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. 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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The Realism Challenge || Mark Crilley

There was a time, when the world was young, and before the dawn of the internet, when you couldn’t move for books on magic realism. It was a mainly American thing and I always had the feeling it was primarily about being clever for the sake of being clever, but it was certainly eye-catching.

I therefore had an enormous sense of dejà vu when this flopped onto the mat and looked forward to reliving the days of my youth. I know, wild dissolution or what?

Anyway, it’s not magic realism anymore – do keep up – it’s hyperrealism and Mark Crilley is a master of it, it says here. His work is pretty amazing and, if you miss the intermediate stages, you could be forgiven for thinking this is a book of photographs. Whether that’s what you want is up to you but, if your aim is to paint a spanner a mechanic might try to pick up, this is the book that’ll tell you how to do it. Mark is sound on the handling of minute detail and, particularly, of dealing with reflections. To be fair, as well as said spanner, there are also flowers, fruit and seashells, as well as a lot more things that have the kind of texture that lends itself to detailed reproduction. Cardboard, anyone?

If you detect a note of unconviction, you’re right. I’m not sure how many people will want this. However, if you do, I think you’ll find everything you want here. I’m just a little bothered by the reproduction, though, which seems a trifle coarse, spoiling the effect.

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