Absolutely delighted to tell you all that I have been shortlisted from over 2000 entrants for the first heats of the Sky Arts National Portrait Artist of the Year award!
Emma Rimmer, producer for the programme, rang me on Monday afternoon, to tell me the good news.
I confess that when I answered my mobile, having not recognised the number, and expecting it to be yet another 'mis-sold PPI' type call, I barked my name down the phone "HELLO? Sue McDonagh? Who? WHO?? Where are you from again???" swiftly followed by some massive overcompensating as Emma explained slowly and carefully who she was. Groan.
I bet she thinks I'm totally bonkers now.
Although come to think of it..... anyone brave enough to step up to the mark to paint an unknown sitter in front of film cameras and an audience - in only fours hours has got to be a bit bonkers...
But anyway - let me tell you about the competition.
In the first instance, entrants were asked to send in a self portrait, together with other work of their choice.
From those first 2000 (two thousand!!) entrants, there are now 84 artists, that's 21 for each region: England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
The first heat for me takes place in Cardiff in early July, where I will be arriving about 7am, and at sometime during the day, will be producing my masterpiece (gulp) of the unknown sitter, within the allowed 4 hours. Filming will be going on til the evening - so I can only imagine all the stopping and starting and moving about and chatting etc which will no doubt be occurring during that time.
From each of the 21 artists, a panel of expert judges will select 4 (I think) artists to go through to the next level.
That heat takes place abroad, and the artists are whittle down further until the finals, which will be held in London.
The winner will go on to receive a £10,000 commission to paint author Hilary Mantel. The portrait will hang in the British Library.
Luckily for me, I've been demonstrating to Art Societies for years and I rather enjoy the adrenaline of 'performing' in front of an audience. I used to sit on the sea-front at Porthcawl and do portraits on the spot for a fiver many years ago!
Anyway - want to see the self portrait I sent in? here we go...
I chose acrylic as I wanted to use something that I could express myself in rapidly. Oil is lovely, but takes so much longer to paint - and there wasn't much time to actually submit the entry.
Being so used to painting children, with their round little features and soft contours, it was quite a challenge, not to mention a bit unnerving, to be inspecting my own lines and wrinkles and hollows! But after a little while, I found myself just looking at the collection of shapes and colours, and the usual thousand thoughts that go through my mind when I paint "what's this colour, is this in the right place, is this edge soft? does it go forward or back? where is in relative to this bit" etc kicked in.
When I paint portraits of other people, I always know when I've got a likeness when the portrait 'winks' at me (I said I was bonkers)
I think it's to do with how your brain processes a face or something. Whatever it is, it's a reliable signpost for me!
There's a definite buzz in getting to that point.
However, it's somewhat weird to have your own face winking at you......
I'm so excited about it, I've hardly slept since.
Wish me luck!