Quite what an art book is doing in the Collins Gem series, I’m not sure. Not much more than 3” x 4”, the text is small to the point of myopic, the illustrations make a postage stamp look like a broad canvas and, if you don’t break the spine down to lay the book flat, you can only see about half the page. Having spent some 25 years screaming at publishers to produce art books in a decent-sized format, I can’t help feeling this is a step backwards, possibly into the dawn of prehistory.
When I set up this site, I promised I wouldn’t pan books just to show how clever I am and I also suggested that, if I though a book was a real stinker, I’d probably give it a miss. So, what’s this doing here? Well, the fact is that it’s been out for a while and it’s very popular. I think part of that has to do with the author: Hazel Soan is rightly very much in demand. So, OK, why not give her some space to work in? Well the first thing to observe is that Collins have, on other occasions, done just that. The second is that this isn’t a book that’s made up of bits of other books as smaller guides like this sometimes are. It’s been written from the ground up according to a previously agreed specification. In short, Hazel didn’t have to write it and clearly thought there was something to be said in and for this format.
So, getting to the positive, the first thing you’re going to notice is that the contents list is a lot longer than for many larger books. There’s a lot of stuff in here (there are 192 pages, even if they are tiny ones). So, what’s it all about? Well, here’s what the publisher says: “This book is for those people who want to paint but are too busy and don’t have the time. Hazel shows how much can be achieved in just 10 minutes!”
Um, excuse moi, don’t have time? What is this? Ten years or so ago, Alwyn Crawshaw (another Collins author) came up with a book called The Half Hour Painter, which I rapidly and very unkindly re-christened “The Half-Hearted Painter” for much the same reason as I have reservations about the book being reviewed here. The true, and valid, point of that one was to do a painting in the time it took to get the image on paper and then leave it alone. It was an embodiment of the standard advice, “don’t fiddle” and it was a huge success. If that was all it was, a book about how to paint quickly so that you can get on with the business of doing other things, running your full and varied life or some such, it would have been deservedly consigned to the rubbish bin of history, but of course it wasn’t – about that or consigned (etc).
So, have our attention spans decreased to the extent that half an hour is now too long and 10 minutes is all we’re prepared to spare for an artistic endeavour? Well, I certainly hope not but, if you want ideas on how to grab a quick sketch, how to suggest a subject in a minimum of brushstrokes and, in the course of it, how to give your work a renewed freshness, then this book will do it. Yes, it’s a gimmick and, yes, that minuscule format is going to annoy you pretty soon but, hey, its small, you’ll probably put it down and lose it and then you’ll find out just how much you want it. It’s full of good ideas.
Year published: 2005
List price: £4.99