After many many years of trying, I’m absolutely thrilled to be able to share the news that one of my paintings has been selected for this year’s Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour exhibition at London’s Mall Galleries.
This exhibition has long been my favourite of the dedicated watercolour exhibitions, and it’s been a long-held ambition to one day have my work selected. This excerpt is from the information on the Mall Galleries’ website:
“The exhibition is the largest of its kind in the world, featuring over 400 of the finest contemporary water-based media paintings from around the globe. Since its founding in 1831, the RI has become universally recognised as one of the leading art institutes.”
Without any further fanfare, here’s the painting that’s been selected:
People are allowed to submit up to six paintings to this exhibition, at an entry cost of £20 each. The selection panel, which changes every year, can then select up to a maximum of four paintings from a single artist. Last year’s exhibition featured approximately 400 paintings, which were roughly split 50:50 between work by the 60 or so Members of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour (who are expected to exhibit each year), and those selected from the open submission.
As the submission deadline approached, I resigned myself to not entering anything this year. Having already been rejected at every previous attempt, I just didn’t feel confident with the work that I had available to submit. I shared this opinion on the Brighton Painting Group WhatsApp and was inundated with positive and encouraging comments that made me reconsider my position!
At the back of my mind was the conversation that I had last year with Rosa Sepple, the outgoing President of the Royal Society of Painters in Water Colour, when I bumped into her whilst visiting the exhibition. She was wonderfully kind and patient whilst I bemoaned my lack of submission success. She reassured me that selection in and of itself was not necessarily a view of the quality of my work. The Society is keen to promote watercolour in the broadest sense and in all its varieties. If an entrant’s work is felt to be very similar to an existing member of the RIPW, then straight away, this may make it less likely that the entrant’s work may be selected. Combine this with the sheer volume and quality of work from entrants and a selection panel that changes each year, and you can understand what makes it such an incredibly competitive and perhaps unpredictable process.
I was very grateful for this conversation as it helped me make a decision. I could either try to come up with some approach to my painting that was in someway unique or novel, or I could carry on doing exactly what I am, continuing to try to improve whilst painting the subjects that appeal to me, regardless of whether my style is similar to that of others or not, and accept that I may never be selected.
I chose this second path, which is partly why I was so hesitant to submit anything for this year. Also, at the back of my mind, I had a little voice chirping up to say things like… ‘how can I legitimately rail against the injustices of these competitions if I don’t actually enter them!’ and ‘what will you do without your annual notification of rejection from the RIPW?’ – let’s honest, my rejection notifications from this exhibition are an annual staple on this blog!
So it was that I sat down and went through my paintings with a more critical eye. Rather than trying to look purely at what I thought were my strongest and most successful paintings (which is what I’ve always done previously), I was trying to find a balance between my personal view and also, based on all my previous knowledge of the works that I’ve seen exhibited, something that might be considered a little different.
This is how I decided on this little A5 painting of Brighton Pavilion. I did do a much larger half-sheet version of this painting, but I didn’t think it was quite as successful or powerful as this much more diminutive study. It was also the only painting that I submitted. I was willing to pay £20 for my annual rejection but certainly nothing more! Naturally, I’m already considering entering the maximum six for next year!
And the moral is?
Having submitted to this exhibition and to many others too over the years, I think it’s fair to say that I’ve seen precious little return on my efforts. But is this why I started painting again all those years ago? – certainly not! Yes this selection does mean a huge amount to me, but had I not been selected, it wouldn’t stop me from painting – though I admit it would have been yet another chip to burden my narrow shoulders!
There are lots of bon mots that could be applied to the situation, about needing to be in it to win it; or nothing ventured, nothing gained, or you never know until you try (even though I have tried repeatedly). It could just have been that I got lucky on this occasion, or that there was space for an A4 frame and mine was the only one available, or quite genuinely, that the selection panel did ‘see’ something in this painting.
Whatever the reason, when I look back on all the years that I’ve been submitting, what is undeniable, is that my ability as a painter has improved. Admittedly it’s not always a linear improvement, and it’s often felt like two or three steps backwards before any movement forward but, taking the long view, my painting has undoubtedly improved.
Each year that I’ve visited this exhibition, I’ve been happy to admit that my work hasn’t been as good as the vast majority of works that are exhibited. But each year, I’ve always felt that the gap has been narrowing. I know that this selection doesn’t mean I’ve finally closed that gap, but it does feel great, and it does give me a most welcome boost of encouragement that maybe I am heading in the right direction and to keep on painting and to keep on submitting.
I hope that sharing all of this may provide others with the encouragement to also keep on painting and to keep on submitting too, but only if that’s what you want to do!
Speaking of Brighton Painting Group
One of the reasons that last week’s post had to be written a little hastily – for which I think I promised an explanation – was that Elliot Roworth, the founder of the Brighton Painting Group, was appearing on the Sky Landscape Artist of Year and some of the group had arranged to meet in a local hostelry to share the experience and show our support.
This was the first time that the group had come together without the pressure of producing a painting, and it was great to share Elliot’s TV moment with everyone. The group that Elliot started in November 2021 totals just shy of 100 people now, and the monthly meet-ups are regularly attracting 20-plus painters, which is great. It’s certainly made a tremendous difference to my own plein air endeavours, and I’m enormously thankful to Elliot and to other members of the group too. Unfortunately, despite making the episode’s shortlist of three, he wasn’t selected to proceed to the semi-finals. He did, however, give a great account of himself and bias aside, I did think that his painting deserved more! Here are a couple of characteristically blurry pictures from our night at The Farm Tavern.
Buoyed by the news of my selection success, I was keen to get this painting finished! I can’t recall when a single painting spanned three of my blog posts! Just as a reminder, here’s where I’d got to with this painting before finding myself stumped (if you’ll forgive the pun) by how to handle the trees:
After following the sage guidance and counsel from many of you that read this blog, to take a break and experiment a little to find the best approach (or rather the approach that best suited me!), here, finally, is the finished painting:
I’m so pleased that I did take a break to experiment before completing this painting. I’m really happy with the end result and very much doubt it would have worked out as well if I’d done the trees following my initial instincts!
So, with what feels like three good news stories in one post – I think I’m going to stop now while I’m still ahead!