Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Wendy Barratt is Portrait Artist of the Year 2023 (Series 10)

Wendy Barratt won the 10th series of Portrait Artist of the Year on Wednesday night last week. She is, in my opinion - and in the opinion of many of those whose comments I've seen online - a very worthy winner. 

I predict good things and a lot of commissions in Wendy's future due to her skill in painting portraits. She's both grounded in drawing and traditional skills and yet has a very contemporary style of painting which both appeals to a wide range of ages and tastes - and looks good in contemporary spaces.

Wendy's PAOTY Portrait Paintings
(left to right: self portrait submission; heat (Nicky Spence);
Final (Dame Joan Bakewell); Semi Final (Emma Bunton);
Commission for Final (her husband Fred)

This week's review has been postponed while I travelled north and then moved "my inheritance" south at the weekend. The intention was to start writing the review on the trains up and back - but inevitably it didn't quite work out like that. Then I experienced a domestic emergency when I got home which delayed matters further - but here we finally are!

I'm going to do the Final and the Commission separately so Final today and hopefully Commission tomorrow.

This review covers: 
  • The Final: Artists, Sitter and Set
  • The Judges' Perspective
  • The Final Portraits - and my comments
  • Why Wendy won.
  • READ: How to enter the competition in 2023

The Final: Artists, Sitter and Set

The Finalists

The three finalists are:

For me, one artist in the Final had been a foregone conclusion since Heat 6. Wendy Barratt had 
  • amply demonstrated her artistic skills, sensitivity and mental toughness in her heat to make her presence in the Final a foregone conclusion - by me. 
  • Her subsequent calm and well considered performance in the Semi Finals simply outshone everybody else and I must confess by the end I in no doubt she would be selected for the final - but was also assuming she would win!
I was rather more surprised by the other two. Although both offered a great range in terms of style and technique, I thought there were also other artists who should have given them a challenge. Instead of which their decisions about how to impress at the Semi-Final Stage backfired somewhat. Or maybe they weren't sufficiently different.

Resulting in Davide and Lorena becoming the other two finalists. They offered:
  • Davide - the ability to paint portraits as if they were produced in the past - but always small
  • Lorena - an approach where likeness is not always delivered and a technique which relies heavily on line but is not intended to be illustrative
Of the three, I think Wendy was probably the most experienced portrait painter - from life and with reference to photos.

Sitter and Set

The Sitter

Dame Joan Bakewell

For the tenth series, the makers of the series decided to honour Joan Bakewell (i.e. The Right Honourable The Baroness Bakewell DBE HonFBA FRSAl ) by asking her to sit for the Final.

As Joan had her 90th Birthday in April 2023 - when Series 10 was being filmed - this last episode of the 10th series is to be Joan Bakewell's last appearance on Portrait Artist of the Year. She's been hosting from the very beginning - but she is now not always able to make the filming for every episode.

I for one will be extremely sorry to see her disappear - not least because her comments on the Judges choice and views about indiivdual portraits were very often much in line with mine!  

However I and am very glad to see her being the sitter for the Final. Not that she sat still a lot. In fact she was probably one of the worst behaved sitters in this series! :)
"She's a great sitter, bad at sitting"
I loved the clothes and colours which highlighted Joan's inimitable sense of style. I absolutely loved them.

The Set

I rather liked the pastiche of a BBC Interview set from the 1960s - when Joan Bakewell was one of the Presenters of Late Night Lineup (who can say they can remember watching it when it was broadcast?). 

Not that any of the old cameras made it into the three portraits - but it's the thought which counts! A bit of atmosphere and a reminder of how old the sitter is!

What all the Portraits tell the Judges

I'm repeating below something I wrote last year

The main thing I say repeatedly is that the most important paintings you do in this competition are the ones done without the cameras - with the Judges nowhere to be seen!
  • The Self Portrait submission - painted in your own time - and submitted as part of your entry to the competition - demonstrates:
    • what you can do when not under a time pressure and you create the time budget you are comfortable with
  • The Commission Portrait - done within a very limited time periodas part of the final - but away from the television cameras (to some extent). You need to record yourself painting the commission.
    • The Artists have four days to develop and complete their Commission Painting. 
    • this also demonstrates what you can do in a limited timescale - given very famous people whose portraits need painting often have a limited amount of time they can give yo you.
BOTH these paintings are evidence of whether you are competent to do the £10,000 Commission. Both of these show the judges what you can do when not in artificial situation surrounded by cameras and not being interrupted by people.

The Heat Painting and the Semi Finals Paintings tell the Judges that:
  • you actually painted what you submitted (i.e. there is a consistency of approach)
  • you can find a way to paint a decent portrait in less than four hours
  • you know your way around design and composition, a given perspective on a sitter and tones and colours
However - in my book - when it's a close decision with respect to the Final Portrait painted in 4 hours, the Commission Painting is the 'deal breaker'.

The Judges always emphasise during the Final programme that the Commission Painting can make a very major difference to their initial thinking and preferences as to the winner.

 In my opinion, if you want to be the winner, that's four days which need to have been blocked out to do nothing but painting! That commission painting needs to generate a "wow".

The Final Portraits - and my comments

Three artists and six portraits
(Left to right) Davide, Lorena and Wendy
How do you judge which are most impressive? 
Often by just looking at them like this - from a distance.....

Below I'm commenting on tthe Finalists' portraits of Joan Bakewell and the Commission Portrait.
There is such a pressure on the artists. There's the normal pressure of it being the Final. Then there's the pressure of it being "The Baroness" Kate Bryan

All three artists had a good go at doing a portrait of Joan - but each continued in their normal style, adjusted for the fact it was the Final - so needed to be impressive - and also that they still only had four hours to complete the portrait.

There was a carry over from the Final Artists' Commissions done during the Pandemic. Insofar that each artist got to painting somebody they knew and could get easy access to.

I liked the fact that the artists got to work with somebody they know for their Commissions.  They only get four days and if they have to travel to meet their sitter and then spend some time getting to know them before they start, that really eats into the time for painting. It means they don't need extra time for travelling.

Wendy Barratt

Wendy Barratt:
The Final Portrait of Joan Bakewell
plus Commission Portrait of Fred - her husband

I found the two portrait paintings - next to one another - absolutely riveting! One is looking off to the side - but the face is full of character. Fred is staring straight at us - and has our full attention.

Wendy was working on a slightly larger support for the Final than the one she used for her self-portrait. Of course competence in terms of working larger depends on whether or you have painted at that size a lot in the past.  She worked in exactly the same way:

  • she spent quite a long time choosing which photograph of Joan gave her enough information to make an interesting 
  • from drawing in the shape and structure of the head with a brush
  • to adding large brushmarks of pure colour to create a tonal palette of the shape and colour of the head
  • then drawing back in again with a small brush - using small marks - to readjust and refine her previous mark-making
She paints in earth colours. Nothing is too bright Tai Shan Shierenberg
Interestingly it's also the first portrait where she has actively used a colour which is not 'natural'. It's interesting to see how a portrait with non-neutral colours looks in her hands. 

She started with a photograph of Joan looking quite animated i.e. her face is NOT in repose! She said she also felt the animation of her portrait was helped by Joan constantly moving and looking around.

What I found impressive about Wendy is she worked methodically and never ever got thrown by anything - as she discovered things she needed to correct. Maybe because she prepared carefully and thought things through before she started.

Wendy also had her husband Fred with her - close by - to support her while painting Joan's portrait - see below.

I just love 🥰 this photo. From the first heat of @artistoftheyear to the final Fred has been by my side (or hiding behind a curtain somewhere). Neither of us imagined we’d be doing this more than once. Fred has stayed calm, kept me calm(er) and provided me with all the giggles and cuddles I needed to be able to paint in front of TV’s.

For the commission portrait, she worked on an even bigger support. Probably to demonstrate that she's NOT just "a head and shoulders artist" and can paint hands.

I wonder if she read my repeated comments that artists must demonstrate they can paint hands at some point in the competition?

The advantage of Wendy painting Fred is that the Judges had seen him in the heats and semi-final and hence knew that it was an excellent portrait of him.

What the Judges thought of Wendy

They have a lovely serenity to them. They feel harmonious Kate Bryan

What Wendy's portraiture reminds me of is that paint can do something that photography can't. There's a humanity. There's a realness .....You feel their emotion, there's a direct human connection Kathleen Soriano 

  • Tai summed her up by saying Wendy paints in a "traditional" way but makes her paintings look very contemporart
  • Kathleen recognised the look that Wendy had chosen and thought she was trying to capture Joan's restless energy in her brushstrokes. 
  • Kate liked the way she paints big very structured heads which don't have anything heavy about them
  • They found her portrait difficult to assess at halfway because it lacked Joan's very particular alert eyes

Joan decided to call her portrait "thoughtful". The notion was that she'd been asked a question about which she had to think or was getting ready to disagree with somebody else around a dinner table.

Davide di Taranto

Davide di Taranto
The Final Portrait of Joan Bakewell
plus Commission Portrait of his friend

Davide di Taranto produced another miniature artwork in the Final - but this time he used goldleaf to create an icon like feel. I have a feeling somebody probably had a word with him and indicated that one of the reasons the Judges loved his work is because of the icon-like approach he used for it

Davide talked about using small brushes - but I know there are many which are much smaller than the ones he used in the Final. I'm surprised he doesn't know this from his work.

His Commission Painting was a lot of gold leaf, a lot of black paint and some very accomplished work in relation to the head and skin.  He deliberately did a full body to demonstrate he was capable of a lot more than just a head. However in my eyes, the figure looked very stiff. I needed a bit more background and context to understand why he was standing like that.

What the Judges thought of Davide

They much appreciated the fact he was giving them the icon 'look' this time with the goldleaf background - which they really liked from his submission - but had not seen in the heat or semi-final.

I think they all would have liked to see the level of refinement in Joan's painting that he demonstrated in his submission.

They noted that he'd had to find ways to speed up
  • he'd been practising, was using feathery brushmarks 
  • he was NOT using very naturalistic colours
  • he's had to find short cuts for doing what he can do so well - when not limited by time.
  • he's rendered the skin in the commission portrait as it if it was a pointillist painting
  • Tai liked the fact he's used gold to "sanctify" Dame Joan
  • there is a contrast between a portrait which is more traditional and a portrait which feels a lot more contemporary.

Lorena Levi

Lorena Levi
The Final Portrait of Joan Bakewell; and
Her Commission Portrait of her partner and cat and backgarden

Lorena has a habit of introducing distortions when painting people - and the Judges have accepted this as her style - as opposed to an inability to draw and paint accurately. 

Interestingly the comment this time was that when looking at the portrait of Joan at the end, the feeling was that she had caught a particular look of Joan's.

She started with the head and didn't want to progress to the rest of the support until she'd got the eyes in. Oddly the eyes are far too large to be realistic. 

She took the opportunity with her Commission Portrait to also demonstrate she can

  • work on a larger scale
  • include a lot of what she saw as detail
  • demonstrate that she can work in other approaches to painting
  • do more sophisticated hands and also proper backgrounds.

What the Judges thought of Lorena

Previously the Judges have really liked the works of art that she created - even though they didn't look like the subject. Which is a polite way of saying that Lorena's likenesses aren't always very like her sitter.

This time they liked
  • Lorena's emphasis on line which was not cartoonish
  • a very elegant Joan - whose likeness they found a lot more persuasive by the end
  • they liked the way she had gone bigger, done more and developed their understanding of what she could do
  • the way she introduced iconography to tell a story

Why Wendy won

"Barrat" should read Barratt

Quite simply, Wendy Barratt won because she was the best portrait artist in the series.

There were other good artists in the series, but none who consistently produced excellent portraits which displayed
  • excellent understanding of the structure of the head;
  • great technique in terms of design and crop - she got it right every time;
  • very effective use of brushwork for both drawing the head using a brush and applying paint;
  • interesting and sensitive use of colour;
  • brilliant use of tonal values through her entire palette;
  • excellent mix of drawing and painting which adds to the appeal of the portrait; 
  • AND IMPORTANTLY a really good ability to capture both likeness and character.
  • PLUS the ability to persuade this is a very real person. 
You can appreciate this when seeing all her paintings together - see image at the top of this blog post.

To me she produced a really coherent series of paintings that were 
  • all very clearly by the same artist 
  • who has developed a very mature approach and process to painting portraits - grounded in drawing (i.e. a very good reason to wait to apply until you are competent at drawing people in both graphite and paint)
  • her style is clear and unfussy but looks contemporary at the same tine
In other words you could look at all her paintings - and you knew the standard of work you'd be getting in the £10,000 Commission for the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery.

TOMORROW is my post about the PAOTY Commission Portrait of Dame Dr Jane Goodall

In the meantime, if you would like to see more of Wendy's portraits (paintings and drawings), I recommend you visit her website at https://www.wendybarratt.com/. It also provides information about 
her tutoring activities in Worthing.

(I'd like to congratulate her for having updated her website and got it into good shape to capitalise on her win post the broadcast of the final two episodes of Series 10 covering both the Final and the Commission for the National Portrait Gallery.)

Below you can find out more about how to participate - and learn about what happened in previous series.

Do you want to appear in PAOTY Series 11 (in 2024)?

My bottom line recommendations are:
  • don't enter if you're not ready
  • don't enter unless you've watched previous series AND READ MY REVIEWS - which are listed below. They include learning points and tips and I've had more than one winner tell me how useful they are!
  • Finally READ 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 which contain all the themes and tips I've identified in the last five years.
You need to be aware that typically in excess of 2,000 artists submit an entry but only 63 can compete in the 7 heats(It used to be eight heats and I guess how many heats depends on the calibre of those who apply and the budget for the series that is available.)

All those who have competed in previous series of Portrait Artist of the Year - but not won - can apply again - and many do! Whether they get asked back in all probability depends on what sort of impression they created and how well they did the first time around in the opinion of the Judges. 

I've also had a feeling that artists they like in a series who did not win in a heat may well be encouraged to apply again. In principle, all those artists who know how the process works should do better second time around as they know what they did wrong first time!

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:

Reviews of Previous Series of 


My reviews of previous episodes of "Portrait Artist of the Year" (PAOTY) competition can be found below:

Reviews and Learning Points: Series 9

Learning Points re the 2020 competition (Autumn 2020)

Learning Points re the 2020 competition (Spring 2020)

Learning Points re the 2019 competition

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