Exclusive interview with the winner of Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year winner 2018

by Cass Art

Samira Addo graced our screens in 2018 with her wonderful talent, her eye for colour and bold use of mark making - she inspired us the audience and in turn thrilled the judges. In the nail-biting semi-final three artists, Danny Howes, Samira Addo and Hetty Lawlor secured their places in the final. All three artists had just four hours to paint Emeli Sande at the National Portrait Gallery for their final chance to win a £10,000 commission to paint Kim Cattrall, £500 of art materials from Cass Art, and of course, to be crowned ‘Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year’. 
We interviewed Samira Addo, to find out how things went in the finals and with the commission…
Hi Samira, congratulations on winning Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2018! The semi-final programme at Café De Paris really put the pressure on, giving you not just one sitter but two to paint in just four hours. What was it like painting Lily Cole and Simon Callow? You managed to catch Lily’s likeness with very few brush strokes. 


Having to paint two sitters was a surprise for us so it was definitely an added challenge on the day. I liked the idea of trying to portray the sitters and the relationship between them. I guess the likeness came from trying to map out Lily's face in any way possible, roughly marking out the general shapes of features and sketching outlines.
For your painting of Emeli Sande in the final, you went with a really bold colour palette, using subtle tonal purples and adding some yellows and flesh tones towards the end. What made you choose those colours?


It was amazing getting to meet and paint Emeli, she was such a great sitter and so beautiful! I wanted to really push myself and not shy away from colours that aren't traditionally used to represent skin. Some colours used in the portrait were actually inspired by the dress she was wearing.
You used a grid system for the first time on this piece, but you seemed to abandon it later on. Did you feel it was a bit too limiting for your expressive style? What other materials and accessories did you use?


I had used the grid system in the hope it would speed up my initial sketching phase - but I think it took just as long in the end. I don't feel like it was abandoned as it was only for the initial stage, and it did also help me focus more on my colour palette. I like to use Winsor and Newton artists' oil colour and paintbrushes as well as Catalyst painting wedges for the bold marks. 
As part of the final each artist was asked to paint a commission over a two week period for a major institution. How did you feel when you found out you’d be painting Zandra Rhodes for the Fashion & Textile Museum?


Zandra is such a bold, distinctive character and I was really intrigued to see where I could take it. And having the commission hung in the Fashion & Textile Museum is such a privilege especially as it is a hub of creativity. 
Your commission piece was so vibrant and really captured the essence of Zandra’s personality and likeness. The judges said it was breath-taking and were interested in how you play with colour. You even brought tears to Tai’s eyes as he said you ‘brought magic to the process of painting’! I think often the magic of your painting is what you decide to leave out and let the viewer’s mind fill in the gaps. Could you talk a bit about that and how you decided on your bold composition.


The bold colours and composition were inspired by my experience meeting Zandra, talking to the commissioner and some extra research outside of this. During the time spent with Zandra I had the opportunity to learn about her textiles, designs and commitment to her styling. To me it would've been a disservice to her for this boldness not to heavily feature in my commission.
What did you think of the other finalists’ works?


Danny and Hetty are amazing artists, their work is so beautiful. I really loved Hetty's painting of Emeli - she looked like she was glowing, and Danny's commission had a great sense of light. It was an honour to be among both of these artists in the final.
You’re the youngest winner, the first female winner and also the first amateur artist to have won the show. How does that feel?!


All so amazing. I'm so proud to be all of those things and I hope it may even inspire artists to enter the competition who feel like they can relate to me and my background. I really couldn't have done it without the amazing support from my family during this process.
As winner of the show, your £10,000 was to paint a commission of Kim Cattrall. What was it like spending time with her, and getting to know her background in Liverpool? You seemed to form a real bond and even incorporated her favourite colour Indigo Blue into the final piece. 


Kim is an inspiration, she's so kind, confident and strong and I feel I can learn a lot from our friendship. Being in Liverpool was great fun and it also gave me the chance to learn more about her, to then inform my commission. I hope the portrait portrays all the characteristics I love about Kim; her strength, confidence, warmth and many others. I gave the selection of image a lot of thought, constantly referencing and referring to my impressions of Kim, what she has revealed about herself during the time I've spent with her and conversations with Sandra Penketh regarding the significance of the commission's placement in the gallery.
The final commission will be exhibited at Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery. Had you ever been to the Walker Art Gallery before? What did you think of it?


I had never been to the Walker Art Gallery before but I'm so glad I have now. It has such an incredible collection and it is a huge privilege for my painting to be among works by artists such as Degas, Rembrandt and Michelangelo. I'm very much looking forward to my next visit!
You started the competition as an amateur artist. Have you since become professional? What’s next for you? 


That's the goal! This competition has been a great platform to help me reach this. I have an upcoming commission for the English National Opera, some projects in the pipeline and hopefully a solo exhibition, so watch this space! 
Feeling Inspired?
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 


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


Fancy a challenge? Sky Arts is once again on the hunt for the next Artist of the Year. If you're a pro at plein air or can capture the essence of a sitter, submit your works for a chance to win a £10,000 commission and £500 worth of art materials from us here at Cass Art. The competitions are now open for submissions. Find out more by following the link below:
Image credits: All artwork images © Samira Addo
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