This summer I had the amazing opportunity to be invited as a Wild Card artist at Sky Arts’ Landscape Artist of the Year.
The Heat took place in Whitstable Harbour, Kent, on June 16. It really was a hot session - we painted for about 6 hours in temperatures over 28°C, with the sun burning in the clear blue sky. Still, I enjoyed every second of it!
The day started early in the morning. We had to meet the crew and fellow artists at a car park in Whitstable, at 7am.
I arrived at the car park at around 6am, and am glad I did, because I had some time to walk around and shake off a little bit of the adrenaline rushing through my veins.
Fellow artists began to arrive closer to 7am and I have met some incredibly talented people amongst them. We were registered and had our canvases checked, just to make sure that there was no work done on them before the competition.
We were then transported to Whitstable Harbour, and were shown the place where we would create our paintings. We were instructed on the filming process, encouraged to drink lots of water and use as much sunscreen as possible, and off we went!
When I found my spot, the low tide had already started, and I understood that I had to focus on the shore.
I must say I was amazed by the beauty of the beach and I was lucky to have a gorgeous view of the Whitstable Yacht Club. The sailing boats, the Club, and the surrounding houses played well together and would later make a really great composition for the painting.
I liked the strong contrast between the roofs of the buildings and the dark cold shadows on the walls. Also, the white masts of the sailing boats overlapped the dark values in an interesting way.
I started with a black and white sketch in order to map out the general composition. I have used an old trick, which is a cardboard viewfinder that was cut out based on my canvas aspect ratio (4/5). My preferred size for plein air paintings is 16 by 20 inches (40 by 50 cm). This canvas size allows me to create a painting in just a few hours.
My palette is quite optimised. Most of the times, it is based on five colours: cadmium yellow, yellow ochre, cadmium red, ultramarine blue and titanium white. I only use burnt sienna for sketching the subject on the canvas.
There is no black on my palette, since it is a non-colour and it has a destructive effect on the painting. I was taught by an old master that black does not actually exist in nature, so an artist must find innovative and interesting ways to substitute it in the artwork.
I was taught to paint using the alla prima technique, which made this experience perfect for me. This wet-on-wet technique helps paintings look vibrant and juicy.
Other techniques, which involve applying layers upon layers of paint, can make the painting look dull, as the underneath layers absorb the brilliance of the colours on top, making the painting become more opaque.
With the alla prima painting technique, the light can easier penetrate the pigments by reaching the white canvas. This means that, when it reflects back to the eye, it makes the painting look more colourful and bright. In such a situation, you also become more responsible and careful as an artist, thus every brush stroke is better calculated.
I have started the painting by quickly sketching the subject. Then I have blocked in the shadows and cold values on the buildings’ walls. I always avoid mixing in white when painting the shadows. I'd rather add a lighter pigment of a specific colour than try to obtain a lighter nuance by infecting the shadows with white.
The use of white early in the process almost guarantees that the artwork will look bland and muddy. One can only start mixing in white only in latter stages, when painting the warm values, the light, and the focus point of the artwork.
When there was only an hour left till the end of the competition, I was looking at the painting, trying to figure out if it needed something more. A painting is never really finished, you always think that you can add something or change something.
So it is important to know when to stop and allow the future viewers to compensate with their own imagination. And this is the final painting:
I was honoured to have Tai-Shan Schierenberg interview me. Commenting on my artistic style, he mentioned my impasto technique, and the intense and juicy colours used in the painting.
“You know", he told me, “I look at your painting, and then I look over there, at the Club, and I don’t see the same colours. But they look so good on the canvas!”
Mr. Schierenberg also mentioned the fact that my colours don’t look muddy, and I have shared with him the golden rule that I follow regarding the use of black and white.
The Sky Arts team was incredibly friendly, helpful and supportive. They’ve made the entire experience even better and I am happy to have met each one of them.
Being a Wild Card artist at Sky Arts’ Landscape Artist of the Year is a great opportunity for an artist. You get to meet fellow artists with very different and interesting styles, and you get to feel the excitement of taking part in such an important competition.
This was a unique experience, a very important one for me as a landscape artist, and I feel very lucky to have had this chance!