Successful And Creative Washes || Barry Herniman

Given its central place as a watercolour technique, it’s surprising how few books are devoted to the watercolour wash. The transparent nature of the medium allows thinned colours to be laid down as a foundation to a more detailed scene, as a glaze on the top of one or simply to suggest a background colour, particularly a sky. Or maybe it’s because of this: if you can’t lay a wash, maybe you really haven’t got to grips with the medium. Whichever it is, most books just start by saying “begin with a wash” and leave it at that.

So Barry’s book is all the more welcome for that. If this is the most basic watercolour technique, then this had better be the first book you buy. If you think there’s always more you can learn, then you’ll find plenty to please you here. If you know it all already, well, you won’t be bothering, probably with this or any other instructional book.

I have to confess to certain reservations about Barry Herniman’s skills as an artist: to me some of his finished paintings look far too flat and this is far from an admirable quality in a medium that demands a sureness and lightness of touch. If this bothers you too, then it’s going to get in the way of how you get on with this book, which is a pity, because Barry is particularly sure-footed when it comes to explaining the processes involved; how the painting is built up. Indeed, at the half-way stage, his works have all the qualities you’d expect – it’s only towards the end that they seem to get off course. I’m not absolutely sure, but I think he simply overdoes the amount of paint; watercolour is a transparent medium and you simply can’t build up too many layers without it becoming opaque.

Oh dear. I seem to be getting side-tracked by the paintings rather than reviewing the book, but first impressions are important and it would be wrong not to share my initial reaction. So, if you can’t trust the results, the book’s a no-no, right? Well, no because, as I said, Barry is very good at explaining the processes (it’s a truism that the best practitioners often make the worst teachers). In only 96 pages, he covers washes in skies, landscapes, foregrounds, backgrounds, water and much more and does so in a series of detailed step-by-step demonstrations that really do make what can be quite a complex process very easy to follow.

And now to the big question: should you buy it? If you want to learn more about watercolour washes, unequivocally yes. Not just because it’s about the only book there is, but because it’s so well explained. And maybe I’m wrong about the results: you’re the reader, you decide!

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