Monday 24 October 2011

A Conversation with Charles Reid

During the workshop I spoke to Charles several times and on the afternoon of the final day had a rather longer conversation. I was going to call this `an interview with' but that would have been an exaggeration so here we are.
Charles Reid

One of the first questions I asked was what were his favourite books among those he had written. I was surprised by the answer which was `Painting What You Want to See', `Painting By Design' and `Watercolour Secrets'.  I said my own favourites were `The Natural Way to Paint', `Flower Painting in Watercolour' (2001) and his most recent 'Watercolour Solutions'. He seemed surprised at my choices. I have since  had another look at `Watercolour Secrets' and possibly underrated it.

When asked what he enjoyed most about painting courses or workshops, whatever you choose to call them, his reply was that Judy and he spent a lot of time alone and  people invigorated him and kept him active.   I'm sure he enjoys them, especially with the number of people who are regulars and have become friends. He said they, meaning Judy who is always with him, had made a lot of friends worldwide. He also said on the last evening that England was his favourite painting country.

What did he see as the biggest problems amongst his students? Rendering objects and seeing things not shapes. He said you should not identify objects. These are things he always stresses on his workshops and in books and videos. Another was that many don't paint often enough and he advocates something daily, either drawing or painting, even if only for 30 minutes or so.  Naturally he realises many are unable to do this but you must paint regularly if you want to improve.

Asked about trends in watercolour the reply was he pays little attention to such things and has no views or objections. He thinks painting should be viewed on its own merits. Charles feels Andrew Wyeth is the outstanding American watercolour painter followed by Homer who was influenced by him. He is also a big fan of John Singer-Sargent and from the past eras the French artists Bonnard and Vuillard. Surprisingly he isn't that fond of Turner. I asked what he thought of Hercules Brabazon, one of my favourites, and to my great surprise said he hadn't heard of him! When I asked who his favourite present day watercolour artists were the reply was again unexpected. He named Andrew Parker, one of whose paintings is shown at the end of `Watercolour Solutions', and some one I'd never heard of  Fred Yates. I'll have to look him up! Charles also mentioned he does quite a lot of judging in America and sees a strong trend towards super realism, possibly because people are increasingly painting from photographs. Added 25/11. Fred Yates was a British artist born in Manchester. He was influenced by Lowry. I believe Charles saw a painting by him in the Bowgli Inn next to the Crantock Bay Hotel. Charles was much impressed and one of the new students was able to tell him about this artist, who lived during his later period in Cornwall and was buried there. He died in 2008.

Two views of the palette used at Crantock, a Craig Young paintbox. He did use the small Sketchers Box at Trelice. Prior to painting, about 30 minutes earlier, he sprays his paints with a small spray bottle. Paint must be moist so you can dig the tip of the brush into it!  I attempted to determine exactly what and how many different paints were in the box because Charles is slightly vague on the subject. I thought there were 22 and interestingly this is the number listed by colour in his most recent book. There are a mixture of tube and half pan colours, the latter Winsor & Newton, the tube paint Holbein. He much prefers tube paints but the problems associated with tube colours, some of which don't solidify when travelling, has brought about this pragmatic solution. Charles is not dogmatic about colours and will try fresh ones regularly. At Urchfont it was New Gamboge, not mentioned this time, Viridian and Prussian Blue. Here I noticed Cobalt Violet, never mentioned previously. I asked if he had tried Daniel Smith and Graham paints, both causing a stir in recent years. He has tried Graham and said they were good but also mentioned Sennelier and Old Holland, but he was used to Holbein and would be sticking with them. The Daniel Smith band waggon seems to have passed him by.

With paper we know he favours Fabriano Artistico Traditional watercolour paper but also likes Schut Noblesse. This is difficult to obtain and Judi Whitton, who was at Crantock  the week prior to our day of arrival, had brought him a block(s) of the 50 x 40cm size. He particularly likes this format. He compared the Noblesse to the Fabriano, softer papers that suit his style of painting but don't take corrections well. He also likes the Czech Moldau hand made paper and had brought a supply to use for his portrait DVD with APV films. There are no distributors of this paper in the UK but in America can be obtained from Italian Art.

Kolinsky sable  round brushes are his favourites and he especially likes the Da Vinci Maestro. The preferred series is No 35 which are slightly longer and slimmer than the series 10 Maestro. In the USA I believe they use a different numbering system. I noticed he also used some Escoda Kolinsky travel brushes this week series 1214. The normal equivalent is series 1212. In the last two years he'd tried them and thought them very good.

At Urchfont and again this week I tried to persuade Charles (and Judy) to do a final book on portraits as the original one is very dated. There are sections on portraits in many of his later books but the information is fragmented. He agreed he'd moved on considerably since then but it has been said `Watercolour Solutions' will be his last book. A shame but at least we can look forward to another DVD. Immediately after Burford Charles is to film a new Portrait DVD at  Windrush, close to Burford and the home and gallery of the late James Fletcher-Watson. It is still run by Fletcher-Watsons daughter. APV films of Chipping Norton, a highly acclaimed producer of painting videos, are the company involved. After flying back to America it is off to Atlanta, Georgia for a workshop followed by Scotsdale, Arizona.  Judy mentioned Joseph Wolfskill who has modelled for Charles at Scotsdale - there are two of the paintings in `Watercolour Solutions' - and said he usually brings wonderful hats.

 According to Mick on his blog - I assume from speaking to either Charles or Judy - Charles is to reduce the number of  workshops in future.  Next year he is committed to Spain and Paris but after that....? Judy was non-committal when asked  if they would be coming to England in 2013 when he will be 76.  I suspect that Crantock followed by Burford may be his swansong and if so a very fine goodbye. No one can predict the future with certainty so who knows?

This is it folks. My Crantock Odessey is over. I'm exhausted!

Sunday 23 October 2011

My Paintings at Crantock

At this stage I'll bite the bullet and show you my paintings at Crantock. Actually I'm quite pleased overall and they are better as a group than those I did on previous CR courses, much better in some instances. I don't think anyone - well some may but not the majority of us - does their best painting on courses like this. The circumstances and pressures are against it and the true success or otherwise of the course will be evident over the next few months providing you work hard at the lessons learned.

Unknown Lifeboatman -Courtesy Crantock hotel

This is the photograph I chose to paint on the first day. There were no details of who he was or where but we can date it to around 1900. The only clue is the word `Whitby'. I assume this to be the well-known fishing village on the East Coast of North Yorkshire.

Lifeboatman Whitby. A3 Moldau 130gsm not.

I was pleased at the time and remain so after reflection. I learned a lot from the way Charles painted his figure, with the use of colour and the way the same colours were repeated in the rest of the painting. I just hope I can consolidate the lesson. At the critique Charles called the design excellent and commented on the placement of the darks. He made no critical comments or suggestions for change.

Simon. Fabriano Artistico Extra White 20" x 14" Not

 You can see a slightly different angle of Simon on my Day Two post. Although I'm pleased with it I realised the face was possibly slightly too full compared to the length of the head. In other words I should have made the head longer and the face narrower. At least I think so. Nevertheless I rarely get a chance to do a portrait from life, mainly photographs where I can use aids to get the dimensions right. On this occasion I used a pencil to measure proportions so it was a different experience. The left side of the face was in shadow but quite subtle and not pronounced so I didn't overemphasize. It isn't fully realistic but then this isn't the intention.  At the critique Charles was quite complimentary and even though I mentioned the proportion question he didn't think that significant. I should explain at critiques one is first asked how they feel about the painting. Simons wife, a fellow student, quite liked it. 

 Trelice - Fabriano Artistico Extra White 20" x 14" Not.

As I explained earlier on Day Three this was the least satisfactory day of the workshop as the weather conditions were very marginal. I did not paint at all in the morning just watched Charles, who was safely tucked under a large umbrella. I, like most others, didn't bring one to Cornwall. A mistake! After a break  at lunchtime conditions improved so I thought I must attempt something. It isn't overly serious and I only did a portion of the building. Although the light drizzle had more or less stopped the atmosphere was so damp that the watercolour paper seemed to absorb moisture leading to this soft effect.

Still Life - Fabriano Artistico Extra White 20' x 14' Not

Day Four was the eagerly awaited `Still Life' session. After Charles painted his demo several other still lifes were spread over the two rooms. During the week students each get a turn on the front  row and this day was my turn, and we were also given first choice to choose the still life to paint. I should add I took my binoculars and really found no problem in following what Charles did even when  further back. This shocks some when told about it but it works quite well. I chose to paint the same one as Charles. Overall I am pleased although I felt - and still do - that the flowers are better than the objects. In particular the duck is poor. The red pepper and green avocado could be better.. I intend to do some work on painting fruit and peppers. At the critique Charles was complimentary. He probably remembered some of my stuff from previous years!

Still Life (2) Fabriano Artistico Extra White 20' x 14' Not

This, excluding Trelice, was my least satisfactory painting, done on the last day. The flowers could be better and the objects are poor, particularly the red teapot and the yellow mug. As there was no critique the final evening I avoided what I am sure would have been some less complimentary remarks.

As far as critiques go Charles does not shirk from pointing out what he thinks is wrong or could be better but, like most other workshop teachers, goes easy on his students. If there are major problems I think he'll say so and did on one or two occasions but not in a manner that upsets or depresses those on the receiving end. Possibly he's more frank when speaking to individuals rather than in a full classroom scenario. I'm not averse to being criticized and always hope for a frank opinion. I think he gets the balance about right.

Saturday 22 October 2011

Charles Reid at Crantock - Overview

It is now just over a week since we returned from Crantock and having completed the posts for each day I now turn to an overview. Without doubt is was excellent. This was my fourth with Charles and I felt more comfortable on it than any of the others. Since Urchfont two years ago I have put in a lot of effort and feel I have made progress so there is a faint light at the end of the tunnel - very faint! I intend to work hard over the next few months and try to consolidate the lessons learned. If you want to benefit from such experiences you do need to work at it. It is all too easy to regress.

The people on the course comprised 17 students, who in a few cases had brought non-painting partners with them. This included my wife who had  been with me on our three previous Crantock visits with the artist Judi Whitton.

 The group eagerly await Charles return from a break.

Charles back at work!

 All attention!

Doug Cushman standing with Gilles . 

Gilles took notes and also painted along with Charles, something he encourages. Difficult to do but Gilles managed it 

As well as the pleasure of meeting Charles and Judy Reid once more it was great to see those artists I had met on previous courses. There were several on their first course, which is fairly unusual given the great demand for places with many coming year after year. I must not forget Jane Duke who is the organizer and a professional artist in her own right, holding workshops and also painting courses/holidays herself  On this occasion her husband Perry was with her and was one of the models for the portrait sessions.

Jane Duke

What of the artists on the course? As usual there was a mix of amateur and professional - and even semi-professional artists possibly slightly fewer than previously. I don't know the exact status of everyone so apologies if I miss something out, or if you read this e-mail me and I will correct the information. It was nice to meet artists like Emily Stedman from New York once more, who was on both my previous UK courses.

Emily Stedman

Another distant visitor was Gilles Durand from France, an excellent professional  who has received many awards in his own country. Gilles told me he had demonstrated at an exhibition in France where he was followed by Viktoria and Slawa Prischedko. Gilles was also at Burford and Urchfont and it was a pleasure to meet such a fine artist and nice man again.

   Gilles Durand

Another course member who I had met at Burford was Doug Cushman, an American who has lived in Paris for the last ten years. Doug is an illustrator by profession  and can trace his ancestors back to the Mayflower.  Doug and Mick Carney got on famously!

Doug - one last sketching opportunity- final evening!

Both Ian and Jane Wright are regulars on Charles courses although I don't know exactly how many they have attended, certainly many more than me. Both are good painters with Ian exceptional. I class him as a semi-professional see his website

Ian and Jane Wright

This wouldn't be complete without mentioning the Sunderland Express Mick Carney, literally the life of the party and a larger than life figure. Mick continues to astound me with the depths of his knowledge on a range of subjects including art and music.  At the time of writing he is in Maine, USA connecting with the art world over there. He is shown here with Judy wife of Charles, who is the guiding light behind the scenes and front of house as well. Charles paints Judy does the rest.

 Mick Carney and Judy Reid

There are many more to be mentioned like Margaret Chapman, who I first met on the Spanish course, Latifa Kostas the life and soul of the group (as well as Mick),  another Charles Reid regular, met on my previous UK courses,  Doreen Young from Burford and Urchfont, who originally persuaded Charles to come to England and arranged his courses for some years. There was also Lynn and Nigel Jenner from Jersey. Lynn was at Urchfont, and several first timers. To those whom I've not mentioned by name apologies as my main intention in writing the report was for those who, for different reasons, did not make it. Pauline from my local AVA group applied but it was already fully booked, only days after booking opened. I understand there is always a list of those hoping that a cancellation will enable them to attend.

I've mentioned Mick Carney previously. Mick has his own blog and is the reason I started mine, after I met him at Urchfont two years ago. I knew little about blogs until then. We have kept in touch ever since, and he stayed with us the night prior to travelling together to Cornwall, to break his 500 mile journey from the North-East. I am orginally from the North East and have family there. 

What of the course itself? I have already said it was brilliant and I don't think anyone would disagree. There was plenty of hard work but also merriment so the atmosphere remained lighthearted, although always serious when it came to painting. I felt I benefited more this time because my painting has improved over the last two years and I was more able to absorb the lessons. Charles told my wife that I'd improved and Gilles Durand said something similar to me. Thank you both for being so encouraging. Will Charles return to England? See my next and final piece. 

If you would like to see Mick's report, which is different to mine in that much of it is about the people, although the painting is well covered, go to his blog
There are also many more photos of the participants and is written with his usual verve. He is also a much better photographer. Indeed a man of many talents.

I haven't yet posted photographs of my paintings on the course. I was quite pleased with some of them and will do so in the next few days.

Friday 21 October 2011

Charles Reid at Crantock - Day Five

During the afternoon of Day 4 we were asked what we would prefer to do on the final day. The choice was between another painting from a photograph or a still life. The vast majority opted for a still life.

On this occasion a white background was chosen rather than the seascape of the previous one. Charles began with a contour drawing, very light and accurate but not precise, virtually only a light outline. The bottom area was drawn first and he occasionally erased a line. After finishing this area he moved to the vase drawing upwards. On this particular day Charles was quite reticent saying comparatively little, while drawing or painting. Possibly, for what was a more complicated subject, he needed to conentrate fully or  was tired on the last day of a quite demanding workshop. Perhaps a combination of both.

The painting began with the upper flower. At one point he was asked which blue he was using. His reply was `I don't know'! This emphasizes another point about the Charles Reid approach. Every painting is a new adventure and they are not planned to the smallest degree. Things happen as he goes along, and is a riposte to the school of thought that say everything should be decided in advance. The greens were mainly Cadmium Yellow and various blues and he stresses variation is important. He took his usual short breaks.

 Still Life - Schut Noblesse 50 x 40cm not.

In the afternoon we painted a variety of still lifes that had been setup from the previous days session. Doug Cushman elected to paint from a photograph, actually two I think, but I believe he was the only one. During this afternoon session Charles would pop in from time to time and look at the paintings in progress, commenting on every one and helping those who asked for assistance. He did this all week.

With comparatively little text with this demonstration I have posted many more photographs of the painting as it proceeded. Many considered this  his best work of the course. It resulted in a beautiful painting. The painting of the flowers, fruit and croissants were a masterclass in the use of imaginative colour. The way in which he proceeded mirrored that of other demonstrations as he uses the same tecniques whatever the subject.

Basically this is the end of the demonstration section. There are two more items to follow. One is an overview of the course and something about fellow students. I may do something about the courses I have been on later, when I've had more time to consider and reflect about them .The last part is something I was going to call `An Interview with Charles Reid' but on reflection I think it will be a conversation  because this describes it better. Actually it will be the result of several short conversations and a slightly longer one on the final day. 

I should have mentioned that an exhibition was held at 6pm on the evening of the final day. Each student was asked to pick two paintings and exhibit them in the same room where we painted. Anyone staying at the hotel were welcome to view them.

Gilles Durand

Ian Wright
Doug Cushman
 I've had a comment from a painting friend (criticism!) that more student paintings should have been shown so I've added all those I photographed. Apologies to those I wasn't able to identify.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Charles Reid at Crantock - Day Four

On Tuesday, the fourth day of the course, the subject was `Still Lifes'. This is one of Charles specialities where he combines flowers with a variety of other objects. They aren't pure flower paintings but paintings with flowers in them.

The duck was added later and some rearrangement took place.

Initially Charles began with Schut Flamboyant 250gsm 50% cotton paper. This was at the request of his wife who particularly likes the effects created on this paper, which is extra rough. Charles started with a silhouette at top. Draw some and then paint, make sure white shapes are large enough. No details initially. Draw with brush, not over much pencil work. Be very careful with white flowers not to make the details too dark. Tonal values were explained once more. Charles considers them far more important than colour. If you get the tonal values right that's half the battle. Make more light and shade in lighter flowers but do the negative shapes first. This is the only way to get form in lighter flowers. Make the shading quite light otherwise it won't look right. He then began painting using Cadmium Yellow + blues for his greens. A little Raw Sienna added to warm them up. The brush was worked in an up and down motion using colour straight from the paint wells. By this time it was obvious he was not happy as the paper did not seem to be taking the paint very well. After a pause he decided to scrap it and start again! Fortunately Judy was absent at this time and only returned when the second attempt was well under way.

The Schut disaster - as Charles says `mistakes are part of it'! He actually progressed further than this and it wasn't looking good.

This time the paper was Schut Noblesse which he compares favourably to Fabriano. As time had been lost he really got a move on with this painting. After the drawing was completed he started using a No12 brush. This is the largest one I've seen him use and he did switch to smaller sizes later. While Charles was painting almost vertically he indicated this was not his normal preference, which is to have the board at 35/40 degrees. It was interesting to note how he dealt with the three groups of small coloured flowers by reducing the number and making the individual blooms larger. When he painted the pepper he used Alazarin Crimson + Cadmium Red plus Cobalt Blue for the dark areas. He said Cobalt is his favourite blue. The lemon was painted with the cast shadows Raw Umber. The duck was Cobalt Blue, Raw Sienna, Viridian and Cerulean. After this he painted the sky followed by the background. He added an Avocado on the right hand side. He painted a yellow pepper on the left hand side and added another brush just touching the original one but at a different angle. Finally some small areas were overpainted. Then he stopped.

 Still Life - Schut Noblesse  300gsm 50 x 40cm Not

After lunch the students selected a still life arrangement of which there were several spread over the two rooms. I elected to attempt the one that Charles had done. Later at 6pm a critique took place.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Charles Reid at Crantock - Day Three

It was decided to go to the National trust property Trelice, a few miles from West Pentire, on the Monday of Day Three and paint plein air. After it was discovered the house and grounds did not open until 10.30am, Charles decided to have an improvised question and answer session. What developed came about when Mick Carney asked a question regarding how to keep paints wet, as his experience was they tended to dry on him. Actually it was a fascinating discussion since it seemed to spark Charles off and gave him the chance to emphasize some of the things he holds dear and which he believes many students fail to grasp. During his initial thoughts he mentioned the Australian artists Robert Wade and David Taylor, both excellent watercolourists, although I don't recall the exact context.

The Charles Reid way, described in his many books and demonstrated in his videos, is to dip the brush into the water pot, roughly one third of the length, and then give it a good shake ( or two) before digging it into the  paint.  Don't take too much water out by wiping on a tissue for example. He suggested we think of the brush as a fountain pen water + paint. Don't stroke onto the paper and avoid the errors of too much paint not enough water and the reverse. This is one of the keys of getting things right. Place paint adjacently and don't smooth things out! Be cruder! Charles also demonstrated the way to see if the paint is the right consistency.

Hold the box near vertically and if the paint runs it has too much water.

We then had a demonstration of what this meant in practice and how to get the balance right between hard and soft edges, plus combining colours wet into wet. In my view the two best books explaining these tecniques are the most recent `Watercolour Solutions' and the 2001 `Painting Flowers in Watercolour'. ALL his tecniques are fully explained, contour drawing, brushwork and paint mixing. The flower book is accompanied by two very good videos.

The discussion became quite lively with him saying there were too many `strokers' amongst the students and many denied doing it. He is adamant you must not stroke with the point of the brush because, apart from anything else, it will quickly wear out. One student comment, very good humouredly, was that `we're all liars and strokers then'. This evoked a gust of laughter but he was getting his points across in a quite forceful way. I thought it was a very useful session and so did the others. We then departed for Trelice.

A closer look - combining colours

Charles and umbrella

When we arrived at Trelice the weather was still marginal. It was heavily overcast, some wind and very light drizzle. Only two or three had brought painting umbrellas, so the choice for others was paint and brave the elements or watch Charles. I elected to watch although this wasn't easy as you can see from the photograph. Those that painted in the morning suffered very light drizzle which accumulated on the paper and made painting a real problem, still several battled on. Charles, under his umbrella gave a  masterclass in painting a complicated building in adverse conditions. 

First steps. The stone lion, which you can just see in front of him was the starting point together with one of the party who had set up much nearer the house. He made the lion much larger than the actual statue which was considerably worn.. When painting outdoors Charles draws a section then paints, draws then paints, not completing the drawing before painting. The rational for this is that conditions are always changing when outdoors. They didn't change much here but he still  followed this procedure.

This sequence shows how the painting developed

 Two closer views

Note how there are no large washes. Quite a lot of splashing! See how colour has been introduced into what is a largely gray building even though there is much texture in the walls. Variation at every turn and simplification. Considering the conditions it was a brilliant effort and one my wife thought excellent, when she saw the finished painting back at the hotel. The way the subject was tackled gave me (and others) considerable food for thought. He used his small Craig Young Sketchers box and Escoda 1214 Kolinsky retractables. He has tried Escoda in the last two years and likes them. The normal equivalent is the1212 series.

After a break for lunch at the cafe in a converted barn people soon began to drift off back to the hotel, and by about 3.30pm that was it. There was no critique that night. It wasn't the best day of the course but had its moments.