Portrait Artist of the Year – Episode 6

We return to Portrait Artist of the Year for the 6th episode of the 5th season of the series. Nine new artists will paint three celebrities as they compete for the prize of a £10,000 commission to paint Sir Tom Jones for the National Portrait Gallery in Wales.

The theme this week sees our 3 celebrities posing in front backdrops themed in homage to artists who broke with convention – theme is abstract art. Singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor poses in front of Russian Constructivism, with clean black lines and blocks of colour. Nitin Sawhney, another singer and multi-talented songwriter and musician sits in front of red which was seen in the likes of Rothko artworks. And finally, acclaimed actor Adrian Lester sitting among reds, blues and yellows with black rods in homage to Mondrian.


As every week, we have a mix of professional and amateur artists. This week the 5 professionals are Emil Nikolla, from Albania with a very traditional style took 7 hours to complete his submission. Nikolla takes commissions and teaches with a student who is 82! Sarah Gibson, spends lots of time thinking and looking before making a stroke on her easel. From Cincinnati, US Gibson took 12 hours to complete her submission. After studying in Florence for 7 years and now teaching fine art, Gibson hope to find her artistic voice.

Jixuan Chen uses Chinese ink and techniques, a perfectionist taking 130 hours to complete his submission Chen is a joy to watch. Taking a different approach is Salvatore Fullam who took 1 month for his submission, adds more of the sitters figure in to his portraits. Each artist has a different style and Rosso Spoto is no different using a mirror as a 3rd eye. Spoto painted 4 submissions in a photo-booth style.


Our amateurs are Sebastian Bishop, a warehouse operator who took 7 hours to complete his submission. Takondwa Mtawali, an engineering student who bases her artworks with yellow, blue, red and white. Steven Wood, an army veteran who entered his third artwork as his submission. His painting of Sawhney is his fourth painting. And last, Ellie Preston, a fine art graduate currently working in an ice cream shop and paints daily, is striving to become a professional artist.

Ellis-Bextor is looking forward to relaxing and asks the artists if they are alright, Lester is feeling nervous. The artists put their headphones in, set up their stations and begin for 4 hours of painting.


After 2 hours, we reach the half way mark and the stakes get higher – some artists are further along than others, the intensity increases. Artists begin to refine and critique their work. For many artists, their success is marked by finding a likeness. Once it is found, they do not want to lose it. They are careful not to overwork the piece.

Who will head to the next round this week? Do you agree with the 3 judges? Which artwork would you choose? Find out on Tuesday 30th July, 8.30pm on SKY ARTS, SKY Channel 20 on Portrait Artist of the Year.

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