In the UK, this week saw the return of the popular television series Watercolour Challenge, which originally aired in the late 1990s. The programme follows four amateur watercolour painters as they paint picturesque landscape views within a three hour timeframe, after which a winner is crowned! Every day this week, painters Ken Maharajah, Faye Allison, Ashley Raddon and Kathy Jenner have competed against one another in five different Devon-based beauty spots. We reached out to Ashley, Kathy, Ken and Faye to ask them about their experience on the programme, learn more about their painting practice and find out whether they had any watercolour painting tips to share.
Header image: Drake’s Island, painted on Watercolour Challenge by Faye Allison
Watercolour Challenge felt like a landscape painting crash course and was an intense exercise in painting en plein air. You quickly learn when not to overwork an element and how important it is to loosen up to get enough down on your paper whilst ensuring there is the right level of detail to please the eye. Even when not being timed, you are working against changing skies and moving light so it was a great exercise. It felt like such a luxury to paint this much since becoming a Mother and to have Lisa the judge’s helpful advice, along the way. You don’t always have the constructive criticism needed as an artist to grow – so it’s something I really appreciate.
Faye’s tip: I look for any excuse to use pinks in my landscapes – it can be such a fun alternative to greys and browns.
As an anaesthetist I’m often pushed out of my comfort zone and have to work under pressure and although the only thing at stake on the program was messing up a blank sheet of paper it felt just as stressful! However Fern, Lisa and my fellow contestants were incredibly supportive and the whole experience was overwhelmingly positive.
Watercolour is my preferred medium as it allows me to get the luminous loose effects I love. My preferred subjects are animals but landscapes and beautiful old buildings are also inspirational…and dogs!
Kathy’s Tip: If you work loosely or in an impressionist style, particularly if doing architectural subjects or animals, it’s important to have an accurate drawing or under painting. This doesn’t have to be detailed , but accuracy is key especially if you use minimal brush strokes . The other thing is the importance of getting the tone right. So with an accurately drawn tonally correct start you can use artistic license with colour and paint and have a beautifully effective loose watercolour painting.
I made a great connection with fellow artists and loved the various ways we interpreted the subject. Having to paint under the TV cameras in all weathers was a challenge but Fern, Lisa and the filming crew were extremely supportive. A truly comfort-zone-stretching experience!Ken Maharajah on InstagramI’m a people-painter inspired by peoples’ passions and energy. My current work focuses on flamenco, with its deep displays of passion and dynamic energy. The challenge for me is capturing on canvas flamenco’s intense enthusiasm and its profoundly moving experience. It’s raw passion! Ken’s Tip: A good tip I found is using a view window card (a piece of card with an aperture cut out) to compose your subject. It helps me decide how to construct the painting. By viewing the scene through the card I’m able to cut out all viewing clutter and focus on what I want to emphasise.
Being on the show was a personal achievement and an opportunity to challenge myself to paint en plein air with no aids such as cameras, iPads and so on, but also to paint something credible and convincing whilst being filmed within three hours.
My painting follows a traditional English watercolourist approach inspired by such great artists as Seago, Roland Hilder and Edward Wesson. I paint in both monochrome and colour and am interested in capturing light, atmosphere and mood.
Ashley’s tip: Try to achieve unity, tonal balance and an interesting composition within your watercolours with a focal point.