Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mark Elsmore wins Sunday Times Watercolour 2012

On Tuesday I went to see the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2012 - the largest watercolour competition in the UK - at the Mall Galleries.  The exhibition includes 92 works by 72 artists working in watercolour, gouache, acrylic, and/or inks and it's as good an exhibition of what you can do with water-based paints as I've seen this year.

Sunday Times Watercolour 2012 at the Mall Galleries

What I particularly liked about it was the range of subjects, approaches and techniques used by the different artists.  It includes works where you just stand and stare and try and work out how on earth the work was created,

The exhibition opened on Monday and closes on Saturday so if you want to see it you need to get your skates on!


This gives you an idea of the size of the paintings selected for exhibition
First Prize Winner is on extreme left | Seascape to the right of the woman is by Kurt Jackson
Interestingly this year's exhibition included two works by Kurt Jackson - but he didn't win!

Awarded First Prize in the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2012
The Potteries National Park by Mark Elsmore
Mark Elsmore won the £10,000 First Prize for his gouache painting The Potteries National Park.

Mark is a member of the Wirral Society of Arts (2004) and was elected a member of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists in 2007.  He was born in the Potteries area of North Staffordshire into a family which had worked in the Pottery Industry for five  generations. He is self-taught and has been a professional artist for the last 18 years. He's been selected for the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition on twelve previous occasions.

His commentary on the painting is as follows
‘The  Potteries National  Park is painted  in  the  tradition  of Edwardian  photographic postcards. Stoke-on-Trent used to be a city crammed with terraced houses and pottery factories. Bottle kilns blackened the streets and darkened the skyline. Postcards at the time sarcastically proclaimed: ‘Fresh air from the Potteries’; ‘Stoke soots me’; ‘A Whiff from Staffs’. My painting  updates the  sarcasm and  turns it around. Today the Staffordshire  Pottery Industry has declined. Bottle  kilns are  rare  and  many terraces have gone, areas of derelict land have been reclaimed by nature. The Potteries as a National Park requires a leap of the imagination, but the ‘buddleia city’ that is Stoke-on-Trent today is a  changing  city. I’m not sure if economics and wasteland  can ever be paradise but the lungs of the city are finally getting their fresh air!’
Other prizewinners were
  • Indian-born Shanti Panchal won the £6,000 second prize for his work Cadence of the Heart. His paintings are amazing for the quality of the finish he gets i his work.  I'd love to know how he does it.
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  • The Smith & Williamson Cityscape Prize of £1,500 was won by Chris Myers RI RBA for Fragile - a view of the Olympic Park.  I always think compositions when using a panorama format are a real challenge - but I think this one works really well.  The painterly painting of small details in a way which makes them look like realism is also masterly
Winner of the Smith and Williamson Cityscape Prize
Fragile by Chris Myers
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  • The Vintage Classics Prize for Cover Art (£500 commission to create the cover art for a Vintage Classic) awarded to Helen Lindon.
Other artists whose work I liked

The first time I saw work by Paul Emsley was when he won the BP Portrait Prize in 2007. I've kept an eye on his website ever since and noted that he was now focusing on flowers and working in a variety of media.  (eg this is a monochrome drawing of flowers in chalk and pencil)

I very much admire his dry brush painting technique - this is like painting miniatures on a large scale!  He's previously won this competition in 2002 and come 3rd on two occasions.

The Kings by Paul Emsley

Close-up of The Kings - by Paul Emsley - and the painting of leaves
Being a big fan of "views" paintings and the use of pen and ink I absolutely loved the two paintings by Catharine Davison whose work I've never seen before.  I'm going to be taking a long slow wander around her website.

Vanishing Point from Calton Hill by Catherine Davison

I also absolutely loved Christopher Green's ink on paper drawing/painting of Bishopsgate.  This had been pieced together from different drawings which appeared to have all been done at the ame time.

Bishopsgate 1 by Christopher Green
ink on paper £2,800
More views of the exhibition below

Spring flowers by Sarah Armstong-Jones are included on the right


I find the whole approach to the promotion of the exhibition this year to be very odd. The catalogue is very basic compared to the one produced two years ago.  It covers the prizewinners and a list of exhibitors and that's it.  I assume sponsorship via adverts must have dried up.

There are supposed to be events during the course of the week.  However there is no mention of them on the Parker Harris website or the Mall Galleries website - and the lady at the front desk didn't have any information either.

Interestingly there were people in the gallery who didn't realise the exhibition was on.

and finally......

In my opinion, the description "largest watercolour competition" needs to be changed.  The RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition - for non-members held at the Bankside Gallery 24th February - 14th March 2012 had significantly more works in its exhibition.  If the description is based on the number of entries then the number needs to be published

By way of contrast, The Sunday Times Competition does offer the most valuable prize - however one could argue that The Turner Watercolour Award which is split between the RWS and the RI is the more prestigious prize given its provenance.


  1. So interesting to look at these stunning works - what a breadth of subject matter - by so many talented people. Thanks for posting Katherine! Lesley

  2. thanks for that Katherine. Am I imagining it or does there seem to be a lot of very tight watercolour work and possibly a lot of working from photographs going on?

  3. No - IMO there's much LESS of this type of problem with this exhibition than other exhibitions.

    There is some tight highly rendered work - but most of it is exceptionally good - of its kind eg at least one of the paintings would have been an absolute cert for the BP if the BP had allowed watercolour.

    One of the problems with my photographs is that they cannot fully convey the painterliness and the effects achieved through the use of paint.

    While there are undoubtedly some paintings which are using photos as reference there are very few which are "copied" paintings which are aiming to look like photos.

    I could have kept posting images - and I really do wish this competition had a website so people could see the images better.

    My initial reaction was that there's a lot more watercolour PAINTING going on in this exhibition than either the RWS or RI ie people demonstrating what watercolour can do.

    That to my mind makes this a proper watercolour exhibition!

  4. I am glad you took the time to explain the quality of the paintings. Reduced to the image I see, they look like photographic renderings, and while I admire the skill of craftsmanship I find I respond more to an element of individual vision and technique. Your descriptions are valuable.
    The time you take to produce this wonderful blog is very much appreciated.


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