Tag Archives: brush

Rosso e Nero (Rialto Fish Market) A painting in Stages

Rosso e Nero Finished Painting Stage 8

Rosso e Nero Finished Painting Stage 8

In February 2004 my wife and I spent several days in Venice with my parents. We booked an old Venetian apartment through a website called Venetian-Rentals that was lavishly furnished with old books and paintings. The plan for this trip was to get some fresh reference for me to do some new paintings of Italy.

On one particular day we checked out the fish market by the Rialto Bridge and I came across this amazing scene, full of life, movement and colour. After doing a 14” x 10” preparation study, I drew out the composition with a B pencil on some very rough Italian hand made paper from Fabriano, 28” x 20” which you can see in Stage 1.

For Stage 2, I applied a mix of yellow, cadmium yellow and lemon yellow to set the right base tones for the sheeting which protects the market from the elements. The brush used was a Stratford & York size 20.

Stage 3. Once the yellow areas had dried, I made a red mix of Vermillion Hue and Cadmium Red and began to apply it wet on wet on the floor area to re-create the effect of the red tarpaulin being reflected in the wet flooring. The heavily textured paper helped to keep this part of the painting loose and fresh. The tarpaulins were rendered wet on dry as I wanted to have their edges clearly defined.

Stage 4. This part of the painting is where I began to form the title in my mind, Rosso e Nero (red and black).

I made up three separate colours in saucers, Vandyke Brown, Payne’s Grey and Lamp Black and began to build up washes with these stronger colours for the floor areas. The background arches were picked out using the point of the number 20 Stratford and York brush.

Stage 5. Over the years I have spent hours observing and drawing people in urban settings. I have developed a style where it is possible to identify different individuals by their stance, gesture and movement.

I tend to draw with the brush for each figure rather than relying in lots of pencil work, but at the same time, I don’t get too involved in too much unnecessary detail. I want the figures to appear as though they are part of the painting and yet moving through the scene.

Stage 6. It was simply a matter of painting the figures that were going to bring the scene to life. The danger is to over work them and make them look too static, so it’s vital that the brush marks are kept simple and fresh.

Stage 7. The last few figures really helped to make this scene work. The older couple look typically Venetian, stolling around the various stalls, looking for the right piece of fish for their evening meal. Will it be risotto or pasta for their starter and how will they cook their main meal and with what vegetables? Building up the darker areas around the figures helps to add depth and substance to the overall scenario.

Stage 8. The final painting which was sold from my 20th anniversary exhibition in 2004 to some friends of ours which I’m pleased about, as I get to see the original every time we visit them.

I was so pleased with the finished result that we decided to publish it as a limited edition giclee print with only 20 in the edition. You can see a framed copy at my Studio & Gallery in Ponteland.

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Drawing People

TIP 10 Study People

In my first tip I talked about drawing from observation. Drawing people isn’t easy, particularly if they are not deliberately posing for you, but the results can be rewarding if you stick at it.

A useful tip is to draw people walking about without actually looking at the paper. These can be described as “gesture” drawings. You are capturing the movement and gesture of the person more than anything else.  These will take seconds to do. You can quickly fill a page in your sketchbook with lots of small studies, some of which will probably look rubbish, but others will capture something of the person you were observing. Use a biro, or if you are feeling confident, try watercolour and draw with your brush. I’ve posted some examples from some of my sketchbooks for you to see.

The first 3 images are the gesture drawings I have described, one in pen, the other two with a brush. The important thing is to capture the movement of the people passing by.

The next three are of figures which are more static, so I have the luxury of being able to have a few more glances at the paper.

I was sitting in a cafe in Newcastle when I did the series of studies of the two elderly ladies chatting away. In this drawing , I fixed my eyes on a point on their hair line and looked along the profile of their face, at the same time, moving the pen the same direction over the surface of the paper. The result is almost a caricature of the women.

Painting outside the entrance of the Mubarakiyya souk in Kuwait was great fun. I did several studies (using a combination of all the techniques mentioned above) which were the inspiration for a studio painting which I have since reproduced as a limited edition print.

I hope these tips are an encouragement for you to pick up a pen and sketchbook and have some fun drawing people. My sketchbook studies of Oman have now been published as a limited edition facsimile sketchbook. I have copies in my studio & gallery in Ponteland.

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Remember Tony Hart & Morph


When using watercolour, change your water regularly. As soon as it starts getting discoloured, rinse out your jar and replace it with clean water. I usually have two jars on my drawing board. One to take off the paint on my brush, the other to get the brush really clean.


Alan Reed’s Water Jars

In the background you can see a silver container that I use to hold extra water whilst painting on location. I use both painting boxes whilst working outdoors. The smaller of the two also contains water.

I found this plastic model of Morph whilst walking my dog. The animated Morph used to feature in Tony Hart’s television program Take Hart which was an inspiration to millions of children including myself. He passed away at the age of 83 in January 2009. You can still see some clips of Tony on YouTube.

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Top Sketch Book Tips

Tip 4

Try drawing with a brush and paint with one colour or a limited palette instead of using a pencil. You will achieve a quality of line that will vary in thickness which should look more interesting. You will also become more confident about handling a brush which should help you with your studio paintings.

Central Station, Newcastle upon Tyne

Central Station, Newcastle upon Tyne

I recommend a small travelling brush for sketchbook work, or a size 20 Stratford & York for studio paintings. The study above was painted in about 30 minutes with a travelling brush using a limited palette. As with all my watercolour sketch book work, no pencil was used.

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Painting on Location

One of the most satisfying and rewarding disciplines I do as a painter is getting up early to capture the early morning light in watercolour. Over the last couple of years I’ve been fortunate to spend a week in Norfolk over the summer with my family, following in the footsteps of some of my watercolour heros, particularly Edward Seago.
Alan Reed

12″ x 9″ Original Watercolour of Burnham Overy Staithe

Burnham Overy Staithe is a painters paradise. The low lying land means you get the extremes of either low or high tide and of course the dramatic big skies which are always a challenge to paint. This particular scene was commenced about 6am at low tide with the sun attempting to break through the grey clouds which were scurrying across the sky.
As usual, I tackled two paintings, one in my sketch book, the other on a 12″ x 9″ Arches watercolour block of rough paper. The advantage of doing this is that whilst one is drying, you can crack on recording the ever changing scene with the other painting. One can keep alternating between the two, so the whole process is a very intense painting period. The sketch book study is always the more simple study, mainly because it is smaller, therefore one does not have as much space to fit in detail. There is no pencil work in either study as I prefer to “draw” with the brush directly on to the paper. This means you get a very expressive free brush stroke which brings a freshness to the work.
What I have ended up with is two, quite different renditions of the same scene which I hope to work up into a much larger painting at some point in the future. The photograph provides some valuable topographical information to supplement the watercolour studies. The challenge with the studio painting will be to retain the spontaneity of the location paintings.
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