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  • Writer's pictureGina Ferrari

Portrait Artist of the Year

I’m sure like many of you reading this, I’m rather addicted to both the Sky Arts TV programmes Portrait Artist of the Year (PAOTY) and Landscape Artist of the Year (LAOTY). I especially love PAOTY and I enjoy seeing the submission paintings, watching the different artists work in their various media and styles, seeing which portraits the sitters choose to take home and I’m always intrigued by how the judges pick the winners. I can swing between thinking “I could never be that good” to occasionally “I’m sure I could do better than that” (although in truth, that is unlikely). So, in the spirit of you’ve got to be in it to win it, this year I entered PAOTY for the second time, but alas I was also unsuccessful for the second year running.

My entry for this year

There was a brief moment of disappointment when I received the rejection email last week but truthfully it wasn't entirely unexpected, I don’t mind and I'm certainly not put off trying again.

So, why do I enter and put myself through weeks of anticipation followed by rejection? I think there is a certain element of wanting my 15 minutes of fame by being on telly, after all I do have previous form. I have applied and been rejected by both the Great British Bake Off (several times) and The British Sewing Bee. I had no aspirations of winning either of these shows and no real reason for entering other than it might be a bit of a laugh, but I have long given up on both. They get tens of thousands of entries and I think the selection process appears a little suspect and rather than being based on talent it is based more on filling a quota of certain race, gender, and age categories not to mention eccentricity. I might be out there on the bonkers scale but there is only ever one white oldish woman so my chances have always been slim! Their primary aim seems to be to make entertainment hence the often inane comedy element in both shows too. But the art shows are different. Yes, it might be fun and I’m always up for a new challenge to keep me motivated. But as well as being made for TV entertainment they are also serious art competitions and I think that is what compels me to enter..

I belong to a ‘fan’ group of both shows on Facebook where there have been some interesting insights on the application and selection process from an actual producer on the shows. All digital applications are seen independently by the three show judges who will give an initial yes or no response. Paintings that receive a yes from all three nearly always automatically go through, those with no from all three get rejected. Those with two positive responses will get discussed and considered by all three judges together and even those with only one tick get considered if there are still places to be filled. Only then are contestants allocated a heat to give a mix of people to create an interesting show. In particular they try to get a good mix of both amateur and professional artists. So although they are primarily making an entertainment show, it is also fairly selected and based on talent.

These are just a few of the other amazing 'rejects'

What the criteria for each judges’ selection might be, one can only guess, after all art can be hugely subjective. I imagine they are looking for technique, originality, a consistent style and something that catches their eye, possibly with a strong narrative. Having seen many of the rejected entries in the Facebook group I think there is a temptation to be too ‘original’ or different, in an attempt to stand out and be eye catching, which may not always work in the favour of the artist. But there are also many fabulous rejected pictures so I feel in good company and that is one of the reasons I don’t feel too disappointed. After all, if these are some of the rejections then the standard for the show must be really high and rightly so. Both shows offer a £10,000 commission, usually for a major institution, as a prize, confirming it is a serious art competition as well as a TV show providing entertainment.

Another reason I’m not too disappointed is that I can see where my own entry doesn’t work and where I can make many improvements. I believe it is a strong image but the angle of my face means my chin is very foreshortened plus there was a bright light on my chin so that that made it tricky to paint and I didn't do a very good job of it. I should have painted over that area and tried again, but I didn't. If I crop the image to exclude my chin it works better as an interesting painting but not really a portrait. I need more experience working with flesh tones and with my application of paint. I also don’t think that I’m ready in that I don’t have enough experience at painting portraits. I need to keep practising, developing my style and maybe also try a live sitter, having only worked from photographs so far. Rather than feeling discouraged it has made me want to up my game, improve my skills and learn as much as I can about portrait painting so that I’m ready to enter again next year. After all, nothing ventured nothing gained and there's nothing to lose really.

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