The Paint Pad Artist (Watercolour Landscapes || Grahame Booth/Watercolour Flowers || Julie King)

This new series builds on the theme of the hugely successful Ready to Paint books and provides outlines pre-printed on watercolour paper. I’ve looked for a watermark, but can’t find one, so it’s very much a take-it-as-it-is option. This shouldn’t matter, however, as these are very much aimed at the beginner and, as long as the material doesn’t have any particularly difficult characteristics, just having it there ready to use should be fine. You still have to provide your own paint and brushes, of course, but there’s a handy list of What You Need in the concise but informative introductory section to each book. Given the level of skill this is aimed at, getting the right balance between thoroughness and not being so detailed as to be off-putting is a difficult thing to judge. The decision here has been to start on practical work as soon as possible and develop skills there.

The core of each book is a series of six projects with detailed step-by-step-illustrations. There’s plenty of hand-holding and a very real sense of having a guide and tutor at your shoulder throughout. A nice touch is the suggestion of making copies of the outlines so that you can practice and repeat the exercises without the pressure of having to get it right first time or waste the material provided. This is advice any newcomer would be advised to follow as (spoiler alert), art isn’t something you can pick up in a few minutes.

There’s much to like here, quite apart from the approach and presentation. The books are spiral bound inside a substantial hard cover and the attention to detail includes an elasticated band that holds the whole thing together in the manner of a portfolio. It’s very professionally done and makes the student feel both taken, and that they’re taking it all, seriously.

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The Greenwood Trees || Christina Hart-Davies

This celebration of native British trees has been inspired by the 800th anniversary of the Forest Charter. Coeval with Magna Carta, this document established the right and responsibilities of the king, nobles and commoners. It covered activities such as hunting, gathering wood, coppicing and pannage – collecting the acorns that fed domestic pigs. In many ways, it was the more important of the two charters, certainly for the daily life of the majority of people.

Trees have been central to the life of man for millennia. They provide food, fuel, shelter and even medicine. Although we now build mostly in brick and stone, our houses still contain a great deal of timber. In the course of this, myths, legends and tales have grown up and forests have acquired a life that takes them from the physical to the spiritual world.

This delightful book celebrates the role of trees and illustrates them with superb watercolours that show form, structure and detail as well as the way trees change through the seasons. Although it is not an art book as such, the quality of the work will inspire any botanical painter and show what can be done with simple materials.

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Patrick Heron || Andrew Wilson & Sarah Matson

This guide to the life and work of Patrick Heron – regarded by many as one of the Twentieth Century’s greatest artists – has been published to coincide with what the blurb describes as a major retrospective at Tate St Ives and the Turner Contemporary, Margate. Having seen the exhibition, I’d say it’s more of an easily-manageable introduction to the artist’s work but that it is, in many ways, all the better for it.

Patrick Heron can be a bit of a challenge for the newcomer. Look for objects and themes and you won’t necessarily find them. I was immensely aided by the show’s notes, which helpfully tell us that, for Heron, the image was the image and that shapes and edges are not just more important than representation, but the work’s raison d’être itself. Knowing that provides an instant way in and it becomes possible to appreciate Heron’s use of format and colour as well as his method of application, often involving small brushes on large canvasses. Splashing paint around, this is not.

I’ve had this book sitting on the shelf for rather longer than I intended, but I’m glad of that because it means I can now say that it’s a fantastic introduction to Patrick Heron’s work as well as his place in relation to the French and American painting that strongly influenced him.

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Making & Marketing a Successful Art & Craft Business || Fiona Pullen

There’s been a fairly steady stream of books on this subject over the years but, up to now, they’ve usually been written by or for (or both) the business professional. This one differs in the first instance by having as its author someone who is active in the field she writes about.

The second, and even more important, aspect is that this is aimed at those who are primarily creators rather than entrepreneurs. The presentation is bright, pithy and written in everyday language. There are no lengthy treatises on legal and commercial practice – although this is all covered. Rather, short paragraphs and breakout boxes sit alongside simple to-do lists. Although this is a complex subject, learning about it doesn’t need to be intimidating. If you were thinking of putting a toe in the water but were put off by the immense list of what you need to know and do, this is immediately reassuring the moment you open the pages.

Running a business isn’t a simple exercise, although you don’t have to start with a chain of shops and a host of staff. Maybe you just want to sell your own work from your home. Do that and a lot of the difficulties go away. You can deal with the problems of success when you have them. You do need, however, to know how to price, present and market your work and Fiona has plenty of advice that will help you avoid the pitfalls that entrap many a newcomer. Early failures can easily put you off, as well as being expensive, but follow the simple guides and you should be rewarded from the outset.

There is necessarily a lot of detail here and this is, at 256 pages, not a slim volume. However, the layout makes it easy to locate the sections you need. Following Fiona’s excellent advice is not difficult and can even be a pleasure.

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Lettering With Love || Sue Hiepler & Yasmin Reddig

This is an attractive book that’s really hard to classify. It’s not exactly art instruction, yet not quite calligraphy either. That is, of course, broadly the point and the idea is to suggest images that contain both watercolour and lettering. The subtitle, “the simple art of handwriting with watercolour embellishment” says as much.

To be absolutely honest, I think you could flick through it, say “Oh yes” and then get on with your own ideas. However, if you want projects, images and letterforms, it’s all here and, in spite of my reservations, I can’t help liking it – and that’s really quite high praise.

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Jackson’s Materials Guide

I’ve seen art materials catalogues and, of course, the “what you need” sections without which no art instruction book would be complete. What I haven’t seen, however, is anything quite like this. Yes, there was the Ralph Meyer guide, but he was an analytical chemist and The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques is substantial, exhaustive and, frankly, a bit exhausting.

From an art materials supplier, you’d expect something a bit like an augmented catalogue, but this avoids that route (and pitfall). The information isn’t routinely brand-specific and is very thorough, including properties, uses and hazards (the table relating to solvents is a potential life-saver). Paints, brushes, papers, canvases, printing materials and frames all get a look-in and there are also some useful reviews and feature articles. You’ll be pointed at Jackson’s website, of course, but the branding is quite subtle and certainly not intrusive. The whole thing has a defiantly independent feel to it, which is one of the reasons it’s here.

The best bit? It’s free. You can view it online or order a printed copy here https://www.jacksonsart.com/catalogues/materials-guide-issue-1 and you should. Even if it was priced, I’d say “buy it”.

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Eric Ravilious Scrapbooks || Peyton Skipwith & Brian Webb

This varied and delightful book accompanies the same authors’ look at the sketchbooks of Edward Bawden that appeared two years ago. Ravilious and Bawden are, of course, very much in vogue and the counterpoints to their work make for enjoyable and fascinating study.

As with the Bawden volume, this includes preparatory drawings as well as materials the artist collected as what would now be called a “mood board”. As well as having some interest in their own right as historical records, these show the way Ravilious’ mind worked and how his ideas developed into finished pieces. As a designer as well as an artist, it is possible to see how he was using contemporary references to create images that chimed exactly with his own times.

As well as sketches and design clippings there are also newspaper stories, such as the first flight over Everest, the development of the parachute or a photograph (supplied by Bawden) of the English touring cricket team of 1859. Almost anything seems to have been grist to Ravilious’ mill, but the printed borders and figurative photographs he used as motifs and for reference are particularly interesting.

There is no shortage of books on Eric Ravilious and this is perhaps one for the more dedicated follower. However, it provides many delights in its own right as well as insights into the creative mind generally, along with that of its nominated subject.

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