Tuesday, November 24, 2015

£30,000 BP Portrait Award 2016 - How to enter and how to get selected

The Call for Entries for the BP Portrait Award 2016 was published yesterday on the National Portait Gallery website - so it's time to write my Annual Guide to how to enter and how to improve your chances of being selected! Many of those who've been selected in the past have told me they've found it very helpful.

The closing date for digital entries from artists all over the world is 2nd February 2016.

BP Portrait 2015 - after the Awards Ceremony
Second Prizewinner Michael Gaskell (for the 4th time!) (link is to a video interview with him)
with Peter Monkman (2009 Winner) who was one of the Judges in 2015
This year the image which will feature on the competition website's home page is that of second prizewinner Michael Gaskell who has now won second prize a total of four times!

What this post covers

This post covers:
  • 12 reasons why this is a competition worth entering - which includes details of the significan prize money
  • How to enter for those who don't like the small print. I won't cover every last detail - so you still have to read ALL the conditions but sometimes it helps to have an introduction first! :)
  • The Judges - plus a video of a judge explaining how the process works
  • How to get selected - my suggestions for how to improve your chances of selection. Plus a video of a past winner explaining the process and how it worked for her.
  • The Exhibition
  • links to past posts about previous BP Portrait Award winners and exhibition reviews on this blog going back to 2007

What's different in 2016

The major change this year is that the conditions and the rules now have a white background and are a lot easier to read. 

For those who didn't enter last year the major change in 2015 was that postal entries are no longer accepted and the entry is process is digital.

If any of you spot anything else that has changed please leave a comment and I'll do an update.

BP Portrait 2015: Judges's Choice for First Prize on the left
'Annabelle and Guy' by Matan Ben Cnaan,  
Winner of the BP Portrait Award 2015 Visitors' Choice on the right
'Juanito' by José Luis Corella
Photo © Katherine Tyrrell

12 great reasons to enter the BP Portrait Award 2016

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 - for all the reasons listed below

23rd November 2015: Who's made a mark?

A round-up of recent posts about art, artists, art exhibitions and news relevant to art by me and others in newspapers, journals, blogs and Facebook

A new exhibition Artist & Empire opens at Tate Britian this week.
Mahadaji Sindhia entertaining a British naval officer and military officer with a Nautch c.1815-20
Anonymous Delhi School
Watercolour on paper, 222 x 317 mm | British Library

The most popular posts I've shared on facebook this month have been to do with 'being an artist' and the value of art.

They are:
  • RECOMMENDED: Laura Cumming's article in The Observer about The seven ages of an artist. The article - besides commenting on the observations of several famous articles - links to a number of other articles about interviews with seven leading artists (aged 24 to 80) who were asked what they haved learned from a life in art
Degas “Everyone has talent at 25, the difficulty is to have it still at 50.

Art Competitions & Call for Entries

Larry Lamb with his exhibition within the exhibition

Art Competitions

Call for Entries

Art Business & Marketing

Branding & Communication

Know Your Worth

  • This article Watch What Happens When You Ask Non-Creative Professionals to Work for Free has a great video which highlights why visual artists - including artists and photographers - should be a bit more circumspect before giving away their services for free. 
    • Bottom line if you consider yourself to be a professional then behave like one!
    • Also remember to treat others in the visual arts fields as professionals as well eg photographers and fine art printers. As one person pointed out below....
This includes the printing industry. Especially when a client wants to make a change after they send they receive the proof. They want to know why it will cost more money. If I had a dime for every time I had to explain that I'd be retired.

Selling Art

I've highlighted a number of aspects of new information on my new Art Business Info. for Artists website recently on its new blog. These are:
  • The first blog post covers a couple of guides for those wanting to sell their art via exhibitions or art fairs. These are:
  • A Guide to Art Agents, Art Buyers and Art Consultants - for all those wanting to know about whether agents can help them sell art. 
    • It defines the different roles of the different players in the marketplace e.g. how to find an agent, what they can do for artists and how they work​
    • It gives you checklists eg Are you ready for an agent? and Working with an art agent
    • It provides a list of reference articles where you can find different perspectives and more in-depth information
  • Another page provides checklists of things to think about for those wanting to think about Selling Art from Home


  • Dorothy Una Ratcliffe Fellowship 2016: The National Trust have a 3–month fellowship for an artist/illustrator (individual or collaborative) at Acorn Bank near Penrith, in the Lake District during the spring months of 2016. The deadline for applicants is Monday 30 November 2015, 5pm

Art History, Museums & Exhibitions

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Search Quality Guidelines: Find out how Google rates websites

Ever wondered how Google rates websites to determine how they rank in their search engine?

The aim of this post is to:
  • tell you the latest news from Google - it will impact on whether and how often people find your website or blog
  • relate what Google says about how to rate websites to things that artists do on or with their websites. Every so often you will see a TIP.

What's New?

Google did something extremely unusual this month.

For the very first time, Google published the entire document of Guidelines given to people who evaluate websites for the purposes of influencing the factors used in the Google Search Engine algorithm (the thing which determines which websites rank well or badly).

This is because:
  • they've just done an update and 
  • they want more and more people to understand how sites are rated for search queries via mobile devices.
What it also means is that Google are helping us to understand better about what matters, how you can help you website - and how you can mess up!

The reason I take what Google says seriously is demonstrated by the chart below. Nearly 95% of the search queries whioch generate traffic for this blog come via Google.

I haven't read every aspect of the Guidelines as yet - and consequently may come back and update this post.

How search quality evaluation works

Google hires people to evaluate websites according to a very structured and very detailed regime. This assessment regime is detailed in the Guidelines Manual which has now been released in full and fully up to date.

The results of the assessments help Google to determine the weighting of the various factors which are incorporated into the algorithm which actually determines the rankings of websites within the Google Search Engine - in relation to specific queries.

Thus for example it might determine how important how recent new content or relevance to a local context might be.


Updating Our Search Quality Rating Guidelines was the blog post on the Official Google Webmaster Central Blog "Official news on crawling and indexing sites for the Google index"

Some people missed it but buried in the text was a link to a 160 page PDF document titled 'General Guidelines' and dated 12th November 2015.

You can download this SEO Gold Mine for free !

People have described this document as being leaked but I'm not sure how a link in an official blog gets evaluated as being a leak.  I think maybe they just like to call it a "leak" as it makes for a good story!

If you read the blog post, Google makes it quite clear
In 2013, we published our human rating guidelines to provide transparency on how Google works and to help webmasters understand what Google looks for in web pages. Since that time, a lot has changed: notably, more people have smartphones than ever before and more searches are done on mobile devices today than on computers.

We often make changes to the guidelines as our understanding of what users wants evolves, but we haven’t shared an update publicly since then. However, we recently completed a major revision of our rater guidelines to adapt to this mobile world, recognizing that people use search differently when they carry internet-connected devices with them all the time.
Thus the key change is the impact of mobile devices - and this is recognised in terms of:
  • the inclusion of  Part 2 - Understanding Mobile Needs 
  • plus lots of examples in the Guidelines uses the mobile view to demonstrate what they mean

So what do the Guidelines say


The Guidelines define in some considerable detail what they mean by different levels of quality. 

Below are reasons for assessing a page as being of Low Quality. (MC means "main content"; SC means "supplementary content")

If a page has one of the following characteristics, the Low rating is usually appropriate:
  • The quality of the MC is low. 
  • There is an unsatisfying amount of MC for the purpose of the page. 
  • The author of the page or website does not have enough expertise for the topic of the page and/or the website is not trustworthy or authoritative for the topic. In other words, the page/website is lacking E-A-T. 
  • The website has a negative reputation. 
  • The SC is distracting or unhelpful for the purpose of the page.

Below is the definition of what makes a High Quality Page.

Extract from page 20
It needs at least one characteristic out of:
  • a satisfying amount of high quality "main content" (ie MC = what your website is about)
  • The page and author are expert. authoritative and trustworthy for the topic of the page
  • the website has a good repuattion for the topic of the page.

PLUS Google also wants to see:
  • who you are and how you can be contacted
  • Supplementary Content (SC) which makes for a satisfying a user experience on the page and website
  • a website which is designed in such a way that the user knows what is main content and which is supplementary - and it allows people to navigate between the two
  • "a website which is well cared for and maintained" (i.e. updated from time to time and not ignored e.g. old and out of date content is removed)

In terms of the best content....
We will consider the MC of the page to be very high or highest quality when it is created with a high degree of time and effort, and in particular, expertise, talent, and skill. Very high quality MC may be created by experts, hobbyists, or even people with everyday expertise. Our standards depend on the purpose of the page and the type of content. The Highest rating may be justified for pages with a satisfying or comprehensive amount of very high quality MC.
TIP: In terms of artists, first-person experience is considered to be one way of defining expertise. Hence artists who write extremely detailed and helpful reviews of products or places are likely to give their websites or blogs a boost!
When it comes to rating a website or blog this is what the Guidelines say (Page )
The top three most important PQ considerations are:
  • Quality and quantity of Main Content. Examine the MC carefully. Given the purpose of the page, evaluate the quality and quantity of MC. 
  • Level of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) of the page and the website. The level of E-A-T is extremely important for YMYL pages. 
  • Reputation of the website. The reputation of a website is very important when the website demands a high level of trust.

New Topics in this Version

The guidelines have a NEW emphasis on 'mobile'.  Thus we have Part 2: Understanding Mobile User Needs

There is also something called "Needs met". This aims to distinguish between pages which deliver a very fast and appropriate response on recent events - which must be fresh - and older authoritative websites which might only update occasionally (ie authoritative information doesn't tend to change every five minutes)

New approaches

The quality raters will be testing via mobile devices as well as from a desktop.
TIP: The emphasis on mobile means the opening sentences of pages and blog posts are now extremely important. They should signal the content of the page. You'll notice how I very often in the first paragraph say:
  • what the blog post is about
  • what the blog post contains
I do the same thing on the websites I'm building. The aim is to waste people's time as little as possible. My sites may not be the ones they're looking for - but I do want people to leave with a favoruable impression.
and another thing
TIP: It's absolutely essential that your website or blog can be read easily via a mobile device. If you've not yet implemented a responsive template which adjusts what content looks like for the size of the screen - now is the time to do so!

Important concepts

EAT is an important concept. (This was a new introduction last year - and it's still important.)

It stands for 'expertise, authority and trustworthiness' i.e. all the reasons why you would choose to read one website rather than another.
TIP: From an artist's perspective it's about what might they be writing about or hoping to promote which demands that they are experts and trustworthy.
EXAMPLE: One example might be people offering art tuition. 

People evaluating websites for classes or workshops where money changes hands might well be looking for indicators of:
  • indicators of expertise (eg training; qualifications etc)
  • length of time they have been doing this (eg no. of years of experience as a tutor)
  • number of people who reference (link to them) them as the "go to" art tutor
  • indicators of trustworthiness re money (e.g. detailed contact details; use of appropriate mechanisms which are safe for customers; security certificate for the site)

and finally

I was very pleased to see this on page 66!
Art pages do have a purpose: artistic expression. Pages created for artistic expression do not deserve the Low quality rating simply because they have no other purpose. Artistic expression, humor, entertainment, etc. are all valid page purposes.
I'm interested to know what you make of the Guidelines. (Do bear in mind they are a Technical Manual for people employed to do a job). Do please leave a comment.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Review ING Discerning Eye 2016

ING Discerning Eye - exhibitions by Nicole Farhi and Larry Lamb.
Yesterday I ventured out after a week of resting my frozen back and went to visit the ING Discerning Eye Exhibition at the Mall Galleries....

...and got to meet Larry Lamb, one of this year's selectors and Tony Humphreys, the CEO of The Discerning Eye charity who were both chatting to a well known lady who I very much suspect will become one of next year's selectors - but I'm not saying who! :)

However as this review is coming late in the day I'm going to very much focus on highlighting the work I liked and anything that might be useful for those submitting in future years

What I liked about the mini-exhibitions

The ING Discerning Eye is interesting because it's six mini exhibitions making up one large exhibition.

I loved the sparse and beautifully hung exhibition of the 42 pieces chosen by Stephen Doherty (Director of Visitor Communications for Somerset House). My eye kept being drawn back to it.

Stephen Doherty seems to be a ladnscape fan.

I also loved a lot of the landscapes that he had chosen

Nicole Fahri has an awful lot in her exhibition (109 pieces) - but it worked as she wove themes and artworks together. It also demonstrated very clearly how you can mix very diverse works together - and it works - if you have a very discerning eye!

Nicole Fahri's selection and exhibition - lots of sculpture for somebody who has become a sculptor
For me, Larry Lamb's exhibition of of 65 works of art was one that would probably appeal to a lot of people visiting the exhibition. He told me he loves colour and texture.

The left hand side of Larry Lamb's exhibition
I loved the ceramics and sculpture at either end of this photo
Caroline Convey's birds jumped off the wall in Larry Lamb's exhibition. The shapes and the colour were very strong and they looked great hung together.  I understand that her family all came down from Scotland to see the exhibition!

This is her website and her Facebook Page

(from top left clockwise) African Grey Parrot, Cockerel, Green-winged Macaw and Chicken
mixed media by Caroline Convey
Emma Bridgewater had the Brian Sewell spot - which I always think is the most difficult to carry off as it covers four walls and it's very difficult to see all at once and nearly impossible to stand back from due to the tables and chairs.

Nevertheless the work hung on the grey feature wall carried extremely well across the room. She has 81 pieces in her exhibition.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

About Rory McEwen

I've spent a delightful few hours recently putting together a page About Rory McEwen on my Botanical Art and Artists website.

I'm going to develop a series of pages about various famous botanical artists. I started with Maria Sibylla Merian so decided to do a contemporary botanical artist next - and, of course Rory McEwen was the obvious one to do!  For those who don't know him, he's probably the most revered and influential botanical artist in the UK in recent years.

He died in 1982 - but his botanical art and his legacy lives on.

I'm guessing rather a lot of botanical artists now painting on vellum will have seen his paintings at some point.

A new page 'About Rory McEwen' on Botanical Art and Artists
On the page you can find:
  • a summary of his life as it related to botanical art - plus 
    • a detailed timeline - i.e. I miss out all the musical side of his life and stick strictly to the botanical art
    • references to biographical information elsewhere
  • a summary of his artistic practice - and 
    • links to more detailed comments 
    • plus a few quotes about his value to botanical art
"I paint flowers as a way of getting as close as possible to what I perceive as the truth, my truth of the time in which I live"Rory McEwen 
  • summaries of the important botanical art books
    • ones he collaborated on - Old Carnations and Pinks; The Auricula and Tulips and Tulipmania
    • catalogues of the major posthumous and retrospective exhibitions in 1988 and 2013.
A double page spread from Old Carnations and Pinks
He did the botanical illustrations while studying at Cambridge University
  • lists of the artworks he produced which can be identified (I'm sure there must be many more!)
    • categorised according to a timeline and 
    • then listed using a colour to indicate which exhibition they relate to. This, I think, is an exercise which nobody has done before. I know I was going cross-eyed by the time I finished!  It did reveal very clearly how the thematic series came about - and which subject matter he returned to - or never left.
  • a summary of the main exhibitions. Plus a list of all exhibitions he was involved with - categorised by 
    • solo exhibitions in his life time, 
    • group exhibitions in his life time and 
    • retrospective exhibitions - held posthumously
  • Plus videos which show his watercolour paintings on vellum in all their glorious precision and luminosity.
For true fans I hope you enjoy it. I learned a lot while doing it..... but I still wish I'd found out more about the True Facts from Nature exhibition - the one where everything changed forever....

For those who want to know about the impact he had I recommend you read:

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