Painting competition results


The winner!

The winning entry, by Frank Scrivener


The reference image


Thank you all for your entries to the competition.

I have made a few notes alongside each painting, below.  I’m sorry that I can’t deliver a long critique of each.
Following the entries is an explanation of how I chose the winner – not at all easy!  But first here is my ‘positive critique’ of the one I have chosen.

The winning entry (above) – by Frank Scrivener

This painting has very good light, depth and, importantly, enough interest for an ample visual feast.
The boat has been made a real focal point.  The painting seems to be very much about this boat – to me there seems almost a hidden narrative here.  The crisp, hard-edged detail of the negative painting inside the boat works a treat in creating the focus of the scene.
But the painting also features a fantastic sky and cool-greyed background area, with a real sense of atmospheric haze, air and distance.  The combination of hard and soft edges within the excellent sky design has worked very well in conveying a feeling of breeze.
The invented sunlight and shadow is convincing, and adds a lot to the success of the painting.
The composition has not changed drastically, but I think the small changes are quite effective.
I also love how the distance is generally cool coloured, but with the chuch tower quite warm.  This really grabs the eye, and takes us far into the scene.  It is perhaps a non-realist aspect and more illustrative, which is fine and I like it.
Very important are the little bit of retained white paper at the front of the boat, and just how pale the sand wash is to the left (alongside the boat’s shadow) which creates a good sense of the bright light over the scene here.
The use of bright colour on the closer figures is clever, moving the eye from the boat to here, and from there it follows a clear lead-in along the shore towards the distance (where those more distant figures are sensibly muted in colour).  These are excellent examples of things to consider within a composition.
On the whole the painting is fresh and has vitality, as a watercolour should.
I hope you’ll agree that Frank’s painting is a worthy winner.

Following then are some briefer positive notes on the other entries.


Ann Faris.  Some good negative painting of grass behind the boat.  I also like the attitude to use some bold artistic licence (the road!)  Spot on; after all, it’s your painting.  A winding road does provide a lay of the land, and does lead us into the distant area.  The left hand side of the composition was tackled in various different ways in the competition entries as a whole…


Emma Montonen.  I love the atmospheric mood in this.  Strikes me as illustrative/narrative.   The only ‘portrait’ entry I received, and it works. Bold and distinctive freedom allowed in the medium for the sky, and great bit of soft edge lost-and-found in the distance.


Ash Raddon.  Crisp, fresh and succinct.  Strong tonal range, bold colour choices and interest created by the marks for the water.


Carolina Rosario Núñez Díaz-Corralejo.  Quite narrative and illustrative, with a dreamy quality.  And visible breeze in the grasses, hair and trees.  Makes me want to be there!


Eliana Bianco.  Distinct and successful use of softness to set the distance back.  I like the hard edges in the sky and some good negative painting in the grasses behind the boat.  Strong tonal range with powerful darks in a few areas.


Javier Traver.  Great sense of light, with invented shadow and well simplified, softened distance. Great negative painting (and counterchange) of grasses and foliage to create depth.  Effective (restrained and descriptive) use of spatter on the beach too.


‘Noble Art of Cycling’ (pseudonym).  Adept, fresh washes, with fast, fluid, expressive brushwork.  Strong tonal range with bold first-time darks.  Effective simplification and plenty of artistic licence in the composition.  Good use of cool/warm colour too.


Anya Chander.  Excellent sense of light and very atmospheric, with a full tonal range from very pale washes/retained white paper and powerful punchy darks in small areas.  Adept particularly for use of soft edges, for sense of distance and simplifcation/suggestion/vagueness.  The compositional changes are effective too.


Joe Griffin.  Good bold tones and a restrained palette, suggesting low light of a cloudy day as per the reference.  Effective use of dry-brush especially in the trees and near the water’s edge.  Nice subtle sky too.


Liz McMillan.  An attractively bright and fresh interpretation and an broad, open and inviting composition with church more as focal point.  The figures stand out and draw us deep into the scene.  The furthest-off distance works being very cool in colour by comparison with the nearer church.


Marcello Mutti.  A lively narrative element, with movement/energy in the well-drawn figures, and lots of interest.  A quite warm and continental-looking interpretation!  Cool shadow next to warm boat works well, and good use of strong darks in small areas.


Margot Cornish.  Good sense of distance achieved with emphasis on large foreground boat with use of warm colour, but also distinct church shape drawing us into the scene along the well-placed waterline.  A well balanced composition.


Mike Porter.  Well created focus on the boat, by emphasis of light against dark/negative painting. Figure also emphasised with strong tone and the difference in scale helps create the depth, to draw us towards the distance.


Patrick Morestin.  Lovely fresh, breezy interpretation with plenty of artistic licence used in the composition.  Well simplified, including very effective ‘quiet’ areas (such as sand beyond boat), and alluringly realistic sea!  Evocative.


Roger Jenkins.  Good range of marks and tone, with adept drawing, and energy  Limited palette focussed on cool/warm, and subtle use of ‘green’ in bush beyond boat is important.  Careful retention of white, strong church tower shape and use of smaller details/marks provide scale and draw us in.


Maryann Brail.  I love the decision to replace the church with a distinctly different, taller one – why not!  An atmospheric interpretation with very effective sky, and subtle sense of light over the scene.  Good tonal range and some very effective negative painting in the grasses and bushes.  Strong darks in the boat help to bring it forward.


Steven Foster.  Great to see the boat brought even more close!  This really does emphasise the distance contained within the composition. Distant profile of buildings very well done, and the figure adds intrigue.


Robert Ferguson.  Stong tonal range with bold use of dark next to light and hard edges all really bringing the boat forward, as compared with techniques used in distance.  Well simplified to the essentials of shape and composition.  Effective combination of soft edges and dry-brush for suggestion/vagueness in areas, including distance.  Great combination of soft/hard also in the sky.


Tony Faris.  Good use of negative/positive painting (counterchange) with placement of dark beyond boat also standing out against the beach.  A subtle/minimalist handling of foreground makes us travel into the distance, as does the tonal contrasts around the church.  Soft-edged horizon line at sea/headland works well.  A grey-day interpretation rather than a sunny one!


Frank Scrivener – the winning entry, discussed at top of page.


How I chose the winner 

I feel a bit of explanation is necessary.  It was not easy.  Special mentions go to the following painters, who particularly – along with the eventual winner – made it so difficult.

Roger Jenkins, Anya Chander, Emma Montonen, Patrick Morestin, Javier Traver, ‘Noble Art of Cycling’ (anon), Marcello Mutti.  I expect some of you will prefer yet another painting over any of these!

Although I have tried to be objective in choosing a ‘best’ where one could potentially be swayed over a matter like preference for a particular ‘style’, ultimately I’d have to admit that style comes into everything.  Painters have a ‘style’ of composition even, as well as a style of brushwork and everything else.  There are some (very influential) contemporary painters who are, in my own humble opinion, bordering on placing style (or swagger) over substance.  I also feel that over-simplification is possible and can become a reduction of lasting interest when there just isn’t quite as much left to look at as there might be, and in extreme cases we are left with a kind of quick-hit cartoon.  There can be an instant allure to some of that work, but I find that initial appeal or instant ‘impact’ can wear off quickly if it doesn’t have some other, often hard to define qualities.  There is always a fine balance in ‘capturing the essence’ as well as enough supporting aspects that help convey a real sense of a specific, actual place.  I must admit that personally I find this always more difficult when working from photos than from life.
So, ultimately I’d say there are several ‘equal best’ entries here, but I had to choose a winner!

Those who sent in two pieces because you couldn’t decide on a ‘best’, I made the decision for you (also not always easy) and that’s the one shown here.  I’ve displayed the paintings at best resolution and size I think I can get away with without potentially making my website ‘crash’ as people look at it.  I only have so much time, so could not adjust the lighting of the photos, and some people took better photos than others.  I bore that in mind and it didn’t influence my judging.

I considered the paintings against the criteria I had set for the challenge.  In most cases certain aspects are met really well and other aspects less so.  That’s watercolour.  Judgement has been made on the basis of ‘overall’.  It really was very close and hard to decide.

I hope you all enjoyed the process and found the exercise to be worthwhile.  And I hope the winner will enjoy their prize.  Frank has chosen my painting, ‘A small bay in Millport, Isle of Cumbrae, Scotland’:

A small bay in Millport, Isle of Cumbrae, Scotland.


All the best until next time,


Comments On This Post

Carolina Rosario Núñez Díaz Corralejo 1 year ago. Reply

Thank you Jem for your generosity of sharing your knowledge and time.. I loved participating and enjoyed all the watercolours with your excellent comments. It would be very difficult for me to choose one. They are really great. All the best for everybody!

    Jem Bowden 1 year ago. Reply

    Thanks very much, Carolina.

Patrick Morestin 1 year ago. Reply

Bravo Jem pour avoir publié tous vos commentaires. Franck mérite de gagner et vos commentaires vont me permettre de réfléchir pour mes futures aquarelles.
Vivement le prochain concours!

    Jem Bowden 1 year ago. Reply

    Merci bien, Patrick!

Steven foster 1 year ago. Reply

Congratulations to Frank, wonderful work,and great to see everyones work and Jem’s words of wisdom, and great choice of prize stayed in millport on holiday a few times,

    Jem Bowden 1 year ago. Reply

    Thanks, Steven. And apologies for name spelling. Can’t understand how I did that since I actually remember double-checking! Very strange. Anyway, now corrected. Yes, Millport is lovely and the island is full of wonderful subjects to paint. Like Scotland generally, of course.

Robert Ferguson 1 year ago. Reply

Jem, thank you so much for this opportunity! It was a great deal of fun. We all benefitted from your thoughtful critiques. It gave me a glimpse into what it must be like to attend one of your workshops or classes. I learned a great deal and look forward to the next competition.

    Jem Bowden 1 year ago. Reply

    Thanks very much, Robert. I appreciate the comment. You do some lovely work yourself.

Carol McKinlay 1 year ago. Reply

Thank you Jem, I find your critiques especially helpful as you have you used your professional eye and experience to help me to see things I wouldn’t have otherwise thought about.

    Jem Bowden 1 year ago. Reply

    Thank you, Carol. I’m sorry I can’t spend longer over the crits because of course a lot more could be said, but I’m pleased they’re helpful.

Marcello Mutti 1 year ago. Reply

Hi. Good evaluation Jem! Your reviews are of high artistic level and done with criteria. Congratulations to the winner and thanks for the opportunity!
All the best

    Jem Bowden 1 year ago. Reply

    Thanks very much, Marcello. And thanks for taking part!

Margot 1 year ago. Reply

What a wonderful collection of interpretations of your photo. It is so interesting to see such a diverse range of paintings.
Thank you for taking the time to critique the paintings. I’m learning so much about the importance of composition and tonal values.
I’m looking forward to the next challenge.

    Jem Bowden 1 year ago. Reply

    Thanks very much, Margot.

Anya C 1 year ago. Reply

Thank you Jem, for hosting the competition and taking time to provide feedback for each entry. It was great to see all the other entries and learn from them. Congratulations to Frank! Your comment about capturing the essence and sense of place over style is an important one and insights like this is why I enjoy your writing very much.
Thank you!

    Jem Bowden 1 year ago. Reply

    Thank you, Anya, much appreciated. I’m pleased if I make sense!

Mike Porter 1 year ago. Reply

Jem, you chose wisely, as Frank’s entry is excellent. I struggled with the photo and knew it had to be interpreted and not copied. Frank did well with the foliage behind the boat. When I saw his entry, I immediately said, “Of course!”, and I congratulate him for his piece and winning. For me, entering was excellent practice ( a first for me) as I much have painted the scene a dozen times and did numerous value studies trying to hit on the combination that I was looking for. I hope you have another competition next year. I’ll ready go give it another go.

    Jem Bowden 1 year ago. Reply

    Thank you for your comments, Mike, much appreciated.
    Painting can be hard work, can’t it, but we do tend to get better through all the practise!
    I expect I’ll do something similar again in future. Cheers.

Joe Griffin 1 year ago. Reply

Thanks Jem for this competition and the feedback. Congratulations to Frank on winning the prize.

    Jem Bowden 1 year ago. Reply

    Thank you, Joe.

Ann Faris 1 year ago. Reply

Wow! How very different they all are. I’m so glad I wasn’t having to make a choice. Some fabulous artists. Thanks Jem for a great experience. It really made me focus and seeing the different effects has opened my eyes and mind to future painting. A worthy winner.

    Jem Bowden 1 year ago. Reply

    Thank you, Ann. Yes, isn’t it enlightening to see such a range of work based on the same reference. I’m really pleased you’ve found it useful.

Javier 1 year ago. Reply

Congratulations to the winner, Frank, and to the mentions as well! ?

Javier 1 year ago. Reply

Thanks a lot, Jem, for organising these interesting challenges, for your uninterested investment of time and effort. And also for your detailed discussion on your judgement and even a brief critique for each participant! What else can we desire? Just waiting for the next challenge 😉

    Jem Bowden 1 year ago. Reply

    Thank you, Javier, much appreciated.

Eliana 1 year ago. Reply

Thank you Jem for all these explanations. It was a pleasure to participate. ?

    Jem Bowden 1 year ago. Reply

    Thanks, Eliana, I’m pleased to hear that.

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