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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Clips #15 and final Clip #16 are now up at You Tube for your viewing.

In  Clip #15 I add some distant seagulls and also darken the waves in spots.

Here is the link for Clip #15 . . .

Note: One more clip my final-final, #16, is done and will be uploaded shortly, demonstrating how I tone down the corners top strengthen the composition. Here is this link . . .

Photo of the finished demo painting (note: the colors in the photo below are more intense than in the actual painting):

I sincerely hope this series has been helpful to you in learning watercolor.

Stay tuned, more to come!


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Now ready for viewing: Clips 11 through 14

Continuing the “Seagulls and Surf at Sunset Bay” demo and getting close to the finale.
Will this demo ever end?! 🙂
About 2 more clips, I think.
Here are the links:

Clip 11  adding some dark accents in the cliff area and in the surf.

Clip 12   (continues Clip 11)  This is how the demo painting looks after this clip . . . .

Clip 13  adding more dark accents

Clip 14  Painting the Seatgull and Adding texture to the Foliage area

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Announcing: Clips 8, 9 and 10 are now available for viewing

Continuing the thorough watercolor demonstration of
“Seagulls and Surf at Sunset Bay” series . . .

In Clip 8  I paint the foliage area of bushes and trees just above the long cliff area at the left, using a mix-your-paint-on-the-paper technique for color variety.

In Clip 9  I soften some hard edges along the bottom of the foliage painting in Clip 8 above.  I also paint two the small cliff land formations at the right, including the green foliage tops.

In Clip 10  I paint the main line of pines at the top of the larger cliff area at the left, being careful to get variety  in spacing of the pines, their heights, along with my usual color variety.

Hope you are enjoying this series and getting some helpful know-how out of it!

We’re getting close to a wrap up: A few more pines, some details, including the gull, and that’s it.

Photo of the painting at the end of Clip 10 (notice the masking tape covering the large gull is not off the painting) . . .

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Clips 6 & 7 are now available to view . . .

Clip 6 is painting the shadows on the crashing wave foam AND also painting the “holes” of water showing through the flat foam area as it rushes forward over the beach sand.  clip #6…

Clip 7 is a quick review and summary of techniques used to paint Clips 1 through 6. If you think a review would be helpful to you, be sure to watch this. I get a second chance to tell you all I want to on how to actually do these techniques, hands-on. Clip #7 review…

ALSO, see BELOW for a write up of my notes on each part of the above video clip review…

Demo “Seagulls and Surf at Sunset Bay, Oregon”

1. Sky–wet-in-wet painting
Wet your paper and wait a minute or 2 or 3 until the paint sinks in a bit. Until the shine is ABOUT to leave. Don’t wait too long because the paper surface will start to dry and can cause likely ugly effects.
Get paint in your brush, a mix that is like whole milk or cream, and stroke on the color.
Key: The thicker the paint (the more paint to water ratio in your brush), the less the paint will spread on the wet paper. Also, the wetter your paper surface, the more the paint will spread and be rather uncontrollable.
Try not to fiddle, get the paint on your paper and leave it alone as much as you can. A maximum of 2 minutes is a good amount of time to limit it to, to do a sky, even a big one.

2. Cliffs–color variety and angle of brush strokes.
I aim for VARIETY in every possible way–variety is spacing of my painting strokes and their size.
Equally important, I vary the color BY: (1) painting on one color, (2) then rinsing my brush, touching a rag for a second to remove excess water, and then picking up another color, and (3) painting it a little into the edge of my still-wet previous color, so that they mix and mingle on the paper. This is a super-important color variety technique. It can eliminate boring, flat color areas.

Also, I “make my brush say the form” a popular saying in watercolor instruction, meaning form the shape you are painting and ALSO add in a little texture while doing so by aiming the brush stokes carefully. His is another super-key to watercolor painting, all painting really.

3. Sand, dry and wet–lifting out reflections with a damp brush
After I paint the sand.
Then I wait about a minute or so, and while it is still wet, I rinse out my brush and use it like a mop to lift out color from your STILL-WET wash. If you lift out the color too soon if will spread back into your mopped area too much, darkening too much that nice light mopped out area.
With light reflections, for a wet look on a surface, make them perfectly vertical. Again VARY the sizes and distances between each of them.

4. Sea–
I start with light value color in the furthest back area of the water, then getting darker as you paint forward.
I leave some unpainted white-paper areas to indicate foam caps on waves. Again varying size, shape, and distance between them.
I form the top of the crashing wave foam by negative painting it. Negative means I show the white foam by outlining its top with medium to medium dark sea color. I work at a variety of edges that are also rough, using mainly the knife edge of my flat brush.

5. Shadows on the crashing wave foam AND
Holes where the sea color shows through on the flat foam area streaming over the beach sand.

I paint medium value sea color at the bottom edge of the crashing foam with thin strokes that form a line of wet color, not all at once, but in segments. Then take a brush with clean water in it, touch a rag or paper towel or damp sponge to get about 1/2 to 2/3rds of the water out of it, the scrub the tops of the still-wet shadow color UPWARD, seeking to gradate these strokes of now-diluted color to unpainted white at the top of the crashing foam.

Next, I dilute my sea color a bit with water and paint the foam “holes” in the flat foam area just under the crashing foam wave. I work at varying their size, shape and the spacing between them for a random look. I soft some edges, again with a brush with clean water in it, most of it blotted out, and I use a tissue to blot some small areas for value variety. While my holes are still wet, I get some darker color, same color, and touch it in some random areas of some of the holes. Note: perspective–these shapes should be elliptical, not circles like round pie tins, and angled from side to side (diagonally or sometimes horizontally, not vertically) in the foam area.

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More Video Clips on my First Blog/You Tube Full Length Watercolor Demo

Title, once again “Seagulls and Surf at Sunset Bay, Oregon”
Below links to clips 4 and 5.
Clip #4, very brief “corrective glazes”

Clip #5 Starting the sea and surf areas, initial wash

Photo of the demonstration painting at the end of Clip #5 above, now almost half done…

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A N N O U N C I N G My First Demonstration

I’m going to start of with several clips. Several more are in the process of creation.

Note:  The clips are included below in order from top to bottom.  They are labeled this way at You Tube 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B, and 3–so far.  The “1A” and “1b” for example indicate that the first two below are really one continuous video clip that You Tube divided into two parts because I went over the 10-minute limit.

I’m learning how to video tape and edit my video tapes, so hang in there while I smooth out the rough edges.

Here they are.  More to come soon.

“Seagulls and Surf at Sunset Bay” Transparent Watercolor Painting Demonstration…

Clip 1A:  Introduction and Sky…

Clip 1B:  (Completes Clip 1A) …

Clip 2A:  Painting the Cliff area, Initial Wash …

Clip 2B:  (Completes Clip 2A) …

Clip 3:  Painting sand, wet and dry, reflections, and Sponging off dried color from your painting when it dried too dark a value…

I hope you find them enjoyable and helpful.

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Coming Soon–a multi-part, super thorough video demo!

As soon as I get some feedback from watercolor friends, I will be posting links to a series of You Tube video clips that will cover my painting of  a surf scene that includes crashing surf, wet sand, a real looking seagull, rocks, cliffs, pine trees and bushes. It’s title? “Seagulls and Surf at Sunset Bay, Oregon.”  See preview below…

If you want to learn transaprent watercolor as a beginner or get some help as an intermediate student of the medium–even if you are an advanced painter (who knows you might pick up something good!)–be sure to check back here.

Better yet, signup for my email announcement list, which will inform you via email of new postings (to do so, click on “Follow” at the top of this blog in the gray-bar area).

For a preview of the demonstration coming in a few days, here is a quarter sheet (11×15″) painting I did of the beach/surf scene.  Actually, I intended this for a demo but got so excited I started painting it, THEN remembered: “Wait! You were going to video tape this painting.”  Well, I wound up finishing it, and I am working on a second version, the demonstration, this one twice as big, that is about 14×21″. . .

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Bill Polm Watercolor

Watercolor and Art Making hints and instruction for intermediate painters

Key principles described and illustrated (see especially the You Tube video links) and fully explained.

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Hello world!

Hi, I’m Bill Polm.

I’ve been painting, drawing,  studying and selling watercolors for well over 30 years.

I’m basically self-taught, although I have taken a number of watercolor workshops from other artist/teachers in various places:  California (several), Colorado,  Maine.  I studied at the beginning of my watercolor work with Artist Ken Decker for 6 months on private mentoring, and then also with Robert Landry, Kolan Peterson, Timothy J. Clark, Tony Couch, Stephen Quiller, Richard Scott, and most recently in 2011 with Johannes Vloothuis in his several month webinar on composition (

My goal with this blog is to post some of the best available advice and most thorough demonstrations and explanations on watercolor painting, on how to actually do it well.  A lot of what I will share I have learned from other artists (and I will endeavor to remember to give proper credit!) and some is of my own invention–usually out of necessity or after making my own mistakes! In other words, in the process of learning.

This blog started to day June 27, 2011 at 130pm, so it is young in content.

I want to include links for video clips that show various ways watercolor is successfully done.  (Maybe even some demonstrations of how NOT to do it!). Also, photos of my paintings, worthwhile links, favorite artists, recommendations re good books or DVDs, and probably even more, like a journal of my own studies and progress from my ongoing life-long learning activities.

Welcome aboard and please be patient.  I’m a busy guy, coaching online, writing, giving my grandchildren attention, and so on.  And, I’m starting “from scratch” today to learn WordPress and how best to put together content on this website.

Hope you will like this blog and find it helpful–and visit often.

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