top of page


The painting that nearly broke me

There I was, caught in a scroll hole on my phone, the tip of my my thumb endlessly bending and extending again, touching the flat glass surface lightly then flicking upward like I was trying to brush off an invisible crumb, or doing some strange neurotic ritual.

In a way, it was a ritual; my nightly habit of laying in bed and browsing the art on Instagram.

Getting inspiration, marvelling at the talent, mindlessly scrolling through about 300 metres of endless digital tape.

And then I saw it.

A sponsored ad for the SBS Portrait Prize 2021.

The clickbait stated they were looking for entrants for an annual art exhibition to be held in a few months, with a grand prize of $8000 for the winner.

I took the bait, and I was in hook, line, and a very big, very heavy sinker.

I rummaged through my mental catalogue searching for the right painting to enter, and there were many I could have used. I considered the painting of Melinda as this fit the brief perfectly, however my brain was knocking on the inside of my skull and incessantly shouting, "I have an idea!".

Now, my brain and I don't always get along so well but it does occasionally prove to be pretty smart and comes up with some cool creative ideas, so I'd be an idiot to always ignore it.

I pinned my partner Lisa down, threw her phone across the room, did the whole Kath and Kim 'Look at moy" thing, then proceeded to speak excitedly at around 400 words a minute, and probably a bit too loud for a school night, about my idea.

My idea was this: I would start my own competition on Facebook to entice my following into being a model for me, and as a reward they would receive their painting absolutely free of charge. All they had to do was go to a dedicated webpage I had set up on and have a looksy through an assortment of different artworks I have done, and tell me what their favourite was and why. By commenting on my post, they put themselves into the draw to be randomly selected by a Facebook comment picker tool.

Here was my teaser post on my story:

And here was my post a few days later:

I had quite a lot of engagement during the week that I ran the competition for. It was actually not a bad idea because it gave people the opportunity to have a look on my website and realise that they need to look no further for like, the best and most unique gift idea ever!


Sorry, I've got that out of my system now.

Anyway, check out the live video I posted announcing the lucky winner:

Out of all of the entries of random facebook followers, there could have been any possible winner selected from the random comment picker that I used, and the person that was chosen was Mum.

My Mum?!!

Well, the Universe certainly had a good ol' belly laugh at that one.

Don't get me wrong, my Mum is a beautiful person inside and out, but I did not expect that out of all of the random people that entered, it would be one of the closest people in my life.

My mind was racing, and I was sweating. "People will think it was rigged!"

It wasn't. It was just a very clear sign that I needed to spend some more quality time with Ma.

She was stoked, acting like she had won the lottery or something, bless her.

I arranged to get her around to my studio asap to do a live sitting for me, so I could paint a study of her and take some snaps for reference later when I worked on the final studio painting.

The live sitting and study

Mum was in for a treat, she got her hair and makeup done by my pre-production team (that's a fancy way of saying 'my fiancé' - well, she is an actual hairdresser, so don't judge), and Mum got to spend an hour or so with her favourite son (sorry Darren and Ryan). Best day ever!

Here's a video of the study painting process:

A jolly time was had by all, and I created the quickest and worst oil painting I have ever done. But hey, I got the colours right and that was the main objective, because sometimes even though cameras are fun to use, the photos suck and you need some kind of real life reference to keep you on track so the colours you mix in your painting don't turn out looking like you painted an Oompa Loompa, instead of your Mum.

Here's the quickest and worst oil painting from a professional artist ever:

(It's just the study, so don't be judgy... I've already warned you about that)

But here is a photo that may just tip the balance and put me back up near the top of your coolness ranking. I look like an actual professional artist and everything!:

And I did get some good photos to use so I could make a decision on what kind of composition would look decent for a painting worthy of a $8000 prize.

Here are my shortlisted poses:

I didn't want the painting to be too 'booby', so I opted for a closeup of wrinkles instead.

I stand by my decision. (insert sweating emoji here)

The Actual Painting

I worked hard at this for four weeks, and I reckon I spent no less than 60-70 hours on it.

It came together slowly, until I had created what I proudly referred to as the


Here it is:

Pretty good hey?

Here are some close ups of wrinkly bits ( you Ma):

The Big Reveal

I asked Mum to come over so I could do the big reveal.

Here's some more photos of me looking cool and handsome, and Mum generally being beautiful, and as proud as punch. It's no wonder why she has so many wrinkles, with all the smiling she does, sheesh!

So why the dramatic title?

Well. I entered my painting into the SBS Portrait Prize and kept my fingers crossed as I madly manifested the $8000 prize, and Australia wide recognition in the art industry.

The deadline arrived, and I waited for the email that was going to tell me that I had been shortlisted to be a part of the exhibition, that would ultimately allow my painting to be judged and deemed as the 1st prize, because it's so awesome.

I waited

and waited


The announcement date passed, and I got impatient, so I searched it up on Google and I found the announcement.

My name wasn't on it.

There were over 300 entries, and 83 artists were accepted into the competition

and I wasn't one of them.

Now, remember when I said earlier that sometimes my brain and I don't get along so well?

That's because my brain is sometimes an asshole.

I fell into a dark pit of doubt and negativity, and had an old fashioned 'woe is me' party.

Should I stop painting portraits? Should I change my style?, Should I forget art altogether and focus on my Graphic Design business instead?, Why are we here? What's the meaning of life? ....and so on and so forth.

Yes it could have broken me. It could have stopped me from living what I know is my purpose (well one of them). But I'm stronger than that, and I have learned that you always have to metaphorically step out of your situation in order to have the most accurate and subjective view of it.

  1. I got to spend some quality time with my wonderful Mum, and out relationship has become even stronger and closer than before.

  2. I proved to myself that I have the ability to continually level up and created my best painting to date.

  3. I have had another chance to put things in perspective and grow from the experience.

For whatever reason, the SBS Portrait Prize admin team didn't think my painting was suitable. This doesn't mean that it wasn't a good painting, it just means that it wasn't painted for them, it was painted for my Mum.

Please visit my website and check out my work.

Who knows, perhaps you could be the person that commissions me for the new Best Painting Ever!

- Simon Aberle

238 views0 comments
bottom of page