In the run up to this years Sky Arts Portrait of The Year show, I thought I’d let you all know a bit about my experience from taking part last year.
I almost didn’t enter and ‘chucked in’ an entry last minute as it was free and I already had a decent self portrait which was selected for the SELF exhibition at The Mall Galleries which finished just days before (that’s a whole other story which you can find here).
A couple of weeks later I got a phone call out of the blue to let me know I had been selected to participate in the London episode……then major panic set in. I thought about pulling out every single day in the run up. Being a bit of an erratic painter with a spontansous process, quite private, and prone to regular painterly eff-ups, I was absolutely terrified. I hate cameras, hate being watched working, and in my opinion I’m not great at talking about my work, especially when on the spot. Would it be possibly to just embrace all this and throw myself in the deep end like this? Could I really afford to make a complete arse of myself on national TV? I decided that yes I could. Worst outcome would be that I would create a complete monstrosity and end up a laughing stock for 5 minutes and then be forgotten. I was in! On the day I chose the biggest canvas available, idea being I am most likely to make a hash of it all, so I might as well go down with the biggest bang possible, and if luck was on my side and it worked out, then it would mean something potentially great and impactful. Either way I was going for it.
On the day I managed to bring the wrong bag of materials (don’t even ask) so I didn’t have my large brushes or even the right colour paint. Resume PANIC. I was so nervous about everything and it took a while for me to actually stop shaking. There were 3 celebrity sitters, the great Juliet Stevenson, Alison Steadman and Robert Lindsay. I had the good fortune to be in the group painting British actor Robert Lindsay who I’ve long been a fan of and who was a brilliant sitter in every way. Great to paint and fab personality with a wicked sense of humour, which helped immensely. My group was being judged/overseen by Tai Shan Shierenberg, I could not have asked for a better start!
My painting process was a little bit like a chameleon on a roller coaster. Every 5 seconds my piece looked totally different. Fun indeed for the spectator but quite stressful for artiste. Did I mention that this was in the middle of Trafalgar Square with a million billion tourists, friends and family, and passers by watching the process behind my back? No pressure at all. The film people managed to edit the whole thing wonderfully and watching you’d never guess how much sweat, brush throwing, canvas abuse and swearing was involved on my part. Poor Robert, who determinedly didn’t look at any of the works until the end, admitted afterwards that he expected something monstrous was being created on my canvas the way I was carrying on. I guess I was being a bit of a drama queen.
Here’s a little image that Sky Arts put together using my painting:
The whole day was without a doubt one of the most intense experiences of my art life so far. I cannot put into words the immense stress and exhileration I experienced on the day. To tell you it took me about 3 days to recover emotionally from it would not be an exaggeration, although I don’t think this comes out so much in the actual TV episode. How celebrities and people constantly under the spotlight manage I have no idea. On the other hand it pushed me to paint in a different way and since then my approach to my work has changed and I feel I have definitely jumped forward as a result. My decisions are bolder. The triptych of my father was painted shortly after and I feel reflects what I ‘learned’. It was completed very quickly and I think it manages to capture that something that I have struggled to capture in painting him up until then. My brushstrokes are loser but more concise and somehow I think this all makes my work better, although it takes conscious effort to maintain this approach. I am also prepared to take more risks now and generally care less about what other people may think, about anything.
At the end of the day I was very pleased with my painting. Nothing is ever perfect or turns out exactly how planned, which certainly holds true for my portrait of Robert Lindsay. Of course I wanted to win, but I got into the final 3. I was up against such talented artists that I had to pinch myself to make sure it really happened. By the time I was up on stage waiting for the final results of the London round to be called, I was so over saturated with high emotion from the day that I was not even that much in suspense as I was so physically shattered.
My biggest regret of the day was that I came away with no pictures at all, not even of the final painting. No pictures of Robert, the other artists, the other works, nothing! I also did not really get to speak or get a picture with Joan Bakewell or Frank Skinner. Really gutted about that.
So, if you’re debating whether or not to enter just do it!