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)

  • 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:

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