It is, in its own way, something of a Christmas tradition, if not quite as obviously festive as, say, a surfeit of mince pies or some enthusiastic carol-barking. Contemporary, wilfully broad in scope, the Annual Open Exhibition of the Society of Scottish Artists, which opens this weekend in all its diverse glory, is an excellent festive excursion, a portal into a less tinselly reality, a survey of work being produced by SSA artists today.

Some of those artists keen-eyed shoppers may have seen slipping in through the back door of the Royal Scottish Academy this last week, a well-wrapped canvas under one arm, a crate on wheels perhaps, a helper or two. These are the selected few – the selected 180 to be precise – whose works have been chosen from the record 2,500 items which were submitted for consideration to the SSA's panel this year.

But if in years gone by all 2,500 of those submitted works would have had to be brought in to the RSA by members who often had to walk them in front of the selectors in person – a fascinating process, to the outsider, the gallery crammed full of art, the “yes, no” of an immediate decision - now the selection is done digitally in the preceding months, and the organized chaos of hundreds of canvases and sculptures arriving in the gallery is left to the pre-opening weekend.

“When it comes in, there's a lot of moving things around,” admits current President Sharon Quigley, when I track her down in the midst of unwrapping the 240-odd successful artworks. Despite the months of planning, the post-it notes stuck on large scale maps of the rooms, the roughly thematic assembling, the yaw of scale and aesthetic, it can all change when the works are taken out of their crates. “You might have two exquisite works, but they'll look horrendous next to each other,” says Quigley. She has a team of six moving from room to room amongst countless volunteers, surrounded by bubble wrap and cardboard, working to get the big Christmas show on the walls – and floors – of the capacious RSA galleries.

But if the idea of trying to bring a show of over 240 different works by more then 180 artists, none of whom are working to a common theme, sounds nightmarish – and it would be, says Quigley – then there is salvation in the form of invited artists, including a selection of new gradates chosen from the summer degree shows and the annual SSA Award for an artist who exhibted in the previous year's show.

That slot goes to Jorg Obergfell, a German artist who trained in art academies in Lyon, Nuremberg and at Goldsmiths College in London. His winning work, Yeti, last year, comprised a shaggy bust whose toothed mouth held a miniature architectural civilisation. This year he has turned his gaze on that microcosm of civilisation, the shed.

Koya is an obsession with “architecture without architects,” a series of photographs of Japanese tool sheds taken in summer and winter. The structures are simple, some dilapidated, some more wildly exuberant than their purpose would require, some now adapted as summerhouses. Obergfell will install a wall of images, and then, too, a fountain.

Around him, other works coalesce. “We've a lovely thing come in from Orkney this year, beautiful deconstructed tapestries by an artist called Louise Barrington,” says Quigley, who is delighted that digital selection has meant that the SSA show is now no longer the preserve of Central Belt artists, but far more geographically representative. Her works are 3d, sculptural - and not yet unpacked.

On the main stairs, Quigley tells me that they are currently wiring up a major installation from New Media Scotland, the Biome Collective and artist Sembilan Matahari, a spectacular light projection that the SSA are really hoping will draw visitors in. “And then we have our new graduates, too,” says Quigley, and I think of Taylor Shaw's installation Full Contact, a video work of the artist kickboxing a large lump of clay into the form that is installed on the floor next to it – brilliantly visceral and one of the rare laughs at this year's Edinburgh College of Art Degree Show.

In past years, the alchemy of the mix on the walls has been the interesting thing – this year it will be no less so. And there will be more, too, for the SSA are keen to encourage even more visitors than the 34,000 they had last year. New this year is 30x30, an entirely open submission, non-selected set of small, affordable work from SSA artists, which will doubtless contain treasures should you, at this stage, have anything left in your festive coffers.

Society of Scottish Artists 121st Annual Exhibition, Royal Scottish Academy, The Mound, Edinburgh, 23 Dec – 17 Jan 2019, Mon - Sat 10am - 5pm, Sun 12 noon - 5pm

Critics Choice

The BP Portrait Award, in its 39th year, makes its now annual trip to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery with its cargo of figurative experiments, some rather more successful than others. Known for its substantial prize money of £35,000, the Portrait Award was set up to encourage portrait painting amongst artists, and past winners have – as this year's winner will – benefited from a substantial commission from the National Portrait Gallery in London.

There are plentiful works here, although the overall winner is Miriam Escofet for her arresting portrait “An Angel at My Table”. The sitter is an elderly woman, her hand loosely held around a cup of tea, her gaze directed off to the side, away from the painter and the bone china laid out on the table before her. The work, luminescent in grey, is realist in style, if surrealist in nature, for there is a certain displacement going on, from the distanced gaze to the china which seems to be in two places at once, ghosted, or moving. It is as if things are slipping, perhaps, an affecting portrait of a women who is, in fact, the London-based artist's mother.

Second prize, bright and bold and garnering a not-inconsiderable £12,000, was awarded to Felicia Forte for “Time Traveller, Matthew Napping”, a portrait of boyfriend Matthew, asleep on a “sweltering summer day” whilst she was on an artist residency in Detroit. Elsewhere the usual – and otherwise – collection of children, lovers, strangers, friends, all depicted in a variety of styles, a thorough insight into the world of portraiture today.

BP Portrait Award, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 1 Queen Street, Edinburgh, 0131 624 6200, Until 10 Mar 2019, Daily 10am – 5pm, Closed 25 and 26 Dec, Opens 12 noon on 1 Jan 2019

Don't Miss

Many art galleries are treasure troves for arty gifts at this time of year.  Edinburgh's Scottish Gallery, whilst upstairs full of expensive and attractive landscapes, has some wonderful things from £25 upwards downstairs, including the more outlandishly expensive for those with the wherewithal. There's an extensive range of jewellery from Malcolm Appleby to Grace Girvan, and prints by Mark Hearld and Angie Lewin, amongst many others.  Ceramics range from practical to decorative, from Sue Binns to the stoneware Still Life Bottles of Akiko Hirai.  The gallery also stocks a range of books by various artists, plus some lovely illustrated children's (and adults) book by the likes of printmaker Emily Sutton. You'll need to hurry though - the gallery closes at 4pm today for Christmas.

Scottish Gallery, 16 Dundas Street, Edinburgh, 0131 558 1200, Today, 10am - 4pm