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The Artist

Alan Reed

Florence from Piazza Michelangelo

21. My style really began to develop when I was an art student. It improved through my desire to become a better watercolourist. More than ever, I am always seeking to improve my skills and to become the artist I’m meant to be.

22. I find that I’ve learned to know when to stop. Too many watercolours can be ruined by overworking them. I’d rather leave the painting looking slightly unfinished (it never does!) than overdo it.

23. The elements are the biggest problem. Changing weather conditions, especially the arrival of rain when the scene started off bright and sunny is a problem. I actually enjoy painting the rain from start to finish if I’m properly prepared. The painting above of Florence was inspired by a watercolour painted on location in the rain. My wife had to stand in the cold holding an umbrella over me!

24. If a watercolour goes badly wrong at the very start, then I’ll scrap it. If a small mistake occurs, then I can usually correct it by lifting out the offending area and re-painting it.

 

Alan Reed

Sight Size method in Studio

25. There are various techniques one can use to draw out a composition in the studio such as grids, sight-size, tracing etc. I’ve used many of them from time to time. However, I’m finding that over the last few years I’m doing more and more “drawing” with the paint brush. Indeed, with my location painting, I rarely use a pencil and prefer to paint directly onto the watercolour paper. The “Sight Size” method is is more a philosophy of seeing which I use when painting portraits.

26. At art college I had a brilliant lecturer called Laurie Stangroom who used to do artist’s impressions of buildings from architects plans. He taught me how to project the plans into any perspective you wanted through understanding picture planes, eye levels and vanishing points. It’s been a tremendous foundation for my watercolour paintings of cities. I like John Singer Sargent’s belief that painting is a science which is necessary to acquire in order to make of it an art.

27. I always start my watercolour work with large washes of colour to take away the white of the paper and to set the mood for the rest of the painting. It’s only when these washes are dry that I will begin to work on the main elements of the subject. I always work from light to dark in watercolour. If it’s a portrait or figure, I will work on a neutral tinted canvas (a mix of white, raw umber and black) rather than pure white. I like to make sure that the proportions are correct before commencing on any colour work. It’s usually best to get the mid tones in first before doing the darks and highlights.

28. I’m currently working towards my next exhibition at my Studio & Gallery at our home in Ponteland, Northumberland and a number of commissions. My wife and I are always seeking to improve our website www.alanreed.com to make it more interesting and informative, not just for online sales but as a resource for artists. We’ve already made a couple of painting videos and plan to do more in the future. The Artist in me is always wanting to move forward.

www.alanreed.com

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The Artist

Selection of Alan Reed Sketchbooks

Sketchbooks painted on location

This blog post continues on from the previous one where I have writing about my working methods, how I started my career as an artist and my artistic influences.

11. I use a limited palette with watercolours, Cadmium Lemon, Cadmium Yellow, Yellow Ochre, Raw Sienna, Rose Madder, Vandyke Brown, Payne’s Grey, Manganese Blue, French Ultramarine, Purple, Cadmium Red, Windsor Green, Purple and Lamp Black. For oils I use Lead White, Yellow Ochre, Light Red and Ivory Black. I rarely use any other colours.

12. For my watercolours I tend to use Stratford and York synthetic brushes, Winsor and Newton Artist’s Paints and either Arches or Fabriano watercolour paper. I sometimes use Two Rivers watercolour paper. For oils I use Old Holland Paints.

13. I’m often asked if I use masking fluid. Very rarely but on the odd occasion I find it helpful.
14. I tend to prefer early morning light and will usually try to avoid painting midday, particularly in the summer when the sun is high. I find painting sunsets “plein air” a little frustrating as your’e battling against the fading light. At least if you start a painting as the sun is rising you will have generally put down the right colours before they have changed which will then set the mood for the rest of the painting.

15. I will usually spend some time thinking through the composition and plan out the scene in my minds eye and in sketchbook form before starting on a studio painting.

16. Regarding art competitions, much will depend on my work schedule. 2013 was the first time I’d entered the Royal Watercolour Society Competition so I was delighted to have had my work accepted and recognized by The Artists Magazine and won The Artists Prize.

17. The hardest aspect of being an artist is the actual running of a business so that one can make a living to pay a mortgage and support a family, particularly during a recession.

18. I probably do about 4 or 5 paintings a month. However some will have taken a day and some will have been painted over several months.

19. Buildings and people are hard to do. I’ve spent considerable time working on both.

20. I started off my career admiring Rowland Hilder’s landscapes. Over the years I’ve been a great fan of Sir William Russell Flint, Winslow Homer, Edward Seago and Arthur Melville. They were all great draughtsmen which I think is essential when using watercolour and for painting portraits from life. At the moment I find myself drawn to John Singer Sargent, an extraordinarily gifted individual.  I will often warm up before I start a painting by copying a John Singer Sargent portrait sketch in my Moleskine sketchbook. I’ve even copied several of his portraits in oils like “Head of a Capri Girl” to help understand his techniques.

They have all been an influence one way or another. It’s good to study the techniques and skills of those who have been before and have left a rich body of work for others to enjoy.

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The Artist

Painting of Jebel Akhdar, Oman

Original Watercolour of Jebel Akhdar, Oman

In 2013 I won “The Artist Prize” in the Royal Watercolour Society competition with my painting of Jebel Akhdar, Oman. The prize was a 3 page feature in “The Artist” Magazine where the writer Susie Hodge interviewed me.

I’m regularly asked questions by art students about my working methods and how I started off as an artist so I thought it may be helpful for me to post some of my answers. Here are the first 10 answers.

  1. Although I had seen my father use watercolours and I had always admired Rowland Hilder’s paintings featured in the Artist’s Britain Calendars in the 1970’s it wasn’t until the age of 15 that I first tried them out at school through my art teacher. I immediately fell in love with the way one could achieve different colours by laying one wash on top of another. I enjoyed art at school, particularly when I came second in an art competition at the age of 9. With the prize money I purchased some poster paints which I then used to win first prize in another art competition the following year with a painting of Bamburgh Castle.
  2. There was never really any doubt in my mind that I wanted to become an artist, particularly with my father Ken Reed) being an artist and seeing my grandfather paint too.

    Alan Reed

    Winter Landscape after Rowland Hilder

  3. I left school at 16 and went to art college in Newcastle upon Tyne studying Graphic Design and illustration. At college we were introduced to lots of different mediums. None of the lecturers showed me how to use watercolour though. I recall starting to teach myself one summer holiday by studying Rowland Hilder’s paintings. I showed my efforts to my lecturers the following term and they were very encouraging. Some of them actually bought my paintings. I had my first exhibition as an art student in our local library and sold all 12 paintings exhibited. I started to receive commissions from the exhibition.
  4. A couple of years after leaving college I decided to go self employed as a full time artist at the age of 22 using the Enterprise Allowance Scheme. To be eligible you had to be unemployed for several weeks then open up a business account with £1000 in. The government would then pay you £40 a week for a year. I guess 99% of the businesses would have failed but it was a great help to me. I also did a couple of days part time lecturing in art and design around the North East which was an additional income. I gave up the lecturing around 2004 although I still do 3 or 4 watercolour demonstrations to various art clubs around the North East.
  5. The time I spend on doing a painting varies. If I’m painting “plein air” it will take an hour or two. I might spend a little time in the studio to finish it off if required. Studio paintings will generally take a day to two weeks depending on the size, subject matter and interruptions!

    Alan Reed

    Sketchbook Watercolour of the Arch of Titus

  6. If I’m painting a landscape or cityscape in watercolour I will use a combination of sketchbook studies painted on location and my own photographs. I sometimes have to work off the clients photographs on some commissioned work. If I’m painting a portrait in oils, then I much prefer painting from life over a period of 4-6 sittings rather than photographs.
  7. Choice of scenes will depend on if it’s a commission or for an exhibition. The client will often be guided by my own thoughts and ideas. I usually get an idea straight away of what’s going to work. When painting a landscape or cityscape, I’m wanting the viewer to feel as though they are a part of the scene before them, so creating mood, emotion and atmosphere are very much a part of my design.
  8. I will use artist’s license whenever necessary, sometimes leaving out cars, road signs and certain figures in a cityscape or adding in figures. I’ll often change the sky or add foreground shadows to create drama in a landscape.

    San Gimignano

    San Gimignano, Evening Sunlight

  9. I love to capture the hustle and bustle of city life with interesting architecture, particularly cities like Edinburgh, Bath, Newcastle, Florence and Venice. Coastal scenes like the West Coast of Scotland and Norfolk are also a favourite. I’m enjoying portraiture at the moment too.

10. Capturing mood and atmosphere, the fleeting moment of light striking a building or the first rays of sunlight in a Tuscan landscape really appeals to me.

Also trying to describe someone’s personality and psychology in a portrait is a really enjoyable challenge.

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Drawing

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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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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Frank Henry Mason

Frank Henry Mason

Pyramids at Gizza, Cairo

I’ve been a long admirer of the Marine Painter and Poster Artist Frank Henry Mason. Over the years one of my clients has collected Frank Henry Mason’s work and I’ve had the privilage of organising new conservation mounts for the paintings to go into.

In a blog post from 2012 I wrote about Frank Henry Mason which was picked up by a gentleman called Edward Yardley. “Ed” had written about Frank Henry Mason back in 1996 and to cut a long story short, I was able to introduce him to my client. The result of their meeting is a lovely new book about Frank Mason by Edward Yardley and a series of major exhibitions of Frank Henry Mason’s art over the next few months.

The first exhibition opened last night at Hartlepool Art Gallery in Church Square. It opens to the public Saturday 21st March and runs until the 30th May 2015. I went to the preview evening and I have to say, it’s probably the finest exhibition I’ve seen in the North East since the Winslow Homer Exhibition in 1988 at the Northern Centre for Contemporary Art in Sunderland.

Frank Henry Mason’s varied artistic skills are clearly evident in his delightful watercolours of sailing ships, fishing vessels, places like Venice, Portugal and the North East Coast. There are also dramatic seascapes depicting World War 1 & 2 navel conflicts, his carefully considered etchings and of course his stunning railway posters.

One of my favourites is this beautifully executed watercolour and gouache painting of Pyramids at Gizza seen in what looks like early evening light. The limited palate has been tastefully chosen to render the fading light. Flicks of red, ultramarine and pink add subtle sparkle to the scene. The crescent moon hanging off centre in the sky, just above the towering palm trees is a small but crisp contrast to the smooth, skilfully rendered washes for the sky.

Make no mistake, Frank Henry Mason was a very fine painter. This exhibition is an absolute must. If that wasn’t enough, another exhibition opens Saturday 21st March at Darlington Railway Museum of Railway Posters and Carriage Prints by Frank Henry Mason. Both exhibitions run until 30th May.

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Watercolour Tips

Favourite Artists

Watercolour Artists

I’m currently running a 6 week watercolour painting course at my Studio & Gallery in Ponteland. One of my top Watercolour Tips is to study the work of some of the great watercolourists.

There are a some terrific books available which are a “must buy” for anyone wishing to develop their watercolour skills.

Starting with Watercolour by Rowland Hilder is the first book on painting that I really took note of. Not only does it contain some great watercolour advice but also some good, simple examples of basic drawing principles like perspective, vanishing points and eye levels.

Another great book by Rowland Hilder is Painting Landscapes in Watercolour. It has a good number of paintings reproduced in stages from the start to completion. This is really helpful if you want to have a go at copying them. Copying paintings is a discipline which I totally endorse as part of the learning process.

One of the finest watercolorists is the American Winslow Homer. His watercolours are breathtakingly beautiful. A book by Helen A. Cooper on his watercolours will be a constant inspiration to anyone who loves this medium.

In June I saw a couple of brilliant exhibitions of Edward Seago paintings in London. One of the exhibitions at the Portland Gallery was to coincide with a new book on Edward Seago by James Russell. It’s certainly worth getting if you like his work. Another book to add to your Christmas list (which contains some larger plates of Seago watercolours) is Edward Seago by Ron Ranson.

For more Watercolour Tips you need look no further than John Singer Sargent. The recent book John Singer Sargent Watercolours which was launched in conjunction with a major exhibition of his watercolours in New York and Boston in 2013 is another inspirational book.

There are many other books on the market which I could recommend. These however, are amongst my favourites.

Some of the links on this post is are affiliate links to books which I personally read, available from Amazon. If you click on any of the links 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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Sargent Studies – A Daily Sketch

Gouache Sketch

Gouache Sketch of “Old Man with a Dark Mantle”

For the last few weeks I have been continuing with my daily discipline of a sketch a day. I try to do this for 20 minutes to an hour, 5 or 6 days a week, usually in my Moleskine Sketchbook. 

Most of my studies have been made with a charcoal pencil, however today I decided to do a gouache rendition of John Singer Sargent’s oil sketch of “Old Man with a Dark Mantle”. Although I would prefer to paint this in oils, the advantage of using gouache paint is that it’s quick drying.

I’ve photographed the palate, brushes and Winsor and Newton paints, together with the reference book I’ve used, John Singer Sargent Figures and Landscapes, 1883-1899 by Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray.

Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray have written some brilliant books on Sargent’s paintings which give a fascinating insight into his work.

To follow my daily sketches on twitter, go to @adailysketch

The links on this post are affiliate links to products which I personally use. If you click on the links and buy any of these products then I will receive a small percentage of the sale from Amazon at no extra cost to yourself.

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Sargent – A Daily sketch

Charcoal Sketches

Studies of John Singer Sargent Drawings

Every so often I like to set some kind of painting/drawing discipline to keep on top of my game. Good habits are hard to form and easy to break and sadly the converse of that statement is also true!

I tend to find that my regular sketching habit falls by the wayside, particularly if I’m busy with commissions or working towards an exhibition. However, despite being very busy at the moment working on a series of portraits in oils of City Church, Newcastle members, I’ve decide to set myself the goal of doing some kind of sketchbook study every day for about 10-30 minutes.

The two charcoal sketches above were drawn in my Moleskine Sketchbook and are studies of John Singer Sargent’s Portrait drawings. Making studies of this kind is a great way to develop your own drawing technique, particularly if you are unable to find a willing model to sit for you.

To see my daily (hopefully) sketches, you can follow my twitter accounts @artistalanreed and @adailysketch

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John Singer Sargent Watercolours

Sargent Book

John Singer Sargent Watercolour Book

One of my Christmas presents from 2013 was this lovely book on John Singer Sargent’s Watercolours. The book was published to celebrate a wonderful exhibition of one of America’s finest artists at the Brooklyn Museum in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston over the last few months.

John Singer Sargent Watercolours is available from Amazon. It contains 175 colour illustrations tracing Sargent’s painting trips across Europe and the Middle East as he explored the themes and subjects that truly interested him and recorded them with such skill in watercolour.

Sargent really took painting “en plein air” in watercolour to a new level as he tackled subjects as varied as figurative to landscape and boats to gardens.

The book contains some very informative biographical essays and fascinating studies into his watercolour technique which any student of this most difficult of mediums will find both insightful and inspirational.

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