On Monday the 18th of May 2015 The Big Draw hosted its 16th annual award to highlight and celebrate the significance of drawing in Britain, and around the world. Attendees to the awards, hosted in the august Painters’ Hall in the heart of the city, encompassed a broad cross section of people who were either practitioners of art, or facilitators ranging from: art teachers in primary schools, individual artists, museum curators, art patrons, gallerists and film directors of international acclaim.
After registration, guests and patrons were encouraged into the main hall on the ground floor to partake in the various workshop stations of artists, and collectives, that had received recognition from the Big Draw and other awards bodies. As the guests mingled with one another, and interacted with the stands, they were served tea and coffee and demonstrated remarkable grace and restraint with the biscuits.
The first stand upon entering the hall were the illustrators Jenny Robins and June Chanpoomidole. The illustrating duo had gained recognition from the Big Draw for conducting dynamic drawing challenges to participants, as they engaged the willing in a bout of urban roving in London, and got them enthused by drawing elements of their surroundings. To focus and challenge the minds of their participants people were given simple drawing rules like: ‘no stick people’, ‘draw from imagination’, and ‘use typography’ to name a few, and given three minutes to complete the task. The participants thoroughly enjoyed their exercise in urban drawing, and the resulting illustrations were compiled into sketchbooks to complete the project.
Stand two hosted by Darren Bartholomew represented the collective effort of Eastbury Comprehensive, Barking, in Rotoscope animation. Up to three hundred children from years eight to ten got involved in producing the animation, which entailed making an illustrated interpretation of a sequence of stills from a video of a student dancing. These stencils were then scanned and compiled to produce a short energetic animation of the student dancing to music in a riot of colour, and a variety of compositions, but yet the essential lines and movement of the body were retained. When the video was played at the awards ceremony, that followed, it received some of the loudest applause.
On stand three Paula Briggs, author of Drawing Projects for Children, represented Access Art: a registered charity that helps people access painting, sculpture, drawing and other art disciplines, and encouraged people to appreciate the beauty of feathers by not only illustrating them, but also to use the feathers in the mark making process; several talents in the room executed their detailed examples with dexterity and skill. On the fourth stand a particularly witty collective NEATEN (North East Art Teachers and Education Network) and Big Draw winners, set up what they called a ‘Selfie Gallery’. The network, that has a close collaboration with the Baltic Gallery in Gateshead, encouraged participants to draw a small self portrait within the blank screen of a photocopied smartphone. The portraits, completed in playful coloured pen, were pinned to the back wall of the stand in a collection of mobile phone-esque ‘selfies’ that really added skill and humour to a ubiquitous phenomena. To complete the lineup the fifth stand stood inhabited by the mysterious live artist Jessica Voorsanger. The artist when not taking on, and exploring, the identity of David Hockney and other high profile figures, likes to produce live illustrations inspired by events in the news. Voorsanger intended to work into her emerging illustration, that day, the film premiers of George Clooney, and Cate Blanchett, as well as an article on a north London wildlife sanctuary, and a flotilla of boats gathered in protest at oil exploration in Alaska. The unusual pictures she began to produce, which used a combination of photo clippings and hand illustration, were represented on two separate sheets of white paper and detailed a coastline, a city scene, and a pheasant dangling upside down.
The chatter and networking in the room was halted to allow (which proved ironic on reflection) the robust voice, and physique, of Charles Pettit to boom out across the room. When the Ex-Master of the Painter-Stainers Guild then ascended a chair to stand with vigor, he wasted little time to launch into the history of the establishment to the rapt crowd: with evident pride and entertaining delivery he told his audience, among other brief anecdotes, that the first recorded reference to the Painters Guild was in 1283, and that they were given a royal charter by Queen Elizabeth I when they combined their efforts with the Stainers in 1581.
After Pettit’s brief speech, winners, guests and patrons we then encouraged to move upstairs to take a seat in the Livery Hall: that glittered with chandeliers, portraits of Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, and glowing coats of arms in stained glass windows. The indomitable Sue Grayson-Ford took to the stand as host and master of ceremonies to introduce two key speakers on the importance of drawing. The first speaker was Patrick Brill (aka Bob & Roberta Smith) who is a passionate defender of the arts, and stood as an independent against Michael Gove in his constituency of Surrey Heath. Smith campaigned for more arts in business, Schools, health, and society at large for a positive manifesto to improve the economy, and reduce pressure on the NHS. His arguments were compelling, and he quoted what he said he had sourced from government statistics that for every £1 spent the return is £4, and that the creative industries contribute £71.4 billion pounds to the economy. After Brill ended his speech, to rapturous applause, the internationally acclaimed film and theatre director Mike Leigh – Abigail’s Party, Secrets and Lies, Vera Drake, and Mr Turner – took to the stand to give a heartfelt speech. Leigh spoke of his formative years on the Foundation at Camberwell College of art, and how that had liberated his mind and imagination from the stuffy training he had received as a young actor at a drama school in the 60’s. In particular Leigh advocated the importance of life drawing, which in turn helped him to understand the diverse processes of composing images for film, and its often complex problem solving.
After Leigh’s speech the awards got underway, and with a charming flourish winners were brought to the stage with delightful fanfares from a trumpeter. The amount of international winners as well as domestic served to highlight the progress the The Big Draw has made, and whose influence has reached as far as China, India and America.
In the Highly Commended Winners segment were The British School of Beijing: that promoted creativity and learning; Hinchingbrooke Country Park: encouraged closer engagement with landscape; Playeum of Singapore: campaigned for a children’s learning centre; Rugby Art Gallery and Museum: invited guests to respond to ‘Furoshiki’ a technique for wrapping Japanese cloth; and Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, Exeter: in collaboration with the Royal Society of Birds got participants to illustrate and interact with their taxidermied bird collections.
The nominated Runners Up were: Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts that used the Big Draw to help build bridges with other organisations and conducted a ‘Tape Takeover’ which involved 1,500 people to create images on floors and walls with tape; the aforementioned June Sees and Jenny Robins, for the ‘Walk and Draw’ in London workshop; and Hidden Narratives Dangerous Errotions: South London Visual Artists, a collective of nineteen female artists that illustrated the contribution of women to art on the entrance walls of a cinema over some days of screenings.
The Trail-Blazers awards were presented by Alison Carlier, winner of the prestigious Jerwood Drawing Prize 2014 to: Village School, Kingsbury, London that used ultra violet light and glow paints to create a truly psychedelic installation and environment for children with special needs; Retkozi Museum, Kisvarda, Hungary had managed to get 1,700 people to reimagine with illustration four key sights in the town: the castle, library, Catholic church and the Synagogue. The resulting posters are displayed in the museum; 3peel Group, Bangalore, India got eight youths at an education centre to create a permanent mural; and Middlesex University got 500 participants to draw creepy crawlies and other beasts in a mobile menagerie for a week long drawing fest.
The Winners segment included the aforementioned NEATEN and the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead: which used a technique of shadow puppetry to create traceable outlines that were then used to make a forest of hands; Ordsall Community Arts, Salford: won a seven year battle to turn wasteland into allotments where retirees, and those suffering from illness or isolation, used surplus veg as tools to make print impressions with the leaves and roots, and thus create imaginative wallpaper and soft furnishings to decorate their sheds; and Round in Circles: The Open Museum, Glasgow: used its outreach to engage passengers on the Cathcart Circle overground, and put their phones, tablets and papers aside to draw some of the museum’s artifacts. Artist positioned on the train asked willing commuters to make tools, draw the sounds of their journey, or do a continuous line drawing with their eyes closed. The results of the mobile workshop were displayed in Queens Street station in the centre of Glasgow.
Paul Bell recent winner of the BBC Big Painting Challenge presented gifts for the Creative School Award, and to the joint Winners, which were: Tyssen Community School, Hackney, London: who turned their premises into an art school for nine hours, with dramatic results; and Stanley Grove Primary Academy, Longsight, Manchester: which produced an extraordinary installation made of a multitude of hand illustrated 3D paper cut outs, which were placed together to recreate the city scape of Manchester, and which extended for over thirty feet from wall to floor. The collective work of the children and their teachers would have put many an installation artist at a Biennale to shame, and demonstrated a virtuosity and intensity of purpose that can, at times, be lacking in some contemporary art today.
The final prize of The NADFAS Young Arts Award, which brought the ceremony to a close, was given to the aforementioned Rotoscope practitioners of Eastbury Comprehensive School, Barking, Essex and presented by Sue Gilbert who is Head of Young Arts at NADFAS (The National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies). As one of the chief sponsors of the Big Draw Awards NADFAS underlined the importance of drawing and creativity, and congratulated the Big Draw, and its small team of four, in its success at securing Arts Council funding. Closing words were given by new patron, Emma Black: who will be using her significant experience gained at leading art institutions to push forward, and upscale the reach of the Big Draw to what looks like an even brighter future.
At the end of the ceremony the guests moved back downstairs for drinks and tasty canapes before they left, buoyed no doubt, in the knowledge that future of drawing looks bright, and that The Big Draw can only grow in reach and significance.
Article Written by Hogarth Brown for the Big Draw