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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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Faded Prints

Alan Reed

Correct colours against a faded print

I have been having my original paintings published as limited edition prints since 1993. Initially it was through a publisher that was based in Edinburgh called Di Rollo Ltd. The publisher would organise the printing and ensure that the colours were as close to the original watercolour as possible. I would make the final approval then sign and number each print.

I also began to publish some of my work too and would over see the whole process. In the 1990’s all my prints were printed through a 4 colour lithographic process. In the last 15 years or so, the giclee method of printing has become much more popular with artists. The popularity with publishers and artists has grown for several reasons:

  1. The set up costs are not as high as the lithographic prints.
  2. Although the unit cost per print through giclee is significantly more than a lithographic print, publishers don’t have to print the whole edition in one go, so they don’t have to carry huge amounts of stock.
  3. Publishers can test the market with just one or two prints rather than being left with hundreds of prints if the image is not as popular as expected.
  4. The quality of the inks is far superior through the giclee process than with the lithographic prints so you are less likely to get faded prints.

Today I still sell both lithographic prints and giclee prints, however all my new prints are giclee because of the reasons outlined above.

Since my first paintings were published, I’ve been able to monitor the light fastness of the prints as I’ve seen them hanging on the walls of family, friends and clients. I can conclude that if the prints are hung away from sunlight, the colours remain strong. My sister in law has at least six of my prints which I see on a regular basis. She has been careful to hang them away from strong light. Only one has faded which was close to a large window.

Over the last few years, several clients have brought to me faded prints which they have hung in direct sunlight. The most recent is this lithographic print of the Grand Canal, Venice. I’ve recently replaced it with a giclee print for the client. Indeed, the lithographic version is no longer available, only the giclee.

Even though it is the full responsibility of the client to ensure that ALL their artwork is hung away from strong light, I like to show goodwill with any customer who has a faded print of one of my paintings, even if it is not one that I actually published.

I can replace faded prints at a trade price with a giclee print and I will sign and number it the same as the faded one. I can also put the new print in the frame for a small charge of £20- £30 depending on the size of the frame.

If you feel as though one of your Alan Reed prints has faded, please contact me on 01661 871 800 or email art@alanreed.com

 

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Italia! Magazine

Watercolour of Susan in The Basilica San Marco

Susan in The Basilica San Marco

I’ve recently been asked to write some responses to the Questions & Answers section of the Italia Magazine. Readers are encouraged to ask any questions they may have about Italy. From time to time, questions about painting in Italy crop up. Here is one from the March 2013 issue from a lady called Valerie in Weymouth.

Q. I have been experimenting with sketches and painting on my recent trips to Italy, but am not sure which medium to use. How do you choose between watercolour, oil or charcoal sketches – for example, does one suit landscapes or cityscapes more?

For me personally, choice of medium when sketching outdoors is usually a matter of preference and to a certain extent practicality. Also one needs to have some clear goals and objectives as to the purpose of the sketching.

When working “plein air” in Italia I’m often gathering reference material which will be a source of inspiration for some future studio painting. I find watercolour the ideal medium to capture the colour, mood and atmosphere of both landscapes and cityscapes. A small box of watercolour paints with a sketchbook can be easily carried about in a jacket pocket or small bag. It’s not too difficult to find a place to rest the sketchbook on like a wall, a table at a cafe or a fence if you’re painting in the countryside.

Watercolour painting does demand more skill but working small makes it less daunting. Italian cities are great for their wonderful shops selling leather bound journals and sketchbooks containing hand made papers. Find a book with a heavy watercolour paper and fill it with your studies of city life, architecture or the distinctive Italian landscape. You will hopefully create a delightful record of your travels in Italia which you can refer back to jog your memory or use for inspiration to paint. An alternative to buying a sketchbook in Italy is the Moleskine brand which you can buy in the UK.

I find that working in oils is more arduous in comparison. The drying time of the paint is longer and you will generally have to carry a lot more equipment like an easel, a bag to carry paints, turpentine, a range of brushes and your canvas/boards to paint on. It can be done but it’s a little more demanding.

An alternative to watercolour and oils is acrylic paint which is water soluble and dries quickly. It’s more forgiving than watercolour, allowing one to paint over mistakes.

Working in charcoal can be rewarding if you are not concerned about recording colour but you will also need some fixative (or hairspray) to stop your drawings from getting smudged.

Here is an example of how goals and objectives are important to choice of medium. Last year I was making some studies in the Basilica San Marco in Venice. I used a combination of watercolour in one sketchbook to record the colours and a biro in another for some of the architectural details. The sketchbook watercolour  is one of several studies I made on that trip in preparation for an oil painting I have been working on recently of Susan.


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