It's the wierdest thing, knowing when you're going to be eliminated from a competition when no one else does and not being able to say anything.
So many people said they were rooting for me, that they liked my painting and knew I would make it to the final. Knowing they were wrong and that they were going to watch me be eliminated at the end of the 3rd week was so hard. I felt like I was letting a lot of people down.
As always, we had no idea where we were going to be taken for the 3rd set of challenges. We knew we were painting a still life because we had the task of putting it together beforehand. The brief was to create a still life comprised of personal objects that had some kind of meaning to yourself. Now I have lots of 'stuff' but most of it is books and art equipment and music, with a few bits and bobs of jewellery that belonged to both my grandmothers. Working in fashion for over 20 years meant I also had a wardrobe bursting with clothes. I racked my brains for a few days trying to figure out what I could put in a still life that would be interesting to paint and tell a story about me.
I live close to a pebble beach, but didn't want to paint things like shells - I thought it might come across as a bit twee. I didn't want to go for obvious fashiony things like a tape measure or a book on sewing. The things that matter to me at the end of the day are my family but I don't have much in the way of heirlooms. I gathered together a few bits and pieces to play with in an attempt to make a story. A piece of embroidered textiles, my mum's old wedding ring, my grandmother Louise's watch, my grandmother Kitty's necklace. I thought these might be good. There was an immediate link - family through the female line - all strong women. Grandmother Kitty's necklace was a Leo necklace and we were both Leo's. Grandmother Lou's watch was broken and my timekeeping is pretty slapdash so I thought that was quite appropriate. A wedding ring refers to infinity, a watch refers to the passing of time, so time meets time. Perfect! I wanted to reference my life in fashion but didn't want to paint clothing. I love vintage fashion and collect pieces when I can, so I figured a crumbling embroidered silk shawl from the 1920's would be great. A clear reference to my work and my love of colour and texture and again the passing of time. That little pile wasn't enough. I looked around my flat and saw my vintage hat. A fabulous mustardy yellow colour pot style hat from the early 60's. The early 60's was when I was born, so that went into the mix. The last thing I added was a tube of paint in reference to my love of painting and my move away from fashion and into a future that I hoped would be painting. I worked on multiple ways of displaying it all, knowing it had to fit onto a small surface, until I was happy with the layout.
None of us ever had any idea what the quick draw would be, but I love drawing so had no qualms about it.
The last challenge we knew would be some kind of building of architectural interest but absolutely no idea what building or where in the country it would be. If I'd had any idea at all it was going to be Blenheim Palace I would have syked myself up big time! Only two days before leaving for the challenge did we know we were going to Oxford and only the day of arrival at our destination did we know we were going to Blenheim Palace.
The still life challenge took place in the Orangery. What a beautiful place. Fabulous gardens outside with manicured hedges and statues. The tables for our still life were quite low down, so my view point was much lower than I had planned. Instead of looking at the items, I was now looking down on them. Still, generally I was happy and looking forward to making a start. We were using acrylic to paint. I'd used that in the first challenge for the first time and once I'd gotten to grips with it had quite enjoyed it. I knew I had to work faster in order to get all the details in and the shadows. Lack of shadow had been pointed out in my previous challenges, so I knew this was something I need to address. My initial sketch on canvas was very good, very accurate. Unfortunately it was too low down, so I rubbed it all out and started again, determined to have a better composition. The 2nd drawing wasn't quite as accurate but I figured I could amend that when painting. I worked hard, as we all did. My colour mixing was good. I was going great guns, but as always, time slipped away and when time was up I hadn't managed to get in all my shadow. However when I looked at it I could see it was pretty accurate, full of colour, quite well painted. Most of the others had finished, except for Anne who hadn't finished her tablecloth background. Richard's painting was extraordinary - beautifully painted - and Paul's looked fabulous. He had been practising, he said, and it showed.
I was a bit startled to be called up first for the judging. Usually I'm at the back of the queue. I explained again the idea behind my painting and that I'd run out of time so the shadows weren't all there, but that I was aware of that. I really wasn't expecting what followed. My work was totally torn to shreds! Lachlan said the colour was good, but then proceeded to tear into the subject matter, ranting about how much he hated the hat. Daphne's comments weren't much better - that no one would know what it was about from looking at the picture, which was maddening as that really applied to most people, which when it came to their turn, was considered not a problem.. I was so gobsmacked I said nothing (unusual for me) and just took my painting away.
The quick draw turned out to be drawing giant chess pieces on a chequerboard on a lawn at the back of the house. I found the subject matter dull. But it was all about perspective and that is a good challenge, so once we started I chose my area to draw and threw myself into it. I draw quite fast, so when the perspective was a bit off I had plenty of time to correct it. Overall I did well, although I acknowledged that my white chess piece looked too grey, not white enough.
The last challenge took place very late the next day. I'd had no sleep at all and felt absolutely wretched. I tried getting a little sleep on the floor of the room we used for hanging around in, but I just couldn't. Blenheim is a beautiful place, with fountains and greenery and statues. The front is very grand with multiple columns and windows and very little else. I prayed that we would not have to paint the front. Of course, that's exactly what we had to paint!
As usual, we were given our spot to sit in, so no chance to find a view that appealed. Just paint what's in front. From the moment I sat in front of it I knew I hated it. To me, it was imposing but not beautiful. It was just stone, stone and more stone, with statues (stone), windows, forecourt (stone) and sky. It was a daunting task that never stopped being daunting. It thoroughly intimidated me and I hated it even more because of that. I craned my neck for a better viewpoint to no avail. Nevertheless I threw myself into it. I started with acrylic, planning to finish with oils. I painted a ground colour and plotted the building out in pencil and then started painting. To begin with it wasn't too bad, but as time when on the tiredness I felt was becoming overwhelming and at some point I lost where I was. I almost gave up and asked for another canvas. I toyed with the idea of doing it in watercolour because at least then I could draw it in pen and just add a wash of colour, but when I'm that tired I find it hard to think clearly, so I carried on, painting away and feeling like I was getting nowhere fast. Eventually I began to crumble. I'd had enough. It wasn't working. I hated everything about it. I was totally overtired and emotional and just wanted to stop. I couldn't fix what was wrong and no longer wanted to. When time was called I felt distraught. I had failed to achieve what I thought was a good painting and was frustrated and burst into tears. I felt the judges would rip it to shreds.
I don't remember now all of what they said, except for Lachlan commenting that I'd had a lovely cornflower blue sky which he was disappointed to find I'd painted over with oils in a duller blue, but the sky hadn't been cornflower blue, that had been just a base I put down to work on, so the finished sky in my painting was truer to what had been in front of me. I found that confusing . The other most notable comment was that Lachlan said, when you have a bad painting day, just throw it away and don't get upset. That was it really. No rant. The finished painting didn't look so bad. Some of the others said they liked it and that I was getting upset over nothing. Still, I had a strong feeling in my bones that I was going to be eliminated. I said as much when we were waiting for the deliberation to be over. And sure enough, it was my name and Alison's name that were called. And then it was all over.
We were whisked off for a debrief before being taken for dinner and then we met the other guys for a drink in the hotel bar and breakfast the next day before going home again. I called my partner Matt and told him the news. I think he was glad just to have me back home again and found the whole thing a little cynical. I wasn't sad, which surprised me. I wanted to sleep. I had no job and needed to find work. But, over the course of the next week I found I missed the rest of the gang enormously. It was like having an arm removed. I hated being separated from them and not being there having a whinge about the latest challenge and larking around between filming. They had become a sort of second family. And we're still attached to this day............