What a result discovering Stephen Mangan was taking over from Frank Skinner as presenter of Portrait Artist of the Year. I usually know when a celebrity supports Spurs and I was fully aware Stephen was a big fan of my beloved club. (No disrespect to Frank Skinner – he has been a brilliant presenter of the programme for a number of years but… West Brom… come on!) It guaranteed a good bit of Spurs chat when filming my heat.

Just to put my appearance on the programme into context a little bit. I’ve watched every episode of Portrait and Landscape since they were launched five or six years ago. I love the programmes! I’d applied three or four times before getting a yes so when the nod came for Landscape last year I was absolutely delighted and equally so when I made it onto Portrait.

There’s no denying it’s a pressure gig. Painting a portrait in four hours is not easy and then throw into the mix the cameras, judges, presenters and audience to crank it up a bit and you start to wonder why anyone enters. The biggest concern for me leading up to the day though was the one big thing that was out of my control. The celebrity sitter.

You literally find out on the day just minutes before the start of the competition who you’ll be painting. But it wasn’t about the ‘who’ for me, it was 100% the ‘how’. How would they be as a sitter? Posing for four hours is not something people generally do and it’s a skill in itself. That’s why there are professional life models out there making careers from posing for artists. It was a massive worry leading up to the day because I was intent on painting from life but if my sitter was a mover I was going to be in trouble. And I’d be in trouble in my biggest opportunity to date.

Using technology eliminates that particular problem and the option to use it in the competition is there. I’m used to using technology in the painting process as I often work from photos when painting portraits. Gridding up a photo and transferring the drawing onto canvas is quick and reliable. But I have always personally wanted to be able to paint from life and have practiced many hours to try to be able to. I find there is something extra to be gained in a painting by studying a subject from life, something that is difficult to put your finger on. This is not a criticism of the grid system and technology for reference – like I say I use it regularly myself. It’s just a completely personal desire to be able to paint successfully from life. But I was only going to be able to produce a decent painting on the programme if my sitter posed well for four hours so this gave me a bit of a dilemma.

In the end I decided to be bold and go for it with no insurance policy of the grid and see what happens. My celeb sitter was Anne Reid, known for TV roles including Coronation Street and Dinner Ladies. She had a certain noble presence and positioned herself in a strong, confident pose. What doesn’t come across on screen is the four hours are shot over a six hour period with breaks and by the time the final session was in swing everyone involved was tired including Anne and no amount of sugary tea was able to keep her from resting her eyes and inevitably her pose. Having said that I have no complaints about how she sat as the bigger distraction on the day was actually the moving around of cameras and crew, often blocking my view of Anne. But, again, I can’t complain as there’d be no programme without them! I’d estimate the actual amount of quality time to study the subject and paint is closer to three hours.

If you’ve seen the programme you’ll know that each celebrity gets to take a painting home with them and I was delighted when Anne chose mine. Not long after that the judges shortlisted three artists before selecting their final heat winner. Again, I was delighted as I heard my name announced for the shortlist but just like my appearance on Landscape I didn’t win the heat. Congrats to the winner by the way! Thoroughly deserved!

I came away with regrets. I’d set my hopes high and there were things I’d have done differently with my painting given just a little more time. It’s the thinking time I missed. Usually when painting a portrait the contemplation between sessions and time just looking is as important as the time putting paint on canvas. That luxury is not available during this challenge and within hours I knew what I would have done differently.

All in all the experience was exhausting but brilliant and it was exciting to see the broadcast ten months after filming. Would I apply to take part in the future? I think I would. I’d absolutely recommend it to any artists who are considering it. The production team are great and look after you well. The judges want you to do well. The presenters are friendly and you get to see top TV professionals working at close quarters. The whole process is fascinating to witness and be part of. In fact, I’ve talked myself into it. I’d definitely apply again!

Thanks for reading!