the day is like and the sorts of issues which are likely to arise.
Overall, the whole experience was pretty good. The people at Storyvault films are wonderful and kind to you; and they go out of their way to make you feel like you are the most important person there. Every interaction, every email, every conversation was, without exception, lovely.

    • Emily Rogers (Instagram) - born in Oxford in 1996. Trained in art at Oxford Brookes University (Foundation), Leeds University (Fine Art Degree) and Charles H Cecil Studios (classical sight size portraiture) in Florence. Lives and works in London and is an instructor at the Cecil Studios. This is her self-portrait.
    • Victoria Sills  (Facebook, Instagram) - a full time artist and graduate of the University of Brighton (1999) and The Other MA (2020).  She is based in Westcliff on Sea. Her blog post has a lot of still pics of what the episode looked like while being filmed.
    • Melissa Speed (Instagram) - a heritage volunteer and pastel artist living in Buxton, Derbyshire. This is her blog post about Preparing to Take Part in a Televised Art Competition which is worth a read
    Three of this episode's artists have previously been selected for the Ruth Borchard Self Portrait Prize.

    Self portrait submissions

    As I've been saying for ages, the self-portrait submission is the ONLY bit of information they Judges have as to:
    • how well you can paint a portrait when NOT under time pressure
    • whether you can paint anything more than a head
    • whether you have the necessary talent and skills to paint a commissioned portrait for a distinguished instituition - for a fee of £10,000 (i.e. no poor submissions allowed for this!)
    Incidentally, all the artists to date except one, have absolutely wowed me with what they painted for the commission. The standard for the commission is SO MUCH HIGHER than anything produced in the heats, semi finals and final!

    Size, content and calibre of submissions

    The Judges thought it was a strong wall - and were looking forward to see what they would produce in the heat.

    Reviewing the self-portrait submission wall

    Following on from the notion of what the submission is all about.....

    Two artists went for it, with a large and quite complex paintings of most of the body - including the hands.

    A small painting of just a head was favoured by a lot - which I never understand as that's the option most choose to do in the heat - so you're not delivering any added information - except how well you can paint when not under pressure.

    Tiny submissions are always interesting but, to me, call info question whether the artist is competent to tackle a large commission (based on the notion why should anybody pay £10k unless it's a decent size!).

    TIP: Switching media is always problematic if you submit in one and then do the heat in another. I always think you have to wow in two media when this happens


    • Portrait format x 9


    • Large x 2
    • Large/Medium x 1
    • Small x 5
    • Tiny x 1


    • full size or most of body (including hand) x 3
    • upper torso (no hands) x 1
    • head, shoulder and hand x 1
    • head and shoulders x 3
    • head x 1


    Every episode I look for themes I can draw out related to what I'm observing

    Will just "a head" do for a heat?

    Very many artists opt to do just a head and shoulders for a heat. 
    Many consider it a safer option, one that they should be able to deliver without a lot of problems.

    However if they also painted head and shoulders for the self portrait it's not telling us a lot more about the artist except how they behave under pressure.

    That means anybody who opts to do more and pulls it off stands a very good chance of being shortlisted. 

    How an artist works

    How an artist works tells you a lot about how experienced they are and what skills they have in:
    • drawing 
    • composition - including cropping images to make it interesting to look at
    • techniques used to get the map out the work on the support
    • underpaintings
    • painting
    • glazing
    I'd also be looking at whether they were using appropriate tools for what they're doing e.g do they paint the whole painting with the same size of brush? Or do they use larger brushes to map in masses and shapes and ever smaller brushes as they progress towards detail.

    Bear in mind the Judges are looking all the time at HOW you work and not just what you produce.

    The use of Graphite is problematic

    Monochrome artwork has to be really great to stand up to colour. Print tends to work better than graphite in this respect - and we've had lots of printers in the past.

    An artwork which employs graphite used in a fine detailed way, needs to find other ways of making that artwork up to and stand out from the paintings in acrylic and oils.

    Most of those producing sensational artwork in graphite typically take many hours - if not hundreds of hours - to get the level of tonality and density of tone which enables the artwork to look very impressive.

    Artists thinking of using graphite need to think long and hard about what they can do in four hours.

    I'm surprised we've not seen any (?) artists in PAOTY using graphite sticks like pastels in order to work bigger, faster and with a better range of tonal values. 

    Let's not forget that Gareth Reid - an artist working in charcoal - has just been awarded Portrait Artist of the Decade (see Review: Portrait Artist of the Decade) - but he works big and he gets the range of tones and he holds his own against paint!

    It's not just about the likeness!

    Likeness is a perennial theme in this contest and mention of it will come up again and again in every episode. 

    I'd always highly recommend that those practising for the competition focus very much on achieving likenesses of people they don't know well

    That said, it's emphatically NOT just about the likeness. Likeness if you like is something akin to the first hurdle an artist needs to get over.

    What really connects with both sitters and Judges are portraits which convey something of the inner being of the sitter. See my comments below about who the sitters chose to see why this matters.

    SUBSCRIBE IF YOU LIKE 'MAKING A MARK' - and keep up with my reviews
    and get an email to your inbox every time I publish

    The Judging

    Who the Sitters chose

    The SITTERS chose portraits as follows
    • Richard Curtis chose the painting of his cropped head by Sinead Lawless because he knows he worries a lot and her painting made made him look worried!
    • Emma Freud chose the painting by Tim Hall - because he nailed "a cheeky look"
    • Fleur East chose the painting by Anna Loy - because it made her emotional
    I am absolutely floored by this. With this one I feel like I'm feeling this rather than seeing it - its's just moving me looking at it


    Richard Curtis by Sinead Lawless

    Note that all the sitters chose portraits that conveyed aspects of their personality or created an emotional feeling in the sitter.

    The Judges - engaged in judging

    The Judges review the artists' artwork FOUR times
    • before the heat - when reviewing who should be selected for the Heats
    • at the beginning of the heat - when they consider the self-portrait submissions
    • at lunchtime and then 
    • again at the end after the sitters have reviewed the artwork.
    Which boils down to a lot of looking and observation of:
    • how an artist works
    • how they start and how they make corrections and adjustments
    • whether they can work under pressure and complete within a time allowance
    • how they respond when things go wrong - or don't go right
    • how the paintings look when sat next to the competition
    • how the heat painting matches up to the self portrait (for those who are shortlisted)
    If you're participating you're not necessarily aware of how often you are being watched and by who.

    Judges LIKED:

    • the incredible hair which Anna painted
    • the attempt to paint a full person
    • paintings which tell a story
    • great use of colour
    • eyes which engage

    Judges were less enthusiastic about:

    • problems with proportion
    • problems with likeness
    • problems with artwork not being all of the same level
    • painters not progressing to achieve what they are capable of (generally an issue of time)

    The Shortlist

    The artists and their self portraits

    One of these days, a lighting bulb will shine above a head and somebody will suggest to the artists that they line up NEXT to their self portrait and NOT in front of it!!!

    It's such a shame not to see the artist with their entry at this stage.

    Those shortlisted were:
    • Léa Brunet-Wong
    • Sinead Lawless
    • Anna-Louise Loy
    This is what their paintings looked like side by side

    Here's what they look like as pairs of paintings - plus my comments on the two paintings.

    Note all look like they've been painted by the same artist - which is the number one test of this pairing up!

    Self portrait and Portrait by Léa Brunet-Wong

    These two small paintings are very good - but I'd have liked to have seen something bigger. 

    That's a very masterful portrait of Badger though!

    I think it might have been a close call with Tim Hall whose painting of Emma was better and liked more by the sitter.

    Self Portrait and Portrait by Anna-Louise Loy

    Oddly, although I recognise the self portrait as good, it doesn't reflect for me the lovely face of the artist we saw in the programme - so I feel a bit of a disconnect. Her portrait of Fleur East is however stunning in terms of both finding a way to tackle the hair in the time to give body and tone and colour - but not fussing about detail. Plus she "got the mouth"!

    Self Portrait and Portrait by Sinaed Lawless

    I thought both these portraits were very accomplished. 

    She's clearly very skilled in drawing and painting people as is self evident from her website.

    Episode 1 Winner

    Anna Loy was selected as the winner of the first heat.

    While I loved her painting of Fleur, I was rather less enamoured with the self portrait - although Kathleen clearly loved it. I get that can clearly paint well but I guess I'm less than oncifident that she can move on from head and shoulders. The semi finals will be interesting. 

    I was also slightly surprised because, for me, Sianead Lawless was looking like a shoe-in after 
    • producing a large complex self-portrait which clearly demonstrated she can paint and produce large paintings. 
    • Plus a simply stunning portrait of Richard Curtis that achieved an excellent likeness, character and temperament through lush use of paint.
    If there's anybody who gets asked back for the semi-finals, my money is on Sinaed as things stand.

    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.


    No comments:

    Post a Comment

    COMMENTS HAVE BEEN CLOSED AGAIN because of too much spam.
    My blog posts are always posted to my Making A Mark Facebook Page and you can comment there if you wish.

    Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.