The semi-final in Felixstowe on the hottest day of the year

Well technically Felixstowe was the hottest place in the UK, the day before the semi-final, but thankfully with the sea breeze it was bearable, unless you closed your pod flap!

Stunned as I was to get in to the semi-final, I was chomping at the bit waiting for the day to come. I had, as before, tried to guess exactly where we would be. I had scoured places all within 30 mins or so of Ipswich and hadn’t come to any great conclusions, but as the day came nearer, I started to wonder if they had chosen Felixstowe port. Last year the semi-final had been a more challenging view than the heats – remember those lavender fields? I started to put my bet on the port and what seemed to most feasible place to put us – on the beach at Languard Fort looking at the ginormous shipping cranes. I was right!

If you read my last blog you will have seen that the degree of competitiveness that had surfaced in me as I prepared for the heat had come as quite a surprise. I don’t consider myself competitive or that driven, but as I considered the semi-final, competitiveness surged up and I prepared with fervour. I even looked up the shipping timetable to see if there were container ships due in during the day which might change our view…more about that later. Here is a bit of an idea about the location and view:

I have to admit that when I arrived in my pod overwhelm arrived instantly and stayed all day! I actually enjoy industrial settings and in many ways, the structural elements and the dower colours suited me, but I was really flummoxed. There was just so much of it all. So much metal and detail and bigness (technical term!).  I started with a battleship grey/blue underpainting in acrylic, planning to work over it in oils. I also under-painted another canvas in terracotta, this time planning to turn away from the cranes and paint the beach, fort and some cranes in the distance. Whilst I started the second canvas with vigour, I soon realised that the main one had to take priority.

As had happened in my heat, I hit a crisis around midday. I have likened it to “the wall” that marathon runners’ hit and I wonder if this happens in most intense competitive events? I was feeling out of my depth and fought to stop myself from crying (yeah I am a bit of a soppy person).  I even asked Stephen Mangan for a hug, who obliged and was lovely.

It was around an hour or so before the end of the day when things got even more challenging. People started to look round and point behind the pods. Yep, it had happened. The most gigantic container ship was arriving and was plonking itself right in the front of our view…we are not just talking about a regular ship. Look at this tweet to get an idea of the scale:

I felt slightly smug as I knew it was due. Yep, geeky me had clearly made sense of the shipping timetable (I did stop short of downloading the Felixstowe port app though). So, do I add the ship or not? Yes, was my decision although I do rather question the scale of the ship I added!

I pulled the painting together somehow. I have since started to realise that this intense, boundaried four-hour thing, suits me in many ways. It forces me to resolve things then and there, rather than depart and leave a painting dangling for weeks, if not months.  It was looking better but it lacked something. In these circumstances you really need to sit down and take a long ponder and critically assess your work. You may need to take radical action or just take a small, considered step. Well my step might have seemed radical to some, but it was a considered one actually.

Weirdly I had been interested in these green, triangular signs that you often see on beaches, near harbours or other structures.  I had seen some further down the beach earlier on my walk about and made a mental note. I decided to see what would happen if I put one in the painting, prominently at the front. I cut a triangle out in paper and painted it green, sellotaped it to my painting, sat down and had a cup of tea. Joan arrived for a chat during this time and I decided to add the triangle to my work. It really helped the painting…and clearly the judges felt so too!

I still tried to prepare myself for this day being the end of the competition for me, but I really wanted to do the challenge or commission painting that the three finalists had to do. So, hearing I was in the top three and going into the final, was just the best.  I bounced round the beach for ages and only stopped when my crunching was disrupting filming!

Commission painting and final here I come!!!


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