Friday, October 20, 2023

Review: Episode 2 Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 10)

Episode 2: Portrait Artist of the Year 

(series 10 / broadcast 18 October 2023)

This is a review of the second broadcast episode of the art competition known as Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year. The heat was filmed in April 2023 and was first broadcast on Wednesday 18th October 2023.

Painting in a heat of Portrait Artist of theYear 2023
broadcast as Episode 2
with the cameras and the onlookers....

Episode numbering

I should preface this post by saying - or rather reiterating - that I am numbering episodes from the start of the series proper (i.e. the REAL art competition) and consider what Sky Arts is calling Episode 1 to be a Celebrity Special - which I do NOT count for numbering purposes.  What Sky Arts needs is a specific Celebrity Artist of the Year Special which can then accommodate all previous such episodes - and avoid them getting confused with the proper competition.

So this is the real Episode 2 which is unfortunately numbered as Episode 3 on the current series 10 folder of videos.

You can see more about the previous episode and who won previous series at the end of this post. Plus how to access my post about the Call for Entries for Series 11.

Episode 2: The Sitters

The sitters for Episode 2 are:
  • Jay Rayner - an English journalist and food critic for The Observer and host of the 'Out to Lunch' podcast (and son of Claire Rayner for those of us who remember her!). He's also a jazz pianist with a sextet and his special object were his cufflinks repreenting piano keys.
  • Nijal Arthanayake - ex rap artist; currently an English radio and TV presenter who broadcasts on BBC Radio 5 Live
  • Susanna Reid - an English television presenter and journalist; used to present BBC Breakfast before she became one of the co-presenters of Good Morning Britain. Has also appeared on Strictly!

Episode 2: The Artists

The artists in Episode 2 broadcast on 18th October 2023 are listed below in alphabetical order of the surname.

You can see all the profiles on the Sky Arts site plus speeded up videos of their paintings

The nine artists in Episode 2 on the steps of Battersea Arts Centre
where all the heats are held.
  • Paul Aston (Instagram) - a horticulturalist from Cambridge. As a painter, his subject matter varies from portraiture to landscape and still life. He is also interested in exploring the experience of stammering through paintings.
His portraits of people stammering have helped to broaden the debate around speech diversity and have been used by speech and language therapists and stammering support groups to challenge preconceptions about stammering. He has spoken at conferences about his work and appeared on podcasts.
  • Eleanor Dunn (Instagram | YouTube) - a photorealism artist working in graphite pencil and a  bartender living and working in Leeds. Born in Berkshireand, she always wanted to draw and moved to Leeds to study Fine Art. She now very much enjoys the creative community in Leeds.
  • Emma Hill (Instagram) - She lives and works in London as a PR Consultant and copywriter. A former Beauty Editor she is now a brand consultant and scribe. She is also a figurative artist working primarily from life.
  • Caroline de Peyrecave (Instagram) -  A full time artist based in Surrey. She founded WARpaint which is an arts project that raises funding for charities that support serving veterans and serving personnel who are living with the devastating and life-changing effects of war. The core of the project is a selection of life size portraits of living sailors, soldiers and aircrew, men and women, representing conflicts that the United Kingdom has been involved in since World War Two.
  • Gail Reid (Instagram | YouTube | X) - 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 sh 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
  • Dale Sinoia (LinkedIn) - a customer care agent living in Swansea. He is also a 2D/3D /designer/concept illustrator who is entirely self-taught. He works as a traditional artist as well as being a digital artist using software such as Photoshop, CAD, Zbrush, substance painter, blender and Procreate. 
  • Drew Thomson (Instagram) - a full time artist based in Glasgow. Scottish Portrait Awards Finalist 2021 and 2022

  • Maria Underwood (Instagram) - A professional artist who lives in Deal. She seeks to celebrate and give visibility to women of any age who are comfortable in their own skin. She takes commissions and works mainly in oils, with acrylic and pen, on linen, canvas and board.
  • Lee-Roy Zozo (Instagram) - a professional artist who grew up living in England and France. Studied concept art (digital painting) at @synstudio 2016-2017


Self Portrait Submissions

As I've been saying for ages, the self-portrait submission is the ONLY bit of information the 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!) (Episode 1 | Series 10)

Size, content and calibre of submissions

I've analysed all the portraits - of artists looking at themselves - and allocated them to the various categories below.

See also "A really interesting composition" below in the Themes section.

  • Portrait format x 9
  • Large x 1
  • Medium x 4
  • Small x 4
  • Tiny x 0
  • full size or most of body (including hand) x 3
  • upper torso including hand(s) x 1
  • upper torso (no hands) x 0
  • head, shoulder and hand(s) x 1
  • head and shoulders (no hands) x 3
  • head x 1
TIP: Note that ALL the shortlisted artists came from those who had done full size/upper torso including hand(s) in the "scope" category.

LIKE I KEEP SAYING.... Your submission is when you show them what you can do.

How much do you think the self portrait submission counts towards who gets shortlisted?


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

The Slow Painter

If you are a really slow painter.....

....It's really up to YOU to work out 
  • how to speed up your typical approach so you can deliver a finished artwork within the four hour time allowance - but still keep your style
  • how to crop your painting to a size that allows you to maintain your style - and still finish.
That can always involve asking the sitter to do something for you - with the agreement of the sitter and the other artists.

The Resting Face

One of the challenges for the portrait artist is to find the face which really represents the personality and character of the sitter. 

This is NOT the face they typically use when they are performing in front of the public (if they are a performer) - but rather is the face seen when they are 'at rest'. 

As the Judges commented after lunch, the three are all journalists and are NOT performing and hence are providing a more authentic face.

"The Resting Face" really only arrives after the sitter has been sitting for a while and has finally appreciated this is going to go on for some time and they need to find a way of sitting and looking which is both 'normal' and comfortable for them. It comes with the settling into the chair and overcoming their nerves about what's happening!

One of the issues with taking photos at the beginning is that the sitter will be performing - rather than demonstrating their "resting face". 

In this heat, the three artists who I think had the biggest challenge were those painting  Suzanne Reid. This is because she wasn't dressed and her hair wasn't done for "presenting". She was in her casual clothes with casual hair - and in an odd way didn't look like the person we're used to seeing. This possibly explains why those painting her did least well (as a group) - in my opinion - of the artists in this heat. 

The issue seemed to me about looking at the Resting Face in front of them and not letting any memory of how she looks on screen get in the way.

By way of contrast, Gail Reid really captured the character and "heft" (as one of the Judges commented) of Jay Rayner. This is not a man who typically smiles a lot on screen. 

TIP: Maybe try taking another photo later. Maybe try taking a photo between 30-90 minutes after the start. The sitter may well have started to relax by then

Remember my comments to those who were critical of Morag Caistor's commission painting of 'the resting face' of Lenny Henry last year. Her portrait, according to his sister, looked exactly like Lenny looks when being quiet and thoughtful.

A really interesting composition

To get selected for a heat, you need to get noticed.
To get noticed, you need to do something to get you noticed. In particularly, it's helpful if your self-portrait helps to differentiate you from the rest of the entries.
To get shortlisted, you need to work well within your four lines
  • place the head well - getting the features positioned well and at the best angle for you
  • crop the body / torso effectively and accurately
This heat had a number of examples of unusual self portraits
  • Caroline de Peyrecave - her large submission was highlighted as being a painting in the tradition of the "swagger" portrait of an artist at work which has traditionally been produced by male artists in the past - who like mansplaining....
  • Paul Aston's self portrait was part of a series of paintings he's completed to help show others what people who stammer look like e.g. having a speech impediment means many use their arms and hands much more while trying to speak. The clouds and sky in the background helped to keep us focused on the artist in the foreground
  • Gail Reid's self portrait of an artist in a cold studio paining in an anorak and hoodie
  • The one portrait that stopped all the Judges in their tracks was the one by Maria Underwood who pushes crops the portrait of the body and then pushes it to the edges of the picture plane - which makes her style very distinctive.
For me the latter reminded me of the mantra about "the four most important lines" - see my blog post about Composition - the four most important lines and the different approaches to getting attention for your subject matter.

A full portrait or a sketch study?

What's the best approach for the heat painting? A proper full portrait or a good quality sketch study?

To my way of thinking the best approach is to set out to do the very best you can manage within four hours. Don't settle for safe if you can do better - with a stretch.

The very best way you can know what you can achieve is to practice a lot beforehand in painting to a time budget - and how that works.  You need to know what you can achieve in one, two and three hours as well as within four hours (plus painting through the lunch break if you so choose!)

Is there anything in the rules which says you cannot do a circuit of the room to stretch your legs? I'd feel very inclined to do that early on to get a sense of where the serious competition is coming from. Plus you also get a chance at lunchtime to review what's up on the easels - if you want. After all, at the end of the day you are painting against others, not just against yourself!

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The Judging

Who the Sitters chose

The SITTERS chose portraits as follows
  • Nijal Arthanayake chose the painting by Maria Underwood - with the extraordinary suit.
  • Jay Rayner chose Gail Reid's painting - which was the largest and most finished of the three
  • Susanna Reid chose the portrait by Drew Thomson. To be honest I can't say that any of the artists in her segment captured her likeness well.
A reminder that the Judges are judging while you're painting. I don't think ti's 100% about the end result of the heat portrait as to who gets shortlisted

As I said last week
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

Judges LIKED artists who:

  • caught the likeness - and did not lose it
  • capture the stature and posture of the sitter - and their 'weight' literally and figuratively
  • know all about colour values and tones
  • who can paint convincing hands
  • paint clothes (i.e. more than just a head)
  • maintain their style and carry it over from self portrait to heat portrait
  • are photorealists but have worked out how to make this work for the time limits of a PAOTY heat
Judges were less enthusiastic about:
  • painting upside down - they see it as an indication that there are queries about proportion or likeness to be resolved
  • artists who did not challenge themselves
  • artists who fail to achieve a likeness 
  • artists who've made very good progress but fail to finish and deliver the final likeness


The Shortlist

The Artists and their Self Portraits

Those shortlisted were
  • Gail Reid
  • Paul Aston
  • Caroline de Peyrecave
The Shortlisted Artwork
Left: self portrait; Right: Heat Portrait
by Caroline de Peyrecave, Paul Aston and Gail Reid

Below you can see them more clearly.

Self Portrait and Portrait of Jay Rayner by Caroline de Peyrecave

The Judges were very impressed by her self portrait and Caroline was very obviously a contender. They liked the fact that it was a confident painting and she was 'breaking the rules' in terms of sterotypes of 'portrait of the artist' in a gender sense. It was a clever choice and I think she was almost bound to get selected on the strength of that submission.

However, she did a study sketch rather than a portrait in the Heat and had most of it she g0t down very fast. Notwithstanding that she worked it up to a better finish, I don't think she really stretched herself. I'm wondering if she'd practiced producing four hour portraits and seeing how much she could get done in the time.

Bottom line, her heat portrait wasn't the portrait of somebody who really wanted to progress. It looked rather safe to me. Plus it wasn't as finished a portrait as the two other portraits which were shortlisted despite one was not much smaller and the other was larger.

She confessed to camera that as soon as she saw what Gail was doing she knew she would win. 

Self Portrait and Portrait of Nijal Arthanayake by Paul Aston

Paul Aston paints small - but his paintings have a significant impact. The profile and use of the hands - against a blue sky with clouds captures your interest immediately.

I liked the fact he increased the size of his support for the heat painting. The upper torso with hand is a good path to follow at this stage. (For me if there are two paintings and each have got a well painted head - but one has a good painting of a hand as well, I'll always favour the latter!)

The repeat and carry over of the orange colourfrom the submission painting to the heat painting makes the two of them look evern more like they've both been done by the same person.

His paintings are also full of character - and eyes which look outside the picture frame make the sitter seem even more alive - and not necessarily sitting for a portrait!

Self Portrait and Portrait of Jay Rayner by Gail Reid

Gail stretched herself in terms of how much of the torso she managed to include. Although the evidence from her blog post 
Preparing for Portrait Artist of the Year - Gail Reid shares her experience and tips suggests she had been practising and all the practice portraits I saw suggested she knew full well what was involved in getting a portrait finished within the time allowance.

This was an artist who was determined to do well!

I also think her portrait of Jay Rayner within the time allowed is excellent. She's got the size of the man, the posture and the proportions look pretty much spot on. It's also a good likeness - there's a lot of people who would recognise him from this portrait painting. Plus - and this is far from easy - he actually looks like he's properly sitting in the chair. The proportions of chair and person "fit". 

Somebody commented after the first episode that they seem to have changed the process so that they now discuss the shortlisted artists in front of an audience. I'm going to have to go back and check - but I think this is new.

Episode 2 Winner

The final line-up for the announcement of heat winner
Which one looks like the winner to you?

Gail Reid was chosen as the winner of the second heat.

The Judges recognised that she got her "perfect sitter" - as did Gail - but the fact of the matter is she made the most of it and delivered a very good portrait which Jay had no hesitation whatsoever in choosing to take home. 

As Tai identified she also painted character and not just a likeness.

I can't say I'm surprised. I had her nailed as a definite shortlisted artist and very much a contender to be the winner of her heat ever since I read her blog post and saw how she had prepared for the competition back in July. 
I'm amazed at the quality of her practice portraits. One the basis of which I'd say she's a dead cert to be shortlisted if not win her heat. For one thing she's not just doing heads and she is including hands - which I've been recommending for some time. When everybody else does heads, make sure you stand out and produce a good upper torso portrait!

For those wanting to compete next year (see below), I very much suggest you read and inwardly digest - and then start practicing!

Gail Reid won - and looks out of focus because she is bouncing up and down!

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 Artist of the Year - REFERENCE

Previous Finals

Here are my posts about previous finals

Reviews of PAOTY Series 10

This year's heats are:

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