Thursday, September 18, 2014

Review: Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2014

The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition opened to the public on Monday and continues until 5pm on Saturday 20th September in the (large) West Gallery of the Mall Galleries in London. I definitely recommend this exhibition for the range and quality of its watercolour paintings

The interesting thing about reviewing the exhibitions for two art competitions in the galleries this week (i.e. the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition and the Derwent Art Prize) back to back is that you can compare the calibre of work and the selected artists.

For example, I would argue that the calligraphic markmaking used by the winner of the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition could easily have won the Derwent if the prize had been about drawing rather than pencil art!

It was delightful to meet Kathryn Maple, the winner of the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition on Monday evening.  Her painting was even more impressive when seen in person. On Monday afternoon and evening it had lots of visitors standing and looking at Fatboys Diner for a long time.   That to my mind is a worthy winner.

Kathryn Maple - with her painting "Fatboys Diner" (£900)
which won the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2014
This painting won her a prize of £10,000 - and the painting has also sold.
(all photographs and videos copyright Katherine Tyrrell - all rights reserved
all paintings - copyright the artists)

Below you will find:
  • a video of my walk round the exhibition. 
  • a note of which artists I liked
  • more images of artwork in the exhibition
Visitor reviews part of the exhibition in the West Gallery - the visitor of course lend scale!
Small paintings in the exhibition for the Sunday Times watercolour Competition

A video of the exhibition

Excuse the wobbles, I still haven't perfected walking sideways and backwards while videoing at the same time. I also need to slow down! My excuse is they'd put out all the tables and chairs for the evening reception and I was trying to make sure I didn't back into or fall over any!  I think I need one of those tracks that I the camera person glides along on wheels like in the movies!

General observations

The aim was to hang 100 works from the open entry. In the end they've selected and hung 93 by artists such as former prizewinners Mark Elsmore (Winner 2012 - 2 paintings); Emma Haworth (Winner 2010); Jonathan Pitts (2nd prize 2011), Janet Kenyon (Landscape 2011) as well as leading watercolour painters such former Turner Medal Winner David Firmstone and Angus McEwan

a variety of landscapes and 'atmosphere'
Bottom left is Christopher Green's "Manor house"
Centre: David Firmstone's "Fire marked the land like a language x"
One of the things I found very puzzling was that I couldn't find the second prizewinner in the exhibition. I looked when I walked around - and then I checked again by looking carefully at everything in the video and I can't find second prizewinner Danny Markey's work anywhere. It's very odd because they normally hang all the winners together and this year it's just the main winner hanging next to Paul Newland who won the £1,500 Smith & Williamson Cityscape Prize.

Artist, popular art tutor and author Lucy Willis has been selected this year after being consistently selected between 1989 and 2008. I'm always rather surprised she has never won as she is a consummate painter of light , although I have to confess I've seen paintings of hers which I've liked better.

The house on the cliff (£3,650)
Lucy Willis
I noticed they picked a lot of paintings which seemd to be paired ie paintings that were part of a series or painted to complement one another. I don't recall seeing quite so many in previous exhibitions. Is this a new trend amongst selectors?

Top: Farmer: cam in field 02:52-04:20 (£950) © Debbie Lock and Sara Dudman
Bottom: Feeding sheep cam 1 00.50-00.60 (£800) 
© Sara Dudman

Styles and approaches displayed within the exhibition vary from the traditional watercolour through the use of inks and acrylics in representational works through to much more contemporary approaches and styles - notably involving mark-making. "Any water-based media is acceptable" and I'm just waiting for the year somebody enters water soluble oil paints!

The majority of works are representational however very few are photorealistic. It's more common to see stylised representations - so this is not a competition for those who like to copy photographs without any additional elements of an artist's signature style.  The few that have done straight copies looked very stiff.

I'd say a lot of the work comes from mature artists - although some obviously comes from much younger artists - including obviously the winner!

In terms of painting, this is a very colourful exhibition. Painters have made a great use of colour, either in terms of a carefully selected palette or in terms of one "wow" impact colour.

Cloud Study (Loughboroug) 

Palettes for the most part are not naturalistic. People are pushing colour one way or another - - even those who favour monochrome and neutral shades. Paintings which have predominantly one colour are used  as anchor points for the hang on two walls.

There's one painting which most watercolour painters will smile at - it's a compliation of colour mixes!  I wonder how many of have wondered about entering a particularly nice sheet of colour mixes into an exhibition? Well now some one has - and that someone is Jane Fielder

The Experiment - with and without rules (£2,500)
 © Jane Fielder
One thing I would like to see next year - and that's a catalogue which indicates very clearly WHICH waterbased media has been used in the painting! It just needs to be a tad wider.

There's also very few paintings I'm surprised to see included in the selection. It would be nice see even less next year. I'm not talking about taste - I'm talking about basic competence.

Tips for those aiming to enter in 2015

Lots of works are using a whole sheet or nearly a whole sheet of watercolour paper.  Some - like the winner - are joining sheets of paper and/or creating a compilation of sheets to create one image.  Smaller paintings do get selected but only about 20 in total. They are very much a small proportion of the total number of paintings selected.

In terms of presentation, avoid gilt and metal. The exhibition is overwhelming framed in neutral colours - black, white, greys, bleached wood and light natural wood. Check out the video to see what I mean.

Many favour wide frames - particularly for larger works where the mat becomes in effect another visual frame.

Preference on mats varies with one exception. All mats are white or off white/ivory. I looked around and could not see any yellowy/cream whites. I saw a lot of drawings which had been floated rather than matted - especially where the sheet of paper worked on had a deckle edge. The quality of the impression created seems to be directly related to the expertise of those doing the floating!

Note the comment above about two paintings. If you want to enter two I suggest you make them related and largish.

If you want a guide as to pricing I suggest you get hold of one of the catalogues which should be obtainable from Parker Harris

Artists I liked

Paintings I liked included

  • the winner - I love the calligraphic mark-making of Fatboys Diner and the Peter Doig quality of the painting. Doig is an obvious influence but this is emphatically not a copy of what he does.
  • I'm also a huge fan of all paintings by Paul Paul Newland  - there are layers and layers within in his paintings
  • George Butler's reportage illustrations of his travels
  • Christopher Green's monochrome painting of a street in ink (see above)
  • I found John Cahill's very controlled palettes and great understanding of tonal values to be very seductive although I'm still in two minds about his very stylised approach to painting. 
  • a painting of trees by Michael Williams has lines - like tree rings etched in its surface. They succeeded in grabbing my attention
The Pheasant Wood (£2,500)
© Michael Wood

  • I was surprised to find I really liked the sheep cam paintings - both abstracted and observational by Sarah Dudman and Debbie Locke (see above). It's not a conventional approach to watercolour but it's very interesting - I guess it's the mark-making element again.
The exhibition is at the Mall Galleries and closes 5pm on Saturday 20th September

Making A Mark posts about the Sunday Times watercolour Exhibition

STWC 2014 Catalogue
I've been covering this competition for some years. For those wanting to see what the competition was like in previous years..........






  1. Thank you again for a nice and informative review!
    I just wonder what you mean when you write about"the calligraphic mark-making of Fatboys Diner "? Has she used the shape of letters to make marks that shape all the pparts of the painting? Like islamic calligraphy in the shape of a house, for instace? or do you mean she uses small marks to build her painting? I tried to enlarge your picture, but my tablet is old and do not give a good quality when enlarging a picture from the internet. Sorry for my strange english, I do hope you understand what I ask about :-)!
    I am so impressed, surely, it is only in Britain, the homeland of watercolour, that such a large and good exhibition of watercolour
    can exist!? Here in Sweden I never read in the big newspaper reviews about so called traditional art, like w<tercolour- here it is almost only conceptual art that is written about by critcs. Very sad

  2. I suppose what I mean by calligraphic is mark-making which is more considered than just making any old marks.

    So marks which might reflect form or create patterns

    Certainly nothing to with lettering or words!

  3. Thank you, then I understand better:-)!

  4. Great informative writing Katherine. Loved it. Makes we want to dig out the watercolours again.


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