Interview – Lancaster student enters Portrait Artist of the Year


Aspiring portrait artist Bethany Lee was successful in gaining a place in this year’s Sky Arts ‘Portrait Artist of The Year’ competition. Now that the show is being broadcast, Carolynne sat down with Bethany to find out about her experience on the programme. 

Hi Beth! Tell us a bit about yourself. 

My name is Bethany Lee and I am a nineteen-year-old second-year student, studying Fine Art and Creative Writing.

So you’re taking part in this year’s Sky Arts ‘Portrait Artist of the Year’, what was your inspiration for taking part? 

I decided to enter because I always watch the programme every year, and I’ve always wanted to be a part of it.

What was the application process like? 

I had to send a self-portrait, along with a couple of my artworks so they could see what kind of work I do. I also had to write about myself, what inspires me, and explain my making process of the portrait I sent. It was an online application so it didn’t take too long to apply, once I had finished the painting.

What sort of portrait artist would you say you are? 

I tend to work in oils, but I decided to use acrylics in the programme because of the short time we had to complete the painting. I tend to work quite realistically, but with elements of abstraction. In the show I decided to use the canvas as the palette – both for ease, and because I like how it showed my progress.

Image by Bethany Lee

Who did you get to paint in your heat? 

In my heat, I painted the singer James Morrison. I only had four hours to complete the painting. The other two sitters were David Tennant and Michaela Coel.

What are the judges really like?

The judges were incredibly nice. They only had good things to say about everyone’s work (certainly to our faces anyway). They were very chatty and tried to put you at ease.

What did you enjoy most about the process?

I most enjoyed getting to talk to the judges, presenters, and other contestants. It was especially great to see other people’s works and hear them talk about them.

Image by Bethany Lee

What did you find most difficult?

I found finishing the painting on time the most difficult. I could have spent far longer on it, and I felt I made a few mistakes – especially at the beginning when I made the face too small in comparison to the size of the canvas.

What did you learn from your time on the show?

I felt I learnt more about my style and what I can achieve within a time limit, and I definitely know now that I’m a portrait artist.

Would you recommend this experience to other artists?

I would definitely recommend entering the show to other artists – it was definitely stressful, but it was a great opportunity, and I’m sure there are lots of great artists who would do a far better job under the pressure.

Portrait Artist Of The Year is shown weekly on Sky Arts. Bethany’s episode aired on Tuesday 16th January and is available on Sky Go. 

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