by Cass Art

Now open for entries for its 3rd year, the Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize 2017, supported by Cass Art, has become an established prize while still offering support to all entrants with free informative talks and networking events, as well as promotion on social media channels. We interviewed the winner of the 2016 Prize, Mirjam Siim, on her art, why she loves watercolours and what’s next. You can find out how to enter this year’s prize below. 
Tell us about yourself and your art.
I was born and raised in Tallinn, Estonia. I have a degree from Tartu Art College, Estonia, which included a year at the University of Porto, Portugal and I currently reside in Porto working in illustration, (wall) painting, product design and jewellery.
I have a diverse repertoire that covers street art, illustration and graphic design without fully containing itself in one style of making or the other. I take inspiration from urban life in Porto and my admiration of classical novelists such as Aldous Huxley and Lewis Carroll. Having a background in graphic design, I've also worked on mobile apps, produced two of my own typefaces and drawn countless illustrations for articles, books, poems and short stories.
Much of my practice to date has taken a narrative format with different series that bring stories to life. Streets and bridges become repositories for expressive narratives. My growing body of illustrations is replete with symbols, places, and narratives that oftentimes concern people of Portugal. Meanwhile, my portraiture deals with a prismatic spectrum of human emotions and interactions while maintaining a signature stylistic integrity.
Why do you focus on watercolour painting?
I have used a variety of mediums throughout the years, but my favourite has always been watercolour. There are several reasons for it - usually when I start with a painting, I do not have a strict plan for the outcome - I like to improvise and in this way watercolour is very helpful with its fluidity and unpredictability. Another reason is very practical - I have always been travelling around a lot and watercolours are the most compact paints to carry around with me. The same with the paper - it is easier to transport then canvases, etc. The paper which I prefer to use usually has a light texture and has a yellow/creamy tone. But all in all I have had different periods when I prefer different techniques and also different colour palettes. It seems to depend of the country I stay at also - while living in Estonia or England I did a lot of black and white/minimum colour works, whilst while living in Spain or Portugal I tend to use more colours. My favourite tones at the moment are turquoise and ochre. 
Why did you enter the Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize?
I found out about the Ashurst Emerging Artists Prize a few years ago. I had met one of the organisers, Conrad Carvalho, by a coincidence briefly before. For a few summers I was working in London and on my time off I went to the city, laid down my artwork and sold it on the streets to save up some money for my studies. One evening after I had finished doing that, I was having a chat with a friend of mine in the centre, holding my paintings under my arm. At some point Conrad passed us, but after 20 meters or so turned back, to ask if the paintings I am carrying are mine. I said that they are and by his request showed the rest of them. He was somewhat impressed, so we exchanged contacts for possible future collaboration. That lead to him recommending to participate in the Ashurst Emerging Artists Prize, which I did not manage to do during the first year, as I was too busy with my last year at university. The second year I decided to participate, just to see how it goes. I never expected to win the prize, but was extremely happy when I did. 
The timing was perfect, as I was already trying to reach the English audience anyhow, as I always met a lot of people who were fond of my art while living there. Opening my own solo show in London as part of the prize was definitely a good way to re-introduce my art around there and I am already planning my next exhibition in London. Another good part about the competition is the fact that all artworks are being shared in different social media networks, which is very useful nowadays to attract an audience from all over the world. 
What did you spend your Cass Art prize vouchers on?
The Cass Art voucher as part of the prize was extremely useful for me, as most of my money goes on art supplies anyway. Most of the items that I purchased with the voucher were things that I knew that I keep buying and using - mainly brushes, watercolours and paper in different sizes and shapes. Besides that I chose a lot of other practical items that I need in my everyday work - different pens, pencils, knives etc. I added some things that I was not sure that I need or use, but I like to get out of my comfort zone every now and again. 
What plans and projects have you got coming up?
Besides planning my next exhibition in London, I have been busy going to the fairs here in Porto, as it is a great way to make new contacts in my area. I have recently been working on commissioned paintings, finished illustrating a Portuguese children’s book and will soon start with a new project illustrating a textbook for schools here in Portugal. Also I was invited to join Agency Icon Creatives, based in Estonia. 
You can see Mirjam Siim’s exhibition online at:
Ashurst Emerging Art Prize 2016 winning artworks
A prize with the artists at its heart, the Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize firmly focuses on offering support to all of its entrants through online promotion, talks and feedback. Open for entries now, the deadline is 29 Jan 2017. With a focus on supporting all artists that enter, artists who enter before the 18 December 2016 can receive feedback on the application they submitted. 
The judging panel includes preliminary judges Sculptor Adeline de Monseignat, Art Critic and Presenter Aindrea Emelife and Director of Rosenfeld Porcini Gallery Georgia Adamson. With the next stage of judging being completed by Sculptor and Council Member of Royal British Society of Sculptors, Briony Marshall, Artist and Vice President of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour Rosa Sepple, Sotheby’s Institute or Art Program Director and Author David Bellingham, Director of the Schorr Collection of Art, Howard Lewis, and Senior Partner at Ashurst, Anna Delgado.
£6,500 prizes, for the Overall Winner, the Employee Choice Award and the Sculpture Award.
Includes one £500 Cass Art gift voucher for the Overall Winner and £250 Cass Art gift vouchers for the Employee Choice and Sculpture Award winners. 
A three month solo exhibitions in London, England.
Group Show for 25 Shortlisted Artists in April - June 2017.
Early entries will feature in the ongoing campaigns to clients.
Invitations to the informative talks and career guidance, free for artists.
There are no restrictions based on age, training or nationality. Artists can submit up to 5 different artworks, from paintings, photography, mixed media and sculpture (excludes video art, sound art and moving image).
For full terms and conditions, eligibility and further queries, please contact or visit
Good luck!
Image credits: 
(Left to right, top to bottom)
River of Life
Far Away, Close to Me
Found My Place
When We Grow Bigger, the Places Grow Smaller I
Out of Prison
The Habitants
Give and Take
by Mirjam Siim ©
Stains by Maureen Jordan ©
The Pondering Man by Erik Broll Stalheim ©
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