Brilliant Beth has no regrets after Portrait Artist of the Year appearance

Date 27.02.2019

Artist Beth Sparks has spoken about the pressure of having to be quick on the draw when she appeared as a contestant on Sky Arts’ Portrait Artist of the Year television show.

The former University of Northampton Fine Art Foundation student was selected for the programme after impressing the production team with a self portrait.

Her appearance in episode two of the hit show saw her challenged to draw top UK model David Gandy, in just four hours – you can watch a time-lapse video of her below.

Despite her best efforts, Beth didn’t get through to the next round, although it was something of a relief for her, in the end.

“David Gandy was lovely and easy to chat to,” said Beth. “Having such a handsome sitter can make the artist’s job a little harder, I think, and I would have painted a very different composition had I known in advance who we were painting.

“But, I was I was quite relieved not to get through the heats, if I’m honest.  It was an intensely pressured environment to try and be creative in.

“I found it a difficult task to paint anything complete in just one short sitting like that. I like to take my time with painting, particularly portraits.  I need a few days away from the work before coming back to notice all those things that are wrong and are causing me to lose the likeness.

“For example, David Gandy’s hairline was wrong on my painting – I would have fixed that another day with fresh eyes.  Also, I felt the time pressure required me to arrive with a rigid plan in place for the painting I would create, despite the fact I didn’t know the sitter’s identity. This is almost the reverse of how I would normally approach a portrait.”

Beth, pictured left, with David Gandy and fellow contestants on the Portrait Artist of the Year set.

David Gandy sits for Beth during the show.

Beth honed her artistic skills at the University of Northampton, where she completed a Foundation course in Fine Art, before leaving to study for a full degree in London.

She treasures her memories of studying at Northampton, adding: “I loved every minute of my Foundation course at Northampton; it was the best year of my education, without doubt.

“I found it invaluable to be pushed, by talented and enthusiastic tutors, through so many Fine Art disciplines before settling on a direction for my further studies.

“There was definitely less opportunity for exploration on my Fine Art degree course in London. The facilities at Northampton were amazing and I’m not sure that I appreciated how good they were when making the final choice of where to study my degree.

“The screen printing and digital printing resources in particular stand out in my memory as being fantastic and a real joy to use.  If I were to go back to that year now, I would stay on at Northampton for my Fine Art degree also.”

With five year old twins and another son aged eight, plus a busy job in London, Beth is now eyeing the time when she will have more time to devote to her art.

She said: “In the very long term, I would love to go back and complete my Fine Art degree, at Northampton, with the hope of working in art professionally at a point when I’m more financially independent.”

Beth wasn’t the only Northampton graduate to appear on this year’s Portrait Artist of the Year show, as 2017 Fine Art alumnus, Michael Sheppard, was also selected to be a contestant.

He appeared on Tuesday night’s show, and you can read his story here.

Find out more about Beth’s work on her website and on Instagram.