Sunday, April 08, 2018

Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2018 - Call for Entries

The  First Prize for the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2018 has been reduced!
Somehow or other the Sunday Times and the organisers both forgot to mention this in the newspaper, the blog post, the Facebook posts or any of the tweets to date about the call for entries! See below for more details in the Call for Entries section. 

The deadline for the 2018 entry is 5pm, 25 June 2018

Viewing last year's exhibition of the Sunday Times Watercolour Exhibion

Inevitably, a reduction in the top price will mean allegations that the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition is being devalued.  Once the top prize drops below £10,000 it no longer ranks alongside some of the top painting prizes around the world - and drops out of the Premier Division.

Maybe it's time for a new sponsor? After all the Sunday Times took over from Singer & Friedlander after the Icelandic banking collapse.

Who else remembers the "good old days" when "the Singer & Friedlander" was a really excellent watercolour competition with "top notch prizewinners"?

Personally I always think it's a HUGE mistake to pretend something hasn't changed. You simply MUST address "the elephant in the room" - which in this instance appears to be the diminishing interest on the part of the The Sunday Times. This is possibly due to the need to cut costs due to the continuing decline in sales and advertising coupled with the lack of a proper journalist covering art.

(My version of addressing last year's "elephant" was to pointedly refuse to do a prizewinners post last year after what won First Prize i.e. a painting which could have been hung in the annual exhibition of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters!! I wrote What does "watercolour" mean to you? and 10 Best Paintings in the Sunday Times Watercolour Exhibition instead!)

Maybe it's time to give this very old competition a chance to revert to what it was in the past - an excellent competition for those who painted in "proper watercolour" - much loved by very many art fans in the UK and oodles of amateur artists.

I for one would be extremely pleased to see a brand new sponsor with funds that would also support it reverting to the standards of its Singer & Friedlander days when people like Leslie Worth (sublime watercolour painter!) and Jennifer McRae used to win.  As of 2017 it was a heavily compromised competition and exhibition which in my opinion had been undermined by its judges.

Call for Entries: Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2018

Anyway, back to this year and this competition. Every year I do a blog post about the CALL FOR ENTRIES for - and this is it!

(I am not in the least bit surprised to see this painting used for publicity - they could hardly use last year's first prizewinner and hope for a decent entry!)

Below you will find - for the 2018 competition:
  1. Exhibition - a summary of venue and number of paintings to be exhibited
  2. Summary of the prizes, selection process and the judges (but not much!)
  3. a summary of the entry process
    • who can enter 
    • what you can enter 
    • how to enter 
    • the timetable 
  4. brief reflections on past competitions
  5. tips for those thinking of entering this prestigious watercolour competition; and
  6. plus links to all the blog posts I've written in previous years about the exhibition, who won prizes and who got selected - and links to their websites!


A maximum of 100 works will be exhibited at the Mall Galleries, London.
The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition Exhibition will be displayed at the Mall Galleries, London from 17 – 23 September 2018 (Admission is FREE). It's unclear whether there will be any tour given the other sponsor (Smith and Williamson) has also pulled out.

Realistically the exhibition has not reached 100 paintings for quite some time. It's oscillated between mid 70s and low 90s in recent years.

By way of contrast, for the same entry fee, you can see 150+ paintings in water-based media at the Mall Galleries right now - selected from the open submision - in the 206th annual exhibition (total 400+ paintings) of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours. It seems very likely that you have a better chance of being exhibited in this much bigger exhibition which also draws the crowds.

SELECTION and Judges Panel

The job of the judges is to select around about one hundred works in watercolour that reflect the true breadth of the medium but it partly depends on size and how much of the galleries are hired for the competition.

The 2018 judging panel has NOT yet been invited/selected/whatever
EXCEPT, according to the website, it includes "Louis Wise, Critic and Writer, The Sunday Times".
EXCEPT that I'm not sure he knows much about art (as opposed to music and film), is now freelance and no longer an employee of the Sunday Times and has yet to master social media!

The announcement of the prizewinners is generally in advance of the exhibition.

PRIZES and prizewinners

Shame about the prize money....

Open to all UK-based artists, the competition offers a generous range of prizes including a first prize of £6,000, a second prize of £3,000 and a third prize of £1,000. The Sunday Times 1 April 2018
There again last year's STWC first prizewinner had the LEAST press coverage of any  that I've ever known - and I go back quite a few years!

In 2018, the winners will be announced in the Culture section of The Sunday Times and the prizes are:
  • a First Prize of £6,000 (i.e. a reduction of £4,000 on 2017 and equivalent to the second prize in £2016)
  • Second Prize of £3,000 (reinstated - after being eliminated in 2017 - but a reduction of £3,000 on the second prize awarded in 2016)
  • Third Prize of £1,000 - substitutes for the Smith & Williamson Cityscape Prize eliminated  last year after the sponsor pulled out.
  • The following comes across to me as "we're trying hard"!
In addition, there will be a range of other prizes on offer to artists.
The trend is for less rather than more. In 2017, the prizes were a First Prize of £10,000 plus the Jackson’s Young Artist Award worth £500. They had eliminated the second prize of £6,000 which was last awarded in 2016. The Smith & Williamson Cityscape Prize was dropped last year when they stopped being a sponsor and the Cover Prize went in 2015. Like I said - no mention of any changes.....

The CALL FOR ENTRIES - Process and Key Points

Here is a summary of the KEY POINTS
Artists are invited to submit up to four works in any water-based medium...  Entry is £15 per work
  • The deadline for submissions 5pm, 25 June 2018 
  • Entry for the 2017 competition is digital and ONLINE
  • Your digital file for submission needs to be 300 dpi with a file size of 500kb or less 
  • This is the official website. Plus these are the rules and these are the FAQs
  • The top prize is £6,000 (reduced from last year)
  • You'll find out on , via email, whether or not your painting has been selected for the final judging in front of the selection panel. 
  • You review the images from past exhibitions (see blog posts reviewing past SWC exhibitions at the end of this post) 
  • you review the Facebook Page for the competition - which demonstrates the diversity of ways in which watercolour can be used 
  • Have a go and enter two works 
  • The cost relative to the achievement and the experience is negligible 

Who can enter

  • The competition is open to all artists born or currently resident in the UK - who are making paintings using water-based media 
  • There are no age limits for artists wishing to enter. 

What you can enter

Eligible media includes:
  • any water-based media
  • this includes acrylic, inks and gouache 
In response to an FAQ (my bold)
Yes, any water-based media is acceptable. Artists should note that whilst any water-based mediums are acceptable, this competition aims to celebrate and reward excellence and originality in the genre of watercolour painting. The judges will therefore be looking for work that makes the most imaginative or otherwise impressive use of a water based medium in this respect
Except the Judges didn't appear to do this last year - given the the Last Painting to win the £10,000 First Prize was trying very hard to look like an oil painting and in no way, shape or form could be said to look like a watercolour.

My view is that:
  • This competition for its (past) prestigious reputation based on excellent watercolour paintings (made with the NON-plastic NON-polymer related stuff which comes in pans and tubes) 
  • This competition is very popular with the public who all expect to a lot of "proper" watercolour paintings - demonstrating the range of ways you can use traditional watercolour paint (i.e. NOT how to make watercolour look like oil paint!)
  • If the judges don't choose lots of good and "proper" watercolour paintings then they just make the sponsoring brand look  REALLY STUPID!
Last year I expected the final selection to include other water-based media - however I would also expect that it will be exceptional and other media will not dominate traditional watercolour paint.
Below is a table of the the media submitted last year. Less than half the paintings are traditional pure watercolour paint only.

Watercolour and gouache
Watercolour and ink
Watercolour and pencil
Gouache and watercolour
Acrylic and watercolour
Acrylic and pigment
Watercolour, Japanese ink and gilding/metal powders
Watercolour ink and gesso
Watercolour collage
Watercolour and water based mediums
Watercolour and inktense pencils
Watercolour and acrylic
Gouache, collage and pencil

I RECOMMENDTake them at their word. Don't be boring! Show them what watercolour can do....


First round submit a digital image and pay a fee (£15 per entry)
Review: a sift and sort selection process produces a list of works which need to be seen in person by the Judges. Whether this sift and sort is done by the Judges.......

Label for a painting submitted to Second Round

Proceed to Second Round (Judges view paintings in person): you will be supplied with
Final Judging Work Labels and Final Judging Submission Form and need to bring or send the artwork to London (to arrive on 1 July) for the second round of judging by the Panel of Judges.
a maximum of 250 shortlisted artists will then be invited to deliver their actual works on 15 July 2018, from 10 – 4pm and 16 July 2018, from 10 – 5pm, to the Federation of British Artists (FBA)

  • This is where you can lose out through bad presentation or inappropriate framing which will drown other work. Don't be loud!
  • Very often some artists have more than one work selected so it's generally less that 100 artists - which is why it can be worth submitting two works - because if they like your work they might take two!

2018 Timeline


  • 25 June Deadline for online entries, by 5pm


  • 4 July Email to artists - advising of the outcome of the Round 1 (initial review of works entered) 
  • Friday 14 or Saturday 15 July (between 10am - 5pm) Shortlisted artists must submit works to FBA (on this date) 
  • 21 & Saturday 22 July 2017 (between 10am-5pm):  works not accepted for exhibition will be available for collection from the FBA (rear of the Mall Galleries)  


  • 17 – 23 September 2018 Exhibition at Mall Galleries, The Mall, London SW1 10am-5pm


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

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