Sunday, March 17, 2024

Landscape Artist of the Year: Potential for Change?

This is VERY LONG! It's about looking how Landscape Artist of the Year (LAOTY) might change to provide 

  • a much more satisfactory experience for all the artists who participate in it and 
  • deliver a much better programme to all those who watch it 

I think there's some considerable potential for change. So do rather a lot of other people who I've been discussing this with. They typically fall into two camps

  • those who would participate - BUT for the formulaic way it works at the moment where artists are constrained from the outset by the pods
  • those who create art and like watching - but have become more and more disappointed over the years
There's a third camp - those who know little about art but like the programme and see nothing wrong with it. However they are NOT going to be providing future participants!

This post covers:
  • Context: Another perspective or four - about other matters which are relevant to a rethink of LAOTY - or the development of competition by another production company.
  • Scope for Solutions? Looking at the broad context of what change needs to address in terms of weaknesses in the programme
    • Structure of the Programme
    • Calibre of Artist - Who's the REAL TALENT?
    • Wildcards
    • Location, Location, Location
    • Judges
    • Presenters
What's written below is essentially what I've been thinking about for a long time and more recently. But also, it includes lots of contributions from people discussing the programme online on my Facebook Page.

Context: Another perspective or four

Landscape Artist of the Year: Time for a Refresh? highlights many of the issues which, in the opinion of me and rather a lot of other people - need to be changed 

Since writing it, four more things have come to my attention which were not "front of brain" when I wrote the first post

Plein Air Art

  • The first is that somebody reminded me about the practice in the US of having competitive plein air painting paintouts all over the country. This is normal and routine. 
  • In the UK in the last decade, more and more groups have got together to do something similar - albeit only a few are competitive.  
    • My blog post Capturing the Moment - plein air paint out in St James's Park is an example of one such plein air painting group which I was invited to attend.
    • Plus Urban Sketchers Groups which have developed all over the country in the last decade are the natural audience for overtures for people to participate 
    • For the record I was one of the Founders of Urban Sketchers London back in 2012 and I set up the Facebook Page for Urban Sketchers UK - Events where you can find out about upcoming events. There are now huge numbers of urban sketchers in the UK. (Minus me - I gave up when I tore the meniscus in my left knee which made mobilising totally about staying on my feet and very much limited my ability to carry anything. that then led on to the bone on bone ankle, then surgery etc etc)

Television and Broadcasting / Streaming

  • The second was I listened to expert commentary about how much broadcast television has changed in recent years and then went off and looked at the data revealed in e.g.  Media Nations 2023: Latest UK viewing and listening trends 
    • steep declines in watching broadcast TV - use of video on demand increases
    • recent decline in older people watching is the steepest ever
older viewers are diversifying their viewing and becoming more likely to take up streaming services
    • a steep decline in the number of programmes attracting ‘mass audiences’.
    • huge increase in interest in commercial radio and podcasts
    • there's more competition than ever for eyes and ears!
  • The third highlighted something which really reinforced my thinking that the current format was well over due for a radical change.  I listened to an episode of "The Rest is Entertainment" podcast ("The Oscars, Ozempic and Wonka" on my daily walk. 
    • The very experienced and incredibly well informed 'telly person' Richard Osman (who used to be  creative director of the television production company Endemol UK)discussed how much and how fast television programmes have changed in recent years - from pitch to putting a team together to broadcasting. In particular, I learned how programmes get made and how things have changed massively in the last few years - and how agile some of the new programme makers are at conceiving, making and monetising their output.
    • A lot of this is due to the fact there are many more small companies are involved in delivering programmes for both broadcast and streaming media - and certain channels who are much more tuned into delivering decisions fast. Bottom line, they know what people like and what appeals and are fast and nimble on their feet and speedy with their delivery timelines. 
    • If you want an analogy - it's rather similar to how artists went from thinking art as being something that was sold in galleries to realising they can sell for themselves online - and ditching the too heavily corporate model. It connects the artist and the consumer much more directly.
  • The fourth thing was I had a very big think about other similar programmes - operating in different fields of endeavour - and what made them successful. I'll reference this further in the Judges and Presenters section.

Context: What has changed radically in last 10 years 

I came away from all of this thinking it made LAOTY look very staid.

So context for any rethink of LAOTY includes the notions:
  • Other models of delivering competition in plein air art are already well established elsewhere and are developing in the UK
  • the broadcasting industry has changed radically in the last 10 years
  • development and speed of delivery of television programmes has changed radically in the last 10 years (i.e. lifetime of LAOTY)
  • as a result trends on what people watch have changed radically in the last 10 years - with a major change from broadcast on a regular day / regular time to much increased consumption of streaming - even by older people. Niche interests are now catered for.
  • television formats for today need to be based on what is possible - and what connects with the potential audience - rather than what was thought a good idea 10 years ago 
By implication, if you're still doing the same thing 10 years later you are a bit of a dinosaur! Your audience has moved and you need to keep up!

Otherwise there's some considerable scope for others to come along and come up with a better idea and snatch your audience!

Scope for Solutions?

as the quality of the programme deteriorates, the quality of those applying does likewise which is then reflected in the pods etc etc etc. they are on a downward spiral.

Structure of the programme

I'd completely restructure the programme to address what seem to me to be the key issues.
  • there's a complete disconnect between the prize commission and the processes used for:
    • attracting potential participants
    • the locations at the heat and the subject of the commission
  • there's a complete disconnect between the title of the programme and what comes out the other end
    • what does (or should) Landscape Artist of the Year mean? Describe the person who should be winning
    • if it's just going to favour emerging artists with potential then why would experienced artists apply?
    • how do people who paint small paintings make it through to the Final and potentially a £10,000 commission?
  • The range of benefits for the artist and the viewer need to be reviewed
    • i.e. how many MORE leading artists would take part if they thought their experience and skills might be taken seriously
    • make more of what's on offer 

Calibre of Artist - Who's the REAL TALENT?

Select the best-suited artists for the commission in the applications process, never mind the actual heats.
If you lose credibility you also lose credible applicants. 

LAOTY is a programme which has had to:
  • extend the deadline for entries in the past
  • recruit people to apply direct from scrutiny of social media (I know quite a few artists who were approached to apply)/
There's absolutely no point in boasting how many applications you receive.
The issue essentially revolves around how many QUALITY applicants capable of producing the commission apply.  
Entrants should know what the commission is prior to entering.
In addition, we never ever get to see much of the wildcards - and yet evidence suggests they produce some very good artwork. Let's not forget these are the artists rejected via the Selection Process!

If the Judges / programme compounds errors by selecting the wrong artists, you narrow down your options for getting a good artwork from a location - and a decent artist to deliver the Commission worth £10,000!

So if you're not getting the right applicants, there's something wrong. Important factors are the nature of:
  • the application process
  • the selection process
  • the way the programme works (i.e. there might be great artists out there amongst the wildcards!)
    • e.g. have a wildcard heat - best two wildcards from every heat
In the opinion of a lot of viewers of this programme, we'd very much like to see a LOT more of the wildcard artists - and a lot less of "filler" narrative from the presenter and/or Judges. 

Liverpool by Gary Yeung 
(a wildcard artist in Episode at Liverpool Docks in January)
to my mind this is much better than the heat winner!

I just finished watching LAOTY, the episode Liverpool. It was great fun to be a reserve and a wildcard and I really enjoyed my time staying in the beautiful city of Liverpool! Here’s my piece that I did as a wildcard. A very hot day and full of sunshine, the architecture looked glorious under the sun. I would love to come back to Liverpool to sketch again! Gary Yeung on Facebook Urban Sketchers

An Alternative Process 

The application process does not seem to pay any attention to:
  • whether the artist has tried plein air painting / artmaking before (I cannot believe the number who have never tried before! Very few who have never tried produce decent artworks. It's like watching own goals on repeat every week!)
  • whether they have ever produced any decent artwork outside

Relevant specific questions and submissions could include
  • has the artist ever created art while working within the landscape?
  • what's the size of their largest artwork produced to date?
  • where can we see more of your artwork? (eg hopefully well organised on a website or Instagram. I can tell who to take seriously in any heat as soon as I do my homework about their background - which I often do in advance of the heat being broadcast.
Artists could also be asked to submit TWO different artworks
  • a small plein air artwork produced in under 4 hours within the last 12 months ie what might a heat artwork look like)
  • a larger studio artwork relating to the landscape (with minimum dimensions of a medium/large artwork) ie. what might a commission artwork look like
with an emphasis that both works will carry forward into overall decision-making throughout the programme. I think a lot of artists thinks it only counts towards the initial selection - and it's very clear it doesn't.

The selection process then needs to
  • categorise artists between 
    • plein air proficient, 
    • done a little and 
    • complete novices 
  • plus identify whether artwork which can be seen online indicates "heat artist potential"


There's scope for creating a scenario where there are (say) 50 people at each heat - any of which could progress.
Rather than separating out heat artists (where you were only limited by the number of pods) a much larger number of (say) 20 could be picked as a long list in advance in order for Judges to keep a particularly close eye on then - and let them know.  That way more artists start off very engaged with the process

The individuals in that group could then change over the course of the day. Adding people in and removing the weakest.

Also have a fixed start and finish time - which relates to the fact that time is required for choosing a view and setting up - and that some artists always paint through lunch so have painted for more than 4 hours anyway!

Pick 8 from that pool of 20 to select a heat winner from - and then we can see all submissions and heat paintings together - with the artist NOT obstructing the artwork from the viewer's perspective!!

Location, Location, Location

Various comments include
Have actual landscapes / seascapes as the focus (the odd building is fine, but not cityscapes or urbanscapes) and certainly more ‘green space’ than grey overall!
we have National Parks celebrating the very best of the UK Countryside and yet we very rarely see them on this programme.

I'm wondering whether something along the lines of regional heats in four locations followed by a more extended semi final (two locations) where you get the same set of artists painting two different views - which gives you a much better understanding about their capacity to review/select and execute an artwork about a landscape. 

There are two aspects to this solution
  • get much better at choosing diverse locations - with minimal buildings (you've done "buildings' several times over!!)
  • base activities in the heat on actual plein air painters not an artist locked in a cell!
For me, one of the critical decisions which tells me whether somebody is a good landscape artist or not is the view they choose as their subject.  (The same might be said for a programme about landscape art - how they choose their subject locations. Is an artist involved at any stage?

The choice of view and then the design of the landscape is absolutely fundamental and critical to an assessment of them as a landscape artist - and yet this autonomy is an option which is effectively taken away from all the artists by putting them in a pod with a fixed view!!!
Allow the artists to paint from different viewpoints. All standing in the same place is absolutely NOT what an artist would do. That’s why the wildcard entries are often more interesting.
For that reason, I would:
  • GET RID OF THE PODS (Their only purpose seems to be providing a continuous film of how the painting is painted which nobody ever sees.  Plus it saves the judges and presenters from trekking around to see individuals. Something professional landscape artist/tutors are very accustomed to doing!!)
  • identify options for landscape art around the UK - which do not need easy access and flat land for pods!!
  • identify a small area with several options for views
  • allow all heat artists to review the options for 20 minutes and then select:
    • the view they want to work on
allow the artist to choose their view of “a landscape” within a defined space.
    • where they locate themselves
    • with an easel or portable folding table
    • plus portable folding stool
    • plus umbrella
they used umbrellas on "Watercolour Challenge" successfully.
The filming then works around the artists rather than the artists having to work around the simplest solution for the production company.
  • The cameramen could then work with small portable cameras and sound equipment and they follow the artists - much as they do at present within a very small confined space.
  • The drone can still do its job - but this time including locating where the artists have set up.
  • The money saved on carting the pods around and erecting them, then opens up many more possibilities for locations - if they hire a toilets truck and/or a refreshments truck plus a tent for shelter instead.
One additional feature at each location
Perhaps include a short educational feature showing the work of other artists who have painted in or around the same place - whether living or from history.
One additional change at each location. Do NOT advertise the location of the filming - and avoid visitors who desperately want to be on television from swamping the view and the artists
Keep the crowds at bay and away from the pods (also not swarming where the artists are trying to paint).


Judges are more credible - and more acceptable to viewers - if they have relevant experience and expertise.

Judges - the "Competition" Context

When I had my " BIG THINK" about all the programmes about endeavour in a particular area of expertise, there was one very simple single truth about all of them....


I'll just highlight that again - the only people who get to Judge these programmes are those who can "do" what is being judged.

It's a simple and successful principle - which avoids have audiences castigating the Judges every week - as happens very regularly with both PAOTY and PAOTY.

Think about the following - which are also programmes that reduce the number of people involved progressively with ever heat/episode.
Great Pottery Throwdown seems to come across as completely fresh every season. This is probably due to the supportive and very highly experienced and professional potters/ceramicists as the judges. I understand that the knockout scenario of GPT isn’t right for an en plein air landscape competition but LAOTY producers could gain a lot from observing the general ambience of the programmes.
  • The Great British Sewing Bee (BBC1) - ALL the Judges are celebrated experts in tailoring and designing/making clothes
  • The Great British Bakeoff (Channel 4) - ALL the Judges are (or have been) acclaimed culinary experts / cooks / bakers / teachers
  • Bakeoff: The Professionals (Channel 4) - ALL the Judges are professional and prizewinning chefs / patissier.
  • The Great British Menu (BBC2) - ALL the Judges are acclaimed and professional/practising Chefs
  • MasterChef and MasterChef the Professionals (BBC1) - three professional chefs with a very seasoned presenter who was previously a greengrocer and founder of a large greengrocer suppliers. Masterchef claims to now be the most successful factual-entertainment format in the world, consistently breaking records and winning accolades.
Most (with the exception of GB Menu and MasterChef) are produced by Love Productions - one of Storyvault Films's competitors.

It's very clear that LAOTY is completely out of sync with the industry standard for gaining respect and credibility. The Judges of the other series focus on design, technical achievement and  presentation. One gets a very clear sense they are working to defined criteria as to what is acceptable and what is not.

There are none of the incomprehensible comments which viewers regularly hear from one Judge in particular on LAOTY.

What's missing from LAOTY (and PAOTY?) - and their Judges

I find it absolutely amazing that professional artists who predominantly paint landscapes and routinely exhibit in leading exhibitions of contemporary landscape art are not in any way represented among the Judges - either as guests or as part of the regular team.

As such is it surprising that very many of the leading landscape artists do not bother to enter this programme! If you're not being judged by the best of your peers why would you bother?
Why can't the Judges for the two programmes (PAOTY and LAOTY) be different? 
That then provides scope for:
  • landscape specialists / practising landscape artists contributing to LAOTY
  • portrait specialists / practising portraitists contributing to PAOTY
I'd argue that there then is an argument to keep Tai as the continuity between the two and with the past - and changing the other Judges

If somebody wants them to judge in a curatorial role then why does that need to be on location? Why not stay home - where it's warm and dry - and judge from 
  • a selection of finished paintings judged as potential winners by practising professional artist Judges
  • + their submissions 
  • in a studio where there's lots of time to take a look and make a considered judgement.

Judging - the way forward

I think I'd suggest Tai "on location" and replace BOTH Kathleen and Kate with two (or more) practising professional plein air artists. 

My preference would be for each episode to include:
  • Tai - possibly - as continuity in the first instance - I think we'd see a brand new "refreshed" Tai in the company of two other artists, especially ones used to painting plein air. If not, replace him too.
  • a NEW plein air painter of very good standing within the plein air world - preferably one who can draw and work in oil and watercolour.
  • and/or an established landscape artist who frequently sketches plein air - in whatever media - but mainly works in the studio to create larger works
  • and/or a plein air landscape painter who is local to the area of the episode (eg Scottish artist if in Scotland; a street artist if doing cityscapes). A local artist would help mix introduce a new perspective - and also help connect the programme to the local area.
one guest judge for the whole series would work IMO especially if it were an artist with experience and expertise relevant to the prize commission. MAM FB Page Comment
Preferably ones who 
  • have won major prizes and/or undertaken large commissions for prestigious clients - and 
  • who know what's involved in working both plein air and for a client
  • who can explain clearly and precisely why one work is better than another.

NEW Judges: Person Spec / Examples 

I had a think about who might fulfil what's needed in terms of landscape artists who are celebrated by other artists and/or well known to viewers

This is a person spec. for people who fit the profile for the type of person I'm thinking of.
  • credibility as a professional landscape painter at a national level e.g.
    • winner of several awards
    • member of a national art society
    • gallery artist with a well known gallery
    • artworks in national or prestigious collections
  • experienced communicator - in terms of books and articles - explaining clearly what's important
  • very experienced in front of cameras as a presenter of videos and/or broadcast television
  • prior experience of judging landscape artwork in a competitive context (eg art competitions and open exhibitions)
  • credibility with overseas audiences (re overseas sales)
Below are some possibles - who include people who have been regularly involved in judging artwork for exhibitions in the past:
  • Adebanji Alade PROI - He participated in Series 1 and is the current President of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters. His current career involves broadcast journalism about art with the BBC's "The One Programme". He's somebody I have now known for many years and I can attest to the fact he is also an extremely positive and upbeat person who is also a motivational speaker and has a strong following in the UK and USA. (The video below is from 8 years ago and documents the complete process of his creating a large painting in his episode of LAOTY)

  • Peter Brown PPNEAC, PS, ROI, RBA, - known as an all-weather painter, he routinely paints all year long across the UK, its cities (e.g. Bath, Bristol, London or Glasgow), countryside and coastline. Plus major cultural and historical events when they present themselves eg Glastonbury. He has received numerous awards and is a member of several national art societies and has just completed a five year terms as President of the New English Art Club (which many amateur and professional artists aspire to exhibit with). He also has solo shows with Messums on a annual basis. He is the author of several publications and has also created teaching videos in the past for reputable producers. Works in pencil. charcoal and oils and is a frequent user of panoramic formats 'en plein air'.
Known for working directly from his subject, he is affectionately known as ‘Pete the Street’.
If not available for judging, Peter Brown would be an excellent consultant for suggesting locations which might work well.
  • David Curtis ROI RSMA - He's the sort of artist many artists would absolutely love to meet. His landscape paintings are held in private collections in Britain and abroad, including in the USA, Canada, Belgium, France, Greece, India, West Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong.  He's revered by very many landscape painters - both professionals and amateurs - as a very experienced plein air painter and an accomplished landscape artist working in his studio. He works in both watercolour and oils. He'a also a marine artist of long standing - and knows all the issues relating to painting coasts and marine environments. He's also the editorial consultant for The Artist magazine, the author of many books and publications and presenter of many videos - so used to working with cameras.

I could keep going on male artist front ....BUT and to avoid it being a too male affair......
  • Haidee-Jo Summers VPROI RSMA She is a full-time professional artist known for painting gardens, landscapes and seascapes 'en plein air'. She is the current Vice President of the Royal Institute of Oil painters (VPROI) as well as an elected member of the Royal Society of Marine Artists (RSMA).  She is the author of two books on oil painting and is an editorial consultant for The Artist magazine. She is also used to working with cameras having produced  two popular DVDs with APV films which demonstrate her painting process en plein air. She's a regular exhibitor and teaches via workshops, videos, books and articles.

Actual Judging

There needs to be more scope to even up the unevenness of people making art in different heats
I would like to see a place in the semi final for one that the judges regret not choosing in the heats, such as Andrew Barrowman
The semi finals needs to include people who didn't become a heat winner but who are obviously very competent. 
  • Either by reserving places for "also rans" 
  • Or allowing each Judge to put forward their favourite artist who wasn't a heat winner.
If the semi finals run pretty much like the heats then there's much more scope to ask extra people to participate - to stand the best chance of getting the right people in the final.


This programme needs to stay focused - it's NOT a comedy show
Different presenter - someone like Jim Moir who knows about painting would be great. Less stupid punning and running gags.
What a difference it would make if the presenter was somebody who liked / loved art - as evidenced elsewhere? 

To my mind it also needs somebody who can present who clearly loves art - preferably landscape art. Suggestions for new replacements for the very punny Mangan revolve around people who are genuinely interested in art and include:
  • Jim Moir (Vic Reeves) - who has an "serious art habit" and has participated as an artist in Celebrity Landscape Artist of the Year. He paints landscapes but prefers birds. Also works with Sky Arts Painting Birds with Jim and Nancy 
  • Joe Lycett - who has participated in Grayson Perry's programme and had artwork accepted for the RA Summer Exhibition. Lots of ideas but might be a tad too maverick?
  • Harry Hill - has been painting since the early 90s and has taken courses at the Slade Scool of Art and is serious about art which isn't comic. He also like humorous art which comments on culture and has had artwork exhibited at the RA Summer Exhibition and the Edinburgh Fringe.
None of them are landscape artists but all love art and pursue it irrespective of their main careers.

Summary - in conclusion

Landscape Artist of the Year needs a radical refresh to keep it relevant to a wider audience in the years to come - particularly those who are artists or who love landscape art. It's already lost viewers who cannot stand the ridiculous locations and the inane or incomprehensible comments of Judges. 

This includes:
  • improving the calibre of participant - by making the application and selection process more geared up to getting the right calibre of candidate
  • getting rid of the pods - and allowing the artist more autonomy to select the view which connects to them
  • embracing more options for potential locations - around the UK, now the scope for locating pods is removed
  • replacing existing Judges with professional landscape artists 
    • who  are very credible at a national level AND
    • have an extensive repertoire of relevant skills
  • making sure the Presenter is really interested in art - and not just a Presenter who can do "funnies"


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. 

Landscape Artist of the Year 2024 (Series 9) 

This series was filmed in Summer 2023 and was broadcast in early 2024. These are my blog posts about everything from the call for entries to the final commission.

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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