South Downs Watercolour

The deadline for the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours 2019 exhibition was on Friday 4th January. This was the first of a spate of submission deadlines that filled my new year heart with a certain sense of dread. I’d already decided that there were some exhibitions that I wasn’t going to enter this year, such as the Royal Academy Open and the Royal Watercolour Society Contemporary Watercolour Competition but, of all the exhibitions that I’d like to be seen in, the RI exhibition is probably top of my list.

This isn’t to do with any particular hierarchy or prestige factor. It’s mainly because it’s the exhibition that tends to feature the works that I like and admire most. The only snag was that I wasn’t sure whether I had anything worthy of submitting so had sort of ruled myself out of entering. Last year I entered three works. The maximum number you can enter is 6 although, deep down, there were probably only two of them that I was really happy with. This year, while I feel my work has developed and improved, I feel much more reticent about submitting, especially if I’m not wholly convinced by my own submission.

Eventually, however, in the combined spirit of trite sayings such as ‘nothing ventured nothing gained’ and ‘you’ve got to be in it to win it’ I decided that I should put my best effort forward and leave it at that.

The first stage is an online selection. Works that pass this stage are then delivered to the gallery for a more thorough ‘live’ selection process. Last year I didn’t get past the first stage and, to be perfectly honest, I don’t hold out much hope of bettering that this year! The good thing is that I should receive notification of my rejection this Friday so I won’t have long to wait to have my hopes dashed!

I think that this particularly low-ebb start to the year is also be infecting me in other ways. I was really keen to paint this week but I just couldn’t for the life of me think or decide just what I wanted to paint. I’m usually champing at the bit to get on with my next painting, but this week I just felt so utterly uninspired. In the end, I knew that I couldn’t just let the time slip by so decided that the best thing to do was a ‘big sky’ painting. I tend to like big skies as they don’t require much drawing out, can usually be tackled quite freely and quickly and, if everything works out, they can be really pleasing!

Here then is my big sky painting. A view looking from the top of Firle Beacon in the South Downs across the Weald and its patchwork of fields.

Watercolour painting of a view of the Weald from Firle Beacon in the South Downs by John Haywood
View of the Weald from Firle Beacon in the the South Downs

This was completed pretty quickly on a quarter imperial sheet of paper, so quite small to tackle such an expansive vista. As I quite enjoyed painting this, and am pleased with how it turned out considering how I was feeling, I’m already feeling tempted to try to really let fly on this subject matter on a larger half sheet, just for fun.

Late addition: Following this post, I did do a half sheet version of this view.

Thoughts on South Downs Watercolour

28 thoughts on “South Downs Watercolour”

  1. I feel drawn in to that landscape, I grew up further along the coast in Hampshire, and felt an affinity with this scene immediately – came here via deuxiemepeau’s blog – I really hope the select you, meanwhile I will keep watching

    1. Hi Nigel and thanks so much for visiting. I’m delighted that you felt an affinity with this scene. I really enjoyed painting it, so much so I did another larger version that I think turned out a lot better. Should you be interested, you can see it here:
      I also note that you’re now based in New Zealand – what a beautiful country! I only wish I’d been painting when I visited many many years ago! Ah well, if I visit again, I’ll be sure to take them with me! Many thanks Nigel

  2. That is a truly beautiful painting. I would be very surprised if it wasn’t accepted to a show.

    You can certainly do a larger version but I’m not sure it will capture the wonderful intimacy and nuance of this version.

    It is simply striking. If I were attending a show where this was hung, I would vote for it for “Viewer’s Choice” if they have such a thing. I would certainly consider purchasing it as well. It is simply lovely.

    1. Wow, thanks so much for such a positive response Mary! I’m so pleased you like it, and also hope that I’ll be able to match it’s qualities in a larger version!

    1. Hi Rob – it seems that links are indeed allowed in comments. I’m inclined to agree that this isn’t one of his best skies – but what I liked most about your comment is that it arrived just as I was working on a painting which features a very similar silhouette of Firle Beacon. The inspiration for my painting is another one of my favourite watercolour artists, Edward Wesson – but it’ll be a little while before I’m able to share it!

      1. I think he might have been seeing how many limbs he could cram into a sky before anyone noticed! I look forward to seeing your version.

        1. As ever – it’s not as good as I would have liked it to be, but it’s no surprise really, Wesson was such a wonderful master of watercolour!

  3. This is fabulous– and if this is the start to a new year of painting, I say take it and run with it! Personally, I hate juried exhibitions and competitions, so I’m sorry they are looming throughout your year. Keep the joy instead of the pressure in your painting!

    1. Thanks Jean, I really appreciate this. I’ll be enterring less this year than last so hopefully there’ll be room for more joy and less pressure – I suppose it’s all about finding a balance! So pleased too that you like this painting!

  4. Good luck John! Don’t let that niggling fear (or insecurity) work its way through your creativity. There is nothing like it that eats away at inspiration. Go bold and brave and let it be something that inspires you to go forward, regardless of the outcome. I really like your big sky. I have found that skies can be just as tricky as land, it takes a gutsy artist to attempt a big sky, in my book you are gutsy! I have been wanting to reread my book about Edward Seago, perhaps that would put a needed spark in your creativity (me too!) Cheers!

    1. Thanks so much Margaret but on your recent showings, I find it hard to believe that you’re in need of any more sparks in your creativity! I think I like skies because, rightly or wrongly, I think there seems to be a greater margin for error in skies and you can often get away with things that you can’t in other subjects. As for the lack of inspiration, I’m going to try to chalk it down to January blues and ignore it as best as possible! Thanks so much Margaret

      1. Well thank you! I suppose that appears that way (about the inspiration) but I am always feeling like I have to work at it. I see what you mean about skies though for me since there is such an expanse, I need to rustle up some more interesting elements. Perhaps I am over thinking it. I think if we had a constant inspiration flow we artists would become complacent and fail to strive and fight for it. I think that it keeps us filtering through to the good stuff!

        1. Mmm, it’s funny how inspiration can sometimes feel as if it ebbs and flows like the tide. I do think I’m getting better at just plowing on regardless to find my way rather than sitting back and hoping it will somehow miraculously come and seek me out!

  5. Hi John. Well, that’s a great start to the new year, love your big sky painting. I will keep my fingers crossed for you re the exhibition but good for you for ‘going for it’!
    Happy painting.

    1. Thanks Carole and so pleased you like the big sky painting! As for ‘going for it’, I can’t help but think it’ll all be in vain, but I’d love to be proved wrong! Thanks Carole

  6. Hi John.. good luck.., I would also love
    to get a painting in the RI exhibition one
    day but missed the deadline this year (with
    good excuses). It’s a lovely painting..
    fingers crossed.

    1. Thanks Sarah, if I remember correctly, didn’t you make it past the online selection last year? I really don’t hold out much hope with what I submitted this year but I’d love to be pleasantly surprised!

  7. Margery Griffith

    John, I really like it! I like the size too; too large a piece really IS a challenge, at least to me! I want to try doing something more abstract using different washes with several colors that are granular in nature, and little or no details but procrastinate. I love sky paintings. Now all I need is an ENGLISH dictionary so I can learn what various words mean like downs…which I associate with a race track and weald and what is Firle Beacon? I’ve been to your beautiful country 3 times and really love it! When do you go to Wales?

    1. Hi Margery and thanks for this. Your comments had me looking at my own dictionary! Firle Beaon is just the name of a big hill that’s nearby and the Weald is this particular stretch of land. Historically (back in Roman times, which is where the name dates back to) it was all woodland and covered an area of 30 miles wide and 120 miles long. Now it stretchs over the three counties of Kent, Sussex and Surrey. As for Wales, I was there at the end of August but it was a complete wash out. We were supposed to be camping but it rained torentially and we came home early without ever taking my sketchbook out of my bag! I expect you’ll know from our visits here that it can be like that sometimes!

    1. Hi Evelyn and many thanks for this, so pleased you like the big sky and I’m feeling excited at the prospect of an even bigger one (and much more excited than I’m feeling about my chances in the RI submission!)

    1. Haha – thanks Al, that would be fun, but I think I’ll move up one size at a time! This quarter sheet was painted pretty quickly in a few wet into wet passages. For the half sheet I have it mind to do some wet in wet, but to do a lot more glazing of different areas. Well, that’s the plan – the reality might end up totally different once I get started!

      1. haha, I love the idea of doing a full sheet version, it’s just on a practical note, I have no idea where I’d keep it afterwards – I just don’t have the space to keep full sheets lying around the place! I’ll probably start with a half sheet and see how it goes – but I really appreciate all the encouragement!

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