Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Derwent Art Prize - a discussion

Earlier this year I wrote this post NEW! The Derwent Art Prize - for pencil art about a new art competition with a major prize £5,000 for artists working in pencil.  It was great to see pencil art being taken seriously and the scope for some serious prizes for artwork in pencil.

The deadline for entries has passed. The judges have now reviewed the entries (artists were allowed to submit upto six) and there is now a gallery on the website with a number of images - some of which are excellent.

Derwent Art Prize - a selection of the images in the Website Gallery

However a number of issues have been thrown up by the prize and I'll try and summarise them below.  I'll also be commenting on the selected artists next week - when matters become somewhat clearer than they are at present.
  • Dismay at the Judges Selection. The gallery of selected works are predominantly graphite despite the range of pencils available.  
    • The selection - in terms of both subject matter and media - is being heavily criticised by some artists in public and in private groups.  It's certainly not impressed a number of pencil artists with a presence online - with some of the comments being quite vitriolic!
    • It's possible that the selection says a lot about the judges experience of different types of pencil.  I'm also really surprised that very little work in pastel, watercolour or coloured pencils has been selected - particularly if one assumes that one of the objectives of the competition is to raise the profile of pencil art in all its scope.  
    • However my impression is that some of the artists' comments may say more about the person making the comment then they do about the artwork selected for this prize.  My overwhelming impression is of artists who demonstrate little awareness of the range of contemporary art seen in major art competitions. 
    • I do agree that it is disappointing that the selection shown in the gallery does fail to fulfil what must have been one of the main objectives of this prize - to reveal what can be achieved by the variety of different types of pencil which are available today. However "it takes two to tango" - and selection is as much dependent on what is presented as on who gets to decide what is selected.
  • Utter confusion over The People's Choice Award. For some reason artists believe that all artwork is eligible or at least one image submitted by each artist. It's certainly the case the works which have not been selected by the Judges had been loaded to the website and had voting buttons next to their name in the last 48 hours. These have since been removed. However:
    • I can't find anything in the FAQs or the terms and conditions which suggests that ALL artworks submitted would be eligible for the People's Choice Awards
    • It's certainly convention of most, if not all, art competitions for a People's Choice Award  to be chosen from artworks selected for exhibition.  Why would it be otherwise?
Approximately 80 works will be selected for exhibition at the Mall Galleries, London, United Kingdom on 16 – 21 September 2013
  • Images in the gallery are let down by website structure and presentation:
    • no sizes given for the artwork - impossible to tell whether they are large or small - and this matters!  This is absolutely VITAL for any digital exhibition of artwork - speaking as one who has looked at many exhibitions of artwork online and then in an exhibition!  It is also particularly important for any art competition with online voting as the image relative to size should be an important part of the assessment process.
    • alphabetical listing is by title NOT as per the common convention for all art websites ie artist's surname
    • no slideshow available or ability to to page through the images. The website requires you to keep returning to the main page.  This becomes EXTREMELY TEDIOUS if you are reviewing all the images on the website - as one should before casting a vote.  [NOTE: That's assuming you're not casting a vote because you know the artist and they've shown you their image on Facebook on in forum or a private group online.  I implemented a strict "no lobbying" rule for my Making A Mark Awards having seen what happens when one artist posts an image on a popular website.]
    • images have been loaded on to the website which have not been selected for exhibition.  Why?  Is this because images appeared on the website as soon as they were uploaded?  I can't work out how anybody could ever access them except via what is evidently the artist's own link to their work (ie the ones I've seen have been via a link provided by the artist)
    • this is a link to the company making the website with their comments
    • Please note that the comments I've made are based on NOT having registered for the website.  That's because I don't give out my telephone number to websites unless absolutely necessary.  I'm not persuaded it's necessary for the purpose of voting - so won't be voting.
My own view - as a coloured pencil artist - has always been that if coloured pencil artwork is good enough as ART (as opposed to demonstrations of burnishing etc!), then it will have no difficulty being selected for art competitions and exhibitions by a variety of national art societies (If it's good enough for David Hockney etc....). However the commitment of very many pencil and coloured pencil artists to realistic and hyper-realistic artwork is not one shared by many judges of art competitions. One of the questions which CP artists might usefully address is whether the artistic attributes and nature of the artwork being produced in coloured pencil meets the standards of national art competitions and exhibitions when judged by people who are not CP artists.  The assessment of the standard of ART executed in pencil media needs to be made by people who are independent of the media - and this competition presents a wonderful opportunity for this to happen.

There are some who think there's no such thing as bad publicity.  I'm rather more inclined to think that the concept behind the Prize is excellent but the execution to date has been a little wobbly and that hasn't helped Derwent's image in all quarters of the pencil world.

Can I emphasise that it's not at all unusual for the first year of any competition to have a few wobbles. Let's hope all is resolved by next week.

I'll comment further on the selected artists when the list is formally confirmed - which I understand will be Monday - when the voting will also begin.

However I still won't be voting.  I provide email addresses to websites but not telephone numbers!  I might just say which images impress me at this stage though......


  1. having looked at the site and other websites designed by Hydrant, it seems like its typical of their design and very dated. You get what you pay for I suspect as the sponsors website, Parker Harris contemporary visual art specialists, is much better. They have a much more upmarket web design company,Rubious, for their own website.

  2. My main comment is to please keep in mind that on the entry form we were required to select ONE pencil medium. So a piece may be watercolour and coloured or other mixtures of pencils but the artists had no way to indicate this. Derwent told me to simply select one and if selected the full details would be asked for for the exhibition. So for example my piece is graphite, coloured pencil and watercolour pencil but the entry just says graphite. So the mediums used may not be as limited as they appear on the website right now.

  3. It really is a dreadful website, with images that are far too small and badly displayed. A shame.

    Only dry pencils were allowed I believe, a shame when Derwent make several water soluble pencils, crayons and sticks, maybe next year.

    It is the first year of this prize and I'm sure they will learn a lot for the next.

    I was really pleased to see that selected work wasn't simply the human-photocopier-of-a-photograph genre but showed some diversity,

    I totally agree that the work needs to stand strongly as part of the wider field of art, whatever the medium. Concept, texture, mood, mark making, gesture and more being important elements. Derwent made it clear in the brief that they wanted to see some of this.

    I wonder if there need to be different categories of prize .... Maybe one for the realist fans and another for the more contemporary work? Those realists are their customers so maybe should be in with a chance?
    .... expanding the idea of what is possible with the medium draws in a wider range of contemporary artists.

    Maybe a third category for mixed media? Other media allowed but with dominant use of pencil/crayon?

    I would say put work all in one group for the judges, with them selecting the two winners from the entire body of work, meaning entrants don't have to decide on a label. Work can have both qualities so entrants can leave options open. Mixed media would be a separate group.

  4. Thank you for the comment Tina - that's a really good point

  5. Vivien, water-soluble pencils were clearly allowed in the written rules.

  6. oh that's good. I know had a conversation wth one of the Derwent team last year that had suggested they wouldn't be. Either she was wrong or they changed their minds


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