The Semi-Final of Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year is over and I'm in the Final.
The competition certainly got tougher at Felixstowe in this weeks episode of Sky Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 - but it wasn't until the end of the days' filming that I really had a chance to see what the other artists had done. It fascinates me how many different interpretations you can have of the same scene - I always feels art is like a language that's personal to the individual.
As a competitor on Sky Arts, you're never given much information about where you're going right up to the last minute, so I always take a lot of kit including oils and acrylics - with a variety of canvasses of different sizes - so that I can adapt to different situations and still feel comfortable.
A key decision I made before starting the Semi Final was that I was going to paint in a different way to the Heat. At Studley Royal I tried to show a more conceptual response to landscape - here, it would be all about big energy, big marks and working fast, to the largest format allowed in the competition. In the Heat I felt that I presented an idea - whereas now, scale, surface and material would come into focus as a way of responding to the vast modern industrial scene of Felixstowe Docks. I wanted to make a work that could take the viewer literally 'into' my experience of the landscape at that moment.
Felixstowe Docks are one of the largest working ports in Europe - containers constantly moving, ships arriving and departing - nothing about the day was going to be static, so I had to lock down a clear composition from the off.
The cranes, although complex at first glance, gave me a way of finding and capturing paths of energy to create a strong, vibrant composition. I always try to make a painting that will hold the viewer in it – rather than letting them go – so the challenge here was to begin with key elements and establish them up front using big bold strokes.
Technically, to achieve this I needed fast drying paint that I could layer thickly and over-paint quickly – so I used the Cass Art Acrylic range and a bunch of synthetic short flat brushes to do the job.
I remember saying to the camera team on my pod that I was about to start and that it would be fast - I don't think they were quite ready for just how quickly things were going to happen. Covering most of the surface in one go meant I could step back and evaluate key relationships in the painting like composition, tonal range, etc. Knowing that the acrylic would dry almost immediately gave me the confidence that I could paint over and correct anything that wasn't right in that first pass.
For me, paintings always evolve as a series of layers based on a cycle of action and reflection. I have a set of questions I constantly ask myself as I paint - which is why you most likely see me pulling unusual expressions at times. This internal dialogue keeps me focussed and helps block out external factors like a cameraman suddenly deciding that he needs a close-up of me putting more paint on my palette, or a crowd of onlookers forming behind the pod.
It wasn't until I finally stepped away from my canvas at the end of the 4 hours that I realised just how well my painting had worked in terms of reaching in and grabbing the view - and fortunately the judges thought so too.
Next stop is the Final... airing on 4th December on Sky Arts. Tune into find out how we all get on painting at Greenwich Park.