Thursday, September 19, 2019

10 Best Paintings in the Sunday Times Watercolour Exhibition 2019

These are the 10 paintings in the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2019 which impressed me. By which I mean
  • They caught my eye on my first turn around the gallery - from a distance of some 6 feet+. 
  • Then kept it on my second go round - when I'm looking more closely at the paintings. 
  • Then survived the cull as I went around for the third time to work out my.....

10 Best Paintings - Sunday Times Watercolour 2019

These three looked good together. The two on the left made it into my top 10.

The official statement in the Call for Entries for this competition was that
The judges will be looking for work that makes the most imaginative or otherwise impressive use of a water-based medium. (ArtOpps: Sunday Times Watercolour 2019
My criteria for my best paintings has nothing to do with imagination.
I find it difficult to remember the last imaginative artist who lacked skill in painting make it as an artist - with the possible exception of Tracey Emin.

The criteria used by the Judges of the Sunday Times Watercolour 2019 was, in my opinion, entirely the wrong way round. 

In my view:
  • impressive use of watercolour in a competition like this MUST be an imperative and an absolute - if you don't understand the properties of watercolour, if you don't know how to use a brush and if you don't know how to exploit watercolour properties to the max then you don't make it on to my list! (and you shouldn't make it on to the walls of this exhibition either!)
  • innovative is good - I'm always interested in seeing new ways of working with watercolour. Back in 2010 when reviewing this exhibition I said
My recommendation to those thinking about putting in for this exhibition is to be genuinely innovative and display what watercolour can do. I suggest that all those people whose talents lie in the direction of the use of transparent glazing and mixing colours which granulate should step up and have a shot - because you've got a lot of space to make an impact!
  • great painting must be 'an absolute given' - ie people who know how to use a brush and create a design / composition 
  • well presented must also count for something - why are paintings being hung which are frankly scruffy? How do paintings where the artists have failed to keep their paper clean (where left unpainted) make it on to the walls of this exhibition? 
In other words in my criteria "Imaginative" is for the fairies! By which I mean it ranks fairly low on my criteria for what makes a painting worth exhibiting.  I'm not saying it doesn't have a place in art - but it certainly should not be the premier criteria for a watercolour competition!

My criteria is entirely about impressive use of watercolour - and making "a good picture". 

I've tried to work out how to order them - and decided the prizewinners were very definitely not going first as you've seen them more than once.  In the end I plumped for something akin to reverse alphabetic by surname - with the prizewinners at the end.

That's because those with surnames in the second half of the alphabet always get a raw deal when it comes to the display of paintings in an exhibition!


The first two paintings demonstrate why sometimes something really simple can have a lot of appeal.

1. Christopher Wallbank - Frozen Heather

Frozen Heather by Christopher Wallbank

This painting by Chris Wallbank SWLA is very definitely one of my favourite paintings in this exhibition. I immediately recognised the humpy splodges before I read the title (on my second turn arund the gallery). This is mostly alla prima watercolour painting. You put the brush in the paint - and create a shape - and then you leave it well alone except for a few small marks. It actually takes quite a lot of skill to paint clumps of heather in perspective under snow - and to let the paint drain to create a deeper shadow!  Plus the fact he's painted it in purple reminds us of the colour when the heather is in bloom and also the very odd shadow colours you can get in snow in certain light.

Very simple and very effective and beautifully presented - with care. It's a painting I wouldn't mind having hanging on my wall.

As an artist he's also had previous mentions by me on this blog. I'm actually rather pleased that I picked him without remembering his name - although it is a bit embarrassing too! That's because I well remember talking to Chris about his wonderful drawing of a Loomery which was exhibited in 2015. I also gave his "The Urban Black Kites of Delhi" project and his drawing of the Macaques of Modnigar a feature within my blog post about last year's annual exhibition of the Society of Wildlife Artists.

This is an artist who is skilled in using watercolour plein air. He's an artist who is going places and I commend his work to you!

Website: Chris Wallbank

2. Sara Lee - Departure

Departure by Sara Lee
Gouache and Japanese woodcut

Those of us who have spent time sketching around the streets in Cannareggio in Venice - and ended up on the Fondamente Nove will know this view of the island of the dead - of the Cimitero di San Michele on the island of San Michel (where both Igor Stravinsky and ezra Piound are buried) in the lagoon around Venice.

I'm a complete sucker for artwork of places I know - particularly when they don't shout it and instead indicate in a discrete way for those who will recognise.

The painting/print also has very refined and gradated washes in the background - for the sky and the lagoon - in colours one might not expect - unless you've not seen Venice in different seasons.

It's only when I saw what I assume is the woodcut element that I knew exactly what the painting was about as the separation of colours is very discrete and easily missed. The lighter colour is the wall around the island and the darker colour are the trees which grow around the cemetery.

I admire this one - and would love to know how it was created.

Again I am more than delighted to read her bio on her website - which I found five seconds ago! I didn't know her work at all before seeing this work yesterday - but will be looking out for it in future. She is very obviously a lady who is absorbed by the meeting of the sky and the sea.
Sara Lee predominantly works with drawing, film and print, including woodblock in the ukiyo-e tradition. Her practice involves working from site-specific landscapes, followed by extended studio-based work. Her images are a response to the ephemeral nature of landscape and question our emotional and physical relationship to an evolving environment.
She exhibits widely and her work is held in public and private collections internationally. She has written for Tate and has advised and spoken on print processes for various individuals and institutions including The Art Fund, Dulwich Picture Gallery and National Portrait Gallery.
Sara Lee trained with Master Printer Hugh Stoneman and together they developed a photogravure practice and co-published, under the imprint Print Centre Publications. Over many years she has worked closely on etching and relief print projects with Eileen Cooper RA, with whom she shares a print studio space and the imprint Blackbird Editions.
Born in Wales, she lives and works in London. She studied Fine Art at Ravensbourne and Postgraduate Printmaking at Central School.
Website: Sara Lee


Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Review: Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2019 Exhibition

Yesterday I visited the exhibition for the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2019 exhibition - currently on display at the Mall Galleries until 22nd September

Below you can read my impressions - about:
I'm going to do a seperate post about the paintings I liked the most.

My overall conclusion is that 
  • this competition is on its way back after its disastrous diversion by forgetting what it was about and losing sponsors. 
  • However it still has a long way to go to get back to the better exhibitions in the past.
That's not to say that there isn't good work to be seen in the show - because there is - and tomorrow I'll show you the 10 paintings I liked the best.

Prizewinners in the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2019
The London Wall Partners First Prize (£8,000) - Condensation by Leo Davey
Second Prize (£3,000): Aidan Potts (Bottom Left)
Third Prize (£1,000) : Mark Elsmore (right)
Pegasus Young Artist Prize (£500): Katherine Jackson (top left)

It has two new sponsors (for Young Artist and the First Prize) and and the overall content is oriented much more to watercolour again.

HOWEVER, there are still some issues which very much need addressing. It needs:
  • better judges - ones who know a LOT more about watercolour - to keep out the dross and unskilled. There are too many paintings which, in my opinion, are very ordinary and lacking in competence.
  • much better watercolour artists submitting their work - and sponsors and organisers who work hard to make sure they do
  • better leadership to get back proper prizes and sponsorship - which will also attract back the better artists
  • better marketing - including an overhauled website
  • and a less geographically biased exhibition tour
Then it might earn back its claim to being a prestigious watercolour exhibition again. It lost that crown three years ago - and while this is an improvement it's very definitely not there yet.

It might need a completely new sponsor - because a lot of the above seems to me to be about a competition which has been starved of both leadership and resources.

For example, I'm confused as to why there is a new sponsor for the First Prize (London Wall Partners LLP (LWP)) but the Sunday Times still claims the title of the competition.  Surely the traditional way of doing these things is that the title of the competition goes to those who sponsor the first prize?

P.S. Who else besides me remembers the Singer & Friedlander Watercolour Competition (1988-2007) with much affection? I mean it's not as if it hasn't changed its name during its history!
Launched originally as the Singer and Friedlander Prize in 1988, the first prize winner was Tom Coates. Subsequent winners included Stuart Pearson Wright, Leslie Worth, Trevor Stubley, Jennifer McRae and Carol Robertson. Kaupthing at one time the largest Icelandic bank took over Singer & Friedlander in 2005 and sponsorship of the competition ceased. The Royal Watercolour Society took over the sponsorship and the competition was renamed the RWS/Sunday Times Watercolour competition. In 2011, total prize money stood at £18,000 with £10,000 as a 1st Prize. Artist biographies
I spend my time looking for the next Leslie Worth.....

The Good News

The good news is that the exhibition is EMPHATICALLY back into the realms of watercolour. 

I did a quick tour at the beginning and was very struck with how it has come back to where it started - with a very high proportion of artists painting using traditional watercolours - mixed with a modicum of some other related media.  Most look like they created a painting using water!

There's been a marked increase in those labelling their work 'watercolour'.

For those who are interested, I've compared the media listings in the "catalogue" (A4 card folded to A5! Price £2) with those I recorded for 2017 when the major deviation on media started and an acrylic which looked like an oil painting won First Prize.

As you can see there are 10 more paintings labelled just 'watercolour' - and a bigger decrease in those entering acrylic work - it halved in number and there are very few paintings which look like oil paintings this year.

Although there are some artists (and they know who they are and some of them will know after reading this that I also know!) who labelled their work 'watercolour' when there was very clearly some acrylic involved as a base layer(s).

Sunday Times Watercolour Competition: MEDIA Frequency 2017 and 2019
2017 2017 2019 2019 +/-
Watercolour 42 49.4% 52 54.7% 5.3%
Watercolour and ink 5 5.9% 9 9.5% 3.6%
Watercolour and gouache 11 12.9% 8 8.4% -4.5%
Watercolour and pencil / graphite 3 3.5% 6 6.3% 2.8%
Watercolour and acrylic 3 3.5% 3 3.2% -0.4%
Acrylic 10 11.8% 5 5.3% -6.5%
Ink 2 2.4% 3 3.2% 0.8%
Gouache 4 4.7% 3 3.2% -1.5%
Gouache + mixed media 2 2.1% 2.1%
Gouache and acrylic 1 1.1% 1.1%
Gouache and Japanese woodcut 1 1.1% 1.1%
Gouache, collage and pencil 1 1.2% 1 1.1% -0.1%
Watercolour pencil 1 1.1% 1.1%
Acrylic and pigment 2 2.4% 0.0% -2.4%
Watercolour, Japanese ink and gilding/metal powders 1 1.2% 0.0% -1.2%
Watercolour and water based mediums 1 1.2% 0.0% -1.2%
TOTALS 85 100.0% 95 100.0% 0.0%

That's really good news. I'd begun to think this exhibition was going to die a death through judges not understanding the nature of the medium!

It's earned the right to a Call for Entries from this blog next year.

The number of paintings

This exhibition is advertised every year as having a 100 paintings. It has never ever had that number in recent years and if I see that claim one more time I shall protest to the Advertising Standards Authority and the one that regulates competitions.

HOWEVER this year there are 95 paintings - which is a HUGE improvement on 2016 when there were only 75 and last year when there were just 85. In fact it's the most paintings it's had for a long time. 

I do however think this competition needs a minimum size for every unframed/unmatted painting! Enough said?

The Prizewinners

I highlighted the prizewinners on Sunday in Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2019 - Prizewinners & Exhibition (which also includes a list of the selected artists).

To my mind the painting which won first prize is well justified. It's unusual, it demonstrates a good appreciation of techniques and colour palette and it's also watery!  (I never thought about this before - but why not go for a watery subject if you have your eye on the main prize!)

Condensation by Leo Davey

I'd have personally given Mark Elsmore the second prize - it's a very compelling piece which works well at a distance in a large gallery as well as close to.

The Not So Good News

Judges still need reminding this is a WATERCOLOUR exhibition

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2019 - Prizewinners & Exhibition

Next week the exhibition for the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2019 opens at the Mall Galleries - as do two other exhibitions (see the end of this post). This post is about:

Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2019
  • the prizewinners
  • selected artists
  • exhibition details

PLUS: Other Exhibitions this week at the Mall Galleries (17 September 2019 to 22 September 2019)

Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2019 - Prizewinners

The prizewinners were announced in the Sunday Times on 1 September 2019. You can see images and details of the artist and painting below

First Prize (£8,000):  Leo Davey

Leo Davey won the £8,000 First prize with a very unusual and creative painting which looks very much as if it demonstrates great skill in the use of wet in wet and glazes.

Always really nice to see the first prize in this competition being awarded to a medium which cannot be emulated by any other when the painter is skilled!

Condensation by Leo Davey

© Leo Davey
The image of a child in the shower, drawing lines in the glass, showcases both the artist’s clear skill and a taste for the off-kilter. The child is left genderless on purpose; not everything in the composition is in sync. “It gives a sense of unease,” says the 41-year-old artist
Sunday Times Art Section 1 September 2019
Leo Davey lives and works in his home town of Minehead in West Somerset where he has both his studio and a gallery.

Leo studied at Falmouth College of Art in Cornwall. He now  where he has his studio/gallery. His subjects and styles and ways of painting vary a lot.
From the meticulous to the abstract, Leo refuses to settle on any particular genre of painting and continues to explore and develop ways of seeing and defining his landscapes through his works. (his website bio)
He's been selected for The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition in 2012, 13, 14 and 17 and won the competition's Smith and Williamson Cityscape prize in 2015. His work has also been selected for the exhibitions by the Royal West Academy, Royal Watercolour Society, and Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour.

Second Prize (£3,000): Aidan Potts

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Why did my painting not get selected?

One of the questions which artists who submit paintings to art competitions want to know is
"Why did my painting not get selected"

This post:
  • makes a suggestion to those running open exhibitions and art competitions
  • tells you what you can do to find out why your artwork did not make the grade

Dear art organisations - charge a fee!

I know why art organisations do not provide feedback on selection. 
  • Far too many entries and far too little time. 
  • There is absolutely no way that 100% of entries are going to get feedback on why they didn't get chosen.

However, what I don't understand is why organisations which, in general, say they are supportive and encouraging in relation to emerging and young artists do not find some way to provide feedback.

For example - they could
  • charge a realistic fee for the time required for somebody to review an artwork and highlight some of the reasons why it did not make the cut - via email.  
  • differentiate fee costs by age. For example such a fee might differentiate between:
    • emerging artists under 30
    • artists aged 30+

Such a fee could be
  • designed to be income-generating i.e. providing the organisation with income if artists were prepared to contribute feedback for free
  • self-financing i.e. sufficient to pay somebody to take time out from their normal work to provide feedback.

Just a thought!  However you already have competition......

Would you like me to help?

Contact me - I already charge a fee for feedback!

See below for details or see my web page Would you like me to help (in the ABOUT section on my Art Business Info for Artists website - where you can also read more about me and what qualifies me to comment.)
I'm not in this for the money - I want to help people make a difference to their lives and careers.
banner for my "Would you like me to help?" page

What I can offer

In the absence of anybody else providing feedback to aspiring artists, I've started a service which allows aspiring artists - of whatever age - to engage me to get feedback on their art
I've provided formal (fee-paying) and informal business advice to artists for a significant period and have seen a number of them go on to make significant achievements as a result
Those who were astute enough to find my Would you like me to help page on my website have already been getting that advice!

In fact I was sat at Kings Place yesterday afternoon, after viewing the Ruth Borchard Self Portrait Exhibition, talking with two young ladies who are both aspiring young artists who have both won prizes. They are serious about their art, are undertaking further studies and both are entering open exhibitions and art competitions - and wanted advice.  One had heard me talk previously and deemed me good value!

They came up with the great idea of them both meeting to talk with me about their art and finding out more about how to get selected - and sharing the fee for my time!

I can offer advice on various matters - including how to improve your chances of getting selected for an art competition or open exhibition.

My advice on art competitions can cover a variety of matters - including:
  • why their entry did not get selected - I'm happy to highlight likely reasons
  • whether their artwork is suitable for a specific exhibition  - i.e. Is it good enough? 
  • which art competitions and open exhibitions to target with artwork - sometimes the problem is that artists are entering the wrong exhibitions / competitions
  • how to make it more likely their artwork will get selected - LOTS of practical matters to attend to which can help give you the best chance
Mind you I always counsel people to take a look at this paragraph in the How does it work and what will it cost? section BEFORE engaging me for an assignment.
I will warn you that my style is to be honest and direct.
  • If you're somebody who only wants warm words of encouragement and nothing else then I may not be the right person to help you.
  • However if you prefer a style which is honest and does not 'sugar coat' then I might be what you need.

If you're interested why not have a READ of:

Thursday, September 12, 2019

More Wayne Thibaud: "This for you is my world to look at"

Where to see more about Wayne Thiebaud

Add caption

For me this is a bit of a click and salivate post!  In all honesty written entirely for me - for looking at from time to time - rather than sharing with any of you - but you can look too! ;)
discusses drawings versus prints, the audacity of the artist’s vocation — and why he doesn’t believe in ‘the idea of success’
"my work is not showing off, not grandiose, - human things..."
"This for you is my world to look at" - Wayne Thiebaud
Thumbnails of Cakes by Wayne Thiebaud
Though Thiebaud is most often grouped with the Pop art movement for his subject matter, the artist considers himself “just an old fashioned painter,” and “not a card carrying Pop artist.” He remains best known for his still lifes of confections—sometimes painted from his own memories—which he considers interpretations of “Americanness.” In his works, objects and their shadows are characteristically outlined in multiple colors, creating a visual effect Thiebaud calls akin to vibration.
  • Wikipedia as per usual provides a useful overview of his life and work. According to one line - 
he apprenticed at Walt Disney Studios drawing "in-betweens" of Goofy, Pinocchio, and Jiminy Cricket at a rate of $14 a week
In a contemporary art world enthralled with such stunts as Damien Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull, Thiebaud is wonderfully ungimmicky.
I think I like him because 
  • he's both ordinary and original, 
  • of the optical mixing he does (which I also do), 
  • of his strong emphasis on line - which I like a lot, 
  • his ability to be figurative and abstract at the same time
  • and the fact that when he paints his paint is LUSH! His lush cream pies also sold for $4 million!
There are other affinities? Did I mention I have been known to go round sketching food (and people eating and drinking) - a lot?!

and finally......

Did you know Wayne Thiebaud is 98 years old? (he was born on 15 November 1920!)

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Wayne Thiebaud working on etchings (video)

Below is a rather good short video about Wayne Thiebaud working on etchings.  The video was made by the Crown Point Press, based in Hawthorne Street in San Francisco. (They have some impressive clients!)

Worth a watch.

This is the link to the exhibition referenced in the video

I've found more good stuff about Thiebaud online but if I stop to process and organise it nothing will get posted!

Monday, September 09, 2019

Review of a critique of an art society exhibition

What happens when somebody reviews an art society exhibition as if it was a "proper art exhibition" i.e. using the same sort of criteria as might be used for any other sort of art exhibition in the area?

This post is generic in nature - in terms of conclusions - but does take one example to highlight the sort of issues that can arise.

Brea Gallery shows off what the Colored Pencil Society of America can do is a magazine review of the 27th Annual International Exhibition of the Colored Pencil Society of America at the City of Brea Art Gallery, 1 Civic Center, Brea, CA (July 31–September 13, 2019).

It's written by a chap who has written for the Orange County Weekly for the last 8 years as its art critic.

I supposed the best way of summarising his review is he's called it as he sees it.

That's not the way some of colored pencil artists see it who have responded by commenting on his review - worth a read!

They diverge between those that
  • welcome a contribution to the ongoing debate about the use of photographs by CP artists
  • one lady who is not averse to slinging insults around - not realising that Google picks up on comments as well as websites and that her name is now forever irretrievably associated with her comments!
  • some who criticise the reviewer for not understanding the medium of colored pencils. For example.....
Mr Barton, You should be ashamed of yourself, given the ignorant nonsense you’ve written here about this medium, these artists, and art in general, frankly. Did you interview a single artist, or even leaf through a copy of “Colored Pencil” magazine? Your level of ignorance is astounding.
I do remember another CPSA exhibition where the independent Juror did provide feedback afterwards about the show as a whole - and mentioned a lot of aspects highlighted in this review. It didn't go down well that time either. However it does say something about the extent to which coloured pencil artwork has moved on in the last decade or so if the same sort of comments are still being made by independent individuals who have studied the artwork.

Interestingly, some of those who commented got stuck on some of the earlier comments and appear to have completely missed the last paragraph.
For the future, the process of work such as this needs to be demystified. Art historians and critics, including myself, usually do little to shed light on how work is created, focusing mostly on the materials used or the feelings we have when looking at it. Focusing solely on the ideas is a primarily selfish, insular thing satisfying only the person writing about it, when opening up the hard work, the blood, sweat and tears behind the art should be our goal.
Images (in cropped format)
of some of the artworks
winning awards in the exhibition
You can see more photos of the prizewinners on Facebook and more of the pics in the rest of the exhibition on the Brea Gallery Instagram account

A Making A Mark perspective

I'm really not having a go at CPSA or its members in particular here. The issues for me are essentially generic - other than to highlight that it's interesting that some common criticisms from an independent perspective of this type of artwork are still the same as they were more than a decade ago.

My reason for commenting is more about the need for artists to understand that if and when you put your art "out there" - via an exhibition or a website - then

  • people will make their own assessment and think what they think 
  • sometimes they will say what they think - and 
  • sometimes they will maybe even WRITE what they think.

Here's my take on it.