Former Portrait Diploma student, Jane Clatworthy, recently made an appearance on Episode 4 of this year’s Sky Portrait Artist of the Year competition.
She says of the experience
‘I wasn’t actually going to enter for the Sky Portrait Artist of the Year, but a member of the production team encouraged me to try and a couple of my Heatherleys classmates had already done it the previous year and enjoyed it. Since I had just, as an exercise, completed a quick self-portrait and I’m a firm believer in the motto, ‘you should do something everyday that scares you’, I decided to give it a go.
If you are thinking of trying, don’t hesitate, jump in, and perhaps this will help you decide.
I think perhaps there are two ways to approach going on the programme, you either go hoping to get through to the final or you go just for the experience of the day. I very much went for the simple fun of it and as a small personal challenge. This took away any pressure I might have felt, so I was very relaxed throughout the process. If I went on the show again, which is always an option, I’d know exactly what to expect and really would try to get through to the final.
It’s a little bit nerve racking to be constantly surrounded by cameras but there are so many, after the first few hours it becomes easy to ignore the bustle. I had decided before hand I was going to paint entirely from life (which given that I believe strongly in the merits of photography as a tool, this might come as a surprise to one or two of my Heatherleys tutors – I’m looking at you Chris Moock J J) Not referring to an electronic device enabled me to fully engage with my sitter and Stephen Graham was a great laugh, but be warned, the crew are so used to artists painting from a reference that you will often find them between you and your sitter as they move in for better camera angles. The four hours allocated do not take that into account, so you have to be prepared for this. Plus, you get interrupted for little on the spot interviews as they need a lot of clips to make a final edit. Only a small proportion of these will make the final programme so just relax and be yourself , the editing team actually want to make you look good as otherwise they wouldn’t be able to get artists to come on the show.
Also, those of us painting from life actually had to take lunch and tea breaks whilst the others were free to carry on painting. Tai Shan Schierenberg at the start, encouraged all of us to take a reference shot, he no doubt, had some sympathy for the outrageously changing light conditions of the Wallace Collection (the venue has since been changed), so I had the option to continue working during the lunch break, I simply opted not to – they provide a fabulous lunch, and a lovely afternoon tea, both of which were very sparsely attended.
I suggest you take earphones and a good playlist because you paint with an audience and you may find yourself getting distracted by the people behind you chatting about what you are doing, and it will help take your mind off the fact that so many people are watching and (sometimes) verbally analyzing your technique.
As a Heatherleys student, the one thing you are being taught to do is paint from life, and paint from life well! I would take advantage of this and know that you are already way better equipped than many who go on the program never having painted from life before. If you decide to use a reference to help the process, especially if you need that extra time, than your work will be even stronger for perhaps being more complete, which is something I think the judges look for.
I chose to leave mine as a ‘study’ and stopped with 45 minutes still left on the clock. I felt I had captured Stephen and I liked where it was, I still do in fact, even though when they compared it to my self-portrait, they found it lacking. Stephen liked it enough to take home, thankfully I had taken photos along the way.
The reason I chose not to push further was I recognized at that juncture I could absolutely lose the magical bit and then would never be able to get it back in the remaining time, so I simply downed my brushes.
It’s a long day with an early 7.00am start, but everyone on the set is tremendously supportive and you each have your own person to look after your individual needs. The team try very hard to make it as easy as possible to paint, and you really do feel they are on your side throughout the whole day.
It’s a fun experience, one I might consider doing again at some point in the future, when I’m not so busy with my own practice.
If you are interested in knowing more about being on the programme, or simply what life as an artist is actually like once you leave Heatherleys, or if you fancy a visit to my studio, by all means get in touch, I’m always happy to share anything I have learned on this interesting, challenging and engaging journey. Contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org and she will pass your messages or contact details on.’