The art awards scheme for offenders, secure patients and detainees

We’re the UK’s best-known prison arts charity. We’ve been awarding, exhibiting and selling artworks by offenders, detainees and secure patients for over 55 years.

Our awards receive over 7,000 entries a year – inspiring offenders to take part in the arts, work towards positive achievements and transform their lives. Our national exhibition attracts 20,000 visitors – showing the public the talent and potential of offenders and people in secure settings.

We have no endowment or capital – our work depends entirely on donations.

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Soft Pastels, Hard Decisions

Almost halfway through our 2018 judging period, we were joined by Royal Academy tutor Maciej Urbanek and returning judge and multi-media artist Angela Findlay to judge the varied and vibrant pastel category. They enlighten us on their experience, discussing the difficulty of pinning down the judging criteria for such a varied body of work and top tips for treating pastels for entry.

How have you found the judging process so far?

MU: It was more challenging than I thought it would be. It was very enjoyable at the same time because the quality of the artworks was really high, and very rewarding because it gives you an insight into so many different approaches and ideas that people in closed establishments might have, and might want to translate into artworks.

AF: I’ve done it for many years so it wasn’t quite as challenging as for someone coming to it for the first time, but it was very harmonious and I think we got a really good system going. We’ve been very unanimous about the decisions that we’ve made.

You mentioned challenging – what did you find challenging about it?

MU: The challenging aspect of judging is that it’s very hard to establish the criteria for judgement, having such a broad variety of ideas, skill-levels, concepts and approaches towards making artwork. Combined with our own personal likes and dislikes it makes it a multi-factored process when you have to consider lots of things in order to make a fair decision.

AF: Yes, you have to decide on technique, originality of idea and execution, because there are some wonderful ones that have been created in a few strokes, and others which have clearly taken hours.

Has anything made you laugh?

AF: Certainly! The black dog, the little one there. It’s so tiny and cute, really, right in the centre of the page and just so well captured.

MU: There is definitely humour in a lot of works, and there a lot of works that exude positive vibes.

What would you like to see more or less of in this category?

MU: It’s hard to say because the works come from so many different establishments and their art programmes and access to the materials must vary. So we might say we would like to see bigger works, more ambitious, more laborious, but we also have to consider that that might not be possible. It’s great that so many people get engaged, and maybe what we want to see, even thought it wouldn’t make our work easier, would be just to see more works. It’s always good to see ambition, in whatever form it might take, but especially the aspiration to do something meaningful, beautiful and interesting rather than generic.

AF: This has actually been a really strong year.

MU: I think that some of these works could definitely stand their ground, and definitely be read not only through the lens of people being incarcerated, but people just making art.

What advice would you give to pastel artists?

MU: Don’t laminate your work. Pastel is quite an unstable, delicate medium, so just fixing it with fixative or varnish, or putting it between two sheets of newsprint or something like that is a good idea to prevent it from getting damaged.

AF: Yes! Definitely don’t laminate, as the lamination really takes away from the artwork – it isn’t a good solution. And don’t stick it to something else – often the colour they mount it on or the way they’ve mounted it can detract from the picture.