The life of an artist is often a solitary one. Bent over an easel and absorbed in their craft for as long as it takes to achieve the desired result, before stepping back, perhaps, to share with a wider audience.

So imagine the change in mindset needed to take-up a day’s residency outdoors within a small plastic pod.

As contestants on a hit TV arts series, not only will they be pitting their skills against other talented artists – not to mention the clock - if this wasn’t pressure enough, their every move is followed at close quarters by cameras, together with three eminent judges from the art world.

Now in its ninth season, Sky Arts' UK-wide search for a new star of landscape painting as Landscape Artist of the Year was filmed last summer, beginning with six knock-out heats.

Ahead of the 2024 crowning, host Stephen Mangan was joined by acclaimed artist Tai Shan Schierenberg, curator and writer Kathleen Soriano, and art historian Kate Bryan, at scenic locations across the country.

And this time, from over 2,000 applications, two members of Peak District Artisans were in the running for the prize of a commission from the Science Museum worth £10,000.

Back on their home turf, artists Craig Longmuir and Giles Davies are frequently drawn to the big skies and contrasting light and shade found amidst the rough Edges of Curbar, Derwent, Froggatt and Stanage.

Whilst each of them uses very different medium to translate their inspiration onto a canvas, this latest challenge en plein air took them both out of their comfort zone.

Great British Life: The historic Hever Castle provided the backdrop to Giles and Craig's heat The historic Hever Castle provided the backdrop to Giles and Craig's heat (Image: Getty Images)

Tasked with capturing Hever Castle in Kent, the 600-year-old childhood home of Anne Boleyn, in his heat, Craig looked out onto the tranquil lakeside and Italianate loggia.

Meanwhile, Giles and his seven fellow contestants were faced with the towering battlements and moat.

‘It wasn’t my natural environment,’ recalls part-time art teacher Craig, who regularly leaves the comfort of his Sheffield home to capture the breathtaking wildness of the Peak District in oils.

Often, he says, this requires multiple layers of weatherproof clothing and, if needed, guy ropes to secure his collapsible easel against the elements.

‘The piece I entered for Landscape Artist of the Year was called Derwent Edge. Previously sold, it had to be borrowed back to hang in the pod.

Great British Life: Craig at Hever Castle during the competition Craig at Hever Castle during the competition (Image: Craig Longmuir)

‘This time I wasn’t high up with tussling winds. But I was determined not to be timid, and to paint with the energy and verve that I would have done had I been within a more naturally dramatic landscape.’

Despite the bucolic setting the long shoot, he says, brought changeable conditions as his 71x91cm rendition came together.

‘Filming starts at 6.30am and finishes at 5pm. Whilst it rained like mad in the morning, the skies then cleared and it was lovely weather later.

Great British Life: Craig exhibits his workCraig exhibits his work (Image: Craig Longmuir)

‘Judge Tai Shan Schierenberg, whose work I like, spoke to me the most and I think empathised with what I was trying to do and engaged with it. I think he said on the show that the painting had “joy”, which was great, as this was what I was trying to achieve through my use of colour and brush marks.

‘He also made a joke about it being, “thickly painted” and that if the result had been based on the weight of the paint used, I would have won!’

An art graduate and one-time studio artist – David Bomberg and Frank Auerbach were early influences – Craig has enjoyed success during the past 30 years, exhibiting alongside members of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters in London.

Great British Life: Giles at work Giles at work (Image: Giles Davies)

The vibrant landscapes which Giles creates on the other hand come from a very different journey.

Having decided in 2012 to leave a long career in graphic design, he recalls how a new path opened-up after a couple of his artworks were showcased during Derby’s Six Streets Arts Trail.

‘I’d always enjoyed doing collage with, perhaps, paint added. My “eureka” moment came when I thought: what happens if I was to use just magazines?

‘Because each fragment is a piece of art in its own right, when you put all the pieces together, they retain this slightly photographic feel. And, yet, you have the freedom to be as surreal and as playful as you want to be.

‘I prepare these by cutting away any text and then pre-glue them, using a contact adhesive on a roll, so each potential element in my palette has a peel-off backing. It’s about building up the layers; magazine paper is thin enough to apply in three to five layers¬ and the final size can vary a lot.’

Despite already being familiar with making small screen appearances on the Nick Knowles’ show, The Home Is Where the Art Is, this latest experience, Giles says, was quite different.

More used to working from his urban studio, with each picture taking at least 50 hours to complete, nothing was left to chance.

‘To get down to finishing within four hours for Landscape Artist of the Year was a challenge and I spent almost a year on this, before I applied,’ he reveals.

Great British Life: Giles' Dovedale Heatwave secured his spot in the prestigious competitionGiles' Dovedale Heatwave secured his spot in the prestigious competition (Image: Giles Davies)

‘I also practised in the open air, by going to various places in the Peak District with my box of cuttings. For my entry, I’d gone out to Dovedale during the heatwave in 2022 and sat there on my little camping stool early in the morning to capture the side and top of Thorpe Cloud.

‘One of the other constraints was having a small enough working size as the collage I did of Hever Castle was A3, whereas my work is normally bigger.’

Fortunately, Giles found out a month in advance where they’d be competing, enabling him to pre-select from his huge array of cuttings those most useful to take along on the day. Although, he was less prepared for the breaks in concentration.

‘I’d thought, wrongly as it turned out, that people would be looking over my shoulder and would be asking what I was doing as I went along,’ he says.

‘Instead, the judges lined up within the pod, or they’d ask me to stop and re-do a take. For an artist this is quite distracting and I’d have to try and remember where I’d got to when I went back to working on my piece.

‘Within the pod I had an easel, a table on which to put my materials, and a stool. There was a moment when one of the camera crew asked: “doesn’t some of your stuff sometimes blow away?” ‘At that exact moment, a gust of wind blew a few cuttings up into the air like confetti. People were running around helping to retrieve them.’

Although a place in the semi-final eluded them both, neither Craig nor Giles has any regrets about taking part in Landscape Artist of the Year.

‘It was very strange watching myself back on the show, it’s an unusual experience, although I did enjoy my 15 minutes of Warhol fame!’ adds Craig.

‘One of the wonderful things about it is that you meet a range of artists. I now communicate with Evelyn Chambers, another of the painters in my heat, so it’s great for networking.’

‘The competition was fun and has definitely helped me to push-on with what I do,’ agrees Giles, who plans to continue generating pieces en plein air.

Reflecting on the publicity achieved as ‘gold dust’, his sights are now set on having a new piece accepted in the Royal Academy of Arts’ Summer Exhibition, and exhibiting at the Peak Artisans’ Art Fair, held in July at the Buxton Dome.

And Craig has this advice for anyone thinking of trying their hand as an artist: ‘Dive-in and showcase your work as much as you can on Instagram and Facebook. And stay positive. I’m conscious never to be critical of anybody, because I love how other people interpret things and want to celebrate what they have achieved.’