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1 April 22 – Portrait Artist of the Year

Hi Everyone,

Thought I tell you about my Sky Portrait Artist of the Year experience a few years ago.

There I am pretending to concentrate in the back, but really trying to will Frank Skinner to turn round and talk to me. I like Frank, and, forgot to mention, I’m telepathic, so obviously he turned round.
‘This is Ian, Frank,’ said an assistant.
 ‘Isn’t it my tea break?’ said Frank to the assistant.
‘Sorry Ian, it’s Frank’s tea break.’

Doesn’t work every time.

And that was my interaction with Frank.

Not a great opening but it doesn’t matter. I met Tia-Shan Schierenburg, art historian Kate Bryan, independent curator Kathleen Soriano and painted Emeli Sande, all in the glorious surroundings of the National Portrait Gallery.

I took these photos from the telly, that’s why they’re rubbish.

Before you think I’m better than I am, I wasn’t one of the finalists, I sneaked in as a Wildcard entry and was 1 of 12. I’m still not sure what the criteria for a Wildcard entry was, but walking upstairs enthusiastically was one of them.

I should’ve practiced.
‘Stairs again please, it’s not a funeral.’ We got bossed about quite a bit that day.
‘Quickly through here, Emeli’s on her way.’
‘Now, set up your easels, the cameras are running.’


I’ve set up my easel hundreds of times, it’s second nature, I could do it blindfolded using just my ears but not this time.

‘Quickly.’
Before I knew it, Emeli was sitting down.
‘START PAINTING.’

We weren’t in the main area with the finalist, we had a tv screen in front of us and we painted Emeli from that. Here’s my view.

I’d just got started when:
‘So Ian, what techniques will you be using today?’ A camera was shoved up my nostril and a woman was gesturing at the lens using the power of mime to encourage me to talk.
‘Er, I think I’ll put some paint on my brush and once it’s on there, and not too runny, don’t want to get it on the carpet ha hahaha hahah ha hahaha hahah…’ A strange laugh came out of me. ‘… then I’ll probably put it on the canvas. Somewhere in the middle…’
She continued nodding, and smiled as if I was doing good.
‘And then I’ll get some more paint on my brush, maybe have a look at Emeli on the screen, if she hasn’t gone for a cup of tea…’ Another laugh.

‘Not even sure if she drinks tea, hahaha haha hahaha.’
The laugh was getting more criminally insane, but the woman kept nodding, this must be good stuff, TV gold I thought.
‘My kids love Emeli, well one song anyway…’

‘They will be so thrilled when they realise I’m painting her. They’ve come down with me, all the way from Cumbria, they’ve gone to the M&Ms Superstore, with my wife, not on their own…’

‘…not that we let them eat too many sweets, just a treat you know, since we’re in the big city …’

The red light on the camera had gone off about 2 minutes ago.
”Brilliant stuff, Ian. I think we’ve got all we need.’
‘No problem, I’m glad…’
She’d pressed delete and moved on.

This is the 1 second clip that made it through the Director’s Cut.

I overheard the guy beside me being interviewed next. He was talking about light, form and texture and his use of sfumato after an inspirational trip to the Louvre.

I splodged some more paint on, in the vague shape of Emeli.

‘So you like bold shapes’. It was art historian Kate Bryan.

‘Yes, yes I really do love a bold shape.’ Oh my god, I was off again.  ‘The bolder the better, that’s what I always say, hah ha’ (stop laughing).
‘Shut up, you simpleton, I’m only talking to you because I have to,’ was the facial expression I’d failed to pick on as I continued ‘super bold is my aim here, bold as anything….’
Luckily Kathleen had a ‘Save me’ Technologist.
‘Sorry Ian, Kathleen’s needed elsewhere.’
That Technologist needed a pay rise.

About an hour in and my painting looked like this. 

Before I’d created another fabulous bold shape, I was interrupted again, how are you supposed to get anything done here?

It was Tai-Shan Schierenburg.

‘I absolutely love the… ‘ he reached deep into his creative soul… ‘brownness of it. Totally brown. And it’s a distinctive muddy brown you’re using that I haven’t appreciated before this very moment.’
‘Thanks Tai-Shan Schierenburg (some people’s names you can’t shorten), yes, brown is an incredibly versatile colour…’

I won’t bore you with me anymore. He listened briefly, nodded sagely and whizzed on to the guy next to me, who was much better craic:
‘…I particularly enjoy Caravaggio’s dramatic chiaroscuro technique…’

I splodged onwards.

Independent curator Kathleen Soriano had been tipped off and didn’t mess about.

She was passed me before I had a chance to open my gob, thankfully.

The four hours went by super fast.

You will have sussed out by now that this whole email has been a series of feeble excuses to manage your expectations. So it will come as no surprise to you that I didn’t win the Wildcard place and didn’t appear on the show for real the next year.

I did finish Emeli after a final half-hour where I must’ve splashed a load of burnt umber on all the masterpieces hanging within a 300-yard radius. Here’s my finished effort.

Let’s end on a positive. I was quite chuffed with it considering all those interruptions and I had an itchy toe and wrong coloured undies… etc.

That’s it once again.

Having failed to make it through the Wildcard event, I did apply for the next series. But unfortunately I must’ve been going through some sort of inventive phase, that odd people go through. Because, I’m sorry to say, this is what I submitted.



Yes, I apologise if you’re eating.

Not sure what my thinking was, but it must’ve been ‘please help me Tai-Shan Schierenburg.’

He didn’t.

Have a great weekend. 

Take care and all the best,Ian

1 April 22 – Portrait Artist of the Year

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