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Bring your crayons to the Brasserie and test against the best

An artist can't get much higher profile in Portland than to win the annual crayon contest at the Brasserie Montmartre restaurant.

Thousands of diners will see the picture, and if restaurant owner Abdel Omar is really impressed, it will hang by the front door, as do past winners 'Mona (Lisa) Crayon' by Mark Miller (1987) and Cory Raff's crayon couple (1994).

This year marks the contest's 20th anniversary, and Omar is planning something special. For one thing, the contestants will have an extra two hours to draw; the start moves back to 3 p.m. The contest still ends at 10 p.m., when maitre d' Gary Hampton will roll up the artwork and take it downstairs to judge Tom Hardy.

Hardy's a nationally known sculptor who has judged all but one previous contest, providing plenty of witty and acerbic commentary out of earshot of the contestants. This year he'll have help from Bruce Guenther, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Portland Art Museum.

Guenther brings something extra to sweeten the prize pot: Winners will receive a year's family membership to the art museum. And cash prizes continue to creep upward: The top five finishers will receive from $50 to $200 in prize money.

The Brasserie contest is still free to enter, but conversations with previous contestants net a few pieces of advice:

• Be early enough to grab a well-lighted table.

• Know what you're going to draw in advance.

• Consider bringing expert help to sketch the top half of the picture or take over while you take a break. Advertising agencies have been known to field teams.

• Don't succumb to a glass of wine (or more) in the early going; you can't afford the distraction or the mistakes.

• Don't insist on getting your work back even if you don't win. The rules are clear on this.

• Write your name and phone number clearly on the back of your masterpiece in case you win, so the judges won't mangle your name.

• Stick around for the end. You might win, and even if you don't, you can cheer and make some other starving artist feel great.

On May 1, Omar says the Brasserie will have an exhibition downstairs of all 20 first-place winners from previous years.

'There will be complimentary French wine and finger food from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.,' Omar says. 'We're hoping to get as many of the original winners as we can.'

Contact Paul Duchene This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .