Wildcard Page

A wildcard painter on Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the year. LAOTY. Stephen Mangan and Sophie in a blue tent as a wildcard artist on landscape artist of the year sky arts series 9 Liverpool the three graces with the pink octopus LAOTY 2024

Sky Arts Landscape Artist of The Year television show. The lady in the blue tent, Liverpool wildcard painter Sophie Huddlestone.

Wildcard on Sky Arts Landscape Artist of The Year


On this page you can read about what it was like to be a wildcard painter, filmed for the television show Sky Arts Landscape Artist of The Year. The episode that Sophie took part in was series 9 episode 5 (with the giant pink octopus). It is aired on Feb 7th 2024 on channel Sky Arts which is channel 36 or 11 depending on your television.

Copyright Sophie Huddlestone
wildcard on landscape artist of the year LAOTY setting up the pods

Arriving in Liverpool the day before filming, I saw the lorries parked up and the pods being set up.

Going to Liverpool was the biggest challenge for me, being a true hermit with dyslexia, and mental health issues, I was totally out of my comfort zone leaving my village in Burbage. It was now or never to expand away from a decade of whimsical pet portraits and try to experience being a ‘real’ artist. You simply paint what you see, can’t be that difficult, surely. But when I received the wildcard acceptance email true panic set in. I’d had a decade of being glued to there television show while painting sweet animals and florals, but hardly any landscapes, what had I done, maybe I shouldn’t have applied. It was only a couple of months before I’d be at Liverpool three graces, painting outdoors in a competition, infront of the public, television cameras, other artists and the professional judges. So I delved deeply into learning about Landscape painting. There was getting distance tones, perspective, composition, leading the eye to an interesting part of the painting, creating a mood etc. With pet portraits I’d just painted them from the customers photo, but this was a whole new ball game. Practicing painting landscapes with every moment spare. To get reference photos I looked on google earth at the area where the wildcard painters were to meet up. I knew that we wouldn’t be walking too far from the meeting place, so I set the app to walking mode and created about 12 paintings of the surrounding buildings and docks for practice. This was a great help as I ended up sitting in the same area from one of my practice google earth paintings. 

wildcard on landscape artist of the year LAOTY Liverpool pink octopus

Breakfast, the pink octopus and going to the Liverpool waterfront meeting place.

The night before I had slept very well in the Liverpool Travel Lodge, considering I should have been panicking all night. But like I said the scary bit for me was leaving my hermit art studio. Now I had made it to Liverpool I could just take a deep breath and relax. I didn’t panic about what might or could happen while being a wildcard painter, but instead just focused on each current moment. That moment was looking out of the window at the Albert Docks and the sun was shining already. It was 7am and breakfast wasn’t served till 7.30am, the staff were so lovely by allowing me to get cereal and fruit early. It was a few minutes walk to the area where filming would take place. There was a huge inflatable pink octopus on site and the Sky Arts landscape artist of the year posters.

wildcard on landscape artist of the year LAOTY arrival and checking in

Wildcard registration, wrist band and art surface stamped.

A handful of other artists had arrived early too, and they were very friendly and chatty full of smiles and nerves. There was a table and chair with a couple of the film production Storyvault staff. At 7.30am we were in a long line queuing up to sign in. Yourself and any friends or family members with you were given a wrist band. The surface which you would be painting on was stamped on the back, this is to prevent anyone from pulling out a previously created painting, It is a competition after all, with one of the 50 wildcard painters entering a pool of wildcard winners to join the pods in the finals. The Storyvault team were very organized and approachable, happy to answer any questions and they made you feel very welcome and special.

wildcard on landscape artist of the year LAOTY Liverpool the three graces

Filming began, wildcards walking onto Liverpool Three Graces, at the waterfront.

We were told to put most of our art equipment down and carry just a couple of items for filming the wildcards walking onto set. I was faffing and fiddling with what to carry and what to leave behind, and almost missed the walking on scene. I ran over to join the end of the que, which actually turned out to be the front of the que as wildcards were to walk towards the Liverpool museum. Being six foot tall causes a bit of shyness and I tend to apologize for my height a lot, so I did ask the artist next to me if he minded walking next to me with me being such a gorky giant, which gladly he didn’t and he turned out to be a very welcoming lovely chap. The film crew told us to chat among ourselves while we walked, and to this day I still can not remember what we talked about. The 50 wilcard painters only did two takes of the walking on scene until the Storyvault team gave it the thumbs up, so it was soon time to fetch your painting equipment and set up your own little painting area at the Liverpool waterfront.

blue tent wildcard on landscape artist of the year LAOTY interview with Stephen Mangan

Painting as a wildcard, T.V. interview with Stephen Mangan.

It took me about half an hour to set up my pop up blue tent and all my painting equipment. We were told to not bring disposable items such as water bottles or throw away sandwich packaging. Unpacking I realized that I’d forgotten something, because I’d made my sandwich the day before in a lidded tub and being so focused on my art equipment I’d forgotten to add the filling to my sandwich, so it was a dry bread bun for me – well van Gogh’s favorite go to meal was bread, coffee, (absinth and cigarettes) so maybe it would be part of the ‘being a real artist’ lifestyle for the day. My 9 year old daughter had stayed home with my mother, but my husband and 22 year old son had come along to enjoy the day and help carry my equipment. I’d packed a lot of stuff, previously setting it all up in the garden and packing it away in different ways to save space. Adding and taking away items, attaching carrying handles and covering the logos on my tent and clothing. (advertising is not allowed so no logos can be seen). I’d also taken bamboo sticks and some tent fabric to make a canopy over the chairs because if my husband sat with me he would need to be in the shade with his heart condition, I couldn’t afford to buy myself a new canopy umbrella and besides this way was lighter.

They announced we could begin painting, the weather was roasting. I had my sketch book full of my landscape notes and sketches from cramming in as much knowledge as possible. My hands suddenly started shaking, the public and camera crew were wandering around and I froze. I sneaked into my pop up tent and took a diazepam (I have mental health issues so I’d brought them just incase). From then on I was back to normal, well perhaps a bit more floaty, but chilled and no more shaking. Painting mode kicked in and all I saw was the paint brush stroking over the surface and enjoying that child like playfulness of allowing anything to happen. I don’t know the correct art speak for my style of painting but basically I sensibly concentrate at the beginning then a mischievous streak kicks in and I just play with the patterns forming and let my subconscious take over, reeling it back with areas of normality towards the end. 

One of the film crew came over to me mid way through the day and asked if Stephen Mangan could come and interview me. I was very surprised because I’d seen him wandering around chatting and filming other wildcards but he hadn’t approached my little blue tent where I was shyly enclosed from the busyness of the day. I was delighted when he came over. Such a friendly, gently spoken and funny chap. He automatically made me feel at ease, although in my head I kept telling myself “don’t waffle on Sophie, keep your answers short, don’t boar the chap to death with your nonsense”. Perhaps I was a bit too quiet because at times there were long pauses where I was frantically trying to think of something to say but telling myself to shut up as soon as a sentence entered my head. Shyness and lack of confidence make socializing very difficult, with the added fear that this clip may been seen on the television. Stephen said I’d brought a lot of stuff, but I decided not to mention the reason for my tent was my weak bladder and being able to zip it up and use a “she wee” if needed. Someone threw some empty bottles in the bin behind while he was talking to me, so I joked about the bottles being from the back of my tent, but then panicked incase he didn’t understand my humor, and I tried to over explain myself. (The joys of having autism with understanding, as well as telling jokes!). He asked about my empty sandwich and I pronounced Van Gogh incorrectly – verbal dyslexia strikes again – I did mention to Stephen afterwards about how Van Gogh also liked absinth and smoking but I didn’t want to mention that on television. Stephen complemented my painting progress so far, and even said to me “perhaps you are an artist we should be looking out for in the future Sophie” which made me melt with embarrassment, but very kind of him. Then came my chance to talk about the medium I was using, which I hoped would get other artists taking their watercolour paintings to new adventures, but nerves fluffed it up and a rushed half sentence came out grabbing at a texture block. I can’t remember how I described it but it wasn’t as well as I’d hoped to. You see I use a type of texture paste (watercolour ground) because it adds the umph similar to oil painting, with raised peaks and patterns pressed into it. You can paint watercolours with a pallet knife or press in stamps of textures. I thanked him for speaking to me and he went back towards the pods. The the film crew did a few close up shots of my sketch book, texture stamp and me pressing in some paste. Bit strange pretending to pass my sketch book over to Stephen when he had gone, but I guess that’s how they edit the close ups.

wildcard on landscape artist of the year LAOTY the judges and time was up

The judges Kate Bryan, Tia-Shan Schierenburg and Kathleen Soriano. My finished painting.

During the day I didn’t see Kate walk past me at all, mind you I was face down deep in concentration painting for most of the while. I did notice that she spent time down the bottom area of the wildcards, so perhaps judges look up the artists online beforehand and decide which wildcards to zone in on, the ones they think could be potential winners. Kathleen was a very kind and caring person, she spent a lot of time wandering around the wildcards and reminding them to stay out of the sun if possible, and drink plenty of fluids, it was a scorcher of a day. When she walked past me I called out her name, and thanked her for an article online I’d seen of her which had helped me greatly, but afterwards regretting it as it was rude of me to use her first name and I perhaps should have called her Mrs. Soriano. She was very kind in her response and later on during the day she noticed I’d added the octopus leg to my painting. Toward the end of the day Stephen brought Tia walking towards me and said “this is Sophie, the one I was telling you about” so I think I must have made an impression, even if it was a daft one. Tia held his chin as he looked at my painting, I don’t think it was his cup of tea but delighted he viewed it. Perhaps I will get a mention in constructive criticism to help me see my paintings faults and improve, fingers crossed.

wildcard on landscape artist of the year LAOTY time to go home

End of the day judges comments, pack up and published in magazine.

They told the wildcard painters what time to finish painting and pack up and very quickly that time had arrived. Kate walked through the crowd of 50 wildcard painters and approached the winning wildcard artist. The judges had chosen a wildcard painting which was definitely the best one, it was beautiful. We all clapped and it was time to pack up. We were then able to crowd round and watch the judges critique of the six pod artists paintings. I couldn’t hear a blooming word, it was like whispers, so basically I was watching with the sound off. My son and I stood for a while watching, but we had to get travelling back home so unfortunately I missed seeing the final 3 and the winner. But I’ll definitely be watching when its on Sky Arts. The memories of that day, and my bravery to leave my hermit home are a milestone to be proud of. I was so delighted and surprised when weeks after filming I saw myself in a magazine article. My interview sadly was not aired, as with most the 50 wildcards interviews, but you can see me setting up my tent at the begining. For the last decade I’ve watched an episode every week either current or re-runs, its a little autistic quirk of mine that I can not live without, so being part of one of the episodes is a real zap of smiles. I even gained the confidence to join a local art group where we paint together. The whole wildcard Landscape Artist Of The Year experience made me realize that stepping out of your comfort zone should be done more often, and not just because your turning 50. Lets just hope I get some of my paintings sold, because I’m painting more than ever now, and my art studio is filling up fast. 

Painting is my oxygen, imagination is my nourishment and kindness is contagious. Thanks for your interest

Sophie Huddlestone.

Copyright Sophie Huddlestone

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Artist Sophie Appleton Huddlestone

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