Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year: Sally Dyer, Fifth Heat Winner

by Cass Art

Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year returned to the Wallace Collection in London for its fifth episode - and what another cracker it was! Sitters included author Jilly Cooper, the young Daniel Roche from Outnumbered, and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg.

Another inspiring episode with artists who paint in a variety of ways - with watercolour, tapestry and more - also saw the return of Luis Morris, a heat winner from last year.

But it was Sally Dyer's portrait of actor Daniel Roche that caught the hearts of the judges, and she became the fifth heat winner of this year's search for the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year. We caught up with Sally to ask her about her process - which normally involves dancing and pyjamas, no less.

Congratulations on winning your heat! Were you pleased with your finished painting?

Thank you. Yes, I was very pleased with my finished painting. Every time I paint there is a point of complete excitement where I sense the end is near and and I can not wait to get there and see the finished article. We had such a short amount of time to paint I was worried I wouldn't naturally get to that point, but from the offset it flowed well and I felt really comfortable.

How did you find painting next to the other artists, with the cameras and judges watching?

My normal painting environment is either sat on the floor in my pyjamas amongst my paints and brushes or stood up dancing and singing to Whitney Houston, so as you can imagine both of these are done in a room alone! I was worried I wouldn't feel comfortable and focused enough to produce a portrait to the standard I know I am capable of. 

To my surprise, as soon as I put my headphones in I could have been anywhere. The other artists in my group were really lovely and chatty when we were in the Green Room but as soon as we sat behind our canvases we were all quietly focused, so as not to distract ourselves and each other. We left that to the cameras, that seemed to come around asking questions every ten minutes, it wasn't that often at all really, it was just that time was flying by.

Sally Dyer's portrait in Sky Arts 

How long do you normally spend on a single painting?

I normally spend 1-2 weeks, full time on a painted portrait at A2 size. Painting a portrait in 4 hours I have never attempted, so before the heat I did a timed practice to make sure it was possible for me.

What is your painting process – what materials do you use, and how to you arrive at your final conclusion?

I usually work from a photograph, which is why you will see me using photographs on my laptop, of the sitter, to work from. I work on a standard stretched canvas, using pencil to loosely map out the face and its features. This is one of the most important stages, if I can not see a likeness of the person through these pencil marks, applying the acrylic paint is a much harder process. 

I am not sure how I arrive at my final conclusion. It tends to be an intuitive process and you know when you are amongst it whether taking it further would benefit the painting or stopping where you are is the best thing. Like I say, it's very exciting, my heart starts thumping and I can't wait to put my paint brush down and stand back from it. 

Which art materials do you prefer to use and why?

I prefer to work with acrylic paint, in fact I always work in acrylic. I like how malleable it is as a medium and fast drying, I enjoy applying it on thickly and thinly with small brushes for finer detail

Why do you think portraiture is such a timeless subject for artists?

I think most art tends to be about an investigation and study of ourselves, and portraiture is the most pure form of this. As artists we enjoy the process of capturing a person through mark making on a flat surface, and as onlookers we are fascinated with how the paintings have been formed. 

Feeling inspired?

Check out or video of highlights from chatting to the judges and artists. 

Catch Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2015 on Tuesdays, from 8-9pm on Sky Arts 1.

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 painting.

You can visit Sally Dyer's website here to see more of her portraits and read about her experience of Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year on her blog.

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