Meet our cover artist Ray Campbell Smith

How to paint land and seascapes and reader book offer

Meet our cover artist Ray Campbell Smith

In a quiet cul-de-sac in the suburbs of Sevenoaks, Ray Campbell Smith devotes his time to his art. Half of his living room is dedicated to his watercolour painting and around the walls are well-framed examples of his work. 

Over his long career, Ray has written 17 books of tips for watercolourists, and tells me: “Some have been more popular than others. Seven reached the best-sellers stage, but they’ve all done well.”

Ray attended the Croydon School of Art on a two-year course that included life-class and studies of buildings and landscape. However, the life of a starving artist in a garret was not for him and he joined the family business, Clark’s College, where he became Principal of more than 20 colleges.

Surprisingly shy and retiring now, Ray has not only painted all his life but has also contributed to art magazines, writing on landscape and seascape. His work has been exhibited locally, in Bromley and Sevenoaks, and also Knightsbridge. He hasn’t got an agent, but nonetheless completes many commissions for people who come to him having seen his work. He teaches weekly at St. Julian’s, where his work is often exhibited, and this helps build up his fan base too,

Most influenced by the watercolour of John Yardley, Ray says: “I love his style, very bold, very impressive and he seems to capture the atmosphere of his subjects so well without painting in details.”

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Don’t just accept that leaves are green and trunks are brown, look for the real colour

Ray himself has painted in various media but asserts “a good watercolour when you see the paper showing through and the bold strokes, there’s nothing quite like it.”

We talk about Ray’s medium. For paper, he favours Arche, enjoying its rough, highly textured appearance. His work definitely rewards close inspection and I particularly loved a scene of a Cornish harbour, where the reflections on the water are cleverly depicted with series of absences of colour. 

A number of depictions of trees at Knole Park show that the paintings were done in loco. “They were painted on the spot, it’s a thing I do whenever I can,” he says, and somehow you can tell the painter who works from photographs and he or she who works from the real.  There is a stunning study in delicate washes of trees in Knole Park on a misty autumn morning

Most of Ray’s paintings are Imperial size, 15in by 11inor half Imperial, 22inby 15in, sizes that are convenient to the sheets of Arche paper, cut half or in quarters. The paints are Windsor and Newton’s Artists’ quality and he tends to use just three colours: ultramarine, raw Siena and light red.

There are contrasts, too. We look at a highly charged Mediterranean market scene, which differs radically from the gentle, delicate woodlands; then again, his trainspotters with the Flying Scotsman is a three-hued work.

“Watercolour is a difficult medium, if you make a mistake you’re stuck with it, it shows, but in oil or acyllic if you make a mistake you can paint over it, no harm is done.”

Is art important? “Vitally important, yes,” he says with conviction. “It would be a sad world without it, in my book. If you are keen on art and painting, I think you will see far more in the landscape, than just going out into the country.”

Ray becomes animated on the theme of observation: “An important point is to study colours carefully, don’t just accept that leaves are green and trunks are brown, look for the real colour and do justice to those colours that the ordinary observer wouldn’t notice and make use of them”.

Ray’s advice to young painters is interesting. “I think the important thing for up and coming painters is to always try and visualise the scene in front of you in terms that watercolour can cope with, and to study a scene at some length before even putting brush to paper.

“See as many paintings as you can of artists whom you admire, get as much practice as possible and go for atmosphere the whole time, don’t worry about fiddling detail.”


If you’d like to learn to paint like our cover artist, we are giving away

10 copies of Ray’s Top Tips for Watercolour Artists, published by Tunbridge Wells-based Search Press. 

Just email with your name and contact details, quoting

Kent Life artist book offer.

We are also offering �1 off post free if you wish to buy the book (rrp �9.99)

Tel: Search Press 01892 510850.

To make an appointment to visit Ray, tel: 01732 452757.

Our cover image is taken from Ray Campbell Smith’s Landscapes in Watercolour: learn how to create beautiful pictures.