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 Ă‰cole 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.

Judges looking at the Self Portrait Wall

The main thing I noticed about the submissions in this episode was they were generally a lot smaller than those in other heats. 

Only two were bigger than a generous interpretation of "medium sized" - which is odd.

However coupled with my observations about the relative youth and inexperience in portraiture of the artists in this final heat, that's maybe less surprising.

The Judges reviewing the largest self portrait by Ed Lawrenson

Again I will reiterate my usual trope - that the Submission is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate to the Judges that you are capable of completing a commission for a £10,000 prize. Unless you can do this with your submission or your heat painting, you are almost always going to be an "also ran". 


  • Portrait format x 9
  • Landscape x 0
  • Other x 0


  • Large x 1
  • Large Medium x 1
  • Medium x 5
  • Small x 2
  • Tiny x 0


  • full size or most of body (including hand) x 0
  • upper torso including hand(s) x 3
  • upper torso (no hands) x 0
  • head, shoulder and hand(s) x 3
  • head and shoulders (no hands) x 3
  • head x 0


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

Youthful appearance of the sitters - and their faces

Unlike most of the heats, this one only had young sitters. By which I mean......
  • Lenny age 14
  • Daryl age 30
  • and Joe Sugg age 31 (at the time of the sitting)
While the Judges commented on the extent to which artists reflected Lenny's age in this heat, there was less reference to the fact they were ALL young.

While this means less wrinkles, sags and bags there's another aspect which very much needs to be taken account of.

Unless you've painted a lot of people, from life, you won't realise the extent to which age changes the colour of complexion (whatever your skin colour) and the appearance of the face. Painting from photos simply does not give you the same experience due to the extent and range of distortion introduced by photographs.

This became very obvious during the heat with some artists doing rather better than others in capturing the correct colours and tonal qualities of the facial skin and flesh.

There is also the issue of "the sweet child" portrait of making it "too saccharine". This was identified by Tai-Shan Shierenberg at the end when they were judging all the portraits. Interestingly, they thought all three artists painting Lenny had avoided this. However, I see it again and again when looking at very many portraits of children.

TIP - you have no idea how old your sitter might be. When practising for your heat, you need to try and make sure you get sitters who are different ages and preferably people with different skin colour. Make a point of writing down what you observe about how the face looks different for each. 

You can also read up about this as various good books about portraiture comment on capturing skin tones.

The distance between sitter and artist - and what that means
in practical terms about the amount of information you have to work with

Painting what you see or painting like a portrait

Sometimes portraits tell us far more about an artist than about the sitter. 
You need to be very clear in your head, if you ever get selected for a heat, whether you are going to be:
  • painting what you see
  • painting what you think makes a good portrait
  • painting what you like painting
Just don't change your mind halfway through. Be very clear about your intention from the beginning.

If you paint people, because you like painting people - getting a good likeness might not be your most important thing to achieve. A paid model in a studio is not going to get annoyed if you fail to achieve a good likeness.

However if you aim to be a portrait artist and work on commission, you will only get paid and recommended (essential to a good income!) IF your paintings actually look like the sitter each time.

What makes you stand out from the pack for the Judges is when you paint what you like painting AND achieve a likeness PLUS hopefully something that says something about the character of the individual and how they are feeling.

Be Interesting!

This theme results from looking, as ever, at the very many ways artists and aspiring heat winners represent themselves online

I don't believe for a moment that nobody involved in the selection or judging process doesn't look at what you say and show about yourself online.

The trick is to be somebody who is different. That way it's easier to remember you. Your difference might be:
  • the media you use 
  • your backgound to date
  • where you have studied
  • where you have travelled
  • what projects you have done
  • who you paint
  • the way you like to paint - is it interesting to those who like art?
But do make it interesting!

TIP: I'd recommend 
  • highlighting at least one thing which is memorable and differentiates you from other people
  • being in some way interesting

Time Management

This is a perennial issue for artists in these heats. I've been impressed generally in this series by the number of artists who arrive who have practiced painting portraits in under four hours - after allowing for all the interuptions etc and have a clear time plan for where they aim to be at after each hour elapses and at the end of the morning and the end of the day.

Certainly some artists in this heat came with a time plan.

While others wasted a LOT of time at the beginning and were then pushed to finish to the standard they would like to have achieved

Your only decisions on the day are about:
  • how big a support to use (are you wanting to be expansive or are you prepared to work within a small space which requires a lot more accuracy in terms of likeness and finesse in terms of application?)
  • how to design an interesting composition
  • whether to include the special object
  • what colour palette to use - keep it simple unless you're a colourist and good at painting within a range of colours
  • how to position the head
  • how to draw in the outline of the main shapes and tones 
  • how best to achieve a likeness - what is very distinctive
  • whether to complete the background - in the overall list of priorities
  • what to do at the end in order to create the best finished painting possible within the time left
Those who did not achieve a good portrait were typically 
  • those with no plan 
  • those with no idea of what questions they needed to ask and address before they got started.
  • those unused to painting from life and/or inexperienced in choosing a suitable image and crop if working from a photo
  • those who 
    • did not create a good design or 
    • failed to get proportions correct
I have to say I was actually surprised by how many in this heat did NOT appear to be experienced / regular portrait painters.

DO have a website and an Instagram Account

Every year, I hear of and from artists who have been approached to apply for the competition. 

So why does this happen and what does it mean?

My own personal, totally unverified, version is as follows!
I have visions of one or more of the judges trawling through portraits they see online (on either websites or Instagram - more likely the latter) and sending links to the team which organise the competition asking them to approach an artist to see if they will send in an application.

One of the ways I can "sort" proper professional artists from amateur / part-time / aspiring artists if the amount of time they spend on creating a proper website - which includes having a proper domain name in your own name.
(Note: I highly recommend Namecheap for domain name registration. I'm not an associate and get absolutely nothing for that recommendation. It's just it's the one I use (because of the competitive pricing) and one I've been very happy with for years)

  • Having an Instagram account with good quality content suggests you might help yourself to get spotted and progress your application.
  • Do have a proper website with a proper domain name 
    • in your own name
    • properly set-up on your website.

and want to keep up with my reviews + get an email to your inbox every time I publish

The Judging

Who the Sitters chose

Robin, Ed and Jonny and their renditions of Lenny Rush

The SITTERS chose portraits as follows:
  • Lenny chose the portrait by Robin - which was most like him in terms of youth and skin tones
  • Daryl chose the portrait by Lewis - which had a good "look" of Daryl
  • Joe chose the portrait by Jed - which was the most finished and made him look youthful
Two of these artists were shortlisted by the Judges.

The Shortlist in week 7

Those shortlisted by the Judges were:
  • Robin Danely
  • Jed Timms
  • Ed Lawrenson
None were a surprise - except Ed - until I saw them lined up together.

The three artists, for me, has all the attributes of an excellent portrait painter - except they were distributed across all three of them.

Heat 7: Shortlisted artists - self portrait submissions and heat portraits

Robin Danely

Heat 7: Robin Daneley - self portrait and heat portrait of Lenny Rush (chosen by the sitter)

My overwhelming feeling is that Robin is a very competent artist who would have done better if she'd gone beyond the head and also painted at least one painting much bigger.

She's very good in both seeing colour accurately and working with colour. She's also good at achieving a likeness. However it's mostly about the head and I think she's good enough to have done more.

At the end of the day, she produced two good portraits but they didn't go the extra distance which generally distinguishes the work of heat winners.

Kate did not think she produced a sweet painting of a cherubic child with any of the tricks normally used. 

Jed Timms

Heat 7: Jed Timms - self portrait and heat portrait of Joe Sugg (chosen by the sitter)

What I liked about Jed's two paintings is that they absolutely demanded that I look at them. I wasn't in the least bit surprised that Joe Sugg chose his painting. It's distinctive and has a contemporary look - but also looks like Joe.

Jed has excellent design and composition skills and is good at achieving a likeness. I think I'd have liked a bit more finesse in terms of colouration and brushwork. There's a certain element of muddiness in both.

The Judges commented on neither portrait being benign and sweet, but rather that both had unflinching gazes and they were uncompromising in their features despite being boyish

Kathleen felt that the heat painting was quite heavy-handed and that Jed had almost painted himself in a way.

Ed Lawrenson

Heat 7: Ed Lawrenson - self portrait submission and portrait of Lenny Rush

I think Ed won it with his self portrait which is imposing and a real "look at me" portrait. It also makes me think of somebody from the past.

I'm less keen on his painting of Lenny - mainly I think because he's got that head on perspective which is not easy. 

There's also an element of painting the psychology of the sitter which good portrait painters can do - but many people who paint portraits cannot.

However, there's a certain element of messiness to his portrait paintings which doesn't enamour me - although I reocgnise others might like it more.  They may even call it "undone" (see last week's post and "the done and undone" theme!)

The Judges - particularly Kate - liked the fact he'd produced two "moody" paintings and had not hesitated to paint Lenny is a mature way - rather than as a child.

Tai liked the way he did not paint Lenny as a child but rather as the child who has a wisdom beyond his years.

Episode 7 Winner

The final line-up - waiting for the announcement of who has won

The winner of Heat 7 was Ed Lawrenson - which I found slightly surprising. 
More because there wasn't a clear out and out winner. All those shortlisted had merits and demerits. 
The artist chosen to go through to the semi final demonstrated an ability to find a meaningful and poetic likeness

I was totally blown away. I wasn't sure I'd even produced a good likeness Ed Lawrenson 

Tai commented on his ability to be a lyrical painter and to find the spirit of the person.

The winner is...... Ed Lawrenson (on the left)

On Wednesday 29th November, it's the semi finals and the sitter will be Emma Bunton! I'll be sat with my clipboard and pen, watching over the top of my glasses and scribbling away throughout! 

I'll also be challenging you before you start to see if you can identify the winner! Watch out for my post.....

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

This year's heats are:

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