Thursday, January 18, 2024

Review: Episode 2 of Landscape Artist of the Year Series 9 (2024)

Episode 2: Liverpool Docks

This is my review of the second episode of the 9th series of Landscape Artist of the Year 2024.
  As regular readers will know by now, it considers:
  • the location and weather
  • the artists' profiles
  • themes arising during the episode
  • judges decision-making
  • who was shortlisted and who won

Location and Weather

"The most complicated landscape we've ever given them"
Background: The Royal Liver Building
Left: Liverpool Museum
Right Background: Mann Island Buildings
Right Foreground: Great Western Railway Warehouse - with docks and ships in front
Kathleen Soriano commented that the view from the pods was probably the biggest and most complicated ever given to pod artists. That's because it included:
"the jumble and chaos of building styles"
"so many ingredients for your stew"
Just sorting out how it all worked would take most people some time.

The pods were located in Liverpool Docks and around the Waterfront within part of the context of the Liverpool Waterfront Transformation project part of whose mission was to retell the story of Liverpool.
  • the Museum of Liverpool (opened 2011) and the River Mersey off to their left and 
  • the Mann Island Buildings on the right - in black - which include the Latitude Building, the Longitude Building and RIBA North (the national centre for architecture)
  • the Royal Liver building - topped by the Liver Bird - in the distance
  • with the historical landmark of the Great Western Railway Warehouse in the foreground to the right - next to Canning Dock
This article provides a great photograph of the location

To complicate an already challenging day, it was by all accounts a very, very hot day!
It was very hot, the temperature reached around 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) and I really felt for all the artists, but especially the wildcards as they were located in full sun with no shade.
Landscape Artist of the Year Wildcard

The Artists in the Pods

The artists in this heat - shadows suggest this was midday.

Below is a synopsis about each artist - in alphabetical order.
What I say about the artists is largely dependent has been said about them online! 

My first port of call is always where you can also see videos of them painting the heat paintings.

Those who have a profile in the Artist of the Year Gallery have an asterisk next to their name
  • Nathaniel Fowles * (Facebook | Instagram) - He studied Fine Art at KIAD, Canterbury, and spent 10 years working as a professional artist before moving into teaching. He now lives in West Sussex and works part time as a supply teacher which enables him to focus on his artwork once again. He predominantly depicts landscapes and scenes which captivate my imagination and paints in oil and acrylic. He experiences neurodiversity, which makes completing artwork a challenge (His submission was painted over 10 years) and one of the things he got out of this experience was the reality of being able to produce a painting in four hours which others thought had merit.
  • Rose Jones * (Instagram) - a representational artist based in rural Staffordshire. Early career was spent as a surface pattern designer. Rose works in acrylics, watercolours, oil pastels, graphite and most recently coloured pencils. She also works as an art tutor within Adult Community Learning.
  • Judy Milner (Instagram) - Judy lives and works in London, trained in sculpture at the Royal College of Art and is a practising sculptor. Her submission was a view of the race course at Ascot (one of last year's locations - which I assume means she was a wildcard in 2023.) She is described as a rather "messy painter".
  • James Murch * (Facebook | Instagram) - He went to Art College in Bristol and moved to Devon in 2009 and became interested in plein air painting. He's now based in Paignton and is a full-time artist with a studio in the Cob Barn at Cockington Court. He's spent many years practising the classical approach to painting and sight size. He prefers to work entirely from life in front of the landscape he's painting - even if it involves several visits to complete a painting - as it did with his submission. He was a LAOTY Semi Finalist in 2019 - see my blog post about his heat Review: Episode 6 of Landscape Artist of the Year 2019 - Drake's Island which he won and Review: Semi-Final of Landscape Artist of the Year 2019 at Cromarty Firth. I didn't recognise him this time around. His neat clipped beard has become full on and he now dresses like a plein air painter rather than somebody going to the office!
James Murch struck me as one of the coolest artists I've ever seen in one of these heats. He's not given to over-emoting or panicking or does a very good job of hiding it if he does! Cool, calm and collected - and making very sensible decisions.
  • Anil Patel (Facebook | Instagram) - A graphic designer and art teacher from Leicester. Talks well on camera and has previously appeared on 
  • Wesley Smith * (Instagram) - A chef and a painter based in Brighton’s North Laines where he paints landscapes and still lives. He spent 10 years living abroad in Taiwan and his paintings are influenced by Asia. His Instagram account is worth a review - I'm more impressed by the paintings on there which demonstrates very clearly that he can paint a range of landscapes.
  • Matthew Timmins-Williams (Instagram) - a painter and decorator from Birkenhead (the other side of the River Mersey).
  • Georgina Saunders * (Instagram | Georgina got off to a good start after studying Art A level where she came in the top 10 in the country Art A level and Art GCSE. She then went on to study the History of Art at York University followed by short courses at Heatherley’s School of Art and the Art Academy to supplement her self-study practise. Back in 2021, she wrote about her Landscape Artist of the Year Wildcard Experience. She's now a primary school teacher and a painter working in Hertfordshire. Her work explores her love of nature and the outdoors. I'd say she likes skies to play an important role in her landscapes - when she gets to choose what she paints.

The Wildcard Artists

50 artists join the pod artists at every heat. In this heat, they were a bit closer than they usually are - and set up just behind them.

If you put "landscape artist of the year liverpool" into Facebook search you'll come up with LOTS of posts by wildcards about the day! :)

Pods and Wildcards


I can't show you the submissions by the pod artists as you have to watch the programme to see them with their artists at the beginning and then discussed with the artist in the pod - where they hung for the duration of the heat.

Most were medium sized with two large and one small painting.

Themes & Learning Points

Every week, in my review, I highlight what I observed as being some of the themes arising from the location, the day and the nature of the artists in this week's episode.

Today, the themes are:
  • Find your zones: foreground, middle ground and distance
  • a study in perspective - and proportions
  • The sun on a cloudless hot day presents particular challenges
  • Reducing the size of the support - to edit and tidy up
  • The Plant Mister: useful kit for watercolour painting on a very hot day

Find your Zones: foreground, middle ground and distance

When presented with a very complicated view such as the one in this heat, the need to sort out what you are looking at and how it all works together is essential - otherwise it's incredibly easy to lose your way - and then realise - often too late - that you've gone badly wrong!

most - but not all - of what the artists were looking at

One of the best tips I was ever given when I first started to paint landscapes was about the vital need to work out the zones within your composition.

As a minimum there is 
  • a foreground - nearest to you and where you can see detail easily - but not necessarily what you want to focus on, so a decision to be made about how much detail to include.
  • a background - where shapes and tones and colours change relative to the zones in front of it. It's very easy to get proportions wrong in the background if you draw / paint what you think you know rather than what you can actually see. I noticed most of them had Royal Liver Buildings which were far too big - if including the bit with the Liver Bird on top! Also backgrounds have very little detail which is visible. 
  • a middle ground - which comes inbetween the foreground and the background. This is usually the most complicated and can split out into different sub-zones. I've always found that what's important here is to get a balance between the left and the right in terms of shapes and proportions. Cross-referencing backwards and forwards all the time tends to generate a more realistic view - if that is your aim.
TIP: It's well worthwhile working out the big shapes and zones in a sketchbook first. Only then can you work out whether the four most important lines go - around the content of your painting that you intend to include

TIP: This sort of view very much benefits from the use of a viewfinder - although I didn't see any much in evidence. You can buy an artist's viewfinder but you can also make one for yourself (offcuts from mount cutting are particularly useful). One which allows you to vary the ratio of height and width is always the most useful. Of course your camera or smartphone also provides commonly used rations e.g 4:3 / 7:5 / 16:9. Just be sure to make decisions made using one ratio are only translated to a support which is using the same ratio - or you'll start trying to squeeze things in and end up wondering why your shapes don't look right.

A study in perspective - and proportions

I noticed that while everybody had a good go at what was a very daunting view, it seems as if the outcome for some suffered either in terms of perspective or proportions or both. Although some were more successful than others - in part because of how they decided to crop the composition of their painting.

I didn't see any evidence of anybody trying to work out where their eyeline was and the vanishing points on either side.  It was more a case of 'drawing by eye' - but maybe forgetting to keep relating every part to every other part - and mapping out the simplified version of the complexity before starting to paint properly.

The thing is the buildings are not normal buildings. They are all excessive in one way or another.

One of the interesting things is that the winner opted out of the complexity and tackled a historic building and aimed to make it look interesting in the sunlight. His challenge was much less onerous than that tackled by others. The challenge of a very bright day and the sun moving

The sun on a cloudless hot day presents particular challenges

When the sun is a constant in a brilliant blue sky with no clouds, those unused to plein air painting experience several challenges:
  • the view which constantly changes - because the sun will keep moving!
  • really bright sun also makes everything much more hard edged - particularly in the middle of the day.
  • it becomes difficult to look when simply everything is so bright - particularly if shiny reflective surfaces are involved. Your eyes get very tired - which is not helpful to an artist.
  • It typically makes an artist painting over a four hour period very, very tired. About as tired as those who have to paint in a howling gale whio are having to make sure all kit is tied down and secure!
TIP: Make sure you practice plein air painting before you arrive in a pod. You need to know what it's like painting in different kinds of weather - from brilliant sunshine to a howling gale to rain lashing down.
The weather was really, really hot. Every so often a strong gust of warm wind would blow in from the Mersey and the sound of canvases hitting the floor followed by gasps of stressed artists and worried spectators would fill the air. My easel stood up to the challenge and my canvas didn’t budge once. Landscape Artist of the Year Wildcard
TIP: Make sure you pack sunglasses. Apart from protecting your eyes from the sun, it makes seeing the relative spectrum of tones much, much easier. It's worth removing them when mixing paint but they save your sanity when looking and painting.

TIP: Make sure you drink enough fluids. If you are not in shade, you will dehydrate very fast. Pod artists will be looked after re fluids. But wildcards need to make sure they look after themselves.

Reducing the size of the support - to edit and tidy up

Two of the painters - Anil and Rose - both trimmed their supports prior to the presentation of their paintings to the Judges.

That's a good idea if you have - like Anil been using your margins as a palette / test surface for colours and tones - and worked out in advance what ratio you were working too.

It's also an option to make a better image out of what you've completed.

TIP: come with a ready made mount which you can fix your painting too to give it the isolation with a clean margin. This is an alternative to trimming edges - which by definition would make framing more difficult afterwards. This has been used by other LAOTY pod artists in the past and seems to me to be a good idea - if your paint is dry.

Which brings me too.....

The Plant Mister: useful kit for watercolour painting on a very hot day

Anybody who has ever painted on a very hot day and/or in a very hot climate will know that it totally thwarts all the normal techniques used by watercolour artists. Watercolour paint dries really fast both in the palette, as a pool of wash and on the paper on a very hot day.

I remember the first time it happened to me. It's a real case of "shock horrors' - particularly for anyone who has hitherto been used to working with watercolour indoors where you get no climatic disturbances. 

All the nice things people like to do - such as working 'wet in wet' and merging edges or just having time to soften edges or work with a wash and colours while still moist go totally out the metaphorical window. 

Which is why it was really nice to see one wildcard painter had anticipated problems and brought a mister with them.  You can buy misters for artists - but they tend to be quite small relatively delicate things. What this wildcard had brought with him was a plant mister - which means he had oodles of water to play with to keep the paper and paint moist!

PS Those working in acrylics also look with envy at those working in oil paints on very hot days!

Decision Time

Wildcard Winner

The Wildcard Winner was a lady called Sue Billings who crossed the Pennines from Leeds. I can't find any information about her online.

She found a quiet corner of the enormously complicated location and painted that - and it was a genius move!

I really liked this wildcard drawing/painting posted on Instagram by another artist Gary Yeung - especially as it was one of very few which actually got a boat in to the pic too! Also good to see an urban sketcher produce a good artwork - and good to see one chosen as a reserve artist! There again, they do spend their time drawing complicated urban landscapes!! Hopefully we may see him in a future series.....

Take a look a Liverpool Urban Sketchers Facebook Page for more pics of Liverpool Docks

This is also a blog post by a Landscape Artist of the Year Wildcard at the Liverpool heat - which tells the story of a Reserve Artist.

The Shortlist

Judging the heat paintings in Episode 2 at Liverpool Docks

This is what they were looking at

All the Heat Paintings

I must confess, I was finding it difficult to say who would be shortlisted and who would win, although I did favour one artist.....

The artists waiting to hear - with the rest of their view in the background!

The shortlist selected from this week's artists were:
  • Nathaniel Fowles
  • Wesley Smith
  • Georgina Saunders
Submissions and heat paintings by shortlisted artists
Left to right: Nathaniel Fowles, Wesley Smith and Georgina Saunders

Nathaniel Fowles seems to love large expansive views with lots of content. This is certainly what he tried to do with both his submission and heat painting. What was very impressive is how much he achieved with his heat painting - in four hours - compared to his submission which took 10 years.

Nathaniel Fowles: submission and heat painting

Unfortunately, he's got the shape and proportions of the main buildings out of sync in relaiton to one another. I can forgive the larger foreground but there's something wrong with the relative size of the buildings in the background. Plus I could have done with a clearer distinction as to middle ground and background.

By way of contrast, he handles these challenges much better in his submission

I am however not sure it's a good idea to enter a competition like this with a submission which took you 10 years.....

PS For what it's worth, I thought it was the best submission painting - I liked it - and I've seen those skies and that view (When I worked in Chelsea I used to drive down the road on the other side of the river going to and from work and saw Battersea Power Station in different light and weather - and this painting is excellent!)

Wesley Smith completed a smaller heat painting than the other two shortlisted artists - but made the wise decision to focus on just one part of the story of the location - the brick building of the Great Western Railway Warehouse. This reminded me of Edward Bawden in both style, colour and tone. It was a light, bright summer scene.

Weskey Smith: submission and heat painting

By way of contrast, his submission was a nocturne - which his Instagram account seemed to be something he did during lockdown - painting deserted streets lit by artificial light. This one was excellent in terms of content, proportion and perspective - and clearly demonstrated that he was not an artist who ducked out of complicated views.

Like I always say - never ever underestimate how much the submission painting contributes to the overall judgement. If nothing else, it might get the Judges looking you up online......

I do wonder if it might have been a different outcome if the weather had been different. The treatment of light and the contrast between the two paintings certainly seem to have helped the Judges come to a decision about shortlisting.

Georgina Saunders impressed me with the size of her submission and the way in which she had treated all the different zones of her painting of a very distant view - particularly in relation to colour, tone and detail and the focus on the middle ground.

Georgina Saunders: Submission and Heat Painting

I thought her composition for her heat painting was brave and she handled it well. There's something slightly weird looking about the boat in the foreground but other than that her brush marks and use of colour and tone were excellent.

She had some very nice comments from the Judges..... It was a big surprise for me when she didn't win......

Heat Winner

Shortlisted artists waiting to hear the result
(Left to right: Nathaniel, Wesley and Georgina)

The Heat Winner was Wesley Smith.

I have to confess I was very surprised. I thought that both Nathaniel and Georgina had 
  • done excellent (large) submission paintings and 
  • had addressed the most challenging view on the day. 
I thought Georgina was probably going to win as I didn't find Wesley's heat painting very interesting. His submission was another matter.

Then, when preparing to write this blog post, I took a look at Wesley's Instagram account for the first time (I can't find a website) and I am now persuaded that the Judges do look at more than just the submission painting in advance of the heat on final judgement.

That's because his paintings are both interesting in terms of both composition, execution and the treatment of light and tones - with enough detail without becoming too fussy.  

Wesley Smith with his submission painting

All now rests on the semi-final............

Although I'm still bemused as to how any of this relates to the treeless landscape of Orkney and giant wind turbines!

Next Week: the Lake at Hever Castle in Kent

Next week the series moves to Kent - the garden of England.

The pods are set up on the edge of a location well known to me - the lake in the grounds of Hever Castle. The pods have a view of the stone loggia at the end of the Italian Garden.

- note the pods set up on the edge of the bottom edge of the water


For all those interested in entering the series which will be filmed this summer (during June/July) - see my blog post about Call for Entries: Landscape Artist of the Year Series TenThe deadline for submission is NOON on Friday 3rd May 2024 - and entries are ONLY accepted online.

Blog posts of heats to date:

Past Series - Reviews

You can also read past reviews of the Landscape Series of the Year which very many previous pod artists - and wildcards - have said they have found helpful. 

See my Art on Television Page which:
  • lists all reviews I've published for series episodes broadcast between 2018 and 2023 
  • together with the topics / themes /TIPS I identified in each episode.
The programme is broadcast by Sky Arts ( available on Sky, Now TV and Channel 36 on Freeview) and the films are made by Storyvault Films.

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