The Encyclopaedia series first saw the light of day over 20 years ago and many of the original titles are still in print. So why the longevity and has it dated? I think a lot of the success is down to an eclectic choice of material and a slightly scattergun approach which gives an instant appeal; they’re books that, on first glance, make you feel you want to delve deeper into them and that’s what sells to the casual buyer who’s picked one up in a shop.
The square format helps too. It’s unusual because publishers generally feel it has a not-one-thing-or-the-other feel, but it works here because it means that both upright and landscape format illustrations can get equal billing. It also allows the designers a lot of flexibility in page layout which they use enthusiastically. No two pages are exactly alike and the layout reflects the material to be presented rather than it being shoe-horned into a grid that no-one seems to be able to break out of. Once again, this is unusual because it means a lot more work and a lot more potential cost, something publishers shy away from like a plague of, well, anything you can have a plague of, basically.
Well, what a lot of innovation and we haven’t even got to what the book’s about yet! There’s more, too, because this is a welcome break from a positive deluge of colour guides and encyclopaedias that are basically just collections of colour swatches. These are fine in their place and have sold in just about every size, flavour and colour, but what about colour in practice in, like, y’know, a painting? Well hallelujah, here it is! After a broad introduction to colour groups, this book moves out into an exploration of how the colours of the paint you use apply to capturing the colour you see in the scene in front of you. By explaining these groups and presenting a series of projects, demonstrations and analyses Jan Hart breaks the use of colour down in a way that’s pretty easy to understand.
This is a serendipitous sort of book, one to dip into as well as maybe to work through, a repository of little as well as larger treasures that act like beams of light into a world that many find complex, even though it is, when all’s said and done the lingua franca of the artist. Did I mention increased costs earlier? Well, you wouldn’t know it because, at £12.99, they’re practically giving it away. Me, I’d have printed it on thicker paper, stuck a hard cover on it and charged double, but don’t tell them that.
Search Press 2007