Tuesday, December 05, 2017

£35,000 BP Portrait Award 2018 - How to enter and how to get selected

The value of the awards for the BP Portrait Award 2018 have been significantly increased - but that's not the only reason to consider seriously why it's a good idea to enter this exhibition.

Yesterday I wrote about What do paintings by BP Portrait Award winners look like? going back to 1990. That's because 2018 marks the Portrait Award’s 39th year at the National Portrait Gallery and 29th year of sponsorship by BP - and over a decade of me being invited to the Awards Ceremony and taking photos of and interviewing artists who win the awards

Below you can read about:
  • why every aspiring portrait artist should enter the BP Portrait Award
  • how the awards have changed for 2018
  • my Annual Guide to the Call for Entries for the BP Portrait Award 2018 - how to enter
  • how to improve your chances of being selected for the major annual exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery next summer
before you submit your digital entry prior to  the deadline of 22 January 2018. 

In 2017, 53 artists had their portraits selected for the 2017 Annual Exhibition of the BP Portrait Award - from 2580 entries from 87 countries. (2016: comparable numbers were 2,557 entries from 80 countries)

People who win prizes read this post every year. Maybe this year it will be your turn?

Giving the awards a polish before the BP Portrait Awards Ceremony 2017 starts

Why you should enter the BP Portrait Award

As last year's winner, Ben Sullivan, emphasised in my video interview with him the REALLY IMPORTANT important thing is to be INCLUDED in the exhibition rather than win a prize.

That's because being included in the exhibition is the best possible marketing of your work to those who may be thinking of commissioning a portrait. 

Ben exhibited in 13 exhibitions in total and every one for the last 11 years prior to his win this year. His style is very attractive for those who want a realistic but not photographic portrait and he has earned a lot of commissions over the years.

Now that's he's won first prize we won't be seeing his portraits in the exhibition any more....

It's time for someone else to reap the benefit of being included in the exhibition.

8 Reasons to enter this competition

  1. This is a "game changer" exhibition It's one of the most prestigious art prizes in the world and it 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".
  2. All the prizes are worth winning. Plus nearly 10% of those portraits selected for the exhibition stand a chance of winning one of the five major prizes. 
  3. It's an absolutely brilliant way of raising your profile and getting commissions. Just make sure your website is published and provides an easy way for people to approach you for information and pricing
  4. It's open to international artists
    • This art competition attracts over 2.5k entries annually from some 80+ countries all over the world - and usually around half the entries are from outside the UK
    • it also regularly has prizewinners from all over the world!
  5. Just being selected for the BP enhances an artists career - this is the sort of entry on your CV that galleries like to see! 
    • This is the competition that artists boast about being selected for - and 
    • galleries like to boast about your selection too!
  6. A HUGE number of people come to see this exhibition
    • This is a major art prize in a major national art gallery right in the centre of London. 
    • Around 200,000 people will see the BP Portrait exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery - and that's before it tours around the UK! 
  7. 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.
  8. 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!
The BP Portrait Award Banners hang outside the National Portrait Gallery
in London for the duration of the exhibition
  • 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".

The Awards

There has been a VERY significant increase in the prize pot for awards. It's increased from £61,000 to £74,000

These are the new values for the various prizes:
  • First Prize: A cash award of £35,000 (previously £30,000), plus, at the judges’ discretion, a commission worth £7,000, to be agreed between the National Portrait Gallery and the artist.
  • Second Prize: £12,000 (previously £10,000)
  • Third Prize: £10,000 (previously £8,000)
  • BP Young Artist Award: £9,000 (previously £7,000)
  • BP Travel Award: £8,000 (previously £6,000)
Artists aged between 18 and 30 should also note
All selected artists aged between 18 and 30 will automatically be considered for both the BP Young Artist Award and the BP Portrait Award, but an individual cannot win both. If there are no exhibitors aged 30 or under then no Young Artist Award will be given and the funds so available shall be used to offer a Fourth Prize.
Thomas Ehretsmann (holding award)
who won the 2017 Second Prize for Double Portrait (November 2016)

The Exhibition

The BP Portrait Award 2018 exhibition will run at 
  • the National Portrait Gallery from 14 June to 23 September 2018 
  • before it goes on tour around the UK (venues to be finalised)
If you are successful your portrait will be seen by around c.200,000 people at the BP Portrait Gallery alone - before it goes on tour

The current BP Portrait Award 2017 exhibition toured to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery Exeter (4 October – 3 December 2017) and will in future be visiting
Meaning your portrait - if selected - will probably be seen by something like 250,000+ people!

What are your chances of being successful?

This is a very prestigious portrait competition and attracts a lot of entries.

That's why you should expect that your work will NOT be selected and hope that it will - even though you know the chances of it being selected are very slim.

That's because of these statistics
  • in 2017 there were 2,580 entries from all over the world
    • 1,214 Entries came from the UK - England, Scotland and Wales (47%)
    • 1,366 Entries came from 84 other countries(53%)
  • 218 paintings (8.4%) of the original entries were selected from the digital entry and made it through to the final judging session at Trinity Buoy Wharf. 
  • Around 75% of those sending in their artwork will be disappointed that their work did not make it through to the exhibition
  • That's because the 218 paintings were whittled down by the Judges to the final 53 for the exhibition (representing 2% of the total number of entries).

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

Bottom line you do need to reread everything even if you've entered before - because "stuff" changes.

The NPG website contains:

What's different in 2018

The things I've noticed that have changed

  • The prizes have all increased in value
  • there is no separate FAQS document about the the digital entry process and judging process - everything is now on one page called "Rules"
  • the deadline is four days earlier than last year - it keeps moving forward - but then so does the announcement of the call for entries!
  • the portrait dimensions have changed - they are now all metric (no more inches!)  For more details see below
  • the image dimensions for the digital entry have changed - to emphasise the length of the shortest side - now a minimum of 800 pixels

Things which changed previously and have stayed the same

  • no postal entries; it's been digital entry now for some time
We are no longer accepting postal entries for the competition. All submissions must be made online via the website.

Things that never change 

  • There is still no cap on entries. This continues to be a very popular exhibition and the number of entries seem to grow each year - but there is no cap and therefore no need to race to submit your portrait.  Just get it submitted before the deadline
  • Must be available for both the exhibition and the tour
  • Must never have been submitted before.


The Rules provide the full and complete information for every entry.
Quotations direct from the rules are indicated in blue italics
The Rules get slightly better in format each year (I've whined a lot in the past about how unreadable they have been) however they still really do need to do better in terms of:
  • have a better line height and/or better spacing between the lines. 
  • more headings to help people navigate the page
It's so very easy to get lost in the text - which is one of the reasons I do this post!

You emphatically do NOT want to create a work for a competition and then......
  • realise that it isn't eligible
  • submit it before you realise you breached the rules e.g. 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!

Last year I 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. 
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.
To be eligible for the BP Young Artist Award, artists must be 30 years of age or under as of 1 January 2018.

RULES: The Portrait

Pay particular attention to these. 
Over the years they have become more and 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.
....meaning don't celebrate too soon if you get selected for exhibition but have been naughty or negligent in any way.  

This part of the rules means the organisers have the scope to remove your work from exhibition if you have not done everything exactly as required.

Which is why it pays to read the rules very carefully three times - and why I highlight important parts and changes in red 

Each artist is limited to ONE ENTRY PER ARTIST.

The entry form must be properly completed. 
  • Incomplete entries will not be processed.
  • Everything that REQUIRES a response is indicated with a red asterisk * i.e. you cannot miss it out - if you do your entry will be binned.

What you enter 

  • SHOULD be a painting based on a sitting or study from life AND the human figure MUST predominate. This is precisely what it says in the rules - and so again.....
The work entered should be a painting based on a sitting or study from life and the human figure must predominate.
  • must be recent i.e. completed AFTER 1 January 2017. You are REQUIRED to indicate:
    • the date of the first sitting
    • the date the portrait was completed (Bear in mind that people will tell the organisers if they've seen a portrait exhibited - in person or online - prior to 1 January 2017!  So don't resurrect an old portrait and give it a few tweaks and then enter it....)
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
  • 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.
Part of the entry form that relates to knowing the sitter and when they first sat for you
bearing in mind that this portrait MUST be based on a sitting or study from life
  • The portrait can be a self portrait or a group portrait
  • 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 will reject a work if they decide that this rule has been compromised.

Media and Size:

  • MUST be predominantly painted in oil, tempera or acrylic (or a mix of these media)
  • MUST be on a stretcher or board, preferably framed and unglazed.
The work entered must be predominantly painted in oil, tempera or acrylic and must be on a stretcher or board, preferably framed and unglazed. No watercolours, works on paper or pastels will be considered.
  • The dimensions of the image have changed to METRIC (no more inches). Portraits MUST be 
  • Minimum size: 25cm x 20cm unframed. Any works smaller than this will not be considered.
  • Maximum size: 244cm x 244cm framed. Please note that we cannot accept any works larger than this.
  • 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 - Image and Fees

  • 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. 
  • do make sure you generate the best possible image of your portraitDownload and read helpful pdf document about how to photograph your work.
  • The dimensions of the digital image have changed to emphasise the length of the SHORTEST dimension. (previously it's always stated the minimum length of the longest dimension)
Images must be:
  • Saved in JPEG (.jpg) format
  • Smaller than 3MB (3,000k)
  • At least 800 pixels on its SHORTEST side (width for portrait format images, height for landscape format images).
Extract from the Digital Entry Form
  • Note that you can also submit an optional additional image of a detail of your work - I'd recommend you do this.
  • You also need to be able to pay your fee of £40 online.

How to enter

It's simple! You can submit your digital entry between now and the deadline of 22 January 2018. 
  1. agree to the terms and conditions (the form does not open up until you do!)
  2. upload the best possible photograph of your finished painting to the BP Portrait Award website
  3. Complete the form - making sure you complete all items with a red asterisk *
  4. Pay the fee
Your entry will then be viewed anonymously by the judges in the first round of the competition. 

If you are successful in this round you will get a letter inviting you to hand-deliver or courier your work to a venue in London (which is NOT the National Portrait Gallery) for the second round of judging and final exhibition selection.

You will then receive a letter notifying you of the outcome

BP Travel Award 2018

All selected artists will be eligible to 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 2019 exhibition and tour in 2019 – 20.
The artist chosen as the winner of the travel award will receive £8,000.

The Judges

The Judges this year have not yet been announced. 

How to get selected

I predict, based on previous years that just 2% of the artists who enter will get their work selected for the exhibition. 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

What can you do to help improve your chances?
  • Build up a track record of being selected for the exhibition. Those who win the first time they enter (eg Aleah Chapin) are few and far between but a number of prizewinners in the past have been BP regulars (eg last year's winner Benjamin Sullivan) - and I'd been predicting he would win a prize for some time!
  • 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 - but do bear in mind this was before digital entry and the filtering of the entries prior to submitting work for the second round of judging)

  • 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 (when I counted) 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 - and who can paint a good portrait.
  • Think very carefully about size. In 2015 I did an analysis of the exhibition (see BP Portrait Award Exhibition 2015 - video and analysis) which 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!

About the BP Portrait Award Exhibition

Below are my blog posts about exhibitions in previous years - which include other posts which have videos plus how you can see the exhibition as it tours the UK

BP Portrait Award 2017

BP Portrait Award 2016

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 2009

BP Portrait Award 2008

BP Portrait Award 2007

More information

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