My Portrait Artist of the Year Experience

I was so excited to find out I’d got a place in Portrait Artist of the Year at the beginning of 2020, with filming originally planned for March.

I was lucky enough to have some wonderful models pose for me in life, I mostly work from photos as I need time to make mistakes, learn from them and come back with fresh eyes a few days later, but apparently this wouldn’t be possible on the show (I checked!) I needed to work on my time management. I did indeed make a lot of mistakes on this series of portraits but I learnt so much from them.

And then filming was postponed due to ‘one thing and another!!’

My nerves would have to hold out a little longer.

So then Pete, my husband took on the full brunt of modelling duties, clothed, nude, eating dinner, watching TV, wherever I could get him! Poor bugger!

That was until Portrait Artist of the Week began, where a celebrity sitter would pose for four hours whilst past contestants and the public could paint along in real time. This was incredibly helpful to my practice (and is back on for lockdown 2 so take full advantage and join in!)

The day finally arrived for filming

4.30 wake up call and I’m feeling like an actual grown-up, driving myself to London, bit of makeup on, clean clothes. And then it begins to rain. Two hours of poor visibility and splash back from massive lorries on the motorway really added to my nerves for the day-and then the fear hit my stomach. With beads of sweat forming on my brow, and my labour breathing techniques being put to good use, I saw the glowing sparkling lights of Asda (my car park for the day) I was saved. I was the last person to arrive on set, but I had a beaming smile that said ‘I’ve already won, I didn’t shit myself on the way here!’

The crew were great and worked so hard, they quickly put us in front of cameras and asked simple questions like ‘who would you like to paint?’ Which somehow felt like a hard-hitting interrogation.

The model reveal:

Don Letts was a beautiful man to draw. I felt privileged to have him as our model, he was funny, humble, a bit of a fidget but really helped ease our nerves. He also enjoyed testing us, placing his hand by his face for the sitting – he said ‘You can tell a good artist by how they paint hands!’

It was time to start. I began with quick sketches on paper to plan out the composition and to get to know Don’s features. Once I had the canvas in front of me I started to get some washes of colour on, to get rid of the harsh white and build a bit of texture. It was at this point that I forgot how to paint (this
is actually a daily occurrence, but is much more noticeable when surrounded by cameras, crew, celebrities and blinking Sam next to me, who had nearly finished his beautiful painting!), but Kate came over and managed to say something positive and encouraging – what a pro!

I gave myself a bit of a talking-to and got going.

Don was such an interesting person to paint and maybe it’s to do with him being a director that I felt he was observing us as much as we were him. It felt like a collaborative process, and his high energy levels certainly sustained me throughout the day.

It was about half way through that the painting
started coming together and I could see where I wanted it to go. Tai chatted to me about my ‘squinting eye, pencil angle to phone technique’ and it’s at times like that you realise what a weird way you work!

By the end of paint, all us artists were feeling
pretty emotionally and physically exhausted and all I could think about was my enourmous bag of untouched snacks that I had left with the paintings, where the judges were now doing their thing! I was feeling a bit weak and started to get the giggles. I mean
this series had been filmed straight out of lockdown, the crew all wore masks (before masks were the norm), I hadn’t talked to an adult in a really long time-and now I was in this situation that was both fantastic and absurd!

It was great to have my painting chosen for the
final 3 and Kofi was such a deserved winner! He is a super talented artist and such a lovely cool guy.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the charming Stephen Mangan, who I am now in a serious and committed relationship with (he just doesn’t know it yet!)