Episode 5 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2022 (Series 9)

Episode 5 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2022 (Series 9)

This is a review of Episode 5 of Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2022 (series 9)

The artists are lined to to hear the outcome of the Judges deliberations 
and which three are selected for the shortlist.

I’m still very frustrated by the NOW TV app which refuses to behave in terms of rewatching sections of the episode i.e. refuses to stop or advance to a place before or after its current place.

The Artists

The artists of Episode 5

The artists for Episode 5 are as follows. I provide some detail which
got left out of some of the bios on television. Links to websites are embedded
in names.

  • Fawzi Ebrahim (Instagram) – a retired engineer who studied fine art in Baghdad before migrating to
    live in Halifax
  • Sara Gregory (Instagram) – graduated from Stourbridge College of Art and then spent 25
    years as an art teacher, teaching students from 7 – 18. After a ‘significant
    birthday’ she quit her teaching job to focus more on her
    paintings. She’s now Portrait and Figurative Artist working in her
    studio in Whetstone.
  • Binny Mathews (Instagram) – a professional artist who trained at Bournemouth College of Art and at
    Farnham School of Art (1978-80) and is currently based in Chelsea
    Studios, London. She’s an Associate Member of the Royal Society of Portrait
    Painters. Her work has been exhibited in exhibitions at various prominent
    art galleries including the Summer Exhibition at the The Royal Academy of
    Arts. She is qualified to teach and provided one on one tuition.

Her works are to be found in the collection of the American Embassy
(London), The National Trust, HRH The Prince of Wales, British Gas,
Carpenters Hall, Seagram and others in the UK, Europe, China and the USA.

  • Harriet Merry
    (Instagram) – Studied art to A Level and worked for many years as a picture editor,
    selecting and commissioning photography for national newspapers and
    magazines before becoming a mum. Got back to art in 2019 and now works in
    ink producing very effective collage drawings.
  • Samantha Messias
    (Instagram)  – her drawings are created using pencil and charcoal. She is
    self-taught in relation to hyperrealism and has a studio in Chester. 
  • Rosie Philips (Facebook
    Instagram |
    Twitter) –
    a 21 year old self taught painter. She is a former barista who now works part-time for female art co-operative the Jade Tree in Norwich and exhibits in
    Norfolk – below is her self portrait. Looks very promising to me!
  • Nina Ruminska (Instagram) – Born in 1989 Toruń, Poland. Currently based in Dublin, Ireland.
    Likes to paint people from life during a time of quiet sitting and
  • William Savage (Instagram) -Studied at Lavender Hill Studios (2011-13). Exhibited in RBSA Portrait Prize shows 2014, 2016.
  • Robert Ware – studied at Glasgow School of Art (BA Fine Art Painting and Printmaking 2017) and The Heatherley School of Fine Art (Portrait Painting Diploma 2021). Has been selected and exhibited in juried exhibitions (Royal Society of Portrait Painters; Royal Institute of Oil Painters; Ruth Borchard Self-Portrait Prize; Wales Contemporary/Cymru Gyfoes International Art Competition )

The Sitters

The sitters for this episode were:

  • Dame Stella Rimington (age 87) – the former Director General of MI5  (the United
    Kingdom’s domestic counter-intelligence and security agency i.e. spys!) –
    from 1992 to 1996. She now writes thrillers.
  • Big Zuu (age 27) – Zuhair Hassan, known professionally as Big Zuu, is
    a British rapper, grime MC, songwriter, DJ and television personality from
    West London.
  • Alexis fFrench
    – a British classical and soul musician, composer, producer, and pianist.
    Ffrench was the best selling pianist of 2020 in the UK and is apparently
    is the fastest-growing classical artist in the world – with half a billion

Size and Content of Self Portrait Submissions

Referencing famous paintings in your self-portrait

Two artists this week referenced famous paintings in their self portraits.

  • Fawzi painted postcards of famous paintings on the wall in the background of his self portrait
  • Robert Ware painted himself as Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl earring – which is different!

The thing is it catches the Judges’ attention – but can also be distracting. One commented they found themselves paying more attention to how good a copy of the painting(s) had been made rather than focusing on the self portrait.

In my view, it’s a ‘hook’ to be used with great discretion – and only if you’re a very good painter!

Painting within the time limit

Painting within the time limit seemed to be something that too few had practiced in advance of the heat.

Different people had different strategies:

  • some had timetables for what needed to be done by when – which they failed to achieve
  • some went small – and filled the 
  • some thought a lot about how they worked – see next theme
  • one went very big – and completed the painting.

Guess who won the heat?

Is painting big a good or bad idea?

Here’s some pros and cons.


  • Worth doing if you know how to complete a background fast
  • Potential to create a bigger better impression
  • Indicates experience – if done well
  • Looks like somebody who can handle a proper commission for an organisation


  • only having a half finished painting at the end of the 4 hours – which looks unfinished i.e. this is not deliberate
  • Not adjusting your composition for the size and format of your support

The need to speed up

A number of the artists appeared to be experiencing creating artwork within a time constraint for the first time! Which surprised me because

  • I’d have thought it was obvious that practising producing a decent portrait within the timescale (with deductions from the four hours for interruptions etc) would provide you with an advantage in the heat. i.e. the time limit would not phase you.
  • I’ve been bleating about the need to know what you can achieve within four hours – and less – in virtually every review of every heat in the last three series

The Judges commented that the day went fast and well for some – and slowly and not so well for others.

Being organised

Fawzi thought long and hard while practising about whether he was time-efficient i.e. whether his materials were organised sensibly and whether there was anything he could do to cut down on time-wasting. He had put a lot of thought into the layout of all his art materials in terms of what he could move. 

Whether you are agree or not with what he did – which presumably worked for him (at the time)  – it’s not a bad idea to check out your time wasting habits which leave you speeding and/or making mistakes towards the end.

The one thing to be wary of is eliminating all the time required for reflection….

The important need to paint shapes in more ways than one

I spotted two things in this heat

  • artists who painted colours of objects – in terms of ‘known shape’ without any reference to tone
  • artists who painted heads without any realistic reference to the shape of the body it was attached to

Being able to accurately paint shapes is really important – BUT 

  • the big important shapes are the tones NOT the colours – given this is what generates form and depth
  • large heads on small shoulders / bodies diminish the sitter and look a tad cartoon like.

How to paint clothing

If your sitter is wearing clothes with an interesting pattern ignore it if you want to complete the painting in four hours

  • There is no requirement to paint pattern in a garment. 
  • You should be putting your focus entirely on painting the person and not the clothing
  • However, if the structure of the clothing tells you something about the sitter, use it!

The Judging

Sitters Choices

In terms of who chose what, it was completely different from the shortlist

  • Alexis chose Harriet Merry’s very stylized collage of him – which I was not surprised about
  • Stella chose Rob’s portrait of the two heads – hers and the head of the puppet. It made me think of her comment about the DG of MI5 being seen as “the puppet master’ so I wonder if this was an ironical choice.
  • Big Zuu choce Fawzi’s ‘full on / upfront’ portrait

Critique by the Judges

The Judges liked

  • excellent composition
  • great likeness
  • tackling very large paintings – and finishing them
  • being very organised
  • getting on with the painting
  • artists who delayed the face to near the end – and then achieved real character with a few judiciously placed marks

The Judges were less impressed by artists who

  • artists who progressed very, very slowly

“everybody needs to work faster!”

  • getting the shapes and form of the body wrong

The Shortlist

Lined up with their self portraits to hear which three move forward

I have to say I didn’t find it easy to identify the shortlist – and yet when the shortlist was announced I could entirely see why the Judges chose as they did.

It also makes more sense when you saw the heat painting next to the previous submission.

The Shortlist was

  • Nina Ruminska
  • Binnie Mathews
  • Rosie Phillips
The Shortlist: Self Portraits and Heat Paintings
(L to R) Rosie
Philips; Binny Mathews and Nina Ruminska

The Judges commented that:

Episode 5 Winner

Shortlisted artists: (L to R) Rosie Philips; Binnie Mathews and Nina Ruminska

The winner was Binny Mathews. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her in the Final.

The Judges said that 

  • she was clearly a very accomplished painter 
  • She had set herself an enormous challenge AND had managed to complete a massive portrait within 4 hours. 
  • she and created a beautiful and effortless narrative. 

Incidentally, she was also the ONLY artist who used a landscape format for both self portrait submission and her heat painting. Landscape gets you noticed…..

Binny Mathews with her portrait of Dame Stella Rimington

Episode 6

The sitters next week will be

  • Jim Carter, 
  • Benjamin Zephaniah, 
  • Ellie Simmonds

Sky Arts Artist of the Year – REFERENCE

If you want to look back at reviews of previous series you can find links to
them in

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