Self-Portrait Prize 2021: Alumni Success

May 17, 2021

The Self-Portrait Prize is a biennial art prize in association with the Ruth Borchard Collection that promotes and celebrates the practice of self-portraiture. Here nine Drawing Year alumni who were selected for the prize, tell us about their work.

Alice MacDonald (Drawing Year 2017)

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Self Portrait with Yellow Roses, rabbit skin glue, pigment, fabric collage, oil on canvas, 77 x 88 cm, 2020 

'During lockdown one I, like many people, felt very lost and uncertain. I had left my studio and paintings in London, and it felt like I had also left behind my brain and ideas. Feeling stuck but needing something to paint, I started to paint a lot of self portraits and still lives, on a small scale, often doing one or two a day.' 

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'I often paint myself, partly because I like painting from life, and I am my most available model. And also because I am interested the representation of women, my conflicting ideas about femininity and womanhood, I am very aware that a male gaze influences how I see myself and affects my expectations of how I and other women should look and behave, and alongside painting other women I use self portraits as a place to explore these elusive ideas. 

This larger painting was painted back in London using one of those first lockdown self portraits as a reference. It was the beginning of a new way of working for me, using fabric collage and rabbit skin glue with pigment before painting in oil on top, so it feels like an important painting.  

My practice in primarily based in painting but I also work in drawing, printmaking, ceramics, installation and set design for the musical collective, This Is The Deep. I work mainly in my studio in Kennington.' 


Instagram: @alice_mac

David Gardner (Drawing Year 2019)

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The weight of a head on a soft wet neck, oil pastel on paper, 100x80cm, 2021

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'The weight of a head on a soft wet neck. Bedroom. Studio. A small attic space with just enough room to stand. The spine arches empathetically to the curve of the roof. Stripping right back, creating an intimate and private space. Whole days of looking, silence and introspection. An attempt to capture the tenderness of flesh. Erasing gender, race and class - transcending it all and searching for spirit – isolating the soul to see.'



Hannah Tilson (Drawing Year 2020)

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Red Portrait, 2020

'This red self portrait was made in the first lockdown, I found myself away from my world that I was used to drawing and making work in and had to seek inspiration from elsewhere. I began to set up theatrical sets in my room, hanging patterned fabrics, lighting them and painting self portraits while sitting in them. I found that during a time where everything feels very out of your control, it has felt liberating to be in control of painting an image of myself.'


'I have my Drawing Year End of Year Exhibitions opening at the start of June and since making this first self portrait I have made many more images of myself. I am interested in pattern, colour and entanglement. Drawing and painting self-portraits made with home-made paint, placing myself in a vibrating space filled with pattern. The works I am exhibiting explore my body and the pattern I am encompassed in as a landscape or ‘pattern-scape’.'


Instagram: @hannahtilson64

Gideon Summerfield (Drawing Year 2017)


A Glimpse of Reflection, Norway 2021, Brown chalk, pastel and acrylic on paper, 83 x 60cm

'This portrait captures my self-reflection to the end of a quarter century life so far. I reflect on the familiar, the undertaking, the overcome and the unknown ahead. Those who I have met and recorded that had experienced the unthinkable has now channelled through me. They shared with me their life experience from when they were my age. What they witnessed is something that preys on my mind. 

My choice of colours came from the influence of Edvard Munch, after spending many months in Norway recently. It seems he is most relevant artist in my life right now, and I am very excited for the new Munch museum to open in Oslo next year. 

With my head/eyes turned to the side, I wanted to convey a thoughtfulness/reflective look. I also wanted to draw the viewers eye to the mystery figure (silhouette) in the background. There are a few meaningful objects within the piece and under the many layers, which is what I aimed for...the sense of discovery.  

My ‘right’ hand which is point towards an exaggerated perspective table displays outlines of important things to me. It includes an outline of portraits I have created of Holocaust survivors, a photo of me and my mother when I was a child and a ribbon bow which is often worn by my grandmother. 

My ‘left’ hand which appears on the right side on my portrait is empty. This is on purpose too as not only I wanted to have a bit pure canvas on show, to give the eye some ‘breathing space’, but also to show my youth. The unfinished hand is to signify my youth as an artist, that there is plenty more to learn and develop...'


Instagram: @gideonsummerfield

Lindsey McLean (Drawing Year 2014)


Self Portrait as Colossus Woman with Fan, 2020

'My work questions the historical representation of femininity and women in painting. Figures exist in the liminal space between portraiture and imagination, bedecked in a rich colour palette suggesting tactile honeys and velvets. These characters are in movement and entanglement, trapped in acts of concealment and destruction. ‘Self Portrait as Colossus Woman with Fan’ is about the imagery of femininity and women in painting. In this self-portrait, the scale and oversized figure is a way of taking ownership of one’s own image. Giving room for this it in its many conflicting layers, especially seen in the way the fan is hiding the face and is also being set on fire.

I am currently in my final year of MFA painting at The Slade School of Fine Art and will be graduating this July. Alongside studying, I run an artist-led exhibition space from my London canal boat called the Narrow Gallery. It is an outside exhibiting space for emerging artists to experiment in showing small scale work to the public. The concept was in response was to the limitations of seeing work online and, being an outside space, it has shown art work consistently throughout the last year.'


Instagram: @lindseyjeanmclean

Fred Clark (Drawing Year 2012)


Mask, 2020

This year, with deadlines and exhibitions put on hold, I thought it was a good opportunity to finally explore sculpture. For a long time I have been interested in the intersection between drawing and sculpture, and have felt that my drawings are more naturally sculptural than painterly; concerned with form rather than surface. The idea was to make sculptures as if they have been magically drawn in mid air, like Picasso’s light drawings, free and gestural and unencumbered by the structural constraints such as strength and gravity. I started working in Virtual Reality, collaborating with the digital department at a foundry called Pangolin to get them cast in Bronze.' 


'This portrait head, was just one of the many experiments into the scope and limitation of drawing in VR. It is a good example of the primacy of drawing in my practice, the drawing doesn’t just inform the sculpture: it is the sculpture! In this regard, it is very much the work of a draughtsman rather than a sculptor, and it maintains all the gestural irregularities of my original ink drawings. The self-portrait, titled ‘Mask’, is suggestive of three-dimensional form, but when you walk around it, the lines disintegrate into chaos. I like the way it is floating, free from neck and shoulders, and evokes the ancient masks you see in the British museum.

I have moved out of London to be close to the foundry and have learned to weld steel bars so that I can fabricate my drawings on a bigger scale. Ironically, I am now making large-scale versions of my digital drawings by means of the very laborious traditional processes that I was seeking to avoid in the first place. But I am learning a lot along the way and it is taking me down a fascinating journey in which cutting edge technology can be used to work alongside some of the very oldest methods of making art, bridging technology and craft in really interesting ways.'


Instagram: @fredclarkstudio

Rachel Mercer (Drawing Year 2013)

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Red Chin, 2020

'My self-portraits serve as a diary of life events. ‘Red Chin’ was made to document a moment in my history, the chin is lifted and the gaze is one of self-scrutiny. The colours capture the time of year it was made; the distortion allows for the suggestion of a landscape which expresses the connection I felt to my surroundings during a moment of clarity and realisation.'  

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'Making self portraits has always been a big part of my practise. Painting myself is the most direct way for me to develop painterly languages to express emotion, I can combine observation and imagination in equal parts. A large mirror has always been an important prop in my studio, it offers new perspectives; the strangeness of the mirrored  image encourages new thoughts on form and colour.' 

Instagram: @rachelmercerartist

Alex Cree (Drawing Year 2007)


Self Portrait in a Felt Hat , 2020

'Self Portrait in a Felt Hat was done at a time when I had no studio. It was painted in my parents' garage in winter, hence the coat and hat. I have tried to make a painting that is simultaneously expressionist and realist. I now have a brand new studio with central heating, so my next self portrait can be in just pants and socks!'


Instagram: @alexjcree

Sally Pannifex (Drawing Year 2002)

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SP 2021#29, 2021

'I continue to work full time as an NHS nurse but since end of January have been painting every day and a new way of working and celebrating colour has emerged.

SP#29,2021 was the latest in a series of small gouache paintings executed quickly based on memory and other studies where spontaneity was in charge and expressive colour was allowed to triumph. Inspired by friend and prolific artist Dr Charley Peters I started working in a more instinctive energetic way using an A5 sketchbook and a glorious set of Caran D’ Ache gouache pans. With zero set up or pressure this has enabled painting to become a magical part of every day. Some days I paint studies from life, other days something abstract, always a surprise to see what emerges. It is a fascinating visual diary of the last few months and a rich source of starting points for developing other paintings.

In a strange way lockdown has opened things up for me, with digital technology bringing the art world closer to me. I wish I had a better grasp of how to use the technology though as I don’t find it intuitive and struggled to submit my entry to the competition in the correct format.

The Ways of Drawing book created by the Royal Drawing School along with the weekly Alumni newsletter and blog has provided me with much nourishment and inspiration too.'

Instagram: @pannfx

Visit the exhibition:

The Self Portrait Prize Exhibition 2021

17th May - 9th July, Coventry Cathedral

Free entry