What made this week so poignant was that the hotel is to close at the end of October after more than sixty years. When we originally booked we were unaware of the plans for closure so this final visit was very special.
We travelled down with the irrepressible Mick Carney who had stayed with us the previous night to break his long journey from the North East.
Once settled in the seventeen students, together with several non-painting partners, were invited to a welcome drink with Charles, Judy and Jane Duke, who is the organizer. Some of us - several in fact - had been on previous courses so it was a much anticipated reunion, and there were also many newcomers.
The course comprised five daily sessions, using a large room at the front of the hotel with superb panoramic views of the sea and Crantock Bay itself. There is also a smaller attached second room which was used part of the time.
My report will comprise five separate pieces Day 1 to 5, followed by an overview and finally an interview with Charles Reid.
The day began at 9.30am and the subject was painting from a photograph. In recent years Charles has become more interested in this, primarily using old black and white studies. I gathered this first came about by chance at one of his home workshops. The procedure was that Charles commenced painting sometime after 9.30am, usually after an initial discussion which varied in length each day, finishing the painting by around 12 noon. This included a coffee break as well as the breaks he takes during painting. Lunch was taken between approximately 12 and 1pm. After this the students commenced painting and Charles wandered around, responding to requests for assistance and also commenting on progress individually. A critique took place at 6pm. I will cover this in the overview.
The hotel has a collection of very old photographs dating back to around 1900. We were allowed to use them and the staff removed the selected ones from the frames and printed photocopies. The one Charles selected was of David Grubb, coxswain of the local lifeboat who was lost at sea. He also happens to be the great, great, grandfather of one of the owners. This was the only photograph with attached text.
Ready to Start
Charles rolls up his sleeves!
Charles feels that painting from this type of photograph is more interesting and safe! Colours are from the imagination and there is less inclination to copy.
The initial drawing begins on Schut Noblesse 40 x 50cm Not. This is from a block with the sheet removed and attached to the board. He likes this paper, 100% cotton, especially for its size but also rates it comparable with Fabriano..
The plan was to do a modified contour drawing, where the pencil is (mostly) kept on the paper with a continuous line. A simple silhouette is produced, very, very light. Charles made the interesting comment that measuring doesn't always work and the final question is does it look right? For these type of drawings he uses a mechanical pencil, 07 HB or 2B, because the point remains sharp. The figure was superimposed over a landscape background of sea and cliffs, the view from the window.
The drawing begins to take shape
Now extended down into the shirt and lifebelt. Notice how loose the drawing is.
Completed drawing with background added last.
Before commencing the painting sequence here is a view of Charles palette, a Craig Young paintbox.
The inevitable questions were asked about colours and Charles ran through those in his box. They are a mixture of Holbein tube colours and Winsor & Newton half pans. He has introduced the pans due to the problems associated with travelling. Some tube colours remain moist and can leak into adjacent areas creating an awful mess. This is a pragmatic decision as he still prefers tube paints and is comfortable with Holbein. He is used to them, they don't crack and are easily rewetted. He isn't dogmatic about paints as you will see later when I interview him. The paints mentioned in the palette were Cadmium Yellow, Yellow Pale, Alazarin Crimson, Cadmium Orange, Raw Sienna, Yellow Ochre, Raw Umber, Burnt Umber, Burnt Sienna, Viridian, Chrome Oxide, Ivory Black, Cerulean, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Ultramarine Violet. That numbers sixteen but later examination of his box made me think there were in fact 22 colours with several paint wells having two half pans side by side! Another colour definitely identified was Cobalt Violet. Others possibly included Mineral Violet and Carmine, both Holbein. Maybe also Paynes Gray. He also sometimes uses Permanent Rose for flowers, probably the Winsor & Newton paint. Sorry I can't be more precise but ....... !! One point always emphasized is that paints must be moist and a small spray water bottle used, ideally 30 minutes before commencing painting. Charles is adamant paint must be moist so you can dig your brush into it not skirt the surface. Brushes used are Da Vinci Maestro series 35 or the USA equivalent, various sizes up to a 12.
Skin colours are Raw Sienna and Cadmium Red mixed on the paper - the less mixing the better. Blues are chosen depending on what tone is required. He starts with the eyes, then the nose followed by the mouth. The shadow shape of the eye socket is most important as is a very accurate eye. together with the overall structure of the head. Absolute realism isn't something he aims for. With Charles every painting is an adventure and he does some things as the mood takes him. He commented that he was self taught in watercolour so a lot of what he says is probably wrong! This provoked some amusement and was said tongue in cheek (I think!). What he then said was that water is the bane of watercolours as what is needed is pigment. You shouldn't worry too much about colour with tonal value most important. By now Raw Umber had also entered the mix.
With shadow shapes always start from the light side. He continued down into the beard and then the shirt using the same colours so avoiding separation. Charles takes regular breaks lasting 5 to 10 minutes. He suddenly decides it's time for a break and off he goes.
Look at those colours.
For his greens he mixes mostly yellows with various blues. He mentioned Cobalt Blue as a favourite, here he also used Raw Umber and the green Chrome Oxide. He may try several yellows as he improvises as the mood takes him. For darks Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber. Colour variation and tone are constantly emphasized. Only repaint small areas to avoid losing freshness. For the breakers he applied quite thick white gouache, something which one of his regulars said he hadn't seen before. Nor had I. He thinks many students use too much dry brush. He took one last look at the painting and just stopped. I've tried to convey how it all went, a very interesting and exciting process because you never know when and how it will end.
I've tried to convey a sense of the mood because each painting is an adventure and a certain amount of improvisation takes place. Everyone is really on the edge of their seats but it is a thoroughly enjoyable experience.