Friday, February 09, 2024

Review: Episode 5 of Landscape Artist of the Year Series 9 (2024) - Liverpool Three Graces

This is my penultimate Heat Review of Series 9 of Landscape Artist of the Year . One more to go and then it will be the semi-finals! This week's fifth heat came from Pier Head in Liverpool.

  • On one side of the Pods were the Three Graces - very large and historic buildings associated with Liverpool's past. 
  • On the other side was the River Mersey and the Mersey Ferries Terminal - which attracted a lot of the wildcard artists.

Heat Paintings lined up
in front of the former offices of the Port of Liverpool Building

Episode 5: Liverpool - The Three Graces

This is my review of the fifth 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

Subject Matter: Three large buildings for the pod artists
(note the pods on extreme right of Pier Head)
wildcards could choose the buildings
OR turn towards the Mersey Ferries Terminal, the River Mersey and the Ferries

This week's heat was on the Liverpool Waterfront at Pier Head - adjacent to:
  • The Three Graces at Pier Head (from left to right)
    • the Royal Liver Building (1908-11) - one of the first buildings in the world to be built using reinforced concrete. It's a landmark building in Liverpool and is famed for the two Liver Birds which standing on top of the two cupola watching over land and sea
    • the Cunard Building (1914-16) - this is a mix of Italian Renaissance and Greek Revival styles. It used to be home home to Cunard's passenger facilities for trans-Atlantic journeys departing from Liverpool. 
    • the Port of Liverpool Building (1904-1907) - formerly the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board Offices, more commonly known as the Dock Office is a Grade II* listed building. It was the first big building on Pier Head and was constructed with a reinforced concrete frame clad in Portland Stone
  • The statue of the Beatles on Pier Head
  • The Gerry Marsden Terminal at Pier Head of the Mersey Ferries which was renamed in 2022 in honour of Gerry Marsden who made "Ferry across the Mersey" famous.
The Three Graces are part of what is Liverpool's FORMER UNESCO designated World Heritage site, the Maritime Mercantile City.  

Unfortunately, back in 2021, the status was removed after rather too many buildings of little architectural merit and no connection to the port were also built along the waterfront (see extreme right of the above image - which were part of the last heat). (see Unesco strips Liverpool of its world heritage status and World Heritage Committee deletes Liverpool - Maritime Mercantile City from UNESCO’s World Heritage List)


It was a very hot day - and yet again the pods are out in the sunshine. The artists get the benefit of fans but there is absolutely no shade. 
  • I'm not quite sure how the legal requirements for taking care of the health and wellbeing of the participants allows for no shade at all on a very hot and sunny day. 
  • Or maybe there is shade and I can't see it? I know the top of the pod is opaque. It would be nice to know it contains a strong UV filter. Thing is when I look at the programme all I can see is artists in pods in full sun (i.e. there are shadows from items on the floor of the pod) who are complaining about how hot it is. I know they put fans in the pods - but the problem with fans is they don't stop heatstroke or UV.
If I was in a pod with no shade on a hot day I'd walk out - or insist they sorted out some shade for me.

Pods on pier head on a very hot day with no shade.

The other problem with painting in bright sunlight is you cannot see colour properly. If you're also looking at white buildings, it becomes a bit like snow blindness.

What they need is a venetian blind system which the artist can control to cover the pod if required. Alternatively the equivalent of an upright sunshade within the pod - big enough for artist and painting.

So far as the wildcards are concerned, it's entirely up to them how they position themselves and whether they bring any shade with them. I'm thinking those tents fulfil lots of purposes from keeping you dry to providing shade....  See the winner of the wildcards to see how she handled it (below)

Artists' Profiles

I'm beginning to think that the cameras which record the artists work must have stopped working - because we have LOST the official listing (which is a great pity) of:
  • the correct spelling of every artist's name
  • links to their social media sites
  • a video of how they created their landscape artwork
It stops after Heat 3.

These are the artists who painted Pier Head in Episode 5

Below links to the artist's website is embedded in their name - if they have one.
  • Ruqayya Aftab  - a fine art student from Birmingham. No social media so far as I can see. Her submission was of a woodcut of a market in Pakistan.
  • Penny Bearman (Instagram) - from Deal in Kent. She considers herself to be an impressionist and likes to produce atmospheric landscapes and dramatic cloudscapes. 
  • Mark Bonnello  (Instagram) - an HGV driver living in County Antrim. He's a self taught painter who works mostly in oils. He has been taking his painting seriously since 2018 and has exhibited at the RUA, the RSMA and the ROI and lists his smaller works on his website.
  • Chris Dorning (Instagram) - a mixed media artist from Cumbria. He is a professional mural artist and likes painting on a bright red ground.
  • Kerry Doyland (Instagram) - from Essex. She qualified as an architectural designer in the 1980’s and started her own design company. She was awarded British Designer of the Year and Freedom of the City of London for her work in this field. She now paints in acrylics. Her submission painting was both beautiful and sad - of a terrace at a hotel in Venice which she visited after she lost her husband to Covid.
Below Kerry is seen with a camera hanging over her shoulder - should anybody be under any illusion as to what it's actually like for the artists in the pods!

  • Quentin Martin (Instagram) - a British architectural designer, artist and art tutor who enjoys painting. Working mostly in oils, his subjects mainly include landscapes. Produced en plein air, the work is as much about the journey, in search of the subject, as it is the subject itself. He has exhibited widely including many open exhibitions.
  • Ciaran Meister (Instagram) - a multidisciplinary artist, musician and filmmaker living and working in Wicklow, Ireland. He paints rural scenes with broad flat vertical strokes. His practice is concerned with mark-making and explorations of time and memory.
Liverpudlians are sound. Stopping and saying nice things about my painting in the best accent was a highlight.

If you’re thinking of entering @artistoftheyear definitely do. It’s a cool experience and impressive to see how such a big production comes together on the day.
  • Monica Popham (Instagram) - a digital media manager and landscape artist and illustrator from Gibraltar. Currently based in Guildford. The main body of her work focuses on the tangible quality of sunlight, and how it interacts with the architecture in Gibraltar and other Mediterranean towns. 
There were several weeks between the call and my heat, so I set out to practice as much as possible. There were lots of emails and calls during this time with an extensive artist questionnaire all about my background, painting technique and personality.
We were told our location was along the Liverpool waterfront so after looking on google maps, I assumed it was going to be either the Albert Docks, The Liver Building or the Liverpool Museum. After studying the blogs of previous episodes on Making a Mark (which I suggest any artist who is going on the programme to do), I practiced painting in the 4 hour window.
As always I'm hugely appreciative of those who give my blog and reviews a mention! 


The problems of painting on a hot day

Here's some of the things that happen to artists / painters on a hot day.
  • the paint dries far too fast
  • acrylics will dry on your pan before you get to use them
  • oil becomes difficult to control 
  • effects which are possible when using watercolour become absolutely impossible
  • adhesion deteriorates. Subsequent layers can become problematical
  • everything you touch is hotter
  • artists will dehydrate very fast if they don't keep drinking water - and with dehydration comes additional health issues and problems
In addition, if you are painting near the coast or a very large river, there may be cooling winds which might give you a false of security. Your skin will still be burning, your body will still be dehydrating and your paint will still be drying far too fast

Also, if you paint in the sun you will notice that your painting looks very different when you get it inside and out of the sun....

TIP: Reduce problems with hot weather by ALWAYS locating yourself in the shade when at all possible.  The trick is to do whatever it takes to keep both you and your painting equipment cool.

When I arrived at a location on a sunny day I always used to spend most of my time at the beginning
  • checking where north is
  • working out how the sun will move
  • working out where the shady spots are which are likely to stay shady for most of the time

TIP: Plein air artists are recommended to size up the scene for the transit of the sun - but to make sure they do all the above fast so you can get a spot in the shade!!

This is not an option for pod artists - but is for the wildcard artists
Plus take kit with you which helps you cope with the sun, bright light and heat
  • sunglasses help you see tones better - and you eyes also won't suffer from too much bright light
  • make sure you've got the back of your neck covered - to avoid boiling your brain by heating up the blood which travels up from your neck
  • Wear a hat with a VERY big stable brim if in the sun
  • Wear a sun visor if sitting in the shade. You don't need a hat to keep the sun off your head but you still need something to limit the amount of sun in your eyes.
  • make sure your tonal pattern in relation to sunlight stays the same throughout - otherwise you'll have a very confused painting. 
  • this becomes easier IF you do a tonal sketch at the beginning which records 
    • arrows denoting the direction of the light
    • where the shade is located - in very broad terms
  • watch out for reflected light - which will also change as the direction of light changes


I asked those who follow the series at what point they try to identify who might have won. I got a lot of responses. This was one of them.
I’ve given up.
1. Select mainly artists who submit rural scenes, trees, green etc. and/or seem to prefer to work small
2. Plonk them in front of a load of buildings which have little relevance to the final commission (if it was known at filming stage).
3. Wonder why results are a bit whatevs.
4. Judges lose some really good artists at shortlisting stage anyway.
I couldn't have said it better. 

For me the project management of location choices during the series relative to the commission needs some very significant improvement.

There are LOTS of locations in this country which provide excellent landscapes which do not include very large buildings. This series needs to find out where they are. I really do not understand this programme's obsession with big buildings and metropolitan perspectives. It's emphatically NOT what most of the viewers want to see - and most of the viewers are going to be amateur / semi professional artists or people who want to be one.

TIP: Storyvault Films (who make the programme) should ask viewers and fans for suggestions for potential locations which provide two places where pods can be sited with different views. I'm sure they'd got lots of very sensible suggestions if they are clear as to the parameters which help determine a site 

How to approach a subject somebody else has told you to paint

Do you have to paint what is put in front of you?

So far this series, nobody has turned around in their pod and painted the view the other way. (remember what happened in Episode 3 last year?)  

Just remember it's an option. Especially if they're not filming the artists from above!

It's a bonus if you get one of the end pods - you then have a perspective out of the side and not just one straight in front.

What do you do if it includes a very very silly feature?

Such as a very large pink octopus?

This is what gaced the painters. An extremely large blow up pink octopus. (I'd have been very tempted if I had a very sharp object!!)

It resulted in artists who ignored the octopus (very wise) and those who included it. I thought those who ignored it were the most sensible. It's certainly what I would have done.

What's the right format: landscape / panorama / square / portrait?

Faced with a very wide subject what's the right way to deal with it?

What I'm noticing is that more and more artists are turning up with "letterbox format" ( 16:9 ratio? ) supports which are ideal for painting panoramic landscapes. 

TIP: I would not recommend using a panoramic format unless you've done this before - preferably several times. the way you design for a panorama is different to that for more conventional formats.

Also you never have to paint the whole thing and faced with this sort of scene in front of them, five of the artists looked for ways of making their subject much smaller.

P.S. I'm only surprised that we don't see more square formats given how much Instagram loves square!!

VERY Hot Coloured Grounds: Pink and Bright Red and Orange!!

The very hot heat on the day was notable for talso being associated with a number of very bright / "hot" paints used to create a ground on their chosen support before painting proper started. 

The notion of using a hot colour as a ground is that when you have a subject which includes a lot of very plain neutrals:
  • the very bright colour can provide vibrancy, luminosity and colour intensity in the paint applied over top
  • most of it gets painted out - leaving little pops of colour which excite the picture plane. 
The colour you tone your support with is NOT the same as an underpainting

An underpainting involves creating a monochrome painting of the subject in a particular colour. This is one where you make all the mistakes and corrections relating to size, shape, proportions, perspective, tonal pattern setc

Unfortunately, with the four hour time limit we tend to see very few of these in LAOTY Heats.

Mitchell Albala (best selling author - read my Book Review: Landscape Painting by Mitchell Albalawrites about the use of different colours for the underpainting here "What Color is Your Underpainting? The Monochromatic and Two-Color Methods". I don't think he's a fan of bright colours. 

Personally, I think bright colours belong with specific contexts (such as tropical countries) where they can work very well. The UK landscape is typically not one of them. However it largely depends on well they are used by the landscape painter.

What do you do with a very large monochrome object?

The issue of the bright underpaintings arose in part, I think, because of the enormous expanse of portland stone used in the Three Graces. 

To all intents and purposes it was a monochrome tonal design of light and dark.

The Three Graces by Quentin Martin

I think Quentin Martin just about got away with it - in part because the clouds showed up! But there's still too much pink in the paintings for my liking.

Look at the Skyline

The skyline is the outline of features (land / buildings / whatever) against the sky. You can see it very clearly in Quentin's painting above.

TIP: I once received an excellent tip from a very good landscape painter and that was to always look at the skyline to help you sort out what to include and what to leave out.

It also helps you get a sense of:
  • What is light and what is dark - and sometimes the sky is darker than the subject matter
  • Relative proportions
  • which are the key shapes which really matter and which are supporting cast
  • it helps you find a focal point - the point of interest in a painting
  • it helps with design and how to describe the base in counterpoint to the outlines on the skyline against the sky.
I've just realised there's very little discussion in the programme about focal points!


Following four hours of painting - two before and after lunch - time is called and the judging begins.

Wildcard Winner

The first decision is about the Wildcards - who can choose their spot and choose their subject. How lucky are they!! It's worth not getting in the pod just to get the choice!!

Kate Bryan tells Melanie Thorn Potton that she is the wildcard winner

The Wildcard winner was Melanie Thorn Potton (Instagram). She is a contemporary landscape painter who has participated as a wildcard in both the 2022 and 2024 series. She now lives in the Cotswolds but has lots of associations with North Devon. She graduated with a Fine Art degree from Gloucestershire University and a Masters degree in Urban Design from Birmingham City University. She has exhibited throughout Gloucestershire and Worcestershire.

Note that she is an experienced landscape painter working plein air as she has:
  • a wide brimmed hat which shades the nape of her neck
  • sunglasses so she can see what she's doing - and see tones better
  • a very nice friend with a very big umbrella to provide shade as required 
This is her painting. The water was much admired.

Pier head jetty for the Mersey Ferries
The winning wildcard painting by Melanie Thorn Potton

The Shortlist

There's an image of all the heat paintings lined up at the top of this blog post.

Below you can see the heat paintings and the artists waiting for the announcement about the shortlisting. 
  • Three artists tackled all the buildings - Quentin, Penny and Chris. Quentin's was pinkish - but had good shapes and proportions; Penny's seemed to get lost under the sheer quantiy of paint and I found Chris's buildings to be too red and black.
  • The rest edited down what they could see to a slice - and added in other items
    • Ruqayya tackled part of the Port of Liverpool building plus the octopus
    • Mark found a view which was not intended. He took the edge of one building and contrasted it with the edge of the very contemporary Museum of Liverpool (maybe he'd read about the debate about the withdrawal of the Heritage status)
    • Kerry included the statue of the Beatles with the Liver Building behind - and managed to avoid the Beatles becoming dominant
    • Monica took a slice out of the cupola at the top of the Port of Liverpool Building - and sliced off most of the dome
    • Ciaren managed to include some of the trees in his foreground - but I don't think he would consider it one of his better paintings. Urban landscapes are simply not his thing and I felt he would have done so much better in one of the other heats.

The Pod Artists with their Heat Paintings

The shortlisted artists were:
  • Quentin Martin
  • Ruqayya Aftab
  • Monica Popham
I didn't feel most of the paintings produced on the day were particularly strong - for which I blame the subject matter and the heat of the day and all the artists feeling rather challenged by that particular combination - and who would blame them!

Quentin Martin

Quentin Martin: Two panoramic paintings
Submission of a garden and heat painting of Pier Head

What was most impressive about Quentin's painting was :
  • its panoramic format - which meant he included all three buildings with no slicing off
  • he used a shorthand for his brushworks which suggested features without embroidery
  • the vegetation at the bottom grounded the buildings
  • the octopus was very shorthand and was sliced - and hence did not distract hugely
  • his sky unified the painting and included the clouds which came along towards the end of the day
There again he's had architectural training and should be able to paint buildings.

Interestingly painting buildings is what he's least likely to do when making paintings!

I thought he was the most likely to win.

Ruqayya Aftab

Ruqayya Aftab: Submission (a linocut print) and Heat painting

I rather got the impression that the Judges were hoping that Ruqayya might do a woodcut print for the heat but she very sensibly decided that a painting was a more sensible option given the time allowed and the time required to produce an impressive woodcut. Indeed I can't think of one artist who has tackled a woodcut in a pod.

However her woodcut of a market in Pakistan is very impressive, but it's quite small (as many fine art prints are). She was maybe also thinking she needed to go bigger in the heat....

I thought her composition was great. She sliced both the Port of Liverpool building and huge pink blowup octopus so that the latter did not dominate. Then introduced a single individual looking at the octopus - which I thought looked odd to start with. Before I realised she was the only person to really try and introduce people to the landscape art they were producing.

Monica Popham

Monica Popham: submission and heat painting

Monica's paintings are interesting as they tend to be very graphic with lots of angles and lines and then some very simple colours mapping out shapes inside or outside the main shape.

I like her work, but I thought that with two small paintings she probably stood little chance of getting shortlisted. 

Tai was a fan of her columns which were a lot of straight lines "none of which were straight"!
Kate was a fan of her submission and the 
Kathleen liked her crops and editing and her use of colour

Winner of Episode 4

The Shortlisted Artists
Left to right: Quentin Martin, Ruqayya Aftab and Monica Aftab

The winner was Monica Popham

To be absolutely honest, I found this surprising. No reflection of Monica as an artist, but I tend to expect that people getting through to the semi finals are people who have demonstrated they can go big if required for a £10,000 Commission. Her heat painting was bigger than her submission - but was still only 40 x 30cm (in Acrylic on MDF board).

I really like her small graphic and very focused crops - as seen on her website. I just had a question mark as to whether she can go bigger. Having now reviewed her website properly, I can see she can do much bigger and very graphic murals - so she can go big!

So can we conclude from this that maybe they do spend time looking at people's websites??

Below is Monica with her submission painting - which she did while she was in the bright sun of Gibraltar.

Next week's episode

Next week the pods are back - at Hever Castle in Kent - and this time they're painting the castle, which I guess means the wildcards are possibly going to be down at the lake - although there's enough room for them to be next to the castle too.


Call for Entries

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 Ten

The deadline for submission is NOON on Friday 3rd May 2024 - and entries are ONLY accepted online.

This Series to date

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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