Wednesday, October 11, 2017

RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition 2018 - Call for Entries

This post is for ALL watercolour painters - wherever you live - who are interested in submitting their watercolour paintings to the art competition run each year by the Royal Watercolour Society.

The Royal Watercolour Society invites submissions for the 2018 Contemporary Watercolour Competition 
  • Entry to the 2018 competition opened on Monday 9 October 2017
  • The deadline for digital submission of entries is Monday 15 January 2018, 12 midnight 
  • The exhibition will be in March 2018 at the Bankside Gallery (next to Tate Modern).
This post is a commentary on some of the very significant issues associated with this competition in the recent past and an overview of the Call for Entries. It covers
  • my preamble and commentary on how this competition has changed in the last five years - and my hopes that it is now turning a corner under a new President
  • the prizes
  • the judges
  • who can enter
  • how to enter
  • the exhibition

RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition 2018

This annual competition aims to encourage innovation and experimentation in all water-based media and provides a prestigious platform for both established and emerging artists.
I've been writing blog posts about the RWS art competition for more than 10 years - so what follows is not born out of a fleeting acquaintance with what this competition is, has been or could be.

I have a love/hate relationship with this competition.
  • I've really loved it in the past (5+ years ago) and have seen some splendid and accomplished paintings in the exhibition.
  • I've hated it more recently (under the most recent Past President 2012-2017) - although 'Extreme irritation bordering on hate" is probably a more accurate description of my feelings about some of the changes made in recent years
I've not been impressed with this exhibition in the recent past and have said so - in no uncertain terms (see Review: RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition 2015 and in 2013).
This competition totally lost sight of the merits of exploring traditional techniques of watercolour painting. Instead it put a huge emphasis on 'innovation' and 'contemporary' paintings. The latter, from my perspective, seemed determined to do their level best to look as if they could have been exhibited in any contemporary art gallery anywhere and been painted in any media.

In the end it stopped looking like an exhibition of watercolour paintings by a very reputable watercolour society.  It has also undermined the reputation of the RWS for a lot of people who like watercolour paintings.

While the 2016 exhibition looked as if it might just be getting back on track, earlier this year I was so disappointed by the images viewed in the 2017 online exhibition that I just decided to stop visiting the exhibition and consequently stopped reviewing it too.

I think the problem has been essentially the emphasis of the competition on "innovation and experimentation" as if this somehow has a value better than the skills and achievement in the traditional methods of watercolour painting which typically need talent and much effort and application to master.

I want to see an exhibition of paintings by artists who know how apply, move and remove pigments suspended in water - BEFORE and AFTER application - not a refuge for painters using polymers.

More importantly - given the lack of sales in recent years [note the commentary on the 2017 exhibition below] - the organisers and judges of the exhibition have also lost sight of the fact that
  • those who like buying watercolour paintings are very often those who like the merits of traditional watercolour paintings....
  • ....using traditional watercolours.  
Goodness only knows how much income has been lost to artists, society and gallery due to the blinkered approach in the recent past.

As a result this is NOT a competition which has exhibited many entries in recent times from those who aspire to match the superb paintings produced by some past members of the RWS in the 70s, 80s and 90s. However these were much in evidence five+ years ago.

Indeed this competition seems to have struggled to get a decent entry in terms of numbers at times given the standards of painting and the ever diminishing number exhibited.

Instead it seems to have become a home for  a number of artists (doubtless including some who are friends or students of members) who can't sell their "contemporary" paintings anywhere else and certainly don't do much better at the Bankside.

Irrespective of the problematic aim, an exhibition which is losing its traditional audience and has failed to cultivate a buying public to my mind also deters entries from those who tend to paint in a more traditional way - and who also want to sell their paintings!

You can see what I mean by reviewing the selected entries from:
2018 may well be another turning point.
The President has now changed.  One can but hope that under the Presidency of Jill Leman this competition will also now change its emphasis also.

This year the preamble on the competition pages states that the judges (see Selection below) are
....seeking pieces which represent the most accomplished works in this field.
Let's ALL hope that it now returns to the quality competition it used to be in the not so recent past (see my archive of posts about past exhibitions below and note in particular the type of images displayed prior to 2012) - when the emphasis was very much on water-based paints used to look as if water is actually involved!


This is NOT a competition which you enter for the prizes on offer. Although there are various prizes on offer, current sponsored prizes mainly comprise art materials by those who also frequently sponsor the open exhibitions of the national art societies rather than those available at the various prestigious art competitions runs in London.

This competition lacks a prestige sponsor with funds. In my opinion if the RWS returned to renewing an emphasis on highlighting the very special features of traditional watercolour painting it might also be able to attract a sponsor who could provide a big money prize!

Call for Entries

The competition webpage provides you with access to:

Deadline for entries

  • All entries must be submitted digitally via the website. 
  • The deadline for entries is Monday 15th January 2018 11.59pm

Who can enter

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

In effect, it's a secondary filter for those who may aspire to become the next Associate and Full Members of the RWS as the competition takes place prior to the next elections to membership in March 2018.  Note the text
The RWS encourages successful entrants to the Contemporary Watercolour Competition to apply for Associate Membership of the Society.
Hence the membership of the society is changing due to the preferences of judges of an art competition focused on innovation and experimentation!

Eligible work

The basics which must be observed are set out below. The aspects of confusion and uncertainty present last year remain in the inconsistencies between FAQs and information pack (i.e. read my italics!)
  • Original work
    • Paintings must have been "made by the entrant".  (However - and importantly - there is no definition of what this means and no comments about derivative pieces or use of photographs taken by other people). The usual definition in other competitions is that the artist must be able to assert copyright - which by definition means the artwork cannot rely on the original work of others.
    • No prints, copies, reproductions or photographs are eligible
  • 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!  A time limit without a date is completely meaningless. Four years before what date?
  • Size of work: The FAQS state "Paintings of all sizes are welcome" AND Framed works must not exceed 100 x 100cm. [Somebody really needs to eliminate confusions from the information provided.]
  • Eligible media: "any painting in watercolour, acrylic, gouache, ink, any other water-based media or a combination"
  • Eligible supports: "All work should be on a paper support (not canvas, wood, plastic or any other surface)"
  • ALL work must be for sale (hence no commissions or pieces you want to sell outside the exhibition or have already sold). Note that the Bankside Gallery levies a commission of 40% + VAT on picture sales
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!
RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition 2016 - showing pairs of paintings by the same artist

This is based on the FAQ responses below.

How should I choose which of my paintings to send in?
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.
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.
My preference would be for judges who were excited about artists demonstrating competence, skills and expertise in the techniques used and ideas and imagination in their subject matter and how they represent it.

In terms of presentation and framing - do note the following
For your work to be insured against theft under Bankside Gallery insurance, your paintings must be framed, glazed and fitted with mirror plates. Other display options are welcomed but you display these works at your own risk.

How to enter

You can enter a maximum of 6 paintings. Entry is by digital submission - of form and artwork - plus payment of the relevant fee. There are a number of stages which are explained in the information pack.

In terms of digital images
  • 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! 
Fees for entry are comparable with open exhibitions of national art societies. 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. 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.


Unlike some previous years the selection panel is stated in the information pack. (I've commented in the past that it was a mistake to exclude any mention of the judges when the call for entries is issued)

The judges for this competition are
All the selection is done on the basis of the digital image.
A list of paintings selected for the exhibition will be published on the RWS website on Friday 26 January. Artists whose work has been selected will be sent an email confirming arrangements for the exhibition.
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 framed paintings is to Bankside Gallery on Sunday 25 or Monday 26 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.
You can be selected and then not hung if you don't meet the requirements.


An exhibition of selected paintings will be held at Bankside Gallery from Friday 2 - Wednesday 14 March

Past Exhibitions

See my blog posts below about some of the previous exhibitions below. These include
  • gallery shots of works in the exhibition and 
  • links to the websites of prizewinning artists. 
2017: RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition 2017 - Call for Entries
2014: RWS Contemporary Watercolour Open Competition 2014 & Associate Membership
no exhibition review because I was writing my book!
2011: Call for Entries: Royal Watercolour Society Open Competition 2011

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