Leeds College of Art student wins BBC One’s 'The Big Painting Challenge'

08 March 2017

Leeds College of Art Access to HE Diploma (Art & Design) student and artist Suman Kaur was crowned winner of BBC One’s TV painting competition ‘The Big Painting Challenge’

The show started with ten enthusiastic amateur artists who joined their six-week artistic boot camp, in a bid to perfect their skills and be crowned the overall winner. Each week the contestants are put through increasingly difficult artistic challenges of producing two pieces of work in a different discipline, from landscape to portraiture to still life and movement.


Along the way they are guided by their two mentors; Pascal Anson, Artist, designer and guest lecturer at the Royal College of Art and Diana Ali, Art educator, curator and artist. Each week the artists need to impress a panel of three judges, Dr David Dibosa, Lachlan Goudie and Daphne Todd OBE to stay in the competition. There’s also a public viewing panel, and the contestant that wins the public vote automatically goes through to the next show. Suman was announced overall winner after a difficult final challenge; painting the Old Royal Naval College from a boat on the Thames!

 Image: Suman Kaur. BBC/Ed Miller


Art has always been something Suman has wanted to do, and having recently left her full time job working in Prosthetics and Orthotics she has taken the leap into the art world, currently studying the Access to HE Diploma (Art & Design) at the College. Her previous job as an Orthotist and her experience working with amputees inspired her to not to give up on her dreams of becoming a full time artist.

We caught up with Suman to find out more about her artistic practice and how she’s finding competing on The Big Painting Challenge… 

You’ve given up your career to pursue art?

“Yes I have! I’ve given up a career I really loved and moved back home with my parents. I really liked helping people and found the people I met so inspirational in that they never gave up on their goals, I’ve always wanted to be an Artist, so I thought it was now or never to achieve my own. I’ve never stopped drawing; I would draw on my lunch break, on the train, after work. I’ve done it as a hobby for the last eight years or so, having studied art at GCSE and A-Level. I’m a self-taught artist…”

How are you finding studying on the Access to HE Diploma (Art & Design)?

“I’m really enjoying it. It is offering me a good introduction to contemporary styles and allowing me to think more openly about where my work is going.  I always knew I wanted to study at Leeds College of Art, I’m from Leeds and so I would walk past and think I’d love to study there one day. For me though it was really about the reputation that the College has and its impressive alumni. The facilities are great and I especially love spending time in the library and experimenting in the photography darkrooms.”

Suman's work 1Image: Suman Kaur, Nan brushing - Acrylic on board 2016

What’s your specialism?

“I’m a portraiture artist. I don’t tend to follow traditional methods though.

I enjoy using unorthodox mediums, including shoe polish, coffee and charcoal within my work. The portrait of the afro Caribbean lady on my website I painted with coffee. I have much more confidence with drawing. I’ve shown potential in painting which is why I was picked to be on the show…

The figure has always been dominant in art history. I’m evolving my style and focus on bringing the character and personality into my work, I’m not a fan of landscapes.”

Why did you apply to be on The Big Painting Challenge?

“It was actually my best friend who suggested I apply. We met up in a coffee shop in Leeds and he made me fill out the application form. I said I wouldn’t be good enough as I’m self-taught and I didn’t think I’d be what the show were looking for. I sent off my application regardless and I really didn’t think much of it. I didn’t think I’d get on. My friend had faith in me.”

Suman's work 3

How are you finding it?

“It’s all been very new for me. I’m really enjoying it but it’s also overwhelming at times. It’s a mixed bag of emotions, from a lot of pressure of the challenges and the cameras there to then a lot of fun. I’m with a bunch of strangers but we all get on so well. I think because we’re all on the same journey, we’ve developed a bond with each other. You feel really sad when someone leaves the show and we all support each other; yet at the same time you’re so pleased to be through to the next week! The support and feedback I’m getting from people that really know their stuff is brilliant. I’m on Pascal’s team. He’s a strong figure, he’s a leader. I’ve had to balance what I want to do with what they’re advising us to do.”

Image to the right: Suman Kaur, Lady - coffee on paper 2016

Who’s your biggest competition?

“Myself. I’m a perfectionist and so getting over my own expectations is the hardest thing for me. Whatever happens, this is part of something I’m moving towards and I’m always improving.”

What are your future plans and ambitions?

“I want to get to a level of consistent style and then I’d love to exhibit my work. I plan to stay in Leeds because I love it, it’s a great city; it’s really diverse with a real hub of artistic stuff happening. I’m keen to collaborate with other artists. I would also like to be on the list of Leeds artists. My ambition, one day, is to be on the timeline of notable alumni that is printed on the walls inside Leeds College of Art.”

You can find out more about The Big Painting Challenge here and check out Suman’s work on her website sumankaurart.com.