Thursday, September 19, 2013

Chrys Allen wins inaugural Derwent Art Prize for pencil art

Winner of the £5,000 Derwent Art Prize for Pencil Art 
Chrys Allen for her pencil artwork Walk in Progress: Koli
Last night Chrys Allen won the First Prize of £5,000 in the inaugural Derwent Art Prize competition for works created in pencil.

The Private View and Prizegiving was very well attended. It was very good to see a lot of young faces among the artists who attended last night. Nobody knew who had won so we had a few gasps as the announcements were made!

This post also covers a review of the exhibition in the North Gallery at the Mall Galleries.

Derwent Art Prize 2013 - The Selector's Award - Prizewinners

Three works were chosen by the selectors to win valuable cash prizes.  The selectors were:
“It's been an interesting process helping to select approximately 90 works from an international entry of nearly 3600 pieces. The resulting exhibition is made up of what we considered to be the best works submitted by both professional and amateur artists. The show demonstrates a flourishing interest in drawing from a wide range of starting points. I look forward to this open competition going from strength to strength in future years.”Yvonne Crossley
I understand that the judges were able to judge works based on larger images than those seen online by people voting for the People's Choice award

In his preamble to the presentation last night, Professsor Stephen Farthing made some key points:
  • all the judging was done digitally.  It's the way most art competitions are moving given that it saves an extraordinary amount of expense for both the competition organisers and the entrants.  
  • all the work in the gallery looked the way it did on the computer screen.  Judges were delighted to see there was no mismatch between what they thought they had selected and the artwork in the exhibition
  • all artwork was anonymous in the judging process.  As Professor Farthing revealed, when you're having to look through 3,000+ entries it's very difficult to get interested in a name!  It's simply not relevant to the process of selection.
  • each judge had a "judge's choice".  While there was very little disagreement about what was OK and what should be selected it was also important that each Judge was able to exercise a little "eccentricity" - and hence each had one work which was their choice alone.
"I think it's a fantastic exhibition of drawings"Professor Stephen Farthing
  • entrants should continue to submit drawings to art competitions.  He felt that the calibre of some of the drawings submitted to the competition exceeded those he sees submitted to the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition!  He had a very positive feeling about the quality of a lot of the work exhibited.
I have to say I agree - it is a very impressive exhibition of drawings - which is also well hung.  Certainly one which should be visited by all those who aspire to pursue drawing in their career as an artist - or just to get selected for an exhibition like this.

The Derwent Art Prize 2013 prizewinners are as follows. You can see the shortlist that the selectors drew up on the home page of the website.

First Prize (£5,000) - Walk in Progress: Koli by Chrys Allen

Chrys Allen accepting first prize 
with Professor Stephen Farthing.
She gave a very inspiring speech!
This artwork is 10 metres long and has been created on a long scroll of paper.  I'm afraid I forgot to ask her how you get a scroll of paper 10m long!

One must also not be distracted by thoughts of the stamina involved in completing work of this length as it's a very fine piece of art.  Interestingly using a scroll for artwork recording a walk is returning to a very traditional way in which a trail used to be recorded by topographical artists in times past. (I remember very vividly seeing one at the RA in 2007 - see BritArt in History - RA exhibits admirable collections of British drawings)

This work was on my personal shortlist and I am very much of the opinion that it's a very worthy winner.  I did wonder whether it might have won when I saw how the artwork was laid out in the gallery on Monday. I'm also very pleased to see pencil art being created in ways which might seem unusual to many pencil artists who aspire to better things.  In my last post I commented about this work
Both works use an unusual way of presenting drawings which is not unfamiliar to those who view exhibitions for Drawing Prizes. Food for thought for those art societies who put on exhibitions in pencil media!
You can see a video of the work on YouTube (9 minutes 10 seconds) - it takes you along the "walk in progress" amongst Finnish Landscape as evidenced by the drawing in pencil.  It was done while Chrys was Artist in Residence in Koli, North Karelia. Finland.

[Note: Walk in Progress : Towpath is a later one which the one I wrongly identified as the winning work until corrected by Chrys!  Also worth watching.]

Personally, I would have liked to see the artwork displayed alongside the video.  The Drawing Bursary awarded by NEAC has certainly had video displays of an artwork in exhibitions at the Mall Gallery before now.  While obviously the pencil artwork needed to be given prominence, it would have been great to see the video in the gallery as well.  Maybe on an iPad on the wall? This mode of display is often used now in other galleries to display multiple images.  The question is whether the artist or the gallery supply the iPad!

Chrys Allen is a practising professional artist and art tutor. She lives and works  in South East London.  Instead of a garden, Chrys has a converted Victorian jam factory/warehouse which is used as her studio and also as an exhibition space and venue for performances and workshops during local arts festivals. Chrys also works as a visiting tutor and workshop leader.

Her enjoyment of and enthusiasm for drawing was very evident in her very lucid and inspiring speech which she gave last night on being presented with her first prize.  I can only surmise that those who have Chrys as their tutor are very lucky students!

Second Prize (£2,500) - London, 2012 by Paul Hiles

This pencil drawing is a large scale view of London from an aerial perspective with red double deckers punctuating the streets.

Derwent Art Prize for Pencil Art - Second Prize
London 2012 by Paul Hiles
(large work in the centre of wall on left)
I'm afraid (1) my photograph of this work is blurred so I won't post it and (2) I can't direct you to it on the Derwent Art Prize website as yet as the larger image has been removed from view for some odd reason.  I gather the images will be put back today.  You can however see it in the above gallery view,  see a large version on his website - and a section from this very large work is currently being used as a banner image by the Derwent Art Prize website.

I'm afraid I didn't spot this as a potential winner and I think that's very probably because for me all aerial drawings now have to fight very hard to avoid being put in the shade by Homage to Anonymous by Gary Lawrence which very deservedly won the Jerwood Drawing Prize 2011

Third Prize (£500) Landscapes & Places - by Yi Lin Juliana Ong (JULS - Oh nice great)

Derwent Art Prize for Pencil Art - Third Prize
Landscape and Places - a series of drawings by Yi Lin Juliana Ong

Juls graduated with an MA in Communication Art & Design from the Royal College of Art in 2011. Her works evolve around the automatic process of markings.

The act in the flow by improvisation plays a very important part in my practice as they drive me to seek for the beauty in an “awe of decipherment”. 

Landscapes & Places is a series made with pencil markings by automatic repetitive strokes. They were not drawn in a manner of its presentation; of which its renderings made not known of its actual outcome. They are perhaps maps— of the unfamiliar places and labyrinths of a subconscious mind...

UKCPS Award for Excellence (£250) - Mirror by Suhyang Seo 

The winner of this prize for a work in coloured pencils was chosen by the representatives of the United Kingdom Coloured Pencil Society.  I'd personally like to see more such work which has an emphasis on the art first and the media second in the UKCPS exhibition.

Derwent Art Prize for Pencil Art - UKCPS Award for Excellence
Mirror by Suhyang Seo
coloured pencils
The UK Coloured Pencil Society Award for Excellence also includes a year's membership to the society.  The Society does have provision for international members which is good as Suhyang Seo is a Korean artist who was unable to attend the prize-giving last night!

The People's Choice Award

This prize was determined by online votes based on the digital images on the Derwent Art Prize website.  Voting finished at the end of August.

Last night the winner of the People's Choice Award was announced. Today, Derwent have also announced on the website which works took second and third prizes.

People's Choice Award (£500) - The Majestic Savoy by Janie Pirie

I rather suspect that this drawing had a strong following among members of the UKCPS because it was one of the few coloured pencil artworks in the exhibition and because it has previously won a UKCPS award. It's certainly very impressive!

Janie Pirie is a leading member of the marked trend towards botanical artists working in coloured pencils. She is an RHS Gold Medal winning Botanical Artist and tutor whose artwork I first admired at the Annual Exhibition of the Society of Botanical Artists at Westminster Hall - where she exhibits a suite of works each year (eg see Botanical art in coloured pencils).  She was awarded her first medal by the Royal Horticultural Society in June 2008. In 2009 she went on to win an RHS gold medal at BBC Gardener’s World Live and was also presented with a crystal vase for ‘Best Botanical Artist in Show 2009’. She has also been invited to exhibit at the very prestigious Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation in the USA.

Derwent Art Prize for Pencil Art - People's Choice Award
The Majestic Savoy by Janie Pirie
coloured pencils
The second and third placed works in the poll were:

The Derwent Art Prize Exhibition

Gallery view of part of the exhibition - with the winner of the First Prize in the foreground
In total, the selection panel chose 93 work by 80 international artists for the exhibition of artwork in charcoal, pastel, graphite, water-soluble and coloured pencils at the Mall Galleries this week.  If you want to see the exhibition in London, you need to get down to the Mall Galleries before 5pm on Saturday 21 September.  (Note: As I mentioned on Monday, if you visit this week you get the bonus of being able to see two other exhibitions at the same venue - see:
Nab Edge (Watersoluble) by Tina Mammoser
Following the exhibition at Mall Galleries, some pieces from the Art Prize exhibition will tour to Pencil Museum, Keswick and can be seen there between from 1 December 2013 and 13 January 2014. You can also see all the works selected in the online gallery on the Derwent Art Prize website

The exhibition is in the North Gallery where it looks very impressive.  The very neutral frames of the works hung (black, white or plain wood) and the lack of coloured mats represent a significant contribution to the coherent look of this curated exhibition.

I've never been a fan of the narrow black frame as it looks too harsh to me for pencil work.  I was very impressed by the graphite coloured frame of the work selected by my friend Tina Mammoser.  It was amazing how having a softer edge allowed the artwork to become more visible.  It's a colour pencil artists should look out for!

It's very apparent that the size limit got chucked out the window.  182 cm was supposed to be the maximum size - however that translates to us non-metric people as just under 6 foot and at least one exceeded that in height.  The winner's work is actually 10 metres long but can be displayed within the size limit - although that doesn't show the work to its best advantage (the film does that).

There was very little coloured work in the exhibition which was something of a surprise when the selection was announced.  However I didn't miss the colour as much as I expected to - which was surprising.  I think that's because of the way that the eye was interested by the mark-making instead.  I think if more artists working in colour want to get into the exhibition they will need to observe that skills in copying photographs don't count for much in this exhibition. Interpreting is a different matter.

There was very little coloured work in the exhibition
This view includes three such works - and of course coloured pencil can also be black!
top left: Albany Sunset Oranges (pastel pencils) by Beverley Coleclough
top right: Five Coots (coloured pencils) by Alan Woollett
Bottom left: Torch Parade (Charcoal) by Ann Marie Whalley
I liked this pastel drawing of a head a lot - it's called AJ and is by Jill Preston. It was colourful but not overworked.

AJ (Pastel) by Jill Preston
Bambine demonstrated well how good a drawing can be when it is not photorealistic and uses a simple palette of colour

Bambina (graphite) by Marta Ravasi
One of the issues which confused some artists was that they could identify one medium for mixed media work.  Although artists were told this would be resolved on labelling for selected works it's apparent that this didn't happen in practice - everything still had a one word description..  Maybe this could be resolved for next year's exhibition.

Overall I think Derwent has a lot to be proud of with this new exhibition. It
  • succeeds in showing us all what can be done with a range of pencils; 
  • reinforces the pencil as a serious art medium; 
  • emphasises that drawing does not need to be restricted to a specific size or placed in a matted frame and 
  • amply demonstrates that there's a lot of very talented artists working with pencils. 
Maybe what we need now is a Pencil Art Society?

Everybody prospective entrant needs to raise their game if they want to get in next year. This exhibition has been such a success that I predict fierce competition next year! I definitely think that those working in dry media/pencils should get out their calendars now and start planning their work for next year.

Links to previous posts about the Derwent Art Prize on this blog:


  1. great post! so wonderful to see pencil work coming up in the ranks as serious art work. I am amazed and inspired by these artists...such talent!!

  2. An excellent post Katherine - many thanks.

  3. Regarding one-word medium descriptions: I was only told I could correct for the full range of mediums because I actually emailed and phoned Derwent to ask before entering. I was concerned with choosing only one option on the entry form since my work was three pencil types. I suspect few other artists knew they could reply to the confirmation email with the correct description. I'm sure Derwent will improve that next year.

  4. Very good point Tina.

    However I'm sure you won't the only person who had mixed their pencil media or queried the media description. :)


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