Charles Evans' Watercolours In A Weekend

The “In A Weekend” series from David and Charles has been around for a good many years now and has progressed from general media books to subjects and what we now have is one specific artist’s approach to the idea that, if you sit down and practice with suitable guidance, you really can get a workable result in two days (and 10 out of 10 for not starting on Friday evening and putting the finishing touches in first thing on Monday morning, too!).

The great granddaddy of this idea was Ron Ranson, who used to offer weekend courses from his studio in the Wye valley which he’d refined to the point where this rather bold claim – come with no experience and leave with a painting you’ve no need to be ashamed of – could be put into practice. Like a lot of demonstrating, there’s a degree of sleight of hand, but not of dishonesty. Ron’s trick was to get his students to use a hake brush, a broad and ostensibly unwieldy implement that made fiddling and over-attention to detail impossible, forcing the student to concentrate on the painting rather than the manner of producing it.

To put Charles Evans in the same category is meant as praise and you shouldn’t think that he’s simply copying what Ron did, either. There aren’t many books aimed at the complete beginner which understand that the student needs to be taken by the hand and led patiently through what, to anyone with even a modicum of experience, would be the blindingly obvious. One of the first things he does in the book is to explain colour mixing and the need for simplicity. So much so conventional, but he goes on to explain a few basic mixes you’ll need and also the reason why he chooses the component colours that he does. All of this has been done a thousand times before, but rarely with such clarity and it’s an encouraging start.

The rest of the book is devoted to a series of eight projects, each designed to occupy a weekend (and only a pedant would quibble that that’s eight weekends, then, isn’t it?!). These cover all the main subjects you’re likely to want to paint from landscapes, skies and water to building flowers and figures. It’s a good selection that flexes all the right muscles and allows anyone wanting to progress to decide which areas they’re best at and want to concentrate on – and could save you a fortune in further books you buy to develop your skills, too. These projects are illustrated with well-chosen step-by-step photographs that show all the major stages of completing the exercises or the main painting and there’s a good sense of things developing, almost like a video, rather than new sections appearing as if by magic. Each step has a concise caption that tells you what’s going on and the book is entirely led by its illustrations – there are no heavy textual sections to make sense of unaided.

Charles Evans is an experienced teacher and he’s put his course together with imagination and a skill that conceals a lot of the mechanics behind it. The essence of a good teacher is that they can understand the problems faced by the learner and explain ways round them. This usually means that they’ve had to learn themselves and are not instinctive practitioners. It would be fair to say that Charles is not one of the great painters of the world, but this isn’t a book about him, it’s a book about you, the reader and it requires a quality of self-effacement on the part of the author who has to be pleased by your progress, not his success in being a clever teacher: it requires a generosity which Charles appears to have in bundles. And, truth be told, if you can produce a result half as good as his examples, you’ll be well pleased.

This is a well thought-out book that bears the hallmarks of everyone involved having clearly understood and believed in. It’s presented in a square format that allows the designer plenty of scope to keep the progression fluid and to work equally with pictures that are upright or landscape. The colour reproduction is also extremely good, something which isn’t always the case – though it should be, of course. First impressions in this sort of thing are important and anyone picking this up, I think, is going to feel immediately that it’s accessible and understandable and that’s the first major hurdle over before you even start. I’ve rarely seen better, although, at £18.99, it’s a tad pricey.

First published 2007

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