- Dominique Densmore
Competing as a Wildcard: Landscape Artist of the Year 2022
Updated: Feb 13, 2022
As the episode in question has finally been aired, I can now write about it.
Last year I applied for Sky Arts' competition, Landscape Artist of the Year, in which artists are invited to various locations and challenged to paint a landscape within 4 hours.
I didn't get a place as a main contestant, but I was offered a spot as a "Wildcard" artist. These artists compete alongside the main contestants and, if one of them is chosen at the end of the round, he has a chance to compete for the main prize.
I was excited to give it my best!
There were many things to consider...
The competition required painting outside of course, and it'd been a long time since I'd done that. In the weeks running up to the day I therefore put some practice in, to accustom myself to dealing with the weather, and with the short time-frame.
We could choose any medium we liked. I chose to use oils. Up to now I'd taken my time, painting in layers, but that wouldn't do for four hours. I changed my approach, trying various techniques of working quickly with oils without their going muddy.
At one point, just for speed, (and for fun) I even painted along with a Bob Ross episode! After all, he paints oils in 25 minutes!
In the end I came came up with painting a colored ground and light loose sketch in acrylic, and then going over that with oils, keeping my colors separate on the canvas, blending as as little as possible.
Then there was the weather. The main contestants would be protected by their "pods," but we wildcards would have to fend for ourselves, braving whatever mood England threw at us (and Heaven knows England can be moody).
I practiced en plein air in blazing heat, and also, knowing it could be rainy on the day (!), I came up with a way of draping my rain jacket over the easel and wearing a waterproof poncho, which I tried out in my garden one chilly and damp-ish afternoon.
Plein air in the midst of a heatwave (which is why I chose a spot near the fountain).
Lastly, realizing that my painting would be wet during transport, I constructed a box for protecting my work in transit. So all was ready, my coach-and train-and B & B- all booked.
At last the day came, and I was off!
There had been three locations to choose from, and I'd chosen Cornwall, Land of Giants (I've always associated Cornwall with the stories of Jack the Giant Killer...heh heh!) The precise site was The Eden Project, a bizarre complex of enormous bubble-like greenhouses nestled in a crater.
Getting to this Star Trek set was yet another obstacle, as I had to be there at 7am, (!) and transport in Cornwall isn't available 24 hours. I had to call several taxi companies before I found one both affordable and willing to take me so early.
Made it! Phew..!
There were 50 of us Wildcards. It was a new experience for me, being around so many other painters, with all their various equipment. After waiting around for some time, signing release forms and having our canvases checked (in case some one had had the audacity to start painting beforehand), we were all led down the winding path into the crater.
Thankfully, the morning was bright and sunny, not a cloud in the sky.
Veiled in the morning haze, in real life the domes looked even more surreal...
We were allowed to pick any spot along the walkway overlooking the crater. (The
main contestants were on the ridge above us.)
It was a bit of a tight fix. I found myself
seated between two amiable girls, Alice O'Shea, who'd be painting in acrylics, and Rosie Wintle, who worked with pen and ink.
We were told not to take photos before the start,
but we studied the scene by eye, and chose our composition.
Finally, at 10 o'clock, we were given the word to begin. After all my preparations, I felt pretty sure of how I'd approach it, and wasn't too nervous, just eager to get the main drawing down. The cameramen were constantly coming up and down the walkway, both behind and in front of us. Every now and then they would stop so that the hostess, Joan Bakewell, could chat for a bit with some of us. She actually interviewed both my fellow painters, on either side of me.
(I couldn't help feeling that I was intruding in a way, as I was right beside them...!) They both had interesting stories to hear. Mrs. Bakewell didn't film with me, but she did ask me about the colors I was mixing, (a muted olive green for my ground) and later, when I was about two thirds in, she came and saw my progress.
The day was blazingly hot, and it was necessary to keep going to the nearby cafe to refill our water bottles. I was very glad of my hat, as there was absolutely no shade! On one hand, the heat caused the oils to dry (or become tacky) a bit faster, which was somewhat helpful.
The best part of the day was the camaraderie between me and my two painting buddies.
I don't remember half of what we talked about, but we had a lot of laughs and were in good spirits the whole day.
Finally, as the last hour was coming to an end, the judges chose one of the watercolor painters as the winning Wildcard. So I didn't win, but nevertheless, more importantly, I was quite happy with how I'd done. And it was satisfying to know that I had succeeded in
meeting the challenge.
Afterwards, as we had a bit of time left, and we had free entry as contestants, Alice and I (Rosie had to go) visited some of the gardens inside the enormous biomes, and treated ourselves to some well-earned Cornish ice cream!