On to the semi-final, at Painters' Hall in London. Another very nice location, for the hardest challenge yet - by far! I think you can see from the program that we were all feeling quite intimidated by the prospect of capturing this scene.
I must admit that beforehand I did have my suspicions that ballet could be a likely candidate, and I may have even practiced a drawing during the week before? Still, there is quite a difference between practicing from a photograph compared to trying to capture a pose from a continually moving subject.
Challenge 1 - Single Dancer
So this challenge was to paint a solo ballet dancer; capturing a sense of movement (and maintaining accurate proportion etc. - although I can't remember the specifics now). The dancer would rotate through a series, of around four, pre-determined poses. Although the dancer held each pose for a period of time, perhaps 30 seconds, she would generally move on to the next pose before I had chance to capture it in a sketch. Consequently I found myself waiting for the pose to come around - not the most time efficient way of proceeding, but as these poses which are not everyday ones it would have been quite easy to make them look awkward, or just plain wrong.
I remember having an idea that I might try and give the impression of movement by having ghost-type images of where the limbs might have been prior to the main impression of the pose. How this mutated into the cheap special effect I ended up with - I am not sure. However, I realised just this after we stopped, and I stood back to look. I remember saying to the interviewers that I didn't think the judges were going to like the effect, and so I wasn't too surprised when they criticised it negatively. I should have erased it, but I was too focussed on trying to get the figure sorted. Another case of stress and time-induced error of judgement. Still, I was happy with the figure I managed within the time, as it looked reasonably accurate, even if it was a little static.
So, another okay Challenge 1. The issue was whether I could get Challenge 2 to work for the first time?
Pascal had Suman and myself outside St. Paul's Cathedral for the exercise in movement. The idea was to convey the sense of a moving crowd with very quick, economic but expressive brush strokes. He deliberately selected an alcohol-based ink so that it evaporated quickly to leave a translucent mark through which previous marks could be seen. Thus, the sense of crowd and/or sequenced movement would build-up through many repetitions of the figures. Another point he made, was that we should note that all the figures would, more or less, have the same head level, but that the length of the stroke would indicate the figures distance (i.e. perspective with the horizon level at that of the crowd's heads).
I found this task extremely interesting and fun - the best we'd had so far. I may even pursue this idea at a later date. However, I also remember being sceptical about how I might apply it to the task of movement when it came to task of Challenge 2, and how it might seem like another special effect? In the end I think Suman applied this task much better to the second challenge than I did.
Challenge 2 - Multiple Dancers
I think I was probably expecting another type of dance, but they actually stuck with ballet and progressed the difficulty by increasing the number of dancers to four - a female and male lead, with 2 supporting females.
Given the introduction of a male support to the dance it seems most obvious to attempt to paint a scene showing the interaction between the prima ballerina and the male support. However my observations lead to conclude that the male would often be quite static - for example holding the prima ballerina while she struck a particular pose, and thus there would be little sense of movement. Consequently, I chose to paint the three females "en pointe", with arms raised. This would be a pose which, while not the most dynamic part of their dance, was clearly a pose which would show their grace a poise and would also be transitional - thereby implying a sense of movement. I deliberately tried to capture the subtle flutter of the three ballerina's tutus as they teetered "en pointe. I managed to achieve this to my satisfaction, however the judges comments were mixed on this point of how much movement I managed to convey.
The other issue was of course Pascal trying to get me, and also Suman, to be more relaxed and expressive. He persuaded me to attempt a second picture where I was to be more expressive with brushes, rather that use my usual drawing out with pencil and/or marker method. Looking at the results I have to say that I don't think my results were that different, and so I don't think I achieved what he trying to get me to do. I now know that I could do this, but with the difficulty of the challenge and the stress of the semi-final situation I think to go completely expressive, say following the example of the exercise outside St. Paul's, or to even be as expressive as he persuaded me to be with the elephant I submitted in the "Animals" episode, was a step too far.
For me I think it all comes back to the comment I made in the first program "Still Life", in a discussion with Pascal, about how I like to take lots of small steps rather than large ambitious leaps. My scientific background, and my personality, are more aligned to taking a position, moving the goal a small amount so I understand and can anchor the change, and then move forward - then to "rinse and repeat"! Not a method which lends itself to instruction in a competitive environment, perhaps!
In the end the judges were far more positive about this second challenge result that they had been any of mine since the first program, and so at least this vindication that I felt at that needed to try and do painting which were naturally me, rather than Pascal's vision of how I could progress as an artist. I am not denigrating Pascal's ideas or attempts as I think this is something I do need to do in the longer term. However, it was clear that the judges had felt I wasn't showing them how "I" actually paint, but that I was trying to show them styles. So far in this competition I had had no consistency. A lot of this was due to me trying to find a way to produce a painting, in unfamiliar circumstances (i.e. from real situations) within a time frame that was far less that I was used to. However, a good amount was also due to, unsuccessfully (perhaps "half-heartedly"?) attempting to follow the mentor's direction.
Anyhow I made the cut and so its on to the final, but what could they have left in store for us? We seemed to have covered most aspects I could think of! Certainly, it was difficult to envisage a challenge much more difficult that this week's topic.