Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 Episode #3 Loch Fyne

This episode aired on Tuesday, 30th October. If you haven’t seen it yet, there may be plot spoilers in this post!

I found out I had been chosen for the heats in late May. A little later I was told my heat would be at Loch Fyne, the heat the day before would be Inveraray Castle. I did ask if I could swap, but politely told no! My preparation was to watch all the previous LAOTY series to focus on what the judges were looking for, a lot of en plein air drawing & painting and a lot of Google imaging of Inveraray & Loch Fyne.

I did think true landscape wouldn’t work to my strength, I prefer drawing buildings or at least buildings as the focal point of a landscape. I had an idea to work with a nautical chart of the loch or the Ordnance Survey map for the area.

This is what I came up with first time working from images. Although I like it, I was concerned the judges would see it as contrived. But, I think you can see elements in this piece which made it in to my work on the day. Thinking this approach had merit, I then worked on a piece which was more graphic in approach.

So, strong lines and fine lines to suggest contour lines which were more a nod to Ordnance Survey than what was in the image. There was also a strong letterbox format to this one which I really liked.

We had booked in to the Inveraray Inn for two nights, travelling up the day before my heat. The weather on our travelling day was lovely, we booked in to the hotel and had a walk up to the castle to see if we could scope anything out for the next day. Dan from the production team gave nothing away and we weren’t allowed in to the castle grounds because judging was under way.

Back down at Inveraray, I sketched a quick postcard of the Clyde Puffer, ‘Vital Spark’ to send to a friend. After dinner we met up with Eunice, one of the wild cards and her husband and watched the team dragging the pods down to the promenade from the castle. My wife remarked on how good it would be if they moved the Clyde Puffer in to the loch for us. I’ve been to Inveraray lots of times and I’ve never seen the boat anywhere but tied up to the pier. No sooner than I’d pointed this out, the engine started up and the crew cast off!

I left the hotel at 5.30 to meet at the production area in the castle grounds. The view of where the loch was supposed to be and the hills beyond was completely white, absolutely nothing to see but mist.


There was a lot of signing on, briefing, tech, set up shots, pieces to camera, repeats of pieces to camera with a different camera angle, filming of hand gestures, cups of tea, requests to lick my brush again and complaining about smelling like an old dog. The crew never stop working, I got on really well with all of them, they are great bunch of people. For the record, it’s my wet Barbour which smells, not me.

I started as I normally do, with my Moleskine watercolour sketchbook and my trusty Kaweco fountain pen. I don’t use waterproof ink in the pen, I love the way the ink becomes part of the paint. There was the smallest glimpse of my sketchbook in the programme.

From start to finish in painting terms is about six hours with breaks from filming for camera pieces and interviews. I had two long chats with Tai and Joan. There was a brief excerpt of my chat with Tai in the show where I insulted every engineer I have ever worked with, I apologise to you all now! Unfortunately, they didn’t show the bit where he was impressed by my drawing to the scale I see and likening it to ‘a musician with perfect pitch’.

My chat to Joan was great,  she said her son is an architectural technician, but works on CAD, she seemed to like my technique. She is a lovely person to talk to. Our chat didn’t feature.

I saw very little of Kate, Kathleen or Stephen during the painting phase, I had completely forgotten about asking Stephen for his opinion on putting the name on the boat until I saw the programme.

The day before, we had bumped in to a lovely lady who was 94 years old. She had worked in the camp where the combined forces troops trained for D-Day. She told us that there were so many ships in the loch that you could walk from one shore to the other without getting wet. I recounted this to the production team, I’m sure it is only coincidence that the whole story made it in to the programme as a feature.

Inver finished

This is my finished piece. I started with the sky with a mix of Payne’s Grey and Indigo and a one inch brush. I don’t usually paint first, but I had this notion of painting the weather and drawing the hills which were becoming clearer in to the weather. I noted the one critical comment from Tai that he wasn’t convinced by my execution of that. The drawing was pretty straightforward after getting the sky down and I was very relaxed all day, I think that comes across. I did start drawing trees on the headland closest to the boat, but decided against drawing every tree, instead I put lines in to describe the layers of stands of trees evident.  I decided quickly, that I wasn’t going to paint the water, for much of the day, it had no colour, it was white, then as the weather improved, the reflections appeared, but I felt adding reflections of the boat and the hills would make the composition look twee, and the risk of getting them wrong was too high. Looking at the finished piece now, adding colour to the timberwork of the jetty would work, I did put that colour in on my prep sketch. I can’t remember if they showed it on the programme, but I’d painted on a full sheet of beautiful Arches paper, after finishing, I took the decision to cut the sheet down to create the letterbox format I’d produced in my practice pieces. This mechanism also emphasised the panoramic view of the loch.

After more standing around and interviews to camera on how the day had gone, we went up to the castle for the results.


In the first instance, I was thrilled to be chosen for a pod, as the day approached, I wanted to make sure I was one of the artists who featured strongly in the aired programme. In both Landscape and Portrait Artist of the Year, there are always a number of artists who don’t feature as much. As I stood in line, I wanted to be in the top three!


Happy days! There were more interviews with everyone. I liked John’s interview which was shown on the programme, we had a great laugh together all day, I did suggest he added a submarine to his two boats, but I think he saw through my cunning plan.

I was absolutely stunned to be chosen as the winner, both Maria and Clark produced beautiful pieces of work and I would not have been disappointed if either of them had been chosen instead.

A word for the wildcard winner, I’m ashamed to say I didn’t see any of the wildcards at work, the conditions they worked under were truly awful. What Jonathan, and many others produced, was stunning and worthy of a place in the semi-final.


Jonathan Mitchell’s wildcard piece.

Next stop, Felixstowe for the semis. This episode will air on 27th November on Sky Arts.

Katherine Tyrell has reviewed episode 3 in a far more eloquent and forensic way in her blog, Making A Mark:

5 thoughts on “Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 Episode #3 Loch Fyne

  1. Nice drawings and congrats on winning the heat- well done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Malcolm. You have no reason for to remember, but I bought a picture from you at Staithes Art Festival in 2017!


  2. Your work is AMAZING..
    I don’t often agree with the Judges choice- but this week I shouted “Yes!” When they said your name!! 🙂
    Beautiful work.. I ADORE your work of Staithes.. one of my favour places…
    Have you ever done any work featuring the castle at Scarborough or Whitby Abbey…. or the Shambles in York?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sarah, thank you for those lovely words, I’m not sure I agreed with the judges and I know my wife still prefers Clark’s!!! If you check out my sketchbooks, I went to Whitby as part of my ‘training’ for Inveraray and drew the Abbey. I have two drawings of Whitby in my rack in the studio, but they’re not on the site as yet. I can and would love to do the Abbey, if you would like me to?


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