Commission a Portrait

Alan Reed

CastleGate Portraits Painted in oils

On the 9th September 2015 a project was finally unveiled which I had been working on for two years. The artwork depicts a selection of portraits of people who are either past, present or future members of City Church Newcastle which Susan and I have been a part of since 1993. The portraits are hanging in the atrium of the CastleGate building which we bought as a church in the late nineties and is to reflect the vision of the church.

Most of the portraits have been painted from life over several sittings at my Studio & Gallery in Ponteland. Typically, each sitting would last a couple of hours which has been a mutually enjoyable experience for both myself and the sitter.

Part of painting someones portrait is not just capturing a good likeness but also about bringing out something of the persons personality and character. That comes from spending time in conversation with the sitter, getting to know them and bringing out an expression or “look” that is typically them.

I find that over the course of a two hour sitting, the light will often change casting either a shadow over part of the face or a highlight on another part which, when painted, really helps to describe something about that person. This has always been my aim since investing a huge amount of time in studying portraiture over the last four years. It’s not just about developing a good, sound painting technique in oils but producing a piece of art which people can really connect with, whether they know the person or not. I find that when I’m studying John Singer Sargent’s portraits, I’m really captivated, not just by the painting but the subject too. I somehow feel as though I’d like to meet them.

Alan Reed

Atrium of the CastleGate

If you would like to Commission a Portrait then why not visit the CastleGate on Melbourne Street, Newcastle to take a closer look at the 24 portraits which have been painted in oils on aluminium panels.

To find out more about the process of commissioning a portrait you can also visit my website or Studio & Gallery in Ponteland.


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Sargent Studies

Charcoal Studies of Sargent Portraits drawn at The National Portrait Gallery

A few weeks ago I was asked to write an article for the website of a new initiative here in the North East called Drawing?

Drawing? is a 6 month long, region wide programme of exhibitions and events which aims to explore drawing in art and culture and also in other areas such as science, design and technology. The project is a partnership between The Customs House, Sunderland University, Newcastle University, Northumbria University and mima (Teesside University) and is being co-curated by Esen Kaya and Mike Collier.

Below is the article which I wrote describing the reasons why I draw but it’s well worth visiting the Drawing? website to find out more from other artists too.

Drawing is and always will be the main foundation of my creative process. Many visual artists and painters do rely heavily on photography to pull together the material from which they paint from. There’s nothing wrong in that, however I do feel that the discipline of drawing and observing from life is a valuable tool that can enrich the flow of creativity.

For me, one of the main uses of drawing is research. If I’m going to an exhibition, I am armed with a moleskine sketchbook and some charcoal pencils. A good recent example would be the John Singer Sargent “Portraits of Artist’s and Friends” at the National Portrait Gallery. I will typically spend several hours sketching the portraits on display as a means of achieving a deeper appreciation of Sargent’s use of tone, lighting and his characterisation of his sitters. The studies and techniques that I record in this kind of research are then translated from charcoal pencil on paper to a brush loaded with oil paint on to canvas when I come to do my own portrait paintings. I strive to keep the brush strokes as lively, free and expressive as those rendered from observation.

Likewise, if I’m painting a landscape or cityscape I will often paint the scene on location “en plein air”. This time however, the drawing element is achieved by using a brush, drawing directly with watercolour paint on to the paper. I rarely pre-draw the scene in pencil. This very spontaneous, direct approach means I can produce a very fluid and loose “drawing” that can prove to be invaluable when it comes to creating a larger studio painting where I may also harness the use of photography for topographical accuracy. The observational studies will help to prevent any slavish copying of the photographs that could result in a more sterile, static painting.

I also draw simply for the “fun of it”. Regular drawing helps my hand to eye co-ordination and enables me to be more visually selective when painting in the studio. It’s much easier to focus on the main point of interest when you’re drawing from life. This “focus” can be realised by using stronger, more direct lines on the areas that are really important. Conversely, the use of less fussy, more simplistic line work on background areas helps to create a composition that has more visual impact. Again, this can translate well when it comes to painting. I’ve been painting professionally for over 30 years and I’m drawing more now than I ever have done, not just to maintain my technical skills as a draughtsman, but to stay connected in a deeper flowing stream of creativity.

One of the links on this post is an affiliate link to a product which I personally use, available from Amazon. If you click on the link and buy the product then I will receive a small percentage of the sale from Amazon at no extra cost to yourself.

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Sketchbook Painting

Sketchbook watercolour

View from the Relais il Canalicchio

Our first trip to to the region Umbria in Italy was in the spring of 2002. We stayed at the Relais il Canalicchio which boasts commanding views over the Umbrian countryside. In fact the owners of the hotel commissioned me to do a painting of the Relais which is available as a limited edition print.

On one of our trips out to explore the region we ventured further afield and visited the Fabriano paper factory in Le Marche. I couldn’t resist purchasing several leather bound sketchbooks containing their beautiful hand made paper. It’s a delight to paint on.  You initially feel a little scared to paint in these books in case you mess up!

I did pluck up the courage though and one evening I painted the view from out window, a simple composition of a small farm building silhouetted against the warmth of the spring evening light.

These are the kind of subjects that I would be encouraging guests on our painting holidays in Italy to paint. I would be leading by example but also overseeing their work, deciding on the right composition, advising on choice of colours, sequence of washes and of course making sure that they don’t spoil the painting by overworking it.

Nowadays there are some excellent sketchbooks available in the UK and online containing good quality paper to paint on. I also recommend the Arches watercolour blocks for slightly larger paintings. A 14″ x 10″ or 12″ x 9″ containing rough paper which is small enough to pop into a bag with the rest of your painting gear.

I usually have a range of materials available from my Studio & Gallery in Ponteland, Northumberland. To find out more about our painting holidays in Italy visit

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Art Exhibition with Demonstration

Art Exhibition with Demonstration

on September 17th 2015

at The Northern Counties Club, 11 Hood Street, Newcastle

The evening will commence at 6.00pm with a reception drink and canapés.

7.00pm – 8.00pm

Watercolour demonstration and viewing of paintings


Supper in the dining room

Alan has 30 years experience in teaching Art & Design. He is regularly asked to do watercolour demonstrations for Art Clubs and he takes his own Art Classes and Painting Holidays. He also does private lessons in painting and drawing. Taking commissions and portrait paintings from life is another one of Alan’s specialities.

Tickets are £25 and can be purchased by calling Alan on 01661 871 800

Network Artist Alan Reed Studio

Artist Alan Reed in Studio

Watching an experienced artist doing a painting demonstration can be a great help in understanding some of the techniques and methods that you can use if you’re looking to develop your own craft. When I’m doing a demonstration I will usually work on several paintings over the duration of the lesson so that no time is lost waiting for the paint to dry.

Whether you are an experienced painter or just a beginner I’ve no doubt that you will gain some benefit from watching me paint. As a taster, why not watch this short video of me painting on location.

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Watercolour by Alan Reed


I’m currently reading Andrew Graham Dixon‘s excellent, well researched book “Caravaggio A Life Sacred and Profane”. I recall being totally enthralled and inspired by the stunning exhibition of Caravaggio’s paintings at the National Gallery in London back in 2005 and wished that I’d had a deeper understanding of the Christian symbolism that is at the core of his paintings.

Andrew’s carefully thought out book which beautifully dovetails the relevant passages of scripture to each painting described, certainly enlightens the viewer to both the meaning of each masterpiece and provides a helpful insight to the Word of God that Caravaggio’s work aimed to bring to life in his generation as a catalyst to worship.

Over the years I have painted a number of watercolours which do contain symbolism and meaning beyond the surface depiction of a specific place or person, however I’ve always allowed the viewer to come to their own conclusion of any significance. On our recent Painting Holiday in Umbria, Italy I began to see another painting develop from a single sketchbook watercolour that I decided to paint for my own meditation and reflection.

One of our guests on the Painting Holiday is a talented pianist and a committed christian. Every day he would spend time playing the grand piano that sits in the beautifully restored church Chiesa del Carmine where we stay. In the evenings after our evening meal he would entertain us with some delightful rendition of “As time goes by” and “Somewhere over the Rainbow”. The symbolism in the painting is not too difficult to see as the scene portrayed is in a building that once was a dwelling place for believers as they gathered to worship. There are plenty of objects in the room setting that one can meditate on and use to bring scripture to mind to reflect on like the terracotta lion, the crucifix, the incense burner, the candle stands, the light streaming through the window and of course the piano itself being played by the believer. There are others which I will leave to the viewer to ponder and look for.

Back in 2004 we were staying at the nearby Casa San Gabriel and we took the scenic walk around the undulating valley. I stopped to do a small sketchbook water-colour of the old church, then in ruins, overgrown and looking totally dilapidated. I remember thinking at the time it would be great to take this ruined structure and restore it, however I never envisioned that I would actually be staying there and painting it with a group of guests!

The actual quality of the restoration is of the highest standard, right down to the smallest details. Chiesa del Carmine has a fully fitted kitchen, dinning room, living room and toilet and is the perfect place to relax, read, listen to music or even play music. The villa next door has also been restored to the same high standard and can accommodate 14.

Our week in May 2016 is now fully booked up. There is availability for the week in June 2016 and we may do a week in September 2016 too. Please contact us if you would like to receive further details.

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Great Review from a Client

Watercolour of the Arch of Titus

Arch of Titus, Rome


I’ve been working on a number of painting commissions of Rome for a new client. Last week I sent out one of the paintings so I was very pleased to receive the following review today for the original watercolour of “The Arch of Titus”.

This particular painting is based on a sketchbook study painted on location and a number of photographs. I felt that it was important to take care in capturing the Latin inscription and the scene under the arch itself that shows the spoils of Jerusalem. However, it was also important to retain the spontaneity of the sketchbook study too.

“Dear Alan,
I fear singing your praises as you may decide to raise your price for future work.
But worthy praise should be given heartily and your work is spectacular – worthy of the Emperor himself!
Thank you.
I look forward to the forum and other works.
Enjoy the weekend.”


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Summer Exhibition July 2015

Summer Exhibition

All are welcome to join us on 11th July 2015 for our Summer Exhibition.

Enjoy luscious strawberries and Prosecco whilst browsing beautiful paintings.

Today we have been packing up invitations and brochures to send out to our valued customers.

If you are not on our mailing list and would like to receive one then please contact us and we would be happy to send one out to you.

The brochure displays new paintings and prints, also information about commissions and news of our Painting Holiday.



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Painting Holiday

Alan Reed Painting Holiday

Demonstrating how to paint in the grounds of Chiesa del Carmine

We have just returned from another successful Painting Holiday in Umbria, Italy. Six of our guests from our Painting Holiday in 2014 joined us again this year and  all nine guests hope to return in 2016.

The venue this year was the recently restored church Chiesa del Carmine, a building that was in ruins which I first painted on location back in 2004. I never dreamed that one day I would have the privilege of painting in, what is now, beautifully landscaped gardens.

The accommodation itself is stunning and is the perfect place to chill out and relax. There are plenty of subjects to paint in and around the property (which we did) but we also enjoyed a couple of day trips out and about.

The first was the small hilltop town Todi, just south of Perugia. We based ourselves in the piazza and painted the architecture before enjoying a delicious pizza at a nearby restaurant. 


Alan Reed Painting

Watercolour Sketchbook Study of Todi, Umbria


After lunch we continued painting the town, this time from a vantage point where we could tackle the terracotta roofs and countryside.

The second day trip was to the market at Umbertide where guests enjoyed wandering about in the warm sunshine followed by lunch in Gubbio, a larger town that boasts the remains of a Roman Teatro and a network of typical Umbrian street scenes.

The painting guests tackled a rather challenging stone fountain, appropriately named Fountain of Madness.

I too had a go painting the fountain but also painted a sketchbook watercolour of the nearby street, capturing the contrasts between the sunlit areas and shadows.

The owners of Chiesa del Carmine offered a 250 Euro prize to the best painting of the week that captured the venue. All the painting guests spent considerable time tackling what was a very difficult subject and the results were not easy to judge. We had an informal critique at the end of the week of all the paintings produced where I also announced the winning painting which will go on display in Chiesa del Carmine.

Alan Reed Painting

Sketchbook Watercolour of Street scene in Gubbio

We’ve already booked the same venue our Painting Holiday next May but this time over two weeks as many more folk have expressed an interest in coming. Please contact for further information.



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John Singer Sargent

Richard Ormond & Elaine Kilmurray

Portraits of Artists and Friends

One of the “must see” exhibitions of 2015 has to be the John Singer Sargent, Portraits of Artists and Friends show at the National Portrait Gallery, London. It is accompanied by a terrific new book by Richard Ormond who is the co-author (with Elaine Kilmurray) of the Complete Paintings  of his great-uncle, John Singer Sargent.

In many ways, for an artist like myself, this new book is one of the best by Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray as it contains full size plates of many of the paintings featured in the exhibition and a few of Sargent’s more well known works like Lady Agnew. The book is available from the National Portrait Gallery Shop for £35 (extremely good value) or you can buy it online from Amazon. 

The advantage of the larger plates is that you get a closer view of the amazing brush marks and texture that Sargent used to such great effect.

What is apparent in this exhibition is just how Sargent appears to be even more relaxed and confident in the company of those close friends who were celebrities in their own right. Auguste Rodin, Claude Monet and Antonio Manchini are amongst the cast of artists. Also included are the well known writers Robert Louis Stevenson and Henry James together with a number of famous singers, musicians, dancers and actresses.

Although these portraits can be seen as informal on one level, they also show just how creative Sargent was at getting his subject to sit for him. For example, I find his portrait of his mentor Carolus-Duran utterly engaging. I flit between seeing myself as the one being challenged to paint Sargent’s Parisian master. Or being tutored by Sargent himself, with him watching my tentative efforts at the easel. Finally I stand back as a bystander, watching the intimacy of the young Sargent in full concentration, considering each brush stroke, then wiping it away to replace it with a stroke executed with even greater authority.

The poses themselves are very well considered in terms of composition, lighting, movement and mood, helping us to enter into Sargent’s personal world and to connect with his friends.  He woos us with his virtuosity and skill with the brush. His draughtsmanship and use of colour is both breathtaking and full of life. Sargent gives us a privileged insight into his world and creates within us a hunger to discover more.

I went to exhibition in March, armed with my moleskine sketchbook and an array of charcoal pencils. I managed to draw 8 of the portraits on display which was pure fun, particularly later on in the afternoon when the crowds began to thin out and I was able to get much closer to the paintings.

Sargent Portrait

Charcoal drawing of Ernest-Ange Duez after John Singer Sargent

The exhibition continues until 25th May 2015. Go to the National Portrait Gallery website to book your tickets.

Some of the links on this post are affiliate links including the book “Sargent, Portraits of Artists and Friends” available from Amazon. If you click on the links and buy the books then I will receive a small percentage of the sale from Amazon at no extra cost to yourself.

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Matthew Tuckey Portrait

Matthew Tuckey Portrait in oils.

At the start of 2011 I was approaching the grand age of 50. It was a period of my life where I began to take a longer, more reflective and honest look at my life on a number of different levels, personally, spiritually, my family life and my career as an artist. One of the outcomes of this time of reflection was the decision that I needed to invest more time in developing and exercising my skills as an artist to ensure that I was making the most of the gifts God has given me.

I felt that to improve as a watercolourist, it would be good to venture into some new subject matter and a different medium which would help me to progress as an artist in terms of both technical skill and creativity.

I had always been an admirer of the paintings of John Singer Sargent who was a highly skilful watercolorist but he was also a brilliant portrait painter. An interest in portraiture was birthed within me and I began to make some serious studies into portrait painting, investing considerable time, energy and resources into finding out how to become how to become an accomplished portrait artist.

Although working from photographs can help you to achieve some good results, there really is no better way to paint a portrait than working from life. As you study the persons features and engage in conversation you begin to develop a unique relationship with the sitter and you try to bring something of the model’s personality, expressions and character into the painting.

In many respects it’s similar to painting a landscape in watercolour. You want to capture the mood and atmosphere of the place you are painting to the point where the viewer feels as though they are actually in the landscape or cityscape, evoking memories about the place or creating in them a desire to visit the place you have painted. With a portrait, you want the viewer to connect in some way with the person captured in paint, whether they know them already or not.

When learning to paint portraits from life, one of the biggest challenges is finding willing models to sit for you and of course the time to paint them. So when I was approached by City Church, Newcastle in 2013  to produce a series of portraits of some of the church members which would reflect  the vision of the church, I realised that this would be a win win situation for all concerned.

The vision of City Church is to be a church of thousands, expressing God’s heart and love for everyone on Tyneside. The artwork that I have been working on since October 2013 is a number of portraits showing the diversity and life of City Church, Newcastle, ranging from small children, teenagers, young adults to older members. Also, the church is made of people from different ethnic backgrounds, so again, the portraits reflect that cultural diversity.

I learnt early on in my career as a watercolourist when to actually stop working on a watercolour painting. If you overwork a watercolour, you run a very real risk of spoiling it and there’s no going back to making it better. Oil painting is quite different. You have the luxury of painting over mistakes and re-working brush marks to make corrections or improvements.

After painting the first 10 portraits, almost exclusively from life, I came to a realisation that I had to find a creative reason to finish each one. Because of my own high standards and desire for perfection (which I’m never going to achieve!) I kept seeing aspects of everyone’s portrait that I wanted to change to try to improve it. I came to the conclusion that I would leave some of the portraits deliberately “unfinished”. The idea behind that decision is that all of us who are Christians are a work in progress. We are growing in maturity to being like Jesus but non of us will be like Him until we see Him face to face. My choice of who is “unfinished” is not any judgement on that particular person’s spirituality, but much more of a random choice. The unfinished look is also an acknowledgement on my part that I’m not the “finished” artist that God intends me to be, I’m still learning all the time.

I now have 22 portraits painted in oils on aluminium panels that will hang collectively in the atrium of the CastleGate, accompanied by testimonials of City Church members. It’s been a genuine privilege for me to spend time with the folk I have painted. What is also interesting is that several members have moved on which also reflects the transient nature of a thriving church community. God is also on the move, leading people to fulfil their destiny, which is not always going to be in Newcastle. This project has been a significant part of my development as an artist and as a member of City Church, Newcastle. I’m hoping that the paintings will be hung sometime late May, early June with an official launch later on in the year.

The photograph above is of Matthew Tuckey after his first 2 hour sitting.

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