Sunday, November 12, 2023

Review: Heat 5 of Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 10)

This heat of Series 10 saw a lot of very good portraits - either as submissions or as heat portraits - or both.

View of the shortlisting process in Heat 5

Heat 5 Portrait Artist of the Year 

(series 10 / broadcast 8 November 2023)

What follows considers:
  • 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
At the end of this post are details of how to apply for next year's competition and links to all my reviews of the heats to date.

NOTE: I'm going to start calling each episode a "Heat" because of the very confusing numbering of episodes which start with one involving children. Sky Arts needs a folder for ALL the episodes which are NOT "PAOTY heat episodes" and consequently are SEPARATE from those relating to the very serious art competition! If I keep saying this, maybe the people at Sky Arts will get the message that there's nothing more confusing than coming to the first episode of Series 10 and finding it's nothing whatsoever to do with PAOTY.

Heat 5: The Sitters

The three sitters were:
  • Nigel Havers - an English actor in a number of very popular films and television drames/series and presenter. He is most known for "playing the quintessential, old school Englishman with his dashing good looks, cut-glass accent and thoroughly charming manner". He also collects contemporary British art.
    • he brought a guitar - and some scripts to read
  • Vanessa Kingori OBE - Born in Kenya and raised in St. Kitts before moving to London aged seven. She is a 'trailblazer in publishing. She is currently the chief business officer at Condé Nast Britain and is also a Vogue European business advisor. She is also British Vogue's Publishing Director. Prior to that, Kingori was the publisher of British GQ across all platforms. She is also a visiting fellow at the University of the Arts London[7] and sits on several boards and is a regular public speaker
    • she brought her grandmother's silk scarf
  • Mishal Husain - a British newsreader and journalist for BBC Television and BBC Radio. She was the first Muslim presenter of BBC Radio 4's Today programme. Her family are from Pakistan but she was educated in England. She lives in Camden with her husband and three children
    • she brough a rug and a kilim from Pakistan

Heat 5: The Artists

PAOTY SERIES 10: Heat 5 artists

The artists in Heat 5 (of Series 10) broadcast on 8 November 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.
THIS WEEK I've embedded the speed up videos in the shortlist section.

There's a thread about art education running through the artists this week - see themes

I actually take a look at bios on the internet and hence my profiles reflect the extent to which artists have made an effort to tell us about themselves.
  • Alex Perry-Adlam (Instagram) - He is a Painter, Ceramicist, Photographer, Printmaker and Head of Art at St. Catherine’s School, Surrey. He lives in Weybridge.
  • Cameron Bennett  (Portrait Blog)). He's been has been painting and illustrating professionally since 1999 and his portfolio includes illustration and mural painting as well as portraiture. He lives in West Sussex and is also a secondary school art teacher.
  • Harriet Brady (Instagram) - She is based in Sheffield. She is a TV Script Editor by day and an artist at night. This is her submission in a good light.
  • Marina Renee-Cemmick (Instagram) - She is a self-employed artist. She grew up in Dorset and moved to Glasgow to study Painting at Glasgow school of Art (2018). She studied at The Royal Drawing School, London (2021) before receiving Arts Council Funding to research ways of combining theatre and drawing. In 2022 she was awarded a New English Arts Club scholarship, and completed a residency at Dunfries House in 2022 and Colstoun House in early 2023. 
  • Shirley Johnson (Instagram) - A New Yorker with synesthesia who moved to the UK during the Pandemic and lives in the Scottish Borders. Graduated from the University of Cumbria with a BA in Fine Arts in 2022(?). Used copic markers and coloured pencils for her heat artwork.
  • Brendan Megarity (Facebook) - an artist based in Belfast. He tutors art groups part time in drawing and painting. He studied graphic design and illustration at art college in Belfast and works in Indian Ink and Oils.
  • Daniel Nelis (Instagram | Facebook) -  He is a educator and curator and award-winning visual artist. One of his paintings ‘All things Shining’ has just won the Tyrone Guthrie Director’s Award at the Royal Ulster Academy 142nd Annual Exhibition. Six months ago he won The RSA Guthrie Award and Medal at the 197th Royal Scottish Academy Annual Exhibition. He was also awarded the RUA Outstanding Student Award as part of the UU Belfast School of Art Degree Show 2014. One to watch - but he'd do better if he built a website!
  • Sara Reeve (Instagram) - 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. 
  • Yin Wang - a figurative and portrait artist born in China, and is now based in London. She is an art student currently studying for a BA Fine Art and Contemporary Portraiture at the Art Academy London. Prior to this she got a BA and a Masters in Fashion in China.  She says her colour choices and brushwork are influenced by Chinese traditional ink art, reflecting my cultural heritage.

Self Portrait Submissions

Size, content and calibre of submissions

Self Portrait Submissions 

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

The main thing I noticed about the submissions in this episode was they tended to be larger than those typically submitted - I had to add in a new "large medium" category and they tended to have more of the artist in them. There were also some interesting backgrounds. 

It resulted in the finalists lineup of submissions and heat paintings looking very different to the one in the last episode!

There's going to be at least one artist who will wish they'd spent more time on their submission.... 


  • Portrait format x 7
  • Landscape x 2


  • Large x 1
  • Medium Large x 2
  • Medium x 4
  • Small x 2
  • Tiny x 0


  • full size or most of body (including hand) x 2
  • upper torso including hand(s) x 4
  • upper torso (no hands) x 1
  • head, shoulder and hand(s) x 0
  • head and shoulders (no hands) x 2
  • head only x 0
I think I might have to change this categorisation to include a category for those who do upper torso including hands plus a complicated background!


Every episode I look for themes I can draw out related to what I'm observing. Here's the ones I spotted for this episode

Studying / teaching art

A very high percentage of this week's artists are either teaching art or studying art. I made it four of the former and one of the latter. This might well account for why the standard of work submitted and produced was generally much higher in this heat. 

That's the reality for a lot of professional artists. They cannot generate enough cash from their art or depend on cashflow from their "art business" so also have a steady (possibly part-time) day job - with being an art teacher or tutor the favourite of very many.

However, the really amateur artist does not have a very strong presence in this series - whereas they have been in the past - and had people foaming at the mouth when they failed to distinguish themselves.

I think the series has also improved its reputation over the years and professional artists are now more likely to take part than in the past when the standard of some work left a lot to be desired. 

Bottom line - if you select better artists you get more experienced / better artists applying.

What photographs are you taking at the beginning?

While some artists try to work entirely from life - and only take photos to get details and a backup image to work from when the cameras get in the way - some artists work entirely from a photo.

They then stare at their technology throughout the heat and rarely look at the sitter.

The thing is - whichever artist you are - the value of those photos you take at the beginning is going to depend entirely on what you chose to photograph and how you did it.

The fastest method is 
  • Either using a smartphone which is bluetooth linked to an iPad. 
  • Or use the iPad as you'll get much better colour balance because of the the much larger screen which absorbs more light
  • using macros to get an appropriate zoom
You might get better portraits with a good quality camera - but you need to remember that 
  • you only have four hours and 
  • what sort of quality the photo needs to be for the sort of painting you can produce in four hours
  • plus you need to spend time getting the photos off the card and onto the screen you are using
What I'm always amazed about is that artists don't seem to use zoom to get in close on the features of the face - as in really close!

TIP - Harriet used an app to incorporate their object (the carpet and rug) into the background so she could work out how to paint them

Size is relative

We don't often talk about the height of the sitters - but's it's actually quite important to choices about composition
  • very tall sitters - like Vanessa Kingori - can also wear high heels and tower over everybody. She has a long body, legs which go on and on as do her arms. That means there's that much more to paint. This makes for a considerable incentive to think long and hard about how to compose and crop the image for the heat painting. She would have made a truly fabulous full length painting - but that would have been very challenging in the time.
  • small sitters offer an opportunity to paint more. Nigel Havers is a lot smaller than people think he is and it's entirely unsurprising to me that he rather liked the rather large life size artwork which showed all of him. It was also very imposing! (see below)
TIP - STOP AND THINK long and hard before making any decisions about what parts of them to paint and on what sort of support

The Slice Painting

Cameron, Brendan and Yin all chose to use a "slice"format.  
  • This means the format is tall and thin.
  • This significantly constrains what you do with a composition.
The Judges all recognised the challenges - and I think had varying views about their success in using it.
  • Cameron did a head and hands and then filled the rest of the support with motifs from the carpet. I think Kathleen likened it to "an apotheosis". For me his use of the slice looked gimmicky.  Tai thought he was a great painter who needed to learn how to "reel it in a bit".
  • Brendan used a horizontal slice - more of a landscape format. I very much liked the way he used what would have been empty space to introduce the shadow of Nigel's Base guitar. Tai really For me his use of the slice looked gimmicky.  it.
  • Yin has more cultural affinity with the slice and quite possibly more experience and knowledge of what you can do with a slice and create an effective portrait.
TIP - only use an unusual format if you're very used to painting using that format and know what does and does not work - and never ever be gimmicky!

Large Supports means less focus on just Head and Shoulders

I think the is the first heat I've seen where a number of the artists tackled their artworks on very large supports whether these were were paper, gesso board, or canvas.

TIP: Oddly, creating an artwork on a large support can actually make it easier. Or rather this was the revelation I had when I went from painting very tight watercolours on paper no big than A4 size to creating pastels on a full sheet of abrasive pastel paper. Life suddenly became soooooo much easier!
  • If you get the size, shape or proportions incorrect, you've got lots of space to redraw and get it right. 
  • Going bigger than life size on a large support also has the same effect.
  • Large supports give you scope to do the full figure - and there's nothing like impressing the Judges by demonstrating you can do this
  • Whereas if you're working small, very small deviations from the truth can make your subject look very weird. I see this happen again and again in the heats when people work small and/or make heads very small on small and medium sized supports.
ALTERNATIVELY be like Harriet Brady and Sara Reeve and get your portrait of the whole person done as your submission!

I thought one of the really interesting comments made in the entire heat was Harriet commenting on how "working big" takes a lot more paint!

Harriet Brady with self portrait

Sara Reeves with self portrait

Artists' Websites

If I was an artist BEFORE I put in my submission, I'd want 
  • my website licked into shape and 
  • looking the best it can possibly me - in relation to 
    • "about the artist" and
    • my "portrait art" 
In this heat, only four of the nine artists in this heat have a website! 

That's because I'm pretty sure that those who select those who make it into the heats look at the presence online as well as their self portrait. It's certainly another way in which you can reduce a longlist to a shortlist for getting a place in a heat.

I'm also becoming more and more convinced that the programme makers are actively looking for good portrait artists - as a number say they were persuaded them to apply.

Ditto - if it's a close call for who gets selected for the shortlist in the heat, do you really think the Judges do not have a crafty look at their website / Instagram account (i.e. as in Kathleen's wish for a third portrait)?

What I was surprised about in this heat was how so many artists are relying on their instagram - which is mostly pics and minimal text - to profile who they are and what they do. 

TIP: It's wise to remember that being able to paint in a heat of PAOTY and demonstrate your work is an unparalleled opportunity to market who you are and what you do.

Speaking personally, from many many years of looking at websites and meeting artists, I can tell the "really serious artists" from the "it's only a hobby really" part-time artist by the amount of effort which goes into actually developing a website and then keeping it updated.

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The Judging

Who the Sitters chose

They are extraordinary! Nigel Havers
The SITTERS chose portraits as follows
  • Nigel Havers chose the very large charcoal drawing in the centre by Marina Renee-Cemmick. He said plainly and simply "I love it" and did not mess about deliberating over the choice but went straight for hers.
A bravura piece of drawing  - and I love the fact that it's ambitious in the sense that as the figure is rendered life size Tai Shan Shierenberg

Nigel Havers's choice in the centre - and Marina being applauded by Alex and Brendan

  • Vanessa Kingori chose the head done by Sara Reeve. I was pretty sure she was going to as it was an impactful painting plus the colours used created warmth and empathy - and it is also a very good portrait.
Sara Reeve with her painting of Vanessa Kingori - which Vanessa chose to take home
Compare the size of the head in the painting to Sara's head.
  • Mishal Husain chose the portrait by Yin Wang. I thought she might as the head and face were good and the treatment of paint was so unusual. Interestingly she didn't include the rug or kilim but her work included some of the colours.
Interestingly both Cameron and Harriet did what I think I suggested last week and incorporated the pattern of the special object (in this case the the carpet / kilim) into the background - or everything but the head and hands in the case of Cameron. His was the totally OTT version whereas Harriet did the strictly stripped back version. Neither appealed to the sitter as much as the one with no rugs and all those drips.

What the Judges thought

Judging all the nine entries - this drawing of Nigel Havers
is by Marina Renee-Cemmick

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

On the whole the Judges were complimentary about pretty well all the portraits - as might be expected in a more experienced group.

Judges LIKED artists who:

  • achieved 
  • well designed and well thought through designs
  • gentle smiles
  • simple reduction
  • put paint on the support in an interesting way
  • displayed interesting use of media in an accomplished way
  • created good portraits despite challenging techniques

Judges were less enthusiastic about those who:

  • had gone OTT
  • invented what things looked like

The Shortlist in Heat/week 5

Heat artists waiting to hear who is shortlisted

Those shortlisted were:
  • Sara Reeve
  • Harriet Brady
  • Yin Wang
My first reaction was to be very surprised there wasn't a drawing or a monochrome artwork in the shortlist.  It underlines why you have to remember the importance of the self portrait submission.

Putting the submissions together with the heat painting underlined an observation I've made in the past i.e. that Judges need to see continuity in terms of approach, technique and colour palette used.

The very bright yellow and orange in the background
seems to produce a very weird effect - it's negating the colour in Sara's paintings

Yin Wang

Yin Wang - submission and heat painting

Both paintings - and their drips - are obviously the work of the same artist. The long sliver of support, whether horizontal or vertical, also speak of Yin's heritage as a Chinese artist and the traditional way many paintings were created in the past in China. She starts with very thin washes and allows them to drip and then aims to achieve a likeness.

The Judges thought her self portrait was both powerful and expressive - and that, during the heat, she was very good at marshalling her washes and drips to do what she what she wanted. Tai, in particular, was impressed that she was able to produce a portrait as good as it is out of a an approach and technique which looks chaotic.

I'm personally not convinced by the self-portrait. It was the one which looked least like the artist I saw in the heat. There again many people who wear glasses often like to be portrayed as not wearing them.

By way of contrast, I thought her painting of Misha's head was really good and she also had a very convincing sense of relative proportions. Also for me, there's always a danger with this type of technique that the technique overpowers the likeness.

Below is how she painted it.

Sara Reeves

Sara Reeve - submission and heat painting

The Judges thought her self portrait a marvellous painting and were intrigued by how she fitted herself into a scrunched up perspective. I liked the way her judicious crop left nothing important out.

Sara said she wanted to make Vanessa's face the star of her portrait - and went bigger than life size. Some may think the head and face look squashed. Others - like me - might think it was a very smart crop. The test of course is always the end result - and I think she achieved an excellent likeness.

She's obviously very accustomed to working on this size of support and knowing what she can do in terms of both a head and the whole body.

Both the Judges and I thought the colouration she used was outstanding and conveyed both the person and personality without using any detailed brushwork.
Whenever I come across this painting it fills me with joy Tai van Schierenberg
This is how she created her heat painting - it's worth watching.

Harriet Brady

Harriet Brady - submission and heat painting

Harriet made a very smart decision by submitting a full size self portrait for her entry - which is a good likeness of both face and stature and also demonstrated her particular style for simplifying everything.

Harriet worked from life and her tablet when painting her heat portrait. The Judges observed that she spent a lot of time looking and thinking and overall they thought at lunchtime that she was very slow.

I think those who start slow often finish faster than those watching might expect - and it's largely because they've been asking the questions in their head and resolving them so they spend more time painting and less time correcting.

Tai observed that very well designed portrait results from an approach which reduces and simplifies everything while her creation of volume is barely there - but found her approach very interesting.

For me, while I admired the simplification, the portrait was just too flat. 

Episode 5 Winner

At least one of the Judges found it very hard to pick a winner. Kathleen Soriano said something interesting.
I think this is the first time I'd like to see a third painting from these artists.
If I'd been there I would have suggested they all go and look at their respective websites - which I suspect they may have done anyway! It's an obvious thing to do when wanting to make sure you're putting forward the best artist in the heat to the semi-final and final.

The three finalists lined up 
(left to right) Yin Wang, Sara Reeve and Harriet Brady

Sara Reeve won this heat

The artist produced a painting full of warmth and immediacy. Judges's reasons
Prior to this Judges had described her work as follows
Her paintings are full of joy and she's a brilliant colourist
which is somewhat ironic given her self portrait submission was painted while confined to home because she had covid. There again think again, she painted that while she had covid!

I have to say I would not be in the least bit surprised to see Sara in the Final and I think she's very definitely in with a shout of winning. My reasons are that 
  • she is a confident painter 
  • who knows how to create interesting compositions, 
  • gets a very good likeness and 
  • makes very good use of colour and applies it in an interesting way. 
Basically all the things the Judges like to see in an artist's portrait!

The winner of Heat 5 - Sara Reeve

She's having an exhibition of her portrait paintings this month (see below)

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

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