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Paul Riley - youngest member of the RA to magazine favourite

Paul Riley is a favourite among many artists who will read this, and is incredibly popular for his tutorials in magazines and books. We were delighted that he generously gave us some time to answer our questions. His passion for an interdisciplinary practice is inspiring, as is his vision for Coombe Farm Studios, which has bloomed into the wonderful arts centre that it is. His watercolours are light and full of grace, and he has an ease of manner that is compelling. 



1. What an amazing career you’ve had? You were the youngest member of the RA at the time you exhibited in 1960, what a phenomenal achievement. Can you tell us a bit about what you exhibited and what it meant to you at the time and why in particular?

 I was 15 at the time and had been painting sometime. I would sketch in and around Richmond Surrey where I lived. I was interested in perspective and would compose imaginary images born from the sketches. The painting I submitted and was accepted by Royal Academy was called “Water Lane”. It was in fact half Water Lane and half the local cinema! Having the picture accepted was astonishing and caused a lot of publicity, much of it unwarranted and uncomfortable. However it's made my parents very proud.

 2. Your waterscapes are so light and full of the coastal air, can you describe what it feels like to paint in watercolour these scenes? How do you start, do you find the paint takes you in a direction or do you have a stricter plan when you paint? 

For the colours you need a plan most definitely. A good plan results in a good  painting. However, for that little extra “je ne sais quoi “ you need mood and passion. Hard to describe - a bit like loving. Sitting, contemplating, taking it all in connects you with the subject. Skill and intuition makes it happen.

3. Watercolour is your medium of choice? 

Watercolour is not my only medium. I also love oils and pastels. Watercolour however, is the ultimate challenge both technically and emotionally, You can't let go. On the other hand you must not be mechanistic. My father would say it necessitates a balance between the intellect and the emotion.

Paul Riley from the Magic of Watercolour Flowers Batsford 2015


4.  You are also a printmaker and sculptor? How did that come about? Do you find that these skills and activity influence your painting practice and in what way if so?


Many of the early artists were multidisciplinary; mainly I suspect because they had, and I also have an enquiring mind.

Reproduction through print using various techniques is fascinating. Etching using acid, woodcutting, lithography, although I have done very little of the latter, makes you more aware of the world around you. Sculpture makes you see in the round and enhances your way of saying for painting as it introduces a three dimensional awareness for a two dimensional job.


5. Can you tell us about Coombe Farm Studios, what drew you and your wife, Tina, to the location? You run courses there with other professional artists? 


When our third child arrived Tina and I felt we wanted to raise them in a non-city environment. I  wanted to get back to painting from my career in Architecture. I also wanted to give people a greater awareness of the arts. Quite by accident I came across Coombe (a long story in itself). It was like a thunderbolt and it changed our lives. After much work, as it was a derelict pig farm, Tina and I realised our dream and opened by  running courses in Painting, Pottery, Printmaking, Sculpture, Drama, Jewellery, Indigo Dyeing, Weaving and Yoga. Phew! It was slow at first as, at that time, (1983) we were pioneers in the field. We have expanded to take students abroad literally all over the world and I have lectured on cruise ships, in the USA, Kuwait and Scandinavia. For details of courses abroad do contact Tina This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. My daughter Lara, who was six months old when we came. now runs the business and is moving it in new directions encompassing not only the visual but also incorporating the performing arts, conferences and artist residencies. Aided by some of the original, but also new tutors she is dedicated to continuing our practice of working with dedicated professional artists and makers who work to actively enable the creative process. For details on all courses in the Uk. or e. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Paul Riley from the Magic of Watercolour Flowers Batsford 2015 2

6.  Do you still get the thrill of exhibiting that you did when you first started? What are your recent / upcoming exhibitions? Do you produce work specifically for them? How do you go about selecting images?

Exhibiting one’s painting is for me an embarrassing business. It’s not like being an actor who is trained to present to the public and can gauge their reaction during the performance - at an exhibition the reaction is instant. Painters work by themselves and the process is normally very private. However, they are in the business of communication and need to get their work and message out there. My son Mark runs a gallery  in Dartmouth Devon and shows many artists including, if I do anything at all worthwhile my good self!  He often has themed exhibitions and occasionally takes works to Art Fairs  in London. With regards to selecting images I invariably leave it to Tina and Mark as I find it difficult to be objective about my own work.

7. What advice would you give upcoming artists who want to start exhibiting?

Work like hell and produce to the best of your ability. Enter competitions and open mixed exhibitions.  Develop a CV. Nowadays you need a web presence which needs to be well presented. Mark, my son, has an annual exhibition called “Rising Stars" which showcases up and coming artists. Other galleries might do the same. Do your homework and investigate which gallery might best suit your work.Many  towns and cities have cooperatives one can join so do as ideas shared are helpful and fun.

8. What are the books you’ve written? Do you like writing them? Does it help focus your creativity or refocus any skills?

I have now written four books. "Flower painting” " Intimate landscapes”  “Watercolour Workshop" and "The Magic of Watercolour Flowers” contributed to several other books and written numerous articles mainly for The Artist magazine but also for other journals. Writing, which I enjoy very much, (though I am no wordsmith) does help me  focus and clear my mind. Painting is a surprisingly activity. You need to be a bit of a Chemist, Biologist, Physicist, Architect, etc. You need to research and writing comes with the territory also for me to write tell spread the word that painting is brilliant and that it should be encouraged for all genders at all ages.   [There is a great video of Paul on YouTube by APV films, Ed.] 

Paul Riley


9. What would you rescue first from your studio if it burnt down and why? 

Probably my brushes because I love them and I am a bit of a brush fetishist I have many and they cost a lot!


10.   If you were a Strathmore paper, which one would you be and why?

I very much like the NOT surface. Good texture, just the right absorbency and a good colour I shall be complimenting it in my future articles.  [Cold Pressed paper is often referred to as NOT paper meaning it is "not hot pressed". The surface of a Not (Cold Pressed) paper has a moderate texture or tooth in between rough and hot pressed. Ed.]


11.   What are your website links and social media links so people can find out more about your work?

Work may be seen on my website or follow me on Facebook  



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