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NEWS > Alumnae Profiles > One of the Best Days of My Life So Far

One of the Best Days of My Life So Far

Multi-talented artist Annie Lee, Class of 2018, juggled A levels and filming to become a semi-finalist on Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year in 2019.

Annie recalls: “Filming took place the week before my A levels and I entered the competition just before the deadline, sort of on the spur of the moment, not expecting anything to come of it, so I didn’t even think to mention it to my family. I was astonished when they selected me to take part. 

“It was hard to keep it all a secret for almost a year.  They ask you to sign a confidentiality contract so you don’t spoil the TV series and you have to be very discreet about who you tell. I obviously had to let Miss Pauffley (then Head of Art at LEH) know, as I’d submitted one of my A level self portraits and they wanted to film the original! But I couldn’t say anything to my friends and that was hard.”

In the first round Annie painted actor Gina McKee, mentally managing to block out the lights and TV cameras, and really focus despite often being interviewed by the judges and presenters, and all the while being watched by the crowds.

“It was amazingly absurd that Gina McKee selected my portrait to take home, and then I got shortlisted as one of the three final artists, and then Stephen Mangan called out my name as the heat winner! To be honest, I hadn’t even imagined that I’d even hear back at all, having entered the competition on a whim. It was definitely one of the best days of my life so far.”

In the semi-final round she painted musician Courtney Pine but found the experience more challenging. While painting as the youngest contestant she was sandwiched between two professional artists (one of them being the eventual winner). This meant she was more aware of the pressure, although it was a great privilege to learn about their methods too. Re-attempting the portrait in her own time was a beneficial way to reflect on the more intense experience within the competition.

She adds: “I only have positive things to say about the programme and I would really recommend just giving it a go: I have learnt so much from the experience and developed as an artist as a result of it.”

It helped assure Annie’s ambition to pursue art further: “I can’t stress enough what an incredible experience it was - making me think, even just for a moment, that maybe wanting to be an artist might not be such a bad choice after all.” 

Annie’s passion for creativity flourished with her GCSE and A level art studies and her discovery of art beyond the curriculum. But it was being awarded the first Art Scholarships in the Sixth Form at LEH which was a huge boost in confidence.

“I’ve always found it easier to express myself visually,” she explains. “Creating art allows me to voice intangible feelings, emotions and experiences in my own way. It’s about producing work that reflects experiences I’ve had, often channelling the memory or nostalgia of growing up and coming-of-age. When sharing this with others I hope to provoke reflections of their own relationships with themselves, others, and their environment.

She goes on to explain: “The idea of art being two-way is interesting. I present something to an audience, and they will get something from it, or interact with it and it adds another dimension or even completes the artwork. It’s as much about their experience as it is mine. Even if they’re saying, ‘what on earth has this artist done’, I still find that interesting – it’s triggered something within them.”

After completing her A levels, Annie went on to undertake an Art Foundation course at Central Saint Martins, and would now be studying a Fine Art BA at the Slade School of Fine Art, but as Covid-19 hit, she decided to take a year out and is now tutoring, supporting students taking Art GCSE/A level or applying to Art School, taking portrait commissions and working with galleries like the Barbican/Calvin Klein for exhibitions. 

Annie works across different mediums, including photography, sculpture and film, in addition to her painting. “I have something in my head and then I navigate the most appropriate medium to show it.”

She hopes to encourage others to explore their creativity. “The art world can be elitist. It’s not always that accessible, with many barriers to opportunities and success and understanding about art. I want to make it accessible to those who think they just can’t draw or find gallery spaces intimidating.

“It’s not about oversimplifying art, but more about making it so the language isn’t inaccessibly pretentious. I am interested in universal human experiences, and finding creativity in non-traditional forms can make my artwork more relatable to everyday life. I was making some Rocky Road cakes recently, and after scraping the chocolate leftovers in the bowl with my finger, I spontaneously documented this Van Gogh-like mark making as an ‘artwork’. Who knows how creativity will present itself to you?”

She advises others interested in pursuing a career in art to: “Create the stuff you want to create for yourself rather than others. Soak up the world around you whether it’s art related or just your passion for something. You can get inspiration for your art from anywhere, including science, music, and your grandparent’s armchair. Don’t feel you have to follow all the rules!”

The pandemic meant that ‘It All Comes Down’, a group exhibition at the Barbican in April 2020 had to go online, which meant re-thinking and re-working many of the ideas. Annie says: “The physical experience of art has always been very important and yet it’s now having to turn digital, forcing us to adapt and think differently.” 

How else had the pandemic had an impact? “I think creativity is more important than ever now – we live in an increasingly divided society. Art has the power to amplify underrepresented voices and bring people together. It makes us consider how to reach people in ways that will get them thinking about topics such as race, gender, sexuality, class and disability.

“For me, the pandemic has given me time to step back and reassess where I am in life and my creativity. Teaching other young people and being inspired by their own progress and ideas has really helped with that. Be creative if you want to, but if you don’t feel like it that day, then treat yourself to something else. Let it come naturally. There’ll be golden nuggets of creativity hidden in places you’d least expect!”

To see more of Annie’s work, please visit:

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