Landscape Artist Of The Year

Earlier this week Sky Arts showed one of the heats in this year’s ‘Landscape Artist of the Year’ competition. I was one of the competitors, but have been unable to say anything until now due to the usual NDA’s they ask you to sign for these things.The painting I submitted as part of my application was 2015’s ‘The Passion’:

It’s one of my best landscapes and one that had a back story worth telling, and it was on this basis that I was selected to be one of 8 competitors in one of the heats, to be filmed over the summer of 2017. Of the three locations selected for filming, I’d have much preferred to have gone to the Gower Peninsula (one of my favourite places in Britain) but ended up in Knaresborough. It may be a town in my home county of Yorkshire, but it’s posh Yorkshire and the polar opposite of the Yorkshire I know and, to be honest, prefer. All I knew about the place was that it had a castle and a viaduct, so it was a safe guess that the competitors would be asked to paint one of those two options. I’d have preferred to be painting the castle, as I have a classically Romantic fondness for ruins, but my instincts told me it would be the viaduct. Knowing that we’d only have 4 hours to knock out a painting, I did a test run a few days before the filming:

This was as far as I got in 4 uninterrupted hours, working on an old A3-scale canvas panel. I knew that on the day I was going to have to work faster to get anything like a finished painting done in what I now knew was a laughably restrictive timescale, but I remained confident that I could do it. How could I have known then the folly of my misplaced optimism.

The filming took place in on the 21st June. I travelled up to Leeds and stayed with family over the weekend before the big day. Over that weekend most of the country had enjoyed a heatwave, with cloudless skies and temperatures in the low 30’s, but I woke bleary-eyed at 5am on the day of filming to find the entire north of England submerged under a blanket of low cloud that threatened rain. All my hopes to be able to paint on location on a bright summer’s day with all the vivid and contrasting colours on display were dashed, but I accepted the circumstances along with everything else on the day. As an experience, I’m glad I did it but I’m not sure I’d want to repeat it. The painting I made on the day was absolute crap, which is hardly surprising as I can normally spend 4 hours working in a single square inch of canvas, so to say my working practices were compromised would be an understatement.  Two hours in I knew I wasn’t going to finish, so all my carefully detailed pencilling got buried under layers of hastily-applied acrylic. My panicked mind raced to think of a way to fill of the acres of empty canvas sprawling before me. “Do a John Piper”, I thought, and started slapping on flat tones of colour, overlaying them with bold black lines to give some vague sense of depth and drama. None of it worked and the end results speak for themselves.

In the booth next to me was John Ball, who (deservedly) won the heat, and while he produces work in a similar vein to some of my own, he really understood how to make the most of the restrictive timescale and his painting was easily the best ome produced on the day. We got on well and on the train back to Leeds afterwards we talked and I was reminded how good it is to share your thoughts with fellow artists, something I rarely get to do. John’s a top bloke and he bought a painting off me afterwards. Following the show’s transmission earlier this week I’ve sold another 3 paintings so it’s been a good for that if nothing else. I’ll be honest though, I hated failing in so public a forum and still hate the painting I made that day. Tt now sits in the attic like Dorian Gray’s portrait, and I’m just waiting until I’m sure that Sky Arts will have no further use for it and I’ll sand it off and use it to make another, better, painting. What the experience of appearing on the show taught me was to stick to my guns. “Do what you do best, not what it’s best to do.” My meticulous way of working is what makes my work my work, and if that means having to take a month to finish a painting, so be it.


2 thoughts on “Landscape Artist Of The Year

  1. Dear Rik – you are very brave. Well Done. You are a great painter and you were working under trying circumstances. I sometimes watch Sky Landscape Artist (I saw the Gower one the other day, I’ll have to try and find yours) with a mixture of horror and admiration. Horror because the subjects are often things I would not want to paint in a month of Sundays (overcast sky? Forget it) and they are always interrupting the artists to talk to them, which would drive me insane. I can’t stand anyone watching me paint as it puts me off. Talking to someone at the same time and it’d want to kill them!!! Admiration, because artists like you can work under these difficult circumstances and produce brilliant work. By the way, I think your painting is pretty darn good even if you hate it. I hope you sell loads more work off the back of this because your landscapes are beautiful and atmospheric! Thank you for your post!

  2. Hi Rik, great summary of your day, thanks for sharing! I was on Episode 2 this year, and shared many of your thoughts. Not sure I’d do it again either. But this blog was great and so honest, so well done! It’s really hard to judge the pictures on the telly, as you get such fleeting glimpses of each one, but I’d say nobody really did a great painting – agree with you John’s was probably the best. It’s so hard – the 4 hours were one thing, it was the constant interruptions I found most frustrating. Well done for selling 3 paintings though – certainly worth it! @davenelsonart

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