Monday, November 24, 2014

How to enter the £30,000 BP Portrait Award 2015 - and improve your chances of being selected

The website for the BP Portrait Exhibition 2015 is now online - complete with information about how to enter. As I have done in previous years, I've compiled my very popular Making A Mark Guide to help make sure you have spotted all the really relevant "need to know" facts.

Read my guide (below) first and you'll get the hang of the official pages more quickly! Or at least that's what a lot of the artists who enter tell me every year!

Thomas Kanter, winner of the BP Portrait Award 2014
meets Winner of the 2013 Award Susanne du Toit
This post covers:
  • the major change to the entry process for BP Portrait Award 2015 is the introduction of DIGITAL SUBMISSION for 100% of the entries. There is no more postal entries - which I've already alerted people about in BP Portrait Award 2015 entry goes digital
  • why this is a competition worth entering 
  • how to get selected
  • a review of the entry details for those who don't like very small white print on a black background! 
  • links to past posts about the BP Portrait Award and exhibition reviews on this blog

It is of course no substitute for the real thing and I won't cover every last detail - so you still have to read all the conditions.

Don't forget to let me know if your entry gets selected!

What's different in 2015

The major change for 2015 is that entry is going to be 100% via digital image submission.
We will no longer be accepting postal entries for the competition. All submissions must be made online via the website.
The entrants who are successful in this round will then be invited to hand-deliver or courier their work to a venue in London for the second round of judging and final exhibition selection. 

The benefits of the move to 100% digital submission are:
  • it opens up entry to artists who may be seriously deterred by the expenses associated with the previous requirement to submit the actual portrait painting. 
  • it's going to cut costs significantly for ALL those who submit - but don't make the cut for the second round of selection. 
    • The only cost will be the entry fee and any costs associated with a decent digital image. 
    • Most can eliminate the travel or courier costs totally and forget about the expense of framing for exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery
  • it saves time - no more visits to the framers for most artists, or the couriers or the National Portrait Gallery
  • it's much more cost-effective for artists, judges and the gallery!  You may be surprised when I say judges and gallery - but remember the paintings had to be stored - and the judges had to sit for a very long time while the portraits are paraded in front of them!  

The challenges associated with digital submission
  • the competition increases significantly. Last year, in the first year of digital submission - the entries increased by over 20%
  • you need access to a computer even if you don't have one or use one
  • you MUST submit a good quality digital image
  • if you can't afford the fees of a professional photographer you may need to learn about how to take photograph and create a digital image! Fortunately the competition organisers have provided a comprehensive guide to How to photograph your work.

Why enter the BP Portrait Award 2015?

10 reasons to enter this competition

  1. This competition has been characterised as "the Oscars of Portraiture". It's certainly one of the most prestigious art prizes in the world.
  2. Get selected and you have a good chance of winning a major prize. Nearly 10% of those portraits are selected for the exhibition stand a chance of winning one of the five major prizes. They're worth between £6,000 and £35,000.
  3. It's an international competition. This is an art competition that welcomes entries from international artists - and it gets entries from all over the world. It also regularly has prizewinners from all over the world!
  4. The competition is fierce - last year there was a record-breaking 2,377 entries - from which c.300 were long-listed and 55 were selected for exhibition.
  5. Just being selected for the BP enhances an artists career - after all only 55 portrait artists (2.3% of the entry) had their paintings selected and hung in the BP Portrait Prize Exhibition 2014.
  6. A HUGE number of people come to see this exhibition. This is a major art prize in a major art gallery right in the centre of London. The BP Portrait exhibition regularly gets over 250k visitors before it tours around the UK! This Prize is one of the main reasons why the National Portrait Gallery in London is in the top 20 art galleries and museums in the world 
  7. The Public get to second guess the judges. A People's Choice Award goes to the portrait which receives the most votes from visitors to the exhibition.
  8. If selected and/or shortlisted you may get a commission from the National Portrait Gallery at some point in the future. You don't have to win First Prize to join the list of artists who receive commissions from the National Portrait Gallery. Artists who have been regularly selected and/or shortlisted in the past have gone on to produce portraits for the Gallery.
  9. This is a "game changer" of a prize. It typically has a very positive impact on the careers of artists who win the top prize. 
  10. Even if you don't get shortlisted, you may find that your painting gets massive exposure if chosen to market the exhibition. In the summer of 2014, artwork by selected artists were seen hanging on a banner outside the entrance to the gallery or on adverts on the Underground and all round London.

[UPDATE 25.11.14. Just had a suggested for TWO EXTRA REASONS from David Eichenberg - a former prizewinner (in 2010)
Special thanks to Katherine Tyrrell for working nonstop on her coverage of the BP Portrait Award. I have to add another reason to the list. It will motivate you, definitely if you get in the show, to get your butt over to London to see the show. Who doesn't want to go to London! Okay I am going to add one more. The networking and friendships you will make with fellow artists in the show are unbeatable.

How to get selected

Winners tend to come from those who have previously been selected for the exhibition. Those who win the first time they enter are few and far between.  If you are thinking about entering, be clear that it's a very big deal just to get selected

Here are some suggestions about how to get selected - based on experience and observation:
  • you MUST submit an excellent digital image which is accurate and totally representative of your portrait. It's so easy to reject artwork which disappoints when seen in person compared to the photo!
  • Impress the judges - show you can do hands as well as heads! Create a portrait which reflects the commissions of contemporary portraiture in the NPG collection.  Such commissions very often have heads and upper torsos including the hands. 
  • Head studies do get selected however....  but if you look at my past videos of the exhibitions (see my YouTube playlist for my videos of the BP Portrait and Travel Awards), you'll note the nature of the portraits which make it through to the final
  • If you want to stand out from the crowd, paint more than one person! It seems to me more than likely that very few group portraits are submitted as very few get selected . 

The Prizes

There are five prizes on offer and two have additional criteria relating to selection.

If your portrait is shortlisted, you MUST attend the Awards Ceremony and dinner on the evening of 16 June 2015 and are also expected to attend the Press View on the morning of Wednesday 17 June 2015.

Sandy Nairne speaking at the Awards Ceremony 2014

Main Prizes

The main prizes are:
  • First Prize: £30,000 plus a commission worth £5,000. The commission is at the judges’ discretion and has to be agreed between the National Portrait Gallery and the artist.
  • Second Prize: £10,000
  • Third Prize: £8,000

The BP Young Artist Award: £7,000 

Selected artists aged between 18 and 30 are automatically considered for the BP Young Artist Award. However it cannot be won in addition to one of the three top prizes. Artists must be 30 years of age or under on 1 January 2015 to be eligible for the BP Young Artist Award.

BP Travel Award 2015: £6,000

All 2015 exhibitors can submit a proposal for the BP Travel Award.
The aim of the Award is to provide the opportunity for an artist to experience working in a different environment, in Britain or abroad, on a project related to portraiture which will then be shown as part of the BP Portrait Award 2016 exhibition and tour in 2016–17.

The Judges

The Judges this year will be miss for the first time the guiding hand of the current Director of the National Portrait Gallery Sandy Nairne who is about to retire.  You can however still read his book about portraits selected for the Award in the past - see 500 Portraits: BP Portrait Award
This is a video of Sandy Nairne explaining how the judging has worked in the past

The 2015 Judges are:
  • Pim Baxter, Deputy Director, National Portrait Gallery (Chair)
  • Sarah Howgate, Contemporary Curator, National Portrait Gallery
  • Kim Mawhinney, Head of Art, National Museums Northern Ireland
  • Peter Monkman, Artist and winner of BP Portrait Award 2009
  • Simon Schama, Historian
  • Des Violaris, Director - UK Arts & Culture, BP
This is an extract from the guide to how the judging will work in 2015
How will the judging process work?All images will be viewed at the Gallery by a panel of judges. It is expected that about 500 will be selected to make it through to a second round of judging. For the second round the selected artists will be asked to deliver their work to a location in London.Details will be sent to the selected artists directly. It is at this stage that the same judging panel will decide on the final selection of fifty‐five works for the exhibition, including the winners


2015 Exhibition

The BP Portrait Award Exhibition will be open to the public at the National Portrait Gallery from 18 June to 20 September 2015

2014 Exhibition

You can see the 2014 BP Portrait Award exhibition at The Scottish National Portrait Gallery 28 November – 12 April 2015

The Rules

The worst mistake you can make when entering art competitions is to create a work for a competition and then realise that it isn't eligible or you can't present it in the right way by a deadline.

That's why you need to read The 2015 Rules three times now! 

The rules on the website are somewhat inaccesible
There's a lot of rules and they're not easy to read because the written as white on black (never easy to read) in very tiny print with no spacing - with even smaller print and less accessible colour on the entry form. In my view that makes them impossible to read easily even if you have excellent eyesight.

However there is now a separate document of FAQs which makes the rules much more accessible

Below is my effort at make the rules accessible. I review and revise it each year. I've split the rules up into sections relating to
  1. the artist
  2. the portrait
Note in particular that works can be disqualified - even if selected for exhibition - if they have not adhered to the rules!

RULES: Who can enter

  • Artists must be aged 18 years or over as of 1 January 2015.
Artists should be aware that all works are judged on an equal and anonymous basis and that there is no segregated judging by region or country.

RULES: The Portrait

Pay particular attention to these.  I've detected much more careful scrutiny and a tightening of the application of the rules in recent years.  Some are being spelt out more clearly - and presumably one must assume they have been ignored in the past!!
The National Portrait Gallery reserves the right to disqualify any piece of work if the artist has not adhered to the rules, even if the work has been selected for exhibition

Each artist is limited to ONE ENTRY PER ARTIST.

The work entered
  • must be recent i.e. completed after 1 January 2014. You are required to indicate:
    • the date of the first sitting
    • the date the portrait was completed (Bear in mind that if the portrait has been completed or exhibited prior to 1 January 2014 somebody is going to tell the competition organisers!)
  • SHOULD be a painting based on a sitting or study from life AND the human figure MUST predominate.  You need to indicate on the form whether or not you have met the sitter.
    • can be a self portrait 
    • can be a group portrait
  • MUST be available for the entire period of the exhibition and the tour to two other venues.
    • you are asked to confirm the start date.  This needs to pre-date the completion date (latter was new in 2012.  I think this is an area where entries have been caught out in the past)
  • must NOT be a work previously submitted for consideration. 
  • should NOT be signed on the front.  All entries should be anonymous.  The judges may reject a work if they decide that this rule has been compromised.

Media and Size:

  • MUST be predominantly painted in oil, tempera or acrylic (No watercolours, works on paper or pastels will be considered )
  • MUST be on a stretcher or boardpreferably framed and unglazed
  • MUST be 
    • bigger than 25 x 20cm (10” x 8”) unframed. Smaller works will not be considered.
    • smaller than 244 x 244cm (96" x 96") framed (including the frame).  
    • Multi-part portraits - up to three parts - must comply with the size constraints for one work when installed.

RULES: Submission

The Digital Image

You are required to upload one photograph of your entire portrait. You also have the option to submit an extra photograph of a detail of the work. This may be a good opportunity to show the level of detail, the texture of the paint or a particular area of interest in the composition.
  • Images must be:
    • Saved in JPEG (.jpg) format
    • Smaller than 3MB (3,000k)
    • At least 1,080 pixels on its longest side (height for portrait format images, width for landscape format images).
  • The selection process is based on the image you upload - even if it is not finished when you upload it
  • You get to decide whether or not to include the frame

The submission process

  • Complete the 2015 online entry form and upload it and the image and pay the registration fee (£38) to the NPG by 23.59 on Tuesday 3 February 2015.
  • All correspondence with artists will be via email - and it's up to you to check your email!
  • All entrants will be notified if their work is selected 
    • for the second round of judging by 27 February 2015.
    • for exhibition by 1 April 2015.
  • There are lots of very detailed requirements as to submission and collection of the actual painting - I've summarised some of these below but there is more and my advice is to read it all very carefully!
    • All artists are responsible for the insurance of their works. In other words submit at your own risk.
    • The National Portrait Gallery will not arrange courier collections or post works on behalf of the artist (unless they are international - I'm not sure whether Scotland and Wales count!)
    • International artists should also pay particular attention to their financial liabilities (eg import duties etc) and what they are required to do. The gallery will make sure that your packaging is kept so that it can be reused when the courier /transport agent comes to collect your work. The Gallery will send the work back to you if you include pre-paid postage
  • There are detailed conditions relating to copyright and publication which all entrants should read.

Want to know more about the BP Portrait Award ?

Bookmark this blog if you want to see future blog posts about the BP Portrait Award. In the future I will publish:
  • a reminder about the deadline for entries
  • the list of artists selected for the exhibition
  • the list of shortlisted artists
  • the awards ceremony
  • a video of the exhibition
Below are blog posts for earlier exhibitions on Making A Mark. Note these include links to my videos of the exhibition. You can also find links to all posts on my website Portraiture - Resources for Artists

BP Portrait Award 2015

BP Portrait Award 2014

BP Portrait Award 2013

BP Portrait Award 2012

BP Portrait Award 2011

BP Portrait Award 2010

BP Portrait Award 2008 


  1. Thank you so much for this excellent breakdown.

  2. I love this exhibition and have been fortunate enough to see it several years in a row in the past, but one thing that bothers me is the exclusion of pastel or watercolor paintings. Any idea why this is? It shuts out a whole lot of wonderful portrait artists from the most prestigious exhibition of the genre!

  3. I agree. The explanation I've been given in the past is that the NPG don't commission paintings in pastels or watercolour as they're not seen to be as robust as oil, acrylic or egg tempera


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