Thursday, 30 May 2013

Charles Reid at Burford - First Demonstration

As mentioned in my last post, events conspired to curtail my opportunity to work with Charles Reid on his latest visit to England. However I did get the chance to spend a couple of days with the master during his second week here in Burford. The activity on his first week at Stow in the Wold has been well reported by my friend Peter Ward on his blog to be found at 

Instead of the usual day by day report, this will be slightly different in that Charles broke from his normal pattern of making one demonstration per day by completing two on one of the days that I was able to attend. So from two days I managed to see three demonstrations, a bonus for me.

As is his practice on these occasions Charles likes to do some work from old monochrome source material and usually provides a choice of images culled from vintage photographs. This time some of the images were drawn from the famous Sutcliffe collection, depicting people in the environs of Whitby plus one or two images like the Sargent portrait that I selected for my effort that day. Charles used two images from Whitby as his inspiration. The importance of using monochrome images is in the demands it makes of the watercolourist in terms of drawing but more importantly the rendition of values without the visual crutch of original colour. The focus of the artist then becomes establishing accurate values and leaving colour choices to the taste of the individual. It makes for interesting choices for the artist. 

Charles is a keen advocate of the contour drawing method and he makes great emphasis of the need to keep the pencil on the paper whilst making the drawing, even when moving across the image from one segment to another. The emphasis is all to do with establishing accurate relationships between the various elements of the picture. 

Initial Drawing

Planning the picture requires giving some thought to the proportion of figures within the space available on the paper.

After completing the drawing the time comes to begin the application of paint. Charles invariably begins work on the central features of the face. This could be the eye socket, nose or the central portion of the mouth. Each stroke is applied and worked towards another area, his maxim being, 'Place a stroke then soften an edge'.

The Face Emerges

Moving away from the centre line the importance of making good shapes is emphasised, 'Good shapes make good paintings'.

Another important point is the in relation to the accurate value relationships. Unlike many watercolourists Charles likes to begin with the placement of some dark values, thereby having something to relate to when making middle and light values. It is important to to have a clear idea of where these relative values lie.

Developing the Figure

After developing the figure Charles begins work on the boat, an important compositional element.

Overall Composition

Boat Detail

Once the work on the boat is complete The whole piece is tied together by the addition of the background and sky, lightly applied and impressionistic.

Final Image - Watercolour on half sheet by Charles Reid

The major teaching points made by Charles in this session were as follows:

Good shapes make good paintings;

You should always be able to see the point of your brush, this gives you more control over your shapes;

Keep pencil on the paper when drawing;

Keep the brush on the paper when making shapes;

Place a shape, press and lift off then soften an edge;

Always try to have about half of your shapes have soft edges;

Look for relationships between shapes and make connections;

Look for intersections and use them as connections;

Start with darks first;

Check out values, where are the mid values?

Paint shapes with harder edge next to the light then work into the shadow;

Make sure you have colour changes in the darks;

Always try to make a balance between warm and cool colours in your shapes.

Another inspirational session and the reinforcement of many of the ideas that Charles has been espousing for many years. 

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Back in the Saddle

After a few little local difficulties, medical and bereavement I've managed to get a little painting this week. I was originally scheduled to be on a course with the wonderful American painter, Charles Reid, but events conspired to stop me going on my original booking. Other complications made it just possible for me to attend two days with Charles during this week and I will post something about it when I can get round to it. In the meantime my fellow blogger, Peter Ward (, is recording his experience with Charles during last week. Recommended reading.

One of the exercises that Charles likes to have students work at is one where you take a monochrome photograph and make a painting based on the image. This is my effort during one of those sessions. The photograph I selected is a well known shot of John Singer Sargent at work.

It was wonderful to get the brushes damp again after an enforced break. Not quite finished off but satisfying nevertheless.

John Singer Sargent - Watercolour on Not paper 16" x 12"