Monday, December 03, 2018

£35,000 BP Portrait Award 2019 - How to enter and how to improve your chances of being selected.

2019 will be the 40th year of the BP Portrait Award and the 30th year of its sponsorship by BP. It's grown in stature over time as the number of entries from around the world have increased. The entry for the BP Portrait Award 2019 will be no different.

This is my annual guide to the BP Portrait Award - it's somewhat encyclopedic (but I've been analysing this competition for well over a decade!)

  • great reasons for entering the BP Portrait Award 2019
  • how to give yourself a better chance than most with your entry
  • how to enter the competition - the deadline is 21 January 2019

Why you should enter the BP Portrait Award

1. You can change your life!

This is the sort of art competition / exhibition that changes people's careers and lives.  Just getting selected can be enough to get taken seriously and after that it's up to you.  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".

Winner of the BP Portrait Award 2018
Miriam Escofet with her mother and Miriam's portrait "An Angel at my Table"
- this could be YOU in 2019!

2. Awards

There's a £74,000 prize pot. If you win, you cash out of the competition as you won't be able to enter again. Ideally you get to win second or third prize before winning!
  • First Prize: A cash award of £35,000 with a commission valued at £7,000
  • Second Prize: £12,000
  • Third Prize: £10,000
  • BP Young Artist Award: £9,000 (All entrants 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.)
  • BP Travel Award 2019: £8,000

3. International

This competition has serious international standing. It regularly attracts
  • over 2.5k entries annually from some 80+ countries all over the world 
  • about half the entries are from outside the UK
  • it also regularly has prizewinners from all over the world!

4. Audience

A HUGE number of people come to see this exhibition.
  • You could be an exhibition lasting several weeks for a major art prize in a major national art gallery right in the centre of London. 
  • Every year, this is one of the top exhibitions in the UK, regularly attracting more than 200k visitors to the exhibition - BEFORE it tours to other parts of the UK. 

5. Profile & Status

"Selected for the BP Portrait" 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. Exposure

Your portrait painting could hang outside the National Portrait Gallery on a banner - or be on all the posters around the Underground and London!

The artworks chosen for the publicity materials are usually not those shortlisted. Consequently a few lucky artists each year will get seriously major exposure for their artwork via the publicity materials.

7. Marketing / Commissions

The point about the exhibition is to be in it - the prize is just a bonus

Being selected can be as big as winning a prize. The big thing about this exhibition is to get selected for the exhibition.

Benjamin Sullivan RP NEAC, the 2017 Winner of the BP Portrait Award is crystal clear that participation is everything
Ben emphasises in the video that the REALLY IMPORTANT important thing is to be included in the exhibition rather than win a prize. Winning a prize is a wonderful bonus but shouldn't be the aim. He says being in the exhibition over the years has given him lots of exposure and lots of commissions! 
Interview with Benjamin Sullivan, Winner of the BP Portrait Award 2017 - plus his BP portraits 2006-2016

It's one enormous shop window for those who want to accept commissions for painting portraits. It instantly raises your profile as somebody who has a serious claim to the title "portrait artist". However you need to have geared up for this in advance or else it's a wasted opportunity.

8. Have a great reason for visiting London

Many international artists choose to come to the previews and can be around for the events at the beginning of the exhibition.

9. 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".

10. Get Interviewed by me!

I try to interview the BP Portrait Award Winners every year - and you can see the interviews - and the tips that past winners have to offer on my BP Portrait Award Playlist on my MakingAMark Videos YouTuBe Channel  (The one with Aleah Chapin in 2012 is now up to 142K views!)

How to improve your chances of being selected for the exhibition

Why it's very unlikely you will be selected

The BP Portrait Award 2018 received 2,667 entries from 88 countries. Judged anonymously, 48 portraits were selected for the exhibition.
The chances of getting selected are remote! Just 1.8% of the entries were selected for the exhibition last year. So you need to:

  • not be disappointed if you don't get selected
  • work on what will give you the best chance of getting selected!
I do hope they'll go back to the "normal" number of portraits in the exhibition.  I suspect the number was reduced for 2018 because the exhibition got "bumped" into the smaller Porter Gallery because of the Michael Jackson exhibition in the gallery this exhibition normally occupies.

Even at the more normal 55 portraits, we're still looking at something along the lines of 2% of entries.

How to improve your chances of success 

Selection is based on anonymous entries. Which means gender and which country you live/work in has very little to do with whether or not you get selected. Everybody is equal.

That said, you can improve your chances. 

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. 
  • 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.
  • NEVER EVER be a "me too" painter. Paint for yourself and not for the Judges. Do NOT copy the style of other painters - I don't think 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.
In addition, my analysis and observations about last year's exhibition are pertinent -see Review: BP Portrait Award Exhibition 2018 - some of which are summarised below.

Consider size of painting

  • The most popular size is "medium". Overall just under two thirds of portraits are medium/large sizes and just over one third are small or tiny portraits. 
  • My GUESS is if the same analysis was done of entries there's be much more competition around the small and tiny sizes - simply because they cost less to send and people are thinking about the cost of shipping their portrait to London. 

Consider type of painting

In 2018, after me wailing for some time about how more artists need to learn how to paint hands AND INCLUDE HANDS, we had a MAJOR shift.
The big story for me of this year's exhibition is how people have learned to paint hands!

Whole Body1123%17%
Upper Torso inc. Hands1327%35%
Head & shoulders1429%35%
  • Around two thirds of the portraits (63%) in 2018 includes either the whole figure and/or the upper torso, including the hands
  • the number of head and shoulder paintings are reducing as a result
  • over 20% of selected portraits in 2018 involve a whole body

Consider backgrounds

I suspect this one will vary from year to year depending on the Judges. It's worth noting that in 2018, at least 25-30 portraits were painted without a background that adds value to the portrait.  There again it may be that people are opting out of painting backgrounds.

No backgrounds
Personally I'm NOT a big fan of "no backgrounds".
I LIKE the portraits which add context. It does two things.
  • It tells me this artist can paint more than just a face and 
  • it also tells me that the artist is in some way sensitive to the objects that tell a story about an individual.
One of my favourite portraits in last year's show is below. It was interesting to note that backgrounds often got more interesting as figures got bigger.

The Oolographer (in his study)
by JJ (Jeremy) Delvine
oil on aluminium 700 x 525mm

(Interestingly the painter of this portrait and I spent part of the afternoon watching the final of the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year Final 2019 - which was happening the same day as the BP Portrait PV at the NPG!)

Think Colour

Last year, the artworks selected for the exhibition had a quite extraordinarily bland colour scheme - with the exception of a few - which were, by way of contrast, extremely colourful and really noticeable. For me colour palette needs to be a considered choice.

Examples of more restrained and more colourful palettes

Ponder on the best selling prints

Prints are available via the National Portrait Gallery Shop for all the portraits in the exhibition. You can reorder them according to "best selling" and while maybe not directly relevant to what judges will choose, it's certainly something to ponder on.  This is the 2018 list of portraits - in order of best selling.

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

The basics - on the website

Full competition rules and guidance for digital submission can be found online. The NPG website contains:
We are no longer accepting postal entries for the competition. All submissions must be made online via the website.

What's different this year

I can't find anything. Most of the major changes came last year.

RULES: Artists:

  • MUST be aged 18 years or over as of 1 January 2019 
  • 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 2019.

RULES: The Portrait

Over the years the rules for the portrait have become more and more refined - so it's worth paying close attention to these.

It's tiresome for competition administrators to have to eliminate entries which clearly breach the rules - because they have been ignored and/or misunderstood - so they give you more and more prompts
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.
This part of the rules means the organisers can remove your work from the pool of entries and/or exhibition (if selected) if you have not done everything EXACTLY as required.

I've already seen tweets from people announcing the portrait they will be submitted and I can tell from the portrait that it breaches the rules!

For example I can assure all those who love painting portraits of celebrities - done from photos they have not taken - that these will never ever see the light of day.

That's because you MUST 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

I recommend reading the rules three times. Once to get a sense of what's required - then again more carefully. Finally read them all again before you complete the entry and use them as a checklist
Each artist is limited to ONE ENTRY PER ARTIST.

If you don't like the rules or disagree with the rules - tough! These are the rules.

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.

The Portrait Painting

  • 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 2018. You are REQUIRED to indicate:
    • the date of the first sitting
    • the date the portrait was completed (Bear in mind that people - like me - 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
  • 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 2020) 
  • 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.
  • Image dimensions are METRIC. 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.

How to Enter

Digital Entry - Image and Fees

It's simple! You can submit your digital entry between now and the deadline (21 January 2019). 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.
  • agree to the terms and conditions (the form does not open up until you do!)
  • upload the best possible photograph of your finished painting to the BP Portrait Award website
    • do make sure you generate the best possible image of your portrait. Download 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)
    • Note that you can also submit an optional additional image of a detail of your work - I'd recommend you do this.
Extract from the Digital Entry Form
  • Complete the form - making sure you complete all items with a red asterisk *
  • Pay the fee of £40 online

The Judges

The Judges this year have not yet been announced.

Blogs Posts about Previous BP Portrait Exhibitions

BP Portrait Award 2018

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

BP Portrait Award 2019
National Portrait Gallery, St Martin's Place, London WC2H 0HE
telephone - 020 7321 6600
email -
hashtag: #BPPortrait
Making A Mark | Major Art Competitions in the UK

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