If the Oscars had an award for best actor supporting a paintbrush, the nominations card would be bursting with A-listers. Cumberbatch, Depp, Brosnan, Hopkins, Pfeiffer and Aniston: all have turned to artistry of an oil-on-canvas kind when they want to escape the rigours of the day job.
In Hollywood terms it’s a fairly exclusive club. But if a new BBC1 series has its way, it’s a club we’ll all be able to gain entry to. Like its Bake Off, Allotment and Sewing Bee siblings, The Big Painting Challenge aims to get us off the sofa and into something creative.
The Mel and Sue of this new Sunday evening series are Una Stubbs and Richard Bacon – she paints and he collects. Over the next six weeks they will accompany ten amateur artists (chosen from over 6,000 entries) as they travel the country tackling oils, watercolours, pencils, charcoals and chalks.
Judges Daphne Todd and Lachlan Goudie will scrutinise their every brush stroke, eventually crowning a winner whose work will be displayed in Tate Britain. Radio Times readers can also take part in a competition using the free postcards with the most recent issue of the magazine.
It’s a familiar set-up, and one that Stubbs hopes will inspire the nation to pick up a paintbrush in the same way that it has embraced homemade puddings and skirts. “It would be lovely if the series does encourage people to find enjoyment in painting and drawing. If they do take anything away from it, I hope it’s just to do it as regularly as possible.”
Stubbs, who’s an elegant 77, has had a difficult relationship with painting. But it was gloriously consummated last year when she announced herself as an artist, exhibiting two watercolours of her Sherlock co-stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman at the Royal Academy of Arts’ Summer Exhibition. “It was one of the best weeks of my life,” she says excitedly of the experience. “They didn’t actually sit for me, but they’ve both got such extraordinary faces they’re easy to remember.”
While the portraits were received with a smile by the critics, they were keenly fought over by legions of relentlessly loyal Sherlock fans, eventually selling for £300 each, the price having been set by Stubbs herself. Has the Oscar-nominated Cumberbatch given her his verdict on his blue-eyed portrait? “I haven’t seen the boys yet, but they’ll probably tease me. They usually do.”