Somewhat surprisingly, this wasn’t David Bellamy’s first instructional book. Following on the unprecedented success of The Wild Places Of Britain, he wrote Painting In The Wild for the many readers who were clamouring to know just how he did it.
The Watercolour Landscape Course was, in fact, David’s fourth book and by this time he had built up a following as a painter and a writer and also, crucially, as a teacher. His personally-led courses were heavily over-subscribed, even if going on one did mean lengthy cross-country treks and, as like as not, dangling off the end of a rope. From all those that couldn’t make it, or didn’t have David’s stamina, came demand for a book version and it was one of the fastest-selling practical art titles there has been.
When he came to write the Course, David had a lot of experience to fall back on, both as a painter and as a teacher and as a writer, too. It was also his first book for a new publisher, Collins, who were able to bring to the party their own experience of putting together practical art books at the forefront of design and production. In many ways, it was a marriage made in heaven: the levels of knowledge and the freshness of a new relationship sparked a book that has stood the test of time remarkably well and which stands up as well today as it did back in 1993.
The book has a subtitle: From First Steps to Finished Painting and David did just that; he presents a structured course in painting landscapes that works as well whether you’re out there in the field or back home working from a photograph and it has a clear beginning, middle and end. In many ways, this straightforward approach became the template for other course-style books that followed, albeit many of them lacking David’s levels of creative imagination. The book also has, it should be said, excellent colour reproduction and you can see details of brushstrokes, granulation and paper texture that more recent books sometimes fail to pick up.
The progress of the book is a series of short descriptions or lectures mixed with demonstrations and exercises that work through a variety of subjects and painting methods. This was one of the first art instruction books to feature break-out boxes, panels that sit beside the main text and contain helpful hints and checklists that you can refer to without breaking up the main flow. Think of it as a teacher talking, painting and encouraging as well as handing out factsheets and you start to see how this really is a live course translated to the printed page. This was the book that cemented David’s reputation as one of the major figures in art teaching of the present day and gained him many fans who have also bought his six subsequent books.
Collins reissued 2004