This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Tim Olsen Drawing Prize at UNSW Art & Design. To celebrate, an online exhibition of archived winning works and new artworks will be held prior to the announcement of this year’s winner.

The Tim Olsen Drawing prize was established with the generous support of alumnus and UNSW Foundation Board member, Tim Olsen (BEdArt `82). Founder and director of the Olsen Gallery, Tim is one of Australia’s most recognised and respected art identities and is a graduate of UNSW Art & Design. 

Tim and the Olsen family have long been encouraging and supporting young and emerging artists to build careers as professional practicing artists. The annual $5,000 prize encourages excellence in drawing among UNSW Art & Design students and reinforces the importance of developing drawing skills. 

“I think of drawing as being the backbone, or the alphabet, or the grammar of art. I often find that there isn’t enough emphasis on drawing. if you can’t draw it, then how does it become real?

“Take my father’s generation for example, all of them drew before they painted. They did many works before they started a major work,” says Tim. 


Yvonne East. Photo credit: Jasmin Mund

The prize is as an excellent launch pad for aspiring professional artists like Yvonne (MFA `16), who recalls, “winning the Tim Olsen Drawing Prize contributed to an invaluable validation of my work that seeded an aspiration to continually explore and challenge my drawing practice.”

For winner Rochelle (BFA `05, PhD Fine Arts `09), the prize supported her experimentation with materials and drawing techniques which have significantly helped her throughout her career.

Dr Rochelle Haley

To celebrate the longstanding partnership with Tim Olsen and the Olsen Gallery, UNSW Art & Design are holding a virtual exhibition showcasing previous prize winner’s works. The extraordinary works will feature on the Art & Design website and Facebook page from 28th September, preceding the announcement of this year’s winner on the 6th October. 

Deputy Head of School (Art) at UNSW Art & Design, Dr Grant Stevens, has been working directly with this year’s candidates and recognises the impact of the prize in the student’s development. 

“The Tim Olsen Drawing Prize is especially significant this year, not only because of the 20th anniversary, but also because it provides pivotal support and professional development for students during a particularly challenging year. 

“For many students, the Tim Olsen Drawing Prize is the first public-facing exhibition in their careers. The stakes are raised, and it’s been really impressive to see how the students have responded. The works are really diverse, pushing the edges of what drawing can be, and giving form to the ideas and questions that are important and meaningful to each student in their practice.”

To see the incredible work of our students, visit the online exhibition on UNSW Art & Design Facebook and Instagram channels.