Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Reflections on Two Painting Courses

Watercolour painting is my main hobby these days and I have just completed ten years since I took it up. This was rather late in the day at sixty-one and one of my regrets is that I didn't start on early retirement four years previously.

This year I have done two residential painting courses, the first with Charles Reid, the American watercolourist, and our own Judi Whitton. One was at Urchfont in Wiltshire in early September and the other a month later at Crantock Bay in Cornwall.

The course at Urchfont, with Charles Reid, was the third I have done with him in the last three years and he is undoubtedly a very fine tutor, extremely communicative with especially good demonstrations. I do have a few issues that came to the fore at Urchfont this year. I had never been to Urchfont before although it is host to many types of recreational courses, including painting and not far from my home. The previous venues had much better accomodation and facilities yet the costs were similar. Put bluntly the accomodation and facilities - excluding the painting part - were abysmal. Urchfont is run by the Council and is not a hotel. If rated by the AA it would get no stars. Considering the cost this to me was unacceptable but when I raised this with the course organizer afterwards I got a very dusty reply, more or less saying if I didn't like it I should go elsewhere as there were plenty of people anxious to replace me!

That's probably true as Charles is only doing one course every two years in England. I might add that Reid's courses are roughly double in cost to an equivalent English one, with very competent artists, although not all with an International reputation. Still you pays your money..... The number of painters on this course was twenty, which is too many for any real individual tuition to take place. This is standard on Reid's courses. One of the items suggested as part of your equipment are small binoculars in order to focus on the demonstrations! You get a` turn' on the front row once during the week but that's it!

You do get a different perspective on these courses and meet people from different countries as well as the UK. There was a very fine French artist, Gilles Durand, and it isn't unusual to see professional artists as Reid is something of a cult figure with his own enthusiastic following. Gene Wilder the actor, and Tony Bennett the singer are close friends and previous students.

Charles style does not suit everyone and many don't like the way he paints, extremely loose and almost abstract at times. For a somewhat negative view read what Bruce McEvoy says on the amazing "Handprint" internet site. I am a believer although I prefer his still lifes, particularly those with flowers, and portrait/figure work to his landscapes, some of which I'm not so keen on.

The Judi Whitton course was only four weeks later and that was a mistake because for the first two days I was still in `CR' mode! The venue, Crantock Bay hotel, is far superior to Urchfont in every way. Accomodation and food way ahead and the studio facilties at least equal. Judi is a loose painter who was influenced to change her then style some years ago by studying on a Charles Reid course but has since developed in her own way. Painting on this course is primarily outdoors and the weather has to be extreme to prevent this! The course is lower key but very rewarding because Judi takes things at a slower pace and encourages rather than instructs. My wife attended this one as a non painting partner, where she was allowed into critiques etc, and thoroughly enjoyed it as I did. I like Judi and Pete Whitton very much and hope to attend further courses in the years ahead. As for Charles and Judy Reid I do like them equally but theirs is very much a commercial operation and there is more pressure on the course due to the standard of those attending, including professional artists. At times I felt I was out of my depth on the initial course but by the third, while nowhere near the standard of the best, felt my painting was in the ballpark.

I might add while at Urchfont I met Sunderland fan and fellow enthusiast the larger than life Mick Carney. Despite my being a Newcastle supporter we got on very well and intend to keep in touch, if only by e-mail. Mick has his own blog, "The Painting Struggle" and gives a very good analysis on the Urchfont course. His view of Urchfont is more positive than mine although, being a big chap, he was unable to use the minute ensuite facilities in his room, in the same building as mine. Generally it has to be said those on the course, several repeats, were very enthused and seemed to turn a blind eye to the downsides. Perhaps I'm just cynical.

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