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Meet Matt, Beth, Tim and Ashby - four GCSE art students from Essex.
They all share the same dream -
to make a living from their artistic endeavours.
Top artist Stuart Semple has made millions from his art.
He exhibits all over the world, counting Sienna Miller
amongst his celebrity collectors.
He is going to meet our bright young artists,
to see how they develop their ideas into great works of art.
We've given the students hand-held cameras, to film themselves,
as they cultivate ideas for their final GCSE art exam -
a ten-hour creative marathon, spread over two school days.
We'll follow their highs and lows, as they try to turn their raw ideas
into artistic success.
Then, after that daunting, ten-hour exam, they will face a public exhibition
and discover what Stuart really thinks of their work.
Along the way, we'll see strange experiments from Beth...
-That one's horrible.
-It's creepy, isn't it?
There'll be some very arty talk from Tim...
It's like metaphorical and physical. I'm actually learning something. I'm learning more about myself.
Matt finds inspiration in some unusual places...
I found some quite interesting colours in the sky.
..And Ashby finds the pressure just a little too much...
Oh, I don't know what I'm saying! Don't know!
But it will all be worth it
if these four young artists can makes great works of art.
I think really it's just a beautiful painting that she's made. It sort of glows.
Hi, I'm Matt, I'm 16 and my main interests are football and art.
Matt's not your textbook
I play a lot of football. I play for my local team, Woodham Radars, and for Essex.
Away from the easel, he's more Lionel Messi than Leonardo da Vinci.
-But he loves his street art and takes a very hands-on approach.
-Rough areas like this,
I had to put Polyfilla on, because it's more flexible , a lot stronger.
A fan of Banksy, Matt will build you a wall and then vandalise it.
He's a very practical and active artist.
I've never been any good at drawing in itself. I've always preferred painting, making things.
-This is Beth.
Beth makes big, emotional works of art
and sometimes gets lost in the creative process.
It just sort of happens naturally, I don't really even notice.
I'll apply paint with a brush and blend it in with my fingers. It's quite messy.
But Beth doesn't mind getting her hands dirty, as long as her art is focused...on herself.
Art, for me, is about, you know, it's personal and you can do whatever you want with it
and that's why I enjoy it so much.
Barney, this is about ME!
Just go away!
Is he actually in there?
This is Tim. He's rarely seen without a sketchbook.
Tim kills time by sketching his thoughts
and when he's got no thoughts, he sketches anyway.
Sometimes I draw people, sometimes I just draw weird shapes.
I'll sit there drawing triangles, or something.
He's very thoughtful and serious about his art
and is constantly looking to improve.
To get better, you have to keep pushing yourself.
He's found a big, expressive painting style,
but keeps going back to his pencils.
His precise illustrations are holding him back from a new, riskier style.
Can he step away from the pencil pot?
Maybe later on, I'll be able to go straight in with the paint. Is it all right if I carry on?
Hi, I'm Ashby.
When Ashby's not painting, she's usually found juggling a baton
with her majorette troupe. Ashby finds a personal edge
helps her to develop her ideas into great works of art.
This is actually me. I did get my friend to take that one.
Um, and that's me at the back.
But I'm going to cut me out, because it looks like that person has two heads!
Ashby's on a voyage of discovery into the world of oil paints
and loves using them to create Cubist and Expressionist styles.
I've learned you can do with a lot more with oil painting than just paint with it.
You can smudge it, you can just to do all sorts with it.
Ashby's recently started to experiment with a palette knife, an idea she borrowed from a friend.
She had a good final piece, It came out effectively.
I thought, "I'm going to steal that." I'll nab that!
We've invited top artist Stuart Semple to meet the students,
to discover how they develop their artistic ideas.
From what I've seen, the students look great and I really can't wait
to see more about their thought processes.
Stuart's art is full of playful references to pop culture
and comments on consumerist Britain.
He's often likened to Andy Warhol, for his accessible style
and is sought after by A-list celebrities.
He has collaborated with Lady GaGa and the Prodigy, and has been so successful,
he once tried to buy his own island off the Dorset coast.
In 2005, Stuart snuck one of his own images into the Saatchi Gallery,
to protest against the lack of British artists on display in the exhibition.
But Stuart's main aim is to make art that's accessible and fun.
So how does a flourishing artist like Stuart continue to develop his ideas day after day?
When I make my work, I tend to work, I suppose, a lot more like a musician,
where I make a series of paintings that become a bit like songs or tracks on an album.
And I suppose the initial inspiration can come from anywhere.
I can spend months sat there when nothing happens at all
and I'm terrified nothing's going to come and, all of a sudden,
I'll hear a piece of music, or I'll see someone, or overhear something,
or pick up a fashion magazine or something, and then the idea starts.
I try not to plan every aspect of the work before I start it.
What is developed is a concept that I want to explore before I start painting.
But in terms of the visual element of it,
I might only know a fraction, or at least the starting point,
and I really believe in letting the work, kind of, dictate its own course -
letting the time and experiments and mistakes, kind of, show me where I want to go.
We've invited Stuart to William de Ferrers School in Essex,
to find out how Matt, Beth, Tim and Ashby develop their artistic ideas.
First up is football fan, Matt,
who's borrowed some ideas from Banksy and Nigel Cooke.
Stuart wants to know how Matt has referenced these artists in his own work.
What do you like about Banksy's stuff? The humour of it,
or the politicalness, or...?
I do like the political side of it, but with Banksy, I think art isn't about sitting down
doing a nice painting. It's about getting out in the real world
and doing something you enjoy and something that's you.
-I looked at Nigel Cooke.
-What do you like about him?
He does pictures that are a lot like what I was working towards.
Big walls, foreground in front of them, paintings on the walls.
So where do you go from this? Looking at this one over here.
I looked at different areas round where I live, photographed them
and I thought from there I could push Banksy into Nigel Cooke and start spraying over the top.
I can see that Nigel Cooke influence in this one.
Particularly from my original inspiration of Banksy,
I'm able to push it forward and do my own development.
At the moment, he's, kind of, playing it a bit safe
and he's got that, sort of, Banksy reference very firmly in his head
and he hasn't really run into Matt's world yet.
I think when that starts to come through, this is going to get really exciting.
Personally, I see Banksy as a bit commercial,
a bit derivative of a lot of other stuff.
But I love the fact it is enthusing people to start looking at art and get involved in making images.
A blank canvas can be a pretty intimidating sight,
so seeking inspiration is a great way to get started.
You can take the bits you like about lots of different artists
and push them together in your own work.
But you can't just steal ideas. Your art should be personal.
Now, obviously, inspiration doesn't just come from other art,
it comes from all around you.
And ideas can come at the most random moments,
so it doesn't hurt to make a note when you get one.
Ashby's work is inspired by her recent holiday.
She tried to show the Cubist side of New York, but got stuck.
Stuart wants to find out how she got through her artistic block.
I tried to see whether I preferred this kind of loose mark making
to the really structured oil paintings,
but this was where I did hit a massive wall.
I just... I just sat and looked at it for ages
and just couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong and where I could go with it.
-So it felt like a complete dead-end with it?
-But...I did get over it eventually.
-How did you do that?
I did a similar thing. I went right back to the basics.
I found images I'd taken of the Statue of Liberty. They're these ones.
How do you find working from the photographs?
I thought it was easier. Because I'd seen the statue in real life,
I knew I could put some of my own personality into it.
I could visualise it whilst I was painting.
Then you moved on to a much more ambitious one, didn't you?
It's a really nice final piece, because it's quite concise.
-It shows traces of your whole journey, I think.
I still see the piece that I didn't like.
I still see the colours that I didn't really want to push,
but I still incorporated them, just to...
-So you got something out of it, in the end?
-I did, yeah.
-So it was definitely worth going through it.
I hit walls in my work all the time.
You get to a place where you just don't know where to go next.
I do all sorts of elaborate things.
I move studios, or not paint the three months, or do something entirely different.
I don't want to just chuck it all in because I can't get an idea.
But, in the end, something happens
and you have to keep making through it.
I don't know where she'll go next. Her oil painting skills and sense of composition is getting stronger,
the way she's collaging these images together.
So I think maybe that's something that will be explored more deeply next time around.
Every artist hits a wall at some point in their work.
This is when you don't like what you've made and don't know what to do next.
When this happens, you should decide what you do and don't like about your artwork.
Then you can just take the good bits and avoid the bits you don't like next time.
You might find you need to research or experiment more before you start again.
So hitting a wall is good. It makes you a better artist.
Tim's determined to push himself into uncharted territory,
using paint instead of pencils.
Stuart's fascinated to find out how Tim
is coping outside of his usual comfort zone.
The reason why I wanted to move out of my comfort zone, with charcoal,
and later on, paint, is because I wanted to try something new.
Because you can't always stay the way you are, you've got to develop, evolve.
So how did you feel? Were you a bit intimidated at first by this charcoal?
It was something I haven't tried before,
so I was out of my comfort zone, I didn't know what I was doing.
You're sort of trying to make it do what the pencil did, to an extent?
-I can't, because it is not pencil.
-It's really loosened you up.
It's metaphorical and physical. I'm actually learning something, learning more about myself.
This is my next piece.
At this point, I was still using little brushes
and you can see it here. I was using little brushes.
-Yes. I mean there is a kind of fussiness.
-What happened after this?
-So I moved on to this...
..which was my painting of Nat King Cole.
It's like a total break out. You really start express.
You're using your whole body when you paint.
I can't use those little brushes anymore.
No, to get that mark there, to go like that, you need so much confidence.
-Because now you're totally out of your comfort zone
and you don't mind to take a risk.
You've got to trust yourself and go into it and just be like...whoosh!
Whenever you're making work, you can get complacent,
or you default back to a system of making things that works for you.
I find that all the time with my work, where I get stuck in a rut
and I need some way to break through it and I need to try something else.
It is really depressing sometimes when it doesn't happen and you try and force a change.
But, with Tim, it felt like a totally natural thing for him to do.
I think it's just going to carry on.
The thing I'm excited is, when he starts to discover colour properly,
because I think there is going to be a total explosion
of expressive, big, gestural painting that's going to be really good.
It's easy to get stuck in a comfort zone,
making art you're used to or good at.
But you're bound to get bored doing the same thing all the time
and maybe yearn for a bit of a challenge.
But getting bored is good, if it makes you try something new.
If you're used to drawing detailed miniatures, try big, expressive painting.
Or if you usually have to spend our hours finessing your work,
give yourself a time limit, so you have to work fast and furiously -
whatever it takes to keep your creative juices flowing.
There's nothing Beth won't use to make her experimental art.
She's toyed with watercolours, powder paints
and even salt, before settling on inks.
Stuart's intrigued by what Beth has learnt from her experiments.
I've had to be aware of the inks being really unpredictable,
so I did two studies at the same time.
So was that quite nerve-wracking,
because you didn't really know what the inks were going to do?
Um, it was, but it was quite exciting, as well.
I just wanted to make sure that I'd experimented with every material
that I could have - on its own and then with other things -
just to see what different effects I could create and which ones I liked the best.
-And then you were ready to do your final piece after that?
-This one over here.
Now, all of a sudden,
-you've got a portrait. It's a self-portrait.
I suppose I was quite lucky with how that turned out, really,
because I hadn't done a lot of experimentation.
That's what I was going to say. It's a big risk to decide that you are going to do
quite an accomplished, figurative oil painting of yourself, at the last minute.
With all the materials I was using,
I knew if I didn't like it, there would be a way of changing it.
-So it wasn't as risky as you might have initially thought?
I must have used just about everything in my time, when I've been making my art.
Strange stuff. At its nuttiest, maybe, lentils and spray paint
and tarmac and feathers.
And, at its most normal, kind of, expensive oil paints
and linseed oil, maybe, and everything in between.
But I have to go through the process of playing with everything.
I think it's important to remain playful and explore what is possible.
Because, you know, she's discovered a whole way of doing things
with these materials, that she's managed to bring together
into quite a complete and concise final piece.
I don't think she'd have been able to do this if she hadn't endeavoured to do that other stuff.
Experimenting is great for finding the best material to work with.
There's the obvious materials, as well as the weirder stuff.
Blindly experimenting might be fun,
but it's better to know what you want from your material.
Make a note of what's good and what's bad, in case you forget. From all these experiments,
you'll eventually find the best material for your art.
It might even be the material you started with.
We've given Matt, Beth, Tim and Ashby hand-held cameras to film themselves over the next two months,
as they develop ideas for that scary ten-hour exam.
If they get through it in one piece, they'll get the chance to hear what Stuart thinks of their artworks
and get to share their final pieces with friends and family at a special exhibition.
Matt's chosen to develop his ideas around the topic of urban areas.
He has set himself the challenge of making his work a little less Banksy and a bit more Matt,
taking in influences a little closer to home.
I found some quite interesting colours in the sky.
I'm not sure if they'll come out on here,
but they really do work with my current unit.
I'm exploring the idea that every area
is a rural area waiting to be revealed.
Matt's widened his interests to include Scottish painter Jock McFadyen.
His work has been a major influence for me.
His ideas - sense of abandonment, urban areas and big skies -
have helped my own work.
My next idea was to develop the wall piece I've got here.
This developed into my David Hepher-style piece.
I liked the textured background of his work
and I tried to put that into my own work.
But he's not forgotten his favourite street artist.
Another influence was Banksy.
His work helped to develop these two pieces, as I like the hole in the wall idea.
Against the clock, Matt's challenge is to put his own stamp on his work before sitting the exam.
It's 7th of March, three weeks away from our exam,
and I thought I'd show you the current piece that I'm doing.
These are two pieces I've been working on at the moment,
knocking through the wall reveals the rural area behind it.
Taking inspiration from the red skies outside his bedroom window,
Matt's work is finally starting to feel a little more personal.
Ashby has chosen to develop her ideas around the theme of dance,
something close to her heart, as a hardened majorette.
This was the big routine that we're doing.
I really liked it, because it was a lot of shapes I could photograph and see the movement in.
Like Matt, Ashby also looks to an artist for inspiration -
I've decided to focus on Degas,
because I really like the way he painted.
Ashby's very organised this time,
doing a lot of prep work, to avoid hitting any walls.
I realised I needed to work on my features and my hands, because they weren't very clear.
As you can see, I did get a lot of out of these.
These are my before and after.
I'm going to incorporate this kind of technique into my painting.
But it's not without the odd tantrum.
I developed this throughout all of my studies. It just kind of...
Oh, I don't know what I'm saying! Don't know!
With the final exam looming, Ashby reflects on her progress so far.
So it's four days to the real ten-hour exam and I am really scared.
But I think I am well prepared for it.
I did a lot of prep work.
I didn't hit any walls, which was lucky, but, touch wood,
I don't in the next four days.
Tim's chosen to develop his ideas around his family tree
and starts by trying to find the true meaning of heritage.
What is the meaning of your family tree? Is it where you are from
or the life that you've been living and where you were brought up?
Or is it where your family is from?
This is a painting I'm doing right now.
Tim has pushed himself even further out of his comfort zone
by introducing colour to his artwork. But is it a step too far?
I found it quite difficult when I started this painting,
because I'm so used to using black and white.
And I wasn't really sure what colours to use.
Tim's inspired by Chinese artist Zhang Yuan's snapshot style,
but wants to take it to the next level by adding a splash of colour.
I got pictures of my family and started to think of how
I could put them together for an overall painting at the end.
This is a very ambitious piece. There are lots of family portraits to paint against the clock
in the exam and Tim is already making the leap from black and white to colour.
He's going to have to be pretty prompt to paint so many pictures in just ten hours.
Beth has also chosen to develop her ideas around the theme of her family tree
and is being typically experimental.
I volunteered my friend Ellen and my friend Katie, who I'm going to paint in a minute.
In a way, I'm sort of creating twins out of them.
I'm looking at the fact that people can look so alike, but be so different.
Don't worry, it comes off. I tried it last night!
I'm just experimenting with different ways of showing their emotions.
She looks like she has a red beard.
OK, so this is Ellen fully painted.
I'm going to take a picture like did earlier. Think of something sad. Just feel depressed.
Beth takes photos of her painted friends to use as source material back in the art room.
-That one's horrible.
-It's creepy, isn't it?
-It doesn't even look like you.
-That's extremely scary.
I am, sort of, halfway through this next piece that I'm doing.
And I'm looking at the idea of the double image or twins.
Yeah, I'll have to see how that turns out.
Unhappy with her progress, Beth changes her mind.
She's losing confidence in her experimental approach and abandons her work, half-finished,
to make a last-minute u-turn, deciding instead on a much subtler style.
But will Beth's late change of heart leave her underprepared for the exam?
With preparations complete, Matt, Beth, Tim and Ashby
head into the daunting ten-hour art exam to create their final piece.
The students have two sessions, split over two days.
Starting with a blank canvas on day one, they paint against the clock
and have to submit their final pieces at the end of day two.
The exam marks the end of their GCSE art course.
They can do nothing more after this point to improve their grades.
Now I've finished everything. I've done my prep work and my exam.
And everything went very well.
I think the main reason for that was all my prep work I did,
all the experiments.
Looking back, there were a few things I would have done differently.
Mainly, I would have done more preparation for it
and experimented more with ideas and stuff.
Looking back on the actual exam, I was quite pleased with how the exam piece went.
Erm, I'm glad it's all over.
With the exam complete,
it's the day of the students' first public exhibition.
We've invited Brit artist Stuart Semple back, to see how far the students have progressed.
We let him in early for a sneak preview of their final pieces.
First up, Stuart reacquaints himself with Ashby's work.
Did her thorough preparations stop her from hitting a wall?
It's really come on miles from the stuff I saw her do last time.
The way she's using her materials, there's a whole new confidence to it,
in the way she is applying the paint itself.
I think really it's just a beautiful, beautiful painting she's made. It sort of glows.
Next up is Matt.
Did he manage to finally put his own stamp on his work?
Matt's final piece seems so much more ambitious,
but I don't really see what Matt sees on his doorstep coming into this,
which I think it, kind of, should, really.
Stuart was impressed by Tim's earlier work,
but felt that he had a lot to do against the clock in the exam.
Oh, Tim, I think he's let me down a little bit here.
I was expecting a really big, expressive, explosive painting,
like the Nat King Cole one we saw before.
It seems what he has done is introduce the colour to the work,
which is his way of challenging himself.
Maybe it has distracted him a bit too much from the core issue, which was how he put down the paint.
And, finally, Beth.
Stuart loved her playful approach to experimentation,
but what will he think of her u-turn back to safer ground?
Beth was at a real crossroads with her work.
The prep work is actually a lot more experimental
and, in a lot of ways, for me, a lot more interesting than her final piece.
It seems a lot braver.
In the final piece, she's really reined herself in.
She's taken herself to the extreme and then walked back a few steps.
I think, maybe she's walked back a little bit too far.
Matt, Beth, Tim and Ashby are joined by their friends and family for the exhibition.
This is the first time their artworks have been on public display.
And the students get another chance
to meet their chief critic Stuart, to hear what he thinks of their creations.
-Ashby, you've got to be really happy with that. It's come out really well.
-Yes, in the end, I was.
During the exam, I wasn't.
-I had a few temper tantrums.
-You didn't hit one of your walls, did you?
-No, I didn't.
-I didn't hit any walls, luckily, this time.
-What went wrong?
I hadn't drawn my scale out right and the legs
were too long for the body and the head was too small.
So then I'm going, "It's rubbish, I might as well go home now."
-You can't tell. I can't see it.
-I managed to fix it in the end.
-How did the exam go?
-I think it was my best exam yet.
And you can see the inspiration, you can see the Jock McFadyen thing,
the Banksy wall.
Yes, I tried to put as much that I'd learned from other artists into it
and then develop it into my own techniques and own ideas.
It's a lot of freer than some of the stuff I saw.
In the exam, I was still experimenting on other pieces of paper
and I liked dripping, running down lines. Really rough.
-Some of this is lovely.
-Rough, like the spray paint up the edge.
-Laid it on thick and stood it up, so it ran down.
-That's the economy if it. It's a very quick gesture.
-It's quite brave to do in the exam.
I think one of the things I really love about this drawing
is it's still got that expressive kind of mark-making
gesture that I loved when I saw the other stuff.
When you've got to your bigger piece, it doesn't seem quite as expressive. You've reined it in a little bit.
When I saw the artist Zhang Yuan, I thought I'd definitely want to do that,
but didn't think about how long it takes to do those paintings.
Those paintings - it takes him a month to finish one.
What I found in some of the exploratory work I saw of yours
was these really striking, kind of,
quite aggressive colours, these red faces.
It wasn't something that I felt was really personal
to me, so I think that's mainly what led me away from it.
I think I was a bit worried about putting the ink on, then not being happy in how it turned out.
-Did you feel that you held back, for the sake of the exam?
Matt, Beth, Tim and Ashby have come to the end of their journey through GCSE art.
They all survived that daunting ten-hour exam,
but how did they feel about Stuart's final feedback?
It's been great having Stuart look at my work, because he's been giving me the advice I wanted
and needed to help me develop my art style.
I've definitely taken it on board. I know that I need to loosen up
a bit more and maybe work bigger.
It's been interesting, but scary, having Stuart look at my work,
because, obviously, he is a professional,
so he knows what he's talking about
and he's shown me what my strengths and weaknesses are.
The experience has been excellent.
It's made me really confident in my own work.
Really encouraged me to push forward with my art and get somewhere in life.
It's been so nice having someone's opinion who is so successful.
Yeah, it's been really, really great.
It's been amazing meeting the students and getting to know them
and see how they make their work. I've enjoyed every minute.
I really hope they are going to carry on making their work
and we see one or two really strong artists come out of here.
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Matt, Beth, Tim and Ashby are four GCSE Art students from Essex. Brit artist Stuart Semple visits their school to see how they turn their ideas into great pieces of art. We follow the students as they develop their ideas for the final GCSE Art exam and prepare for their first ever public exhibition. What will Stuart think of their final pieces?