Monday, September 02, 2013

Review - UKCPS 12th Annual Open International Exhibition 2013

Lesley Sharman has won the top award for pure coloured pencil artwork at the UK Coloured Pencil Society's 12th Open International Exhibition 2013.

This opened on the 1st September in the Pavilion Gallery at Patchings in Nottinghamshire and continues until the 6th October 2013.

This post:
  • details the awardwinners and provides links to both the artwork and artist's websites
  • comments on the exhibition and its implications for the future of UKCPS.

Best in Show on the UKCPS website

UKCPS 12th Annual Open International Exhibition 2012 - Award Winners

You can find the Award Winners on the UKCPS website. I've also got them listed below along with links to their websites and artwork.

I was sad to see that the Prize for Still Life which memorialised Peter Woof is apparently no more.  I also note that the award for more abstract art has morphed into "most modern interpretation" whatever that means!

UKCPS Award: Best in Show (£300)
Great Art Award,
Runner Up to Best in Show
UKCPS President’s Award
Martin Vela
Best Pure Coloured Pencil Award
Pencil4Artists Award for
Creative Use of Colour AND
Caran d'Ache Award - Best Portrait 
Jean Canter UKCPS
Peter Weatherill Award for Best Landscape/Building
Creative Suppot Art Shop Award for Best Wildlife Animal
RK Burt Award for
Best Domestic Animal
St Cuthberts Mill Award for
Best Modern Interpretation
Derwent Award for Best Botanical
Highly Commended

White Rabbit
(Miniature drawn onto a
gold watch)
Highly Commended
Highly Commended
Hazel Tucker

Highly Commended

You can also see all the images of work selected for a show in a Picasa album.  I urge you to view these in the slideshow option as the quality seems to be slightly better.

I have to say I'm somewhat surprised by the selection made for some of the prizes.  I'm also guessing I might not be alone in this view. To take an obvious example, I find it very odd that last year's "best in show" winner didn't figure among the prizewinners or Highly Commended this year despite submitting two excellent portraits.

Review of the exhibition

The move by art societies to create a virtual exhibition of the artwork on display in the annual exhibition is a very positive development - and is to be applauded. It greatly enhances accessibility to artwork associated with an art medium or genre. This is the second year that UKCPS have held a simultaneous virtual exhibition using Picasa to host the images.

Last month, I commended the CPSA for a set of photos of their exhibition which made it come alive and enabled one to appreciate the various images in context.  Unfortunately, one of the things about a virtual exhibition - via Picasa - is it doesn't give you any sense at all of actual size, even though I note that each picture is accompanied by the dimensions of the artwork. It's sometimes tempting to draw a conclusion about a work which might not hold true if you "saw" its real size. It's a pity therefore that there are no photographs available of the exhibition on the website to 'complete the picture' as it were. Also as I commented last month
I cannot emphasise too much how much it means to artists to be able to see their artwork on the wall of an exhibition.
I'm very reluctant to make any comments on individual works this year and that's because I have some very significant concerns about the quality of the images on Picasa. 

The images this year seem to be smaller and less good quality when compared to last year's Picasa slideshow.  Whether this is to do with the quality of digital image submitted by the artist or any processing done prior to uploading - or maybe my improved eyesight post surgery(?) - is unclear.  However, for me, this is a major concern for an exhibition whose aim should be about demonstrating the best coloured pencil art in the UK.

People will always tend to judge a medium by the evidence they see with their eyes.  If all they can see are images which seem to suggest that at least some of the artwork is somewhat crude and lacking in both artistic merit and technical skill then that is a significant concern - or it should be.

There are 155 images in the exhibition - which is many more than it used to be.  The result seems to be that the exhibition includes far too many works which are weak.

Compare this to five years ago when the sum total of entries received was 152 entries from 74 people in 11 different countries!  Judgement was exercised by the selectors and just one third of these were selected for exhibition.

For me, those selecting for an exhibition should judge work by a standard - not select the requisite number of works for the space available.  To me it appears that at least some of the artwork selected does not meet the standards of exhibitions in previous years - and - if that is in fact the case - that is also a matter of concern.

Exhibitions of high quality work attract entries from artists producing high quality work.  They want to be associated with the best.  In contrast, those exhibitions which include work which is not "exhibition standard" (and I'm using that term in a national art society context) tend to deter artists producing high quality work from submitting work to that art society in subsequent years.

(You can see the Award Winners from past exhibitions on the website - and they are a proxy for overall quality:
I made a similar comments about a concern about standards last year.  I'm sorry these concerns have been reinforced this year.

I'm making this judgement based on a fair degree of experience.  I've seen a number of past annual exhibitions by UKCPS and, every year for the last seven years I have seen most of the annual exhibitions of most national art societies and a significant number of exhibitions for prestigious art competitions.  In fact it's entirely possible that I see more annual exhibitions of national art societies than anybody else in the country! Most such art societies are of course very much older than UKCPS. They tended to be started by small groups of professional artists and had a much longer time to develop the level of membership and the quality of artwork which can now be seen in their annual exhibitions.  UKCPS is still very much an 'infant' in comparison to nearly all the other national societies and doesn't share the same characteristics in terms of origins and membership policy.

UKCPS continues to be a society which is very much associated with leisure/amateur artists. In part that comes from a policy of open access to membership and a signature status which is acquired through selection in successive exhibitions rather than by a judgement by peers which is the method adopted by most other national art societies.

In addition, few members currently make a living from their art and, it's very noticeable that some of those who do no longer exhibit in the UKCPS Annual Exhibition - which is a very great pity.  All of this is a significant contrast to how members are selected for other societies and the level of professionalism in terms of artwork demonstrated by their members.

I've noticed in recent years that a number of artists producing high quality work in coloured pencils are now choosing other art societies and art competitions as providing the best environment for the overall quality of art with which they wish to be associated.

It was also very noticeable how little coloured pencil artwork was chosen for the Derwent Art Prize exhibition this month at the Mall Galleries.  That of itself also says something about the standards of coloured pencil artwork in the UK when judged against other contemporary pencil artwork.

For me it's crunch time for the UKCPS. I think it now needs to start considering how it wants to develop the national status of the Society in the medium term - with all the associated benefits this might have for its signature members - and its annual exhibitions.  For example does it want to
  • Hold an annual exhibition which can claim to exhibit the very best in coloured pencil art in the UK
  • Review its criteria for the selection of jurors - with a view to enhancing the level of professional input to the selection process

None of this precludes its original aims of  also having an open access policy for hobby artists and actively encouraging the development of skills and knowledge about coloured pencil art for amateur artists.  For example, the Society of Botanical Artists - which is some ten years older than UKCPS - has made a very significant contribution to the development of knowledgeable and skilled botanical artists through the development of its distance learning Diploma Course. This now attracts students from all over the world.

At the end of the day the status of coloured pencil art in the UK is about an awful lot more than which coloured pencils you can use for the annual exhibition!

I'll conclude with a statement which I'd be happy to make about any annual exhibition by any art society.

I'm always happy to see annual exhibitions by art societies which demonstrate:
  • a clear pattern of consistently high standards of artwork selected for annual exhibitions submitted by both member artists and those submitting via the open entry
  • a rigour exercised by the selectors which means that all work which does not merit exhibition is excluded.
  • positive momentum for the society - and being open to developments in art which represent innovation and advancement for both artwork and members alike.
Here are the details of this year's UKCPS Annual International Exhibition

Exhibition: UKCPS 12th Open International Exhibition 2013
Where: Patchings Art Centre, Oxton Road, Calverton, Notts, NG14 6NU
When: 1st September - 6th October 2013

This year's judges who selected the artwork for the exhibition were:
  • Liz Wood from Patchings
  • John Hope-Hawkins - Chairman of the SAA
  • Lesley Crawford UKCPS Silver - founder member of the UK Coloured Pencil Society
Stephen Ashurst  - a local artist - determined the Exhibition Awards.


  1. I like the UKCPS. It is a society that allows for beginners to professionals and all grades in between. Those starting out, like I did a couple of years ago can gain encouragement and are able to develop and grow from casual participants to serious contributors. We are not made to feel unworthy at any stage, and that can only be good for art as a whole, and for the acceptance of coloured pencil as a credible medium.

    I also believe it is difficult to appraise full sized textured works on a small shiny flat screen, and that only live viewing of the exhibition can give a proper impression.

    Having said that, I agree that the jury system of selection should be geared to quality control, but again, if that is done through a computer screen, then the same problems will be encountered at the selection stage.

    Everyone is free to make up their own minds where to exhibit their work. I'm sticking with the UKCPS. They've been good to me, and are still helping me to learn.

    And who knows, one day even I might become good enough to sell something!

  2. Katherine
    I find it a shame that your review of our exhibition should be so negative, especially as I know you were a past and very active member of the UKCPS.
    I would urge you to go and see the exhibition itself in future before undertaking such a review as the work can be appreciated much more in its real state.
    As for the awards judging, it was a deliberate decision of mine to have a non- cp judge. He judged the work on its artistic merit, rather than on ' which pencils were used'.
    A very disappointing and biased review, IMHO.
    Barbara Murray, UKCPS, exhibition co-ordinator.

  3. @Big Billy Goat Gruff I don't disagree with anything you say.

    I think one of the very creditable aspects of UKCPS as pioneered by Bob Ebdon was that it should be supportive of artists starting out. I think the idea of having an exhibition at Keswick which is open to all members (first come first served) is admirable.

    This is however the Annual International Exhibition - and like I said it'm judging on the basis of the images as presented. I'm very aware of the issues associated with images on screen and the problems associated with low resolution and small images. Last year's images were bigger and better.

  4. @Barbara Murray

    I'm sorry you find it disappointing. I have in fact also consulted with others who have also been active in UKCPS in the past and I am happy that I am not alone in my views.

    My review expressed the very necessary caveats about quality of images - something which is entirely within the control of UKCPS. Compare for example this year's slideshow to last year's.

    I also have several years experience of looking at digital images first and then the artwork in person as I do this on a very regular basis with a number of the major art competitions. I'm very practised at spotting images which are not representing a work to best effect. One makes allowances as a result.

    Image quality aside, my comments essentially revolve around the number of artworks selected for the exhibition.

    I'm very puzzled by a comparison of some basic data.

    For example,
    * CPSA hangs some 125 artworks relative to a population of some 313 million.
    * By way of contrast, UKCPS hangs more - 155 artworks relative to a population of some 63 million (just 20% of the USA).
    * Five years ago the annual exhibition used to number between 50-60 works and the exhibitions to my mind were stronger.

    That - in essence is my point. Should the UKCPS aim to hang as many works as possible given that this is an annual exhibition of a national art society which needs to set a good standard? Plus who gets to decide the standard that needs to be met?

    Barbara - I'm wondering how many annual exhibitions of other national art societies you have seen. The reason for mentioning this is the argument of my post is the extent to which the artwork exhibited by UKCPS compares to standards seen in other exhibitions. I absolutely understand that it must be very difficult for you to get to see them given you are based in Cumbria. However I do review virtually all of them regularly on my blog and I do also post artwork which can be seen in such exhibitions. The quality of the artwork is there to see - albeit online. UKCPS is also not being singled out in any way. I can recall at least one other occasion when I have had cause to comment on the calibre of artwork shown in the annual exhibition of an art society.

    My working assumption is if an art society sets itself up to be a national art society and then holds an annual exhibition with open entry then it aspires to achieve a level of artwork which approaches the level achieved in the exhibitions of much older national art societies.

    Note I'm not saying the same.

    That would assume a much more mature organisation and a much more active involvement of experienced CP artists whose work is accepted by any of the (say) genre art societies such as the RSPP, SBA, the SWLA and open art competitions. There are some excellent artists exhibiting in this exhibition - in particular those whose work I see in other exhibitions on a regular basis.

    I just think that it's really sad not to see the really excellent work of a number of other very good professional CP artists in this exhibition. Those who have exhibited in the past and no longer do so.

    Why is that?

    I'm happy to continue this discussion via email if you would prefer.


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