I did it!
'Do something that terrifies you' has officially been ticked off my 'to do before 30' list and in real 'once in a life time' style too... My last blog post - Art Battle Manchester - Part 1 - was all about the lead up to the 8th Manchester Art Battle, and basically covered how freaked out I was by the mere thought of painting live in front of 500 people. Especially given some pretty large personal (performing in public is my worst nightmare) and artistic (I haven't painted in nearly a decade) obstacles. So in the worry that I might have put anyone off doing something similar I wanted to follow it up with what actually happened on the night.
On the morning of battle after two more practice paintings, one OK and one that genuinely looked like Quasimodo, I finally accepted that despite being of the same subject, all of my paintings had turned out completely different and that further practice was futile. What would be painted on the night would be equally varied. So after getting ready and packing and repacking my kit for the night I arrived at London Road Fire Station geekishly early.
I walked past my name pinned to an empty easel on stage, which whilst at that moment looked like a hangman's noose in my head also meant that I would be painting in the first round which I was very happy about. I don't think my nerves would have held until round two. I set up my stand with examples of my work, sketchbooks and prints for sale as well as having some of my practice paintings ready to put out after my round was finished.
I headed into the main room at 8pm and began to get ready for battle. Sat in the middle of stage with a blank canvas in front of me and hundreds of faces watching is definitely the most nerve raking thing I have ever done but also the most exhilarating. I can only liken it to being at the very top of a roller coaster and knowing full well that you will scream the whole way down but also love every terrifying fun filed second of the ride. We had 15 minutes to set up but they vanished instantly and Kate Cocker who was presenting the night shouted 'ready, steady... paint' and we were off. I had headphones and the loudest 30 minute playlist I could compile at the ready so I pressed play, drowned out the audience and just concentrated on painting.
My practice paintings might have been very hit and miss but they did allow me to practice to the same playlist over and over which was so valuable on the night. I knew that by the end of my first song I had to have painted the background and by the end of the third have completed the eyes and mouth. This was a great way of knowing if I was on track and more importantly knowing how long I had left without being able to hear Kate's countdown. On the night adrenaline kicked in and I actually painted faster than in any practice rounds and those 30 minutes disappeared in no time at all.
Whilst painting with my music on I really didn't notice the crowds, I was concentrating so hard on all the elements I need to include and my timings that the hundreds of people watching might as well have been card board cut outs. The only time I did break concentration was when a photographer lay on the floor at my feet and set an alarmingly bright flash off in my face... All I could think was 'well that angle is going to make my nose look huge' but after the dots of light cleared from my eyes I carried on, and luckily I haven't seen that particular photo online anywhere yet so I'm guessing he agreed!
I took my headphones off just in time to hear Kate shout out '5, 4, 3, 2, 1... brushes down'. And after putting my voting bucket in front of my easel I stepped off the stage and spilt the drink that was handed to me thanks to my hands shaking so much. After concentrating on all the details so intently as I painted it was nice to step right back and see what the overall piece looked like. It wasn't the best that I had done but it certainly wasn't the worst either so I was happy and even more so when I saw people dropping their voting chips into my bucket. I wandered round the other easels and was amazed at the variety of work... from portraits and dogs to flames and fire hydrants no piece was even slightly similar. The second round went well too and I really enjoyed just watching it as an audience member, walking clockwise with the crowd and seeing how each painting came together. The audience was really supportive and the atmosphere was fun, relaxed and friendly which was something I hadn't realised during my round with my headphones on and concentrating so hard.
After the second round I grabbed some food, watched the fire eaters and street artists painting a fire truck and headed back to my stall. I managed to miss the vote and call out for the semi finalists whilst selling prints and some of my practice paintings which have found a new home in Scotland. When I got back to the main room Kate was introducing Wood Street Mission the charity that the event was raising money for and presenting Dano with a golden paint brush as the winner for his fun fire hydrant. Several of the paintings sold during the the silent auction raising even more money for the charity and mine went too, though I will be a little sad to not see it again... It isn't exactly my best piece of work but it sums up a stressful few weeks followed by an amazing once in a life time night that made everything worth it.
So if you are reading this and considering entering yourself... go for it. It will be nerve racking but you will not regret it and I promise you, you wont experience anything similar!
Thanks to Tyson Collins for some of the photo's used above. You can see more of Tyson's photos from the night here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tysh/sets/72157673904435672/with/30232447082/