For the past six weeks we have watched the Sky Arts Portrait Artist Of The Year with anticipation as the competition to find the best portrait artist has travelled from London to Dublin, Glasgow to Cardiff with a stint in Paris.
A feast of famous faces have flocked to pose as sitters for our artists, including Sophie Dahl, Alison Steadman, Gavin Henson, Lethal Bizzle, Robert Lindsay, Sophie Turner, Simon Weston, and Juliet Stevenson.
The four finalists have been working hard to produce their best work, with the prize being a commission to paint Booker prize winning author Hilary Mantel; a portrait which will be displayed in the National Portrait Gallery until it moves to The British Library to become part of its permanent art collection.
The judges have had a difficult task, but there can be only one winner and Nick Lord has been officially crowned Sky Arts Portrait Artist Of The Year
We caught up with the man who has gone from spray painting model trains for his dad's company to painting portraits of the great and the good:
How are you feeling? Has it sunk in?
I'm really excited. I don't think it will sink in until I see that picture of Hilary Mantel hanging in The British Library.
You looked really nervous when you were preparing to paint Lance Sergeant Johnson Beharry, VC. What was going through your mind?
The main thing was to do him justice especially as he's such a public figure and everyone knows who he is. Plus the fact that there are already a number of portraits of him meant the pressure was on. It reminded me of when Lucian Freud painted the Queen and there was a lot of criticism from the public. I thought 'I can't be dealing with that.' It was a pressure I hadn't dealt with before especially on national TV.
How do you go about capturing the man and not just the soldier in your final portrait?
For me it was the fact they wanted an informal painting but he was in the most formal uniform he could have possibly be in! I was like 'Cheers guys, you've stitched me up royally'. I had my work cut out straight away. Going to Paris really helped because we went to the Rodin galley and he was the master of capturing human expression. Beharry had been through so much I also wanted to capture that sensitivity.
He loved it though...
I was blown away by the response and by the Colonel's response too. For me, I just wanted to please them and if they liked it my job was done. If they had turned around and said they didn't like it, that would've been an absolute nightmare.
Was that the hardest portrait you painted over the series?
Definitely. I felt the pressure on that one. The one of Gavin Henson was hard but that was enjoyable too, and at least we were all in the same situation in a room.
Do you paint to please others or to please yourself then?
If it's a commission, I'm painting because I want to paint but at the same time the client is paying for your services so it's got to be right. But if it's not a commission I don't care - I paint because I want to paint and if people like it, it's a bonus. If they don't like it, I can find out why and use that in future work. It's all part of the experience.
All of the finalists seem to get on really well. Was that the case?
As soon as we introduced ourselves we all got on like a house on fire. It was a big concern, I was worried we wouldn't get on and there would be some strong clashing personalities but that wasn't the case. We were all quite like-minded and it made the whole experience really enjoyable. Even though in essence we were rivals, we forgot about the competition. I hope we all stay in touch as we all had a great time.
What were the challenges you faced generally in the competition?
For me I hadn't done much life drawing since I did Foundation seven years ago. So I had to re-hone those skills. For me it was important to get that likeness down first, and if I couldn't do that - it wasn't a portrait.
The techniques you use are very distinctive, do you think you are going to apply those to painting Hilary Mantel?
Definitely. This style which I've been developing is becoming my signature style. It will be exactly the same process, but it won't look like my other paintings. Pictures always turn out differently as I put in the things I've learnt from previous paintings. The last thing I want is it to look like my last painting.
Who else would you like to paint?
The Royal Family would be amazing as they're such iconic figures. And Jay-Z.
What impact do you think the series has had on aspiring artists?
For me, it's been so interesting to watch all the different ways of working. So for young artists that will be very interesting to see. It can give them more confidence in what they do.
What advice would you give to people keen to pick up a brush?
I like the Nike motto 'Just Do It' I have that written on my wall, you never know unless you try. I think if you enjoy painting or drawing, don't worry about what other people say.
Are you still working with your dad?
Yes, I've got Christmas orders to finish! I enjoy it. It's a no-brainer, because I've got the technique down and it's a mechanical process. When I'm painting, you have all these thoughts running through your head and it's quite tiring thinking about those things.
You've gone from spray painting toy trains to becoming the winner of the Sky Arts Portrait Artist Of the Year. How life changing has this competition been?
I don't know yet. I'm excited about the next year, but I'm quite reserved, I don't want to get my hopes up in case things don't happen. It's amazing to be 25 years-old and to have work going on display in the National Portrait Gallery, DRA, the British Library and the Tower of London. If you had said that to me two years ago when I was at Uni, I would've been like 'Yeah, whatever, maybe when I'm 50 or when I'm dead.' It's been amazing. I"m really looking forward to what happens in the future. It's like another adventure, I can't wait.