Watercolour With Love || Lena Yokotha-Barth

This is a strange book, which I suspect you’ll either love or hate. The subtitle describes it as “50 modern motifs to paint in 5 easy steps” and it does have the feeling of icons or emojis. There’s no great technical subtlety and the colour tends to work in blocks producing, it has to be said, often attractive and different images.

The various projects, which include a watermelon, ice cream cone, toucan and orange, are the end result in themselves. This is not a book about watercolour technique, but really one of design. If you want simple images to decorate your home that you can say you’ve created yourself, this is a slam-dunk.

I’m trying not to damn it with faint praise, but I think the market I normally write for isn’t the one this is addressing. Within the confines of what it is, my reservation is that there are no instructions beyond the very basic and, if you want to know how to create shading using a wash, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Given that its average buyer probably isn’t at all experienced in the medium, I think that could be quite a drawback.

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Watercolour Painting Step-by-Step || Jackie Barrass, Richard Bolton, Ray Campbell Smith, Frank Halliday, William Newton, Wendy Tait, Bryan A Thatcher

This is a reissue of an earlier compilation, which I was convinced I had reviewed before, but don’t seem to have. It originated as a bind-up of Search press’s Leisure Arts series and makes available lessons from what was a very serviceable series from quite a long time ago.

Although I had reservations about the reproduction in its acrylic counterpart, and some of it here isn’t quite up to modern standards, it’s not too bad and not quite the stumbling block I found it in the other volume. At a shade under £10, it’s enormously good value and I think you could overlook any shortcomings simply in favour of the wealth and variety of material you get for your money.

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Victoria Crowe || Susan Mansfield

Although she was born in Kingston-on-Thames, Victoria Crowe is now at the heart of Scottish painting, having taught for three decades at Edinburgh College of Art and exhibited widely in both private and public galleries.

This book accompanies an exhibition at Edinburgh City Art Centre, but is very much more than a catalogue or an adjunct that needs to be read in conjunction with a visit. The author, aided by contributions from Duncan Macmillan and Guy Peploe, gives a thorough account of Crowe’s life and work and the generous number of top-quality illustrations give a complete sense of her oeuvre. Encompassing a wide variety of subjects from portraiture to landscape and still life, Crowe’s work is inspired by her study of early Italian Renaissance painting and, as well as painting, she is also at home with drawing and printmaking.

This is a worthy summary of the work of a great contemporary artist.

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Or buy form the publisher
http://sansomandcompany.co.uk/product/victoria-crowe-50-years-of-painting/

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The Elizabethan Image || Roy Strong

This is the ideal companion, as well as counterpart, to Elizabeth Goldring’s fabulous account of the miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard.

Where miniatures were intensely personal, this is the public face of art. Appearance and perception were paramount in the Sixteenth Century, where the intrigues and machinations of the Court have parallels in the politics of today. It is greatly to Roy Strong’s credit that, while he makes this point, he does not labour it. It’s introduced as a way of understanding the past, not to explain the present.

Elizabethan art was full of iconography – the position of hands, what they hold and minute details of clothing all tell the viewer something about the subject and Strong shows how these run through the period covered. Not all the paintings were intended for wider public consumption, but they would probably have been seen by an inner circle and served as a reminder of, and to cement, position. They are, in many ways, the voices of those who commissioned them.

This is a full and thorough account of a fascinating period of English history that necessarily also covers the politics of the time. Strong never forgets, though, that he is primarily writing an artistic account and his narrative always concentrates on this. The illustrations are many, well-chosen and superbly reproduced.

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Surrealism || Amy Dempsey

Say “Surrealism” to most people and they’ll immediately think of Salvador Dali. This is a shame, even if it’s inevitable, as Dali is a controversial figure who some argue was more about self-promotion than being a member of any group or movement. On the other hand, he also made a great deal of money, and this can make other artists mad as hell. And, before you say that a book on Surrealism can’t exclude Dali, there is plenty here. Pay your money, take your choice.

This is part of a series called Art Essentials and Surrealism is certainly that, being a major movement of the Twentieth Century when art was moving away from representation and finding its feet in a changing world. As well as Dali, you’ll find other well-known names such as Max Ernst, Andre Breton, Marcel Duchamp, Jasper Johns and Frida Kahlo and many more who won’t be so familiar but are part of the supporting canon.

This is mainly a primer, as the series title suggests, but it is also very thorough, particularly so for what is a relatively slim volume. The Surrealist movement is put in its historical context and its predecessors are covered as well – the index even has an entry for Lewis Carroll. It’s worth noting that there are two indices so, if the main (single page) one doesn’t have the artist you want, turn back for the one covering major figures.

This is an excellent introduction to its subject that you may well feel gives you sufficient information without the need to extend your library further.

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Sensations || Jonathan Jones

This somewhat left-field thesis takes the Enlightenment as its starting point and finds a link between scientific curiosity and the development of art. Jones makes a convincing case, beginning with Robert Hooke’s Micrographia – a work that is extraordinary not just because of its scientific novelty, but also the craft of its illustrations. From here, Newton and Locke come into the picture as scientific exploration inspired a passion for closer examination of the natural world.

It’s reasonable to ask whether this is a concoction, of making facts fit answers. Did the Gentlemen’s Societies where ideas were exchanged encompass both worlds as completely as Jones’s narrative requires? Well, you can’t argue with George Stubbs or Joseph Wright of Derby, whose work arguably continued a thread that Hooke had begun.

The sensations of the title mainly derive from the Sensationalist philosophy of Joseph Locke, which centred on experience (sense) as the key to understanding, and might be said to be the foundation of what is now called the Scientific Method. However, Jones also wants to create a sensation himself. The chapter on George Stubbs is called The Butcher of Horkstow and opens, “ He began by slitting their throats”. That got your attention, didn’t it?

In less careful hands, this style would become the message itself and obscure the narrative behind it. Jones has a surer hand, however, and has managed to create a history of British art that reads more like a thriller than a dry academic tome. It won’t please everyone, but it’s an enjoyable journey that’s also thoroughly inclusive.

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Peggy Dean’s Guide to Nature Drawing & Watercolor

This is a simple guide that uses simple shapes to help you build up images of flowers, trees, plants and animals. The text is written in a pleasantly conversational style that comes across as warm and accessible, rather than affected and mannered, as these things often can. I get the feeling that Peggy would be an appealing tutor in person and that you could have a lot of fun as well as learning a great deal with her.

As it is, we just have the book, but the author’s personality shines through. The presentation is at all times down-to-earth and business-like and the whole thing is generally easy to follow. That the illustrations are graphic – made up from printed colours – rather than being half-tones of actual paint – doesn’t matter and actually just seems to make things clearer.

The initial impression is of a cornucopia, of much more than you can take in at a glance and this is borne out by further examination. Given the wide variety of subjects covered, this isn’t so much a book to read from cover to cover as one to turn to when you want advice on a particular topic. That you may also find yourself straying further afield just adds to the sense of fun and adventure it engenders.

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