Unlike my experience at Broadstairs as a wild card for heat 2 of Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2018, I didn't write down my thoughts and memories of the semi-final at the time as frankly, I was worn out! But as the exhibition of semi-finalists work opens next week at Clarendon Fine Art, London, I thought I would jot down a few things (and maybe set the record straight on a couple of things I've seen online too!!)
Between winning the wild card at Broadstairs and being told I had made it to the semi-final were 2 very long weeks. I found it difficult to think about anything else, although I knew the chances of me making it through were very slim. When I got the call from Storyvault Productions I actually thought the lady had said 'I regret to tell you you haven't made it' and did my best to hide my acute disappointment. But the conversation continued and when she said she'd be calling the following week for a 2 hour-ish interview I realised I must have misheard and erupted with excitement!
Having seen the other contenders at the beginning of the semi-final episode I can see how lucky I was as there were some fantastic paintings there, by artists that clearly get to paint a lot more than I do, and are much more accomplished!
I was told on the Friday prior to the semi-final (on the following Tuesday) that the semi-final would be at Felixstowe Port. I was fascinated to see that quite a few of my fellow artists had done quite a bit of preparation ahead of the event, from checking out times of ships to sketching in and around the area and reading up on the background of the site. I did none of this! I wouldn't say this was lack of foresight, but more the fact that I am always fearful of spoiling what Bonnard would call 'the first rapture' of looking. I wanted to turn up and be awed by it for the first time, and use this reaction to drive the painting. And besides, I would hate to fall in love with something I'd seen online in a Google image search of 'Felixstowe Port' only to find the pods were pointing in the opposite direction to what I had envisaged.
When I arrived to Felixstowe Port, panic set in immediately. The scene was so huge, and I couldn't feel 'the first rapture' about any of it! It had always been my intention to start the challenge by painting or sketching to resolve composition, and by doing this I established that what I was drawn to was the contrast between a family playing on the beach and the monumental cranes behind. Kathleen mentioned in the programme that it felt like a giant adventure playground. I remember thinking there was something surreal and slightly eerie about kids playing somewhere so unpretty, and unforgivingly so. That ended up being my idea.
With hindsight, I'm not sure how I feel about having painted what I was told at the time was 'the biggest painting every made on LAOTY'. Admittedly I rushed a lot and would never paint that big again with a 4 hour window! But something inside me needed to really push myself that day, and with so much nervous energy buzzing around me, it just felt right to go huge. I had heard in previous episodes that Tai and Kate in particular looked for artists that pushed themselves and 'stepped' up for the latter stages of the competition, and I suppose I didn't want to be accused of not doing that. Whenever I paint I do so with a new approach so that every painting feels like the first. It helps me truly explore and engage with the process and keeps me just on the outside of my comfort zone! But maybe, just maybe, I pushed myself too far out this time around!
As for the pink.... it was where I was with my painting at the time. Everything had a pink ground. I liked how it looked. And I felt with the Felixstowe painting that bright lurid colours would add the right mood for the painting. I've seen a few people disagree on social media (not to mention the judges!) but I have no regrets with regards my palette. That might sound weird as it was the biggest criticism of the judges (too much pink) but what's more important than anything when painting is that you paint with conviction and you do what you need to do. It would have been pointless me trying to paint what I thought the judges were looking for because 1)I'm not a mind-reader and 2) that is a sure-fire way of painting an unconvincing and unsuccessful work.
In the time since filming I had been really worried that I would come across as being completely out of my depth, with the judges all feeling I'd had a complete disaster. The fact that Tai enthused about my work and complemented the figures I'd painted in the foreground meant so much to me and gave me a massive confidence boost. I was disappointed not to make the final but when I set out to Broadstairs in the heat I never ever imagined I'd find myself in the semi-final and have Kate Bryan say 'Tai loves her work' about my painting! His work is some of the most exciting being made today. Words fail me!
Being part of 'Landscape...' has been a fantastic experience and I feel so incredibly lucky. In the aftermath my main aim now is to try and find time to paint more and keep on pushing myself.
Visit Clarendon Fine Art to find out more about the Semi-Finalists exhibition (NB: Please RSVP via their website to confirm your timed attendance) - from 7th - 15th December, 2018.