I entered my work into the Archibald Prize

claire19 1

The Archibald Prize is a big deal (apparently) and it only occurred to me a week into February that I may as well enter.

Well firstly, I thought perhaps I had left it too late and maybe I could use all of 2023 to prepare to enter 2024. 
That was the kind and soft alter ego telling me, “It’s ok, you only just finished studying last year, the Archibald is for professional artists and you are not that.”

However, if you have read my book, ‘Why Not Me? A Lifelong Journey of 1%’ers & Becoming a World Champion’, you would know that this internal chatter has gone on before.  Yet, I strongly believe I am not alone in this area. 
Wait until we are better, have more skill, know more stuff, and feel more confident before we take the risk of doing some big.

So the very moment I wondered about just chilling out for a year and saving myself for the 2024 Archibald, I realised, what better way to grow and establish myself as an artist - NOW (not next year) by just bloody well entering.  

What’s the worst that can happen? I am not selected as a finalist. That’s it.  
What’s the best that can happen? I could win! But you know what they say right? You have to be in it to win it.  

So I am in, and I am done and I am here to share with you the process without boring you to tears!  Oh and as always, I am here to tell you, if you want to have a crack, don’t wait for permission from the gatekeepers, find a way and make it happen.  

Taken from the website:  The Archibald Prize is awarded annually to the best portrait, 'preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics, painted by any artist resident in Australasia’.

It's not always the case that a winner or finalist meets these criteria, but I wanted to find a happy medium of a person on the fringe of this, whom I could gain access to at short notice and know that I would enjoy creating something I felt proud of regardless of the result.

Whilst racking my brain, I realised that there had been a few times in my life when I had actually painted a portrait, so this was going to be a grand-scale learning curve.  On my 50th birthday, February 2nd, I ordered some huge canvases to be delivered, 121.8 x 182.8cm to be exact.

But who?
I started to make a list, and number one was a long-time friend.  

claire and jess ferry

I met Claire Stevens through teaching mountain bike skills courses, then she came on our camps, then we raced together and went on trips on our bikes, and laughed and bantered all day long.  We used to say our larynx was always tired afterwards.

Many long trips and weekends away riding led me to gain insight into her background.  Becoming an officer in the RAAF as an Aeronautical Engineer.  Her contacts led eventually to working for Ansett, which was a blessing in disguise.  A redundancy package led her to ask the question.  

“If I could be anything in the world, what would it be?”

She knew now that she would fund her way through studying medicine, which eventually led to becoming a surgeon.  I think we all know that this is a long long journey of accreditation and making a name for yourself.

Claire tells me only a couple of weeks ago, that helping people, in the medical field is the “Best Job In The World”, in fact, she would probably say that it’s “Tops!”.

These last few sentences are only scratching the surface because in amongst this journey is failure, resistance from authority and pursuing what is often the harder and less trodden path.  


This includes her favourite pastime.  

Once upon a time, she raced road bikes, then was working at Alice Springs Hospital as a trainee, hopped on a mountain bike, loved it to bits, got hooked, and also on the branches of mulga bushes.  But she went on, and kept riding bikes, did a few long endurance events, and eventually many years later, landed on the ULTRA endurance cycling scene.  

claire UK

claire long ride

Claire told me that what she experiences at work, where she is working with people, their illness, their families, and their expectations and that of working in a hospital is both stressful and rewarding, and they go together.  There is a balance between the reward and the effort.

She loves it and wouldn’t change it for quids (her words!).

And similarly, ultra-endurance cycling is precisely the same.  It's a mindful meditation on wheels, pursuing micro-moments of must eat, ride safe, put sunscreen on, where can I get water, Oh look at that view, through to I need to make it another 100km before I can stop today, or get food before that shop closes.

Claire describes her work and her cycling as Yin and Yang, they go together, they are both requiring concentration and energy and they both renew her zest for life, but the time out needed for the long rides rejuvenates her to go back to loving her work as a surgeon.

Claire was my first choice to paint for the Archibald Prize, because of many things, but probably mostly because I like her, she makes me laugh, and she is a genuine person, with a heart that is huge and open to experience.  But also because she goes the hard way, she chooses to grow and learn and to fail. 
From this, she has become the best version of herself.  And finally because she bloody well loves working with people, to help and to heal, to offer her expertise to those that need it most, and to care about that person as a human, not just a diagnosis.

Claire and Jess lorne

Everyone, meet Claire Stevens, my subject for the Archibald Prize 2023.

She’s a top human!


Here’s how it rolled out:

1st Feb 2023. Messaged Claire on Instagram after a few random chats, I didn’t know she was back in Geelong again.  I asked her if she would be keen to be my portrait subject for the Archibald. She said Yes!  We agreed to catch up on Sunday.

2nd Feb 2023.  Ordered a large canvas. Go big or go home. 

claire base on canvas

5th Feb 2023.  Claire came over, we chatted, took a few pics, and drew her face several times over whilst I asked questions and took notes as well.  I wanted to involve things that were distinctly Claire, colour green, blue, yellows and of course some birds but wasn't sure how this would fit in as yet.

5th, 6th, 7th Feb - Draw draw draw. Working out my layout, landscape or portrait, how would it fit, what would I draw, and how would she be best presented.  At the same time, learn and relearn how to use Procreate and Adobe Photoshop for dropping in some ideas and building on these. Testing out colour palettes etc…

Test our drawing no. 1 on a large canvas, getting some outlines in paint, I slept on this for 2 nights and finally decided I wasn't happy and the canvas got a light coating of gesso to give me a fresh start.

Saturday 11th Feb, nearly 1 week since we met to get down ideas and concept drawings, I put my final idea onto the canvas.  I was much happier with this, though it still evolved to another level once onto the canvas.  But by the time I woke up Sunday morning, I was cranking out the painting, not entirely knowing how I would get there, but allowing myself time to ease into it.  

Monday 13th Feb, It's time to get cracking. I truly did not know it would unfold this quickly.  I put down some underpainting and different colours, mostly complimentary to what I would be using as final colours.  I didn't mind this on its own actually.  My goodness, I was just learning so much. I was so very glad to have spent all of 2022 studying visual arts and having some experience in planning and testing out my abilities.

Tuesday 14th Feb.  Loads of painting done today. The work evolved a little more from the original plan, but it was doable and improved it.  A few colour changes, but all working well.  Put in an 8hr day today.

Claire jess in studio

Wednesday 15th Feb.  I raced in the morning at Supervets on my road bike, so got up at 4 am and put 2 hrs in, finished up in the arvo with 2 more.  Basically done.

Thursday 16th Feb. Two more hours of fine-tuning.

Friday 17th Feb. Final Two hours and finished.  

Total Time Spent including prep and painting: 50 hrs approx. over 2 weeks.

Claire nearly finished

Claire finished

Now the hard work is to take it up there and get it when it's all over.  Travel from Geelong to Sydney and back - twice over. I could organise a courier, but where is the fun in that?

I am so glad I learnt some good processes last year at school, creating a record of how I got to the end result and influences along the way.

I would love to thank a few people that have helped me:

  1. Claire Stevens. Thanks for saying yes.
  2. Norm Douglas. Thank you for your feedback - often 20 times a day, you give excellent useable and constructive feedback all the time.
  3. Mark Ferguson. “Cycling Maven” for the great footage you took of Claire after the Indian Pacific Wheel Race, it really enabled me to gain the extra sparkle I needed to study Claire in her post-race euphoria.  Check out this video and you will see what I mean: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tt0hxPsOoxg

What’s next? Well I have 2 more large canvases that I am going to paint, the same size, but will focus on landscape or abstract, I will let you know. 
Oh, and I will head back to my MINIs so I can continue trialling my style and what I love to create.  
I am off to Bali at the start of March, can’t wait to rest up and enjoy a week sitting next to the pool with Norm.

Link to a great story on Claire https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-10-01/sa-surgeon-and-cyclist-claire-stevens-lives-life-in-extremes/8

Link for the Archibald Prize, (2023 entries close 31st March): https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/art/prizes/archibald/ 

Link for Artwork for sale on my website: https://shop.jessicadouglas.com/artwork