July 29, 2020

What Makes a Winning John Byrne Award Entry?

The John Byrne Award is unusual in accepting any kind of creative work, on any theme. This gives our entrants total creative freedom, but it can sometimes make it difficult to know where to start. Take a look at the tips below, and some of our most beloved winning entries, for all you need to know about how to craft a winning John Byrne Award Entry!

So, What Makes a Great John Byrne Award Entry?

John Byrne Award-winners are the entries that best explore, question or express a chosen value or theme. Essentially, a great John Byrne Award entry knows what it is trying to say, and communicates this in a powerful and effective way. Your entry is judged equally on your creative work and your entry statement.

In order to help you fulfil our judging criteria (which ask whether an entry is reasoned, constructive and compelling), we’ve come up with three questions you should ask yourself before submitting.

What does my entry communicate?

Firstly, we need to know what your entry is trying to communicate. It’s therefore essential that you really consider what your work is trying to say.

A good way to do this is to ask yourself why: Why did I write/ paint/ compose this piece? Why does it look/ sound the way it does? Why is this important?


Don’t worry if you don’t think your chosen value is ‘deep’ enough! We only ever judge how well your work expresses its chosen value, and NEVER the value itself.


Not only will answering these questions help prompt your accompanying statement, but it can also form the basis of your entry title – which should also be formed as a question. It’s very important to give your entry a title that truly reflects your work, as this will become the benchmark by which your entry is judged – your work might be extremely powerful in expressing your chosen value, but if we think it’s about something else, we won’t see this.


Avoid simply adding a question mark to end of your piece’s description or title, unless it really makes sense– ‘Can we ever really know what someone else is thinking?’ is intriguing, but ‘The Mona Lisa?’ or even, ‘A smiling woman?’ is far less so.


A perfect example of an entry that knows what it is trying to say, is Grant Holden’s ‘Who Would Clean a Car Park?’ Grant’s Claymation film is dedicated to Scotland’s Cleaners, shining a light on these often overlooked but essential members of our society. His concerns for an underappreciated workforce are clearly expressed in his short film, the title complementing his work perfectly.


See Grant’ s entry, here.

How does my entry contribute to a discussion?

Whatever your chosen value or theme, the message that your work is trying to communicate will fall into a wider context or discussion.

When our judging criteria looks for work to be reasoned, we are looking for an awareness of what came before in the discussion of your value: It could be that you have done a great deal of research into the issue you are exploring; or you have experienced something first-hand and are able to communicate how it feels; maybe you are on the fence but have thought deeply about your issue. All of these things happened before you created your entry, and represent the background to your discussion of your value or theme.

‘What Impact Can a Community Have?’ by Daisy Thompson is a great example of this. Daisy’s essay shows a powerful and poignant awareness of how her grandparents upbringing has echoed down through the generations. It is clear in reading her submission how much thought and research came before the piece was written.


Read Daisy’s full essay.

When our judging criteria asks entries to be constructive however, we are looking for an awareness of what might come next in the discussion, and of how you want to contribute to this. Perhaps your entry presents a radical new idea, or prompts a discussion which no-one but you has even thought of. Perhaps you are expressing an old idea or universal experience, in a particularly powerful or new way.  A really well-reasoned and constructive entry knows exactly where it fits in the discussion of its theme or value, and communicates this clearly and confidently.


Answering this question in your statement helps us to see your working; how your unique thoughts, experiences and skills helped you get to the end result, and what you want your work to achieve. This is what your supporting statement is for, so make the most of it!


Look to Harmony Bury’s ‘Scottish Forestry: Has Profit Trumped Biodiversity’, whose beautiful sculpture casts a question mark over the future of Scottish Forestry in a time of climate crisis.


See more of Harmony’s work.

Is my entry compelling? Could it be more so?

The final way in which we evaluate our entries, is to ask whether they are compelling. Your entry is compelling if it is effective, well-executed and well-thought out. We want to see that the piece itself is a powerful, intriguing and thoughtful representation of your value or theme.


Remember, your statement has a limit of 200 words, so try not to waste them by describing your piece, giving us your biography, or detailing all your methods and materials – unless it’s genuinely relevant to your chosen value or question.

A good accompanying statement is clear, concise and confident in what it is trying to communicate, and gives us the information we need to understand you and your work.


One of the best examples of this is, of course, Abriele Skaite and Thanos Kyratzis’ ‘How Do We Perceive Borders, Their Notions and Effects, in Today’s World?’ – the winner of The John Byrne Award 2020 Grand Prize of £7,500. Their collaboration combined a nuanced idea with new perspectives and powerful execution, to wow our annual judging panel.


Read Abriele and Thanos’ award-winning entry.