For the last few years, people have said to me that I should apply to Sky Arts Landscape Artist Of The Year. The problem has always been that I didn’t really have the confidence or headspace to do it but, this year, I went for it and popped in one of my paintings.

The application process was really easy, even for someone with dyslexia, like me!  I also saw that Storyvault, the production company for the programe, was looking for locations so I wrote to them and suggested the stunning Herstmonceux Castle in Sussex (www.herstmonceux-castle.com). As it turned out, they had already chosen this location but they very kindly sent me a book to say thank you for my suggestion.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get picked for one of the pods (but my talented friend, Tony Parsons, did – look out for him on the 19th November, 2019 (www.tonyparsonsartist.co.uk).  I was, however, invited to apply for a wild card place on a first come first served basis.

The next morning I submitted my application and uploaded a photo of myself and, hooray, I received an email confirming that I had one of the 50 much sought after places. Later that day, the production company called me to talk through what to expect when the day came, ask me some questions and lay down the ground rules regarding confidentiality. That was the toughest bit because I talk a lot and I’m not great at keeping secrets (especially exciting ones like this).   

I started to do my research on the castle and I also set up a secret Pinterest board (www.pinterest.co.uk/FayeBridgwater/1laoty/), where I pinned photos, painting and styles of work that I liked. I learned that, interestingly, Turner produced some lovely pencil sketches of the castle.  I also binge-watched older episodes of Landscape Artist of the Year, including the one won by Jon Ball, someone that I had a stand next to at The Talented Art Fair in Brick Lane, last year. 

Watching old episodes was really great because it gave me an idea of what to expect and got me thinking about other things that artists think about, such as the medium that I would paint on and the growing shopping list for my visit to the local Cass Art shop (www.cassart.co.uk).  In the end, I decided to buy a massive roll of paper (to cut down to the maximum size permitted in the competition) and a canvas too.  I looked a right wally trying to get these onto the bus but the driver was very patient! It also gave lots of the passengers a good reason to chat with me.

Waiting for the bus

As the big day approached, I was keeping a close eye on the weather, which wasn’t looking very cheery to say the least. I kept looking at different websites hoping that one of them would provide some better news. Unfortunately, all of them were equally bleak so I prepared for heavy rain. I bought a massive waterproof orange poncho and a great big umbrella. I also had a new bunk bed delivered the week before and had kept the massive plastic sheets it was delivered in. Given the weather prospects, I abandoned the paper and decided to take the large canvas (with a smaller one too, just in case the large one didn’t fit under the umbrella). By the way - just so you know - they enforce strict umbrella rules; only single spike, no gazebos, no exceptions!

The night before, I prepared my list of things to take:

1. Print out of emails and directions. 2.  Large Canvas. 3.  Small Canvas. 4. Pencils. 5.  Pencil sharpener (I annoying forgot that). 6. Charcoal. 7. Spray paint. 8.  Brushes. 9. Paint. 10. Water. 11. Pastels. 12. Pens. 13. Washing up bowl. 14. Mark making tool. 15. Broom. 16. Mop. 17. Car ice scraper. 18. Shells. 19. Fisherman’s knots. 20. Stencils. 21. Ruler. 22. Phone. 23. Spare battery. 24. Food. 25. Coffee in a flask (this was great). 26. More Water. 27.  Poncho. 28. Jumper (in June ☹). 29.  Umbrella. 30. Large piece of plastic. 31. Easel. 32.  Chair. 33. Wellies. 34. Shoes. 35. Hat. 36. Cloths.

Well, after I gathered everything together I realised that I had rather a lot!  Luckily, my buddy up the road had a camping trailer/trolley thing which she let me borrow. Of course, you can’t tell anyone what you're up to (I had managed to keep the secret!) so I just told her that I was off to paint a field (in the pouring rain!).

All packed and ready to go. Look at that stream of water in the gutter!

Phew - all packed up and child care arranged. My lovely neighbours took the kids in from 6.30am and we set off in the heavy rain as you have to be at the location from 7.30am! I can’t drive so my husband has to be chauffeur. On the drive from Brighton to Herstmonceux, I thought I would be really nervous, having never been anywhere near a film crew in my life, but I actually just felt really excited.

On the Road - perfect painting weather!

When I got to the car park, the place was buzzing with artists, all with their canvases, easels, cagoules and umbrellas. I queued up to sign a release form and get a wristband and to have my canvas measured to ensure it met the strict size requirements. It was at this point that I realised no one else has a canvas as big as mine! I also had much more kit than anyone else. Luckily I had my trailer and my big plastic sheets.

All of the production staff were lovely and chatty. They thanked us all for coming in the rain and then provided a quick introduction for the day and explained that filming would finish at 3pm. Many of the artists had been wild cards before and they loved the experience, which was comforting and kept the nerves under control.  

We all made our way to the castle and helpers were asked to leave so they could get a shot of the artists walking toward the castle with their kit. Luckily, they got everything they needed from the first take so we didn't get too wet. They then showed us where to set up. Some of the artists were slightly cheeky and set up away from the lawn that we were told to use! I found my spot quickly because I wanted to be as far back as possible - I wanted to paint the castle in the landscape not just the castle. 

All ready to start

As I was setting up judge, Tai Shan Schierenberg (www.taishanschierenberg.com), walked past.  I was thrilled to see him and he gave me a lovely smile from under his umbrella. We exchanged a few words and, as you can imagine, he is not at all intimidating.  

The rain was heavy by now so I come up with a genius idea of sellotaping my umbrella to my easel and it worked a treat; thank goodness. I then had a chat to a few of the artists pitched near to me. Mark, the man in front of me was painting on wallpaper with emulsion and a lady to the right had a huge umbrella resting on the floor and had made a den underneath it with all her kit. She was the driest person there!

There was then a big announcement that we could start painting (bang on 9am). I started by taking photos and working out my composition.The day seemed to be mainly about the weather so I wanted to capture this and the sea of umbrellas before me. I had this big white canvas before me so I began by writing all over it. I learnt this from a workshop I had with my friend and artist Moyra Scott (www.moyrascott.com), and it’s a great way to start off. I wrote “rain, rain go away, come again another day” and then I looked up Herstmonceux on Wikipedia and copied out the first few paragraphs about the castle.

 

At one point, it actually stopped raining (still very grey but no rain). This was great because I wanted to start painting on the floor. I wanted to make some great, massive movements with the paint to capture the weather. I started mixing a grey/blue colour in my washing up bowl and, dipping my broom in it, made some really exciting bold brush marks on the canvas. At this point, one of the production team came over and asked if they could film it. Well they came to film me and with them, to my horror, was Stephen Mangan. He’s the presenter and he talked to me! I was so nervous I could feel the words weren’t coming out right so I’m sure if that will all end on the cutting room floor! He was very smiley and kind. I was just a little overwhelmed having the camera crew there.

They moved on and I grid up my canvas and drew out my castle. So far it was going well so I stopped to visit the café and pick up some lunch.  If you ever visit the castle, you must have a cuppa and some cake there. It was yummy.  I then had a wander around all the other artist and realised I am much more expressive and abstract than everyone else.  Hmmm, not sure if that's a good thing or not!

Half way through. About to add all my big scribbles!

As I was near the back, by the road, lots of people chatted to me and I loved meeting everyone and having my photo taken. It turned out that one artist (and a reserve to go in the pod) grew up in the same area and went to the same school as me.  We even had the same art teacher! Mr Skinner, art teacher of Rickmansworth School (www.rickmansworth.herts.sch.uk). If you read this Mr Skinner, we were singing your praises. Small world indeed!

I then got some spray paint on. Thank goodness that it dries super quick because I could hear the pitter patter of rain getting closer and closer. Then the rain came and not just a light shower but a complete deluge, with rolling thunder and lighting too. I was a bit worried that I might be hit by lighting because it was so close by.

My kit was totally soaked, with the tool boxes filled with water and the paint is just washing off my palette - Arrrggghhhh! Nevertheless, people were still walking around talking to the artists and other artists coming to have a look and the feedback I was getting was positive.  

I decided to work more in pencil, pastel and charcoal, making large marks across the canvas. Judge Kathleen Soriano (www.instagram.com/kathleen.soriano) had a look and a chat; 'Lovely and loose' she said – thank you Kathleen, I will take that! Then judge Kate Bryant (www.katebryanart.com/about) walked by and and commented on the size.

Drenched …

We were told we had an hour to go. I really wanted to get some value in to this work but the weather was against me.  It was so wet that I was standing in the gutter with a stream of water running across my wellies. Then, the most uplifting thing happened.  Some of the staff from the castle came to look at everyone’s work and they paid me some huge compliments ….. boom!

The hour was up and of course the rain was just passing. The judges came round and Kathleen told me that I am now known as the “broom lady”, which made me laugh; at least they'd noticed my work. Tai talked about some of the interesting marks I'd made.  However I can see the film crew is a long way away from me and this means I probably hadn’t won but I was curious to see who they were going towards.  I trotted over to have a look and it was Sue England (www.sueengland.co.uk) from Chichester.  We all gave Sue a huge clap.  She had mainly painted the moat of water and reflection. I really liked the painting and it had great brush work. I was happy to lose to  a great painting but of course I was slightly jealous that it wasn’t me!

The finished painting for Landscape Artist of the Year Wild Card Entry 2019, Original Painting on Box Canvas, (91cm x 122cm)

I slowly packed up my drenched kit, whipped my poncho off and popped on my jumper.  Now the painting had finished I realised I was absolutely freezing and my hands looked like I had been in the bath for too long.

I had to wait for my husband to collect me so I left my painting on the easel to dry a little. I was last to go but it was great talking to all the other artists as they passed by. I even got to congratulate Sue - she said they took her painting from her straight away. We also had an opportunity to go and see who won from the main pod painters up at Herstmonceux Observatory but instead we decided to go home to dry off and warm up!

I really, really loved the whole experience and would definitely do it again.  The day was so well organised and ran really smoothly.  On top of that, everyone has been so kind and supportive.  I have just put my painting on instragram and it’s getting so many positive comments .

If you have any questions about the day from a wild card point of view please drop me a message so I can give you some advice and wish you good luck. The applications are now open in the link below!

www.skyartsartistoftheyear.tv

See more from Faye on her website, www.fayebridgwater.com