Thursday, June 20, 2019

RIP Charles Reid (1937 - 2019)

The extraordinary and incomparable watercolour painter and art instructor Charles Reid died on 1st June 2019.


I'm sure all of us who were fans of him all have our own memories of "our connections" with Charles Reid - even if we never ever met him.

These are mine.....

When I first got interested in art again - as a much-needed creative diversion from number-crunching (after the long slog through my first degree at Cambridge and then the exams for my accountancy qualification) -  one of the very first painting instructors who appealed to me was Charles Reid.

I'd spend hours in the art shops salivating over the watercolour paints and then spent what seemed like forever sat in the book section pouring over the latest brilliant art instruction book from Watson Guptill in the USA - trying to decide what I could afford to buy - paints or books or paint and books - and it was invariably the latter.

One of the artist/authors I loved best of all was Charles Reid. He just connected like no other art instructor at that time.

I never became a good watercolour painter, preferring dry media to wet, but my eyes were opened to art-making while reading his books.

I absolutely loved his washy way of watercolour painting which had sensational colours and glazes and blurs and mixes on the page. I bemoan endlessly the fact I so very rarely see paintings by a master painter who celebrated the attributes of watercolour in exhibitions of watercolour painting today.

I was awe-struck by the fact he left his watercolours drip down the page and was totally unphased by it. He left his graphite sketch included in the final work - for all to see. Surely this was breaking the laws of "proper painting"?

In time I came to see him very much as the contemporary successor to John Singer Sargent.

Somebody who always painted from what he could see and was always concerned with the effect he was trying to achieve.

recent images on his Instagram account - with that very memorable self-portrait in the middle
Who remembers the:
  • continuous line drawing?
  • the "big blur"?
  • the emphasis on seeing shapes and values as they presented themselves - and not as your brain tried to tell you they were?
  • highlighting the value of the backlit subject?
  • even more emphasis on the importance of edges - and "the lost and found"?
  • the focus on mixing interesting darks - on the palette and on the page - and the avoidance of black
  • and always always always - looking for connections and relationships within your subject - in line, mass, colour and tone... ?
What I liked about him was this teaching (in his books) was always very informal - and at the same time very thoughtful and considered - a bit like his paintings.

However, for me the most important thing was that his instruction wasn't about watercolour painting and 'how to paint' at all.

When I went to pull some of my Charles Reid books off my bookshelves I was amazed to find that absolutely none of them were in the watercolour section!  In fact I'd say I was panicking at that point!!!

They were of course elsewhere - on my composition and design shelves - and sitting with the other books in related subject matter.

That's because he was about so much more than about how to paint in watercolours or oil.

Below you can see the covers of just three of my books. I guess the most recent editions now have different covers.

I can't find my copy of Painting what you want to see (right) - but that's also a great book

I'd like to pay tribute to what he taught me by encouraging you to seek out these books if you've not read them previously - and have a good read - and then start applying his tips in your practice.

I rarely see them in bookshops anymore - more's the pity - but you can still find them all online.

Mine is the 1991 paperback - but it was originally published in 1985
I think this was the start of my Charles Reid journey. He was writing about things nobody else seemed to cover. It's a bit all over the place in terms of content - but lots of its is invaluable.

My hardback was published in 1991 and is now available in watercolour with a different cover
This book is all about "the essential elements of good picture-making" - it's all about composition - and there are pitifully too few good books about composition out there!

He shows you how to compose both in terms of how you paint - and also in terms of how you approach a painting from the very beginning
We see too much! Everything looks important; we're taught to think symmetrically and to give equal attention to all areas. Good practice built on solid design, which depends not on specific subject matter but on your ability to perceive any subject - figure or otherwise - in terms of colour, value, and shape. These are the essentials, the building blocks. Learn to work not from your head but from your eyes. Your real aim is to paint the light, not the thing itself. You have to train yourself to see the subject objectively rather than to identify with it, and to treat what's in front of you as a simple design problem. (Introduction to Part Six on Designing Paintings)


The book which really taught me how to look at people and how to record them
- and why I rarely sketch people with faces!
This book was published in 1994
Again, this is NOT a book like any other on how to paint a figure. I found it very influential - even though I wasn't painting in watercolour. It works whatever medium you use.

He emphasises that
  • painting figures requires drawing skills
  • contour drawing is important
  • how to use your brush and mix colours
  • how to deliver paint to your paper
  • the really important aspects of facial structure and features
  • how to compose and design figure drawings and paintings.

A short biography


The value of a man is in what he did. The most important thing he did was to teach very many people how to see, how to design and how to enjoy their painting

However he also did a few other things and this is a short summary extracted from his website and
  • born in Cambridge, New York
  • studied art at the University of Vermont and the Art Students League of New York. 
  • won numerous awards, including 
    • the Childe Hassam Purchase Prize at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, 
    • the National Academy of Design and 
    • the American Watercolor Society. 
  • In 1980 he was elected to the National Academy of Design. 
  • Public collections of his work include Smith College, Yellowstone Art Center, Brigham Young College, Roche Corporation, and the National Academy of Design. 
  • Reid was also a teacher who taught workshops around the world. 
  • Reid was also an author who wrote eleven books on painting in watercolor and oil - published by Watson-Guptill
    • 1972 - Figure Painting In Watercolor 
    • 1976 - Flower painting in oil 
    • 1983 - Painting What (You Want) to see 
    • 1985 - Pulling Your Paintings Together 
    • 1986 - Flower Painting in Watercolor 
    • 1989 - Portrait Painting in Watercolor 
    • 1991 - Painting by Design: Getting to the Essence of Good Picture-Making (Master Class) 
    • 1994 - The Natural Way to Paint 
    • 2004 - Charles Reid's watercolor Secrets
    • 2008 - Watercolor Basics: Learn To Solve The Most Common Painting Problems aka Charles Reid's Watercolor Solutions
  • Recent awards include 
    • a Purchase Award from Shanghai International Biennial Exhibition in 2013 and 
    • a Gold Medal from the Portrait Society of America in 2013.
You can find out about him:

His amazing art instruction books

I'd link to his website if it had links to his books - but it doesn't - so the links are to Amazon (USA - embedded in the title - and Amazon UK)

Echo Point Books & Media seems to have the licence to reprint his books - but I've no idea about the quality. I can certainly recommend the Watson Guptill versions if you can get hold of them (this is an instance where the older versions cost more than the recent reprints!)