Art Battle Manchester: Event Review

From butterflies to beatboxers, and from watercolours to whiskey, this crazy event really does have something for everyone. Whilst walking through the crowds at the latest Art Battle, held at Talbot Mill Manchester, I saw a mix of B-Boys and dapper gentleman. And when you add music, alcohol and competition into the mix, you’re set for a pretty good night.

The competition works like this; 10 artists compete in two rounds and a final. On a raised stage, the artists have 30 minutes to paint/draw/collage, do whatever they like. The audience are all given 3 tokens, and after the 30 minutes, the crowd drop one of the tokens in the bucket of their favourite artist. After two rounds, the four artists with the most tokens goes into the final, where you can judge your favourite overall piece. The winner receives a coveted golden paintbrush and a £100 voucher for Fred Aldos.

Although the overall basis of Art Battle is the same, each event is different. They’ll be different artists at every competition, that’s 10 new artists each time for you to discover! Also, it’s never held in the same place twice, you have to keep an eye on social media and the website to find out when and where the next event will be. We spoke to one of the co-founder’s, John, about how they choose the venues.

‘We’ve used music venues, mills, warehouses, theatres, skate parks and even an old fire station. Changing venue keeps the event fresh. Even if people are familiar with a venue, they never quite know what it will look like at Art Battle Manchester.’

So this Saturdays’ event was held at Talbot Mill, and the first thing that hit us were the fumes. Two graffiti artists were on site creating huge pieces of work. The impact of the smell and the size of the art really gave you an idea of how the night was going to go. Beat boxers battled on stage and break dancers boogied. These guys were pretty awesome. I’m not going to try to describe a beat boxing performance – that is way out of my depth! But they had some incredible skill, and they definitely created a party atmosphere.

I’ve realised I have written a fair bit and not even touched on the artists yet! At Cotton On MCR we’re always looking for new artists to follow so this was great for us, there was some real talent on that stage. Unfortunately I can’t discuss all 10, so I’ll focus on the finalists.

We were instantly impressed by Chris Dorning’s work, as we loved how he created his background colours, using pastel washes and wiping the excess paint away. He then painted a Buddist-like figure that had a pencil sharpener head. The pencil sharpener is an ongoing theme in Chris’ work, which was displayed (alongside all of the artists work) around Talbot Mill.

Katie Nields was another finalist, and we had a chance to have a chat with her before the event to see how she was preparing.

‘I work quite last-minute and I’m not a fan of re-drawing the same thing over and over again so what I plan to do is write down a few ideas and narrow them down to about two and have a try at how long they take me and what medium works better and faster , etc. I will probably do most of my practising the day before the battle.’

Kate has never painted in front of an audience before, and this venue holds up to 500 people!

‘I’m petrified. I’m usually locked away in my spare room. Since graduating from my illustration course last year I’ve found my confidence slip and I’m beginning to lack motivation to pick up a pencil. This is the sole reason I’ve entered this battle, to challenge myself and push out of my comfort zone (spare room haha). I’m positive I will benefit massively from this experience, not only in my personal work but in my confidence.’

I can only imagine that being in the final has helped boost her confidence!

Harry Jackson was the runner-up and the youngest contestant at just 16 years old! His painting of a crying face was very colourful and expressive. He used a mix of brushes and his fingertips to create the different textures in the painting.

And to the winner of the event, Charlotte Smailes. We liked to refer to her painting as ‘The Eye’. It was beautifully detailed, and looked technically challenging too. The added ink wash was a lovely touch. To me, this was a clear winner.

So, to all you artists out there, we asked John how you can get involved in future battles.

‘We are always on the lookout for brave artists who are up for pushing their comfort zone. It’s arts equivalent of a bungee jump. Artists crap themselves before they do it, but are exhilarated by the whole experience. If artists are brave enough to take part, they get a slot, it’s a simple as that. Artists just need to contact us through our website ( or through our social media and we’ll tell them the next steps.’

Art Battle’s tagline read ‘Art for the people, by the people.’ I’d have to agree. We had a great night at Art Battle and I really do think events like this appeal to a wide range of people, but not everyone agree’s with me. One reviewer states; ‘It may be entertaining but art is not a sport or a dance off. I just think it diminishes art.’ Diminishes is a strong word. Why does the setting and surrounding take anything away from the hard work and the skill that these artists have? And, even this negative reviewer says that the event is entertaining, that part I do agree with. I’ve said it many of times before, I think some art events and art establishments come across a little high-end, and isolate the ‘every-day’ person. Events like Art Battle are there to break that stereotype, and I think they have accomplished it. Well done!

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