Young artist takes on Vickers’ challenge

The huge grin on Eleanor Watson’s face says it all. She just can’t hide her delight that she is about to move into a new studio at Banks Mill in Derby as the winner of the Jonathan Vickers Fine Art Award.

In 2012 and 2014 she was runner up in the award – but she didn’t let that quash her ambitions and remained determined to make it hers.

“It is such a privilege and I am so thrilled and excited. I just can’t wait to get started and to get to know Derbyshire better. It is going to be amazing to be able to spend so much time painting and developing a body of work for the county.”

For a woman who aims to paint every day it certainly is the perfect residency and it will be intriguing to see how she interprets the award brief of focusing on The Changing Face of Derbyshire.

The 26-year-old from Surrey is one of Britain’s most talented young artists and has already exhibited in London, Miami and New York.

She graduated from Wimbledon College of Art in 2012 with First Class honours, and it was winning the Hans Brinker Budget Trophy Award while a student that gave her confidence in herself.

“I grew up in West Sussex as part of a creative family and went to an all girls Catholic school with a great art department and although I loved painting I never really thought I could be an artist.

“I was a teenager when I first thought that being a painter could actually be a job and decided to do my foundation at the Chelsea School of Art.

“At Wimbledon my tutors were really positive and my work was well received and that was when I began to think that it might be possible.

“When I won the prize I though whoa. . . this could just happen. People then started buying my work and since then I have continued to paint as much as I can.”

Eleanor’s work is inspired by domestic interiors and gardens that she finds in glossy magazines.

She blurs the line between the figurative and the abstract to set a scene for a story using the spaces and their objects.

She says it is important that she has never been to the place she is painting so that she can add and take away as she pleases.

“I get a thrill from exploring the spaces and placing things on the surfaces or hanging a picture on the wall.”

Colour is obviously important to the work and there is usually a tone that runs throughout her paintings. The artist also makes interesting use of flattened areas of negative space and rarely includes people – although she admits that she has been introducing figures in her more recent work.

“The negative space is very important. I like the absences in the pictures and am fascinated by empty chairs and the mystery they suggest. The people I am playing with are also mysterious and are treated in the same simplified way as the rest of my painting.”

Eleanor is the seventh winner of the Jonathan Vickers Fine Art Award and during her residency she will not only be based at Banks Mill but will also be given access to Derby Museum’s galleries and stores.

She will contribute to teaching at the University of Derby’s College of Arts and lead a series of workshops in the community.

A final exhibition of her work will be staged at the museum next autumn.

Rachael Grime, chief executive of Foundation Derbyshire, which administers the award said: “The award continues to go from strength to strength and the appointment of Eleanor Watson signals an exciting new chapter in its development. Each artist has brought something new and surprising to the Award.”

To find out more about Eleanor and her work go to and for information about the award go to