Tuesday, December 13, 2016

RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition 2017 - Call for Entries

This post is for ALL watercolour painters - wherever you live - who are interested in submitting their watercolour paintings to the competition run each year by the Royal Watercolour Society.
The Royal Watercolour Society wishes to encourage artists who have a strong personal vision and an innovative approach to watercolour.
The deadline for DIGITAL SUBMISSION of entries to the Contemporary Watercolour Competition run by the Royal Watercolour Society (RWS) and sponsored by Cass Art is 12 midday on Monday 16 January 2017.

RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition 2017

There's a strong emphasis on "contemporary artwork'.

However I sometimes think that the Selectors need to remember that the word "contemporary" is actually defined as 'belonging to or occurring in the present' - so whatever style you work in today is by definition "contemporary"! Last year's exhibition had a better balance between those who are "striving to look cool" and those who remember that "representative paintings need not be traditional".

You can see a virtual exhibition of the artwork selected for the 2016 exhibition on the RWS website. However see also my comments below and in the blog posts from previous years at the end.

Gallery view of the 2016 Contemporary Watercolour Exhibition at the Bankside Gallery

Call for Entries

The competition webpage provides you with access to:

Deadline for entries

The deadline for entries is Monday 16th January 2017, 12 noon

Who can enter

The Royal Watercolour Society’s annual competition is open to all artists except RWS Members.

In effect it's an open entry for artists who may become the next Associate and Full Members of the RWS as the competition takes place prior to the elections to membership in March.

Eligible work

  • Original work: Paintings must have been made by the entrant. There are no comments about derivative pieces or use of photographs taken by other people.
  • Subject matter: no constraints on style or subject matter 
  • Age of work: completed in last four years. Yet again we have a competition which does not stipulate a date to indicate the "later than" constraint.
  • Size of work: Slight contradiction on the FAQS which says in one sentence that all sizes of work are welcomed "However, if your painting is framed, it should not exceed 100 x 100cm"
  • Eligible media: includes: "all water-based media" - which means watercolour, acrylic, gouache, ink or any other water-based media on a paper support
The judges will be looking for ideas, competence and integrity – as long as the materials conform to those stipulated on the application form, they will be interested in how you choose to use them and will be excited by both innovation and expertise in traditional methods in using water-based media.

Pricing: all work MUST be for sale. Note that the Bankside Gallery levies a commission of 40% + VAT on picture sales

How to enter

You can enter a maximum of 6 paintings.

Entry is by digital submission - of form and artwork - via this webpage plus payment of the relevant fee

  • photographs should be of the unframed work - cropped to the edge of the painting - in even light.
  • Images should be in jpg format and no bigger than 2MB
  • the forms must state title, framed dimensions, medium and price. So if you've not framed the work you need to estimate what the framed dimensions will be - and then not exceed them if selected!
The fee for entry at £14 for each of the first two artworks submitted. Fees are then discounted by £5 for works 3-5 and by £10 for #6 i.e. the total cost of submitting 6 entries is £59. Students can submit up to 3 works for £5. Watercolour Artists Friends can submit for free - subject to provision of their membership number.

This is comparable to the £15 per artwork charged for the open exhibitions of the other national art societies exhibiting at the Mall Galleries - and is significantly less than the fees charged for the prestigious art competitions with major prizes.

Important things to remember when deciding how many works to submit
  • It's worth bearing in mind that it's unusual for a group of works to be selected from one artist. It's more usual for it to be one or two.
  • if you submit more than one work make sure these are coherent in terms of what they say about the subjects you like to paint and your style
  • DO NOT submit works which vary in style!
Remember that the judges are looking at many works in a short time. They will be more likely to be captivated by work(s) with something special to say and with a personal point of view. They are looking for artists with a clear style and identity in all the works that they submit rather than lots of different styles of painting.
RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition - showing pairs of paintings by the same artist


Unusually there is no statement as to who the Judges are. Given that the nature of personal preferences can be hugely influential in terms of what works get selected this is probably a mistake on the part of RWS.

It's fair to say the selection panel usually comprise the President (currently Thomas Plunkett PRWS, a member (last year it was the Vice President Wendy Jacob - but she is now described on the website as "past Vice President" - which is very odd i.e. the VP normally becomes the next President), an associate member, a gallery owner and another artist who is not a member.

A list of paintings selected for the exhibition will be published on the RWS website on Friday 29 January.  If you've been selected you will get an email telling you what happens next.

You then have a month to get your selected work framed and couriered or transported to London. So know who your framer is and check that they're free!

Delivery of unwrapped and framed paintings is to Bankside Gallery on Sunday 26 or Monday 27 February, 11am-5pm. Paintings may not be delivered on any other date.

Note in particular that
Work will not be accepted if delivered by Royal Mail, FedEx, DHL etc., or by taxi as they do not have specialist art insurance.Preparing Your Paintings for Exhibition of the Application Pack.

You can be selected and then not hung if you don't meet the requirements.


The exhibition will be at the Bankside Gallery 3rd - 15th March 2016.

Below are images from last year's exhibition.  You can see more in my review of last year's exhibition (see list of blog posts at the end of this post)


There are a range of prizes but these rank alongside those available at the open exhibitions of other national art societies rather than those of the more prestigious art competitions.

The real prize is unspoken - and that is this is an opportunity to get your work in front of RWS members and in one of their exhibitions. It's a step towards applying for membership.

I very much hope that they get - and select - artwork which clearly demonstrates the effects which can be achieved when watercolour is used with skill and accomplishment.


See my blog posts about some of the previous exhibitions below. These include gallery shots of works in the exhibition and links to the websites of prizewinning artists.

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