This is an American book. It’s important that you know this at the outset because a lot of the wildlife and locations are things a European isn’t going to be familiar with. Equally, if you’re reading this in North America, I have to come clean and admit that this review isn’t for you. In this case, everything I like about the book applies, but some of my reservations don’t. You’ll be at home (literally) and in a comfort zone.
Having got that out of the way, I can say that, if you’re looking for a guide to specific landscapes and creatures, there’s going to be a lot in this book that will pass you by. The general principles and techniques, however, still apply and if your requirements are more general, then there’s much to enjoy here.
Cathy Johnson is an experienced writer and an engaging painter. Her watercolours are pleasantly loose, but well in the representational camp and there are plenty of ideas and techniques here that you’ll soon be wanting to try out. The visual impact of the book is an important factor; put simply, the pages are easy on the eye and this is very much something to leaf through and stop whenever something specific catches your attention.
I do think it’s a pity that the publisher felt the need to put a tint on every page that mimics a watercolour sketchpad. It’s mannered and the identical dark splodge at the bottom corner of every page just gets annoying after only a few minutes. They’ve also used a matt paper and these two things combine to give a flatness to the illustrations that does them a serious disservice.
This isn’t a bad book at all and it has a overall feelgood factor that that means it’s one you’re more likely to keep than give to the next jumble sale, but I hope you can see my problem: I’m in danger of damning it with faint praise. I suppose my overall feeling is that, if I was given it, I’d be happy with it, but, if I’d paid seventeen pounds, I might feel my cash could have been better invested elsewhere.
North Light 2007