Most creatives have found themselves doodling on beermats at some time in their lives. Inkygoodness – which is run by regular Digital Arts contributor Lisa Hassell – has taken in-pub sketching to the next level by putting together a competition and exhibition that invited illustrators and artists to create a character using a mat as a canvas.

The entrants were judged by the likes of character art curators and conference organisers Pictoplasma, illustrator and writer Zeegan Rush, and Digital Arts editor Neil Bennett.

The competition took place last year, but the exhibition of winners – plus invited artworks from the likes of Tado, Felt Mistress, Jonathan Edwards, Sandra Dieckmann, Simon Wild, Sneaky Raccoon and Sweaty Eskimo – is happening at the Coningsby Gallery in London from April 29 to May 4.

We sat down with Lisa to find out more about the project.

DA: Why beermats?

LH: "We had been toying with the idea of running a competition for a while, and wanted to keep the concept as simple and accessible as possible so that anyone could get involved.

"The idea for customising beermats came about when we were in Antwerp for our Shape/Shift exhibition earlier this year – our friends Mark Goss & Sam de Buysscher took us to a local pub, and over a beer started doodling on Beermats with their friends; drawing little eyes over the logo and blacking out bits to create a character – it was the perfect medium – easy to get hold of, and most importantly very light which made it cheap to post."

by Diane Van Der Voort
by Ed J Brown

DA: Did you see any trends in the characters submitted (or the ones that won), perhaps towards 'pub character' type personalities?

LH: "The temptation to simply get a few pens out and doodle in a very organic, spontaneous way was reflected in a number of entries we received - but equally we were incredibly impressed with the handful of artists who presented brilliantly executed, and very individual, crafted artworks which challenged our preconception of the brief, such as the 3D works by El Tobe (below and top of article), and plush beermats by Diane van der Voort (above top).

"On reviewing the designs chosen by our judges it was apparent just how diverse individual tastes can be - the artworks that we felt were clear winners were not picked by our judges, which was very interesting. The concept of the 'pub character' was not one we actively encouraged, but it was fun to see how illustrators responded to the brief in their own way."

DA: Are you surprised by the large number and high quality of the entries?

LH: "We really didn't know what to expect – and deliberately kept the brief open to interpretation; which lead to some wonderfully imaginative entries. Illustrators like Emma Levey who used the format to tell a narrative by joining several beermats together, and El Tobe who worked in 3D producing very abstract artworks. The style, concept and execution of the entries varied considerably – and it was a wonderful way of encountering artists we had not seen before. I think the medium also offered a unique set of challenges – inspiring artists to work in a different way to their usual output.

"What could easily have become a straight 'drawing onto a Beermat' type competition quickly gained momentum, and every day new entries arrived inventing a different interpretation of the brief; we received 3D pieces, mini sculptures, puppets, plush designs and wonderfully detailed collage work. We purposefully left the brief open enough to tempt artists into getting very creative with the format of a Beermat; so it was a lot of fun opening the parcels as they came in - we've been really impressed by the quality of work we have received."

by El Tobe
by Sandra Dieckmann

DA: How did you choose the pieces for the exhibition?

LH: "We're drawn to artists and illustrators who create strong, humorous, character art – occasionally described as pop surrealist / low brow. Much of what we showcase in our exhibitions is based on our own personal tastes – it's simply work that we love and would happily own ourselves, but many would argue that there are quite clear similarities displayed in the artists & artworks we select.The Beermat Character Project was a little different, as we invited a panel of industry judges to help us with the final selection. We were inspired to do this to give a more balanced view on the artwork chosen, and gain a bit of added credibility for the project – winners were announced on our blog & social networks in addition to being awarded a token prize from their judge.

"Overall, we are proud of the final selection, and believe it offers a good balance of ideas, craft skill and variety of styles which stay true to the original brief. There were quite a few entries that were beautifully illustrated but not what we would define as a 'character' and on that basis were not included, Admittedly there are a few exceptions to this rule such as the exceptional cut-out Beermat by Rinske Zijsling which although not strictly a singular character reflects incredible talent, and is just too beautiful not to include in the show."

by Kamila Czapiga. This was picked as a winning entry by Digital Arts editor Neil Bennett
by Matthew McGregor

by Mr The Beef
Pippa Stewart
by Rinske Zijsling
by Michael Slack
by Mayumi Haryoto

Inkygoodness has also created a video (below) showing the intricate process of framing the beermats.