Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year: Bill Bone, Cardiff Heat Winner

by Cass Art

The fourth episode of Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year saw the judges travelling to Cardiff, where they were faced with another group of talented painters.

The sitters were Inbetweeners star Greg Davies, paralympian and broadcaster Ade Adepitan and sportswoman Non Evans. But the painter that caught the judges eyes this week was a man who covers his canvases in wax before he begins to paint - and we catch up with the fourth heat winner, Bill Bone, to get the low-down on his process and use of digital art.

Well done on winning your heat! What was the experience like – the whole day, painting to a time limit, and then being chosen by the judges?

The whole experience was incredible. Very rewarding, very educational and very unique! I loved every minute of it. It was certainly challenging, but the whole environment – the judges, the hosts, the other artists, the public, the cameras, the army of production crew  – somehow made it easy to forget that I was there to paint a portrait in a fraction of my usual time, without my usual equipment, without being able to follow my usual process, in a place completely removed from my own control and under some fairly intense scrutiny. But despite the challenges the overall experience was a fun one.

 Time was probably the biggest challenge. I’ve never timed myself but I probably spend at least 20-30 hours on my paintings. So being given 4 was one of the reasons I initially didn’t want to apply! After I found out I got through to the heat stages and all the excitement settled and reality kicked in I was like, ah, so, how am I going to do this then! I tried practicing a few 4 hour paintings before the heat but never got past the 2 hour mark and just decided to wing it on the day. So when the positive comments starting coming in I was quite surprised and very relieved. Even if I didn’t win it looked like I at least wasn’t embarrassing myself. At least not through my work anyway!

Being chosen as the winner of the heat is still bit unbelievable. I guess because of the caliber of other artists I was up against. I’ve never really had any sense of how good my paintings were as it’s only ever been a hobby. As nice as it is to hear my mom say she likes a painting, to hear it from the judges was incredible. Especially from Tai-Shan Schierenberg, an artist I’ve long admired.

Bill Bone entry portrait 

Can you explain your painting process? I believe you always start with Photoshop?

I work from photographs, but more specifically a digital image on a computer screen. I start by taking lots of photos during a fairly proper photoshoot so that the final image is a high quality product in itself. I then go into Photoshop and make adjustments with the lighting, colouring and levels to further refine the image. I also use it to create my composition and decide the shape of the canvas. It gives you much more control but it also makes it easier to get caught up on the composition at a pixel level while dragging the figure around the canvas and deciding where it should sit. I can usually spend a few hours over several days in Photoshop trying out different options and sleeping on ideas. As the painting is heavily based on the image it’s all an integral part of the process. So one challenge on the day was not being able to do any of this and being reduced to just my phone!

I then prepare my gridded surface, usually canvas panel or wood panel, by standing above it and using an iron to shake and drip melted wax onto. It’s a bit Pollock-like I suppose as I try and create different sized drips and splashes until I’m left with an interesting looking patchy and speckled, uneven surface. I use the wax to add texture and help turn the portrait into a more interesting object where it’s as much a painting as it is a portrait. I then slowly begin to apply paint as thinly as possible, allowing the surface of the wax to show through. I zoom in on the image on the screen and focus on just a small area of the painting at a time, getting all the basic colours down to lay a foundation for my dots. Once the initial layer is finished I then go over it with loads of dots; as many dots and colours as possible while maintaining an overall balance.

It’s all fairly time consuming to say the least and certainly requires a lot of patience! However one of the many positives to come out of the competition was that it forced me to pay more attention to my pre-dotted painting and consider that it may be enough. 

Bill Bone painting 

Do you think digital developments have changed painting – for the better?

Definitely, it’s just the latest development in a long line of new tools and mediums to give artists more control, flexibility and avenues to explore in their work. Just as photography is heavily used and featured by many artists, who couldn’t do what they do without it, we’ve now got artists who couldn’t work without digital elements as well. 

What are your favourite art materials and why? 

I suppose it would have to be wax. I love the texture it adds when I paint on it and how much it can completely transform a painting. It’s also a great surface to paint on.

Were you pleased with your final portrait?

Yes and no. As a painting by Bill Bone: no, not really. But as a product of the conditions in which it was created: definitely. I’m very pleased with what I was able to achieve considering all the constraints I was under and how far removed I was from my normal process and the fact that I didn’t have a clue how a painting of mine would even look after just 4 hours, with or without my usual comforts. So certainly pleased that it received the praise it did when I didn’t think it was anywhere near my usual standard. But then I imagine a lot of other artists may have felt the same way about their final portraits. 

Do you always paint portraits or does your practice encompass any other subjects?

Yep. When I first started out, copying Bob Ross paintings, all I did were landscapes. But since moving into portraiture that’s all I’ve done. But I’m sure one of these days I’ll try my hand at landscapes again. I'm interested to see how my style could be applied to it.

Feeling inspired?

Check out highlights from the judges and painters from the Q&A at our Islington Flagship.

Catch the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2015 episodes on Tuesdays, from 8-9pm on Sky Arts. ​

Read our interview with the winner of last year’s Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2013, Nick Lord, here.

Stock up on your own painting supplies here to perfect your own portraiture and take a look at the digital brushes.

Visit Bill Bone's website here to get a closer look at his paintings. 

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