The BBC Portrait Challenge by Julia Tanner


IMG_0617I have only ever attempted portraits a couple of times, when I was at college I managed a pencil drawing of Charles Darwin which I was pretty happy with and on another occasion I painted a friends three boys as a birthday surprise - the surprise was that they did actually resemble them! Apart from that I made an attempt at my Husband which ended up looking like a badly bruised butternut squash (swiftly painted over) and a vaguely passable painting of my daughter which mainly consisted of hair.

Nonetheless, I have been inspired by the BBC programme and by the SAA competition to have a go at my local newsreader, Stewart White from BBC Look East.

I put myself under pressure from the off because by the time I decided to do it and read the rules properly I realised that I only had about 7 hours to paint it, let it dry and get to the post office because I stupidly assumed it was online submission and the deadline loomed! This may have actually worked in my favour as it focussed me in to speed and avoided too much 'fiddling' which is what I've been guilty of previously.

I used the new SAA acrylics in order to achieve quick drying (assisted by a hairdryer) and painted on a 12" x 16" stretched canvas. The colours were yellow ochre, cherry red, French ultramarine, titanium white and a tiny touch of black.


Step by step photos are attached, I did no initial drawing preferring to try and build the likeness with thinned paint. I started with a size 16 SAA acrylic and oil round brush and worked down to smaller ones. I put in the shadows first and then built from there adjusting the highlights at the end. I fought the urge to blend, trying instead to leave big squidgy brush marks of paint, when I mixed the colours on my palette I tried to leave streaks and not beautifully smooth blocks of colour.


I was reasonably happy with the result, I felt I'd caught the likeness. Of course after sending off the original I have kept looking at my photos and finding fault but I think that's always the way of the artist! If nothing else it has left me keen to study portraiture further, I will plan a little better next time though!

Julia Tanner