Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year Semi-Finals

Blog Post 

The Semi Finals of Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year.

Hi there, here’s my blog about my day at South Queensferry last July. 

Before the day I received a phone call from Amy to say that the judges had decided that I was the overall winner of the Wildcard section of the show, and I was invited to take part in the semi-finals. I was over the moon to say the least. They couldn’t give any details of the location but nearer the time we were instructed to make our way to South Queensferry for that special semi finals day. Bridges were an increasinglikelihood! Off we went.

The Day of the Semi Finals.

I had not reached the elevated status of being in a pod before and let me tell you, it was a very different experience. I had watched so many episodes before that I knew a little of what to expect but boy what a day! It’s very different in reality. There are so many interruptions which are fun and interesting but stop one’s concentration. All part of the making of a television programme though.

We had breakfast in the hotel then had transport laid on to the bridge which was just down the road. We had been delegated pods and I was shown to mine by Glen who was a great help all throughout the day. In the pod lots of materials were laid on which was a great help, but I had still brought lots of my own. I had opted for an easel instead of a table. Once all my materials were out, I kept looking at the huge view in front of me with some trepidation. The day was quite grey to start with, the sky and water the same leached- out lightness. Everyone was very busy filming all the sequences that form the structure of the show, like walking on set and holding your submission painting etc. I kept stealing a glance at the huge structure of the bridge in front of me. From my pod, directly in front, was the first bridge span and some staithes which cast lovely reflections in the water.

We were then instructed to begin by Stephen and his joke about how long it takes to paint the Forth Rail Bridge. The day passed by so quickly. I was interviewed regularly by all the judges and Stephen and Joan. They were all lovely especially Joan. My husband Gus was also interviewed, he wasn’t expecting that. 

Being in a pod was much more nerve wracking than being a wildcard, you are scrutinised much more. They even filmed me trying to get stray hairs off my canvas.

I was pleased with how my painting turned out but there are things that, with hindsight, I would have tackled differently, after all it’s a great thing!

I painted non-stop all day and didn’t stop for the delicious lunch they provided for us. I wished I had an extra four hours. I would describe the first few hours as a time of sensory overload. You needed to cut through all the activity to focus. 

Those famous words “put down your brushes and step away from your artwork” came all too soon. We then sat around having a chat and a well-earned rest. That was a nice opportunity to meet the other contestants. I must admit I hadn’t really looked at any of the other artworks. Consequently, it was quite a difficult question to answer when I was asked who I thought might be successful going forward. I was disappointed not being chosen to be in the finals but as I had come much farther than I ever expected I left feeling a great sense of achievement and a determination to have another go.

The judges and presenters.

One of the best parts of the whole experience was meeting the judges and the presenters. I have a great respect for Tai and all he has achieved; he is also a wonderful painter of portraits and landscapes. We were at art school at around the same time, he attended the Slade and I was at Reading. We chatted away about the teaching of art in the 80’s (or lack of it at the time)and agreed that art really has to come from the individual, with some guidance of course. The day after the competition we met Tai and his wife on a walk across the road bridge, once again we chatted, and he was charming and encouraging. 

Kathleen had really liked the fact that I had painted a diptych despite the terrible weather at Compton Verney, she asked me why I wasn’t doing one for the semi-final, a very good question in hindsight! The clue was there. I’m so impressed with what she has been part of and orchestrated throughout her career. I am in awe. I’ve attended a few of the Royal Academy exhibitions that she has curated. Strange to think she cast her eye over one or two of my own efforts.

Kate Bryan seems to have so much energy for and genuine enjoyment of, her role as a judge for this programme. Always smiling and full of encouragement it’s just like talking to someone you have known for ages. Her knowledge of art and art history is vast, the clever thing is she makes it accessible for everyone and links art from the past with what is current. Again, it was fun to be a focus of her attention or a few minutes.

Joan and Stephen were fascinating to chat with. Joan knew a lot about each of the contestants and led conversations very smoothly, so you didn’t feel awkward. She chatted away to everyone, even Gus, my husband. He was very impressed with her and surprised she talked to him for so long. At one point I was worried that I might get some oil paint on Stephen’s white linen shirt, I think he was too. He is genuinely funny and put everyone at their ease. You got used to the jokes!

The production team were helpful and very interesting to talk to. Amy Niven who was the wildcard researcher was my first point of contact but Glenn and Cora along with others in the team made the day less daunting than I had expected.


I started with a wash of acrylic then sketched in the basic forms. I had opted for a light grey/blue background and started to work from the far distance to the near foreground, with acrylics, keeping the tones lighter for the land and hills at the southern side of the bridge. 

At one point I became obsessed with getting all the struts of the bridge in accurately. Using straight lines made by using a ruler seemed to suck some of the life out of the painting and make it less spontaneous. I was happy with my rendition of the water which had loads of fascinating reflections in it. After the acrylics dried, I changed to oils and built-up layers of paint with more depth of colour especially around the staithes. The bridge was difficult, but it was a semi-final. I felt my painting was a reasonable representation of the Forth Rail Bridge on that day, with that weather. It has a sense of distance but perhaps not the monumental strength of the bridge that I was hoping for. There are things I would have done differently looking back.

With Hindsight.

I would have done another diptych which the judges liked in my wildcard painting, especially Kathleen. It was a bright day, but when I started the painting, I should maybe have started with a darker colour as a background, then all my light tones would have had something to work against and be more impactful. I would also have positioned my easel better, simple I know, but I just agreed with where the film crew had positioned it for the camera. I had to peer around it to see the view each time, a rookie mistake. The big one though is this, if I was lucky enough to do this again, I would have a strategy, a style of working that follows on from the previous painting, like me doing another diptych. I would also have painted the whole bridge which would have meant me tackling a different angle from the one I was looking at. This would have given a greater sense of depth and perspective to the painting. Two of the more successful artists did do this.

I thoroughly enjoyed the day, and it has boosted my confidence. After spending Covid in my studio it was immensely cheering to spend these two days amongst like-minded artists and art experts. I’m up for having another go! If you are thinking of entering the competition don’t hesitate. 

A detail from my painting.
Awaiting the verdict.

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