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I enjoyed participating in the first heat of the tenth series of "Portrait Artist of the Year." My painting of Fleur East had some mistakes, like asymmetry, and didn't quite capture her likeness, but I was happy with what I did in four hours. After filming, I fixed the painting to better match my vision. I had a good experience, finding the Storyvault Films team kind and supportive.

It’s a long day, starting at 7am when you get wired for sound before entering the grand hall at Battersea Arts Centre. You set up your stuff and find your position, one of three spots on "the cheese." The day ends at 7pm. Richard Curtis and Emma Freud arrived and were filmed several times before settling in. Fleur East was delayed by her radio program but arrived eventually, and we got on with it.

Here is a list of my tips if you are considering taking part.

Ready to paint the canvas awaits its first stroke

Tip 1: Make sure your tech works. I paint from an old iPad with a bad camera, so I take pictures with my phone and transfer them to the iPad. The signal in the room was terrible, and it took 15 minutes to transfer the pictures, which was worrying. I had tested things at home, but it's important to check your tech to avoid problems

Tip 2: Be prepared for frequent interruptions. The crew will interrupt and ask questions, and you'll speak to various people throughout the day. This can be very disrupting, especially at first. You might lose your train of thought and struggle to pick up where you left off. Stress and interruptions can cause mistakes, so try to stay focused and take your time despite the disruptions

Tip 3: Just paint a head. I usually paint full-length portraits, but in this speed painting competition, focusing on the head and shoulders is better. Smaller portraits allow more time to concentrate on the face and hair, like the portrait that won my heat.

Tip 4: The audience can be disruptive. They stand very close, interrupting, talking, and taking photos of you and your work. On TV, they seem controlled, but off-camera, they wander around. This was hard for me, so I used headphones to focus. If you prefer working alone, this show might not be for you, especially if things go wrong.

Matthew Lyons with Tai

Tip 5: Pay attention to the judges' advice. I listened to them, but I didn't fully grasp their points, especially about symmetry. Off-camera, they offer helpful suggestions to improve your painting, which I didn't fully appreciate at the time.

Looking back, I realize I missed out on valuable guidance that could have helped me fix the most obvious mistakes.

Tip 6: The judges and crew are working! They work tirelessly for two weeks filming one heat after another.

Despite the hectic schedule, Tai, Joan, Stephen, Kate, and Kathleen maintain professionalism and make contestants feel valued. Tai shows genuine interest in the art and artists, while Kathleen is warm and kind. Kate appears busy and  professional. Joan, at 90, is more of a figurehead, and Stephen, though portrayed differently on the show, is adept at easing tensions and making contestants feel comfortable.

Tip 7: Remember to take breaks. Worried about not finishing, I kept painting without resting, even when I could have finished early.

As a result, I experienced cramps in both hands and uncontrollable shaking in my right hand, likely from painting continuously for hours

Tip 8: Can you handle rejection?

Only one person wins out of nine contestants, and while it's acknowledged that being selected from thousands is an achievement, not being shortlisted still stings.

Despite the overall positive atmosphere created by Storyvault Films, the moment of selection announcement can be tough. If you struggle with rejection, it's best to prepare yourself!

The judges examine the wall of pictures
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