For my first blog post I've decided to write about my experience being a pod artist on this years show, which airs on November 13th 2018.
I was approached to apply for the show but dismissed it for months thinking it would be too big a challenge for someone used to painting indoors and taking 2 weeks to complete a painting! But then at the very last moment something made me change my mind and just thought it'll be good exposure and might push me forward. When I found out I was a pod artist I was in a bit of denial. I then began watching the previous series and made notes of the key words the judges were using to give me an idea of the kind of artist that does well. One thing that stood out for me was choosing an idiosyncratic view.
Being on Broadstairs beach, I knew that painting the sea wouldn't be consistent with my urban paintings plus I wanted to do something to stand out to the judges and to enjoy what I was painting. I think the judges (both shortlisting to get onto the show and during the competition itself) look for work that is unique and fresh but also skilful. I also thought carefully about keeping my painting on the day consistent with my submission painting. I did this by not only the subject matter choice but also using a coloured ground similar to my submission. Plus I chose to use my own paints as I wanted to be as comfortable and relaxed as possible (I use Liquitex Professional acrylics) but we were supplied with paints if we needed them. I also decided to work on a smaller canvas as I was worried I wouldn't have enough time to complete a bigger piece.
Image credits: Ben Whitney
Something else I found helpful was to not work with my headphones in. For the first 2 hours I listened to music as a way to try to remain focused and not get distracted by all the camera crews and public. But I found it harder to remain focused probably because it meant I could hear my inner critic more! We left our pods for a lunch break and a few of the crew were hinting that now might be a good time to go back to the pod to carry on painting as there would be fewer distractions. I found this was the turning point for me. I quickly got into my flow and decided to not listen to my music and instead could overhear members of the public commenting on my painting. Hearing their positive comments gave me a huge boost and much needed self belief and it helped me to turn around my painting. I did find that I needed to stop myself from wanting to talk with them though! And a crew member had to keep reminding the public to not distract the artists.
Before filming started I had a lovely conversation with a local lady who was able to tell me lots about the history of the place and how a local family had cared for the beach. I felt like having that emotion fed into my painting and was able to mention this to the judges, maybe that helped them see more of the process behind my practice and the reasons for why I chose my vista. (I'm not sure if any of that will be aired as I am yet to watch my heat).
I did manage to speak to Kate, Tai and Joan who were all lovely and easy to talk to, turned out that Tai's wife went to the same school as me in Norwich! I didn't get to speak to Stephen but he did approach me to shake my hand at the start which was a lovely gesture. I'm not sure who decides which artist the judges/presenters speak to or in what order, I got the impression it might be something that is decided on the day by the producers depending on what stages the artists are at.
One thing that I wasn't prepared for was having a camera crew right in front of my view point! I had decided at the start though to take a photo of my scene to help me with composition but not to use it as a reference to paint from as that's not why we're there. It did help me though when I had half an hour of having to guess what I was painting!
Something else I did to prepare was to Google the area beforehand. I did a few practise paintings at home of what I though might have been the view. I was spot on but arrived the day before to scope the area and find the pods. I then spent the evening on the beach taking some photos of various angles. It also helped that my artist friend Jenny Leonard (see her website) was taking part as a Wildcard so were able bounce thoughts off one another about what we might expect. It also helped calm my nerves having another artist/friend with me.
On the day I quickly became friendly with a few of the artists, which also helped calm me down. We arrived at 7am and were given a very brief breakfast but as we were rushed off for filming I think I only had one bite! I was too nervous to eat though and hadn't slept so if I did it again I would bring food with me. I found anytime we were given food, the next minute we'd be whisked away for an interview and came back to find our uneaten food thrown away to avoid the gregarious Broadstairs seagulls nabbing it!
For the painting itself, I decided I wanted to make a good head start to keep me calm for the rest of the day. I probably rushed the start though as I had to make a change to the composition but I was glad I made the decision to change it early on. I wasn't worried about it looking like a mistake as I think the judges also look at your decision making. Even though I'm not an experienced en plain air painter I have done it before and was prepared for changes in light and planned where the sun and shadows would be. I decided to omit some parts as I felt I wouldn't have enough time to do them justice and I'd rather have a finished painting. I don't think the judges have ever chosen a painting that looks incomplete. Even though it was very hot and I was worried about using acrylic paints I didn't find the heat made it harder for me. I did bring some medium to keep the acrylics wet but found that made it an extra thing to think about and decided to just paint the way I'm used to. I did struggle at the very end to finish as we'd been given our 5 minute warning which I was hoping to use to finish the foreground, but then spent most of those final minutes being interviewed!
I had a really enjoyable day and still can't believe I took part. It gave me a huge boost to my confidence as an artist which is priceless. The crew were all lovely, normal and professional. It was a very long day and I was exhausted by the end having got by on adrenaline. I would recommend artists having time either side of filming to relax and enjoy being in such a beautiful place. The more relaxed you are the better. Another thing to be prepared for is how you talk on camera, you are reminded to talk about the answer to the question otherwise it comes across on camera that you are just answering a random question (if that makes sense!). For example: "Did you enjoy painting today?" - "I really enjoyed my day today painting..." rather than: "Yes, I enjoyed my day today".
I was totally shocked to get picked for the final 3, I thought I'd not done enough and ruined my painting in the final rush to try to finish. I was so happy they picked Jenn Gash as the heat winner, she was lovely and even though her painting isn't my taste I think the judges decision is based on many factors throughout the day and the submission painting.
The art blog Making A Mark has a better review of the day. My painting from the heat plus open edition prints will be for sale on Saatchi Art. My Manze's submission painting is available as a limited edition Giclee print here on my website and the painting will be available to buy soon through The Dragon Gallery.