Thursday, September 20, 2018

Review: Sunday Times Watercolour Competition Exhibition 2018

I visited the exhibition for the The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2018 this afternoon. It's at the Mall Galleries (10am - 5pm) until 23rd September after which the exhibition will be travelling to:
Admission to all the galleries is free.

The exhibition is being held at the same time as the Derwent Art Prize - and the combination of the two exhibitions in the Mall Galleries making this a RECOMMENDED VISIT this week - before they both close at 5pm on Sunday 23rd September 2018.

The entrance to the exhibitions for two major art competitions
The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2018 and The Derwent Art Prize 2018
Below you can read my impressions - about:
You can also see some "views" of the paintings on the walls in the exhibition in the NEW slideshow banner images at the top of my Facebook Page - which give a very good sense of the look of the show.

If you can't get to the exhibition, do take a look at the website because you can see:
  • all the paintings - in a long column underneath the details about the exhibition
  • click a painting and see it individually - with full details (with the caption MINUS  media but PLUS price - make of that what you will!) and a space for comments. I've included links to these below.
  • plus there's also a link (bottom right hand corner) to see each painting at a larger size. This is presumably the digital image submitted for the competition based on the fact some are unframed when photographed. These provide a good guideline re. quality of photograph required for the competition for those aspiring to enter in 2019.  
If you do go and see the show and compare the painting on the wall with the large painting on the website you can also tell which artists 'enhanced' their chances of getting selected. I'm not commenting further or naming names in this review. However I might do so in future ones....

About the prizewinners

Prizewinning paintings - from the right: Second Prize; First Prize; Third Prize and three other paintings

I'm not sure the prizewinners are the paintings I would have chosen - they didn't wow me in any way - and I do like a prizewinner which rocks me on my heels!

However I'm certainly not going to kick off as I did last year when I REFUSED to write about the prizewinner! (See my blog post reviewing the exhibition last year - 10 Best Paintings in the Sunday Times Watercolour Exhibition (a.k.a. "why I'm not writing about the prizewinners this year")

I highlighted this year's prizewinners at the end of August in my blog post Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2018: Prizewinners & Selected Artists - together with profiles of the Selected Artists
  • First Prizewinner: Sophie Charalambous The Prodigal Son,Watercolour on Khadi paper, 112 x 114 cm - the subject of the painting is unusual and it plays with perspective at the same time as providing a lot of examples of different types of markmaking using watercolour - although I thought the swirling marks in some of the trees looked to me more like marks made with a pen and ink. (You need to look at the larger image to see the mark-making properly)
  • Second Prizewinner - Michael Chance, Growth of the Soil, watercolour, ink, honey, gum Arabic, 112 x 86 cm. You have to get up close to this painting to see the complexity of the arrangements of figures and the extent to which tonal variation in what is essentially sepia enables you to make out the whole
  • Third Prizewinner - Richard Anthony Elliot, Diving Boards, Crystal Palace watercolour, 120 x 120cm - this was the largest painting of the three and is a quite abstract structure with little colour painted almost in an abstract way
Interestingly they are all the prizewinners are postgraduates of specialist art schools in London - the first two are graduates of the Drawing Year at the Royal Drawing School and the third prizewinner studied for a Post Graduate Diploma in Fine Art, Painting at Royal Academy Schools, London.

You will note that all the prizewinning paintings are large - and this is not uncommon. I'd say the factors typically influencing the choice of prizewinners in many art competitions is size, complexity of subject matter - including the extent to which it does not look like anybody else's work - and skill in use of a media

The paintings I liked

My favourite bit of wall in the competition
For the record my prizewinner would have been Jayne Stokes SSA's composite image of 121 small painting of the Outer Hebrides. Each is different; each is painting on a tiny piece of watercolour paper which has either been torn or burnt so the edges are rarely precise. Each tiny painting has been thought through carefully and painted well - and the overall collage of mini-landscape paintings of the Outer Hebridean islands has that wonderful combination of both being a record of a place at the same time as having an air of abstraction and pleasing patterns. One of those paintings you can gaze at from a distance and also stand right in front of and become absorbed in what you see. It is also undeniably a watercolour painting! I also highlighted her 'Wanderlust' work selected for the 2016 exhibition as being very pleasing - and you can see more of her painting collages on her website. I'd love to own one her works but they're tad expensive for me!

Outer Hebrides by Jane Stokes
watercolour and collage £3,000
Other paintings I liked included this slightly surreal and rather calligraphic painting by Julian BrayI liked the way he flooded paint on to the painting and then worked into to bring out the various features. Plus it includes some very good brushwork of the type you don't get good at quickly!

The chickens explored their domain, Welbeck Abbey terrace by Julian Bray
watercolour £2,400
I loved Mark Entwisle's painting - which is obviously straight from a sketchbook i.e. it doesn't quite match up in the middle! It also looks as if this is a watercolour sketch as a preliminary for his fine art paintings in oils - see Dream Forrest (diptych)

I'm without Photoshop at present - so my photo looks greyer than it should - do take a look at Heath on the website. That's the sort of watercolour painting I really enjoy!

Mark Entwisle, ‘Heath’, £1,000
My favourite watercolour painting of plants (my other passion!) in the show was Jan Symes's wonderful watercolour painting of the great colours produced by a Mahonia. It's always nice to see somebody who focuses on the translucency of watercolour paint.

Jan Symes, ‘Gerrish’s Mahonia’, watercolour £1,500

There were more I liked and some of these are featured below - although some featured below are there to highlight a point (or two - or event three).

About the exhibition

This is one of the smaller exhibitions of paintings selected from entries for the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition in recent times.  Just 80 paintings by 73 artists.

In my view you can't market a competition as being one which will contain c.100 paintings when it has contained 90 paints or less for the last three years. Marketing needs a rethink - or judges need to select 100 paintings and be done with it.

It's a very well hung exhibition with some wonderful analogous colour palettes at play along the walls - alongside major contrasts in terms of both colour and style

View of the exhibition in the Main Gallery of the Mall Galleries
Botanical art, pug portraits and abstract art - and pink
Top left: Victoria Braithwaite, ‘Tulipa ‘Vaya con Dios, £3,800
Bottom left: Sarah Seymour, ‘Really?….’, watercolour £950
Right: Julie D Cooper, ‘Salty Light’, gouache £950

I really liked this wall which demonstrated what you can do with monochrome - with ink on the left and watercolour on the right

Left: Peter Lloyd Jones, A drawing for summer, Ink £2,000
Right: Russell Macaulay, ‘Watercolour 003’, Watercolour £495

There are a lot of excellent landscape and cityscape paintings in the show.  Some were very traditional while others were less so. Below is one of the more traditional paintings by a regular in this show. Roger Allen has exhibited every year from 2015.

Roger Allen, ‘The Pennine Bridleway near Hayfield’, Watercolour £2,000
Some employed unique perspectives which left my eye unable to move on from the painting until I'd worked out what was going on.

There's an increase in paintings of plants and trees. 

Top: Suzy Fasht, ‘Wild flowers by a window, gouache £750
Bottom: Jan Symes, ‘Gerrish’s Mahonia’, watercolour £1,500

As per usual there are surprisingly few portrait and paintings involving people in this exhibition. I'm not quite why this should be. Maybe people who like painting people prefer painting in oils? I find it very odd.

I thought Martha Zmpounou best demonstrated what can be done with watercolour paint and inks - and water.

Martha Zmpounou, ‘Kristian’, watercolour and inks £1,200
There were more paintings of people in what I thought of as acrylic corner.
  • the two paintings on the left and the painting on the extreme right were all painted in acrylic
  • the one on the centre - of a rather fiesty pensioner is in watercolour
Other figure paintings
Top left: Philip Tyler, ‘Sideways consciousness’, (Edward St Series)’, a very watery acrylic on paper £750
Bottom left: Nigel Whittaker, ‘Gloriously Irritating’, Acrylic NFS
Centre: Adam De Ville, ‘Security in old age’, Watercolour £550
Extreme right: Anne Magill, ‘Dusk’, Acrylic NFS

There were some interesting abstract paintings in the show which employed good use of colour.  I noted the good ones were in gouache not acrylic - proving there is no requirement to use acrylic just to get breadth in the type of paintings in the show.

Julie D Cooper, ‘Salty Light’, gouache £950

Julie D Cooper, Echo, Gouache £750
some of the small works in the exhibition

There are some small and some tiny paintings in the show. I can't say any wowed me particularly which is a pity as I frequently see some fabulous small / miniature paintings in watercolour in other exhibitions and I can only surmise that the judges went with the best of what was presented.

However a compilation of tiny paintings within a bigger framed image is a completely different proposition - and one which I liked a lot! (see above)

I did end up wondering - while sat on the bench in the middle of the room, making notes for this blog post and looking up from time to time to check out my overall impressions - just how far the Judges are from paintings when doing the selection. I'm still very much a fan of a painting which looks good at 15-20 feet away and only gets better as you move in closer.....

About watercolour in this exhibition

the competition aims to celebrate and reward excellence and originality in the medium of watercolour.

The exhibition is a significant improvement on last year. 
  • ALL the prizewinners were clearly painters who had used water in their application of paint. 
  • Most of the paintings were by people who had obviously used water either in terms of the media they used or the style of their painting
  • Only a small number painted like oil painters on canvas boards! (see more comments below).

Top: Ashley Amery, ‘Erosion & Regrowth’, Gouache £850
Bottom: Laura Footes, ‘Night Bus on Hackney Road, Watercolour £4,000

There also appears to be much less use of acrylic and more use of gouache. (I've not done the count yet - but my impression is that this is so - and the count will be included somewhere!)

Indeed I'd go so far as to urge every painter who wants to use acrylic to give gouache a go.

However I still have real concern and reservations about this competition calling itself a watercolour competition when Judges select acrylic paintings showing no or very little evidence of the use of water on canvas boards!

There is also nothing original about acrylic on canvas boards - we see such paintings in the annual exhibition of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters all the time.

The techniques used by some to paint with acrylic also preclude any demonstration of
  • the aspects of traditional watercolour paints which make it such a difficult medium to excel in 
  • the effects most valued by art collectors who buy watercolour paintings.
I still think the people behind this competition need to think long and hard about their branding of this competition:
  • if this was "The Sunday Times Painting Competition" I wouldn't be saying a word. We'd just be focused on the quality of the paintings and not be in any way concerned about what sort of media they were painted in
  • however by identifying it as a watercolour competition then this automatically prompts consideration of 
    • why does water make the media special AND
    • the MEDIA AND WATER needs to be the primary focus in terms of the paintings produced and selected for exhibition AND
    • criteria for selection needs to emphasise skills in handling watercolour media - and the emphasis there is on the word WATER i.e. an emphasis on the use of water to achieve painting effects (i.e. not flow medium- and here are some of the reasons why)!
By way of contrast the Royal Institute of Oil Painters (ROI) do not accept gouache - an opaque medium - as eligible media for their annual open exhibition. The ROI are actually very specific - see below
  • Acceptable media: Oils. Acrylic and water soluble oil paint is acceptable if it is framed as an oil, so as not to spoil the general appearance of the exhibition.
  • Glazing or wide mounts between painting and frame, as in watercolours, are not acceptable.
(ROI Eligible media and presentation)
On this basis, my view about this watercolour competition is very simple
  • If a painting presented as an entry for this competition would meet the eligibility criteria for the open exhibition of the ROI then it should be rejected from the competition. In other words it should not look like an oil painting!
  • If paint used for a painting cannot be rewetted and reworked then it is not a watercolour painting
  • It can only be framed like an oil painting if it is self-evident that water has been used in the development of the painting. That might finally get this competition pushing the lost art of glazing using transparent paint to the fore!
Interestingly one of the aspects of the exhibition which I found very interesting is the extent to which some painters have switched from acrylic to gouache. (Maybe they read my blog post last year?) There are a lot of fine paintings in gouache in this exhibition. Indeed there are also a number of paintings in acrylic which could easily have been done in gouache.

I'd very much like to see the exhibition limited to one painting per artist. I'd rather see something different than "more of the same". 
  • This is normal in a number of other premier art competitions. 
  • While I am in no way criticising any of the artwork where an artist had two paintings in the show, I didn't feel that the second artwork brought sufficient added value to the exhibition to eliminate a good painting by another artist. 
  • Enabling more artists to put this exhibition on their CV also enhances career development for more artists and can only be positive.

I think moving to one painting per artist is a "win win" for both the exhibition, the visitors and the artists - although granted the marketing team or judging panel might have to work a little bit harder!

About presentation

Finally some pointers for next year for sponsors/organisers and aspiring artists! (Followed by my archive of blog posts relating to past exhibitions of the Sunday Times watercolour Competition)

Captions omit media and support information

In an exhibition which is celebrating art made in the medium of watercolour, it seems to me to be extremely odd and entirely remiss to OMIT THE MEDIA used in the painting from 
  • the wall captions for each painting - and 
  • from the website captions for each painting
Omitting the media does absolutely NOTHING to enhance understanding amongst aspiring artists and avid watercolour art fans - and potential collectors - of what is possible using watercolour media when using a SPECIFIC medium.

The caption information is an opportunity to inform and educate - and from my perspective (I think information about the media is more important than the title!) it's a huge missed opportunity.

The media is highlighted in the very rudimentary catalogue, however I find people tend to read captions rather than look at catalogues.

I had to walk round twice - with my head buried in the catalogue the second time round - in order to check whether paintings were in the media I thought they were painted in.

Next year I'd like to see more informative captions under each painting
  • PROUDLY declaring what media were used to create the painting - and 
  • ideally including the support too - which is very relevant to a watercolour competition i.e. this is not about producing paintings which look like oil paintings!

Frames and 'disappearing' mats

The presentation of almost all the paintings was very good. I thought some of the paintings could have made more of the painting by improving on its presentation. Again more of a missed opportunity.

The bulk of the frames are:
  • painted either mono (white / black / grey) or neutral (taupe / cream)
  • pale wood frames
However some artists are not gauging the width of their frame right relative to the size of the image - and the absence of a mat.

What's interesting is the extent to which artists are no longer framing with wide mats - or indeed any mats at all.  There's a marked move to remove mats and either float mount or use spacers so that all that is on view is the paper support for the painting. Those still including mats are often reducing their width dramatically. However I still think there's a good case for a well judged mat in a competition where paintings are liable to be hung close together.

This of course means that thinking ahead is vital when committing to paper - because you need to know whether you are
  • painting up the edge of your paper; 
  • leaving a natural border within the scope of the paper
  • cropping and cutting the image down to fit a predetermined frame size
  • tearing the paper to fit the frame
  • using a float mount approach or using spacers to keep the glass away from the support.

More about the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2008-2018


2018: 80 paintings by 73 artists were selected from 1,304 submissions by 600+ artists

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






Royal Watercolour Society / Sunday Times Watercolour Exhibition
Call for entries - 2009 RWS/Sunday Times Watercolour ...


RWS / Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2008
The RWS / Sunday Times Watercolour ...
RWS/Sunday Times Watercolour Competition - call for entries

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