Thursday, September 21, 2017

10 Best Paintings in the Sunday Times Watercolour Exhibition

This year I'm not doing a post that announces the prizewinners in the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2017. That's because
  • the painting which won is in acrylic on canvas board and is actually eligible for acceptance into the annual exhibition of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters! 
  • I have rarely felt so disappointed in the conduct of a panel of judges.
this competition aims to celebrate and reward excellence and originality in the genre of watercolour painting.
I'm left wondering when are we ever going to discover the next Leslie Worth if we give this prestigious competition over to people who paint with acrylic on canvas not paper so it looks like an oil painting?

Not only can I find nothing to celebrate about the painting that won £10,000 First Prize I can find nothing to merit it even being hung in the exhibition.

View of part of the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition Exhibition at the Mall Galleries
This year's competition is also unique in having the least press coverage in print and social media of any STWC prizewinner I've ever known.

Hardly surprising really - and I'm quite sure that's NOT the aim of the sponsorship!

What the panel of Judges were thinking I really don't know - however to my mind it maybe explains the delay in the announcement of the selected artists.  Incidentally one artist pointed out that Fred Cuming RA (who's an oil painter and whose work I love) disappeared from the list of Judges between the General Info for Artists and the announcement of the prizewinners at the end of August. I wonder why....

The "small works" wall beneath the Mezzanine
Meanwhile, the organisers need to consider whether advertising it as "a watercolour competition" could be a breach of the regulations relating to the advertising standards authority's Non-Broadcast Code and specifically the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing
The central principle for all marketing communications is that they should be legal, decent, honest and truthful. All marketing communications should be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and society and should reflect the spirit, not merely the letter, of the Code
More of the exhibition
Consequently this year I'm not going to focus on the prizewinners - except for one who merits her award.

Instead, yesterday I decided to look for what I thought were the ten best watercolour paintings in the exhibition. By that I mean paintings using a water-based medium recognised by the watercolour societies and used in a way which means you can tell water had been used.
Watercolour or water-soluble mediums, including watercolour, acrylic, ink or gouache (with the exception of water-soluble oils) painted on paper or paper based supportRoyal Institute of Painters in Water Colours
That's because, as I think most people would agree, watercolour is one of the most difficult media to excel in - and this competition is ultimately about excellence over and above innovation (and why anybody would think making acrylic look like an oil painting counts as "innovation" is completely beyond me!)

[Note: My personal view is that media which can be applied using water are not the same as water-based media. Water-based mediums can only be accurately described as such if they can be manipulated by water before and after they have been applied to a support - otherwise they are not water-based.]

More of the exhibition
So below you can find:
  • The ten best watercolour paintings in the exhibition
  • a Reference Archive of posts relating to past years in this competition - which include some amazing watercolour paintings
Plus I'll be back at the weekend with a short video of the exhibition and more comments and observations - including some numbers I'm crunching.

10 Best Paintings in the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition

Below is my selection of the ten best paintings in the competition

I'd love to know what your ten paintings are. Tell me which ones you like best.

You can see the paintings in the competition - but not their relative size - on the competition website. If you click a painting you then get a bigger version and if you click it again you then get a much bigger version.

Some have done a better job than others at representing what they are like in reality. I have issues with the ones which digitally enhanced their pics to get selected because the difference - and the difference between image and reality is very marked - but the judges appear to have been totally oblivious to this. Other exhibitions don't hang paintings where this has happened.

Still Life with a Small Spanish Bowl by Annie Williams RWS
watercolour NFS
Annie Williams RWS RE RBA won the St. Cuthberts Mill Award (£250) for an outstanding work on paper having only decided to enter the competition on the last day before the deadline. Her painting is one of two selected for the exhibition.

This is an interview with Annie Williams on the St. Cuthbert's Mill blog in which she talks about her process for creating her paintings. (See also my blog post Annie Williams demonstrates a still life in watercolour)

Abstraction meets representation in this dynamic work, which is occupied by beautiful prussian blue, cerulean and ultramarine tones. Speaking of the subject matter, the artist said “most of my chosen objects are pots – I have a sister and friends who are potters, so have acquired quite a number over the years. I love their shapes and colours.”
She has previously been selected for this competition back when it was sponsored by Singer and Friedlander. 

She's one of my very favourite contemporary artists, her paintings are very popular and always sell well and I own one of her works! In terms of her artistic 'street cred.' she is an elected member of the Royal Society of Watercolour Painters, Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers, and Royal Society of British Artists. She also won the 2009 Turner Watercolour Award as well as numerous other awards. 

Her advice for artists
the advice I would give to others is go to exhibitions, look at other peoples work, think about why you do or don't like it, learn from them. Send into open exhibitions, you never know you might be successful and get shown . Wonderful for building up confidence. Annie Williams

Dutch Barn in Winter by Kate Evans
watercolour (£1,800)
I really liked this painting by Kate Evans - although it annoys me that I can't reproduce the colours correctly in this image as that's a lot of the attraction of it. You get a much better sense of colours from her website.

I like it because of its enormously effective use of negative space - the painting somehow radiates calm. While it's very well drawn, the painting is altogether looser and what appear to be trees in the background are a series of marks which do their job very well.

This painting I would very happily hang on my wall.

Kate did her BTEC and degree of Fine Art at Falmouth. I do like the sort of painters that Falmouth produces. They have a sense of scale and scape.

You can read an interview with her here. I'm confident we'll be seeing more of her work as she submits more work to more competitions.
I don’t tend to plan each piece that much beforehand – I work best when the painting is more of an immediate process. For me, the most important part of an image is always the quality of the mark-making and it is often the ‘imperfections’ you get from the spontaneity of painting, which ultimately make the picture work. Although I’ll have an idea of the composition at the start, this will often change as the painting develops. I like to keep a lot of negative space within my work, so compositions that are initially quite complicated in my mind, will often become edited down into simpler, bolder images once they’re down on the paper. Kate Evans

Empty Bed 1 by Lilias August
watercolour, £1,100
Lillias August RI is one of my favourite painters and I've rarely seen anything she exhibits that I don't like. She's one of those watercolour painters who really understands her medium and knows how to make the complex simple and the simple complex while retaining an aesthetic as well as mastery of her medium.

The only question for me was which of her two unmade beds, from her series of series of unmade beds, would make it to my top 10.

She's an artist who only occasionally enters competitions but has won several awards. She exhibits regularly, mainly in East Anglia and for the RI. Lilias studied Fine Art at Goldsmiths College, London followed by a postgraduate course in The History of Art and Design. Like Annie she has exhibited in STWC when it was Singer & Friendlander - in 2001. She was elected a member of the RI in 2006 and has been a prizewinner at RI exhibitions in 2002, 05, 06, 10 & 17

She has a a small solo show of landscape paintings, ‘Horizons’ (3rd to 26th November 2017) at the Old Fire Engine House in Ely, Cambridgeshire.

You can follow her work on Facebook which includes an interesting debate about this painting!

The Shard and the sun (2016) by Christoper Green
Ink; 71 x 78cm (£2,800)
Christopher Green is a Sunday Times 'regular' having exhibited in  2012, 2013, 2015. I very much like his paintings using ink, he can bend perspective and draw tremendously complex scenes and I'm only surprised he's never won it. (He won the 2017 Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize for a large street scene drawn/painted in ink from life on several large sheets of paper - see Christopher Green wins Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize 2017).
I don't often go on record making predictions about winners but when I do I'm generally right! :) I'm confident that Christopher will win the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition at some point. Who knows it may be this year?Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2017 - Selected Artists
You can be seen more of his work on this page on his website (link embedded in his name) where I note he's recently switched to drawing scenes of London with crayon in a masterful way.

Do also take a look at the size of some of his work and where it's hanging (at the bottom of this page)

This is an artist we are going to go on seeing work from for years to come - and winning more prizes too.

Livia's Garden 2 (2017) by Stephanie Tuckwell
Watercolour, ink and gesso (£900)
Stephanie Tuckwell's painting is both aesthetically beautiful in terms of the colour palette but is also intriguing in terms of subject and process. It's one of those paintings where I don't mind if I don't understand it because it appeals to my eye.  You can see more of Livia's Garden paintings on her website

Stephanie is an STWC regular having been selected in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016. 

She graduated from Goldsmith's College, University of London, with an honours degree in Textiles followed by UWE Bristol, Multi-Disciplinary Printmaking (Distinction). She regularly exhibits with Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours annual exhibition and the RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition for non-members - and she wins awards.

She works in drawings, watercolours and prints - and in series.
The focus of my practice is rooted in my experiences of my environment, from the wide open expanses of landscape and seascape to more intimate spaces. I orchestrate making fluid and sensory explorations of water-colour, ink, charcoal and gesso to create marks, which move across the surface of the drawing, painting or print. Stephanie Tuckwell
How to boil water with Rock and other Volcanic Phenomena by Vincent Spain
acrylic (£1,500)
I just kept coming back to this painting. It's not a painting I'd hang in my home but it's a painting I'd be happy to see on a regular basis. I find it reminiscent of some of Peter Doig's curious but mesmerising colour palettes.

The difference for with this acrylic painting for me is I can see the drips!

The very odd things was that somehow the reflections of the gallery lights in the sky seemed appropriate.

I can't see his website from my end as it'a currently being blocked by BT because it doesn't have a currently valid security certificate.

Micrarium by Rika Newcombe
ink (£650)
Rika Newcombe was born and grew up in Tokyo. She moved to Cambridge and started developing her career as an artist. Studied at the Royal College of Art where she won the Linklaters Printmaking Award. You can also see her work in Draw 17 - the Society of Graphic Fine Art's 96th Annual Exhibition.

I liked it because its difference from all the other paintings made me want to look more closely at it. It then seemed to me it was an example of ways in which you can make marks with ink which are uniquely different from ones made using other paint media. I think she's embossed the paper to create the grid lines - but it's very cleverly done as there's no 'squashing' as one line runs over another so maybe it's a grid impression? (I always like paintings that have me guessing as to how they were created)

Personally I'd have liked her work even better if she'd submitted one of her paintings of Charles Darwin's Herbarium - but there's always next year!

A Garden Sketchbook: Cornish Coastline by Sarah Z Wimperis
watercolour (£1,200) SOLD
The 'frame' holding this sketchbook by Sarah Wimperis is more like a box. It has hinges at the top and a little catch at the side and it can be opened up and the pages turned - so, in effect, when buying a sketchbook from Sarah you get as many images as the sketchbook holds.

I know Sarah very well - and she's one of the hardest working painters I know.  She's extremely prolific in both oils and watercolours and this enabled her to work for several weeks in Poland as one of the painters on Loving Vincent - the film about Vincent van Gogh - comprising 65,000 frames of oil paintings - which premieres at the London Film Festival on 9th October.

She's also painted her way around the world. She won't be seeing the exhibition as she's currently painting her way across France. You can follow her on her Facebook Page

She has a solo exhibition opening in London at the Beside the Wave Gallery (NW1) on October 12th.

Sunday Afternoon at the National Gallery by John Hunt
watercolour and ink, £1,400
I liked this painting by John Hunt because it reminds me of the sort of sketches I produce - in art galleries. It's very simple - pen and ink outlines in a sketchy way and then very simple washes. However producing simple and understated paintings is not so simple. 

I also liked it because it tackles people, a subject which very many painters seem to avoid - including a lot in this exhibition! (Most - of the few there are - are very obviously painted from photos)

If it's the John Hunt I think it is then it's the man who won this competition back in 2011 - see John Hunt wins Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2011.  (I can only find one John Hunt who paints - and his website clearly state watercolour artist!)

He studied Fine Art at Hammersmith College in London and later Graphic Design at Reigate College of Art. Worked as working as a Freelance Illustrator and an Art Lecturer at Hounslow College.

The Old Lighthouse Dungeness by Ian Sidaway
watercolour £1,800
There were a number of watercolour landscapes I liked and in the end I decided on the painting by Ian Sidaway RI.

I like it because it has all sorts of of things you shouldn't do with a painting - such as a vertical telegraph pole bang in the middle which divides the painting in two. However it works because of the way he has composed a picture which balances the mass, tone and line very effectively. To my mind Ian is a master of tonal control and the use of negative space.

This is not Ian's first STWC outing. Ian studied graphic design and worked for a short time in advertising. Then he painted portraits to commission and illustrated books on art technique during 80s and 90s. Now he concentrates on painting landscapes and he was elected a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours in 2010.

This is his Fine Line drawing blog and this is his Studio blog - both well worth a visit.


2017 - 87 paintings by 78 artists were selected from 1,057 submissions

2016 - 75 paintings by 66 artists were selected

2015 - 90 works by 80 artists were selected

2014 - 93 works by 73 artists from across the UK








  1. Very good points made especially acrylic being a watercolour medium which it technically is but the competition needs to keep the medium pure. You can buy oil paints which you can use with water - will paintings entered using these be eligible? Plenty of competitions for acrylic painters - I work in acrylics, watercolours and gouache and each medium requires different skills, thinking and strategies. Quite a few of the paintings you have selected I would classify as illustrations rather than fine art paintings ( especially Ian Sidaway) - just a feeling when I look at the works.

  2. I totally disagree that a graphic STYLE, such as that rendered by Ian Sidaway, makes it an illustration rather than a fine art painting. Paintings don't need to be "painterly" to qualify as fine art.

    Illustrations have a PURPOSE i.e. to illustrate something. Ian produces landscapes to sell as fine art paintings.
    Lots of people like his graphic style and I'm sure he sells a lot of paintings as he is a full time professional artist.

    This is his website I see fine art paintings on it - not illustrations!

  3. I didn't say that a more graphic STYLE make a painting an illustration and I think that paintings have a purpose as well. Have seen Mr. Sidaway's work down the years and had his book in to commission him for a clients ad campaign when I was an art director in a London ad agency so I do view his work as being more illustrative but it doesn't mean his work any less FINE art.

  4. No you didn't comment about style.

    What you actually said was
    "Quite a few of the paintings you have selected I would classify as illustrations rather than fine art paintings ( especially Ian Sidaway) "
    I read that as a pretty EXPLICIT AND DEFINITE statement that you don't think his paintings are fine art - hence why I made the comment.

    The fact that you encountered him in a past life when he was working for advertising agencies is completely irrelevant to his current life working as a professional painter within the fine art field and specialising in landscapes.

    I really dislike ill-informed comments that appear to put people and their their paintings down based on a biased perspective or an irrelevant titbit from the past. Which is why I am now making this second comment.

  5. I Love Kate Evan's Dutch barn. Glorious :)

  6. You read into my comment your own prejudice that you think illustration cannot be fine art at the same time and that illustration is of lesser value. The fact that I have seen Mr. Sidaway's work as an illustrator is relevant in how I view his work, which I consider exceptional and gives me a perspective that is wider than yours as you obviously have a very narrow view of what is fine art.

  7. I didn't "read" anything into your comment at all.

    I just looked at what YOU actually said in YOUR first comment above - and I quote (yet again)!

    "Quite a few of the paintings you have selected I would classify as illustrations rather than fine art paintings ( especially Ian Sidaway)"

    I'll leave others to comment on the merit of your argument.

    Please note I'll not be publishing any more comments by you either now or at any time in the future.
    See my comments policy as to why.


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