Meet the winner of Derbyshire Life’s Landscape Painter of the Year 2016 Award

Peter painting en plein air

Peter painting en plein air - Credit: Archant

Congratulations to Peter Watson - Derbyshire Life’s Landscape Painter of the Year 2016

Peter painting in his studio

Peter painting in his studio - Credit: Archant

When Peter Watson was told that he had won the first Derbyshire Life Landscape Painter of the Year Competition, his wife Linda responded immediately to the news by hanging a ‘congratulations’ banner on the wall of their kitchen. Linda said, ‘I had actually purchased the banner several days before we received news of the result, not just because I thought that Peter might have a chance of doing well in the competition, but because I felt that he could actually win it.’

It was Linda’s faith in Peter’s talent and her persistent encouragement that had persuaded him to take up painting for pleasure again almost four decades after he had left Derby College of Art. Knowing that his retirement would be coming up shortly, Linda felt that this was the time for her husband to have a hobby that would give him tremendous pleasure and help him to make the most of the artistic ability that had been evident since his childhood.

Recalling his early interest in art, Peter said: ‘When I was just thirteen years old, I made a copy of Picasso’s famous painting of “Demoiselles d’Avignon” on the back of a piece of wallpaper, because I was intrigued by the shapes in the composition and the style of the picture, which I didn’t recognise as Cubist at that time. Although I loved art lessons at school, I didn’t apply myself nearly as much as I should have done to other school subjects. To be honest, I was a bit of a tearaway at the time.’

On leaving Rykneld Secondary School in Derby at the age of sixteen, Peter enrolled on an A-Level Art class at Derby School of Art. Escaping from all those distractions that had made him neglect his schoolwork, he was now revelling in the opportunity to paint and draw in a glass-topped studio that was flooded with light. Working alongside much older students who were studying on day-release from their jobs, he was tutored and enthused by Harold Barklam, the artist responsible for those highly accurate and colourful depictions of country houses in a range of small guide books that were published by Derbyshire Countryside Ltd, the original publishers of Derbyshire Life magazine. Peter went on to take a Diploma in Art and Design at Derby College of Art, specialising in Graphic Design.

Bradley in Snow

Bradley in Snow - Credit: Archant

In common with many other youngsters with artistic talent, he chose to study Graphic Design in the hope that this would give him a better prospect of finding employment than he would have had with a qualification in Fine Art. After completing his studies, he obtained a position as a sign-writer, poster artist and screen-printer with the Derby and Burton Co-operative Society. Thirty-nine years later, and after several mergers of co-operative societies, he still works full-time for what is now the Central England Co-operative, where he is involved in the composition and installation of signage.

Thanks to the present terms of his employment contract, he alternates 50-hour and 30-hour working weeks, allowing him to devote alternate Thursdays and Fridays to his own painting. When I expressed admiration for the pictures that have come out of those precious days, he became quite emotional, saying, ‘I really regret all those lost years when I didn’t produce my own paintings and I realise now that I have failed to use my talent as much as I might have done throughout my life.’

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Determined to make up for lost time, Peter has created more than 60 paintings in the last three years, a selection of which are on display in the cottage he shares with Linda in the delightful rural village of Bradley, near Ashbourne. Some of the pictures are framed, but others have been painted on hardboard to save the cost of buying sufficient canvases to keep pace with his prolific output.

Peter has studied and has been inspired by the work of the celebrated painters Lucian Freud and Paul Nash, the marine artist Norman Wilkinson, the Australian portrait painter William Dargie and by Roy Cross, who painted the boxes of the Airfix Kits he bought when he was a teenager. However, since picking up his brushes again, he has developed his own unique and very consistent style.

Peter and Linda Watson

Peter and Linda Watson - Credit: Archant

Artists entering the Derbyshire Life Landscape Painter of the Year Competition were invited to submit images of three works. Peter sent in three contrasting images. One of these is a depiction of ‘Milldale in Winter’, an image that captures to perfection the intense chill that was in the air on the December day when the picture was painted. Explaining how he had managed to capture the weather conditions in a way that is almost tangible, Peter said, ‘Painting en plein air, I always like to work at speed so that I can capture the mood of the moment in one session. I also feel that this approach, not only gives a painting freshness and vibrancy, but also avoids overworking the image.’

By way of contrast, the second image Peter submitted to the magazine is ‘Hadley Lane in Springtime’. This painting, executed in a location that is a stone’s throw from the artist’s cottage, clearly illustrates his fondness for making bold paint marks, some of which have been vigorously applied with the use of palette knives or with a chef’s spatula. He always uses acrylic paint and employs household paint brushes or brushes that are hog hair flats and rounds.

The third image, ‘Footpath to Bradley’, is another depiction of a scene close to his home. Painted on a long, narrow board chosen to match the horizontal scene that had caught his imagination, this picture illustrates Peter’s tendency to choose the shape of the canvas or board to match the subject. This image was based on a rapid painting made in situ and was made into a finished picture by Peter working from a standing position at an easel in his studio, which occupies a room that is illuminated by light flooding in through a large window.

As these examples show, Peter will rush out in all weathers to capture the mood of the moment. His home is perfectly placed close to an inexhaustible range of landscape subjects, and the changeable Derbyshire weather provides every type of atmospheric condition imaginable, sometimes inspiring him to produce pictures that consist almost entirely of sky. Although there is clearly enough subject matter to keep him occupied in his immediate locality, he occasionally cycles to locations a little further afield, and during holidays at the coast he has produced several atmospheric seascapes.

As well as being available for commissions, Peter has given a painting demonstration at Ashbourne’s St John Street Gallery and he now regularly shows his paintings at art fairs and festivals in Melbourne, Wirksworth and Ashbourne, where images of his work are available as giclée prints or postcards. Geoff Dawson, a visitor to one of the festivals, was so impressed by Peter’s pictures that he offered to construct a website for him in exchange for a painting.

Given the quality and striking vibrancy of Peter’s accomplished landscape paintings, and the raised profile that will result from his success in Derbyshire Life’s Landscape Painter of the Year Competition, Linda would be well advised to keep that ‘congratulations’ banner safe in readiness for news of other accolades that are almost certain to come Peter’s way in the future.

Examples of Peter Watson’s work can be viewed on and he can be contacted on or 07528416577