Painting Competition – Results!

Painting Competition – All the entries and result!

Thank you to all who entered my most recent painting challenge/competition.

It sounds like you all enjoyed it which is the main thing and I hope you also found the exercise useful.

Below are all the (sixteen) entries I received, in no particular order (if I’ve somehow managed to miss one, please inform me immediately!!)  I’ve written a short ‘positive critique’ under each one.  I’ve also included one slightly more ‘critical’ comment, being whichever strikes me the most.  People generally tell me they want this in order to improve, so I hope it’s helpful but not discouraging, especially when taken as a whole (If you read one/your own, please look at the others for a fuller picture).  I’ve tried to write approximately the same amount for each painting, but inevitably some seem to give me a bit more food for thought than others.  Please don’t read too much into any remark or my exact words, as I know I could improve/edit what I’ve said here forever and could no doubt express things better if I had limitless time to devote to it.  I’ve done this over several occasions, and I suppose it’s possible I was more critical on some occasions than on others, but hopefully not!

I hope it is apparent just how useful it is, when learning to paint, to see other people’s interpretations.  You will not doubt realise how we all focus and pick up on different aspects of a subject.  Also how much technique can vary in terms of how and where it is applied.  Don’t forget that there are bound to be a variety of papers used here, which affects outcomes hugely, and not all paintings are the same size.

I name the winner at the end, which was not easy to choose.  The winner will receive my original watercolour as demonstrated on youtube and shown again at the bottom here.


Yinghong Roels

A nice use of wet in wet for the sky and good energy in the mark-making for a lively tree.  The backlit effect has also been quite well achieved, with en effective glow in the sky.  The drier marks of the land provide a contrast with the softness of the sky, and good to see ‘dry into wet’ use in the hedgerow.  The smaller shapes of chimney on the building and telegraph pole are well done in that they ARE small, thus enabling a sense of scale.  It’s important to have this good *range* of mark size, as also evident in those ‘details’ to the right of the building.  These work in relation to the bigger marks/shapes elsewhere.  This relativity accounts for so much in the ecosystem of interdependent relationships that paintings ARE (regarding all aspects – essentially aspects of the visual world).  Tonally, the tree, hedgerow and foreground could have had some stronger darks, which I think would have set off the rest even better, relationally.


David Neal

I think this painting really succeeds in capturing space, scale, depth and distance.  A lot comes into it, but one thing certainly is that there are some very small marks, providing contrast with the much more simplifed (almost without any ‘detail’) distant hillside.  The building being small relative to the whole space also adds to this effect. The tree appears to have been well observed and is convincing as a consequence.  Quite a powerful tonal range in this painting, too, and these things make the image quite convincing.  I think it could have benefitted from a bit more variation of colour within the main field, hedge and tree, particularly in terms of the more distant part of the field as compared to the more close part of the field, and similarly, perhaps the closer and futher parts of this whole also could be further distinguished by use of more differing size mark/level of complexity:simplification.


Anne Burgess

I like how this creates a ‘mysterious’ quality, as the house is enticing us into the scene, over the brow of the hill.  The shape of the tree again appears to be well observed, having an attractive shape and realistic character.  Depth has been achieved especially by use of soft edges in the distance as compared to the hard edged hedgerow up close. Wind or breeze is suggested by the ‘movement’/flow as well as a lot of softness in markmaking throughout.  I think it could benefit from a broader tonal range.  The painting does lack strong darks and a little bit well placed in the foreground might aid interest and definition here, and overall visual impact. The darkest clouds are equal in tone to anything on the land including the tree, which is quite unusual to see in reality, so this gives a less literal, or more illustrative look to it.


Frank Scrivener

This one has kept a bit closer to the references in terms of atmosphere and light effect. There’s a very good glow in the sky and the dark tone of the tree stands out well against it.  The painting also has a good amount of interest.
The field is a challenge (for all of us!), and requires the artist to draw on a variety of strategies to create interest over what is quite a large area of the composition.  This has been handled quite well, with some effectively subtle colour and mark variation. Perhaps a slightly lower horizon line would be beneficial, and one or two even more significant puddles (carefully placed). But actually the puddles here are as well designed as in any other entry.  This foreground field was always going to be a challenge, especially since we were lacking a proper reference! (note to self).  There are a few important small darks in the foreground and these small create an important contrast with the larger shapes in the sky.  The subtle colours appear well observed and appropriate to the light effect/atmosphere.


Caroline Dumuys

This painting has a good clarity of some key features and may suggest some confidence in the painter.  The puddles contribute well, being carefully retained as white paper, placed well and not scattered all over. The ‘dry into wet’ backround hillside and trees/bushes directly in front of show good judgement of timing and dilution, and alongside these soft edges the building stands out strongly.  The tiny nick of light on the roof, and shadow under eaves are important too. I know these are small, but this kind of attention to detail, in the right place, counts!  The tree feels a bit less confidently handled, though is kept fresh and not overworked. It again stands out well in context, being that the sky behind it was planned so as to leave white paper and pale tones here. Having a distinct area of different colour (the field at left of tree) creates interest by way of colour use, along with colour use elsewhere. Do you see how well the warm field works with the cool distant hill (really quite blue).  A little bit more careful observation in the tree, giving slightly higher level of detail here – and perhaps in a part of the field close to it (providing some smaller marks here) – would take it to the next level.


Tony Farris

Great to see quite a big variation here from the original demo and reference, but certainly still having all the main aspects of the scene.  That is, except it is no longer backlit and aims for a different atmosphere.  The foreground shadow works really well in partnership with the lane tracks, to lead the viewer into the scene.  My eye is taken past the building towards the distant hill.  Obviously with snow it is a cold feeling scene, so I think a good idea to contain some warm colour.  A good handling of wet in wet for the clouds and well simplified tree.  To me there is a slight cramping of the tree and building as a consequence of the compositional change, and I can see this may not be an easy thing to find a solution to whilst sticking *mostly* to the main composition of the reference, without the lane becoming too central,  or creating other problems, etc. As a whole this painting reads very well, with sound perspective and sense of space, which is not always easy when creating something from scratch.


David Smith

This painting has a great atmosphere and glow, with effective use of shadow of the tree.  The building also certainly appears back lit, so this effect has been well achieved.  A very limited palette also contributes to this effect, and there is a nice colour harmony.   I would guess the painting is fairly small, which is owing to quite a limited range of mark size.  There is scope for a higher level of detail in places (not everywhere, just in places) and the cloudscape could perhaps have added more.  Here the building is not only virtually central horizontally, but also vertically.  The slightly fragile composition – as provided by me! – then becomes more iffy.  However, if we look at this image as if an illustration for a story, then it totally focusses us into the building, as may be desired.   A lower horizon, and a distant hillside (not evident here) as well as giving the tree a bit more space would provide depth beyond the building, which would probably aid realism a bit in terms of the forms, if not atmosphere.  The tree does have a nice sense of movement (breeze) thanks to energy in the marks, and also the lack of visible twigs or smaller branches appears well observed for the backlit light effect conveyed.


Javier Traver

I was drawn firstly to some distinctive mark-making in this painting.  It appears to include opaque paint, which contributes small (and linear) marks.  This does create quite a broad ‘range’ of mark to the painting as whole along with the use of the very different wet in wet areas.  The tree has a nice energy suggesting breeze, and having a good range of size of mark just in itself.  The use of wet in wet *soft* marks in the main field is effective alongside the hard edged puddles/ruts here.  Unless a reference was sought (since I didn’t provide one!) then this foreground field was always going to present the problem of not being based on observation, but this does convey a muddy field well.  The atmosphere conveyed to me of the whole painting is one of a damp day, and I can feel the mud on my boots!


Paul Cowlishaw

The powerful strong darks and high contrast with light lights, particularly of the tree against the sky, creates well the backlighting effect and atmosphere.  Some of the soft areas are very effective in providing contrast to the harder-edged areas, being the tree and building.  Some careful planning/thought has resulted in the effective puddles on the track, reflecting the light of the sky.  The design of the clouds is quite well achieved to complement the tree and overall balance of the composition.  However the entirely soft clouds close to the bottom are very important and helpful, since there are a lot of hard edges in the sky elsewhere, where paper had dried before additional darker cloud shaped added. Had these bottom clouds not been soft then I think the depth (and to a degree realism) would have been undermined.


Paul Tyzack no. 1

I’m not certain whether there are even two colours used here, or just one.  Monochrome paintings can certainly be very effective. To me in this case it gives the scene a look of snow, and I think that’s a lot to do with the fact that the field is, overall, a light tone (as compared with the dark clouds in the sky).  The overall relationship of the biggest things (in every sense) need always to be observed as a priority.  For example, the overall tone of the sky in relation to the overall tone of the land.  I love that a windmill has replaced the building.   And that it has been moved off centre!  The additional building to the right (a church) is perhaps an afterthought, but I think maybe unnecessary and too close to the edge of the composition.  The handling of the clouds is good.  Nothing is overworked. Often limiting colour will help you focus on the other aspects of painting and control such things.  I note the scrape out of fence posts, which has worked quite well; adding to range of marks at about the level of detail required.


Paul Tyzack no. 2

The compositon of this entry has a better balance.  It appears well considered, moving the eye to investigate the whole scene.  As with the above, there is a different atmosphere to the backlit effect of the demonstration painting.  To me is conveys winter and a cold but calm day.  The overcast atmosphere and nature of the sky is reflected through the whole scene by the relatively greyed (desaturated) use of colour. There’s an effective range of mark size and associated level of ‘detail’.  The small marks are properly small, including a few dots in the field ruts, the telegraph pole and birds. The smaller ‘detail’ of cloud – beyond the birds – is also important.  It is subtle, but these things add up, though we may be almost unconscious of them.  I think the changes to the composition (such as the field rising to the right) work well too!  Perhaps an increased amount of ‘dry into wet’ softness in places (including the foreground field) could have increased visual interest and appeal further.


Prue Furse-Roberts

Another distinctly different entry this time in terms of colour.  This conveys to my eyes a sunset scenario, and the colours work well together.  The tones are also well judged in important ways, with the strongest darks being closest to us in the scene, and the furthest not being too light in relation to the sky.  I would guess that some people might like this painting best of all, or at least at first glance, simply owing to the effect that colour can have on people when used well alongside tone.  It can then successfully convey an atmosphere, and sunsets are often an attractor.  As with many of these paintings, I think it was done fairly quickly, and partly as a consequence  I think it could do with a somewhat greater level of observation of the forms, and a higher level of detail in places, to provide more interest in the scene.


John Haywood

A strong contender in many ways.  The markmaking/brushwork and control of medium in general is apparent, and largely effective.  The nice glow in the sky, and suggestion of sun getting low, makes me want to see the view from that house as the sun sets!  A good suggestion of depth with the soft distant hillside, along with apparent elevation of the building help create this.  There are nice touches of soft and hard edges working in collaboration throughout the scene.  The tree is well observed (cannot overstate the importance of this always, but especially in such a major feature of the composition) and features some deft, controlled brushwork, and subtle changes in tone, colour, edge, etc as a consequence.  Perhaps one improvement could be in the foreground, which I think could benefit from a bit more variation.  Maybe the puddles, ruts, and use of the different colours could be more deliberately/carefully designed and placed, in order to direct attention and interest around the area more particularly.  Without that, this area has apparently become a little bit overworked (a criticism – like quite a few throughout these crits – that I would also direct at my own effort!)


Roger Jenkins

Another strong contender, with many aspects suggesting the work of an experienced painter of the medium.  Firstly I was pleased again to see some moving away from aspects of my own interpretation of the main reference.  There was always plenty of scope for this.  An alternative, non-backlit atmosphere, and a full-of-interest, perhaps more illustrative (not so much observed) kind of painting.  Much interest is created by the wide range of mark-making, including some spatter and allowing the medium room for some more abstracted expression of itself.  A few key details are picked out on the building and again the telegraph pole is important in conveying scale and other things (it also draws the eye the small but important area of distance beyond).  Some subtle AND some more strong uses of colour feature, and the small areas of fully dark tone (and white of the paper) are all important in creating visual impact and interest.  Note how thin (i.e. small) are some of the twigs/branches on the tree (and, I think, spatter dots), relative to marks/shapes in other areas of the painting. We can say it contains a broad *range* of marks.   And so much of all painting is about this *relativity*.


Victor Kelly

This one particularly succeeds with the glow in the sky and effective strong dark tones.  This captures the backlit light effect well, although perhaps a more pronounced tree shadow could go help even more.  There is quite a good range of mark-making, with some dry brush contrasting well with the softer wet in wet of the sky.  The telephone WIRE is helpful here, and the first one I’ve noticed in all the paintings.  It is necessary, too, since there is not all that much other detail in the scene, to help add interest but also to convey scale relative to the larger shapes.  The soft trees/bushes right of the building, and left, are well controlled and provide more necessary contrast with the harder edged marks and dry brush.   I think a little bit more detail (if necessarily made up) on the building would be useful to give a bit more visual interest to what is a focal point, and in this painting a relatively large (closer) one.


Zdenko Porubcan

I found this one pleasing to look at immediately.  A combination of a lot of aspects, but not least a somewhat lower horizon line and thus reduced amount of foreground.  The tonal qualities are great, the mark-making is varied, colour is effective, the atmosphere of backlighting has been well achieved.  The tree is full of energy and vitality (which always counts for a lot, to me) and the lean gives it added character, as well as working for the composition.  There was some ‘risk-taking’ here, which as you know is a vital part of painting in watercolour as far as I’m concerned, and is often involved in the best effects.  There is soft/hard, big marks/tiny thin marks, strong dark, white paper.  In this one an important-but-easily-missed bit is the soft/distant trees immediately left of the building, which contrast with the hard-edged and darker tone of said building.  This is an effective ‘device’ around a focal point generally, but it’s also been done well in this case.  Moving the building just slightly left of centre has helped the composition as well, but ultimately it is not that simple; it’s all in the exactness of how everything is placed taken together, that creates the final effect.  I think to take this to the next level a bit more control and design of the sky could help, and maybe (as with many of the paintings, including my own) a bit more thought/design/planning in relation to the foreground field, but it is simplified well.  And because there is less of the field, monotony has been avoided and it is less of an issue at all anyway.


So, the winner…..

It’s a close call to decide a ‘winner’, as always!
I’ll give special mention to the entries of Caroline Dumuys, Roger Jenkins and John Haywood, for containing many of the positives I’ve mentioned throughout the brief critiques. Finally though, I’ve decided to pick Zdenko Porubcan’s entry (immediately above) as winner.  In the end, ‘atmosphere’ is always high on my list, and this one seemed to have a lot of that as well as other important qualities.  I’ll admit I was kind of hoping I might give it to someone who had taken things a bit further from my original demo painting, but in the end I felt this one might be just slightly more successful – overall – than others.  As is common in this situation, and with watercolour, no one painting was better in all aspects.  Some had great sky or tree or light effect, level of interest, etc, etc, but when it comes to ‘overall’  evaluation of something then the whole is not always equal even to the sum of the parts.

Thank you to all you brave people for entering the challenge and having your work publicly featured (and critiqued), and contratulations to Zdenko, who will receive my original painting from the demonstration (I hope you want it, Zdenko – You’re getting it anyway!).

I chose this scene because of its simplicity, and how it allowed for quite a lot freedom.  One or two people mentioned that they did not find it very inspiring, which I can understand.  I thought there was scope to ‘make something’ of it, quite creatively.
I’m also very aware that the basic composition, some would say, is not very strong, or at least not conforming to a commonly accepted ‘principle’ of composition, owing to a centrally placed ‘focal point’ (on the horizontal plane, though importantly not the vertical plane as well). But just one aspect of any painting in isolation is never the way to view things.  All is relational.  And also, any slight difference in a painting can have a big effect.  A good composition can be very close to a bad one, sometimes.


Some points to consider for future painting:

Look at all the other works and consider how they vary from yours, yet use the same photo reference starting point.
What aspects of each do you like, and ask yourself why. Would you try to include some of these things if you were to try to do it again?  What do you dislike and ask yourself why.  Let these things inform your future painting.
Did you consider all these aspects yourself before now?  Try to be aware of these things in future if you can.
Here are some examples of aspects to look for:
Tonal range, from light to dark.
Colour use, or characteristics, from saturated to grey, cool to warm, deliberately ‘unrealistic’ to realistic, to draw attention to focal point, to create distance, and more.
Edges, soft and hard: Where and how are they used, and why? What works and what doesn’t?
Mark making: Range of marks from big to small, different types of mark or monotonous, is there boldness, energy, vitality? Is there a good range from quiet areas to more ‘busy’ areas?  Does the use of mark help create attraction and interest in the right places, or the opposite?
Composition –  analyse in terms of: Impact, appeal, balance, dynamism. Are aspects too close to an edge, the centre, too prominent or the opposite. Does the composition provide depth where needed? Is there undesired symmetry? Does it convey a good sense of ‘being there’?
Use of artistic licence, effective or otherwise?

There are a few instances here of horizon line at about half way up on the composition, which divides it half, as well as placing the building precisely central on both horizontal and vertical axis.  This isn’t the strongest or most dynamic of options.  Was it deliberate, or just a bit careless, or not considered at all?

The size of a painting will tend to be relevant to how it looks.  There are things that can mean a small painting looks like a small painting, or things that mean you can tell a big painting is a big painting.  The ‘range’ of size of shape, or individual mark, and level of detail are affected very often in ways that the painter may not be conscious of.  It can affect how well a sense of scale is created in a painting, how successfully it is simplified, the level of interest and ongoing appeal it has, and other things.

None of this is exhaustive, just a few thoughts in the ongoing flow of life.

The painting below was one I painted a few years ago, which in a sense this was all based on.  It has less land/foreground, which with the recent demo I let grow a bit too much in size.


‘Winter Morning Light.’  (This was painted on a hot-pressed paper; a bit of an experiment at the time.)


My demonstration painting ‘version’ of the scene.


Spring course

Finally just a mention of my Dedham Hall plein air course, which is upcoming in April.  There are still places on this, so please get in touch if you would like any additional information before booking.  Full details are here on my Courses/painting holidays page, or you can contact Wendy & Jim directly at Dedham Hall if you have any questons about the location, accommodation or the renowned hospitality they provide.
The course at Dedham contains five and a half days of painting, which affords us a really good amount of time to address all the issues, whilst practising.  There is plenty of demonstration, plenty of one to one attention and everything to discuss in depth!

Next time

I’ll have a new blog post quite soon.
That’ll have some regular things, but with a new feature, as mentioned in my January post.
That is a video responding to reader questions or issues, on any aspect of painting.
I received a couple of suggestions by email.  As a result, the first one is on the issue of ‘Greens’.  A common one, especially as we approach the green season!

All the best til next time.



Comments On This Post

Zdenko 9 months ago. Reply

To Jem: A big thank you once again for all the effort in organizing this competition and for the detailed and targeted feedback. For me, it was half fun and half fight… but yeah, that’s watercolour! 🙂

To competitors: Thank you! Such a group of kind and talented people! It was great to see your approach and results – I was impressed by a lot of things! Looking forward to “sharing the stage” sometime in the future 😉

    Jem Bowden 9 months ago. Reply

    Thanks very much for that, Zdenko. Hopefully your paintings will be with you soon! All the best, Jem

Javier 9 months ago. Reply

Congratulations to all participants and, of course, the winner. Thanks a lot, Jem for yor time and effort in organising this competition and your feedback for all entries!

    Jem Bowden 9 months ago. Reply

    Thanks for that, Javier. All the best, Jem

Frank 9 months ago. Reply

Hi Jem, Many thanks for setting up the competition with such an interesting challenge and thanks also for spending so much of your time on the critiques.

    Jem Bowden 9 months ago. Reply

    Thanks for that, Frank.

Paul Cowlishaw 9 months ago. Reply

Thank you very much for organising this Jem, and all your helpful and thoughtful comments. Much appreciated. Paul

    Jem Bowden 9 months ago. Reply

    Thanks, Paul

Emma Montonen 9 months ago. Reply

Congratulations to all the brave souls who entered the competition, I found your work and different approaches really interesting and inspiring, and learned something from each one!

Did not myself manage to get past looking at the reference photo and making one mucky sketch of the subject. Might have another go now that I’ve seen what can be done, and after reading your wise and insightful observations Jem. Thank you for sharing your skills and knowledge so generously. Much love from Dublin.

    Jem Bowden 9 months ago. Reply

    Thank you very much, Emma! Best wishes, Jem

Caroline Dumuys 9 months ago. Reply

A big thank you, Jem, for organizing this competition and for taking so much care in commenting on each piece. Your comments are relevant, informative and always positive.
What progress I have to make to capture and translate the character and the vital energy of a tree! (maybe another topic for a future post?)
Congratulations to the winner for his vigorous brushwork, the atmosphere and the harmony of his work.
It’s really magical to share this moment of painting online and see everyone’s interpretation. As if we had met in the same muddy field.
And now we have to do it outside and make the right decisions on our own!
I look forward to your tips for “green”.
All the best

    Jem Bowden 9 months ago. Reply

    Thanks very much, Caroline.

John Haywood 9 months ago. Reply

Hi Jem – thanks so much for this. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and trying to emulate what I often consider to be your particularly swashbuckling approach (I mean this is the most complimentary way!) It’s been great see everyone’s paintings here alongside your carefully considered and insightful critiques. Thanks so much for your kind words about my effort, and I completely agree with you about the overworking of the foreground – a great example of when ‘more is less’! I think you chose a worthy winner too – the immediacy and energy of the brushstrokes for the bushes on the left hand side and the tree in particular I think are wonderful. Thanks again Jem and hope you’ll consider doing another one of these in the future. All the best

    Jem Bowden 9 months ago. Reply

    Thank you, John.

Ian Barnes 9 months ago. Reply

I found this interesting Jem, both seeing people’s efforts and reading your critiques. I wish I had entered now but sadly haven’t picked up the brushes in a while 😪

    Jem Bowden 9 months ago. Reply

    Thanks, Ian. All the best

Roger Jenkins 9 months ago. Reply

A lot of very good submissions; I’m pleased to see so many taking part, and to observe the differing interpretations …your comments (Jem) are very good, constructive and informative; I enjoyed and absorbed what you said about my humble effort ( I did have “3” but felt I should only submit the one..). From my own perspective (of course ..!) I think the winner was well deserved, and I congratulate him.
Looking forward to next time…kbo..Roger

    Jem Bowden 9 months ago. Reply

    Thanks very much, Roger.

Yinghong 9 months ago. Reply

I’m so grateful for Jem taking presious time to draft comments and critiques on my painting. I really appreciate them and will keep them in mind for future practice.

It’s a joy to see other entries as well. Well done everyone! Keep painting!

    Jem Bowden 9 months ago. Reply

    Thank you, Yinghong

Paul T. 9 months ago. Reply

What a delight! Thanks so much for organising the competition and all your carefully considered critiques Jem.
All the best
Paul T.

    Jem Bowden 9 months ago. Reply

    Thanks, Paul

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