by Cass Art

The competition is now well underway, and in a bid to be crowned ‘Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year’, this week the artists had to capture the likeness of some truly famous faces, with celebrities including comedian, writer, actor and artist Noel Fielding, presenter, DJ and documentary maker Reggie Yates, and model Daphne Selfe. Professional and amateur artists took part to create a portrait within just four hours for the chance to receive a £10,000 commission and £500 of art supplies from Cass Art. 


We caught up with Leanne Mullene, winner of Heat Two, to find out about her experience on-set and more about her practice beyond the show…
Tell us a bit about yourself - where do you live, what is your background and how long have you been an artist?  


I live and work on the East Coast of Ireland. I trained in clay modelling in college to Degree level and then did a Master’s degree in sculpture and print. I've always worked as an artist. I have also worked in education in second and third level. I use drawing in all aspects of work in the studio - it is a fundamental and my daily practice. For me, it's part of how I process thought and image.
What did you enjoy about painting Daphne? What was most important to you in capturing her likeness and elegance?


I really enjoyed painting Daphne, she is a stunningly beautiful woman who was a delight to work with. She is not only striking but has such a kind nature about her. She modelled the full day, staying perfectly still, statuesque and controlled with true elegance. I wanted to capture her stance and strength that day. Her face is defined and sculptural with angular contours but with such grace in her nature. We have stayed in touch since that day and I met with Daphne briefly in Belfast during the summer. I did some drawings of her that she now has.
How did you find the whole experience? What were the main challenges?


The whole experience was intense but such a lovely day. It was a pleasure to work alongside the other artists who were extremely friendly and talented, which created a lovely working environment. The public were so encouraging throughout the whole day, and I even got a chance to chat with some people which lessened the intensity. The crew were terrific, (production and camera) they were truly kind and accommodating. I usually work in a quiet space and walk around the studio a lot, looking at my work from many viewpoints, so it was difficult to focus on my thoughts and plans during the process due to the busy environment. But great fun too!
A lot of the artists on the show work from their phones and iPads, do you like to do this or do you prefer to work directly from life and if so why?


I like to work from life but also work from image, it depends on time constraints.  Life is always great to respond to, the work for me is looser and fluid.


Which other artists inspire you?


Kathe Kollowitz has such powerful work and strong drawing influence is evident in all her work. She responded visually to her environment and time in history in a very sensitive and honest way. Kate Bush has always inspired me, poetic, strong lady with genius on her side!
Tell us a bit about your other artworks. You have a very sculptural way of painting, building up facets of colour and tones to form a modelled head, at one point you described it as ‘fitting everything together like a jigsaw’, has your background in sculpture influenced your painting style?


A lot of work is site specific and I spend time looking at work in context to environment. Drawing is the core of my work either in 2D or 3D and I like to paint the way I model clay, evidence of material is important for me. I like to construct form into my drawings and paintings and coming from a sculptural background has certainly influenced how I now paint. I started painting about 6 years ago. I don’t like to blend paint, I almost draw with it.
Can you talk us through your process?


I usually have a series of works on the go at the same time. I can change from one to the other so I don’t overwork one piece. I build an image fairly quickly through drawing, mapping out the basic form on the composition, then block in the tones of light and dark. This is quite fast, then I add in line quality and finer tonal areas. It's the same when I make figurative sculpture, the build is quite fast and energetic and then it slows down to introduce details, but I'll always leave mark making and loose drawing as an integral part of the work.
You have such a varied practice, what are your favourite art materials to use and do you have any tips and techniques you could share about portrait painting? 


I do have a varied practice and I like it that way, in this career I'm constantly learning new processes. I like using oil bars, they keep the line loose and fluid drawing takes place using them. I draw every day and have been doing so for years. I like to observe people; the face in honest composure can be expressive and compelling.


I bring out small colours on some portraits and enlarge them to help define planes, directional shifts or a mood. Oil paint is such a gorgeous material and when applied thickly can create an expressive mood. I really like working with the brushes that Cass Art supplied and use them still!


What advice would you give to other artists thinking of applying to take part in Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year?


Advice? Just go for it! It is an unusual experience, distracting and unnerving but I am glad to have participated in the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year. Being a sculptor by practice and drawing all the time I wanted to try painting... if there are new avenues and ways of working in one’s practice... try it.
Feeling Inspired?


Discover more of Leanne's work on her website leannemullen.com


You can explore our range of oil paints and drawing materials online and in-store. Share your portraits via our social channels using the hashtag #PAOTY2018 and don't forget to tag #CASSART



Inspired by this year's heats? Sky Arts is once again on the hunt for the next Artist of the Year. Whether you're a master of portraiture or a pro at plein air, submit your works for a chance to win a £10,000 commission and £500 worth of art materials from us here at Cass Art. Both competitions are now open for submissions. Find out more by following the links below:


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