Sky Landscape Artist of the Year 2018, Semi Final, Felixstowe

Can I start by congratulating Greg Mason, Jen Gash and Allan Martin for reaching the final. It was well deserved, you were all brilliant, if a little misunderstood by some!

Many established, emerging, semi-professional and amateur artists apply to this competition each year. They all have a common love of art. The lucky few are selected for the heats, the luckier still are given a pod. None of the artists have any influence on the judges. The question of judging one piece of art against another is immaterial; it is the whole premise for the programme and no one goes in to the process blind. If the judges don’t choose the artists you like it isn’t the fault of the artists who win.

I was told straight after I’d won my heat that the semi would be in Felixstowe. Perhaps this is explained by the fact my heat was the last filmed on 11th July. The semi was shot on 24th July, 13 days later; not much time to develop as an artist!

I did have time to go to Teesport and draw the cranes and the container ships, one of which actually parked itself in front of me while I was drawing. I decided to use acrylics to try out a possible different approach in Felixstowe. I was really pleased with the end result and decided to take acrylics with me in case I had time to do another piece. 

The Cranes at Teesport

As with Inveraray, we travelled down the day before, passing so many container lorries and thinking I’m probably drawing that container tomorrow! After dropping off our bags at the hotel in Ipswich we went to scope out the location; it wasn’t difficult to find and even easier when we found the pods and the crew setting up the drone shots.

Sky Arts sets up camp in Felixstowe

It was clear there were two berths for massive container ships and the one in front was empty. Judging by the number of containers we passed on the way down, it wouldn’t be empty for long. Landguard Point was fascinating, with so much history. I knew I needed to include some or all of it in my work.

My prep sketch

My approach so far hadn’t been any different to Inveraray. I’d done my homework, I’d scoped out the location and I did my prep sketch once we got going. I knew what I was going to do with the drawing, I really didn’t see the need to edit down the landscape as it had everything I could imagine. However, I knew there was going to be a lot more drawing than at Inveraray. The Arches paper I’d used there was very abrasive on my Unipin fineliners, especially the 0.05mm pens I use for my ‘crazy’ spidery lines. I’d brought a stack of paper with me. I chose a very smooth paper with a tiny little fleck in it. I finished my prep drawing, put it down and promptly forgot about it. The drawing went really well. I was so relaxed. I was talking to people, inviting them into the pod and generally loving life. Greg scared the hell out of me. One minute nothing and next he was finished! I did interviews, most of which didn’t make it to the programme most likely because I didn’t win, but I also understand there was a problem with my mike. Stephen and I had a great chat about being kicked out of Uni and Poly and possibly torching the pod as an homage to Hendrix or something. The sound engineer said he hadn’t got any of it and could we do it again? No!

By the time Kate and Kathleen came over to chat I was into my line thickening bit and it was clear the paper had gone ‘spongy’, the lines were bleeding ever so slightly and appearing to be thicker and darker than they should have been. Cardinal sin broken and massive mistake made. No excuses. The camera crew and Tai were straight over to capture the drama. Tai and I sat down and did some tests on the paper;  no dramas, it was fine. Drawing finished, it was time to drop in the colour. I’d rehearsed picking up the beach and the fort with colour, running around to the cranes, putting in the shadows on the cranes to create depth and finally big blobs of red on the doors of the fort. The wind got up outside the pod and up me, and for the first time in my short artistic life I was nervous! The camera felt like it was six inches from my paper. I picked up my big brush and shook like I’ve never shook before I dropped water into the sky and splashed indigo everywhere. You can see what happened in the programme, but the amount of water and paint pulled the top surface off the paper and I was left with pools of indigo everywhere. The teddies went out of the pram and my language was befitting of a building site, not an art programme. “Sick as a chip” was all they could show probably!

Still back the drawing!

So instead of wandering off for ten minutes and calming down, I slumped in my chair and looked like a bulldog chewing a wasp. Chris, my wife came over and suggested doing what I had originally planned to do. Tai came over and shouted at me! He apologised later, but he was right. I was childish and I should have carried on but whether it would have made any difference is debatable. The quality of painters in this round was exceptional.

I have made so many friends in the art community who have offered advice. Lisa and Carl for their friendship on the day and following. Greg and Allan for their advice the day after when I was as down as down can be, but I took their advice and it paid off. Jen’s reaction reaction on reaching the final was priceless! But I give special mention to two people in particular. Kim Whitby, whose work inspired me to enter the competition and who gave me great advice on the power of social media and internet presence. And Clark Nicol for being a bloody great artist and top bloke! Finally to John Harrison and James McGairy for the encouragement to apply and Jo Pickering for have more air time as a wildcard than I had as a semi finalist!

Katherine Tyrell has posted her own review of the semi final. As usual, it is an excellent and balanced critique and she said something nice about me!

Postscript on the paper. It has been suggested my blog post blames Jackson’s for the paper screw up. Can I make it abundantly clear that Jackson’s are in no way responsible for the paper. I was able to apologise to Gary in person last night for any misunderstanding. It was not my intention to blame him!

6 thoughts on “Sky Landscape Artist of the Year 2018, Semi Final, Felixstowe

  1. Great blog post – it explains a lot! I totally sympathise re. the “not much time to develop”. That was unfair – besides which I think you did with that acrylic painting.

    Speaking personally I love the sketchbook sketch and would have loved to see you do that one!

    I’ve had that thing with the paper happen before now when using coloured pencils. Very often if you give the paper a hefty thwack on its backside or use a stiff / soft brush (I’m sure you know what I mean) – like a drafting brush – and brush it down BEFORE starting it gets rid of all those dreadful little fluffy bits which seem to stick invisibly – like magnets – to the paper right up until the point when you apply media – when they then show up as coloured “bits” on what should be a nice smooth coloured surface.

    I’ve become expert on watercolour papers and reasons why when they can go wrong of late following the Fabriano Artistico HP debacle – see all the lessons learned on


    1. Thanks for that Katherine. The advice on the paper is sage!


  2. Hi Brian – I loved your work, including the ‘roughed-up-paper’ – it gave it lots of texture ..


  3. Hi Brian, I thought you made an excellent picture – the way you conjure vast space and mass from such fine lines is wonderful. I didn’t mind the flecking the watercolour made though I know how you feel when the paper suddenly goes woolly. From the tv viewer’s point of view it looked like texture. Your acrylic painting also is astounding. Don’t worry about what could have been as you did what you do best and did it beautifully. The only difference between a professional artist and a non-professional artist is the way you earn money, not your ability. (FYI Lisa has been painting for at least 10 years as she was the assistant to one of my painting tutors in 2011 so where does one make the distinction between full time practising artist and pro?). I wish you much happiness with your work and am sure you are/could be very successful with the results. JBH


    1. JBH, thank you for your kind words. I have to say I was a little down after watching the show on Tuesday. However the support I have received since has been overwhelming and gives me all the encouragement I need to make this work!


      1. Great post Brian. And I just wanted to clarify; I have never painted full time! Looking forward to seeing you and your wonderful work next week.


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