Monday, February 19, 2024

Review: Episode 6 of Landscape Artist of the Year Series 9 (2024) - Hever Castle

 ...and so we come to the last heat of Landscape Artist of the Year 2024. 

....and it's another big building. Although this time it's rather older than the ones in last week's heat - plus it comes with two moats - an outer one and an inner one!!

Episode 6: Hever Castle

This is my review of the sixth 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 Heat took place at Hever Castle in Kent - which was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn (1501-1536)  who was the second wife of King Henry VIII and a Queen from 1533 to 1536. You can see the outer and inner moat in the pic below. Plus the topiary lawn which is a feature of the approach to the Castle.

On the day of the heat, the weather was fine - sunny with some cloud cover. So none of the artists in this heat had to compete with any of the challenges that participating artists in other heats have encountered this year.

Hever Castle, topiary and inner and outer moats

Very sensibly, they located the pods at some distance from the castle which made the latter small and opened up the need to create an artwork which included part of the estate and garden.

If you want to "play at being a pod artist" and try and paint the scene, you need to go to the green area (top left in the above image) over the bridge and between the outer moat and the cafe - with the view over the top of the topiary.  This is near to where you enter the Castle Grounds from the car park (speaks this past visitor!)

Cafe in the background and Outer Moat on the right

The artists' view from the Pods
of (foreground) the lily covered moat
(Middle ground) the topiary
(background) Hever Castle - on the right

The perspective from the pods provided three clear zones:
  • (foreground) the lily covered moat
  • (Middle ground) the topiary
  • (background) Hever Castle - on the right
Lots of green vegetation and lots of stone. The colour of the main features of course varied during the day depending on whether it was in in the sun or covered by the cloud which featured - on a variable basis - on the day and hence the object was in the shade.

TIP  Decide of the pattern of sun and shade before you begin to paint. 
  • Consider the pattern of darks and lights before you start
  • Take photos when you start and fix on a the parameters of your design. (what's in and what's out)
  • Delay fixing on how sun and/or shadow are going to cover your subject matter by making a decision only after you have drawn in
  • work out how the darks and lights will change as the sun moves during the day
  • make a record sketch of what the tonal shapes are (darks, lights and inbetween tones)
  • don't forget to include and record the shadows of objects in your design
see also my blog post Plein air art - 10 tips for working with sunshine and shade (3rd June 2009)

Looks to me as if the Wildcard artists were a little way further round from the pod artists - in amongst the trees with a side-on view of the Castle - with a choice of being under the shade of the big trees or being out in the sunshine!

The wildcard artists beyond the Outer Moat at Hever Castle

Artists' Profiles

I've now decided that the cameras which record the artists work MUST have stopped working - because the listing of the artists has not been updated past Heat 4. So we have lost:
  • the correct spelling of every artist's name
  • links to their social media sites
  • a video of how they created their landscape artwork
Below I provide links to their websites (if they have one) embedded in their names and a link to their Instagram account if they have one.

The POD Artists of Heat 6, LAOTY 2024 in the garden at Hever Castle

The artists in Heat 6 at Hever Castle are:
  • Ramon Adeyemi (Instagram) - born in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1978, he is a Nigerian painter currently living in Manchester. He worked on projects for the National Gallery of Art in Nigeria for 10 years before coming to the UK. This is his submission which was selected for the Young Masters Art Prize 2023.
  • Andy Ashdown  (Instagram) - He has has a career as a professional graphic designer for pver 15 years. He lives on the Isle of Wight. He's also an a nature enthusiast and a landscape and wildlife artist working in pen-and-ink, watercolour and pencil. He has volunteered with the RSPB in the past and now volunteers with the National Trust.
  • Giles Davis  (Instagram) - from Derby. He is a member of Peak District Artisans. He also was a graphic designer for many years and is now a collage artist. He creates landscapes entirely from recycled magazine cuttings. Working mainly from his own photos, he starts with a loose sketch, then blends the magazine fragments into a landscape. He has now progressed from working in the studio to creating plein air artwork. He works on commissions, and sells Giclee prints, and cards of his work. I was very impressed with his work. He's also appeared in two series of the BBC One art show: ‘Home is where the art is’.
  • Denise Fisk  (Instagram) - a landscape oil painter from East Sussex. Denise has BA (Hons) Degree in textile design which led to a career as a colourist and designer in the furnishing industry. She now exhibits in art fairs in South East England. She particularly likes autumn colours.
  • Ann Froshaug  (Instagram) - an analytically trained psychotherapist who lives in Norfolk. Her submission is large and painted loosely. Her intention is always to paint what she feels about a landscape. She is a member of West Norfolk Artists Association.
  • Jasmine Hewitt  (Instagram) - an Animator & Visual Development Artist from South London who specialises in 2D design. She is a relatively recent graduate with a BA in Animation Production and a Diploma in Fine Art from the Royal Drawing School. She particularly enjoys the visual language of comics and uses tape to create segments and sections within her rartwork. (I can't see any evidence of landscape in her work online and am rather surprised she was picked to be a pod.)
  • Rebecca Howard  (Instagram) - She lives in Twyford in Berkshire and was an illustrator who has become a painter. She has been a landscape artist for 15 years and likes varied and unusual land formations. Her submission is large and square and the closest thing I've seen yet to establishing the artist has got an empathy for large seascapes including huge cliffs - which is not unlike Orkney. She recently completed a residency project with 15 other artists which involved spending a month living in the tiny village of Skagaströnd in Northern Iceland. To me, on paper, she looked like a shoe-in for the semi-final!
  • Brian Smith  (Instagram) - a watercolour painter from Wiltshire. He used to be a freelance illustrator and is now somebody who paints and teachers art. He either works plein air or from a sketchbook. He was elected as a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours in 2020. He's won awards with the RI, RWS, RSMA. He's also an Elected Signature Member of the San Diego Watercolour Society 2023. I see his paintings regularly at the Mall Galleries when he exhibits. He's had feature articles in The Artist, International Artist and The Art of Watercolour.  He also teaches art and watercolour painting ( see website for details)


The Checklist

The Checklist created by Denise Fisk - much enlarged!

I've seen a number of artists in both PAOTY and LAOTY arrive with a checklist of what they must remember to do. I think it's a very wise idea, as the novelty of the occasion and the challenge can be enough to make even the basics go right out of your head.

TIPS a solid CHECKLIST of aspects of composing and creating art to check for as you progress can keep you on track right the way through to the finish.

Even better if you keep it in full view while you paint. As one artist did this year - and didn't Denise Fisk do well as a result?

For the record, I think her checklist says.....
  • Draw 
  • Negative Shapes
  • Contrasts
  • where is the darkest? 
  • ditto lightest?
  • Large / small (??)
  • Large / small brushes
  • Pop of Colour
  • Did the eye have a journey?
  • Fine / thin passages
  • Dark edge against light
  • ??
All of which are very sensible. I could do a complete blog post about that checklist!

The omnipresent water.

I've only just worked out that - in theory - we've had water involved with every heat to date. Which I suppose is sensible given that the commission relates to an island (Orkney) and we keep getting drone views of the cliffs and the sea as well as the windfarm.

Then I remembered that the two heats at Liverpool don't really count because rather than painting the water they had to turn their backs on the water and paint weird shaped buildings instead!

Look - no trees! A drone's eye view of Orkney 
empty landscape plus steep cliffs 

Different media used for landscapes

Giles Davies and his submission - a collage of recycled magazine images

Last week it was all painters. This week we've got a couple of pod artists who are working a bit differently - and I thought that worth a comment as it's always interesting to see people who don't just paint.

Interestingly both Giles Davies and Andy Ashdown both started out as graphic designers - who I find tend to have a very good eye for what makes a picture.
  • Giles now creates his semi-abstract landscapes from recycled magazine images. He aims for a sense of the landscape and does not try to replicate exactly what he sees in front of him
  • Andy uses pigment fine liners prior to applying watercolour.
I was hugely impressed by Giles's collages and I'd have certainly had him in my shortlist.

I was greatly encouraged to see an artist who uses pen and ink with watercolour in the pods. We haven't seen one for a while. However I thought Andy's drawing/painting was probably not ambitious enough for this competition. It was good - but more like the sort of image you might get from somebody illustrating a written article. I think maybe that was also the conclusion of the Judges.

TIP - if combining pens with watercolour you MUST use a pen which uses pigment based, waterproof, permanent, fade resistant ink which is permanent. In other words, going over it using a washy watercolour will not see the ink make the watercolour a very muddy mess. Sakura's Pigma Micron pens are the pens of choice for rather a lot of urban sketchers who combine sketching in pen and ink with watercolour. 

(Note to self: finish moving my pen and ink resource to the new site I started ages ago!)

A selection of Pigma Micron Pens used by Andy Ashdown

When green is a challenge!

For some reason, we seem to keep getting artists on this programme who don't really like painting green. Which is odd, as green crops up a lot in most landscapes!

Denise Fisk confessed she much preferred autumnal colours to painting greens
- and she made it work!

For me what sorts out the real contenders from the "also rans" is how they paint green - and how much effort they make.  We sometimes see rather a lot of landscape artists who are also not good at:
  • recognising different shades of green
  • mixing different shades of green
  • being able to distinguish between a green which is naturally dark and a green which is in shadow. They're different - one is about colour and the other is about tone - and the approach to painting them should be different.
I am also very fed up with unrealistic greens - which are typically not a conscious choice so much as reaching for tube colours and very little mixing. 

Greens are emphatically NOT flat colours, nor are they all one shade. Otherwise trees and vegetation end up looking rather like those men who start dying their hair i.e. all one colour and tone which simply shouts "FAKE"! (I could name names....)

So what greens look like in an artwork depends in part on 
  • how well artists can SEE green - which can depend on whether they have any element of colour blindess in their sight - as green can get confused with red....
  • how much effort artists make to create something with a semblance of reality rather than fakery.
TIP (for the producers): If I was running this programme I'd ask for a comprehensive set of swatches or different strings of greens as part of the submission! Make the artists DEMONSTRATE to you that they do know 
  • how to paint natural greens found in different landscapes and 
  • how to mix the colours they use on their palette or on their support
(For PAOTY I'd make them deliver swatches / a string  of skin colours)

Pretty is difficult!

One of the issues about places with a lot of history is the "Disneyfakation" effect. 

People go all lyrical about the history and marvel at the stonework etc - and before you know it we get start to see "pretty paintings". 

I'll give the Judges every credit for making it very clear that:
  • Some locations are a trap - for those who like to go "pretty"
  • Some locations have already been "prettyfied" by the landscape gardeners and look nothing like they would have done when a building was built
  • Pretty paintings is NOT what this competition is about 

Organic versus Inorganic

One interesting comment from the Judges which I picked up on was a reference to the contrast between the organic and the inorganic.

For the uninitiated - here are my definitions:
  • Organic relates to anything which is totally natural and related to living material - or based in "the natural" - such as native trees which naturally grow in a specific location
  • Inorganic is anything which is not created from living matter and has been created and is man-made - such as a castle
Then there's the halfway house - which is a little bit more complex
  • the tree - which is not native and has been imported and introduced by gardeners and is sculpted by tree surgeons periodically
  • the topiary - which has been grown specifically to make shapes and is manufactured by a man with clippers
The Judges were entirely right. The juxtaposition of organic and inorganic makes for an interesting counterpoint and an effective artwork might very well be one which handles this well.


At the end of the four hours we start to get decisions being made as to who progresses from the Heat.

Wildcard Winner

I always get the impression that the Wildcard Winner competition finishes about an hour before everybody else? Can anybody confirm?

Catalpa Tree by Rachel Muldoon

The Wildcard Winnner was Rachel Muldoon from East Sussex - who painted a Catalpa Tree in the grounds of Hever Castle. I can't find any website or social media for her (I wonder if I'm spelling her name correctly?).

Here's the wildcard announcement by Kathleen Soriano - with Rachel Muldoon in black on the left

The wildcard announcement

Plus yet again I note that artists do not get named credits on the programme - and yet without the artists all the rest of the credits are simply academic!

That's because the people who "make" the programme are, quite literally, the artists.

For the individual who asked on my FB Page "I’m trying to understand why a tree was picked as the Wild Card. Did I miss something?". The rule is the wildcards are merely given a location to paint from and four hours. What they create and how they do it is entirely up to them. Some of the most successful wildcard paintings have emerged from quieter, less obvious parts of the location - and long may that tradition continue! Plus we get rather a lot of trees in landscapes and rather less artists who can paint them well!

Shortlisted Artists

Overall, most of the artworks were on the small side of medium 
- with only Ann attempting a larger painting.

The Judges commented that it was a battle between the graphic arts and painterly paintings. From my perspective, overall, I found it to be a curiously disappointing heat.

The Heat 6 Artists - with their artworks

The shortlisted artists were:
  • Denise Fisk
  • Brian Smith
  • Jasmine Hewitt
Below I've got the images of their submission artwork and what they produced in the heat - placed side by side. Plus my comments on the artwork produced.

Submissions and heat paintings by shortlisted artists
L to R: Denise Fisk, Brian Smith and Jasmine Hewitt

I got a sense that the Judges tended to prefer a number of the submissions and being a bit disappointed on the day by what was produced. I think there were some real issues in relation to artists
  • not used to creating "en plein air", 
  • not normally painting a variety of greens 
  • or topiary (the latter would be excusable - but for the fact it's only about painting volumes which is a very basic painting exercise!)
I'd have very definitely included Giles Davies in the shortlist on the strength of his submission alone.

Denise Fisk

Submission and Heat Painting by Denise Fisk

I was going to say, this list would not have been mine - until I saw the shot of Denise's final painting - which I think she pulled out of the bag. She's transported the castle and grounds to Autumn and lost most of the leaves in view and, as a result, actually found a connection in colours between her grounds and the castle.

Plus there's no question about it, the eye does travel from the moat up to the topiary and on to the castle. It's a good compostion

I'd just like to know what happened to the moat in the foreground. Looks like rather a lot of editing to me!

However when I saw it against the other shortlisted paintings, it did remind me that her paintings are very much on the small side.

The Judges also liked her colours and found the painting strangely timeless.

Brian Smith

Brian Smith in his pod - working on his SECOND watercolour!!

It would have been a very sad day if Brian Smith had not been chosen for the shortlist. He was by far the most experienced and skilled painter in the pods.  

He was also the one who was probably the most traditional - which, as we know, tends to be  not what the Judges like (Please can we have a new set of Judges to spice up the programme!). I'm also not convinced they like watercolour much....

The Judges did comment that he was very good at painting people within the landscape and definitely chose the right watercolour of the two to submit. He's also great at both detail and suggesting shapes and forms.

He's also very clearly a man who is happy painting technology found in landscapes. Again, perhaps a natural for the commission......

Personally, I think he should have gone bigger - on STRETCHED PAPER - and concentrated on just creating one watercolour painting. If he's done that I think he might well have won.

Below are Brian's two paintings of his submission and ONE of his two Heat Paintings. Creating two paintings on paper which was NOT stretched (see bottom image) did not help his cause.

Submission and Heat Painting by Brian Smith

Jasmine Hewitt

Submission and Heat Painting by Jasmine Hewitt

I think I've had it with the "Quirky / Down With The Kids" choices by the Judges. 
I'm not sure if they've ever looked at the demographics for this programme - but of one thing I'm very certain it is emphatically NOT - and that is "down with the kids"!

To be honest, when Jasmine's name was announced, the look on her face spelt out "What is going on? They cannot be serious?"  I was in total agreement with Jasmine, the choice was inexplicable - just as the fact she was chosen to be a pod as opposed to being a wildcard.

You can be a very good 2D designer / animator - but that doesn't mean you are a suitable choice for a £10,000 commission.

For me the bottom line re. pod artists is that MOST should ALWAYS be people capable of delivering the commission - with the balance being the ones chosen to be representative of the demographic who watch the programme and want to take part.  You have to give people hope.

I can only imagine that one of the Judges (guess which!) thought it would be a brilliant idea to have a 2D animator creating a video of the landscape of Orkney - as per the drone views we get at the beginning of the programme. However you simply cannot base that sort of decision of two artworks - neither of which is an animation! Very, very silly......

I'm pretty sure Jasmine will not be upset with what I've said and I wish her every success with her future career as an animator.

Winner of Episode 6

Here's the shortlisted artists lined up with their artworks.

Left to right: Denise Fisk, Brian Smith and Jasmine Hewitt

Personally I've always worked on the principle that a good painting can speak across distance - working both at a distance and close up - but none of these speak to me.

The winner was Denise Fisk. This is Denise and her submission

Denise Fisk with her submission

Denise has a great way with colour - which is what I would expect given her background as a textile artist and her heat painting ended up looking much better than I expected.

However I'm left unconvinced that she could do the size of painting for a museum that a commission of £10,000 warrants. Both her paintings are on the small side of medium. I think I'd need to know she can go MUCH bigger.

I think the Judges identified that they liked her composition and wanted to see more of the strangely foreboding quality of her painting. I found the latter to be a very odd reason in relating to choosing a painter for a commission. Is there something the Judges don't like about wind turbines?

Next week's episode

Next week it's the semi final at Buckler's Hard Maritime Museum in Hampshire.

Maybe the rational is that since the commission is about an island, they'd better test people out with some more water? 

Drone view of Buckler's Hard


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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