During my adrenalin pumped roof top painting frenzy over the first lockdown, I decided to apply for a place on LAOTY. I had successfully appeared as a wild card artist in Episode 3 of Landscape Artist of the Year 2019 - Millenium Bridge Gateshead where I narrowly missing being picked as the winning wild card. My picture was used to advertise the program. See below.

It was a boost to hear Tai Shan Schierenburg rave about my millennium bridge painting which he dubbed as, 'Double shadow on the Tyne'.

Applying to be on LAOTY couldn’t be simpler. Just head to the website, fill in the form, and write as much relevant information about yourself as you can to aid the production team in selecting your work.

My submission piece I chose on the basis that it had wowed my Instagram following, topping my usual posts with its likes and comments.

Barely a month after applying, I received a phone call whilst out and about on my bike. Perched in the saddle, I heard the exciting news that I was being offered a pod to compete amongst 6 artists at a location to be confirmed just before the competition date.

A flurry of emails followed to confirm my identity, good health, address, passport and the like, as well as an hour long telephone interview with one of the producers. This was to establish more information on my career to date, painting practice, inspiration and other interests.

In the run up to the competition, I found that each time that I allowed my mind to wander to the competition, I found an ache in the pit of my stomach and a persistent nervous panic which I was desperate to keep at bay. It really was a case of mind over matter. I managed to persuade my nerves that if I treated the day as another painting day, I would do my best and that was all that mattered. More so than ever, I made sure that I painted outside every day, in different lights, challenging myself to rise at dawn, to push myself and my limits to paint under pressure of fatigue and changing light.

We were as a family spending our summer in Aldeburgh, so getting up early was no hardship, and actually a freeing pleasure to be up and out before the crowds.

My fantastic elder sister/journalist and trusty birth partner was the perfectly composed companion to accompany me on the day. She’s certainly seen me through a lot.

On to the nuts and bolts. I took a selection of painting surfaces on the day of varying sizes. Until I set eyes on the subject, I couldn’t be sure which shape or size would work best. After much deliberation, I settled on a long, thin panoramic oil-primed linen board. This I felt worked well with the tower blocks which for me dominated the scene.

Watch this time lapse to see an overview of my process.

My experience

Artists are given 4 hours over the day to complete their painting. In reality it can be a little longer as taking a break half way through the day is optional and could afford you that bit more time if taken up. I am used to painting fast, so the idea of painting one picture over a morning and afternoon was potentially going to be problematic. It didn’t take long for my painting to get underway, and if I’m honest, I feel I could have painted a second one if it had not been so hot. Either that or painting on a larger surface, perhaps to match that of my submission piece. This may have given me more of an edge to have been selected by the judges for the final three at least.

I was however happy with the painting that I did do, and it successfully conveyed what I had set out to paint. The fact that it didn’t tickle the judges enough to be picked was of course a disappointment, although on seeing the final edit aired on 17th February 2021 and hearing the judges’ debrief about my painting practice and approach, I felt hugely lifted, supported and understood.

Here’s what they said:

All in all, an incredible experience and one that I would recommend to any artist considering applying. You have nothing to lose. Go for it!

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Today I saw my lovely parents who only live down the road. I see them regularly but what we all really miss are hugs! There's just so much uncertainty in the current climate of what we can or can't do, as well as what we will be able to do and therefore it's so hard to make plans. That in turn makes it hard to put goals on the horizon to aim towards.

One such goal I had in my sites was an big exhibition planned for February 2021 in Mayfair. I booked the gallery in advance three years ago! I have been painting towards that goal for the last three years alongside my commissions. Of course what I thought would be an exhibition of seascapes and interiors has taken a very different direction as I found my inspiration far closer to home with the views from my roof and my surrounding area. Thankfully I got to my happy place of Aldeburgh where I spent a month over the summer.

There's really no point in worrying about what the future holds for my big show, so in the meantime I've decided to make my website more user friendly in the hope that in the run up to Christmas, my followers and friends find homes for the paintings in my collection. The good news is that you don't need to wait until February! Lets look on the bright side, we will get through this! Sending virtual hugs to everyone!

Susanna x

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With the first month of lockdown behind us (these are strange times), I have now painted over 30 pictures from my roof! There is so much to take in. From the jutting shapes of the skyscrapers in the distance, the chimney pots, the blocks of flats, to the more intimate views of the street below. Each view comes into its own according to the time of day, the light, the changing seasons. I've been enjoying playing with compositions and focussing in on particular chimney pots and buildings to provide structure and interesting surfaces for the light to bounce off. As with Matisse who famously saw everyday objects as "actors" within his paintings, I see the chimney pots themselves as "actors" providing structure to pin my compositions around.

So what next? Well, for the present, I will be up on the roof! I have plans to paint more nocturnes as well as to have a go at getting some bigger canvases and brushes up there. Keep checking my page on rooftop views which I am regularly updating.

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Susanna MacInnes

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