Michael reveals what it was like to be a Portrait Artist of the Year contestant

News Page 7th March 2019

University of Northampton Fine Art graduate, Michael Sheppard, has spoken about his appearance as a contestant on Sky Arts’ hit television show, Portrait Artist of the Year.

Michael, who graduated in 2017, appeared on episode three of the 2019 series, but narrowly missed the cut for the semi finals.

Here, in his own words, Michael reflects on his time on the show, including his interaction with the judges and the task of having to come up with a portrait of Game of Thrones actor, James Purefoy, in just four hours.

“Portrait Artist of the Year 2019 was a fantastic experience to be part of. At first it felt like a dream that was waiting to come true but when I was there in moment, it became real. When I arrived at the Wallace Collection, which was the venue for the show, I was very nervous at first but the producers from Sky Arts made me feel relaxed and comfortable to be there – It felt quite natural to be filmed whilst painting and drawing. In four hours the challenge was on to paint the portrait of actor James Purefoy.

Michael meeting James Purefoy on set

James Purefoy inspects Michael’s work

Michael’s portrait of James Purefoy

Judge Stephen Mangan was concerned in the first two hours that I wasn’t going to fill the page up. I remember meeting the other judges, Tai Shan Schierenberg, Kathleen Soriano and Kate Bryan on the day of filming. It was great to meet them in person and chat to them about the progress of my portrait.

After watching the show back, the commentary was quite unexpected because the day was filmed for 12 hours and broadcast for 45 minutes. I found it funny when Tai Chen made a comment about my portrait saying: ‘the face is oblong and out of proportion but it looks great’. Once the portrait had been completed, I had to reveal my work to James Purefoy, he said it was ‘a fantastic version of me: you have made me look like i’m in pain, I’m all twisted up’. It was an honour to meet James and paint him on the day. It was very first time I had painted a portrait of a celebrity in a gallery space. It was also a privilege to meet other artists in the competition including Megan, Sile, Libby and Sara.

When they shortlisted the top three towards the end of the episode I wasn’t too disappointed. I remember Kathleen coming up to me saying it was close decision which made me realised how well I performed. I’m going to continue to watch the episodes and see who wins. I’m happy that Sara went through to semi-final because she has own unique approach to painting. Libby was my favourite too – she makes pallet knife painting really easy to accomplish when in actual fact it’s quite difficult.

My friends, family, tutors and people who I have known have praised me for my appearance on the show. Appearing on the episode has given me the confidence to network  with artists and producers from Sky Arts TV on Instagram. Appearing on ITV Anglia and local radio stations including   BBC Radio Nottingham and BBC Radio Northampton has also given me a chance to broadcast and share my experiences about the programme. I would recommend applying for Portrait or Landscape Artist of the Year – It could open a new set of doors.”

Read more about Michael and how he was selected for the show.

Michael meets James Purefoy

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