It’s already Heat Seven of Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2018! This week even more professional and amateur artists were tasked with creating a portrait in just four hours from a live, celebrity sitter, for their chance to win a £10,000 commission and £500 of art supplies from Cass Art. The celebrities gracing the artists’ canvases this week included award-winning actor and singer Michael Ball, actor Robert Bathurst, and presenter Anita Rani.
We interviewed Samira Addo, winner of Heat Seven, to find out how things went and talk about her work beyond the show…
Tell us a bit about yourself, where do you live, what is your background, where did you study and how long have you been an artist?
I live and grew up in London and have mixed heritage; Ghanaian, Zanzibari and English. I studied Civil Engineering at UCL in London and have studied art to A-Level. It's so hard to say how long I've been an artist...since I was little really, when my grandma became my art supplies dealer. My dad who's a very talented furniture designer has had a huge part to play with my becoming an artist; from guiding me with my first ever portfolio at age 11 to engaging my brother and I in creative projects around the house.
What did you find particularly interesting about painting actor Robert Bathurst?
Robert was so lovely and a great sitter (apparently the most still out of the three) I loved his shirt and although I didn't necessarily detail it in my painting, it did have an influence on my colours. I also thought his features were a good anchor for sketching.
How did you feel about painting in front of a live audience, and did you adjust your style to be able to complete the painting in just 4 hours?
The whole day was unlike anything I've ever experienced before, and painting in front of a live audience took some getting used to. But it was also great to have family support right next to me, my dad and brother giving me some great advice and grandma and mum saying they like it so far! I wouldn't say I changed my style, just had to pick things to prioritise.
It was the first time you’d painted someone from life, which is very impressive! How did you find it? Was it a real challenge and will you be doing it more often now?
It was definitely a challenge, painting always has its challenges, from the sketching to the choice of colour. Painting someone from life seemed to make it easier to get colour inspiration, and I guess I had my photo to fall back on if Robert moved a little. I definitely intend to do more painting from life when I can.
The judges were impressed with how quickly you caught Robert’s likeness, how do you capture a sitter’s likeness in so few brush marks?
I feel it has something to do with noting the most recognisable features and head shape and marking these in any way suitable. Beyond that, I'd have to do more research into it myself!
You’re self-taught (with a little help from YouTube), you mentioned you work in both acrylics and oils, what are the benefits and pitfalls of each and do you have a preference?
I love working in oils because of the texture and fluidity, and there's quite a large window for mixing and moulding on the canvas, but it does mean more patience is required. Currently, I use the Winsor & Newton artists' oil colour. Acrylics are quick and more precise (I feel) and easy to use at home.
Which other artists both historical and contemporary inspire you?
I have an inspiration board in my studio with work by contemporary artist's Ryan Hewett, Jerome Lagarrigue and Kevin Moore to look at for some direction. Edgar Degas is an historical artist I was drawn to since I was young, especially his work of dancers.
Your work is very painterly, you use directional brush marks and planes of paint to create a really dynamic painting. You were using a few different painting tools other than brushes, can you talk us through your favourite accessories and how you use these in your works?
Typically I use oil paint brushes (Winsor & Newton), palette knives and painting wedges. I actually discovered painting wedges within the last year and love them! They're not as scratchy as palette knives but can still give you the sharp lines - it's a tool that just feels pleasant to use.
Tell us a bit about your other artworks. What subjects interest you?
I love portraits and I love to paint people I connect to in some way; whether that'd be through travels, experiences, music or dance.
What is a typical day in the studio like for you?
I usually start with a photo that has drawn my attention and have a think about what the expression is telling me or makes me feel. Then I consider where my focus goes and what colours to use. Once I've sketched out proportions using either charcoal or paint I generally start to block out with my wider brush and figure out details a bit later (which normally includes smaller brushes/palette knives and painting wedges).
What is your staple colour palette, are there any colours you simply can’t do without?
I like to stay relatively free when it comes to colours, I'm up for experimenting with any really. Generally though, I tend to use Permanent Rose and Winsor Blue quite a lot, and my Titanium White is always running out.
What are your plans for the semi-final? Will you do anything differently?
Between now and the semi-finals I'm just going to be practising by doing loads of 2-3 hr paintings and see if it'll help me feel more at ease during the next stage - as well as give me a clearer sense of how best to approach the challenge.
What advice would you give to other artists thinking of applying to take part in Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year?
Absolutely go for it. It's great to be around other artists seeing how they work, what mediums they've used...and meet the lovely hosts and judges as well as surprise celebrities. It may lead to great things!
Discover more of Samira’s work on her website www.samiraaddo.com or follow her on Instagram @mimma_art, Facebook @Mimma.A.Art or Twitter @mimma_art
Image credits: All artwork images © Samira Addo