The Final! What a privilege to be there. In the program's conclusion I express relief at the competition's completion, but also realised that this is something that I am unlikely to ever experience again. Truly an experience I will never forget!
Challenge 1 - Portrait
When we first arrived at the location I saw that we were just down the hill from the historic Greenwich Observatory! As an ex professional (and amateur) astronomer I was excited by the possibility that we were going to do something related to that situation. In the end we discovered we were to be located in the nearby Queen's House - a situation just as stunning!
So we knew where the first challenge was going to be held, and then we were informed that we were told we were going to do another portrait. Of course we all wondered how this was this going to differ from the "Portrait" (week 4) episode, and so there was intense speculation among us finalists.
When we were being briefed by Pascal as to how to approach the challenge, Suman had a eureka moment: that we were going to paint our mentor! From Pascal's wry-smile response, I ran with Suman on this idea. I have to give it to Pascal, and possibly the production team if they gave him the idea, but he played up to our assumption exceedingly well. We felt very pleased with ourselves that we had managed to trump the Production Team again and guess the subject. How wrong we were!
I should say at this point that there had been many cat and mouse games going on throughout the series, with the artists trying to guess what challenges we would be set, and also see if we could determine the judges decision a-priori. For example, we had discovered who might be the unfortunate person to be eliminated by the apparent focus of all the cameras attention just prior to the annoucements. The Production Team soon realised that we had figured this out, and so deliberately scanned all the artists to try and fox us.
This ruse, about whom the subject of this challenge was to be, was the Production Team's greatest success - they certainly looked like the cat who had got the cream after the reveal. When the line of parents strolled out of that door I can honestly say that all four of us artists were truly gob-smacked!
Looking back, I think the process of having to paint someone so close and familiar to us was both a burden, and a blessing. A burden because of the expectation to want to get it right and have their approval. A blessing because having someone to support you in that stressful situation. Despite a hiccup and making my first attempt look like Fred Flintstone, I was pleased with the likeness I managed to get of my dad. In particular the mouth, but which Daphne thought steered just the right side of "cheesy"!
Challenge 2 - Landscape
For the next challenge the Production Team decide we should return to the subject of landscape, but added to the difficulty by asking us to paint from a moving platform. So I was on the right track in my comment from the previous program: "what will they have us do next - water-colour on roller-skates?"
The program shows that Jennifer felt queasy from the continual movement from the boat. While I fortunately didn't have that problem, I did have to correct mistakes that arose when the boat would lurch from the swell from nearby speedboats or launches! The wind was also an issue - as the blown-over easels testament. Suman also decided to sabotage my position, by accidentally spilling graphite over the floor where I was standing - making it perilously slippy, and "borrowing" some of my paintbrushes without my knowledge! [Only teasing, Suman :).]
Landscape is one of my favourite subjects, but also the one I made the greatest mess-of earlier in the competition (at Hastings), and so I desperately wanted to make amends. Bolstered by my success with Challenge 1, I wanted to approach the second challenge with the same demeanor - relaxed about doing my own thing. I feel I was mostly successful in this desire, although I admit that I did succumb to stress build-up towards the end of the second challenge. However, in the end, I was again pleased with the result.
So, pleased with both my paintings! The first time that I had managed that in the whole competition.
It was interesting to note that the Production Team decided that they didn't want the mentors to actively give advice during the challenges. I do not know if this had always been their intent, or a response to what had precipitated during the competition? Not having Pascal trying to persuade me to try do things too far removed from my comfort zone during a challenge helped, but I had already decided beforehand that's I was going to approach the final by doing paintings my own way. It may sound arrogant - to ignore the mentors advice, but I wasn't the only one to make this decision. Others also felt that, especially for the Final, they wanted to be judged on our own merits, or mistakes.
I think Alan took on the most of his mentor's advice in the final challenge, but I felt that up to that point I had not shown the judges paintings that were fundamentally me. I had done many different "styles", which will undoubtedly form part of my continuing development, but are still aspects that are experimental to me. This has shown in many of the paintings that have resulted from this approach. So, in returning to my natural "style", I felt I could accept whatever the decisions of the judges would be, and the two I managed to produce in the Final are closer to the way I have painted naturally to date.
When I listened to the judges comments, most of which are lost in the edit, it seemed that the judges were pleased to finally see a more natural side to my painting. It is strange that hear this, as I feel that it was there in the very first challenge - of the bear, and then the self-portrait. These two are close to the style of the final two paintings. It shows that I started with my "normal" way of painting, had a large diversion, taking a long circular route, only to come back to pretty much where I started. The mentoring was part of the reason for these diversions, but it was also my own response to try and find a way of painting that I thought I could work with within the time constraints.
Here is my view of my paintings:
1a. Still Life Challenge 1: The Bear. Pretty much my natural approach and style. Well received by judges.
1b. Still Life Challenge 2: The Bed. Started off naturally, but Pascal said I needed to do "something" with it about half way though. I converted to my "dabbing" technique, which worked pretty well. Well received by judges.
2a. Landscape Challenge 1: The Pier. Attempting to get anything on the canvas was a struggle, hence a "nuclear fallout" of a painting. Despite the psychedelic colour scheme (just as erroneous as the second painting which was NOT well received), this was well received by the judges.
2b. Landscape Challenge 2: The Seafront. Started off trying to do as Pascal suggested, i.e. a raster-scan approach to the work. Couldn't see my way through this, and converted to my technique which had worked well before - the dabbing. I quite like it, but freely admit it looks nothing like an English seaside. Not at all liked by the judges.
3a. Animals Challenge 1: The Flamingos. Deflated by the response to the "dabbed" seafront I reverted to natural style again. The result seemed to be judged successful.
3b. Animals Challenge 2: The Elephants. I was really, really looking forward to this. I started trying Pascal's advice - quick expressionistic strokes. Again I struggled to see my way through and decided to try my natural approach. I finished my approach with time to spare (20 minutes), and returned to the initial painting to see if I could implement Pascal's advice, now that the pressure was off. Feeling very confused I submitted the quick version. Not at all well received by the judges.
4a. Portrait Challenge 1: The Self Portrait. Again deflated I reverted back to type and did a natural painting. Apart from the eyes, I felt this painting was a success, and was well received by the judges.
4b. Portrait Challenge 2: The Celebrity Portrait. Bolstered by the previous success I wanted to improve the finish (as the acrylics looked a bit rough). Decided to try oils, which would respond blending, but then I also decided to try palette knife (as my recent experience with oils had been muddied by brush work). I think oils would have worked, but the palette knife was a step too far. Poor decision on my part. Either way Pascal thought it wasn't working and so got me to rework the piece with about 20-30 minutes to spare. Effectively I had to restart the face and so it was like another painting finished with 30 minutes of work, and unfortunately I think it was a poorer result after the changes due to lack of time. Ambiguous reception from the judges.
5a. Movement Challenge 1: The Solo Ballet Dancer. With another knock-back I reverted to natural style. This worked pretty well, apart from my poorly judged "special effect" background. Reasonably well received by the judges, apart from the special effect.
5b. Movement Challenge 2: The Ballet Group. Beginning to decide that I need to just focus on what I can do, but Pascal encourages me to do a more responsive variant. I am obviously not convinced at this stage as I seem to end up with two very similar variations. Pretty well received by judges.
6a. Final Challenge 1: The Family Member Portrait. No advice allowed by mentor during painting. I do my own natural style, and after two attempts end up with a painting I am pleased with. Very well received by judges.
6b. Final Challenge 2: The Difficult Landscape. Again no advice allowed from mentor during the challenge. I do my own natural style and, along with the previous painting, I think this is probably my best work of the competition. Very well received by judges.
So, some may then say "if you ignored the mentors advice, then what have you learned?". Well, firstly I didn't ignore the advice, I tried many times and just found it difficult to implement. The most important thing for me is speed. I now know I can do paintings within a few hours, when I previously hadn't done anything in less than 25 hours, and usually longer. I have also picked up many tips from the mentors which I would like to follow-up on, including how to free-up and be more expressive, but these are tasks for me to pursue at my own leisure. I feel the real problem, at least for me, was to incorporate radical changes of approach in a competitive situation within a short time-frame.
It's a shame that it took me so long to determine that I should paint the way I do naturally. Still, as I comment in the program interviews, a more important aspect of my participation in the program was to act as an example to my kids. My two youngest will often shy away from attempting new things or situations where they feel they will be judged for fear of not doing well enough, compared to the standards they set themselves. I know where they get this from - mea culpa!
In the past I would have almost certainly shied off accepting the opportunity to be on a TV show, and place myself in a position to be critiqued in front of experts, and millions of viewers. But as a parent I have been trying to encourage my kids to not worry about the result of trying something new. "Just have a go" was what I would tell them, as you best learn from mistakes, not successes. I felt it would have been hypocritical of me not to participate in the competition, having been selected. So, from this perspective - getting to the final but not winning - is the best result that I could have had, even if I personally would have preferred to win!
I think all the competitors have learned and progressed along the way, but in the end I think Suman was the worthy winner. She showed the most consistent improvement through the whole competition, producing paintings of great beauty. Congratulations to Suman!