The Worst Painting I Ever Created

Sometimes Artists make terrible decisions just like the rest of us. And in 2015 I made a whopper of a bad choice when I took part in Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year competition. Sadly from the minute I pitched my easel in the long damp grass I realised this was a really bad decision, and I was doomed…

Here is my experience and at the end are my 7 top Tips for getting through a painting competition.

The 25 competitors pitched up at Stowe and given a variety of amazing vistas to paint. Stowe is full of wonderful follies and vast landscapes. It’s basically one of the biggest National Trust properties in England, and Europe’s finest landscape garden.

I’d just got my easel upright on the uneven ground when a shrill voice behind me said “You there! Excuse me but could you just move slightly to the left please. You’re blocking me view”. I politely obliged and moved all my painting materials, lunch, water bottle and by now a very wonky easel out of her way. I was beginning to get a bit tense.

Now here comes the big confession.

I’d never actually painted Plein Air (outdoors) in my life and I was totally out of my comfort zone. Yep – bonkers isn’t it?

However, I was determined to take advantage of the Wild Card I’d been given, and there was no turning back now. And even though I was surrounded by a gang of seasoned artists, I took a deep breath and resolved to make the best of it.

I was desperate for the loo before kick off at 11.00 a.m. but on the way I was stopped by a short, sturdy female security guard.

Sorry love can you wait here? The crew are interviewing Frank Skinner and Joan Bakewell”.

When I was finally allowed to walk the 10 minute round trip to spend a penny, I was now 15 minutes late and everyone was well underway with their artworks. By now I was seriously annoyed.

Relax. You’ve got 4 hours. Calm down” I said to myself.

My 4 hours of torment began…

Well to start with I was so nervous, my brain froze and I forgot everything I’d ever learnt about painting in an instant. The wind blew a gale, it rained and I was cold. Easels and canvases blew over (thankfully not mine). But stupidly I’d chosen the hardest subject to paint – the Palladin Bridge with hideous perspective.

Plus every time the camera crew came past, I died a death at the thought of them filming my lamentable, pathetic disaster of a painting.

One of the judges Tai-Shan Schierenberg did happen past later and said some encouraging words about my clever use of Naples Yellow, but I think he was just being kind.

My stress levels by 1.00 p.m. had already reached Warp Factor 9, only tempered by the arrival of two of my darling sisters with lunch. I was on the point of crying by then. They on the other hand thought the whole experience was awesome and were dead impressed.

But there were a few compensations

My afternoon of hell was momentarily halted, however by the arrival of a tiny little frog which stopped by on it’s way to the river. He was only the size of my thumbnail, and the cutest little thing. I realised he too wasn’t having a great day as it would have taken him most of the day at least to get back to the river. So I managed to pick him up and took him back to the sh


However, if it hadn’t been for my sisters the whole experience would have been far worse. I was ready to go home by 2.30 to be frank and had the mother of all headaches. But I battled on and finished the wretched artwork.

To reinforce my feelings of total, abject failure, when I did finish painting I looked up to see a hill with a gorgeous folly sat on top of it. “Why didn’t I paint that?!” I said to myself. It would have been far easier.

I had to live with the crushing disappointment of the day on the hour and half drive back with my god awful painting in the boot.

The next day I told my twin sister to put a hammer through the thing, or put it in the nearest skip. I announced that I never EVER wanted to set eyes on it again. In fact, even now when I think about that painting I cringe at the memory.

So what did I learn from the experience?

On reflection however, I consoled myself with the thought that I can’t create in a competitive environment. There’s no shame in that. And my deluded notion of receiving critical acclaim fell at the first hurdle.

Advice for aspiring artists

  1. Don’t punch above your weight and be realistic about your level of ability. And if you’re not ready or not skilled enough to take part in a competition like that, then walk away. Don’t waste a day trying to prove otherwise. It’s not worth the anguish. As they say you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
  2. Be prepared. Make sure you have all the necessary supplies and road test them before you use them so you aren’t fretting about whether they will be fit for purpose on the day.
  3. If you are painting outside be prepared for bad weather and or high winds, or very hot conditions.
  4. Paint something you know you are confident or comfortable with. A competition isn’t the time to try something new. It’s too stressful.
  5. Make sure you eat and have plenty to drink. If you are hungry and tired it will affect your performance.
  6. The only competion on the day will be with yourself. Do not be intimidated by other artists. You’ve all been on different journeys, with different experiences.
  7. Allow yourself plenty of time to get to the venue, park and unpack your stuff (a small travel suitcase or airline bag on wheels is excellent), because there may well be a long walk to get to the spot designated for painting.

As far as I know my sister still has the painting, hopefully wedged between the lawn mower and the fridge freezer in her garage.

On the bright side, I did say at the time that one day I would look back and laugh. And yep writing this did actually make me cry with laughter.

Every cloud has a silver lining.

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