Analysis of Charles Reid’s Watercolor Techniques…special post

Written especially for watercolorists young in their skills that read Charles’s books and view his DVDs . . . Probably those at, say, an intermediate level of learning.

His Way with Composition: Charles lets any center of interest in a painting happen naturally (i.e. without specific planning for them).  And he likes to have something interesting to look at in most major areas of the painting rectangle.


1.  He uses Da Vinci Maestros round brushes exclusively.  With moist, “goopy” paint, like just squeezed out of the tube.  Plenty of water, plenty of pigment in the brush.  He usually rinses his brush rinses and shakes it out, usually twice. Then he dips the tip of brush in the buttery pigment.  He mixes mostly–not on the palette–but on dry watercolor paper, that is he has the paint wet enough that strokes painted side-by-side and a little into each other mingle tegether,

2.  He usually works in an area that interests him, completing it, pretty-much to finish, then moves on.

3.  Each of these areas, sections of his painting, are like little wet-in-wet sections.

4. He usually starts in such areas with the sharp tip of his round brush to achieve hard edges with the precise tip of the brush, then presses the hairs of the brush down onto the paper and moves it side to side to fill an area.  This yields (1) random effects and (2) watery effects:  by pressing down the brush hairs onto the paper he release water from the brush hairs near the ferrule of the brush, thereby getting a watery, lost-edge effect.

Note: precision and hard edges with the sharp brushes tip.  Random, watery “accidental” effects with the body of the brush where most of the remaining water resides.

5.  He especially concentrates of capturing the varied values.

6.  His rich pigment (brush tip) captures the darker values; the watery, diluted effects depicts the lighter values.

Note: His look of realism comes from his closeup observations of the real things he is painting (i.e. from life).  Because Charles observes carefully and takes pains  (1) to draw accurately with his modified contour technique (frequently looking at his paper to gauge distances and angles) and (2) to  record the value changes, also accurately, as the vary across the area he’s painting at any given time—the look is real.

Note: He also constantly lets the paint “do its own thing”—paint it, modify it while it is still very wet, then hands off–which contributes to the random look of real things in light and shadow.

7. I would say th at about it 90% of his painting is finished a section at a time.  He leaves most of the the few details he includes to the end, and goes back into areas to emphasize darker values.  Usually to reinforce darks and hard edges, for example, that have dried lighter in value that he wants.

8.  Even though Charles’s paintings are very loose, he nevertheless wants to capture the look, the impression of reality.  He can at times“push the colors”that is often painting with pure tube pigments, with little mixing.  But more often than not, I think, he sticks to the colors he sees, trying to get them match accurately the objects or scene he is looking at as he paints.

9.  A guess as to how he arrived at his watercolor style (by the way, it is instructive to take a close look at his oils, which to me, wind up quite a bit tighter, much more precise): Through the years he made mistakes—like a puddle of very wet paint on his tilted paper cutting loose and running down and sometimes off his paper—and he at some point thought: I wonder what would happen if I just left it like that, left the mistakes in.  He found that this contributed to the look of “real” and did not detract from the overall impression the painting give the viewer.  So, he left the mistakes in and thus his style evolved.  In other words, I doubt that he started out intending to produce his hyper-looseness and left-in-mistakes, but he grew to appreciate and like the effect.  But, again, that’s a guess.

Stay tuned to this blog–more to come!

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