August 16th 2019
So, for perhaps a year now, a friend of mine, she’s an art teacher back in the UK, suggested I enter the Sky TV Landscape Artist of the Year competition. There were a few reasons for my delay. Mainly I thought I had no chance, also, I’m spending a lot of my time in Norway and perhaps typically of me, I couldn’t find the patience to complete yet another online form.
But in the end I did, I completed the paperwork and gave three electronic photos of recent paintings. I can remember the main one was my 70 x 50 acrylic of Vårlivården but I can’t recall the other two, a sign of age perhaps. So, I watched the deadline for entries come and go and a week or so afterwards received an email thanking me for entering but I was not successful. In all honesty I was not the least bit upset by this as my expectations were low anyway. I did have an invitation to apply on a first come first served opportunity to paint on scene as a ‘wildcard’. Wildcards are other unsuccessful applicants selected to paint fifty at a time in each heat and one winner has the chance to compete among the other wildcards episode winners and go through to the semi-finals. I attempted to get through but the places were all gone.
Things here in Stavanger were starting to get exciting, I’d prepared ten semi-abstract Norwegian paintings for a small, local exhibition, nothing too glitzy but great experience, my early attempts at printmaking seemed to be a hit, lots of great feedback on my paintings and I’d sold my beloved Vårlivården.
A few days later my phone rang, I noticed a UK number and heard the words Sky TV among the introduction, thinking it was a sales call for a TV package I wouldn’t be able to use in Norway I was poised to excuse myself and hang up. Something about the way the researcher spoke kept my interest a little longer and I was pleased to find it was an invitation to join the show as a reserve for heats 3 and 4 in Plymouth as a reserve if any of the 8 main contestants withdrew for whatever reason. i was also sworn to secrecy on social media until the show was broadcast.
Oddly, I wasn’t massively nervous because it is what I do these days and I do it the way the show works! That is ‘en plein air’, whatever the weather and in a short time (under four hours). Some other artists in the competition take weeks or moths to complete their submissions and to be fair, have never set foot outside with their painting equipment, they’re missing out on a wonderful experience in my opinion. So I got some bigger canvasses, I usually painted outside with smaller 9″ x 12″ lightweight boards that slotted perfectly into my painting box but I knew work this size wouldn’t work on the show and decided on 70 x 50 cm stretched canvasses. I took a few out and practised and thoroughly enjoyed it, even more so I knew I’d enjoy the competition.
I got on the plane to Heathrow, hired a car and drove to my brother and sister-in-laws place. I was looked after so well and felt very welcome. Early the next day I drove to Plymouth Hoe, it was all exciting. The crew were amazingly professional and welcomed me. I went down to look at the ‘pods’ the little booths where the 8 contestants were to paint. “Wow, so these are the pods” I said to nobody in particular then a very neurotic contestant said “quiet, I need silence” charmed by that I chatted briefly among the other contestants and checked out breakfast.
The weather could have been described as interesting, dramatic or maybe challenging but the best word would have been hideous. Sadly for me all the contestants arrived and were keen to go so my services as reserve were not required. My chance at wildcard was the next day so I explored and sketched well out of the way of the film crews. All I should say about heat three was, the winner was my favourite, a chap with whom I had chatted at breakfast, he had no friends or family with him, no partner running around fetching him everything he needed, he just focused and painted and I was really pleased he was put through to the final three then chosen as overall winner of heat three.
Heat four the next day would prove very interesting, again all the contestants turned up so I wasn’t needed to replace anyone but it was my day to paint as one of fifty wildcard entries. The weather started fine and promising but proved to be another stinker. I set myself up looking down at some hotels and shops from the Hoe and worked out my composition, that was it, I was immersed.
The mood among the wildcards was friendly and jovial even though the wind was blowing easels over and I was glad of my faithful, old Gore-tex desert camo jacket (wish I’d bought gore-tex trousers though). The judges and presenters all put up their umbrellas and made their way around making the odd comment. All very friendly, each one of them spoke to me. Joan Bakewell and I had such a lovely conversation, Kate Bryan sat on a bench next to me and chatted while I ate my BLT sandwich that had earlier been bought to me in the howling wind and rain by my wife’s sister Cath. In the end Tai Shan Shierenberg announced I had won and I went into shock. The film crew and producers interviewed me but I was just too dazed to make sense. I was surprised at how thorough the interview because because on the TV show the wildcard winner only says about ten words. They also filmed my painting at length while I held it upright as the wind was threatening to blow it into another face-plant.
While I have the opportunity, I’d like to thank the team at Storyvault films for the incredible welcome they gave me, totally professional and friendly not just throughout the two days I spent in Plymouth but from the initial phone call from the fab researcher Nelda.
The program is due to be shown in October 2019 and can be seen on Sky tv and Channel 4