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. 


Linda Roth said...

Wonderful post. You did a great job of sharing this demonstration with us. I learned a lot. What I liked best was his fearless use of color. Every shape went down with conviction. I have few convictions when it comes to watercolor. Charles's work is bold and strong. I like it Mick! Lucky you for seeing this in person.

Ray Maclachlan Art said...

A great summary of the painting session Mick. There are many lessons to be learnt here. Do hope you are recovering Mick and back to your usual self.

Unknown said...

Linda - Thanks a lot. Glad you enjoyed your little glimpse into Charles' work and teaching. I find him an inspiration.

Unknown said...

Ray - Thanks I'm getting back to form. Do I detect a little longing to get back to a Charles workshop?

Yvonne Harry said...

What gorgeous colours he uses. Bold but fresh!

Peter Ward said...

That figure is the same one I tried to paint and made a hash of by not introducing arbitrary colour.

Unknown said...

Yvonne - That is one of the joys of Charles' work, his colour selection is always striking, sometimes difficult to understand why they were selected but they work.

Unknown said...

Peter - It is virtually impossible to replicate anything like the colour selection that Charles makes. A lifetime of honing his technique lies behind it. We late starters don't have a chance.

Doug said...

Hey Mick-Nice post with Charles. Sorry to have missed him this time around in Merry Olde England. I did, however, have a chance to lunch with him and Judy last Sept. Been out painting en plein air here in Paris a lot so the Master is never out of my thoughts. Keep up these excellent posts. Hope our paths--and paint brushes--cross again soon!

Unknown said...

Doug - What a pleasure to hear from you. It's a shame you weren't over here for the course. As always just a real delight, great people and exceptional tuition from the master. Glad to hear you are disrupting the traffic in Paris by painting their streets. I also hope it's not too long before we splash paint together and there's just an outside possibility as my lady is lobbying for a trip in that direction. If it comes to pass I'll be in touch.