Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Which PAOTY Semi Finalists will be in the PAOTY 2023 Final?

Tonight is the semi-finals of Portrait Artist of the Year 2023.

Can you predict who will get the three places in the Final - based on the self portrait submission and their heat painting?

PAOTY 2023: The self portrait and heat paintings by the seven Heat Winners

Check them out below. I've listed all the Heat Winners and included the images of the self portrait and heat painting below.

My prediction is the finalists will be

  • Gail Reid
  • Sara Reeeve; and 
  • Wendy Barratt
I say that mainly on the basis that:
  • they are all experienced portrait painters
  • they all produced very good heat portraits (judged against the seven as a whole)
  • they all seem to have the sort of temperament which means they mobilise quickly and complete within the time limit.
What's your prediction? (Answers please on my Making A Mark Facebook Page before 8pm!)

Heat 1 - Anna-Louise Loy

Anna-Louise Loy is 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 portraits.

See Review: Episode 1 Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 10) 11 October 2023

Heat 2 - Gail Reid (Instagram | YouTube | X)

Gail Reid is 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 she 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

See Review: Episode 2 Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 10) 18 October 2023

Heat 3 - Lorena Levi (Instagram)

Lorena Levi graduated Edinburgh University with an MA in Fine art 2021 where she won awarded the Astaire Prize at the end of her course. She was the overall winner of the 2022 Jackson’s Painting Prize. If the Judges knew those credentials, they'd be taking her seriously from the off... Her self portrait submission is below.

Heat 4 - Davide di Taranto (Instagram

Davide di Taranto is a miniature portraitist and fresco restorer born in Italy, but has lived in the UK since 2010 and currently lives in Southampton. After graduating at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze (Academy of Fine Art) in Florence, he worked on restorations all over the world. His self-portrait can be seen up close - and was exhibited in the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition 2018

Heat 5 - Sara Reeve (Instagram)

Sara Reeve is a Brighton-based painter who predominantly focuses on portraiture and also works as a wedding officiant. She is also a Tutor at Draw Brighton as a life drawing session leader and runs evening classes in Painting Portraits in Oils. She is also a proud @artcanorg member. Previously she worked for 12 years as a wedding photographer - so I'm guessing she knows a few things about how to make people look good.

See Review: Heat 5 of Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 10) 15 November 2023

Heat 6 - Wendy Barratt (Instagram)

Wendy Barratt is a graphic designer and artist who lives in Worthing. She specialises in portraiture and the human figure and teaches art in her spare time.

See Review: Heat 6 of Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 10) 22 November 2023

Heat 7 - Ed Lawrenson (Instagram

Ed Lawrenson is a professional full time artist based in Stroud, Gloucestershire. Studied at Winchester school of Art and the École Nationale Superiere des Beaux Arts in Paris. Currently works as a Studio Manager for a contemporary artist. (I'm pretty sure that's Damien Hirst who has one of his Science (UK) Limited Studios in Stroud). He is also a painter working primarily in figurative oil painting, with an interest in the renaissance and Impressionism. His self portrait was intended to poke fun at how seriously he takes himself. He is is currently working on a large body of mythological painting; fusing elements from the Bible with contemporary science fiction and historical painting motifs.

see Review: Episode 7 of Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 10)

Monday, November 27, 2023

Review: Episode 7 of Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 10)

This was the last of the Heats. The next programme on Wednesday evening is the Semi-Finals so we maybe need to start thinking about who's going to make it to the Final!

However first of all we need to identify who is the Winner of Heat 7 and the will be the seventh and last participant in the Semi-Finals.

(Apologies to those of you who have been emailed two copies of this post. 
This is due to an error in the html link for the post)

Episode 7 Portrait Artist of the Year 

(series 10 / broadcast 1 November 2023)

Two sitters: Daryl McCormack on the left and Lenny Rush on the right

Episode 7: The Sitters

All the Sitters were young and are:
  • Lenny Rush - a British BAFTA-winning actor age 14 who is best known for comedy drama series Am I Being Unreasonable? and on the BBC One series Dodger. I think he's the first sitter with a disability - spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita (SEDC) - a rare condition that results in short stature and skeletal anomalies. He had just had an operation and hence was unable to mobilise - and his special object was the Segway he normally uses to get around.
  • Daryl McCormack - an Irish Actor, age 30, who featured in Peaky Blinders and was nominated for a BAFTA for his acting in the title role in the film Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (2022). His special object was a wrap gift from Emma Thompson.
  • Joe Sugg - the oldest at age 31! He is an English YouTuber, vlogger and artist who started out as a thatcher and built a YouTube Channel called Thatcher Joe. In 2018 he was a finalist on the sixteenth series of Strictly Come Dancing. His special object was an early video camera from his Grandad who passed away last year.

Episode 7: The Artists

The artists in Episode 7 (of Series 10) broadcast on 22nd November 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 Artists inbetween completing their heat paintings and delivery of Judges shortlist

The impression I got when I started looking at them online is that 
  • there were some VERY varied levels of experience 
  • with more younger, less experienced artists in this heat than hitherto.
It occurred to me after I wrote my Themes from this heat that the reason why most were younger might be because all the sitters were also very young.
  • Fiona Bell Currie - A semi-retired art teacher from Chichester. She trained as an art teacher at Goldsmiths' College 1972-76, loved teaching in schools and art college then developed a popular course for adults who'd not drawn since childhood. She paints full time in Chichester. You can see her finished version of her portrait of Joe Sugg on her website. 
I was new to portraiture back in April but have devoted some time to studying the form and developing a passion with some new techniques, though my first love will remain landscape painting. (from Fiona's about page on her website)
  • Robin Danely (Instagram | Facebook) - a full time artist born and raised in Michigan, USA. She studied painting and printmaking in California, and currently lives and works in Oxford, UK. 
  • Teoni Hinds - a London based Fine Artist who focuses on romanticising the everyday through figurative art. She is an art graduate who is a Studio Assistant to a graffiti artist and designer.
  • Carina Johnson (Instagram) - a young art student who is passionate about art and likes working with a ball point pen. She swopped from watercolour and coloured pencil (for her submission self portrait) to biro for the heat.
  • Jonny Kemp (Instagram) - a self-taught portrait artist, working in fine liner pen or oil paint, living in South London. He studied English at university and worked as an English teacher for ten years. In 2023, he left teaching to pursue a career as an artist. He completed a project  to draw and interview 40 local independent business owners and volunteers to celebrate his south London district. He is a member of the Croydon Art Society, the SE20 art group, and a founding member of the South Norwood Creator’s Collective. You can see his self portrait and his media on his PAOTY Artist page.
  • Ed Lawrenson (Instagram) - a professional full time artist based in Stroud, Gloucestershire. Studied at Winchester school of Art and the École Nationale Superiere des Beaux Arts in Paris. Currently works as a Studio Manager for a contemporary artist. (I'm pretty sure that's Damien Hirst who has one of his Science (UK) Limited Studios in Stroud). He is also a painter working primarily in figurative oil painting, with an interest in the renaissance and Impressionism. His self portrait was intended to poke fun at how seriously he takes himself. He is  is currently working on a large body of mythological painting; fusing elements from the Bible with contemporary science fiction and historical painting motifs.
  • Katie Meaney (Instagram) - A Construction Project Manager living and working in London. She is a colourist who likes to work from life and also seems to like painting a lot of landscapes.
  • Lewis Simpson (Instagram) - a freelance photographer based in Harrow. This is his website page about being a contestant in one of this year's heats of PAOTY.
The show itself was a wild experience and nothing prepares you for that kind of pressure, 4 hours to complete any piece of work is a stressful challenge. Practice portraits took over my life leading up to filming
  • Jed Timms (Instagram) - a figurative artist and musician based in Liverpool and working predominantly in oil. He describes himself as a creator of portraits and other decorative nonsense. He usually works from photo references and specialises in portraits of celebrities for sale.

Self Portrait Submissions

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.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

WHY enter The Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery (London)

In this post I'm offering information and advice for those wanting to enter The Portrait Award Competition at the National Portrait Gallery in London (formerly known as the BP Portrait Award).

My audience for this post are all those
  • who have entered in the past and want to have another go - but may have forgotten all the things it's wise to remember
  • who have heard about this Portrait Award and would like to enter for the first time - and need a few tips to help their entry on its way 

What I'm going to say below is based in part on what has gone before.

See also my previous post NEW! Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award 2024 REPLACES BP Portrait Award

The Most Successful Portrait Award Artist ever!
Ben Sullivan with Ginnie and 15 month old Edie (at her second BP Awards ceremony!)
Breech! - Winner of the BP Portrait Award 2017
Oil on canvas, 820 x 400mm

The Portrait Award - in the context of other Portrait Competitions

The Portrait Award has been around since 1980 

Its reputation has grown over time and it is now generally recognised as one of the most prestigious portrait awards in the world

What makes it different?

An International Competition

Unlike other leading portrait competitions - such as the Outwin Bouchever Portrait Competition in the USA and the Archibald Prize for Portraiture in Australia - which are limited to artists in the country that hosts the award, the Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery is 

  • one of a very few open to International Artists and 
  • very successful in attracting a huge number of entries by international artists. 

Indeed, in the last 40+ years, artists from over 100 countries have submitted over c.40,000 entries to this Portrait Award - and some of the winners have come from countries as diverse as the USA (2012), Germany (2014), Israel (2015) and Thailand/France (2020).  Prior to 2012, winners were almost always from the UK 

The number of international artists seemed to increase a lot after I started writing about the competition on an annual basis - and showing images of the portraits as photos and videos!

See section near the end of this post with information and tips for all International Artists.

See past blog posts about this award listed at the end - which contain images of portrait paintings selected for past exhibitions.

It's NOT the Portrait Competition with the top prize

There have certainly been Portrait Competitions in the past where the prize to the winner exceeds what is on offer at the National Portrait Gallery.

For example, as I write, the top prize in The 26th International annual competition for portraiture and figurative art run by the Portrait Society of America has a top prize of $50,000 (more than £40,000).

It does however offer 

  • a very generous sum of £35,000 to the winner 
  • PLUS the chance to add a prestigious collectoon to their CVs - by being offered the opportunity to contribute a portrait to the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery. 
This is not the portrait which wins but rather another portrait of somebody who is a significant person in the UK - and is commissioned by the NPG at some stage after the win.  

It should also be noted that ONLY 60% of artists have been awarded a commission in addition to the cash prize. This can be for a variety of reasons - but an obvious one is that an artist needs to be suitable for the person whose portrait needs painting - and sometimes need to be in the same country at a time convenient to the person being painted.

Portrait Award Winners

Oddly, the artists who have won the Portrait Award and have then gone on to complete a commission for a portrait are NOT currently listed on the NPG website

They are however listed on this blog in a post I created in January (because I kept being asked about what's happening to the award!)
TIP: READ Winners of the National Portrait Gallery's Portrait Award + Commissions

A number of the past winners have gone on to become well known contemporary artists eg. Humphrey Ocean(1982); Alison Watt (1987), Tai-Shan Schierenberg (1989), Stuart Pearson Wright (2001) - who subsequently did a portrait of JK Rowling for the NPG,  Paul Emsley (2007) - who subsequently painted the Duchess of Cambridge for the NPG, Miriam Escofet (2018) who has subsequently painted a number of eminent people.


Its sponsors since 1980 have included

  • 1980-1989 - Imperial Tobacco / John Player (a tobacco company / brand name)
  • 1990-2020 - BP (an oil company)
  • from 2023 - Herbert Smith Freehills (a legal firm whose clients include BP and the National Portrait Gallery.

Age Limit

When sponsored by John Player and subsequently through the early years of the BP sponsorship, The Portrait Award was known for being a competition limited to those under the age of 40. 

However in 2007 as I was beginning to write about The Portrait Award (see all my blog posts at the end of this post), the competition was opened up to all international artists aged 18 and over (prior to entry) - and the range of experience and styles increased exponentially.

TIPS about entering The Portrait Award

My past Call for Entries Posts (see the end) contain LOTS of tips about entering.

Here's a round-up of aspects worth thinking about

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

NEW! Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award 2024 REPLACES BP Portrait Award

Periodically people ask me about what's happening now the BP Portrait Award is no more. Now I can tell you - and this is what this post is about.

The National Portrait Gallery recently announced the Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award 2024.

Key Essentials

The name

To all intents and purposes this is the John Player (1980-1989) / BP Portrait Award (1990-2020) with a new sponsor and a new name.

My first reaction was "what a mouthful!". I wonder how long before it's known as the HSF Portrait Award? Or maybe just The Portrait Award (sponsored by.....)

The rule with names is 
  • If they are too long they don't get used. 
  • If they are very short and roll off the tongue easily they're always used and may become the way the whatever becomes known.

My second that it's essentially the BP - but now sponsored by BP's by ​​international law firm Herbert Smith Freehills. (see National Portrait Gallery criticised over choice of sponsor to replace BP). 

The one thing this competition did not need is the sort of long complicated name much loved by law firms!

However, and more importantly, it's worth noting that Herbert Smith Freehills is undertaking the role of re-opening sponsor after the National Portrait Gallery re-opened its doors after completing a three-year renovation programme. So I'm guessing getting the title for The Portrait Award is maybe part of a bigger deal.....

The Portrait Award

Anyway, enough of that. 

The Portrait Award is back and here's the key details followed tomorrow by a more detailed post tomorrow. (i.e. anybody who thinks I'm writing that name out in full every time has got another think coming!)

So the key essentials are as follows

  • The Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award Prizes:
    • First Prize: £35,000
    • Second Prize: £12,000 
    • Third Prize: £10,000 
    • Young Artist Award: £9,000 
  • Deadline for submissions: 16th January 2024
  • Who can apply? 
    • Artists from all over the world 
    • who MUST must be aged 18 years or over as of 1 January 2023.
    • Artists who are not eligible are employees of the National Portrait Gallery, the sponsor, their agents and previous first prize-winners of the Portrait Award since 1980.
  • What can you enter? One portrait only 
    • which was completed between 1 January 2020 – 16 January 2024 (i.e. while there was no competition)
    • which has never been submitted before
    • The work entered must be predominantly painted in oil, tempera or acrylic and must be on a stretcher or board, preferably framed and unglazed. No watercolours, works on paper or pastels will be considered.
  • What does it cost? £35 per entry
  • How is work selected?
    • A first round of selection will choose a longlist from digital entries
    • Artists are then invited to send the actual portrait to London for a second round of judging
  • The Portrait Award Exhibition opens next summer - a little later than usual - 11 July - 27 October 2024
    • Those shortlisted for prizes must attend the Awards Ceremony on the evening of Tuesday 9 July 2024
    • the winning portrait will be displayed in the NPG for 6 months
  • DOWNLOAD The Rules of the Competition
  • Tomorrow's blog post - in which I will provide more info and tips gleaned from reporting on this portrait award for over 15 years - since 2007! I've talked to lots of the artists and analysed a lot of the exhibitions.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Review: ING Discerning Eye Exhibition 2023

The ING Discerning Eye Exhibition 2023 opened to the public last Friday - when I visited. This is a review of what I found - but first some facts about this very unusual exhibition and how it works - and who are the six selectors who have created six very different exhibits in 2023

(This post has been updated since it was first published with respect to the number of entries, selected works and artists - see below)

The end of the West Gallery featured a lot of sculpture and 3D works.
I couldn't quite work out whether these all related to just one selector
as the names of the artists suggested not.....

At a time when sponsorship is being withdrawn and art competitions are dying on their feet, ING are to be very much applauded for their continued sponsorship of this open art competition / exhibition.
  • ING has been supporting this exhibition every year since 1999!
  • This makes it one of the longest corporate art sponsorships in the UK
Since it began in 1999, 11,000 works by 4,000 artists have been exhibited, £290,000 has been awarded in prize money, and over £1 million worth of art has been sold on behalf of the artists

The ING Discerning Eye Exhibition

The Discerning Eye is a visual arts focused educational charity. Its principal activity is to hold a rather unique annual exhibition sponsored by the bank ING - and hence it is known as the ING Discerning Eye Exhibition.

Ian Watkin's Exhibit

What's special about this exhibition is that it is:
  • an annual show of small-scale works - which are all for sale
  • chosen by two artists, two art collectors and two critics / people who have art-related occupations
  • as a result, there are six different exhibits - one for each of the selectors
  • while 25% of each exhibits MUST come from the open entry, the selectors are also able to invite artists they like to exhibit their work
  • it's a good opportunity for 
    • emerging artists to get their work seen, appreciated and exhibited - albeit in a small way!
    • artists whose work may not always please ALL the selectors!
Within each selection works from, as yet lesser known artists, hang alongside pieces by those who are more established or internationally recognised.
The exhibition is 
  • open daily 10am - 5pm in all three galleries at the Mall Galleries in London
  • it closes on Sunday 26th November at 1pm

Plus I am going to be uploading my photographs of the exhibition to an album on my Making A Mark Facebook Page.
I've included representative ones of each exhibit in this review.

Part of the Exhibit by Chris Levine in the North Gallery
- probably the most curated and gallery like of them all in terms of presentation

The 2023 Curators

Links embedded in the selectors name are to their ONLINE EXHIBIT.
(Quite why the URL for each exhibit bears absolutely no relationship to the selector's name is beyond me - but is the sort of thing I notice!)


Curator/ Critics

  • Péjú Oshin, a distinguished curator, currently Associate Director at Gagosian
  • Eliza Gluckman, Director of the Government Art Collection
Eliza Gluckman - part of her exhibition in the East Gallery

Art Collectors

  • Ian "H" Watkins one of the singers in Steps who is passionate about painting
  • Tony Adams - former Arsenal and England football captaiN.
The exhibit by Tony Adams - in the West Gallery

My review

My reviews tend to focus on a lot of practical aspects and things of interest to artists wanting to be selected for the exhibition, visitors to the exhibition and those whose wanting to buy. These are all summed up below in 
  • what I liked
  • what I disliked 
That's not to say I don't have an opinion on the art - but it is so diverse and eclectic it's difficult to have a coherent view about the artwork itself

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Review: Heat 6 of Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 10)

As per usual, this review is about the latest televised heat of Portrait Artist of the Year 2023 (series 10) and covers:

  • the sitters
  • the artists
  • self portrait submissions - my analysis
  • themes I identified plus comments and tips
  • which portrait the sitters chose
  • who the Judges shortlisted - and why
  • who won

Heat 6: The Sitters

Two of the sitters - left Josh Widdicombe and right Nicky Spencer and dog

The three sitters - and their special objects - were:
  • Josh Widdicombe - a comedian who has appeared on many television programmes but is probably best known for being one of the co-hosts of "The Last Leg" on Channel 4. He brough a stuffed toy of Gus Honeybus who was the mascot of ITV West Country when he was a child
  • Nicky Spence - an outstanding Scottish Tenor and broadcaster who has sung at opera houses all over the world. Winner of the BBC Musician Magazine Personality of the Year 2022 . He dressed in a kilt and brought his white dog Glen
Out of the three, guess how many artists also painted Glen?
Guess which portrait Nicky chose to take home with him?
  • Shirley Ballas - former ballroom and latin dancer - known as the Queen of Latin; international coach and head judge on BBC One’s Strictly Come Dancing. She brought a pair of her dancing shoes.

Heat 5: The Artists

The artists after they had finished

The artists in Heat 5 (of Series 10) broadcast on 15 November 2023 are listed below in alphabetical order of their surname.
Let’s face it, it’s a bit out of most of our comfort zones.
You can see all the profiles on the Sky Arts site plus speeded up videos of their paintings.

This section includes information from their bios / profiles elsewhere online
  • Wendy Barratt  (Instagram) - a graphic designer and artist who lives in Worthing. She specialises in portraiture and the human figure and teaches art in her spare time. 
  • Jasper Binns (Instagram ) - Currently studying Aerospace Engineering at Bristol University. He likes to focus on his Jamaican heritage and culture and was featured in RA Young Artists in 2021 (which had over 33,000 submissions). His self portrait is of his mother plaiting his hair.
  • Hannah Broadhead (Facebook | Instagram) - a professional artist from Staffordshire. She graduated in 2007 from Staffordshire University and won her first art prize in 2017. She copies paintings in the Tate on commission. This is her blog post about appearing in this heat of PAOTY.
The run up to the show was a time looking back, I would have probably not put myself under as much pressure as I did. I created over 27 portraits from sitters and photos, focusing most of my time on sitters. I gave myself a time limit of 3 hours knowing from reading other blogs that the full four hours would be pushing it due to interviews and breaks. Some were successful while others will no doubt be painted over and never see the light of day again. Funnily enough my best portrait (my mom) was completed two days before the show.

I can honestly say that I have never been so hyped on adrenaline in all my life (about the time after they arrive and before they begin)

  • Tiegan (Tiggy) Chadwick (Instagram) - a fine artist from Reading, England, working and living in Staines, Middlesex. She studied English and film studies and drew herself every day for a year.
  • Luke Edgar (InstagramAoY gallery page) - Based in Manningtree in Essex. He is a an artist and a tattoo artist who has developed a method of using tattoo techniques on large scale sheets of steel to create tone and interest in addition to traditional painting techniques. Do have a look at his website - it's very interesting. Most of his recent work is around 7ft tall and many are polyptychs. I noted he was using a binocular to see the sitter.
  • Robert Grindrod (Instagram) - He works for the Institute of Mechanical Engineers in London. He likes historical art and is very much influenced by Gerald Brockhurst and putting portraits in front of historical landscapes.
  • Nour Huda (Instagram | AoY Gallery page) - Born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1995, she graduated in Fine Arts in 2015 and received a Masters Degree in Fine Arts in 2017 at the Lebanese University. She moved to the UK 7 years ago and is now a Project Manager who lives in Milton Keynes and a fine artist and digital painter who works in a variety of techniques and mediums. Her work is often a juxtaposition of both figurative and abstract forms.
  • Keith Slote (Instagram) - TV Art Director in film and television who lives in Hertfordshire. He planned to start drawing and painting the head in Hour 3.
  • Kelly Standish (Facebook | Instagram) - a professional artist and part-time art technician who lives and works in Scarborough. She has a first class degree in English. 

Self Portrait Submissions

Artists lined up in front of their self portraits

The only time I get to view the self portraits properly is in the little video which gets posted on Facebook and Instagram in advance of the Heat

That's because we either never get a long shot of them on their own and then the artists stand in front of them waiting to hear who has been shortlisted. Can you see the three self portraits by the artists who got shortlisted? No? See below for a longer look.

Size, content and calibre of submissions

Here's my analysis and yet again we're seeing more hands!! My campaign is improving the hand content no end!

  • Portrait format x 8
  • Landscape x 1
  • Large x 1
  • Medium Large x 2
  • Medium x 5
  • Small x 1
  • Tiny x 0
  • full size or most of body (including hand) x 1 (the smallest!)
  • upper torso including hand(s) x 3 (of which one had a background)
  • upper torso (no hands) x 0
  • head and shoulder and one hand x 3
  • head and shoulders (no hands) x 2
  • head only x 0


As usual, I've identified some themes arising out of the artwork in this heat.

The balance between drawing and painting

Those who are experienced at drawing very often tend to draw the sitter first - but not necessarily on the support they intend to use. They often produce quick studies for the purposes of working out the best composition.

Those who are experienced at painting are also those who can go straight in with paint and draw shapes and create colume and more or less get it right first time.

Those who have too little experience in drawing the figure or the head reveal themselves very quickly I'm afraid.

Common mistakes are:
  • getting the shape and volume of the head wrong
  • making the head too big relative to the shape and volume of the body
  • drawing / painting the head in isolation from the body - when it offers so many reference points to cross check accuracy of what you are doing
  • putting too much emphasis on the features as opposed to the reality of how much space they occupy on the front plane of the head
  • not understanding how the eyes work or how the mouth works
Back in 2005, after I took early retirement, I spent two+ years at what was then the Prince's Drawing School - now the Royal Drawing School - doing a weekly evening class called "Drawing a Head" which was taught by award winning portrait painter James Lloyd. I highly recommend doing a class where you do nothing but focus on drawing a head. 

If you look on this link, you can see some of the artwork I used to post about "Drawing A Head". By the end I was constructing challenges for myself to make life more interesting - such as:
  • drawing the sitter - and all the other artists
  • doing the drawing in ink only
  • creating the entire drawing of the head with no contours whatsoever
  • drawing the head from three different perspectives - moving after every break to get a new view
  • then three heads from different perspectives with no outlining!
Drawing regularly and challenging yourself is what enables you to see heads properly and avoid making mistakes - and hence generating a better likeness.

Including a Smile

The Director of the National Portrait Gallery once commented to me that you could go from top to bottom of the gallery and view all the portraits and the number which included a smile could probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. 

This was following the criticism of the first commissioned portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge by ex BP Portrait Award winner Paul Emsley
I'm betting most of us never knew that not one single painted portrait in the National Portrait Gallery's permanent collection of some 11,000 portraits has an open mouth. Sandy Nairne, Director of the NPG was quoted by The Guardian as saying "There isn't a single open-mouthed portrait in the collection," (although I guess he may have forgotten this one!)

It's the "no teeth in our paintings" gallery. Important people in the UK do not do smiles - period!
 HRH The Duchess of Cambridge official portrait - my verdict
I'm guessing one of the artists in this heat was not aware that including a smile is very unusual.  There again, given the number of internet portrait artists who create portraits from photographs - very often including a smiling person - you could easily be forgiven for not knowing that including a smile is often fatal for the painting.

TIP NEVER EVER try to include a smile in either your self portrait or the portrait you are painting in a heat. Avoid teeth too!

I think it was Tai who highlighted that smiles are really difficult to achieve in a painting. That's because 
  • they can very easily end up looking fake. 
  • because a genuine smile does NOT just involve the mouth. Smiles involve all the muscles in the face and eyes - and 
  • you have to be very skilled indeed to create an expression which involves the whole face. 
Plus there's the problem that sitters cannot hold a smile for hours on end! Gritted teeth expressions take over very quickly. Hence you end up painting a photo at which point one has to start asking what's the point.....

Including a Hand

I'm really pleased to see more hands popping up in self portraits following my long campaign about portraits are NOT just about heads!

Interestingly in this heat the winner hasn't yet demonstrated the ability to draw/paint a hand - but has produced two excellent paintings of head and shoulders.

What was interesting about some of the self portraits was how odd the hands were - until you realised that
  • the hand does not belong to the artist (as in Jasper Binns) but rather belongs to his mother who is plaiting his hair - hence the difference in complexion and age
  • the hand seems to be attempting to be "the monster from the deep" in a very odd self portrait by Alan Scrote - which made a lot more sense once you realised he is an Art Director in film and television!

Spending too much time on little details

It's important to get the balance right between:
  • getting volume, shapes and tonal balance right
  • achieving a good likeness
  • getting the details correct 
Almost always we can see whether artists are experienced at understanding the difference between these different but interconnected aspects of creating a portrait AND whether they are adopting an approach which is likely to be well considered and generate a good portrait.

Safe to say, spending too much time on the details is NOT a great way to create a good portrait. Especially if you are tackling the wrong details.

One of the very good tests of whether an artist has got a good sense of the person is when they achieve a good likeness in respect of every aspect that matters - which are not limited to eyes and mouths.

I find it interesting to see what artists fuss over. That very often tells me whether I am going to be predicting they will be in the final shortlist.

The done and the undone

I'm still struggling a bit with Judge's love for the "undone" - without once explaining what they actually mean by "done" and "undone". 

I've been looking online for a definition - but am increasingly coming round to the notion that this is may be an example of "artspeak".

So, for example, I understand what leaving things "incomplete" or "unfinished" means - and I think those words both articulate meaning much more clearly than "undone". 

TIP: I guess the most important things to do  - re "done" and "undone" is 
  • finish those things you meant to do and 
  • don't sweat the detail if there are more important aspects you really need to pay attention to.....

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The Judging

Who the Sitters chose

The SITTERS chose portraits as follows
  • Josh Widdicombe chose the artwork by Luke Edgar because it was so unique and unusual. 
  • Nicky Simpspn chose the portrait by Nour Huda - who had managed to include his dog as well
  • Shirley Ballas chose the painting which included the shoes by Kelly Standish. However I understand that the painting by Hannah is now on its way to her son who lives in New York!

What the Judges thought

The words below are mine - but based on what the Judges said

(to be finished tomorrow - I'm about to dish up Sunday dinner!)

The Shortlist in Heat/Week 6

left to right: Tiggy, Wendy and Kelly

Those shortlisted were:
  • Tiggy Chadwick
  • Wendy Barratt
  • Kelly Standish
Wendy and Kelly were no surprise to me - I had them both on my shortlist right from the very beginning of the programme when they and their self portraits were introduced. I knew they would produce sound heat paintings. The question for me was whether there were others who would produce a stunning heat painting

Tiggy was more of a surprise - until I saw the two paintings together. I'd always thought her painting of Josh was the best.

What was somewhat sad was the exclusion of Luke who I thought probably deserved at least a shortlisting for introducing a very bold and new way of creating a portrait - and the Judges do tend to like new ways of doing this!

Tiggy Chadwick

Tiggy Chadwick: self portrait and heat painting

The most impressive aspect to Tiggy's heat painting is that she finished it. She worked on a large support and did a full scale painting which for the most part was very much in proportion. Kathleen Soriano commented on there being something not quite right about the likeness - and I think it's because the head is too small. Other than that I think it's an excellent attempt in four hours.

Her self portrait was a good upper torso with two excellent hands. The approach she used got her out of having to do clothing or too much detail in relation to hair - but still created a very convincing portrait.

The Judges thought both portraits were "slightly withheld" - and I'm left thinking "withheld" must ba first cousin of "undone".  They thought her heat painting less polished than her submission. 

Wendy Barrett

Wendy Barratt : self portrait and heat painting

Wendy's paintings run counter - in some respects - to everything I've been saying about how to impress the judges!

There's no full figure, no upper torso with hands. They're both head and shoulders - and with Wendy's self portrait we don't even get a full head!

However, the Judges considered that:
  • they were both well drawn - and as the Judges noted, the drawing came back at the end and was incorporated into the finished painting. 
  • They also liked the way she had achieved a very good likeness and the way she works with shapes.
For me, her skills at painting portraits are very evident
  • she has a sound approach to developing her portraits - there's a good balance between drawing and painting and getting volume, shapes and tonal balances right
  • she achieves a good likeness
  • she is particularly good at creating the substance of the head through her subtle use of colour and application of paint.

Kelly Standish

Kelly Standish: self portrait and heat painting

Kelly used large medium sized supports in a landscape format - which is a challenging way to work when doing a portrait. 

I think I'd have preferred to see her tackle a conventional portrait format and include more of Shirley as well as her shoes. Those legs which are her fortune are nowhere to be seen!

I prefer her self portrait to her heat painting. I think it's excellent in terms of design and composition, colour palette, repeat motifs and excellent hands and face.

The Judges commented that in both paintings you always come back to the face which begins and ends the story of the person. They also thought she had created a great likeness of Shirley and an impressive character study i.e. this is as if it's the study painted before the finished portrait

Heat 6 Winner

Waiting to hear the result
Waiting to hear the result

The winner of Heat 6 was Wendy Barratt - and the Joan said the words just after me! ;) 

Ther result - Wendy Barratt is the heat winner!

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 Portrait Artist of the Year - REFERENCE

Previous Finals

Here are my posts about previous finals

Reviews of PAOTY Series 10

Dates after the listed reviews below relate to the date of the first broadcast

This year's heats are: