Start to Paint with Pastels || Jenny Keal

This, one of the best introductions to pastels around, has been reissued. You can read the original review here.

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Roderic O’Conor & the Moderns: Between Paris and Pont-Aven

This nicely produced and generously illustrated book is the catalogue of an exhibition at the National Gallery of Ireland between July and October 2018.

Born in County Roscommon, O’Conor (1860-1940) moved to France and divided his time between Paris and rural art colonies such as Grez and Pont-Aven. This brought him into contact with a variety of influences at a time when art movements were developing and groups forming. An initial glance at his work tends to place him as an Impressionist or Post-Impressionist, but wider contact is evident. The exhibition shows his work alongside that of Gaugin, Van Gogh, Emile Bernard and others.

There are 66 illustrations in the book, mostly by O’Conor, but also others, reflecting the catholic nature of the exhibition. Drawings and etchings as well as paintings reflect the variety of media in which the artist worked and many have not previously been publicly exhibited.

Both the exhibition and its catalogue provide an excellent overview of a major artist whose work is perhaps not as widely known as it could be.

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Portrait Drawing (Pocket Art) || Miss Led (Joanna Henly)

There’s much to like about this fresh, and refreshing, approach to drawing portraits. The author is an illustrator by profession and this shows in the often stylised form of some of her completed works. This doesn’t detract from the nature of the instruction, however and, in fact, adds to the sense of this being something a little (but not too) different.

I will always take issue with small formats in this kind of book. It’s mannered, and you really don’t need to carry a portraiture manual around with you. It’s something you’ll sit down with when you have time. Yes, I suppose you could have a quick go on the train or the bus, but the results in a moving vehicle will never be satisfactory. However, I’m going to give this a pass partly because it’s so good and partly because of the flexible cover that makes it actually possible to see the pages.

The approach is very basic and covers the shape and form of the face as well as individual features such as eyes, noses, skin tones and hair. There are relatively few words and plenty of well-executed examples that show you both what you’re trying to achieve and how to get there.

The whole thing has a clear idea of what it wants to do and fulfils its own brief nicely.

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Pocket Book for Watercolour Artists || Terry Harrison/Geoff Kersey/Charles Evans

Search Press have reissued their handy Top Tips guides in paperback format, making them available for a new audience.

Containing concise hints and tips – often with a single illustration and a short caption, but also some longer demonstrations, they offer quick and immediate advice that can be like having your favourite artist as a private tutor with you as you work.

For more complete reviews, follow the link above.

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Oils: techniques and tutorials for the complete beginner || Norman Long

It’s not really surprising that the vast majority of books published concentrate on watercolour, it being by far the most popular medium, even if the opaque alternatives are often easier for the beginner.

This short introduction is all the more welcome, therefore, and especially because it is so good and so accessible. If you want to give oils a try, this is the ideal place to start. The introduction to materials and basic methods is concise but leaves nothing out. You won’t be bogged down with detail, but neither will you feel short-changed. A series of worked demonstrations then introduces subjects that include still lifes, boats, buildings, skies and figures. There’s also a handy glossary that sums up terms such as perspective, alla prima, plein air and underpainting.

At 96 pages, this inevitably skims the surface a bit, but it should get you set nicely on the path and ready for some of the more advanced books if you want to progress.

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Maps of London and Beyond || Adam Dant

This rather wonderful synthesis of cartography, art and social comment is both beautiful and intriguing. Its large format allows the reader to savour fully the attention to detail and the stories that Adam Dant has to tell. We begin, for instance, with a series of maps showing four stages of the development of Shoreditch, that now achingly trendy hipster enclave, but which has had what might be termed a chequered history. The captions explain what has been lost and what has appeared, the style of each map reflecting that of the period it covers, from the rural area of Tudor times to its modern incarnation.

This is not, though, conventional map-making and London Enraged – a map of the riots from AD60 to the present comes as an explosion surrounding a central colossus. The Centrally Planned London Underground is, entirely fittingly, circular, but without captions or station names and with the symbols looking even more like the electrical circuit diagram that inspired Harry Beck’s original. London Digested, a simplified layout, comes as an anatomical dissection.

Although this is a book probably best appreciated by those with some connection to London, the inventiveness and jeu d’esprit of the artworks reflects Adam’s imagination. It’s a book to pick up again and again for the joy of discovering new angles and details.

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Learn Colour in Painting Quickly || Hazel Soan

This excellently-conceived series has proved that it is possible not only to learn quickly, but that the unadorned approach is often the way to go. I’m always at least a little sceptical of such claims simply because something that can be a lifetime’s study can’t be mastered in a few minutes. However, I have to concede that getting to grips with the basics is something where speed can be a considerable help. Getting bogged down at the start is not only unhelpful, but positively discouraging to efforts to proceed.

Colour is, of course, the artist’s stock-in-trade, at once the vocabulary and grammar of the language of painting. Those for whom it’s second nature wonder at the number of books about it but, for all that, there are perfectly capable painters who struggle, at least at the outset. However, once you grasp the idea that the basic concept is really quite simple and that a lot of the difficulties are self-imposed, everything becomes much clearer.

Hazel is a master of colour in all its forms and, following the series format, shows plenty of examples linked with just enough words to make sure you know and understand what you’re looking at. She explains colour theory in practice (which means as little explanation and theory as possible) as well as demonstrating ways of creating light, shade, form, tone and hue.

I’m tempted to say that this is the complete guide, but of course it isn’t, and doesn’t pretend to be. It is, however, the complete introduction and you might find that what it teaches you is enough for you to be able to learn the rest for yourself, and that’s a heck of an achievement.

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