Painting Animals || Christophe Drochon

Christophe Drochon’s animal paintings are stunning and are meant to stun. Close-up, highly detailed and against backgrounds that make them stand out, they’ll make you take a step back, even off the printed page. In this form, they’re not a style for everyone and, indeed, you might even find them a little difficult to live with when hung on a wall, but you can’t help admiring them.

However, we’re starting at the back here, in the gallery section of the book. It’s worth doing, because it helps to know where this is all going and that it isn’t watercolour cats asleep on a cushion in the window. I just thought you ought to know. The cover picture should give you an idea.

However, rewind a bit, start at the beginning, where Christophe does just that. Anyone who paints in this detail is sure as heck going to be able to draw and the book begins with some beautifully sensitive and subtle pencil sketches, moving on to watercolour and then to studio techniques in acrylics, oils and gouache. This is one of the most structured books I’ve come across and it progresses logically and with reasonable despatch, building up towards various details: eyes, fur, plumage and then to several demonstration paintings. All of this is perfectly accessible and very well organised. The hyper-realism of the gallery section doesn’t come into it until the very last minute so that you aren’t forced to emulate Christophe’s style, you can stop at any point that suits you and complete some perfectly acceptable animal paintings of your own.

The credit for this approach has to go to the writer, Françoise Coffrant. The blurbs are sadly silent about who she is, but I feel she must have some sort of close association with the artist as the text is utterly sympathetic as well as economical. Each time a new creature is introduced, Françoise gives is a brief characterisation. This is sometimes a bit philosophical for English taste, but the translator is right to retain the feel and character of the original and the book reads well in English. New Holland have published a number of art books that started life in French and they have found a thoroughly sympathetic translator who does a lot more then just move text from one language to another.

Not many people are going to want, or be able, to paint like Christophe Drochon but the real achievement of the book is to create something which can be used as much as a primer as a masterclass without short-changing anyone.

Year published 2006
List price: £14.99

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