Royally great crowd-sourcing: more than 11,000 people submit drawings to create a digital portrait of King Charles III

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A giant digital portrait of King Charles III, made up of drawings by 11,000 (and counting) people around Britain, has gone on show during the week of the king’s coronation on the four-storey-high interactive digital screens at Outernet, in central London, in association with the charity BBC Children in Need.

The Royally Big Portrait is made up of thousands of crowd-sourced versions of a line-drawn postage-stamp-like profile of the king, created by the artist Sam Barnett. Online submissions closed on 28 April, but contributions to the giant digital image can still be uploaded live at Outernet until 8 May. Visitors to Outernet will also be able to locate their individual drawing within the portrait using iPads. The final number of contributions to the image will be announced on 9 May.

The Royally Big Portrait on the big screen (right) and a video still showing hand-drawn profiles of the monarch submitted to the project Yui Mok/PA Wire

“We’ve launched The Royally Big Portrait,” Barnett said, “to celebrate every child’s creativity and give them the self-belief to achieve, to be part of history, and to support other children so they can overcome their challenges.”

A version of the portrait on canvas will be auctioned by Christie’s at Outernet during a special event on the evening of 4 May. Proceeds from the auction and from sales of prints of the drawing on the Children in Need website will go to the charity, which supports children living in poverty or suffering social injustice.

The National Portrait Gallery, in London, which reopens on 22 June after a three-year programme of alterations and refurbishment, contributed images of historic royal portraits from its collection as inspiration for schoolchildren who submitted drawings to the project.

The immersive video of The Royally Great Portrait at Outernet, in London, shows some of the 11,000 submitted drawings coming together to form the finished image Yui Mok/PA Wire

The Drawing Year at Christie’s, London

Perhaps King Charles’s greatest contribution to the grass roots of artistic careers is the Royal Drawing School, previously the Prince’s Drawing School, which the then Prince of Wales established in 2000. The school runs courses, in London and online, focused on the importance of observational drawing, a skill that seemed to be lacking from the curriculum of many fine art degrees. Central to the school’s work is the Drawing Year, an intensive no-fee postgraduate programme for early-career artists (competition for the 30 places is fierce), but it also runs a young artist programme for 10- to 18-year-olds, various residencies around the world and an extensive programme of in-person and online public courses.

Christie’s holds an annual exhibition of works from The Drawing Year students each year at its King Street, London, headquarters. But this month the auction house is hosting an extra show of works commissioned by the Royal Drawing School from The Drawing Year alumni in honour of the coronation of its patron and Queen Camilla.

The exhibition, from 2 to 25 May, features a mixture of these commissioned works, for which the brief was to create personal reflections on the occasion, alongside over 50 drawings by fellow Drawing Year alumni that form part of the King’s archive of drawings from the school (one work by each student is chosen for the archive upon graduation).

Christabel MacGreevy The Lion & The Unicorn, May 2023. One of the coronation commissions from Royal Drawing School’s Drawing Year alumni. Limited-edition prints of the painting are on sale in aid of the course’s scholarship fund Courtesy Royal Drawing School

Five of the commissioned works, by Christabel MacGreevy, Sophie Charalambous, Arjuna Gunarathne and Christopher Green, will be for sale as limited-edition prints, at prices from £230 to £350—a portion of funds will be donated to The Drawing Year Scholarship Fund. Also on show is a work by the RDS alumna Shana P Lohrey, which was commissioned for Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee and given to King Charles as a present last year.

Sophie Charalambous,The Pearly Kings and Queens Pageant (2023). One of the coronation commissions from Royal Drawing School’s Drawing Year alumni. Limited-edition prints of the painting are on sale in aid of the course’s scholarship fund Courtesy Royal Drawing School

Four hundred years of the First Folio

From 2 to 26 May, Christie’s is also exhibiting six copies of William Shakespeare’s First Folio at its King Street saleroom, to commemorate 400 years since the writer’s friends and fellow actors John Heminge and Henry Condell compiled his collected plays for the first time, seven years after his death. The volume, titled Mr William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, is known as the First Folio and this is the largest exhibition of such folios ever in the UK.

  • Royally Great Portrait is on show at Outernet, Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 8LH: 3 May 12-6pm; 4 May 12-10pm; 5 May 12-6pm; 6-8 May, 8am-8pm.
  • Christie’s auction the Royally Great Portrait at Outernet, 4 May. Event starts 6pm; auction at about 7.20pm.
  • The Drawing Year, Christie’s, King Street, London, to 25 May.
  • Shakespeare’s First Folio: The First Four Hundred Years, Christie’s, King Street, London, to 26 May.

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