The Royal Watercolour Society (RWS) was founded in 1804 and is the oldest and most prestigious artist-led watercolour society in the world. Their artists work in a variety of media including gouache, acrylic, pen & ink, pigment, collage, mixed media as well as traditional watercolour, and past members include Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, E.R. Hughes, William Hunt, Henry Moore and John Singer Sargent.
Every year the RWS runs the Contemporary Watercolour Competition
, an open submission competition for artists using water based media. The competition, now supported by Cass Art, culminates in a show at Bankside Gallery
on the South Bank next to Tate Modern, and there are a number of prizes awarded to the exhibiting artists. We caught up with previous prize winner Eleanor Langton to ask her all about it. Find out how you can enter at the bottom of the page.
You entered the RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition last year and were selected to exhibit at Bankside Gallery – how did you find the experience?
From the moment of being accepted I found the whole process very positive and exciting. Honestly, I had entered quite last minute and thought my work wasn’t really what they were looking for so I was pleasantly surprised to be accepted, and win prizes! Attending the private view was also exciting. To see my work in the gallery with many other talented artists was very fun. Members of the society were warm and welcoming, it was a great evening.
You were also awarded the RWS Publicity Prize, what did this mean to you?
It was such a boost of encouragement for me and I still feel proud of that achievement. As an artist you need to be your own cheerleader because you are working alone in your studio for much of the time. So to have an established artist society recognise my work and want to use it for publicity felt so amazing. It gave me validation that my vision and voice as an artist has a place.
Plus, my painting was made into a giant banner that hung outside of the gallery, next door to the Tate Modern! I could see it from Blackfriars station - that was thrilling! The painting ‘Our First Table’ is a poignant piece for me as it is the first of my table series and shows the first piece of mid-century furniture that my husband and I bought together. Now, as a prize-winning painting, it means even more to me.
Your practice brings a vibrant and bold aesthetic to the traditional still life, tell us about your paintings and the style in which you work.
My paintings are about fleeting moments of everyday life that we often overlook and that I find beautiful. Treasured objects, disposable coffee cups, perishable food and flowers represent the contrasting ways we treat material things and how time affects these objects. The way in which the forms interact inspire me to draw and I find enjoyment in observing small details of objects.
I would say that my work is both figurative and abstract, which is maybe why it feels different to traditional still-life work. At first glance, the objects are recognisable forms, but then you realise how many things are ‘wrong’. I purposefully play around with off-kilter perspectives to emphasis the 2D picture plane. I use vivid colours and striking patterns to bring a modern edge to my work. The style in which I paint the objects varies too; sometimes showing 3D form, other times flattening an object to its basic geometric shape. I personally find bold, saturated colours very energising and in my work I use them as a way to amplify the beauty of everyday life.
What is your working day in the studio like?
I am in the process of transitioning to being a full-time artist, and having more flexibility in my schedule to create and exhibit my artwork. Participating in the RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition was the beginning of a very exciting year of showing work and helped to boost my confidence with leaving full-time employment as a teacher.
My studio days begin with a cup of tea and quiet reflection on my work. I usually have a number of different works on the go and so what I end up doing ranges from drawing to painting to printmaking. Over the past couple of years I have created a series of paintings based on the table and found this to be a suitable approach for me.
What is it about water-based media that you are so drawn to?
I love the versatility that comes with working in water-based media, and it can be combined in many ways. For example, I might start a painting using watercolour or gouache and then switch to acrylic. Transparency contrasted with opaqueness is a quality I am always attracted to in paint and so it features in my work. Mediums are essential in carrying pigment from thin to thick applications. I generally use an acrylic medium
for making smooth flat colour, but it is also helpful when I want to use acrylic paint in more of a watercolour wash application. At university I worked in oils primarily and often developed headaches, so I definitely appreciate that acrylics and water-based media are non-toxic in that way.
Any materials that you are particularly enjoying working with at the moment?
Working on wood panels suits the way in which I like to apply paint. A puddle of watery paint will sit on the wooden surface and create exciting patterns once evaporated. When I draw with a rigger brush using thin acrylic it glides across the surface easily. Also, if I don’t like something I can sand it back and the wood holds up to that kind of treatment!
My most recent series was small paintings of a friend’s Peruvian pot. I used a clear primer and worked straight onto the wood colour rather than bright gesso. I liked how starting with a neutral colour meant that light tones and saturated colours really popped. This is something I may use in the future.
Have you got any advice for people entering the RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition this year?
Take a risk and just go for it! It’s a great event to be part of. Also, you never know who is going to respond to your work if you don’t put it out there for people to see.
See more of Eleanor Langton's work on her website www.eleanorlangton.com
How to enter the RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition 2017:
Submissions are now open for the RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition 2017.
Deadline – 16 January 2017
Image credits: All images © Eleanor Langton
Eleanor Langton in her studio
Our First Table
Tea at the Tate
Green Tea and Peonies
Four Plant Pots
Clive’s Peru Pot
Charlie’s Coffee and Summer Poppies
Rock Star Milkshake