The Big Painting Challenge - meet the contestants

Following the launch of the BBC's Big Painting Challenge last Sunday evening and the next episode just around the corner, we shine the spotlight on the contestants all competing to be crowned 'Britain's Best Amateur Artist'...

Melvyn Flint

The Big Painting ChallengeRetired graphic designer and SAA member, Melvyn, was sadly the first contestant to be voted off the programme by the judges.  In his time on the programme Melvyn was bursting with energy and enthusiasm for his love of art and all of us at the SAA are immensely proud of him and how he performed in each of the tasks.

Melvyn's a big fan of David Hockney and was so inspired by one of his exhibitions that he started creating work on his iPad and embracing new technology. As he demonstrated during the first programme, his style is very precise, so much so that at a local art group a teacher once tried to encourage him to be more ‘sploshy’ with his technique as he was so neat!


Alison Stafford

GenericsFellow SAA member Alison, left a successful career in the fashion industry to embrace her love of art – taking a ‘now or never’ attitude to becoming a fully-fledged artist. She is proud mum to two children, a son aged 13 and a daughter aged 11, and two grown-up step-children aged 23 and 25.

Alison actively seeks out beautiful yet dramatic landscapes to paint, and likes to take advantage of fellow country folk for her ‘photorealist’ portraiture. In terms of her approach to her subjects, Alison believes firmly that you should “paint what you see, not what you think you see.”

As was evident in the first programme, she loves using bright colours - finds watercolours far too bleak for her liking – and always carries a tube of magenta acrylic with her.


Jan Szymczuk

 The Big Painting ChallengeThe final SAA member amongst the contestants, Jan joined the Metropolitan police force hoping to one day become a dog handler and fell into drawing when he offered to sketch a suspect from a witness at the scene of an armed robbery – the likeness of the result leaving the investigating sergeant gob smacked.

Jan lives in Northumberland with his wife and has only been painting for a few years. He enjoys working in acrylics as well as other mediums and, now retired, spends most of the day painting in his art studio, a converted garage. Thanks to his police artist training, he works quickly – which could be helpful for the quick draw challenge element of the competition.

Jan’s dream is to continue teaching drawing classes for local people who have shown an interest in art. Having reaffirmed his love for painting in recent years, Jan firmly believes you don’t need a degree to be an artist, only self-taught talent and a bit of determination.


Amy Goldring

 The Big Painting ChallengeAt school, chatterbox Amy was a star pupil, getting A grades at GSCE and A-Level before heading off to do an Art Degree in Cardiff. Born in Colchester, Amy now lives in South Wales with her husband and young son Marley, who she paints at every opportunity. Amy is inspired by music - her family are all musicians – and although she doesn’t perform herself, she considers her paintings as a ‘visual dance’.

Of her work, Amy says: ‘I usually give my paintings away to people as gifts, trying to give the right painting to the right person, whom I believe will benefit from the painting in a therapeutic sense.” Amy always removes her shoes to paint, and is very physical – approaching the canvas from all directions and often striking yoga poses while painting! And as she increasingly has to hold her son while she paints, she’s taken to waking up at 2am to get a few hours’ painting time in whilst he sleeps!

Amy enjoys painting the still lives of objects she makes out of bright, stripy fabrics and traditional African and Asian fabrics. Oil, acrylic, wax batik, spray paint, collage and charcoal are her favourite mediums but she’s not a fan of chalk. She also likes to use watercolours in a non-traditional way, painting them as brightly as possible and using them as part of collage.


Anne Blankson-Hemens

The Big Painting Challenge 
Ghanaian born Anne moved to the UK in the 1980s, after completing her degree in fine art. She’s had many jobs - from strawberry picking to working in IT. She has two loves in her life, her paintings and her family.

Art is her absolute passion, saying “If you’ve ever read a book that was so captivating you can't put it down, you’ll probably come close to understanding why I love to paint so much. At four years old I saw a drawing of an English school boy wearing a bright red blazer in my big brother's drawing book and I knew that art was going to be my passion. I wanted to draw and paint with bright colours that make me happy.”

Anne’s strengths are working with oils and even though she can work with other media she isn't a fan of pastels, finding them too delicate, and easily smudged. Her paintings are vibrant and full of colour, something she attributes to her Ghanaian upbringing. Before the series, Anne painted solely to please herself and has no time for harsh criticism, which could prove interesting with the judges’ weekly critiques.


Anthea Lay

The Big Painting Challenge

Known to friends as ‘Arty Anth’, Anthea is now retired after a varied life as a Wren, a teacher, bail-officer and full-time mum. Describing herself as a ‘bit of a show-off’, she is seized by the desire to paint quickly and furiously.

Anthea describes her art as colourful and robust; she dislikes delicacy, preferring a good broad brush. Her staple is oil paints with texture created using a palette knife. Anthea claims she doesn’t have a weak area – she gives everything a go and admits she is pretty good at most things! Living in Cornwall, Anthea naturally has a passion for landscapes and seascapes, and adores Turner.


Claire Parker

The Big Painting Challenge
Modern Languages student Claire used to hide her artwork from everyone, including her parents, and kept her sketchbook like a secret diary. Her reluctance to share her work threatened to affect her art exams as she even struggled to reveal her work to her teachers. But recently gaining confidence, she finally decided to show her work and hopes to share her enthusiasm with others.

Claire adores portraiture because she considers it the hardest art form, and enjoys the challenge of capturing more than a photographic likeness, saying: “If you put in a wrong line when painting an onion, for example, nobody minds, but with a person every line has to mean something”. Claire likes painting portraits of family and friends or still lives composed of mouldy fruit that she sets up in her room. But she is less keen on painting landscapes, and finds it hard to capture moving subjects. She is particularly inspired by Cezanne’s use of colour and the sensitivity and expressiveness of Rembrandt’s self-portraits, which she searches for in her own work. Currently studying French and Italian at the University of Cambridge, Claire is constantly striving to strike a balance between studying and finding time to paint.


Heather Harding

The Big Painting ChallengeHailing originally from London, but now residing in East Sussex, Heather has worked for many years as a Fashion and Textile Designer, spending some of her time working in New York. Having always had to put aside the more creative aspects of her life in favour of a steady job, she feels now is the perfect time to embrace art and, in particular, painting.

Heather started painting three years ago and has a real passion for portraiture and life drawing. She is fascinated by capturing the flesh and skin tones of her subjects - including the readily available subject in her partner, musician, Matt. She also enjoys working with more unusual mediums like red chalk - though is the first to admit she has yet to master acrylics and would like to tackle the subject of still life.


Paul Bell

The Big Painting ChallengeGlaswegian Paul has worked in interior design and as an architectural illustrator, and is currently a stay at home dad, painting as often as he can in between looking after his youngest daughter, three-year-old Frances. Paul loves oils though admits he can find them messy and slow, and is very happy working with acrylic.

The weekly time challenges could work to Paul’s advantage as he embraces time constraints, saying “you can lose spontaneity if spending too long on something!” Married young, and with a young family, Paul couldn’t afford to go to Glasgow School of Art full time when he was younger, but attended classes part time to study life drawing. Paul mostly dreams of having his own studio space to paint - and having more time to paint.


Richard Salter

The Big Painting ChallengeRichard joined the Army aged 16, and works as a Communications Systems Engineer responsible for Telecommunications Systems within the Army. During his last tour of duty in Afghanistan he decided to pick up a paintbrush and captured his emotional response to the experience. His work was entered for War Artist of the Year - and he was awarded runner-up. This recognition reignited Richard’s desire to be an artist and is very keen to continue this as a career when he leaves the Army.

Whilst acrylic and oil are his favourite medium to work with, Richard also enjoys charcoal and given the nature of his training, he likes to study his subject in depth and then spend months creating work in his studio. Whilst this is likely to be a bonus it certainly won’t be an advantage in the quick draw challenges, he very rarely paints en plein air, so the landscape challenge could prove interesting. With passion for painting running in the family, Richard regularly gives his daughter painting lessons - and his coaching is paying off as she has just won her first painting competition at school.


If 'The Big Painting Challenge' has inspired you, then why not join us at one of our various SAA road show locations and learn to paint in just 45 minutes!

This year we will be taking a road trip to various locations throughout the UK to inspire and encourage people to have a go.  So if you think 'I can't paint' can, you just probably haven't been given the right tuition.