Friday, February 02, 2024

Review: Episode 4 of Landscape Artist of the Year Series 9 (2024) at Stonehaven Harbour

This is my review of the fourth episode of the 9th series of Landscape Artist of the Year 2024

Regular readers will be interested to know that in this one I'm calling out the short-listing decision and some other things that were said by the Judges. Maybe they were having an off day....

Heat 4 artists lined up with their paintings waiting for the shortlisting.

Those familiar with these posts will know by now, this review 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

This week the artists pods were erected along the harbour wall in Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire, 15 miles south of Aberdeen, on the north east coast of Scotland

Pods on the Harbour Wall at Stonehaven

Stonehaven Harbour was designed by the famous engineer Robert Stephenson (grandfather of Robert Louis) to provide a safe place for the herring fishing boats to tie up and be protected from storms at sea- prior to the collapse of the fishing industry at Stonehaven.

It's primarily now a centre for leisure and tourism - which would account for the large number of visitors to the place where the artists were painting. I don't think I've ever seen so many people getting so close to the rear of the pods.

The pods were side on to the buildings and boats on the inner wall of the harbour

The pods on the harbour wall and the view of the twon against the hill

The weather for the fourth heat was a not untypical daynfor the area. It was overcast with thick cloud and then rained heavily part way through the afternoon.

The Artists

Artists in the Pods

Artists pictured on a break from painting

Below you can find profiles of the eight pod artists. Links in the names are to their websites

I would include the link to the videos of the works in progress of each of the paintings alongside the names of all the artists and the social media links they provided at the time - but it's not yet been published. Maybe the production team are having an off day too? Or maybe they're having problems with the videos?

This is the link for where it should be when they get round to it
  • Amy Auld (Instagram) - a baker from Newcastle upon Tyne. Born in south-east London to Scottish and Nigerian parents, she studied at the Royal Drawing School and later went onto do her BA in Fine Art at Newcastle University. (I couldn't find any website or social media sites). Her submission was very tropical.
  • Andrew Barrowman ARBSA PS (Instagram | FacebookYouTube) - an award winning landscape artist and art teacher who lives in Cornwall and teaches in St. Ives and Truro. He paints en plein air in all weathers and from his studio at Krowji Redruth. He worked in charcoal for this competition. I've written about him recently on FB in connection with the Annual Exhibition of the Pastel Society where he has three excellent artworks on show right now. He exhibits regularly with a number of art galleries and the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, New English Art Club, The Drawing Society and The Pastel Society. I recommend all aspiring plein air painters to take a look at his YouTube Channel.

  • Charlotte Corden (Instagram) - an Illustrator from Exeter. She has an MA in anthropology from University College London, and has studied at both the London Fine Art Studios and the Arts Student’s League, New York. Her submission
  • Tony Griffin (Facebook) - a Scottish artist born in Glasgow in 1963. He worked as an electrician for many years in Scotland and Canada then started to study art for two years at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto and then studied at the Glasgow School of Art and got a BA Hons in Fine Art Painting. You can see his submission here
  • James Leonard (Instagram) - a Welsh landscape artist based in the Vale of Glamorgan. He divides his time between painting the landscapes of Wales and the South of France. He studied Architecture and has specialised in its visualisation for more than a decade. He currently works as a Digital Agency Director.
  • Kieran Meehan - a cartoonist who was born in London in 1952 and then moved with his family to Glasgow in 1963. From the age of 16, he worked in several advertising agencies and design studios before becoming a cartoonist for several leading magazines.
  • Sophie Parr (Instagram | Facebook) - a contemporary landscape painter from Cheshire. She did her BA (Hons) degree Fine Art at Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Art. She teaches Art & Photography in a secondary school in Ellesmere Port.
  • Daniel Roy Sharples (Instagram) - an art teacher from Lancashire. Born in 1988 he grew up in Preston before studying illustration at UCLAN and training as a teacher. He is now Head of Art & Design at a Lancashire secondary school, while also dedicating time to developing his own practice and presence as an emerging artist. He paints in oils and enjoys plein air painting. He's exhibited with the ROI and RBA. He was one of the wildcard artists at Blackpool - see his blog post about this.

Wildcard Artists

As usual 50 artists of different ages, background, experience and skills and from all over the UK also took part. They painted alongside the Pod Artists - but further along the harbour wall. They had much wider - and better - options for subject matter.

Wildcard artists on the harbour wall

Themes and learning Points

As usual, I've drawn out some themes and learning points from this heat.

Is a painting about the artist or the place?

This question could be said to be one the key conundrums about landscape painting. 
  • An artist always needs to be true to themselves. 
  • Yet at the same time, a competition about landscape painting might be expected to focus on paintings which actually provide a sense of place.
We don't often see artworks in this competition which look absolutely nothing like the place itself. 

Yet we did in this one. Thinking back, the last episode had a painter who used colours which were alarmingly at variance with the scene in front of the painter. So is this a new trend? 
  • Are the Judges selecting artists so they can look "edgy" and talk about other ways of portraying landscapes? 
  • Can we expect to see more "off the wall" painters in future episodes?
Frankly my take on it is, for a landscape painting competition, I'm more interested in people who are 
  • experienced in creating landscape art
  • enjoy creating landscape art
  • paint landscapes that most of us recognise as being about a specific place.
Anytime Sky Arts wants to do a programme about the imaginative capacity of some artists, I won't be watching. 

AND AGAIN! Background, foreground, middle ground, perspective 

Kathleen Soriano is beating this particular drum very loud this year. I entirely agree it's incredibly important.

However I think she is very badly wrong about how she defines foreground and middle ground. This is the comment she made - which was said at the same time as this picture was broadcast. (I took a photo of my television with the captions on)

Now this might be a case of very bad editing and Kathleen was actually looking in a completely different place at the time but for me:
  • the foreground is the water
  • the middle ground are the buildings and boats and reflections.
  • if you crop back, the buildings are the middle ground and the reflections are the foreground - as in Sophie's painting.
Does Kathleen not count water as foreground? Plus there is always a foreground, middle ground and background - you just have to look for them and remember they aren't always predictable.

Not true! Water is the foreground and reflections and boats are the middle ground

Then we got another comment about perspective - which was also very odd - see below. I couldn't understand it. I had no problem seeing perspective and distance - albeit the perspective is flatter than usual and the vanshing points are way off to the left and right

Maybe the flatness of the light and the colour of the buildings made everything "merge" - but I can see big zonal shapes which demonstrate both perspective and distance.

So nothing to do with the buildings getting smaller as they get further away?

Flat, flat, flat - and grey!

It was characterised by everybody as a very grey day with very flat light. Not helped by the fact they were in Stonehaven - famed for its granite - or the rain which arrived in the afternoon!

Essentially what it meant was that:
  • colour was diminished except to the extent that it contrasted effectively with greyish tones of features in the landscape (eg orange buoys and ambulances with acid yellow markings). What this offers - for those clever enough to remember - is that you can have a lot of fun with 
  • the tonal range was also very diminished - the extreme contrasts of dark and light that you get on a sunny and bright day were totally absent. One of the painters (James?) commented that he was just focusing on whether something was dark or light. That seemed quite a sensible view as the gradations of grey were very subtle.
Keeping things simple on days like this and using a very controlled palette - as some of the painters demonstrated - can create a very effective painting on days like this.

What you need to know about painting water

Kate Bryan provided a synopsis of her list of things all artists need to know before going anywhere near tidal water in a pod. These essentially boiled down to:
  • be confident about painting water i.e. you need to know what's different about it and how it works. Bearing in mind that tidal water is very, very different to lakes and rivers.
  • how do the artists feel about reflections - which I thought was a bit of an odd thing to say. How you feel about them basically dictates whether or not you're going to paint them - because if you don't like them, you'll definitely avoid them and paint something else instead! (There's no rule that you have to paint water!) Possibly what she meant was do they feel sure you really know and understand about how reflections work. 
  • have they braced themselves for the tide? A good point which I've banged on about a lot in the past. Essentially as soon as you know you are anywhere near tidal water you want a copy of the local tide tables. Or you get hold of them in advance and take them with you!! You need to know what the drop is and how long does it take to happen.
After the tide goes out!
Harbour wall in background: Wildcards on the left and pod artists on right

She did make a very good point i.e. 
"They've got to make very good decisions in the morning" 
Kathleen also made the very sound point that this is one of those times when it does make sense to take photos of the reflections on the water. 

In relation to "Reflections" I wrote a long theme titled What was missing? Accurate Reflections! - which is worth a read - in my Review: Semi Finals of Landscape Artist of the Year 2022 - Forth Bridge - although I can see I probably didn't complete my follow up post about the technical issues re reflections

P.S. While looking for my reflections post in the archive I also came across my very long and detailed post about Working in a series - drawing and painting ponds which some of you may find interesting in terms of how some well known artists paint inland water.

This is the painting that Sophie Parr was attempting to paint in four hours without realising that it was actually going to take another 25 hours to finish it!! I think I better write that post about reflections - but might need to do some drawings first about the impact on angles.

Water of course doesn't only present itself in front of you. It can also come down from the sky and this was another Heat which was severely affected by rain - this time in the afternoon. 

Kieran made the point of using the change in the weather to add in both the rain and the umbrellas to his painting! It certainly made it then stand out from the others which were still "as if" it were morning.

Running out of steam / slowing down / overworking

Come the end of the day, there are different responses from various artists to the pressure to get a completed artwork over the line when four hours runs out.

Some commented that they were:
  • running out of steam
  • slowing down
  • concerned about overworking
  • actually overworking
To me they're different sides - or edges - of the same coin.

If you have not practiced painting in a very concentrated way for four hours then you will not have developed the stamina and focus needed to paint for four hours. 

TIP: those who do well in the artist of the year programmes are those who are experienced landscape painters who have practiced painting to the four hour time limit on a number of occasions.

Knowing what it feels like means that you grow in confidence of your abilities to deliver within the time limit and hence you spend less time worrying about whether you're going to make it. Worrying means you become less focused, make mistakes and are generally less well organised to recover.

By way of contrast Andrew Barrowman described himself as "slowing down" rather than rushing to get over the line. He knows that it's important to have some time for reflection built in near the end so you have time to see very clearly what needs tweaking. You cannot reflect if you feel rushed and still have lots to do. So again this is a time management issue and a product of maturity i.e. lots of experience of painting to a time limit.

Another artist expressed concern about overworking. It's good to know what are the aspects to try and avoid. However good time management and awareness of the need to avoid overworking should mean artists develop good practices which mean you eliminate the scope for overworking.

I think I saw some overworking taking place BEFORE THE END. This tends to happen when people spend far too long on aspects of the painting that they like the best - suggesting that they are just trying to get it right - and ignoring the large unpainted spaces on their support. Also these paintings always seem to end up looking rather odd and unbalanced - a painting of two halves as it were.

TIP: Those who overwork and cannot manage time are not really ready for competitions of this sort. I'd very much recommend practicing to time limits and getting MUCH better at organising their time. 

The Unfinished Paintings

I think there was more than one unfinished painting.

Clearly Sophie had run out of time although she had mostly covered her support it lacked the degree of finish that it deserved (see above for the one produced with 25 more hours input!). For me this was an indication of an ambitious and skilled artist who tends to get bored by painting the simple and straightforward. If this is you too, you need to think about how you can adapt to painting in four hours.

I think there were others which were less well finished as well
  • TIP: Choosing the right size and shape of support is critical to a good result. NOT painting to the edge of the support always makes a painting look less well finished and is NOT recommended. It's an easy reason to discard you from the serious consideration. 
  • TIP: A clear plan at the beginning means you tend to manage time better and avoid an unbalanced painting. Having much weaker areas of poor drawing and weaker painting is also something to be avoided. Particularly when they are in the centre of the painting. Having a very clear plan at the beginning would mean time is allocated better 

The theme with no comment in the programme

If you're filming two heats in Scotland, and the commission is going to be of a place in Scotland (Orkney), might it be a good idea to try and get a Scottish artist to at least win one heat?

What we had in the final was:
  • one Scottish artist living in Scotland - who studied at Glasgow School of Art
  • one artist with a Scottish parent
  • one artist who could paint Scottish coloured greys extremely well.
To my mind it does tend to suggest a bit of an aim towards keeping the locals happy! Whether they succeeded is another matter......

I'm emphatically not saying the winner is not worthy. Rather that there might have been rather more "in play" when making that particular decision which was input before anybody got into a pod.

Decision Time

After four hours of painting it's time for deliberation and judging of the artworks produced by the artists. 

Wildcard Winner

I felt we got to see rather more of the wildcard artists in this episode. Maybe because there weren't a lot of opportunities for cameramen to wander off once they were on the harbour wall?

There were a lot of really interesting artworks being produced. Here's a couple....

I liked this one a lot. It was inspected because the artist was incorporating unusual paper in to the support as collage. For me it provided an example of somebody stretching the boundaries and also finding a way of incorporating more colour while still staying true to the sense of the place he was looking at and painting. For me it really looks like the place on that particular day. It may occur to people that I'm highlighting a contrast with another painting....and they'd be right.  

(Stuart Norman (Instagram) contacted me with his details after seeing my post. Stuart lives in Kelso and paints the Borders landscape in acrylics, oils,  and city scenes in watercolours. You can see the finished version on the link below the image below)

Stoney by Stuart Norman
you can see the finished version on his website

This next one is by way of contrast. In my head, this is called "a grey day painting". It's more of an illustration with a completely white background and then great attention paid to painting all the features of the building correctly including all the stones. It's very much monochrome - - in keeping with the very grey day. I rather think it's a drawing which would be much appreciated by the locals.

a meticulous painting on a very grey day

The winner was Katie Kerr from Edinburgh - who appears to be an amateur artist.  Tai commented that her painting benefited from a warm wash of colour and he loved her markmaking. It certainly looked like the place she was painting.

Wildcard winner at Stonehaven
Katie Kerr with her much admired painting

The Shortlist

The rain meant that the judging needing to be in a big shed on the harbour.

Below you can see the heat paintings and the artists waiting for the announcement about the shortlisting. As you can see most of the boards are somewhere between medium and large. No very small plein air boards in sight!

Completed heat paintings lined up for judging

You can see the podt artists with their paintings at the top of this post.

I absolutely cannot make any sense of this shortlist.
Hence more than one of the themes above. It seems to boil down to two fairly traditional painters and one really 'whacky' choice.

 The shortlist were:
  • Tony Griffin
  • Amy Auld
  • Daniel Roy Sharples.
There's rather a lot of people who agree with me - about who was inexcusably missing from the shortlist .

What I really do not understand is why Andrew Barrowman's large charcoal drawing was left out given all the very positive comments from the Judges which made the editing cut.

In previous episodes of LAOTY and PAOTY there is very clear evidence that the Judges try to include a wide range of media and styles in the shortlist if at all possible. For example, if two paintings are very similar, they include the best one. If there is an artwork done in different media which is very good they tend to include it. 

I have to say I've made this point about his unfair exclusion on Facebook - and shared a post of the completed drawing - and got LOTS of people who also agreed it should at the very least been in the final shortlist and were very disappointed it was left out.  I think Andrew should be allowed to compete again - should he choose to do so.

Tony Griffin

Tony Griffin: Submission and Heat Painting

I was very impressed with Tony's submission which I think very possibly tipped the balance as to why he was winner. He's got a very good grasp of shapes, zones, proportion, perspective and how to lead an eye through a painting.

I initially thought his submission painting was going to be too colourful but the finished version I think gets the balance right and is also one of the better designed artworks on the day.

Most of all it is very recognisably Stonehaven and in particular Stonehaven on that day.

My conclusion: Tony is a very 'safe' painter for a commission although maybe not the most exciting. As in I'm not sure I'd recognise a painting as being his artwork in an exhibition.

Amy Auld

Amy Auld: Submission and Heat Painting

Any's reaction to being shortlisted - huge surprise - was pretty much the same as that experienced by a lot of those watching on television. Including me.          

To my mind this was an example of Judges being self-indulgent and having very little regard for what much of the viewing population living in Scotland might think. Talking about being transported to the Caribbean is not really something that says very much about an ancient port town on what can be a very cold and grey corner of the UK.

I think Amy was in the mix because she likes painting water and had a Scottish parent. Plus she has an interesting and imaginative style. I've absolutely no problem whatsoever with her being in a pod to demonstrate that there are different ways of painting landscapes. It gives her emerging art career a boost in and of itself that's fine.

However when you ignore better more finished artworks by better artists with proven landscape experience in a competition, then I think we've reached the point where judges really need to account for their criteria for selection and quality assurance needs to come into play from "somebody".

So let me be clear. I'm not having a go at Amy. I'm being very critical of the Judges. 

Daniel Roy Sharples

I very much liked Daniel's paintings. I think they demonstrated a unique style and he has a knack of choosing the right palette for a place and time of day.

Daniel Roy Sharples: Submission and Heat Painting

I thought his submission reminded me of Peter Brown (and that's no bad thing) and it was interesting he chose an urban landscape and actually included people. Most landscape painters run a mile from including people! The more deserted the landscape the more they like it! It's certainly a very effective paintings and one which would bounce off the wall at your eyeballs in an exhibition.

His painting of Stonehaven would I think be very much appreciated by local people and also be very happy hanging on the walls of lots of people who are very familiar with what it's like living in a place which experiences lots of cloud and flat light.

I really liked the directional marks way he made with his brushes.  They imparted energy and movement when very little existed in reality - but were subdued enough to not be an issue.

Kate remarked how she finally appreciated the way the painting "exploded" out from the dark blue boat in the middle.

I'm seeing plenty of perspective, zoning, foreground, middle ground and background and distance. It was sitting there all the time waiting to be found - which Daniel did extremely well.

For the record, I think I'd have chosen Daniel as my winner from this shortlist.

Heat 4 Winner

The winner was Tony Griffin.

Tony's reaction suggests this was a very unexpected honour

The comment at the end suggested that Tony was really good at giving a real sense of harbour and place and the weather on the day. At the same time it was "fresh and lovely and a complete work".

Next week: Liverpool Waterfront - The Three Graces

Looks like they had another hot day in Liverpool! The Three Graces in Liverpool are:
  • the Royal Liver Building, 
  • The Cunard Building and 
  • the Port of Liverpool Building 
which can all be found on Liverpool’s Pier Head.


For all those interested in entering the series which will be filmed in summer 2024 (during June/July) - see my blog post about Call for Entries: Landscape Artist of the Year Series Ten. The 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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