The Spanish publishing house of Parramon has had a reputation for many years for the quality of its art books which tend to be well-structured and copiously illustrated. It’s a shame that that the publishers of the English language edition of this one have chosen not to credit the author on the cover as David Sanmiguel is one of Parramon’s best writers.
This isn’t a subject that’s particularly widely covered. Still lifes tend to conjure up an image of something, ironically, rather dead (for those who care, the French is nature morte!), a composition you throw together on a wet winter evening when there’s nothing on telly and nothing to paint. On top of that, it’s also going to be full of boxes, cylinders and cones and all those dry-as-dust exercises you’ve spent your life trying to get away from.
But then again, some of the world’s greatest paintings have been still lifes – Van Gogh’s Sunflowers are, after all, in a vase. So, okay, yes there are bottles and wine glass and bowls of fruit in this book, but, rather cleverly, they’re part of an image rather than being entirely an end in themselves. The book also follows the Parramon formula of being illustration-led: that is to say, the words are captions rather than treatises and this allows the author to get away with a lot. As a guide to drawing, it’s hard to beat, in fact.
You get a lot for you money here. There are five main sections, beginning with Starting Drawing, which is where most of the basic exercises are and which, if you feel you’re already competent, you could skip. It only occupies 32 pages, so as well as being concise, it also won’t hold you up for too long. The next three sections cover Light and Shadow, Shapes Qualities and Subjects and Composition. Each one is sub-divided and adds progressively to your knowledge and skills. The final section covers a series of step-by-step demonstrations in a variety of media, including pencil, charcoal, pastel and pen & ink.
The text does slightly betray its origin in another language: it doesn’t absolutely feel as though it was written in English, but this is a minor and slightly unfair niggle as it’s more important in a book of this kind to relay the information than to write a piece of elegant prose. As I said before, the book is led by its illustrations and these work in any language, so it’s not something you’re exactly going to be tripping over.
Year published 2006
List price: £12.99