Monday 29 March 2010

Some Recent Paintings

Here are two of my most recent efforts. Quite different but I'll explain why.

Lanacquarelle "16 x 12" Not `Flowers and Fruit'

I painted this at my Monday evening session with the Bathampton Art  Group This is a self-help group where you mostly do your own thing, around 20 artists attending on average, with a wide range of  media and tecniques, from highly detailed pencil drawing to large oil and acrylic paintings. Watercolour is the most common media.
I decided to do a flower/still life painting using two photographs as a guide but also giving my imagination moderate rein, once again trying to impart the Charles Reid approach. This is the result which I'm reasonably - not entirely - pleased with.

Lanaquarelle "16 x 12" Not `Doors and Windows'

This was painted at my Avon Valley Artists Thursday morning  session. The subject was `doors and windows'. At this group originally called the Saltford Art Group ( and subsequently Society), where I have been involved for some years,  we all paint the same subject,  often from a setup or setups.

This was painted from a photograph, taken by another member, apparently at Wells in Somerset. We had a choice of photographs, either bring your own or choose from a selection brought by Jan and Yvonne, the leaders of the group. I was struck by the colours in both the windows and walls and approached it with the `pieces of paint' approach from a little gem of a book called  `Hawthorne on Painting', originally by J.C Hawthorne in 1938 but this edition by Dover Publications, New York 1960. It is not an instructional book in the normal sense but a collection of students notes collected by Mrs.C.W Hawthorne. I read about it in one of Charles Reid's books. Try Abebooks. 

Monday 22 March 2010

Portrait Painting in Watercolor by Charles Reid

This is my most recent acquisition, obtained from the USA via Abebooks . The copy I've received is in mint condition in every way. It even has the original dustcover (see above) encased in clear cellophane! I paid just under £30, of which carriage was slightly more than half! The original carriage cost quoted was increased due to the weight of the book and this may apply to some of the prices listed below.

 I was lucky as a search today brought up prices from £30.14 + £9.31 carriage  to an eye watering £196 + £9.98! There are a few copies around but not that many. Alibris UK have one copy  at £34 plus carriage and NEW at £240.54 would you believe. My copy is as new. Amazon UK  list 5 used from £58.90 and the USA site 19 used from $43.99, 2 NEW $207.34. Incredible isn't it.  However read on, I discovered another possible source which lists this title as a download. According to the page there is a link to Usenet where you can download it for free. What snags are there in taking this route?  I'm not aware of any never having downloaded a book but caution is advised.

Before proceeding to the book review be aware that when you search for this book the title that often appears is `Portraits and Figures in Watercolor', a quite different animal. This is an 80 page paperback as opposed to the 156 page  hardback `Portrait Painting in Watercolor. It appears to be a truncated  amalgam of the Portrait book and the slightly earlier `Figure Painting in Watercolor'. The prices quoted for this one are similar to the larger book. The second-hand book trade never ceases to amaze me although it is true that you frequently get a much better deal from the USA than UK booksellers, if they have the book(s) you want.  Availability is much better in the USA of this type of book.

On the ebookee page (Portrait Painting in Watercolor_68843.html) is a review by  someone hiding behind a pseudonym. This is a brief extract of what they say:

`Not Charles best book -but quite good none the less...`The book is brown in colour and concept. Charles's book on Natural painting in much more appealing..........nevertheless a good book'

`The Natural Way to Paint', one of my favourite CR books, was first published in 1994, whereas `Portraits' is a 1973 book.  The difference in approach is immediately obvious. In one word COLOUR! Whereas the earlier `Figures' and `Portrait' books are mainly in a sort of monochrome, brown, sepia tone, colour leaps out of the pages of Charles later books. Another difference is that the portraits have become a lot more abstract, once you get beyond essential detail.

I'm glad I bought it although I wouldn't pay much more that it actually cost.. I'm sure it will be very useful but I do hope Charles is already working on a new version which brings together and summarizes all the information currently spread over several of his later books. I also recommend the Mel Stabin book `The Figure in Watercolor'. It struck me that Stabin's style reflected Charles Reid although the only influence he credits is Edgar Whitney. When I asked CR about this he replied Stabin had been one of his students.

Wednesday 17 March 2010

More Paintings.

These are my latest Indian paintings, one done at home in my `studio' and the other monday night at my Bathampton Art Group session.

Two-Hatchets Kiowa Indian 1898
Fabriano Artistico 140lb NOT 15" x 11"

I didn't actually finish it completely on monday night but after reflection decided not to do any more. I tend to agree with Judi Whitton, who often leaves paintings `unfinished - when is a painting finished? Judi in her book `Loosen up your Watercolours', Collins 2005, quotes Picasso as saying ` To finish a work? To finish a picture? What nonsense!.....' Charles Reid states the painting is finished when you are reduced to adding small darks and I'm inclined to think it's also when you don't know what else to do. The danger of ploughing on and overworking is everpresent.

Crow Eagle. Piegan Chief 1870's
Lana Acquarelle NOT 16" x 12"

This one I painted in my studio, actually it used to be my son's bedroom many moons ago. It looks better in the flesh than in a photograph and I've tried several times to produce a better image.

Monday 15 March 2010

Artist or Student Quality?

I found this the other day. It is a series of swatches I did quite a while ago. The top three rows are Cotman and the bottom three Windsor and Newton artist's quality. The Cotman are from tubed paint and the artist's quality pans. Since I did this I believe Cotman has changed slightly, possibly for the better. If only Windsor and Newton did the right thing by UK artists and gave us the same deal as the Americans enjoy on the Cotman range. Certainly food  for thought given the increasing cost of buying artist's quality paints.  Do most amateurs, particularly the once-a-week hobby painter, need to spend these eye watering sums, approaching anything from £8 - £10 ($12 - $15)  for 14ml tubes even for lower series?  The figures quoted are mail order and prices are even higher at local art shops.

Many members of local painting groups have limited means yet are exhorted to buy `the best materials' by book after book and article after article. Ron Ranson was scathing about this and used Cotman paints, a few, very few, synthetic brushes and Bockingford paper. He also painted on the reverse side of `failed' paintings. You can paint on both sides on most makes. I'm afraid I'm sceptical about the motives of some of these professional artists who push this theme. I'm sure some are genuine but others have commercial links with manufacturers. Having said all this I confess to being one of those who have fallen for the `buy the best' chorus. Do they make me a better painter? I'm not at all sure.

Friday 12 March 2010

Back to Painting

This is one of my latest attempts to portray American Indians of the 1800's, using old black and white photos. I am very interested  in this period and have many books on the subject, most obtained second-hand directly from America via Abebooks. There are also some excellent archive sites dealing with the subject. The best I have found so far is .

Sitting Bull 16" x 12" Not Saunders Waterford

This is Sitting Bull the famous Sioux medicine man taken in the 1870's. The original is in a sort of sepia/black and white with very strong contrast, not much graduation. So far I've done about a dozen different ones, most already discarded, but hopefully they are gradually improving although  I realise I still have a way to go. Charles Reid is my mentor in that I'm trying to emulate the way in which  he paints portraits.  

Value or Tone

Value describes how light or dark a colour is. This is relatively easy on a grey scale, basically starting with white and finishing with black. Between six and ten steps seems to be the norm. I have used six. However how and  what value do you ascribe to different colours? The following is a value chart I made up using as guidance the `artist's value wheel' from the  Handprint site .

Apart from black the darkest value is Indanthrone Blue (PB60). Windsor & Newton, Daler Rowney and Rembrandt call this `Indanthrene Blue', Maimeri `Faience Blue, Scminke have two paints using PB60. `Delft Blue' and `Dark Blue Indigo', Holbein `Royal Blue' and Graham `Anthraquinone Blue'! Neither `White Knights nor Shin Han list this pigment, which is at the expensive end. Confusing isn't it which is one reason why manufacturers names have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Most manufacturers now put pigment information on tube paint, not usually pans, but often so small as to need a magnifying glass to read it.  I have taken  Bruce MacEvoys spelling as the correct one but will investigate further. On my chart while you can't read the letters (try clicking and enlarging ) indicating what each paint is the colours are clear enough. I wouldn't claim it to be 100% accurate but I think reasonably so.

Amongst the very darkest values is Diozazine Violet ( PV23) called  Windsor Violet and Rowney Permanent Mauve and so on. Check the pigment information on the tube or hunt it down from the various manufacturers websites. One excellent commercial source is DIck Blick Art Supplies  Dick Blick has a huge number of watercolour paints and if you click on the individual paints it will lead to pigment information. This has to be done with every single paint separately and needs a little patience.

Other very dark colours are Prussian (PB27) and Ultramarine blue (PB29), Burnt Umber (PBr7) and Quinacridone Violet (PV19). There are others so if you wish to pursue this any further, and I can understand many not wanting to do so, then get the Handprint value wheel. It can be downloaded and printed.

At the other end of the scale, apart from white, Cadmium Lemon (PY35) is the lightest value with all yellow and yellow shades coming into the lighter half of the chart and the reds, blues and greens in the darker one. This is a generalisation as there are variations so get the chart for specific details.

Saturday 6 March 2010

Watercolour Paints

I recently found a site, which appears to be American, called . This purports to list all available artists paints, running to hundreds. As my interest starts and ends at watercolour I looked up the watercolour information. To my astonishment 58 - yes 58 - different brands are listed! This list is a mishmash of well-known and unknown (at least to me) brands including such names as Niji. MIR, Yasitomi, Morocolour and Marie's. This is just a sample. Without exception each brand is described in identical wording as `one of the most popular watercolour brands in the world' and the opening paragraph appears to be a standard one with a few modifications for each make. Looking at the information for some of these `most popular' brands they all seemed to have a very limited range, some as few as eight colours.  This site had a number of ads for art suppliers including Dick Blick which surprised me a little, still commercialism knows no bounds. `Full' information is claimed for each colour yet one of the crucial ones - pigment details - are missing.

I now turn to the question of `artists' and `student' quality paints. Generally speaking most - not all - well-known manufacturers list an `artists' and a `student' range. Some like Talens have three, Rembrandt at the top, Van Gogh as a middle range and Amsterdam as the student quality. Without exception the student ranges have a reduced number of colours, around 40 compared to between 70 and 100 plus in the artists quality. Some of the student quality use similar pigments in the cheaper series 1 and 2 but replace the cadmiums, cobalts and ceruleans, as well as a few others, by `cheaper' alternatives. This is what Windsor and Newton do with the Cotman range in the UK,while offering full cadmiums and cobalts in the USA, 50 colours in total instead of forty.  Some of these expensive pigments also seem to be on offer on the Continent. Great Art, who are German, but have a UK ordering telephone number , offer 40 colours as in the UK but seem to have a few Cadmiums and Cobalts in addition to the `hues'. I haven't ordered any so cannot confirm this as gospel. Correspondence with W & N produced just waffling on their part and an enquiry to Richard Bromley of Ken Bromley Artists Supplies about the Cotman situation, despite him being very helpful on a previous query, brought no response. Industry politics?

The standard description of students quality is the use of extenders and fillers to bulk up the paint with the amount of pigment being reduced. The only artist I know who used and recommended Cotman, as against the more expensive artists quality, was Ron Ranson and his private comments were quite dismissive. I did note though that, when on a painting course at his then home, he had artists quality paints in his studio. This in itself is not evidence since some manufacturers actively court a number of well-known artists, supplying them with  paints either very cheaply or even (so I have been told) FOC. This is in return for that artist using and promoting their product. When on courses students always want to know what make(s) and colours the tutor uses.

This is becoming rather long and the usual information for blogging is to make the comments short and sweet but I'll go against the grain and plough on. So far the gap between artist and `student' quality is fairly clear.  However there are one or two makes that `claim' to be artists quality and are promoted as such by the art suppliers who stock them. The most obvious is the Russian St Petersburg,  now known as `White Knights'.  This is a very competitively priced paint with a good range of colours, increasingly popular with amateur painters and used and promoted by some professionals. Read what Bruce McEvoy says on his handprint site  and look under paints then brands. He dismisses the claim they are artists quality unequivocally. Fact - amongst the pigments used by White Knights are several obselete ones that are fugitive - this means they fade. Consult Michael Wilcox's Guide to Watercolour Paints. One White Knights colour is Rose (PR81), Wilcox's comment `it is a mobile disaster area as an artists's watercolour'. I'm assuming the colour chart I have, which was printed when St Petersburg was re-branded as `White Knights' is still relevant. I've seen no information that the paints have been reformulated, which has  happened in recent years with most reputable brands.

Another very recent brand which has arrived in the UK is Shin Han. This is again being promoted as `artists' quality at a very competitive price and is  said to be proving very popular. They have 5 series and are priced at about half that of the top of the range Windsor & Newton. There are 72 colours and the naming of individual paints seems to suggest they are shadowing Holbein, the respected Japanese make, Jaune Brilliant No2, Mineral Violet etc. I tried one colour - Jaune Brilliant No 2 and a fellow painter  one of the violets. Not that  impressed but it is a very small sample. I managed to obtain, with difficulty, pigment details of the range and was even less impressed. There are only 20 single pigment paints - 28% much lower than other artists quality ranges - with 11 paints having white (PW6) as one of the ingredients. There also appear to be dyes present (RV10,  Opera) and a few other fugitive pigments (PV3 Permanent Violet) . PR83 Alazarin crimson is used in 4 colours.  Read what Bruce McEvoy say s about this pigment. Windsor & Newton still offer it but also list a `permanent' version. When the inevitable reviews appear in one or other of the art magazines will these things be highlighted?

Tuesday 2 March 2010

Book Review - Charles Reid's Watercolor Solutions

This is Charles latest book, first published in 2008 and still readily available. I was on his EPC course in Spain at Roses when I heard it was due out soon and pre-ordered on Amazon. Initially I thought it rather lightweight but that soon changed as I realized how much information it imparted in a very succinct way. Subsequently I have come to value it and rate it, in my opinion, together with `The Natural Way to Paint' and `Flower Painting in Watercolour', the 2001 book, in my top three of the ten CR books I have. I note that Henry Malt of Artists Choice book club says, in the latest newsletter, that this is `Charles  best book for ages'. I will soon add `Portrait Painting in Watercolor' . It's on it's way from the USA via Abebooks. I don't have  the 1986 flower painting book but have assumed his later one supercedes it.

At Urchfont Charles said he had put an awful lot into this book and was very pleased with the result. We often hear stories about artists keeping `secrets' to themselves and only imparting partial knowledge but Charles Reid isn't one of them. He reveals all and then some! Of course being able to emulate him is another matter. Again I make the proviso you have to buy into the Charles Reid way because he is different and many artists  prefer a more detailed approach. Nevertheless many of the things he emphasizes apply to painting in general so there is something for everybody if you care to look. The section on figures is brilliant and, as I've become very interested in his approach, am finding it most helpful. There are hundreds of books published on painting and they vary in quality but, again only my opinion, I believe Charles is right up there with the best. How I wish I had started painting much earlier in life!

All in all this is a brilliant book and I can't wait for a new one on portrait painting. I suggested this to Charles and Judy at Urchfont and Judy has since e-mailed to say Charles is receptive to the idea. Get writing Charles time is of the essence!

Monday 1 March 2010

This Week's Painting

16" x 12" Not. Collection of Pete Weeks

This is a painting I did a while ago based on a photograph I took at Woodbridge in Suffolk. Woodbridge is a delightful place but I was only there for a short while so photos were the order of the day. When I exhibited the above at Newton St Loe ( a village near Bath)  May day festival it was purchased by the husband of one of the best artists in the Avon Valley Artists group.