Monday, December 05, 2016

£30,000 BP Portrait Award 2017 - How to enter and how to get selected

This is my Annual Guide to the Call for Entries for the BP Portrait Award 2017 - how to enter and how to improve your chances of being selected for the major annual exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery next summer!

In 2016, 53 artists had their portraits selected for the 2016 Annual Exhibition of the BP Portrait Award - out of 2,557 entries from 80 countries

Will you be one of those artists in 2017?

The wall of prizewinners in 2016 - left to right First, Second and Third

What this post covers

People who win prizes read this blog post! ;)

This post covers the Basics
  • a review of the entry details 
  • what's different this year - the deadline is earlier! (If any of you spot anything else that has changed please leave a comment and I'll do an update.)
Plus context and background (this provides an answer to the question "What do the portraits that get selected look like?")
  • The Judges - I tell you something about each Judge and give you links to find out more
  • I also link (at the very end) to all my blog posts about the BP Portrait Award in the last 10 years - covering selected artists, interviews with the prizewinners and exhibition reviews - and my videos of past exhibitions.
Plus - at the end of this post - you can find my take on
  • how to get selected my suggestions for ways to improve your chances of selection - in terms of both your art and your approach to the competition
  • reasons why this is a competition worth entering - including details of the significant prize money.

How to enter for those who don't like the small print

The website contains:

What's different in 2017

The most important thing to tell you is that
  • the closing date has been moved and is now a week earlier!
  • The closing date for entries is 26 January 2017.
  • Entry forms and payment of entry fees must be completed by 23.59 on Thursday 26 January 2017.
If any of you spot anything else that has changed please leave a comment and I'll do an update.


There are no changes to the entry process or eligibility for this year’s exhibition.
..however they have moved the deadline for entries back a week!

The Rules provide the full and complete information for every entry.

They are complemented by The FAQs about How to Enter which focuses on:
  • the digital entry
  • the judging process
  • your entry
Both are much easier to read now they're on a white background.

We can only live in hope that at some point the competition organisers will make the rules even more readable by
  • increasing the font size still more (it's online - no need to be concerned about how much paper is being used!)
  • increase the line spacing - so words are more readable (i.e. the font size has increased since 2016 but the line spacing remained unchanged so the words are now even more compressed)
  • and/or convert The Rules to a pdf document like the FAQs!
I recommend you read The 2017 Rules three times! That's because the worst mistakes you can make when entering art competitions is to
  • create a work for a competition 
  • and then realise that it isn't eligible 
  • submit it before you realise you breached the rules eg signed it on the front!
  • or you can't present it in the right way by a deadline
  • and/or you're in a rush at the end and are not quite sure what you need to do - which is when mistakes get made.
All due to the fact YOU didn't read the terms and conditions and/or the rules properly.

Note in particular that works can be disqualified - even if selected for exhibition - if they have not adhered to the rules!

Every year I try and make the rules more accessible. I review and revise it each year. I've split the rules up into sections relating to
  • the artist
  • the portrait

RULES: WHO can enter

  • MUST be aged 18 years or over as of 1 January 2017
  • can live anywhere in the world
Around half of those entering the competition come from non-UK countries.

RULES: The Portrait

Pay particular attention to these. Over the years they have become more refined. Where rules are now being spelt out more clearly one can only assume that they have been ignored and/or misunderstood 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 2016. You are REQUIRED to indicate:
    • the date of the first sitting
    • the date the portrait was completed (Bear in mind people will tell the organisers if they've seen a portrait exhibited prior to 1 January 2015!)
  • SHOULD be a painting based on a sitting or study from life AND the human figure MUST predominate. (a more explicit statement is included in the FAQs - see below) 
    • You need to indicate on the form whether or not you have met the sitter. 
    • The sitter can't be anonymous - you need to provide their name.
    • The portrait can be a self portrait or a group portrait
we request that your painting is based on a sitting or study from life. We understand that you may need to work from photographs for assistance but the primary source should be from life.
    • The form also reminds you that 
the stated date of first sitting should be before the stated date of completion.....a date of completion should be entered, even if it is prospective only
  • MUST be available for the entire period of the exhibition and the tour to two other venues (not yet available - but assume up until April 2018) 
  • must NOT have been previously submitted for consideration. 
  • should NOT be signed on the front. All entries must be anonymous for the purposes of judging. Consequently 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 board, preferably framed and unglazed. 
  • MUST be 
    • AT LEAST 25 x 20cm (10” x 8”) unframed. Smaller works will NOT be considered. 
    • NO BIGGER 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 and must come with complete instructions for installation.

Digital Entry

  • Digital entry to the First Round is now well established for this competition as it is for others around the world. It's the only way to enter. 
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 Judges

Clara Drummond, Winner of the £30,000 First Prize in 2016 with Jenny Saville, painter who was one of the Judges
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.
The Judges this year are:
Landy has used monumental installations/performances to explore political and social issues, such as the nature of consumerism, the commodification of art and the value placed on human beings in the corporate world. He is also a draughtsman, making intimate portraits of his familiars and meticulously rendered botanical drawings.
  • Kirsty Wark, Broadcaster and journalist - Once voted the third most influential woman in Scotland.  She increasingly pops up on the BBC fronting programmes about art and/or artists. Interestingly an article Kirsty's joint has not one reference to art.
  • Camilla Hampshire, Museums Manager & Cultural Lead, Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter - this is a Guardian article about her and her job. Maybe more experienced in museums than portrature?
  • Des Violaris, Director, UK Arts & Culture, BP - the woman who works for the sponsor and leads the BP partnerships with various museums and art galleries. There are some that would argue that sponsor gets to support but not to judge - but this has never been the case with the BP Portrait Award.

The 2017 Exhibition - in London and on tour

The exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery opens to the public from 22 June and closes at 5pm on 24 September 2017.

It then usually tours to two other locations in the UK. (No details as yet that I can find)

Are you invited?

  • Those shortlisted for prizes MUST attend the Awards Ceremony and dinner on the evening of Tuesday 20 June 2017 
  • Shortlisted artists are also expected to attend the Press View on the morning of Wednesday 21 June 2017.
  • All exhibiting artists will be invited to the Private View on the evening of Wednesday 21 June 2017.

How to get selected

Just 2% of the artists who entered had their work selected for the exhibition in 2016. Hence it's a major achievement just to get selected.

Below I tell you what I've noticed when viewing exhibitions over the years - and as trends (and Judges) come and go - based on:
  • track record 
  • the artwork 
  • technical aspects which can improve

Track record

  • Build up a track record of being selected for the exhibition. Those who win the first time they enter are few and far between but a number of prizewinners in the past have been BP regulars.  I predicted one of the prizewinners last year long before he was selected. So what can you do?
    • Enter the competition - you can't build up a track record of being selected if you don't enter!

The Artwork

  • Enter your very best work. You need to be a good judge of the standard of your own work to know whether or not you are ready. In the video below Aleah Chapin - who won with her very first entry discusses holding off from entering until she thought she was in with a good chance of being selected. (Plus she talks about the whole process of submitting and getting selected)

  • Paint more than a head - demonstrate you can do commissions involving hands! Remember the first prize winner may be offered a commission. If you paint hands you put yourself in a stronger position to stand out and impress the judges with your skills. Also you will note that recently commissioned portraits added to the NPG collection very often have heads/upper torsos/hands. You may well enhance your chances by demonstrating an ability to paint more than a head. 
  • Review my past videos of the BP Portrait exhibitions (see my YouTube playlist) to see the nature of the portraits which make it through to the final
  • Paint more than one person! Painting two people and creating a narrative tension between them creates more than twice the opportunity to impress! It's also a great way of submitting a portrait that's different - and in 2015 20% of the selected portraits were of two or more people. 
  • Don't be a "me too" painter. Paint for yourself and not for the Judges. I see portraits (outside the competition) on a regular basis which 'copy' the styles of successful portrait painters. However it's my belief that Judges don't select "me too" painters. They have no interest in how well you can be like another artist - they want to see people who have their own original style. 
  • Think very carefully about size. In 2015 I did an analysis of the exhibition (see BP Portrait Award Exhibition 2015 - video and analysis) which it provides an in-depth analysis of three portrait factors - size, type and number.

Technical hurdles 

Below are some observations about the more technical aspects of getting selected - based on experience and observation:
  • Create a timetable to complete your portrait on time - Diary your time commitment to getting the portrait completed in good time BEFORE the deadline for entries 
    • note the date it needs to be dry enough to travel if selected for the second round.  To do this you need to have enough experience to know how long a painting will take and how long it takes to get photographed. 
    • (That said I've known artists who keep working on a portrait after they sent off their submission - and the form does recognise that some painters may not have finished at the time of submission of their digital entry!)
  • Do make time for studying the actual entry process and completing the form and uploading the image BEFORE the final days prior to the deadline. 
    • You can mess up your entry by messing up your digital entry.  
    • It gets very, very busy towards the end - and silly mistakes can be made if you are in a rush.
  • Excellent digital images ALWAYS make a difference. The photo also needs to be both accurate and totally representative of your portrait.  
    • DO READ the technical advice on How to photograph your work
    • Don't disappoint the judges by making the photo look better than the portrait when 'face to face' or it won't get selected. 
    • When judges are looking to lose portraits from the selection don't make it easy for them by submitting a digital image which is the wrong size / out of focus / with a resolution or colour that are are 'off' and/or misrepresents the real thing!  

11 reasons to enter the BP Portrait Award 2017

Main entrance to the National Portrait Gallery during the 2016 BP Portrait Exhibition
  • This very prestigious portrait competition can change your life. This is a prize that can change people's careers and lives - if they are ready for it. If you are or aspire to be a serious portrait artist you need to think very seriously about entering the competition that in the past has been characterised as "the Oscars of Portraiture".
  • Enhance your CV with a BP Portrait selection - this is the competition that artists boast about being selected for! Just being selected for the BP enhances an artists career - galleries like to boast about your selection too!
  • The prizes are significant. 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. This year thye are:
    • First Prize: A cash award of £30,000, plus, at the judges’ discretion, a commission worth £5,000, to be agreed between the National Portrait Gallery and the artist.
    • Second Prize: £10,000
    • Third Prize: £8,000
    • BP Young Artist Award: £7,000 (eligible artists are aged between 18 and 30)
    • BP Travel Award 2016: £6,000
  • Become an international artist! This competition welcomes and attracts entries from international artists. In the last two years there were entries from 93 and 80 countries respectively and it's usual for around half of the entries to come from outside the UK. Non-UK painters also win prizes on a regular basis 
  • Get your artwork exhibited in a Major International Art Gallery. The National Portrait Gallery  in London is one the top 20 art galleries and museums in the world - in part because of this competition. It's also in the centre of London next to the National Gallery and Trafalgar Square. 
  • Be commissioned by the NPG and get a portrait in the NPG's permanent collection. In the past artists whose work has been regularly selected and/or shortlisted have been commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to produce a portrait for the permanent collection. There are no guarantees - but this is also another way of enhancing your CV and interesting galleries and others who commission portraits
  • Get your artwork seen by a huge number of people. Around half a million people will see the exhibition at the NPG in London and on the tour.
  • Be acclaimed by the public and win the People's Choice Award. Even if you don't win a prize you might win the prize where the public get to second guess the judges. The prize goes to the portrait which receives the most votes from visitors to the exhibition.
  • Get major exposure for your artwork via the publicity materials. The artworks chosen for the publicity materials are usually not those shortlisted. Which means you may find your portrait hanging outside the National Portrait Gallery on a banner - or on all the posters around the Underground - and all around London!
  • Have a really good reason for visiting London. Many international artists come to the previews and can be around for the events at the beginning of the exhibition. 
  • Network and make lots of friends. In 2014, David Kassan (Third Prizewinner 2014) suggested that the networking and friendships that painters make with fellow artists also exhibiting in the show are "unbeatable".

Want to know more about the BP Portrait Award ?

For all further enquiries to the event organisers please contact:
  • BP Portrait Award 2016, National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, London WC2H 0HE 
  • Telephone: 020 7321 6699 
  • email: 
  • Office hours are 9.00 – 17.00, Monday – Friday. 

For future posts about the BP Portrait Award on this blog

  • EITHER Subscribe and receive every post from Making A Mark via email. 
  • OR Bookmark this blog if you want to see f. (for subscriptions see side column)
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 
  • video interviews with the prizewinners 
  • a review and video of the exhibition 
Below are blog posts about earlier exhibitions on Making A Mark.
  • Note these include links to my videos of the exhibition.
  • If you just want the videos then go to the BP Portrait and Travel Awards Playlist on my YouTube Channel

BP Portrait Award 2016

BP Portrait Award 2015

Call for Entries:
Selected Artists:

    BP Portrait Award 2014

      BP Portrait Award 2013

        BP Portrait Award 2012

          BP Portrait Award 2011

          BP Portrait Award 2010

            BP Portrait Award 2009

            BP Portrait Award 2008 

              BP Portrait Award 2007

              More information


              1. Thank you for making this post! I'm thinking of entering for the 2018 award and I just had a few questions which I hope you could help me with.

                They state that the paintings should be preferably framed, do you think it makes any difference if they are unframed, as I feel that framing is going to cut off too much of my composition because there are some interest areas towards he edge of the canvas which I want to keep and I didn't consider this before I began the painting.

                If I were to submit it unframed, do you notice which seems to be a more common method for covering the edges, i.e unpainted, a neutral colour, or the composition is continued onto the edges?

                Many thanks!

              2. It's certainly the case that paintings are submitted and selected which do not have a frame.

                However I don't think I've once seen a boxed canvas that didn't have have well presented edges. I don;t think judges are fussed about whether they are a continuation of the painting or painted to neaten them up. What's important is that the portrait is ready to be hung in a prestigious exhibition.

                The thing is you feel you might lose the edge to a frame, wouldn't you lose less with a frame then you would neatening up the edges using a box canvas format?

                You've got plenty of time to have another go if you and your sitter are willing. The deadline for next year's competition won't be until January at the earliest.

                Why jeopardise your chances? Make sure what you submit is the very best you can do.

              3. Incidentally, my post for the 2018 competition will be published in December 2017.

              4. I'm just curious about the commission process for people who win that does it work? Who gets to choose the subject of the commissioned portrait? Is the artist expected to go to the subject and complete the portrait there? Or take photos back to their studio after a sitting? It looks like most or all of the subjects are British so for people from other parts of the world who win, I would think working from photos would sometimes be necessary.

              5. The commission is only available to the First Prize winner - and is at the discretion of the NPG (who may also invite other people who won prizes and/or been selected to do commissions).|

                The commission is
                * ALWAYS by the National Portrait Gallery and
                * the sitter is ALWAYS somebody notable in British life - because this is THE NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY.
                You can therefore expect that meetings between sitter and artist will be in the UK

                This is the reason why some international artists who have won have not done commissions - and why it is not an automatic part of the first prize.

                Most portrait artists work from photographs for part of the time - often for background details or sometimes fabrics.


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