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Since 1962 the Koestler Awards have played a unique, national role in motivating prisoners, secure hospital patients and immigration detainees to take part in the arts. The Koestler Awards are simple and powerful – we reward achievement, build self-confidence and broaden horizons for some of society’s most disadvantaged and marginalised people.

Our work harnesses the uniquely transformative power of the arts to help individuals learn the skills and gain the confidence to live creative, positive and productive lives. Each year we receive more than 7,000 entries from over 3,500 entrants across the UK in 52 categories. More than 2,000 Awards are granted by over 100 esteemed judges, and each year culminates in a curated exhibition at Southbank Centre which showcases the incredible power of the arts to transform lives.

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  • The Big Draw X Koestler Arts

Water: Condensed Life, HM Prison Albany, Painting, 2020

The Big Draw X Koestler Arts

Online, 8 and 29 October 2020

In October 2020, Koestler Arts took part in the world’s biggest celebration of drawing.

Big Draw 2020: Climate of Change

We love encouraging people to have a go at drawing – it’s one of the most popular and accessible artforms in our annual Koestler Awards. This was our first time taking part in The Big Draw, an annual festival to inspire people to ‘get back to the drawing board’ in all sorts of imaginative ways.

We were delighted to introduce two artists, who are both Koestler Arts alumni, to lead events responding to this year’s festival theme of ‘A Climate of Change’. They were in conversation with us about their creative practice and how this environmental theme speaks to them, before demonstrating live artwork creations before our eyes!

The Big Draw x Koestler Arts with Sarah

29 October 2020

Sarah paints portraits that are incredibly realistic and for this event she took us through how she does it, step by step. In keeping with the ‘Climate of Change’ festival theme, her portrait subject was a famous environmental activist who has inspired and galvanised people across the world.

I’ve been drawing for about 25 years now and have developed a great range of skills in this time, portraits being my absolute favourite!! I’ll be showing you how to achieve some of the same techniques, from sketch mapping, blending, colour mixing, shading and highlights.

Sarah, Artist

The Big Draw x Koestler Arts with Lee

8 October 2020


An inspiring, brave explanation & demonstration of where an artist began his creative life & where he continues to explore his past, present & future through the power of art.

Attendee at ‘The Big Draw X Koestler Arts with Lee’

For this event, Lee ‘drew’ on a rather different material – sculpting a fragment of nature on an everyday bar of soap.

Lee demonstrated a variety of mark-making techniques, as well as how to introduce colour to the final piece. There were some useful hints and tips for anyone thinking of having a go themselves.

Lee creates artwork with many different materials and his interests are in social change, culture within overlooked communities, and the fragmentation and reshaping of thought. Recent works explore the memories, dreams, and psychodramas of his past-lived experience within Young Offending Institutions:

Through making objects, delivering workshops and talks, and writing prose – I attempt, in the small way that I can, to break down the tall wall we have built between us and those inside. To encourage a space for us to reflect upon, and respond to, the malnourished relationship between the two.

As we all experience the recent constraints of isolation around the world, I can’t think of a more important time for us to seek those small moments, where we can take a pause and reconnect with nature. By choosing to make the time to reflect upon our current relationship, with all kinds of climate, I think, will be the building blocks for us to collectively make a change.

Lee, Artist