ARTIST Charlie Evans is currently tucking in to a Scotch egg and really relishing the experience, the yolk deemed beautifully runny and the sausagemeat an elevated offering.
Charlie’s foodie radar can detect something different in the encasing meat, though, and sure enough, when the waiter is quizzed, it turns out there’s some haggis in the mix.
He then tries one of my cauliflower fritters dipped in curry sauce and judges it very tasty.
Charlie, 58, from Acklington, Northumberland, is a charismatic figure, easy to warm to, and someone who stands out in a crowd with his wavy locks and earring.
The location for our lunchtime chat is the first-floor restaurant at the Broad Chare pub on Newcastle Quayside, where the colourful and hugely likeable artist is regaling me with tales of his life. Painting a picture, if you like.
And the Terry Laybourne establishment’s Scotch eggs more than pass muster, reckons Charlie.
Charlie’s been dubbed the Jamie Oliver of the painting world for his terminology and technique, which is big on demystifying the art of watercolour painting, which goes a bit like this ... Whack a bit on here, daub a bit on there, then a dollop of this.
“Bash this on here and bang this on here – that’s the terminology I use on stage,” he says. “People are scared of painting because of the complexities. I make it sound achievable. I do it in a light-hearted way. Demystify it, that’s always been my approach.
“It’s such a beautiful hobby, so relaxing. Nine times out of 10, people wait until they are retired but you should be painting when you are working because it’s absorbing and a real de-stresser.”
Charlie has made his name through art but maybe less well-known is the fact that he used to work in catering for 22 years, principally as a chef, and owned several eateries in Cumbria and Leeds in his time.
And it is his love of painting and food which is the basis for his latest project. He is launching a new monthly foodie and painting series in the pages of Taste in Culture magazine, combining his two great loves. February’s magazine is out with The Journal on Tuesday, when readers can catch the first in his series.
Each month he will sample and review the food at a gastropub or restaurant in our region and also rustle up a watercolour of a view from said establishment, including tips on how to recreate the painting. Readers also have the chance to win the finished stunning watercolour; this month’s is valued at £220.
Charlie kicks off with his review of dinner at his local, the Cook and Barker inn at Newton on the Moor, Northumber- land. His stunning watercolour captures the view from the door of the pub looking towards Hampeth. See Culture magazine on Tuesday for details on how to enter.
Charlie’s captivating paintings sell for anything from £150 up to £1,500 and he has a collection for sale at the North East Art Collective gallery in Eldon Gardens, Newcastle.
He has written at least nine books, “how to” guides to painting, has numerous DVDs on the subject and notched up hundreds of TV appearances over the years, including most recently two series on the Discovery Channel. Many will recall his Tyne Tees programmes Watercolours with Charles Evans, part-travelogue, part-demonstration, which brought him legions of fans. He also had his own “how to” painting series in The Journal’s Culture magazine.
He is a demonstrator for Winsor & Newton, manufacturer of fine arts products, and travels the country giving talks and showing people how to master the art of watercolour painting.
Charlie clocked up 54,000 miles in his Range Rover in the last year.
“I do big shows for them, like giant workshops. People sit and are entertained for a while. I tell a few stories and do a painting.” Being centre stage is Charlie’s thing. “You are standing on stage and telling them a few stories but they are soaking up what you are doing.”
As well as talks, doing stage shows, workshops and demonstrating to art societies all over the country, he holds painting holidays in the UK and Europe.
“Last year I was in France four times and Tuscany and Switzerland and all around the UK. I can be in Scotland one day and Bournemouth the next day.
“January is a fairly quiet month, thank goodness.”
Originally from Yorkshire, the twice-divorced and now single artist, has lived in Acklington for 21 years. “What brought me up here was my wife was governor of Acklington Prison.”
Home is two stone cottages knocked into one, and a bit of land, plus two stone buildings which serve as art studios in the grounds.
He adds: “The North East has been so good to me. I couldn’t do anything else but live here.
“I’m spoiled for choice. I have got the sea a mile and a half away, the Cheviots are five miles away, Druridge Bay is one and a half miles away and lovely villages and rural landscapes in between. You cannot go wrong.”
He says he enjoyed the privilege of a childhood spent playing in the fields and woods, rivers and lakesides around the farm where he was born and brought up. “This fuelled an already inbred appreciation of the countryside, and the wonders and workings of it.” Much of which is depicted in his captivating artwork. His current stomping ground has proved very fruitful.
Charlie studied at Lincoln College of Art and turned to the medium of watercolour. Watercolour is the traditional English medium, he says, “as it captures the beautiful sense of atmosphere, haziness, dampness and watery skies of the British landscape”.
“I went to art college in the 70s but in those days you had to get a proper job. I spent 22 years in catering, principally cheffing, in places like Yorkshire, Bologna and Cumbria. It was more restaurant and country club stuff.” He even had a stint of catering in the RAF where they take food very seriously.
He adds: “I opened up my own bistro. I had five places in Cumbria and Leeds.” He has a fine appreciation of all things culinary. All the while he was cheffing and busy in the food business, he never stopped painting though.
“I love food,” says Charlie, as he tucks in to his main of steak and kidney pudding, with potatoes, Savoy cabbage, swede and carrot mash. The dish is declared pretty as a picture, the pastry light and lovely, the meat really tender, substantial and filling. The swede and carrot mash is described as really buttery and delicious.
My steamed leek and onion pudding with Montgomery cheddar is hearty, filling, stick-to-the-ribs delicious fare.
As mentioned, his first subject for his food and painting series is the Cook and Barker at Newton on the Moor, a cosy and convivial setting.
“All the fish is sourced locally, the owner has his own farm in Amble, the rare-breed ham is from his own farm.
“I think we have got some of the best eating places up here. Bearing in mind I have eaten in restaurants all over.
“Down South they still think we are the starving North and it really annoys me.
“Newcastle is one of the richest places I know – the money, the bars and restaurants.
“I do courses from home. They come from all over the country. They have no idea how beautiful it is or the quality of living up here.
“These days people go out more than they ever did. When I was a kid if you went out it was a special treat. These days the vast majority of people are eating out very regularly. Around here on a Friday or Saturday the place will be heaving.”
On his own foodie tastes, Charlie says: “I love Italian but I’m open and flexible to good flavours, fresh food, good-quality meat and veg. I cannot see the point of frozen produce.
“I don’t like fast food, burgers, etc. They can do as much advertising as they like, I cannot see the point. I will go to a pub and have a beef burger, freshly-chopped beef, seasoned beautifully and cooked rare.”
When he gets the time he likes to make fish dishes. “I make a nice trout dish. I’m a shooting man so I like game. I’m a member of a couple of shooting syndicates in Northumberland. Everything I shoot I use. I’ve got a couple of pheasants hanging up on the back door.
“I was born and brought up a country lad in Yorkshire. I firmly believe townies should not interfere with country pursuits.”
We finish off with sweet treats. For me it’s lemon puddle pud with its fresh citrussy lemon curd-type base and dollop of vanilla ice cream.
Charlie’s choice is a baked rice pudding with a dollop of apple and blackberry compote. It’s such a generous dishful he reckons he won’t need to eat the rest of the day. “Gorgeous and creamy, not too solid, moist, and not over-sweet.”
A satisfying end to a satisfying meal, as Charlie heads back to his beloved Northumberland. And work on another art commission that evening.
:: SEE February’s issue of Culture magazine, out with The Journal on Tuesday, for Charlie’s new food and painting series. Readers also have the chance to win one of Charlie’s stunning watercolours. See Culture magazine for details on how to enter.