The idea behind this book is wholly admirable and ought to fulfil a long-felt need. An unpopulated painting looks deserted: there’s something immediately and obviously missing, an elephant, so the speak, that’s not in the corner. The answer is that you do indeed need to put people into it, but in a form where they’re recognisable shapes and not portraits or even recognisable individuals.
Unfortunately, the author appears to have been diverted and, if you turn the book over and look at the back cover, you might be forgiven for thinking that it’s actually called “Capture The Essence Of People In You Paintings”, the words that appear there in large letters. And, indeed, that’s really what the book is. Most of what is illustrated consists of people in a bit of a setting; that is to say, they aren’t portraits, where the background is hazy or sublimated, but rather semi-featureless shapes placed in a hinted context.
This, in itself, is by no means without value as it does show you how to render the human form without making it the centre of interest, something which, as far as I’m aware, no other book does. It sounds like a rather strange aim but, if you want a painting where the main subject needs people in it who don’t draw the eye away and become a centre of interest in themselves, it’s a skill you need to learn. This is not unlike putting flowers in a landscape – these need largely to be blobs of colour, but yet still look as though they could be flowers if they put their minds to it and not amorphous lumps that could be anything but.
If Laurel Hart had moved on from this and shown more pictures with a broader view (and there are some of these), the book would be of more value. As it is, it’s a useful start in the right direction, but you might find yourself, at the end, wanting more. It’s also worth saying that this is an American book, so the scenes and personality types look a little alien to the European eye. The colours and lighting are more continental and may also appear over-bright for the British taste, accustomed as we are to an island climate.
First published 2007