I took part as a wildcard in this years Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year. The episode was filmed back in June at Viking Bay in Broadstairs (above). We were all under a media embargo until transmission. The show has started and the episode I took part in is being broadcast this week. This blog will not reveal who won from the contestants or the wild card group in case you want to watch in but haven't yet (although spoiler, it wasn't me). This will be a blog about my experience preparing and taking part. (another spoiler, it was awesome).
I paint a lot of landscapes but my process is usually sketch and photograph on site and then work from those in the studio, often over several weeks. I rarely paint outside in one sitting. I find it difficult and awkward to do and I make one hell of a mess. When then in May I found out I would be a wild card i decided I needed to practice. Start simple, I started in the garden. It was a hot day and oil paint does strange and runny things when it gets really hot. I picked a vista and slowly over the course of about three hours built up to a final image. It showed me that if painting for a time limit you need to think carefully what you are going to paint.
Second time out I went to Clissold Park. My strength I think is water and I like painting it. Also frankly I chose the view because it was nice and shaded from what was frankly a hot day. It was a nice fun day. Many small dogs came over to see what I was going. In terms of the picture, well its not great frankly but I was pleased with the water, the rocks and the grass. Again the heat did strange things again to the paint and of course you have the problem, if you are working in oil that you don't have time for the oil to dry so you are painting wet on wet. I find that tricky.
The final practice took place in Canonbury Square, a grand square and park near my house. This time I had a running commentary and audience from two friendly homeless guys who lived in the square. This time I found it easier to pick a composition, focusing on the large urn in the centre of the park. I also decided that I would focus on the colours at the start and then put in the tone and the shading at the end, using the shadows at the time. I decided to simplify the background and focus on the main subject. Main criticism, I elevated the eyeline to much and it has a weird fish eye feel to the whole thing. Otherwise I think it is pretty good.
Then to Broadstairs. The filming was on a Tuesday in June. I had entered the competition and received a rejection coupled with a conciliation Wildcard invitation. I replied almost immediately and choose Broadstairs and this particular heat for the stunningly artistic reason that it was a) the closest to where I live and b) I already had that day off work.
However be warned, the filming starts early. Actually it doesn't it starts at about 10:00 but they want you there for 08:30. No train would get me there in time without having to get up for 5:00am. I;m not doing that so went down the night before, stayed in a lovely Air Bnb (which it turned out was occupied by another wildcard). I spent the evening checking out the beach we would be painting the next day (above), with its row of pods (above left). Broadstairs is actually a really nice town. It is proper town to not just a tourist trap like Margate but with stuff in it. If you fancy a trip to the Essex coast then I can recommend it.
just for the experience. My rational mind was thinking the same but also I though, maybe just maybe. I knew though that my plein air skills are not good enough to make it. I don't actually enjoy painting outside that much. I prefer being in a studio with the cricket on. Even drawing outside I don't like that much, at least not for an extended period of time. Some people here really love it.
Then you are given a prep talk, all lined up and then walk in, in a crowd, waving to the camera. This involved climbing up and down steps. Another tip, you have to be able to carry all your things. A lot of people had brought partners/spouses/daughters with them to help carry things. Some had not and I had to help an old lady called Sarah carry her wheely bag up and down the stairs.
Then we will all set up on the beach. It was warm, but not to hot, and it was nice to pad around in bear feet on the sand. Some people had bought chairs, sun-umbrellas and even tables. I just had a rucksack and my easel. Most people chose to paint the north prospect, including the inspiration for Bleak House. I took the view that I probably wouldn't pull this off in the time. Also my forte is water so I went to the view above, the sea with the walled, swimming area and the pole.
Should have checked the tide though. Can you spot the issue? The tide came in and shortly after starting the water rose and my nice rock feature disappeared beneath the wave. Hmm, error there. I either a) should have painted this first or b) chosen a different view. So I decided instead to focus on the sea and the sky.
It was a lovely day, hot but not to hot. Got up to around 21 C. I am a very messy painter and I new I would get sand everywhere. I decided to go with this and mixed sand it with the paint for the beach. It gave quite a nice sparkly effect. Joan Bakewell who stopped by briefly was kind enough to say she thought it made for a good effect.
The day was spent building up the sea and the sky, making for colour and contrast in the sky and the sea. I quite like the results of that. It's a good base for a painting but to be in any kind of contention there would need to be more.
This is the end result (above). The extra detail I put in was the pole, the cormorant (which perched briefly in that pose, I like cormorants), and distant boats. Also some wave details. Frankly I think I overcooked the sea. It looks better without the white marks. Instead what I should have done is try and put the rocks back in, or you know something else. Its quite a nice painting, and I enjoyed making it but I don't think its great. The whole thing took just over 3 hours. There was a break for lunch but I also took several breaks for ice cream and chatting to people. I went to chat to one of the real contestants, she was nervous, but her work was pretty good.
I had a spare canvas. The cliffs at the Broadstairs are chalks, and there was chalk and charcoal lying around on the beach. I thought it would be fun to make something using stuff that was lying around on the beach. So I did this sketch of the Southern cliffs. I think its pretty good for about 30 minutes. I am not going to tell you who won, the heat or the wild card draw. You should watch the show for that. I don't think I will appear on film, other from one part where I saw the camera pointing at me as I lunged clumsily across the beach to try and capture an umbrella that was blowing away. So if you see a galumphing fool in a silly hat (below), that's me.
It was pretty fun. I might do it again.
William John Mackenzie
I am an artist with a specialism in landscapes and still life. My contact details are here.