THE BIG PAINTING CHALLENGE – THE REAL STORY
Anthea Lay, one of our members, gave us a very interesting talk on her experiences as a contestant on the BBC art show. This was not Anthea’s first foray into art competitions, as she had been a regular contributor to the BBC’s Sketch Club programme in 1959. She and her family were delighted to see her efforts on their back & white TV.
Over 50 years later she was inspired to attempt to become a competitor on the Big Painting Challenge, starting by sending in a couple of paragraphs about her life, and some photo examples of her work. Next came a phone interview, and then she received a call telling her that she had been accepted for the show. Anthea was already a winner- 7000 applications were received from aspiring contestants.
She then had to go to London for final interviews, and had to do some drawings [of Pudsey Bear], and also an acrylic still life which contained a collection of shiny, transparent and hard to paint subjects. She also had to undergo an interview with a Psychiatrist to ensure she was ‘of sound mind’
Eventually she received train tickets to go to the first venue to be filmed for the show, Alnwick Castle. She packed along with her art materials, her apron – vertical stripes- and her iconic hat. The group were very well looked after with lots of food and drink on offer, even a designated person to provide them with their bottles of water. They were chaperoned all the time by the BBC staff. Their first challenge was to paint the essence of the Castle, and Anthea chose their heraldic Lion rampant, and one of the many cannon found around the site. It wasn’t until she had almost finished her painting that the saucy connotation was pointed out to her by the hostess Una Stubbs. The afternoon session was a scenic view of the castle, and when given their designated positions she found she could not see all the view, and the whole group had to be moved, making it quite late when they started painting in diminishing light.
The second episode was filmed in London and started with a self portrait. Anthea was delighted to eventually sell this painting but glad that it had gone to Australia! Her second attempt was a painting of the actress Pam St.Clements [Pat Butcher in Eastenders] was not so successful, and Pam declared it ‘looked like her-but in 10 years time’.
Then to Blenheim Palace for episode three where the shooting had to be constantly delayed by the sounds off camera of the ravens, the chiming clock , and the appearance of an occasional stray tourist. Anthea’s painting of the faÃ§ade of the palace was considered to show the best perspective, which she modestly attributed to being positioned in the best spot. It was here that they were also asked to paint a still life depicting their interests.
Episode four was again filmed in London at the Tate Gallery and was to be Life Drawing. The male models covered their modesty with a conveniently draped loincloth. The screen shot of Anthea’s smirk was, she assured us, taken at a different time and edited into that episode! The judges comment was that she had ‘not properly observed the skirting board behind the model’! Editing was to cause a further embarrassment when her drawing of a Gymnast shown on that programme was not the one she had wanted submitted. In her pastel drawing of the flamenco dancers Anthea drew the ‘puny’ male dancer somewhat larger, and was judged as having made him look like John Travolta.
By this time Anthea had a clue that she would be eliminated when she was placed in the centre of the group, from where it was noticed, other contestants had been asked to leave. She was disappointed to miss the further episodes filmed in Liverpool and Dartmouth where her landscape technique would have been more appreciated.
Although the constant travelling and filming was gruelling, she enjoyed the experience, and has kept in touch with her fellow contestants, improved some of her painting, and is now sometimes recognised in Tesco! We had the chance to see some of the paintings included in the programmes, and had enjoyed an amusing and informative talk.