John Ball Wins Heat 4 of Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2017

by Cass Art

Returning to the picturesque Knaresborough Viaduct this week, eight artists were challenged with the post-card perfect view of the Viaduct arches. Previously the viewpoint for the wild card artists in heat 1, the judges wanted to see how this scene could become something more than serene greens and beautiful Victorian arches.

Through his limited colour palette and ability to reduce the landscape to only the essential elements, John Ball was crowned this week’s heat winner.  

Growing up in the Wiltshire, John moved to London to study Fine Art at Guildhall, Whitechapel, before moving to the suburbs with his partner Lisa and the latest edition to the family, his son Vincent. Working as a Painter & Decorator, John spends any free time he can spare painting.

His work focuses on the decaying suburban landscape, from abandoned crazy golf courses to empty burger bars to petrol stations and car parks. Heavily influenced by sci-fi and horror movies, his use of light, stripped back colour palette invokes an unsettling atmosphere to the scenes of his paintings.

We caught up with John to find out more about his 'bleached' colour palette and why he focuses on derelict, forgotten elements of the landscape... 

Hi John! Congratulations on winning Heat 4 of Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2017! How did you find the experience painting at the Knaresborough Viaduct?

Painting at Knaresborough was a great experience, a beautiful town, well worth a visit. I travelled the day before and had a chance to explore the town and do a spot of sightseeing. Filming was a bit overwhelming as there are a lot of people and cameras in your face the whole time! But the crew were a lot of fun and we got a free lunch so all good.

I was totally wired the whole day, partly due to the steady coffee intake but also due to the fact my partner was expecting our first baby and hundreds of miles away! It was encouraging getting so much support from the general public and fans of the show, some of which had travelled a lot further than I had.

A little unnerving to begin with working outside and in front of an audience, but after a while you get used to the cameras and the people and just enjoyed the whole experience. It was great meeting the judges and talking about art and getting some feedback - it’s not often you get a critique of your work from such highly respected professionals. It was also interesting seeing how different artists interpreted the same view. I wish I could’ve seen more of the wildcard artists, as some of the work being produced was amazing!

Your submission and heat piece uses quite a reduced colour palette. How do you think your 'bleached' choice of colour influences your landscape paintings?

I like to use a reduced palette as this creates a unified aesthetic and simplifies creating a composition. But really I just made a conscious decision to work in colours I like. Working with landscapes, it is very easy to let blues and greens overpower the image and distract from the architectural features. By limiting the colour palette you remove that issue completely and it allows you to focus on working in light and shadow - which I suppose forms the main focus of my work.

The judges were impressed with your ability to remove elements of the landscape, but still render such a truthful reality of the scene. How have you developed this style of composition/painting and why do you choose not to paint everything you see in front of you?

I suppose I remove elements I feel are not important. If I want to focus specifically on an architectural subject then some elements of the landscape only serve to detract from the main structure. Sometimes I will remove things to exaggerate the bleakness of an environment and sometimes a composition will simply work better.

You paint every day as a painter/decorator (please correct me if I'm wrong!) though with a slightly different purpose! Have you always used landscape painting as a hobby or interest outside your day job?

I certainly paint a lot more in Dulux magnolia emulsion and brilliant white eggshell at the moment than I do in Winsor & Newton oil colour! But hopefully that won’t always be the case. I have always drawn and painted in my spare time, not necessarily because I enjoy it, it’s just something that I have to do.

It can be a quite meditative process but can also be quite stressful when things aren’t quite working. I would love to work as a fine artist full time but you don’t have the security that comes with a regular day job.

Your paintings and drawings often focus on abandoned, seemingly mundane spaces. What is it about the stairwells, alleys and everyday buildings that interest you?

My taste in architecture often dictates the subjects I choose. I particularly like modernist and brutalist architecture, and this is not necessarily recognised as a style of building that is popular, so is often left to deteriorate or be demolished in favour of something more universally appealing.

Buildings like petrol stations and car parks are built with a functional design unsuitable to be repurposed and are subsequently left idle. I like the tranquillity and the unsettling stillness of these environments. 

What materials can you simply not live without?

I really don’t have any preference when it comes to my materials but I generally use mid-priced paints and brushes. I usually work on pre-stretched canvas because I am pretty lazy when it comes to prep and would much rather spend the limited time I have painting.

I love using Liquin, which I use to improve the flow of the oil colour and depending on the mix gives a translucent quality to the colour, you can even make glazes with it and tint whole areas of the painting.

It’s pretty expensive but worth the money, it has really changed the way that I use oils. I use loads of trade white spirit, the kind you get at builders merchants. It only costs about 3 quid for a gallon of the stuff.

How do you think your experience will shape your approach to the semi-final?

It’s been really useful getting feedback from all the judges and has really given me something to think about. I can’t wait to see the other semi-finalists work as I’m sure it’s all really good stuff. I know I’m going to have to step it up a bit to compete at the semi-final!

Feeling Inspired?

Discover more of John's work on his website and on his social media channels: Instagram and Facebook

Follow John's lead and experiment with oil paint and washing colours with our range of painting materials online and in-store. Share your landscapes via our social channels using the hashtag #LOATY2017 and don't forget to tag @CASSART

Don’t miss Heat 5 of Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2017 on Wednesday 15th November at 8pm, on Sky Arts. We’ll be bringing you another heat winner’s interview, live on the blog and across our social media channels from 9pm.

Explore more work by the heat winning artists of Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year, past and present, with our series of exclusive interviews on the Cass Art Blog


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:

Enter Portrait Artist of the Year 2019 or Enter Landscape Artist of the Year 2018

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