Tony contacted me having read my series of articles on the 5 Cís in Leisure Painter and, looking at my website, realised he lived only half an hour away.

Tony has only recently taken up watercolour painting but had done some drawing before.

He brought a portfolio of around ten paintings to the first session, some of which were copies of other artistís paintings and some of which were originals, painted from photographs. Tony had never painted en plein air. As we looked through his paintings it became obvious that he could draw but his paintings had no clear concept ( the first C) to identify the centre of interest and were rather flat because of a lack of understanding about tone values or contrast (the third C). He had a rudimentary knowledge of composition (the second C) but knew virtually nothing about colour (the forth C) or colour mixing. Some of his paintings were overworked which suggested that he did not know when to stop painting or when he had reached the completion stage (the fifth C).

In his first session we drew and painted an example of a subject I provided which illustrated concept, composition and particularly contrast. In my experience, peopleís paintings improve dramatically when they understand tonal values and how to use them. Our first painting was a tonal rendering in a single colour (ultramarine blue) of the subject based on a five-point tonal scale, which was painted before starting on the painting itself. The sample painting was printed off in grey-scale using my computer imaging system and annotated with numbers for each of the five tones. The importance of getting tonal values right and using them to direct the viewerís eye to the centre of interest was immediately obvious to Tony. The 3 x 3 grid system I teach almost guarantees good composition.

Two hours passed very quickly and I sent Tony away with another grey-scale example but with no numbers on it as Ďhomeworkí to paint before the next session. I also asked him to extend the five-point monochrome scale to a nine-point tonal scale, three light tones, three mid-tones and three dark tones.

When he returned for the next session it was clear from the tonal painting that he had done from the example I had given him and tonal paintings he had done of some of his original paintings that he was well on his way to understanding and using tonal values to transform his paintings.

Subsequent tonal work has involved painting a five-point tonal scale for each of the twelve colours in his paintbox, thus helping him to see colour as tone in preparation for the next C (colour).

He has also painted his original homework grey-scale example using only three colours following an intensive session which focused on colour and glazing.







This picture shows a painting Tony did before starting the coaching programme


This picture shows his painting of the same subject after completing the coaching programme.

Tonyís five coaching sessions have now been completed and here is Tonyís view of his progress.

"For years Iíd promised myself that once I had more time Iíd have a go at watercolour painting.  So in the period leading up to retirement I attended a couple of beginnersí sessions at a local art shop.  These taught me the very basics and served to whet my appetite for the challenge and enjoyment ahead.  After dabbling on my own for about a year, mainly based on watching Alwyn Crawshaw and Charles Evans reruns on cable television, I took the plunge and attended a three day residential course in Norfolk .  Whilst enjoyable and friendly, the fact that the tutor understandably had to work at the pace of the slowest in the group, meant the course wasnít the big leap forward Iíd been hoping for. 

However, the course did confirm that watercolour painting was a challenge I wanted to continue with as a long term interest.  At this point I compared my painting with my longstanding hobby, golf.  I realised that although Iíd been playing for 20 years I still needed regular coaching sessions with the club pro to work on the basics of my swing  and hopefully to improve my game as well.  Having made that connection, I worked through my back copies of Leisure Painter to identify two or three artists whose style I particularly admired and also visited their websites.  Robertís impressionistic line and wash style and his logical 5 Cís approach both appealed to me and I was delighted to discover that he offered a painting coach service and was only a 30 minute drive away.

At our first session Robert quickly identified the major weaknesses in the sample paintings I took along.  These were primarily a lack of tonal range and in many cases no obvious centre of interest.  Over three months and five coaching sessions Robert worked with me (always referring back to the 5 Cís) and set me Ďhomeworkí aimed at improving these and other areas.  Each session was enlightening and enjoyable, particularly painting en plein air on a beautiful spring morning in a Buckinghamshire watermeadow.  I was also lucky enough to join Robert on some of his inspirational and well-received art society demonstrations.

Although Iím still frustrated by my frequent failures, Iím happier with the paintings Iím producing now.  At least they have a centre of interest and a greater tonal range (although the latter is something Iíd like to improve further).  From personal experience I know Iíve learnt far more from a coaching course tailored for my individual painting weaknesses and aspirations than from a residential course aimed at trying to keep everyone happy.  For that reason itís been better value for money as well.

Iím keen to continue my development over the coming months and years and to that end I certainly plan to stick to Robertís 5 Cís approach and to maintain some form of coaching contact with him."