DVD Mixing It Up With Watercolour || Charles Sluga

Charles Sluga is a new name to me, but a look at his website reveals that he both travels and demonstrates extensively. The experience shows in this polished performance which kept me engaged from start to finish.

Stylistically, I want to say that Charles is very much like most of the contemporary Australian artists whose work I’ve seen. Is this unfair? Is there an Australian style or are there just painters who happen to hail from the other side of the world? There does, though, tend to be a spirit of the time, as well as locational influences.

Let me expand: the creative process tends to feed off itself and there have always been schools and styles that can be located both chronologically and in terms of place. It’s not just art, but design, making, music and so on. One person comes up with an idea, another embellishes it and, before you know it, it’s a theme. There’s also the fact that different locations produce different light. Britain has a varied, but often damp and cloudy climate which gives it styles like the Norwich school. Continental America can produce brilliant colours and strong lighting, although the painters of New England (maybe not so inappropriately named) give us work that we, across the Atlantic, can feel more at home with. Australia is, physically, more like America but is mostly populated round the coast. As a result, you tend to get the bright colours, but also more subtle hues. Their artists – or at least those that APV work with – also tend to work in a loose and impressionistic way.

So, back to Charles. At one point, he draws a line that goes from abstraction to hyper-realism: “You can paint anywhere on that”, he tells us although, for this film at least, he’s somewhere between representation and abstraction – recognisable subject, not much detail. His narrative can be summed up in a few quotes: “A painting is a beautiful lie” … “I approach plein air painting as just a study to fool myself and relax” … “It should look like a bit of a mess at the start”… “You don’t want to have to count legs.” What this means is that the subject in front of you is merely the basis for a design and he demonstrates this in the first session, a riverside scene where he rearranges the boats to make the subject stronger. He also indulges in a bit of theatre, showing how to handle a small brush: “break it … throw it away!”

The film is based in London and features five demonstrations starting from the riverside scene in Isleworth, and going via a study of St Pancras station, where massive detail is simplified right down. We then move to Piccadilly Circus, and finish at Greenwich in the east, where he paints the Cutty Sark contre jour as a tonal exercise in darks using Phthalo Blue. The final piece, the gates of the Naval College in flat lighting, is about colour and deliberately ignores both tones and hues. “If you can get the major shapes down without getting caught up in the detail, you’ve got the essence of the painting.”

This is, as I said hugely enjoyable, and also an informative film. Charles is knowledgeable both about his subjects – I didn’t know that the statue in Piccadilly Circus is Anteros, Eros’s brother – and painting and painters in general. He also has the ability to analyse and understand his own working methods, as well as keep up a commentary and paint at the same time. These are rare skills, especially when done this well.

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Pride & Preju-Knits || Trixie von Purl

As fans of both Jane Austen and knitting, we found this book an absolute delight. It is packed full of thoughtful and ingenious knitting projects and every time you look through its pages you will stumble across something you haven’t spotted before – whether it’s a pianoforte or a picnic basket. If the idea appeals, you’ll be pleased to find that this isn’t something that will only occupy you for a weekend. There’s so much detail, and so many projects, that you could probably keep yourself busy for a year,

The temptation is to dive straight in – but be warned: this is not a book for the faint-hearted and is likely to leave the novice knitter stumped. You’ll need a lot of technical skill, especially for the dolls themselves, and a lot of equipment. For the skilled knitter, this is a book that will offer you many enjoyable and rewarding projects but is challenging enough to last a long time. We are both reasonably competent knitters, but found some of the instructions hard to follow and are still not quite sure if there’s an error in the hem of one of Elizabeth Bennett’s dresses. If you find that you don’t have the necessary skills, this book will be frustrating, but don’t be too quick to cast it aside. It is likely to serve as an inspiration and will give you the motivation to learn the necessary techniques.

Nevertheless, whatever the outcome, this is still a book that’s full of delights and we can see ourselves, even if not working through from cover to cover, at least having a few of the characters by our side when we re-read the books.


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Zendoodle || Susanne Schaadt

I’m reviewing this because I really don’t have a clue what it is! That sounds like the most terrible start, but it’s piqued my curiosity, which probably means it’s got something.

The basic idea is that you take recognisable forms – plants, buildings, butterflies and so on – and add patterns to them. At first I thought it was an extension of adult colouring which, I’m sorry, leaves me absolutely cold, and that’s not something I welcome with the onset of autumn. It’s not, though, and the subtitle gives you a clue as to what the idea is: Meditative drawing to calm your inner self. So, pretty new-age-y then. I love Zen, it can mean anything you want it to. Actually, that’s part of the point and anything that starts your mind thinking about something else so that it can have its reasons, its homeland and thoughts of its own (to quote the Grateful Dead, one of the most head-expanding bands there’s been). I am, after all, a great fan of staring into space and it’s how a lot of these reviews start. I need a tabula rasa where my thoughts can start to take shape. Just reading the books ain’t enough. Oh, no.

Anyway, where were we? (You see, it’s working) Ah, yes, the idea of using repetitive patterns as a method of meditating. Well, if it works, go for it. I get the idea, which I think is what the book’s all about.

PS. I’ve done a bit more research and, apparently, Zendoodling is a thing. Well I never! (No, really, I never).

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Zen of Drawing || Peter Parr

Zen is a handy word because it can be used to mean almost anything you want. It’s that zen. In this case, the subtitle is a real help: “drawing what you see”. That, you might say, is the basis of all art. Peter Parr, however, wants you to delve deeper into your subjects and develop an emotional response that informs the way in which you interpret what’s in front of you.

So far, so new age and I’ve looked as carefully as I can to see whether it based on an American original. It does, after all, have a West Coast hipster feel to it. But no, the author teaches animation at the University of Bournemouth and appears as solidly UK-based as they come. Feet on the ground sort of chap.

The method can be summed up as: make your materials, style and method of working fit your subject. I’m tempted to say again that that’s the basis of all drawing, but it’s a bit of an unfair quibble. This may not be the most hugely original approach, but the idea that you should consider your subject before you start work is a sound one and should enable you to understand it better. The main thing, from that point of view is that the writing is grounded, practical and always entertaining.

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We Think the World of You || David Remfry

I’d better explain that the subtitle to this tells you what it’s about: People and Dogs Drawn Together. And, yes, that wins my personal prize for the most bizarre idea of the year. Maybe even decade. No, millennium. In fact, what in all that’s crazy did a body as august as the RA think they were doing putting their name to this?

I thought we’d better get all that out of the way right at the start, let off steam, because this is a fantastic idea that’s beautifully executed and reproduced. The title and subtitle, of course, are ambiguous. Who thinks the most of who? Both, of course, because the relationship between an owner and their dog is a very special one – I can see that and I’m not even a dog person, by the way. Even if I didn’t, David’s sensitive portraits would convince me.

So, how do you go about presenting a book of drawings of people and dogs? Well, the answer is that you devote a chapter to each session. You get to know the people – some are in the public eye and some aren’t – and then you start sketching to get the basic character. Finally, you put them together and that’s where the alchemy takes place. You know that old adage about people getting to look like their dogs? Well, it’s true, especially when an artist as sensitive as David (try telling me he’s not a dog person) gets under their skin, as a good portraitist should, and exposes their character and inner being. And what’s so brilliant is that he can do this for both humans and animals; it’s a rare artist who’s good at both.

I love this. It’s charming, it has a warm heart and it will make you smile, both from affection and amusement. Of course the RA should be the publisher. Who else has the gravitas?

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Very British Baby Knits: 30 stylish designs fit for a royal baby || Susan Campbell

As a proud grandmother for the first time, I have been on the lookout for patterns which appealed and did not look too difficult for someone who hadn’t done any knitting for almost thirty years. (My children’s grandmothers were both demon knitters, so I feel it is obligatory for me to knit now!) At the launch of a book on an entirely different subject, I spotted this one in the Search Press catalogue and was immediately drawn to the lovely photographs on the cover.

Don’t be put off by the themed attempt to tie in with the new Princess Charlotte and royalty in general, these are timeless, contemporary patterns – no danger of looking like a 50’s throwback. If you are a serious Royalist, then it may well appeal even more. The author has been designing knitwear for a very long time on her farm in Norfolk and it shows; as she says, “No design of mine will have to be squeezed over a baby’s head and no baby will have to be stripped almost naked to facilitate a nappy change”.

The instructions are clear and a returning knitter like myself is easily able to produce results approximating to the photographs. I am not yet attempting the more complicated toy rabbits, delightful as they are! That said, this is not a beginner’s book as such, so skilled knitters should love it too.


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Understanding Human Form & Structure || Giovanni Civardi

Sometimes I wonder how he does it. Not the drawing, I’ve got used to the excellence of that, I mean the way Giovanni manages to come up with new, fresh ideas that aren’t endless re-workings of previous books and also to put an original slant on subjects that are not exactly under-represented in the literature of practical art.

This one, as ever, allows the drawings to speak for themselves and includes a relatively short text that really only introduces the subject and the techniques and points up the things you should be looking at and for.

What makes it different from perhaps a hundred other books on anatomy (for that’s what this is) is the simplicity and the fact that it’s written purely for the artist, who wants to draw the human form and merely needs its underpinnings. If it was about architecture, it would be like stopping at the foundations and relying on other books, of which there are plenty, for the above-ground structure. It’s admirably simple, doesn’t offer the slightest nod to the medical student (other books may not intend to, but they do) and shows you – yes, shows you – how bones articulate and how muscles link them together. There’s no complicated colour coding that other books like to go in for, just sensitive, accurate pencil drawings that you can easily relate to.

The painter George Stubbs studied anatomised horses in order to be able to paint them accurately. You have this book, when is every bit as good as a rather messy hands-on experience. Be thankful, and buy it.

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