East was born in Kettering and after years of involvement in the family's Boot manufacturing business, trained at the School of Art, Glasgow, and Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris and became a painter. In April 1888 he shared an exhibition at the Fine Art Society with T.S Gotch and T.Ingram. In 1889 he was commmissioned to spend six months painting the landscape and people of Japan. The subsequent exhibition of 104 paintings from this tour at the Fine Art Society was a great success. He published a book, "The Art of Landscape Painting in Oil Colour," in which he observed that "The greatest errors in landscape painting are to be found -- contradictory as it may appear -- not so much in the matter of technique, as in the painter's attitude towards Nature."