Thursday, February 22, 2024

Review: Semi Finals of Landscape Artist of the Year 2024

This is a review of the Semi Finals of Landscape Artist of the Year 2024 which took place at the historic shipbuilding village and maritime museum of Buckler's Hard in Hampshire.

Judging the seven paintings produced in the LAOTY semifinals

Below you can read about:
  • The Artists - but also see yesterday's post The Semi-Finalists in Landscape Artist of the Year 2024
  • The Wildcard Winner
  • The Location and Weather 
  • Themes, Learning Points and Tips
  • Decision Time: The Finalists
  • My take on the Semi Final Paintings - covering them in order of the Heats

The Artists

The Semi Finalists - after they had finished

The Artists were:
  • all the Heat Winners - We already know who all the artists are - and I did a recap of them yesterday in my post The Semi-Finalists in Landscape Artist of the Year 2024 - so no section devoted to artists in this post!
  • plus the chosen wildcard from the Wildcard Winners in each heat.  The Wildcard Winner who got a place in a pod and who was selected from the six Heat Wildcard was Rebecca Patterson from Aberdeen.
Rebecca Patterson with her Heat 1 painting of a nocturnal Dunnottar Castle

Rebecca Patterson took part in who took part in Heat 1 at Dunnottar Castle. She is a professional artist and a creative practitioner. She graduated from Gray’s School of Art in 2009 with a BA(Hons) in Painting and again in 2010 with a Master of Fine Art. She works with Grampian Hospitals Art Trust on their Art Room projects and the charity Life With Art which hosts creative workshops with vulnerable groups in Aberdeen.

During the course of the day, Rebecca drew her very own following as those watching were very interested in her very different techniques for creating art.

The very interested spectators around Rebecca's pod
- as the time came to remove the cling film!

The Hordes

The LAOTY Pods at the top of the
maritime heritage village at Buckler's Hard in Hampshire
plus just some of the visitors who stopped to watch

LOTS of people came to watch the semi-finals.  Rather too many to make it conducive to good artwork in my opinion. 

It was difficult to tell whether these were normal visitors who stopped to watch a bit or people who had specifically come to watch. I decided those with collapsible chairs were probably part of the latter group! However inspection of "bucklers hard" on Instagram suggests virtually all were there to get seen on the television...... i.e. very few mentions on social media. I think many of those who sat on the grass in front of the artists maybe thought they were going to get memorialised in a painting as well as getting their "face on the telly".

There's a point at which onlookers get in the way of artists performing well.

I think those who produce this programme might do well to consider long and hard whether and when they announce the locations at which they are filming. However, I'm sure they've already learned some lessons from this experience.

PS If you get selected as a pod artist this year, ask them what they are doing about keeping audience numbers to more sensible levels.

Location & Weather

The location was unusual. Buckler's Hard is a historic shipbuilding village and a Maritime Museum on the west bank of the Bealieu River in Hampshire.

View of Buckler's Hard and the Beaulieu River

The location for the pods was in between the two rows of cottages at the top of a steep slope down to the Beaulieu River. 

To start with I thought a better location would have been partway down with some of the cottages and more of the river - but having seen the angle of the slope (see below) I'm not sure that would have been safe.  The slope complicated the perspective of the scene as the subject was going down as well as away from the pods.

So basically the pods were a VERY LONG way from the water - but they could still see the river. However their actual view was very much dictated by which pod they were in.

View from the pods (morning) - with the right side in shadow
Note - in particular - how wide the space is between the two rows of houses

Kate Bryan commented that she thought it was one of the strangest views they'd ever given artists to paint. 
  • It's a very historical site, being the site of the shipyard where some of the ships used in the Armada were built
  • the cottages associated with the key people in the shipbuilding activities are almost "toy town" in their simplicity and the total absence of any vehicles
  • there are various small boats on the river - which are all tricky to paint
  • plus, overall, it's very picturesque and "sweet/saccharine/chocolate box responses" are a definite "no no" in LAOTY judging!
On top of that and perhaps most difficult of all is the format of the view:
  • it's emphatically panoramic - which is tough if you don't have a panoramic support or are not used to painting panoramic
  • the perspective is very easy to get wrong - in terms of the ratio of the height of the houses to the width of the space in-between both terraces
  • if you include the houses on both sides then you need to deal with
    • the descending slope down to the river
    • and what that does to the perspective of the two terraces
Artists in the Pods - from left to right
Deepa Goswami; Monica Popham; Kristina Chan; Wesley Smith;
Denise Fisk; Tony Griffin; Rebecca Paterson (wildcard); 

The weather was warm and sunny with variable cloud throughout the day. They had some shadows - but they of course moved during the day.

They were also looking north east, meaning the sun started to their right and then moved behind their backs so that shadows from the trees started to progress across the path in front of them

Those located in the pods (to the right) went into heavy shadow over the course of the day.

A note about all previous semi-finals locations

I wrote this in a previous semi final post!
The location for Landscape Artist of the Year Semi-Final
....MUST be:
very different
include huge and difficult structures
Accompanied by water - and reflections

Alnost all of the venues for the semi finals in recent years have had one thing in common. Large complex structures often near water. Links in the list below are to: episodes (for the first three posts) and then my reviews of the semi-final for the rest where you can see where you can see pics of scenery and the structures

  • 2015 - Potters Fields Park in central London - painting Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and the City of London
  • 2016 - Margate Harbour - painting views of the harbour
  • 2017 - Castle Farm in Kent (the exception which proves the rule - given what happened the next year) - painting enormous fields of lavender
  • 2018 - Felixstowe Docks - a container port with very big cranes and ships and stacks of containers - complete with an ocean going container ship turning up halfway through. (The eventual winner of the series knew it was coming as given a vague idea of where the semi finals were she'd had the foresight to look up both tide tables and arrivals and departures!)
  • 2019 - Oil Rigs in the Cromarty Firth - extremely peculiar vertical structures sat in the middle of the Firth?
  • 2020 (the year of two PAOTYs)
  • 2021 - the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park at Stratford in East London (filmed under Covid constraints in 2020 and no audience and broadcast changed to Jan-March slot in 2021) - looking south down the River Lee - towards the Olympic Stadium and the ArcelorMittal Orbit in the distance.
  • 2022 - Forth Bridge - a VERY BIG meccano set over the Firth of Forth
  • 2023 - Thames Barrier - another very big panoramic structure on the River Thames!
  • 2024 - Buckler's Hard in Hampshire - next to the Bealieu River
This year the structures were not complex - but the layout was deceptive and this time the perspective issues came with an extra level of complexity.

TIPS For LAOTY Semi Finalists (and Pod artists)
  • Expect a big structure at some point - polish your perspective chops
  • A panoramic format might be a very useful option for your support
  • Take suitable tools for drawing/painting structures e.g.
    • take a ruler (for measuring)large pieces of stiff card (for very fast delivery of sharp edges)
    • flexi curve or french curve for bends
    • Binoculars - because sometimes the structure is a VERY long way away!
  • Make sure you know how to paint effective water quickly and easily
To my mind, this preponderance of structures is fine IF you've not had anything complex as a structure BEFORE this semi-final stage.

Themes, Learning Points and Tips

NOTE: I've got an irritating feeling I've forgotten something so this section may change if my brain kicks back into gear. It takes a long time to create/write these posts and sometimes things get left out by mistake.

The need to raise your game

Before they arrive, none of the participating artists - whether heat winners or wild cards - have a clue as to what the standard of art has been in other heats. 

Of one thing they can be certain - they need to raise their game.

They will all, if they have done their homework and watched previous series (and read my reviews!), have some idea of hat to expect in terms of "what has gone before".

Oddly, this series has felt a bit flat. I kept waiting for the knockout artist who was going to blow my socks off - and I'm not sure those who were shortlisted fulfilled that hope.

I can do no better than to repeat what I said last year
Artists need to push boundaries without becoming silly
  • A panoramic subject is best served by an appropriate support - make sure you bring one
  • Demonstrate that you are not completely wedded to one type/size of support.
  • Demonstrate that you can paint bigger if you've not delivered a larger painting yet. (Clients don't actually want small paintings if they've paid £10,000 for a commission!!)
  • Demonstrate that you can do all the basics: drawing / perspective / skies / water / structures / vegetation
  • Don't make it look like anybody else - make it your own
  • Be good at time management and sort out your mistakes in good time

Why perspective is important

Perspective delineates a significant number of the basics - dimension, form, proportion, space and distance!

It appears perspective is ALWAYS going to be a major feature of the semi-finals.

Photos often do not help with perspective given the tendency of cameras to introduce distortion to very tall or wide views.

TIP If you've never ever learned formally about perspective, I highly recommend you do so prior to entering this competition and emphatically before you get to the semi-final location!!

The "Big Picture" or The "Focal Point"?

If you want to impress - and have a suitable shaped and sized support - you go for the BIG Picture. Pretty much everything you can see - but usually not quite all and hence some judicious cropping is usually involved too.

If you want to check out whether what you are doing is OK, you also need to step back from your painting and check out what it looks like from a distance and ask some questions e.g. 
  • does it read well?
  • do the tones describe the story you are trying to convey?
An alternative to the Big Picture is the carefully considered Focal Point. While every artwork should have a focal point, when used as a tool - finding a new angle - to determine how to crop the big picture, it becomes more dominant in the design and composition of a painting.

What we rarely see in this series is enough about the work the artists SHOULD put in before they get to the point of determining and designing the focal point.

Painting from photos versus painting from life

There's a big difference in technique and style between painting plein air and painting from photos. At least two of the artists were painting from a photo - or rather an image on their smart phone.

I know which I prefer.

There again, if you've got lots of people milling around looking at you and what you are doing and generally getting in the way, I completely understand anybody who relies on a smartphone in those circumstances.

Big and Small Brushes

I spotted two very clear examples of a mismatch between brushes and ambition
  • I often spot artists in LAOTY who look like they are struggling to finish on time. Very often they have been using a small 'drawing in' brush on a large canvas for far too long. Kathleen Soriano is very good at dropping polite hints. However, I think she needs to get much more direct. A "Great British Menu" type question from a Judge such as "Do you think you're using the right brush for covering your canvas in paint?" would not go amiss! (PS I love Great British Menu - because the totally deadpan Judges, while sampling the chef's offering,  always adopt Socratic questioning and really make the contestants think in order to foster better self-questioning and critical thought - and teach the viewers at the same time. It's a MUCH more educational approach - which I've often thought this series would do well to apply.
  • There's always the artist who forgets something critical! In this instance it was Tony Griffin who had forgotten his small brush for thin lines. Fortunately he knew how to use the edge of stiff cardboard to create fine lines on the canvas. Unfortunately, he remembered this a bit too late and some of the fine lines needed were much to thick and clumsy looking.
TIP: Make sure you ALWAYS use the right brush. You need to 
  • have a range of brushes in your art materials bag - designed for different purposes.
  • make sure you use them appropriately
  • avoid using just one brush to paint the entire painting! It'll be either too small or too big at one point or another.

What - no people?

Given the hordes around and about the pods, it's amazing that not one artist included any people in their painting.

There again, they may have got irritated by just how many people were in their view and decided to just ignore them.

TIP Learning how to paint people simply and in proportion is something that can make a landscape come live - if used in an appropriate way. But they do have to be the right height and they do have to be in the correct proportion to their surroundings. So if you are struggling with the size, shape and proportion of buildings, painting people is probably not for you.

There are a few more tips about drawing people I know - which suggests I should maybe develop and revise my post 10 Tips for How to Sketch People.

Decision Time: The Finalists

Semi Finalists waiting to hear who's a finalist

So yet again - we're going to watch an all women final! With one retired textile designer who took up painting on retirement (meaning there's hope for all who do likewise!), plus two much younger artists.

My prediction of the two men in the semi-final (see my semi-finalists post) melted away..... For reasons why - see my commentary on the paintings below.

The Finalists - in the order they were called - are:
  • Denise Fisk
  • Kristina Chen
  • Monica Popham

The Finalists - sat together after they had finished (little did they know!)
L to R: Monica Popham, Kristina Chen and Denise Fisk

The Finalists' paintings in the Semi Final at Bucklers Hard
Left to Right: Kristina Chen, Monica Popham and Denise Fisk

What I'm seeing are two small paintings (on the right) plus one print enhanced with coloured pencils (on the left).

My take on the Semi Final Paintings

Below are my comments on the Semi Final Paintings - in order of the Heats + Wildcard Winner at the end.

As I've explained in previous years, I don't tend to be too critical of paintings until we get near to last knockings. However, if you put your self and your artwork up for viewing in a competition of this sort, to my mind I think it's reasonable to say what I think and to draw distinctions between artwork produced. I'm always looking for the plus points as well as the minus ones.

Kristina Chen (Finalist)

By Kristina Chen

Fortunately Kristina was able to do her more usual approach an artwork this week. We also heard a lot more from her in terms of her talking about her work and preferred ways of working. She particularly likes the relief effect she gets when printing.

She was using a mono printing board with a baren plus coloured pencils. (They might be pastel pencils but I think they're coloured pencils).

I thought she managed to provide a historical feel to the place - in part by changing the boats with engines for ones with masts and sails.

I thought she was the ONLY person to get the dimensions and perspective right.

It's an edited version of the view in front of her. She's eliminated all the people - which is no surprise.

It's a little too subdued for me, but I appreciate its "almost monochromatic" approach and the depth of the landscape which she has managed to incorporate.

Kate Bryan calls her "classic and contemporary" - and I think that's a good way of describing her style.

I think she's very definitely a contender to win the Final. 

PS I'm completely intrigued by a woman with obviously Chinese heritage who is from Canada with an Irish accent.

Heat 2: Wesley Smith

Wesley set up with what looked like a much larger canvas. I was pleased because he obviously realised he needed to step up and demonstrate how well he can paint on larger supports. I was struck how much the view in front of him was not dissimilar to his submission and decided he would find the painting a breeze.

...and then he disappointed me.  Instead of doing well, he seemed to get stuck in all sorts of different ways.
  • the drawing was wrong. The houses were too tall/big and the distance between them was too small. He'd drawn for the size of his support as opposed to working out how much he could get on to his support if drawing to the right size and shape.
  • it's almost a two colour painting 
    • there's very little differentiation between the houses
    • the greens all seem to be the same green. There's no real attempt at colour matching and mixing (and yet his Instagram paintings suggest somebody who can do all the subtleties of green - I just don't get it!)
    • there's no differentiation within the colour of the path - except for the overlaying shadow.
  • the colour of the sky does not match the very clear shadow - which suggests lots of sun - on the ground
  • There was masses of middle and foreground still to do until very near the end. 
One very telling phrase was how he hadn't had time to stand back to take a look at the painting. That raised immediate alarm bells with me. He couldn't possible see what he had done that was good and what needed sorting if he hadn't taken a look from a distance.

Bottom line I was sure he was a finalist because of his other paintings. I'm now looking at him again in terms of two disappointing plein air paintings and have realised that he's one of those artists who is happiest when painting in a studio from photos.

TIP ALWAYS walk away from your artwork and look at it from a distance. You'll see things you just don't notice when you stay close to it.

Heat 3: Deepa Goswami

Deepa was located off to the far right - in terms of looking at the scene in front of the pods.

She seems to much prefer to work on a portrait format and also likes water so decided to create a focal point within the background - which was a long, long, long way away.

I like the way there are clear zones for the foreground, middle ground and background. I'm getting a strong sense of the zig zag of the river and her boats all seem to be pretty much in proportion to both the landscape and each other.

She's looked for and found colour with various objects within her painting. Her use of colour is both bold and subtle - which is a neat trick.

I'm also liking the echoes of lines and shapes within the painting which all help to unify it.

Her treatment of the oak tree is maybe exaggerated but at least it doesn't look flat as some other trees painted during the heat do.

I like the way she has introduced variation within the patches of colour used for the grass and path in the foreground which helps 'ground' both.

I'd have definitely put Deepa through to the Final.

Heat 4: Tony Griffin

To me this painting looks like the place - and, as I look some more, it doesn't. 

Tony was located towards the left of the pods and got a pretty good sense of the space between the two terraces of cottages lining the green space.  I also like the way he created differentiation between the two terraces by including the morning shadow on the one on the right. However the step down of the roofline on the left is less than evident to me - whereas it's very clear on the right.

I absolutely agree with Kate Bryan about the over delineation of the white in the windows on the left. It's an amateur mistake and I thought he was better than this. I think that might be explained by him forgotting to pack his small fine brush and not remembering about the scope for using edges of cardboard or credit cards instead until too late in the day.

His boats are also looking a tad big given the distance between artist and boat.

It's a good effort - but not as good as I think he's capable of. Plus it's got that other aspect which bothers me. It lacks a distinctive style and is very like a painting any number of artists might have produced.

The Judges concluded he'd not yet got to "the bit which makes it Tony". Sadly I have to agree - and think it is intrinsically a comment on his time management.

Heat 5: Monica Popham (Finalist)

Monica is very definitely of the "edit it down and make it doable" school of thought. She focused on finding a focal point and created a good composition.

The editing was not as dramatic as last time and she definitely got the sense of place. Plus this time she didn't work within a square format, she adopted a panoramic one and hence was able to incorporate a lot of background as well as part of the right hand terrace.

By dispensing with the other terrace she also didn't have to tackle the challenge of whether the size and shapes were balanced.

Her colouration is very intense. Of the "love it of hate it" school of art. Speaking personally, I could not hang a painting like this. It's just much too brash for me. That quantity of red hurts my eyes.

The vegetation in the background gets a plus point for being varied in the greens employed and a minus point for being a bit too graphic in shape. The problem with the use of graphic shapes is it starts to look rather too formulaic and starts to introduce breaks in shapes where none exists.

I'm not a fan of the complete absence of boats. However in doing that it does not look too modern.

I'm also rather concerned about the way the houses are built on a two way slope. She has the grass sloping down from the houses to the path whereas in fact it's flat and the only slope is from the foreground to the background.

I do worry when artists gets aspects like this wrong.

The Judges described her painting as stylised, simplified and with solid blocks of colour. Bottom line, I think she's in the final because Kate Bryan likes her. 

Heat 6: Denise Fisk (Finalist)

On the plus side, the background of this painting is really very lyrical. In some ways the best bit of painting done by anybody all day. I'd want to ask her to go away and do the background again - only much bigger!

The background of Denise's painting

I also like her characterisation of the big oak tree on the left which has a presence which is lacking in the other paintings which feature it.

I can't work out what Denise is painting with given its very drippy nature. I'm guessing it's oils with a lot of solvent. I'm not a big fan of drips.

On the "things I didn't like as much side":
  • Like Monica, this version of Buckler's Hard is "Buckler's has a big dip in the middle". It's really very odd. I've looked at this view from various perspectives and it's very clear that on the lateral line, there is no dip around the path. The dip is from the foreground to the background - and that's it.  I'm wondering if this invented dip is artistic licence? Like the colour palette?
  • Denise really does NOT like green - and she included as little as possible in this painting.  It just makes me keep thinking about how much of the landscape in Orkney is green......

Wildcard: Rebecca Patterson

Rebecca Patterson went for another nocturnal painting. Having seen what the Final is going to be, I think I can see why Kate waxed lyrical about her nocturnal skies - it is really sensational and oddly I find it completely believable!

Her use of the cling film for the foreground breaks up the flatness of what is a very large patch flattish green grass - except it's turquoise in her painting which somewhat threw me (and I'm a big fan of turquoise!). I wonder whether a slightly darker shade might have worked better? Or one dulled somewhat by the orange from the houses??

The houses don't work for me. The balance between left and right is incorrect and the perspective lines are non-existent on the right and they just feel a bit squashed. They were however a very difficult challenge and Rebecca was off to the extreme left making it even more of a challenge. I did not envy her her position. But at least she had a go!

The path was the last thing she did - and it is VERY distracting. I think if it was more subdued colour the painting as a whole might well work better.

Your challenge

  1. Look back at each of the artworks 
  2. Decide which three artist you think should have been in the Final - and why.

Next Week - The Final

The finalists are all going to be on the Piazza Terrace at the Royal Opera House - and I know exactly what they're going to be looking at because I've been there with a sketchbook! It's the Covent Garden Piazza from a top down perspective - plus lights!

AND it's another nocturnal one by the look of it! 

P.S. I'm still looking for my sketchbook with my drawing from the Opera Terrace! I will find it!!


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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