Janet Darley – Preparatory Sketches

In preparation for her watercolour demonstration at the Mall Galleries, Janet Darley has produced a selection of sketches and preliminary paintings on Saunders Waterford HP High White 425gsm paper. This is a 100% cotton paper with a gelatine surface sizing, mould made at St Cuthberts Mill in the South West of England. Here Janet has used the new improved HP paper, which has a wonderfully smooth surface.

IMG_1394 Shortlisted for this year’s Sunday Times Watercolour Competition, Janet creates striking compositions by overlaying watercolour and gouache – a process which she’ll be exploring in her upcoming demonstration.


IMG_1391 IMG_1395

You can see Janet Darley’s painting  Elmley Marshes, Sheppey in The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition exhibition at the Mall Galleries, London (19 – 24 September 2016).

Janet’s demonstration, Layering Watercolour will take place on Tuesday 20 September 11am – 4pm and promises to offer an insight into her unique creative practice.


We are delighted to announce that there will be artist demonstrations running during The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition exhibition, led by two of this year’s exhibitors.

On Tuesday 20 September, Janet Darley will show visitors how to overlay watercolour and gouache to create dynamic, striking compositions. Janet references organic forms and found objects to produce abstract, impressionistic images recognised for their strong sense of colour.

Janet Darley, Elmley Marshes, Sheppey selected for The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2016

Janet Darley, Elmley Marshes, Sheppey – selected for The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2016

Day Bowman will provide an insight into her creative process on Friday 23 September, demonstrating her dynamic and innovative use of gouache and pencil on paper. Inspired by the urban landscape, her paintings are hauntingly beautiful and lie on the axis of figuration and abstraction.

Day Bowman, Rails and Railings 3, selected for The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2016.

Day Bowman, Rails and Railings 3 – selected for The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2016

The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition exhibition will take place at the Mall Galleries, London from 19-24 September 2016. You can view this year’s selected works here.

Layering Watercolour: with Janet Darley, Tuesday 20 September, 11am – 4pm

Contemporary Watercolour: Day Bowman, Friday 23 September, 11am – 2pm


David, congratulations on being selected for The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2016, could you tell us a bit about your shortlisted piece ‘Wetland Blues’? 

Thank you, I am honoured to have been selected for this prestigious exhibition with my painting Wetland blues. It is pure watercolour, on a full sheet of Arches Cold Pressed paper. It was completed in the studio and depicts a winter view across the Somerset wetlands from a viewpoint on my favourite part of the Mendip Hills. This place has a very special meaning to me and somewhere I constantly revisit in my work. I have attempted here to capture the drama of the afternoon sky against a dark, almost medieval and partly flooded landscape, using a series of transparent washes in a fairly traditional way.

David Parfitt RI, Wetland Blues - watercolour 56 x 70 cm

David Parfitt RI, Wetland Blues – watercolour 56 x 70 cm

You work primarily in water based media, what is it about this medium that suits your approach? 

I have to admit I am passionate about watercolour. It’s the fluidity and uncontrollable nature which I find endlessly fascinating; the accidents that occur and finding how the medium can be used to express and convey a feeling for the moods and atmosphere of the landscape.

Are there any artists that have significantly influenced your style or process? 

I have a number of influences or at least artists I admire, but as a watercolour painter it will be no surprise that Turner’s watercolours and later oils have had a huge influence on me. Constable’s sketches were a joy to study and hold at the V&A and I always seek out Corot in the National Gallery. More recently I have been studying Arthur Melville’s watercolour process and the early work of Piet Mondrian.

What is your typical starting point for a landscape painting? 

Once I have settled on a subject I stare at the blank sheet of paper for quite a period of time contemplating the painting ahead. I don’t initially make any pencil marks on the surface or use masking medium, so need to fix the composition in my mind and work out where the main areas of dark and light will be before making the first mark or putting on the first wash.

David Parfitt RI, My Somerset

David Parfitt RI, My Somerset

Whilst your works are representational, they also have an ethereal, expressive quality. Are you very deliberate and considered when painting or is it more of an experimental, instinctive process? 

Thank you. I think my process is probably a combination of all these things. My aim is to create something which has a sense of place without looking too contrived or indeed, deliberate. On the other hand, I am obsessed with making paintings without the use of opaque or white pigment. It’s not an easy balance as I feel too that the process is about experimenting, learning and developing, while attempting to push the water-based medium as far as I can.

A glimpse into David's studio

A glimpse into David’s studio

Does your current work have a specific focus and are there any new paintings that you’re working on at the moment? 

I have become rather preoccupied lately with painting the river which is about a 10 minute stroll from my studio. I used to walk along it with my Grandfather when I was a child so it holds special memories. Of course, I have painted the river often but this is a familiar theme, as I mentioned above, whereby I tend to revisit places and respond to views which have a particular meaning to me. Something I hope to subconsciously convey in my work. And, talking about work, I am currently preparing for Somerset Open Studios (17 September-2 October) and the RI members fundraising exhibition ‘Splash’, which will be held in The Mall Galleries 8-13 November.

David Parfitt RI, River Greens

David Parfitt RI, River Greens

David Parfitt’s piece Wetland Blues will be exhibited as part of The Sunday Times Watercolour Exhibition at the Mall Galleries, London from 19-24 September.


A selection of artists shortlisted for The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2016 have employed realism to convey their subjects, from intimate portraits of family members to delicately rendered beach scenes, the subject matter is diverse but united by a strong sense of craftsmanship and technical proficiency.

What is interesting is that these artists have depicted extremely realistic imagery in a medium which is typically difficult to control due to its fluid, sinuous nature. This is a true testament to each artist’s understanding of the physicality of water based paint. The intricacy of each piece demands that viewers stop and look, and look again. We are left observing the meticulous detail in these works but also the sheer spectacle of the paintings in their entirety.

As we hone in on individual works, we become acutely aware of the smaller elements that make up the whole, these fragments of paint suggest a fragility which may not be considered or detected from afar. It is the notion of distance which makes the works so intriguing – the aesthetic of each painting shifting according to where the viewer is stood.

Artist Vincent Brown whose piece ‘Artist’s Mother’ was selected for The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2016 said ‘I am inspired by artists such as Rembrandt and Velázquez and seek to represent what I see in front of me with some naturalism, honesty and sensitivity.’

Artist's Mother by Vincent Brown - watercolour on card, 60 x 60 cm

Artist’s Mother by Vincent Brown – watercolour on card, 60 x 60 cm

Whilst there is immense detail in the face of Brown’s subject, the brush strokes become looser in the figure’s clothing as if to communicate the materiality of the medium itself. Speaking of the expressive elements in his work, Vincent explained ‘the large, bold brush strokes in my portrait clearly make it appear as an obvious painting not pertaining to photography’. This approach is very much aligned with Expressive Realism – a term more commonly associated with literature, it denotes an imitation of reality fused with romantic conviction.

‘Charles’ by Simon Turvey, also selected for this year’s exhibition, is a portrait of the artist’s nephew: ‘I had wanted to paint my nephew, Charles, for some years. The long-awaited spark which starts a painting came when I first saw his cockatiels, which are free to fly around his family’s home and frequently perch on any available human.’ Whilst this painting appears almost photographic from afar, its textural quality provides an indication of its medium and suggests a sense of depth, which is otherwise difficult to achieve in photography.

Talking of his creative process, Simon disclosed that ‘watercolour is not the favoured medium of most portrait painters, principally because oil paint has the advantage in that any mistakes or changes of mind can be easily remedied by removing the paint and starting again. Watercolour is unforgiving in this respect. Once a mark is made, it can’t be totally erased.’

‘I approached my painting “Charles”, by drawing out the image first, then building up my layers of paint (not too wet, so as not to dissolve work already laid down). I tried not to concentrate on every pore, to allow space for the imagination, and something of his essential character to come through.’

Charles by Simon Turvey -  watercolour on paper, 35 x 50 cm

Charles by Simon Turvey – watercolour on paper, 35 x 50 cm

With the rise of abstract art in the 20th century, realist painting ceased to be the dominant mode of art-making. Yet such traditional methods have continued to have widespread appeal, and contemporary artists continue to use these more conventional techniques and genres in dynamic new ways.

Take Mark Elsmore’s painting ‘One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor’ which is a mix of sharp observation and social commentary: ‘Beneath the pier in Aberystwyth, a mysterious light ushers a new day. We look out towards a sea that is as yet invisible. Distance is endless, aspiration the same. There is a taste to the pallor, the taste of coastal wilderness. The rigid Victoriana of an 1865 pier becomes a metaphor for self-imposed limitations. Mighty ferrous legs surround us, but in this location at this unearthly hour we have embraced nature and can do anything. We raise our eyes to the weighty construction and realise that one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.’ Mark Elsmore.

The artist’s use of water-based glow in the dark paint means light forms within the piece change throughout the day, challenging the perception of realism as a static and traditional art form; the transformative nature of the painting further communicating its inherent metaphor.

One Man's Celing is Another Man's Floor by Mark Elsmore - gouache on paper, 92 x 72 cm

One Man’s Ceiling is Another Man’s Floor by Mark Elsmore – gouache on paper, 92 x 72 cm

Each artist offers a contemporary take on realism whether through subject, technique or medium and we are very much looking forward to seeing these pieces exhibited in The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2016 (19 – 24 September).


Selected for the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition exhibition 2016, Speechless by William Grob and Remains Taunton by Michael Tarr both utilise cut and paste methodologies made popular by the hip-hop generation of the eighties and nineties.

William Grob paints on top of photographs, accentuating aspects of the image which he deems to be noticed. By integrating gouache into this process of re-appropriation, the artist underlines the enormous potential of water-based mediums for experimentation and use alongside/over the top of other materials (in this case photography). Simply by adding or reducing the amount of water mixed with paint, artists have the ability to control transparency levels, making watercolour, gouache and acrylic ideal for the creation of layered, post-modern compositions like Speechless. Reflecting on the hybrid of materials in his work, William Grob said that ‘photography holds as many lies as truths so by synthesising painting with my photographs, I project a visualisation that captures both the instant, and the immortal. The real and the surreal.’

Speechless by William Grob, selected for The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2016

Speechless by William Grob, selected for The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2016

Whilst Grob employs cut and paste techniques within his creative process, Michael Tarr documents cut and paste as a symptom of contemporary popular culture. In Remains Taunton, Tarr depicts a billboard layered with adverts; corners of posters curled over and elements torn away to reveal multiple images beneath. Much like James Rosenquist, Tarr seems to allude to the dizzying omnipresence of the consumer world.

Remains Taunton by Michael Tarr, selected for The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2016

Remains Taunton by Michael Tarr, selected for The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2016

Whether through process or subject matter, both William Grob and Michael Tarr have presented watercolour in a fresh and exciting light; providing a socio-political commentary and positioning watercolour painting within the wider contemporary and urban art landscape.

2016 Exhibitors Announced

We are delighted to announce that the following artists have all had work selected for the 2016 Sunday Times Watercolour Competition.  The standard of submissions this year was extremely high and the judges had a hard task, so our huge congratulations go to all those who have been selected.  We look forward to seeing the exhibition at the Mall Galleries in September.  The winners will be announced in the Sunday Times’ Culture Section in August.

Abel Jacqueline
Aldous Bob
Allen Roger
Austin Lucy
Bennett Terence
Bentley Raymond
Bhatia Varsha
Bird Christie
Boult Alison
Bowman Day
Bray Patricia
Brown Vincent
Burkitt Annette
Charalambous Sophie
Coode-Adams Ben
Crossley Yvonne
Darley Janet
de la hey Louise
di Masternak Agata
Doerr Joan
Elliott Richard
Elsmore Mark
Entwisle Mark
Evans Gethin
Goldberg Anne
Gracie Sarah
Graham Jenny
Grob William
Groucutt Gary
Hamilton David
Hannaford Elizabeth
Henderson David
Hornsby Nathaniel
Hunt Kate
Jacob Wendy
Jolley Emily
Judge James
Kenyon Janet
Knight Keith
Lawler Teresa
Lawrence Ron
Le Tissier Chloe
Leganovic Oona
Ling Zi
Lloyd-jones peter
Maple Kathryn
Maybank Hannah
Melrose Janet
Narbutt Sylwia
Newland Paul
Offord Robert
Orlowski Stefan John
Parfitt RI David A
Porter Sandra
Pratt Kerri
Rawlins Helen
Rees William
Roberts Fiona G.
Robertson Stuart
Ross Jenny
Ryan Denis
Stock Andrew
Stokes Jayne
Tarr Michael
Tuckwell Stephanie
Turvey Simon
Vohra Rosie
Walker Deborah
Westmancoat Deborah
Wilson Helen

Competition Result

Due to unforeseen circumstances, we will be notifying all entrants of the 2016 competition with the results of the 1st round selection on Friday 24th June by 5pm. We apologise for this delay and do hope that this does not cause any inconvenience.