Advice for taking part as a Wild Card artist in Sky Landscape Artist of the Year competition

Having been lucky enough to get an actual place in a heat this year made me reflect on my two previous experiences of being a Wild Card artist in 2015 and 2016. In the current series my heat will be televised on the 13th November at 8pm on Sky Arts.

I will tell you more about being in a heat in my next blog but I loved every minute of being a Wild Card artist and highly recommend it. You learn so much from the process and I would do it numerous times a year if possible!

So back in 2015, I entered the competition submitting an image which at the time, represented my work but also something that felt achievable in the short time frame available. I had nothing to lose and shortly after hearing I was not successful at getting a place, I decided I would definitely apply for a Wild Card place. My nearest location was going to be at Trellisk in Cornwall and I excitedly booked a B&B knowing it was still at least 3 hours’ drive from home.

I took a lot of stuff – too much really – and as I stood in the queue with the other Wild Card artists, I realised several things: most people had a supportive other with them to carry their stuff, help them set up etc. but I was on my own. Clearly I am not into art gear and prefer to keep it a bit organic with recycled pots, old rags, self-made supports etc. and perhaps I didn’t have too much stuff after all, looking at what others had brought!

It was whilst in the queue that a chap I knew from the school playground, drove past! “Oi Paul, what are you doing here?” My dulcet tones travelled across the posh grounds of Trellisk. “Well that’s my wife standing next to you!” he said. And so it came to pass, that 200 miles from home, I met another artist from my small town in South Gloucestershire. We made friends instantly and over the course of the day we did not stop talking.

In some ways that chance meeting set the tone for the whole day and made it so, so lovely and melted any stress or desires for the day outside of complete enjoyment and fun with some lovely people, doing the thing we love! My new chum, Jeanette, (who also has the same name as me!) and I, plopped ourselves under a tree for the day and got chatting to another lady we discovered also lived only 5 miles up the road from us! Weird eh? These chance meetings gave us a lovely topic of conversation later on when Frank Skinner came by – we all chatted and giggled away and it remains one of the best days ever.

In terms of painting, being a Wild Card is pretty tough. Both times at Trellisk and the year later at Stowe, the weather was grotty.  You need to be prepared for all sorts but also choose your media carefully, so your painting doesn’t all wash away. You also need to prepare snacks and drinks for the day. I would advise not taking too much gear. It takes so much time to set up and can also impede painting as there are too many choices to be made. I also advise doing at least half an hour sketching and considering compositions before you dive in. There is a real temptation to just start painting as it feels a bit of panic only having four hours or so, but thinking time is really important. I work quite fast and worked on my main painting for quite some time but then started a side piece, which eventually turned out better. One of the judges gave that piece a great compliment which boosted my confidence so much and lasted for a long time afterwards – the power of good feedback eh?

Something I do remember feeling was how lucky the artists in the pods were and how I did feel a little like a second-class citizen, which I think says more about me really – bit insecure and jealous perhaps? The pods are sheltered and have electricity and you get cups of tea and food etc, whereas as a Wild Card artist you are pretty much on your own. Having now been an actual heat artist, I do feel very privileged. The crew look after you really well and the cuppas are most welcome. Saying that, the painting stays the same. Yes, you might be protected from the rain a little, but you still have to paint and produce something in four hours. You still have to make good decisions about what to tackle, how to tackle it and what to leave out etc. You also have, I feel, to get into the environment and really get a sense of the place you are in and what its about: what stories does the landscape have, what is the history of the place, how do people use the space.

Look out for my next blog where I talk about entering Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year award and being a part of a heat!


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