Phoebe Cripps Wins Heat 2 of Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year

by Cass Art

Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year returned to our screens for the second heat at the Wallace Collection this evening.

From painting dots and dripping wax to charcoal sketches and beautifully blended oils, the artist’s in this week’s episode explored a range of different media

With almost all of the artists choosing to work from photographs and tablets, gridding their pieces to ensure the correct scale, one artist took a more traditional approach to capturing her sitter.

Phoebe Cripps impressed the judges with her romantic approach to oil painting, translating a very excited Sue Perkins into a poised sitter against a wash of earthy greens.

Born in England, Phoebe studied at The Florence Academy of Art in Italy for three years before returning home to New Romney, Kent where she spent her childhood. 

We caught up with Phoebe to find out more about how Italian masters have influenced her work and her romanticised palette of colours…

Hi Phoebe! Congratulations on winning the second heat of Sky Arts Portrait of the Year! You must be thrilled – How has the experience felt so far?

I feel so very lucky to have been a part of Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year. I had watched all the previous years and loved seeing different artists interpret different recognisable faces, so it was very exciting to be chosen to be part of it. It was such a brilliant experience, if a bit surreal at times!

Meeting other artists, the very friendly crew, and getting to paint Sue was very special. I was so chuffed Sue picked my painting, as well as being chosen as the heat winner. It didn’t sink in for quite a while.

Sue Perkins could hardly sit still with excitement - Have you ever experienced such a fidgety sitter?

I don’t think it helped that Sue was given a swivel chair! She is so funny and kind, and in a slightly nerve racking situation she instantly put everyone at ease. She had us all smiling within seconds and we couldn’t have had anyone better.

I believe it is very important to have some time with your sitter. Getting to know them just a little bit can make a huge difference to the portrait. They are having an experience by sitting for a portrait, and it is a long time to sit for 4 hours. I have sat before, and it is surprisingly hard work.

It’s natural to move about, and some people are more conscious of how still they are sitting than others. Chatting away speeds up the time for the sitter, even though it might make it a little more difficult for the artist, painting a moving subject, but the benefits are you have a slightly happier sitter!

In a scenario where more than one artist is painting a model I wouldn’t talk with them, out of respect for the other artists. However, Amit and Bill were referencing from photographs, so if Sue was moving it would only affect me, which meant we got to gabble away!

It must have been quite a challenge, as you were the only artist to paint directly from the sitter without the use of a camera or grid. How have you developed your direct approach to painting?

At The Florence Academy of Art we painted from life every day, and photographs were never incorporated into the process, as models were always available. Seeing as now I don’t have models around like I did at the Academy, I rely on taking photographs to work from, as sadly the time to sit isn’t often available in a world full of busy lives.

I feel that being the photographer allows me to study the sitter during the process and it leaves me with more than just photographs to pick from. Instead I get more of an understanding of their features, bone structure, skin type etc from all angles and as first-hand information, and that memory will stick with the photo I take.

Recently I have really enjoyed combining what I have learnt from painting from life with working with photographs, as it has allowed me a bit more freedom to work with less of a time limit and discovering if I am satisfied with a pose from the result in the photograph too.

There is a real intensity in the gaze of your portraits, and you worked and reworked Sue’s eyes throughout. Do you focus on the eyes when capturing a likeness?

I think it is natural to be drawn into the eyes when first looking at someone. However, I realise you don’t need to have all the detail and information of your sitters features to have a likeness. In capturing a likeness, it is not caught in just describing the individuality of someone’s features, but the distances between them and where they sit within the face and head. It is amazing how little information you can have down before you have a likeness. Like how you can recognise someone from their silhouette.

Have you always painted with oils?

I was introduced to painting with oils by my art teacher when I was 16. My mum paints in watercolour, so I had no experience with oils before - but once I started I was hooked! I fell in love with their versatility and vibrancy. They can be used so differently from artist to artist, from canvas to canvas, and I know I still have so much to learn in the way to handle them.

My favourite canvas to work on is Claessens oil primed linen, and I love Michael Harding paints. They are such good quality, wonderful to paint with and have never let me down. When it comes to drawing materials, I love Arches paper and Nitram charcoal. The difference of having a good quality paper to draw on can make such a difference to the drawing. Nitram charcoal gives you a fantastic level of control, with it ranging from soft to hard charcoal, allowing you to get incredibly fine lines and detail that you would associate more with pencil.

Do you think studying in Florence has influenced your painting style? Where do you find your inspiration?

Florence is such an overwhelmingly beautiful place. I wondered if I started to take it for granted, but when I had friends visit me, I got to witness their reaction to the city and it would renew my appreciation of its beauty. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to live somewhere like that for 3 years. The Florence Academy of Art taught me so much, but the most wonderful thing was being part of the artist community there.

I find every face inspiring. With Photoshop and filters all over the place, the concept of what is ‘beautiful’ in our faces or bodies is being placed into an increasingly narrowed category, with all the wonderful things that make us all different now seen as flaws. I love these differences. These are the things that make us individuals, make us interesting.

Looking through the work of my favourite artists like Sargent, Serov, Sorolla or Fechin I am instantly inspired for a new piece, although I don’t quite have the confidence or the ability to paint what is in my mind.

How do you balance painting with your everyday lifestyle?

I take portrait commissions, but also work 3 days a week, which takes the pressure off finishing paintings quickly to cover the bills. It means I can focus on producing my best work, as well as giving me the opportunity to paint practise portraits of friends and family, which allows me to resolve problems and learn from my mistakes, refining my technique all the time.

I paint in my living room at home, whereas my husband paints in the ‘studio’ (meant to be the dining room). I paint most days, however my painting routine varies. I love working with the TV or radio on in the background, as it can stop me from overthinking.

I can distract myself very easily, so strangely by having the deliberate consistent distraction of the television it is like a continuous noise to keep me focused. A strange way of looking at it, and not explained very well, but that probably sums it up! It is comforting, and it is in that safe place I feel happiest to paint.

What was the experience like painting at the Wallace Collection compared with your studio?

Painting at the Wallace Collection certainly made a change from painting in my living room! I dream of one day having a real studio space where I can leave all my painting things about without feeling guilty of cluttering our living area. Having canvases and faces everywhere can make it hard to take a real break from various paintings. Although I love being able to cover our home’s walls with my husband’s beautiful landscapes, finished or unfinished!

There’s still one month to go for artists to apply for this year’s call for entries. How did you approach your portrait for the submission and what advice would you give to those submitting a work?

I would say just to believe in yourself and do what comes naturally. Remember to give yourself time to be able to step back and take a break from your work. I can get caught up in tiny details so often, but by taking a break you can see the painting with fresh eyes and see the bigger picture. Literally!

Feeling Inspired?

Read our exclusive interviews with Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2017 heat winners every week on the Cass Art Blog.

Follow Phoebe's lead and experiment with oil paint and soft drawing materials with our range online and in-store. Stock up on your own painting supplies and share your portrait paintings via our social channels. Use the hashtag #POATY2017 and don't forget to tag @CASSART

Catch the next episode of Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2017 on Tuesday 7th February on Sky Arts from 8pm.




As the long awaited return of Portrait Artist of the Year returns to our screens, what better inspiration to prepare you for next year's competition? Find out more about how to enter and our top tips for choosing your submission in our Call for Entries blog.

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