I love Charles Reid's watercolor paintings. I love the looseness of his approach, which still reads representationally. I love his use of vibrant color. I enjoy how he works out his compositions with thoughtful spontaneity.
Recently I purchased Charles Reid's latest watercolor "instruction" book: Watercolor Solutions: Learn to Solve the Most Common Painting Problems. I thought that I would write a review of the book. I know people are always on the look out for a good book on watercolor techniques. I have to admit that I bought this book unseen because I love his work. This is another reason I've decided that I'm going to rank the books I have of his and tell you why I like them and let you decide if any of this matters and if you need the newest book. If you don't already have any of his books I don't think this is the one you need to get—what follows are reasons why.
But before I review the books, if you are a fan of Charles Reid the first thing you should do is get the CD called Charles Reid's Watercolor Secrets. (There is also a book by the same name, see below.) You don't need a book to view this CD, you don't need to read any of his other books. I borrowed a copy and found it riveting to watch him paint and compose and think and talk about his painting, both live models and landscapes (I think there might have been a still life too, but I watched the other demos twice). Watch this video before you read one of these books, then watch it again. In that way you will really understand what he is saying about what he does with his washes and his brush.
In order of preference, here's the way I rate the books of his I have read (and if he has books beyond these I haven't seen then, so write and let me know):
Painting What You Want to See
This is the most thorough of his books. It contains 46 lessons and assignments in watercolor and oil. The examples cram the pages in the best of ways. His text is clear and pushes you to think through the issues he is explaining and setting up. Many of the paintings used as examples are reproduced at a LARGE size so that you can really see the detail and get the most from the discussion and instruction. I rank this as one of my must-always-have-a-copy-of-art-instruction-books. I love it. You need it if you don't have it and like a looser approach, want to get a looser approach, or simply want to have some useful exercises in watercolor or oil; and some looks at color theory on the way (though Reid's approach to color theory is Value Matters—and fans love him for that; if you want straight color theory you need to try Jeanne Dobie, Stephen Quiller, etc.).
The Natural Way to Paint: Rendering the Figure in Watercolor Simply and Beautifully
If you draw the human figure or draw portraits and want to focus on developing a painterly, loose style, whether you want to emulate Reid's style or not, this is a great book. Reid begins with a discussion of his approach to contour drawing, contour drawing with pen and wash, gesture drawing, holding your brush, mixing your paint—in short, everything you need to get going in this direction with watercolor. AND it is well written, clear if concise, but complete. You can follow these instructions without stopping to scratch your head. He moves on to working with life drawing models and composition. Again the examples are reproduced at a fair and useful size. It's a well-rounded book.
Painting Flowers in Watercolor
This book has much the same introductory material that The Natural Way to Paint has, as far as discussion of palettes and brush handling. Why get this book then? Well there are some cool differences, especially if you don't draw the figure but do draw still life set ups: he has some great step-by-step painting tutorials which show you how he puts in his washes and that distinctive interplay with cast shadows. I really think because of this and the "fussy" nature due to the inclusion of many objects that happens in still life paintings, this book is worth the expenditure even if you have The Natural Way.
Charles Reid's Watercolor Secrets
I was disappointed in the text of this book. The descriptions at times were too vague for me. If the book, as its subtitle claims, is a look at discoveries from a lifetime of painting, then I would like to see a little more analysis. That said, for people who love Reid's work and just want to see more of it I think this is an excellent book. The images are reproduced at a good size for looking at details. Also, the book gives a delightful overview of his passion for painting. You can see how his style has developed as you leaf through the book. It's got a lot of sketchbook images, all of which have a great freshness to them. There are also some step-by-step looks. These are helpful and welcome, but sadly here the image reproduction is rather small and disapointing. I want to be able to see the washes and how they blended much more clearly. So I give this book a mixed review. CR fans must have it, just 'cause. First time CR readers could start with another book, and just borrow this from the library.
Charles Reid's Watercolor Solutions
First off, I have to say I delayed getting this book for several months because I thought, from the title, it was the previous book. I couldn't find my copy of Watercolor Secrets and so I couldn't check. Now that I have the book I will tell you that I like that he introduces his drawing and composition ideas, and talks about his palette choices. That's all great. It's just not as great as he does it in his other books (particularly the Natural Way and Painting Flowers books). The discussions are very abreviated. I also found that in reading the captions and looking at the images I often found myself confused. This isn't good. I've read his books, I've looked at his work, if I'm confused then there's a good chance someone picking this book up as a first look at his work will be even more confused. Next, I found that the examples were reproduced in too small a size. The portraits of famous painters is a case in point. Eight images grace the bottom half of the page, cramped together, no more than thumbnails. We can see that they are painted with glorious colors, with adherance to Reid's value theories. We ache to see them closer. Instead we are pushed through the page spread with what comes off as editorial haste and authorial brevity. This is important stuff that needs to be looked at more closely, yet we are sped past it. If the book's designer had lost some of the decorative bars, bands, and box treatments and instead opened up the page to really feature the art and examples this book could have been immediatly 60 percent better. Next the editor needed to pin the author down on some of his vague and confusing language. One shouldn't have to read a caption 3 times to work out what is being shown in the example. There are also several points of contradiction which a close reader will find, even if you aren't forced by circumstances, as I was, to read the book in one sitting. The effect on new students of Charles Reid will be more confusion instead of clarity. It is all part of the editorial haste, let's cram a lot in this book. Yes it's great to get a lot of examples in a book. But clarity, clear and large reproduction, and thoroughness always beat sheer numbers for me. If you don't have a Charles Reid book I would say this should be your last choice, definitely one you borrow from the library rather than buy, unless you simply have to have as many examples of his paintings as you can find. Then by all means, who am I to dissuade you. My problem is his other books have been so superlative that this book was a let down.