Winning an actual place on Sky Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 was a delicious surprise and I was determined to enjoy every moment whilst it lasted. So with this in mind, I turned up at Broadstairs earlier this summer with one thing on my mind – to just enjoy the day, make a painting that had legs and not look too daft on telly (first one is easy, second one you can decide, third one… who knows!) Now that isn’t to say that I didn’t prepare for the day. For a non-competitive person, something took over me once I learned I had won a place. I practiced the whole 4-hour thing, researched Broadstairs and put together a game plan.
The overall plan didn’t start well as my car broke down ‘en route’ from Bristol to Kent and I had to abandon it in Surrey, reduce my painting gear drastically and get the train to London and then into Kent. Instead of arriving around 6pm with time to chill, I arrived at midnight, exhausted and knowing I had to get up at 5am to be on set by 7am!
I grew up in Kent and have fond memories of the beach at Broadstairs, but this time my visit was very different. I had an idea of what awaited me as I had seen the pods before, but it was a little overwhelming. I didn’t stay in overwhelm for very long as I suddenly realised there were cameras around (I love a camera!) and lots of really nice people. The crew were amazing, so friendly, patient and very professional! I love people – meeting new people, finding out things and having a good chat. I reckon I spent just as much time chatting as I did paint that day, so the fact that I managed to complete my painting was a small miracle.
I’ve long known how essential it is for me to do some charcoal sketches before painting and whilst I did spring into action underpainting three canvases when Joan Bakewell started the challenge, I then settled down to some quiet drawing before doing anything else. Whilst Broadstairs is beautiful and the harbour with its boats and sparkly water are picturesque, they didn’t really do it for me and I very quickly knew that I had no intention of painting the harbour view. The mossy cliffs however, were interesting and soft compared to the hard shapes and brightness of the summer’s day.
Guessing how talented the selected artists were likely to be, I avoided looking at everyone else’s work, (except the chap to my left as I had to walk pass his pod every time I needed the loo!) I knew that seeing how well everyone else was doing would completely freak me out and I was determined that I would just do my own thing and enjoy it. I am quite good at undermining myself and wrecking my confidence by comparing myself to others, so it made sense to go into my own little bubble. The only thing that broke into my painting bubble were the lovely chats with Stephen, Joan and the judges.
I started work on three canvases that I had previously sized and I quickly under-painted them all in acrylic of different colours. The canvas I worked on in the end was under-painted in a dirty, mustardy ochre. I then worked in thin oil paint, which dried very quickly in the warm, dry air. I hit a mid-point crisis, but managed to calm myself down, spend some time really thinking before carrying on. I made some brave decisions about what to leave in, what to leave out and also the late decision to paint a roof blue rather than the dull grey it was in reality.
The day was drawing in and the sun setting on what was a marvellous experience. I never imagined that I had a chance of progressing in the competition and was a little sad that it was all over. I tried to keep my chin up and chat to the other contestants as we waited – everyone was tired, and many had long journeys home. When you watch competitions on telly, it seems to take ages for the results to be announced doesn’t it? Well it actually takes much, much longer than that. I kept looking over from where we were sitting by the water’s edge trying to guess what was going on. That was pointless!
When the results were finally announced, I was so shocked to be in the top three that suddenly nerves appeared where there were none before. It is much easier assuming you are not going to win – much less stressful! I was beyond shocked when they announced me as winner of my heat – utterly stunned, but completely overjoyed that I was staying in the process and would get to have another fun day at the semi-final…wherever that was going to be!
In terms of painting, I have difficulty assessing my own work. It took me several weeks to look at my painting with kindly eyes and actually think “yeah, I get it now”.
Semi-final here I come!