My Portrait Artist of the Year Experience

Michelle Goldman
5 min readNov 11, 2020


I was so excited to find out I’d got a place in Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year at the beginning of 2020, with filming originally planned for March.

Spot my self-portrait top left! :)

Getting prepared

I was lucky enough to have some wonderful models pose for me in life, I mostly work from photos as I need time to make mistakes, learn from them and come back with fresh eyes a few days later, but apparently this wouldn’t be possible on the show (I checked!) I needed to work on my time management. I did indeed make a lot of mistakes on this series of portraits but I learnt so much from them.

And then filming was postponed due to ‘one thing and another!!’

My nerves would have to hold out a little longer.

My husband, Pete, took on the full brunt of modelling duties, clothed, nude, eating dinner, watching TV, wherever I could get him! Poor bugger!

During lockdown, Sky Arts began putting on a ‘Portrait Artist of the Week’ live feed on Facebook, where a celebrity sitter would pose for four hours whilst past contestants and the public could paint along in real time. This was incredibly helpful to my practice (and is back on for lockdown 2 so take full advantage and join in!)

My Portrait of author, Bernardine Evaristo, as part of ‘Portrait Artist of the Week’ during lockdown in March ‘20.

The day finally arrived for filming

4.30 wake up call and I’m feeling like an actual grown-up, driving myself to London, bit of makeup on, clean clothes. And then it begins to rain. Two hours of poor visibility and splash back from massive lorries on the motorway really added to my nerves for the day-and then the fear hit my stomach. With beads of sweat forming on my brow, and my labour breathing techniques being put to good use, I saw the glowing sparkling lights of Asda (my car park for the day) I was saved. I was the last person to arrive on set, but I had a beaming smile that said ‘I’ve already won, I didn’t shit myself on the way here!’

The crew were great and worked so hard, they quickly put us in front of cameras and asked simple questions like ‘who would you like to paint?’ Which somehow felt like a hard-hitting interrogation.

The model reveal

Don Letts was a beautiful man to draw. I felt privileged to have him as our model, he was funny, humble, a bit of a fidget, but really helped ease our nerves. He also enjoyed testing us, placing his hand by his face for the sitting — he said “You can tell a good artist by how they paint hands!”

I had the honour of painting ‘The Rebel Dread’, Don Letts — filmmaker, director, 6Music DJ

It was time to start. I began with quick sketches on paper to plan out the composition and to get to know Don’s features. Once I had the canvas in front of me I started to get some washes of colour on, to get rid of the harsh white and build a bit of texture. It was at this point that I forgot how to paint (this
is actually a daily occurrence, but is much more noticeable when surrounded by cameras, crew, celebrities and blinking Sam next to me, who had nearly finished his beautiful painting!), but Kate came over and managed to say something positive and encouraging — what a pro!

I gave myself a bit of a talking-to and got going.

Don was such an interesting person to paint and maybe it’s to do with him being a director that I felt he was observing us as much as we were him. It felt like a collaborative process, and his high energy levels certainly sustained me throughout the day.

It was about half way through that the painting started coming together and I could see where I wanted it to go. Tai chatted to me about my ‘squinting eye, pencil angle to phone technique’ and it’s at times like that you realise what a weird way you work!

By the end of paint, all us artists were feeling pretty emotionally and physically exhausted and all I could think about was my enormous bag of untouched snacks that I had left with the paintings, where the judges were now doing their thing! I was feeling a bit weak and started to get the giggles. I mean this series had been filmed straight out of lockdown, the crew all wore masks (before masks were the norm), I hadn’t talked to an adult in a really long time-and now I was in this situation that was both fantastic and absurd!

It was great to have my painting chosen for the final 3 and Kofi was such a deserved winner! He is a super talented artist and such a lovely cool guy.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the charming Stephen Mangan, who I am now in a serious and committed relationship with (he just doesn’t know it yet!).

You can check out more of my art at my website:

M x



Michelle Goldman

Painter, portrait artist and art teacher living in Westcliff-on-Sea in the UK. Co-founder of The Secret Art Club.