March Artist Spotlight:
Watercolorist Michael Reardon
Michael Reardon comes to Carmel Visual Arts for two special events in March. The first is a PAINTING DEMONSTRATION on on Sunday, March 20 starting at 6:30pm. The $25 entry includes a wine reception at 6:30 and demo follows.
His 4-day watercolor workshop begins on Monday, March 21. There are still just a few spots available, so REGISTER NOW to secure your spot.
A love FOR light
(Below is an extended excerpt from Watercolor Artist | February 2012 By Sarah A. Strickley)
A lifetime spent in the thrall of California’s exquisite, clarified light and a respect for watercolor’s innate qualities have made Michael Reardon a master of the one-sitting landscape.
California native Michael Reardon is the kind of painter so moved by the combination of elements that comprise the perfect landscape subject—the quality of the light flooding the scene, the proud geometry of the Corinthian column—that he’s been known to sit down exactly where he stands and begin painting. “Occasionally, I turn a corner and, wow,” he says. “That’s it!”
He forgets the crowds packing the busy plaza, ignores the pedestrians peering over his shoulder and slips into the dream of the painting. You might say that the artist, also a seasoned traveler, is on a permanent quest to find the next scene that will take his breath away, send his heart into excited flutters.
Fortunately, he finds plenty of inspiration in California, the landscape that serves as his home and most frequent muse. “The clarity of light in California, and especially northern California, is pretty special,” he says. “I find that watercolor just lends itself to it.”
Combining an abiding love of light and a faith in the medium’s innate qualities, Reardon brings a vibrant sense of immediacy to his watercolor landscapes, which he paints en plein air and in the studio. He paints directly and incredibly quickly, often capturing the essence of a scene in a little more than an hour.
Wellspring of Inspiration
Reardon’s early experiences with watercolor were, to phrase it delicately, less than positive. “It was a total disaster,” he says. “We were painting in California, in the summer, in 20 percent humidity and I was using cheap paper and paint. I couldn’t control it; the washes were drying too fast. I decided that I’d never try watercolor again.”
After pursuing a degree in liberal arts, he went on to architecture school, earned a degree and started doing architectural illustrations in pen and ink for a living. Thirty-two years later, he’s still completing assignments for clients as far flung as Dubai and Hong Kong.
“They call me up and say they need something and I produce a set of drawings for them,” he says. “I try to find the best vantage point, the best lighting and the best way to portray the spirit of the building.”
Let the Paint Flow
The search for paintings begins with a bit of semi-aimless wandering. Occasionally, Reardon will turn a corner and know instantly that he’s found his subject, as was the case with Fountain, Sonoma Plaza. “I thought, this is going to work,” he says. “It has the building in the back, which I can simplify; it has the fountain, which I absolutely love; and the quality of light is amazing. It even has the big, vertical cypress trees.”
But just as often he settles into a subject by sitting down and drawing or sketching. Whether it’s love at first sight or a gradual process
of infatuation, Reardon’s process always begins with focused study. “So much of plein air work is observation, which informs me later when I’m doing studio work,” he says. “When I go back inside my studio, I still have that memory.” It’s all about the sights, the sounds, the scents, the people wandering through scenes—the entire felt experience of the scene and not just its compositional components.
Early on, the artist was adamant about never using reference photos. “They dictate too much,” he says. Recently, though, when the weather turned and he needed new inspiration, he went through his files and found a photo of the Pont Notre-Dame in Paris. “I’d always wanted to paint this bridge and I knew I wouldn’t be going to Paris anytime soon, so I did a quick sketch using it as a reference and then I put the photo away,” he says. “I did other quick sketches to come up with the composition and design, and then I did my painting.”
He has repeated this process with photos of the Himalayas. “Otherwise, I still really resist trying to paint from photos,” he says. Instead, he begins with sketches and drawings, spending only about five minutes on each. He often completes finished paintings en plein air, but he’ll just as often bring a plein air painting back to the studio and use it as inspiration for a larger work.
Whether he’s painting indoors or out, though, he never goes back into a painting once it’s dry. “Fourteen years ago in Venice, I was interrupted while painting and I went back to my hotel, tried to finish the painting and totally ruined it,” he says. “I decided that from that point on, I would try never to retouch a painting again.”
As you might suspect, then, he starts with a clear plan in mind. “I know where my dark values need to be and I’ve thought about the colors,” he says. “I always have the rough sketch in front of me as I’m painting and I’m always looking back at it, thinking, now that I’ve hit this value, can I move into this area?”
Meanwhile, he lets the paint fl ow. “I try to make it all happen in one go,” he says. “I start at the top of the painting and go from area to area, keeping them wet and letting them flow into each other.” Unexpected surprises arise out of interesting granulations and effects that he wouldn’t get if he tried to control the paint. “Sometimes I think, this isn’t going to work, but I can keep moving the paint around for as long as it’s wet,” he says. “When I reach the bottom, I put it away for a few days and then decide whether it was successful or not.”
To keep things fresh and interesting, the artist has been experimenting with vertical orientation. “It’s a reaction to horizontal work, but, like with my plein air work, it’s also a way of taking a slice of life rather than trying to paint everything,” he says. He’s also been trying to do paintings that don’t have a strong source of light. “This goes along with letting the paint fl ow into itself,” he says.
Despite the technical skill and emotional portent that his landscapes demonstrate, Reardon still feels he has more to learn and more to see. “No matter how long you’ve done watercolor or how good at it you are, it’s always a challenge,” he says. “I’m always trying to let watercolor express its innate qualities.”
SARAH A. STRICKLEY is features editor of Watercolor Artist.