Monday 25 January 2010

A Tale of Two Paintings

While at Urchfont we painted on the village green. It was a nice bright day and Charles Reid started us off with a demonstration. Then we were left to our own devices and this is the result.

Gevevieve painting at Urchfont.
18" x 14" Fabriano Artistico 90lb Not

I was initially quite pleased with my effort and when it came to the critique the only real comment was it showed the light well. Critiques are usually fairly bland and it wasn't until I looked at it in retrospect that I realised it was badly overworked, both in the figure and the tree. I then, some considerable time later, months in fact, decided to have another try using photographs I took at the time.

Genevieve painting at Urchfont
18" x14" Fabriano Artistico 90lb Not

This was painted in my `studio' formerly a bedroom and I feel it is better all round, although the tree is still a little overworked. When I painted this version I took the opportunity to try out two of the Graham paints. Ultramarine Pink (PR259) was used in the coat the figure is wearing and Quinacridone Rust (PO48), together with two or three other colours, on the walls and roof of the buildings. Both paintings were done on Artistico 90lb Not, and neither paper was stretched, only taped to a board.

Sunday 24 January 2010

The Swedish Walkstool

I first became aware of this product when I was reading Birdlife, the magazine of the RSPB. I have never seen it advertised in any art magazine or by any art supplier. I followed up the ad and found descriptions on the net, together with a few sources of supply, all mail order. Efforts to find a local supplier, so that I could actually examine the product, came to nought. After mulling this over for a while I bought one.

The Walkstool comes in two versions. There is the original known as the Comfort 45/55/65/75 - the 45 is the smallest and the 75 the largest. The other version is a cheaper budget one made in China called the Basic 50 and 60, two sizes. The numbers denote the seat size in centimetres. I have the smallest Comfort 45 which I find adequate. This comes with a nice canvas case, 14" long and about 4" wide, well-made and with a carrying strap. It fits in my backpack with all the other stuff. Incredibly the Walkstool weighs only 18ozs and yet will support up to 550 lbs! As I weigh about 150 lbs I haven't tested this claim but my friend Mick Carney has since bought one, based on trying mine at Urchfont, and he is a much bigger chap.

Any downsides? Price between £50-65, depending on size, with the Basic model about half that. I found the instructions clear and the stool easy to assemble and pack up. However you do need to exercise care in doing this and the instructions point out a possible problem if not done properly. This involves the telescopic legs. Nevertheless I've now used mine on several occasions and am very pleased with it. Where possible I prefer to use my director's chair, the one with the side shelf and pockets, but this only if I'm painting very close to the car. For portability and ease of use the Walkstool takes some beating. There are two or three people selling this product, either on the web or mail order, and mine came from Uttings in East Anglia just type in walkstool in the appropriate search window.

Friday 22 January 2010

En plein air

En plein air or outdoor painting is a subject of some disagreement. Some like to do it and some don't, much like the controversy often raised  about painting from photographs. I love painting outdoors and get a real buzz, but the UK weather often frustrates this ambition. The Gloucestershire painter Judi Whitton promotes painting outdoors and does so even in inclement weather.  Judi's reply, when asked what happens if it's raining, was "you paint from the car". The stunned look on some students faces was a sight to behold! The sight of three ladies from my local art group painting from inside a small car, on one of Judi's Cornish courses, caused considerable amusement but they did it! The subject was a derelict former lead mine and some decent paintings emerged.

Actually this post is about equipment, or rather my equipment, arrived at after several years of trying different things, much now redundant. I am one of those people who like to have maximum options and just having a small 6" x 6" sketchbook and a pencil doesn't appeal. I do have various sized sketchbooks and all sorts of drawing tools but I like, and I realise it isn't always possible, to go the whole hog! This overkill does cause problems unless you have everything in the boot and can get the car very close to where you plan to paint. This isn't always or often possible so portability becomes a priority. Travelling abroad creates  a much bigger problem.

Where am I currently  after years of sometimes lugging director seats, metal easels, and the whole paraphalia of paper, paints, water and other sundries like brushes and brush cases? My essentials are:

  • A Portable easel
  • A lightweight chair or stool
  • A decent sized block - I prefer "16 x 12" Not
  • A variety of pocket brushes
  • Two or three propelling pencils, 0.5 and 0.7 
  • A small water pot(s)
  • A large bottle of water
  • A palette with either half pans or pre-filled with tube paints.  
  • An eraser
  • A spray bottle and penknife
  • A large lightweight back pack deep enough to take the above.
  • A painting umbrella (optional) Too large for backpack.

The easel I've settled on is one I saw in Spain in 2009 when on a Charles Reid course organized by Angela Barbi of EPC Art Courses    This easel was in use by several of the students. I was offered one prior to going but foolishly opted to take my own. As we were obliged to travel by Ryannair this was a problem. Don Glynn, a professional painter who lives in Scarborough, is involved with EPC and makes them. It isn't a commercial operation, basically small scale - just Don in other words - and I ordered one. The easel costs around £90 with carriage and consists of three parts. The main parts are a lightweight photographic tripod and a metal piece, with two adjustable brackets, three and a half inches wide and nineteen and a half inches long. It slots into the holder on the top of the easel, not the screw in type, and holds either your block or painting board. The final piece is a wooden shelf  with two largish circular holes for a drinking cup type of water container, which fits over the front legs. The whole thing weighs very little, can be lifted by one finger, and assembled and dismantled in a flash. I gave the unpainted shelf  several coats of clear varnish. It is basic but it works and does impress fellow painters when they see it in action. `The Artist' magazine, Feb 2010 issue, has a supplement `Art Courses and Holidays 2010' , with an article by Peter Robson in which he mentions the easel. He calls it an `Alvaro Castagnet easel' and gives Don's details. This  description is new to me and I assume it is the same one. The easel is not cheap at around £90 including carriage, but does the job if you want a really lightweight, ultra portable one. Don, a great character who in early 2009 did a spell in Helmand province as official war artist to the British troops, can be contacted  at .

What's next? Ah yes  - brushes. I have a selection of travel/pocket brushes made by Rosemary & Co Escoda and one from Isabey. Cheaper options are available from Pro Arte but fewer sizes. There are also very expensive brushes made by Da Vinci. Escoda, Da Vinci and two Isabey travel brushes are available from Jacksons . Sizes I carry are  6, 8, 10, 12 plus a Rosemary R5 rigger.

My travelling palette(s) include a Craig Young Sketcher Box, e-mail , with 16 half pan or tube wells. Mine is for tube paints - possibly a mistake. This is hand-made from brass and very expensive but will last forever. I noticed Judi Whitton had a version with twenty wells which was specially made for her. Craig is receptive to special requests. My other travelling palette is a cheap metal one filled with half pans. These are sold by most art dealers as empty palettes in a variety of sizes.

Finally, as this is becoming rather long, my backpack is an NP Highpoint bought from the high street retailer Millets. I wanted one that could accomodate all the above and it does. I found most smaller backpacks inadequate and the very large ones tend to have a series of smaller separate pockets and lots of padding, as well as being expensive. This was cheap, light and basic, with just two extra side pockets. It works! Loaded with all the above it is fairly hefty and not for everyone. I'm happy with it though and I'm not a big person.

I haven't described the Swedish Walkstool which I think is worth a separate piece. There is also the issue of half pans or tube paints which I will turn to later. Neither have I mentioned my alternative easel system which is the Charles Reid one. I like that a lot and will describe it at a future date.

Tuesday 19 January 2010

Charles Reid's Watercolour Landscapes Masterclass

This is the first DVD I have bought from Town House Films and  I'm quite impressed. Service was excellent, the DVD arriving the day following I ordered it via the website. First the length, 134 mins, is considerably longer than most other painting DVD's, which are usually between 60 and 90 mins. The subjects are two landscapes at Pinmill in East Anglia near Ipswich, a superb estuary location with many different boats including the now rare Thames Sailing Barges. The great Edward Seago, as well as many other well-known artists have painted here. The one downside is that painting the subjects plein air was frustrated by the weather, blustery and wet, so Charles painted from photographs inside the clubhouse of the Pinmill Sailing Club.

Charles is his usual very informative self, both in words and how he approaches the actual painting. His various tecniques like  contour drawing are clearly explained and we are treated to extreme close ups, which I found very good. In particular his use of colour, both complements and warm and cool, deserves careful study. This DVD was filmed immediately after the Urchfont course and I found it linked up with, and reinforced, what  I'd learned from him only days previously.

The two paintings, both half sheets, are quite complicated busy subjects, and it was enlightening to see how Charles dealt with them. The first involved a combined scene involving both  an attractive hostelry and a number of Thames Sailing Barges and Charles used two photographs, combining elements from each, all the time explaining how to  interpret photographs rather than copy them. This is a problem many of us have and something it takes a while to master. The sky on both subjects, painted over two days, was very busy and Charles said he tended not to concentrate on skies, as he had a tendency to overwork, but in this instance was obliged to do so. Watching him do it I wondered, half way through, what the final result would be but it was excellent.

The second painting was of some stranded boats and again two photos were involved although one predominated. Another complicated subject in all it's aspects but it was admirably handled and, although Charles said he was never really satisfied with his paintings seemed fairly pleased with the results. Two very colourful paintings in the typical Charles Reid style. He was on top form at Urchfont, the most recent of three courses I have done with him, and this excellence continued at Pinmill.

One point about Charles Reid is that he is a bit of a maverick insofar as his  painting style and teaching is concerned, but he explains how this came about - his graduation from a plein air oil painter to watercolour - and it is true that many other professional artists sing from an entirely different song sheet! However if you are an admirer of his style then this is for you. I am sure it will attract new followers. The price for the DVD is £26.90p including postage anywhere in the World and is available from Townhouse Films also some mail order art materials companies like Jacksons and Ken Bromley.

As a footnote I also have the new Charles Reid's 10 Lesson Course , a copy of which I bought from Judy Reid at Urchfont . I will review this soon, as I've already viewed it several times. Unfortunately, as far as I'm aware, this isn't available in the UK and has to be obtained from the USA. This is a three DVD set running to four hours. The DVD's can be bought singly or as a 3-DVD set. They are advertised on Charles Reid's website  with a link to the seller. The full set is $99 and carriage extra to the UK. Another must for Charles Reid buffs.

Thursday 14 January 2010

Charles Reid's Latest Video

Just received this morning from Town House Films. As I only ordered yesterday this is pretty good service. I already have several CR videos (why do you need more says the wife?) and I watched the short promotional video on the Town House website before ordering. Apart from the subject, boats at Pin Mill, I was attracted by the way they seemed to have filmed CR painting, very closeup. I will report further when I've viewed the video.

Sunday 10 January 2010

Crantock Bay

This is the best painting I did at Crantock Bay with Judi Whitton. With Judi you paint outdoors except in the most severe conditions and this painting was done at St.Clements Estuary just outside Truro. The day was heavily overcast with drizzling rain and intermittent gusty winds. Talk about being under pressure! In order to protect the painting (and myself) I used my white painting umbrella tucked inside my right boot and tied with two velcro strips to my leg. Even so it went flying on two occasions and I had to chase after it. Fortunately the brolly landed on the road and not in the muddy estuary! Because of the conditions I had to get my head down and get on with it completing the painting in about an hour. The conditions were such that proceedings might have been brought to a halt at any moment. I'm quite proud of this one.

Some of my latest Paintings Urchfont

During 2009 I attended two painting courses, one with Charles Reid at Urchfont In Wiltshire, and the other Judi Whitton at Crantock Bay in Cornwall. The following painting I consider the best I did on the Urchfont course, which was done on the last day. I was very pleased with it and still am which isn't always the case after a few days reflection.

Thursday 7 January 2010

The Saga of Moldau Watercolour Paper

On a recent painting course the tutor (Charles Reid) was using a Czech-made paper called Moldau. He said he had used it in the distant past and it had now become available again in the USA through Italian Art. The full name is Velke Losiny Moldau. In America it is being sold as follows:
25 sheets (280gsm)11.5 x 16.5inches Approx £50. 22 x 30 inches 10 sheets approx £57.There is also an 180lb option. This is pricy but the paper is hand made.
Reid praised Moldau and very effusive comments have been posted by Bruce McEvoy on his `Handprint' site. It seems to be spreading in the USA.

Anyway I determined to track this stuff down after being unable to discover a UK source of supply. Enquiries to Great Art finally brought the information the MD (Germany) knew about them and might follow this up at the next German Art fair if they were exhibiting. Not very enthusiastic!
Enquiries on the net eventually led me to the mill in the Czech Republic to discover it had been making paper since the 1400's! Ian Sidwells book of watercolour papers mentions Velke Losiny but not Moldau paper. The website I found gave contact details and I e-mailed them. After two tries, one to the retail shop, a reply came back in Czech (?). I couldn't decipher it so I persisted. Amongst several similar responses I did receive one in English from the lady named as contact but she didn't seem to understand what I was after. Further e-mails produced the same indecipherable replies. I had almost given up when I received an e-mail from John Veldrau who said he had been appointed UK distributor. Was this as a result of my enquiries? Nothing much happened for a while and further enquiries to John elucidated the response he was still awaiting information etc from Czechoslovakia. That's how it stands at the moment. I will keep you posted!