According to the publisher, this is “the absolute must-have watercolour book for artists at any level”. I wanted you to know that, because I’m going to start by disagreeing. It’s not a bad book, by any means; in fact, it’s a really good book that will help a beginner enormously, but the format really does lend itself to someone who wants to paint along with the exercises and I think that person is going to be a beginner.
I’ve said elsewhere that I’d deduct marks if a publisher charges extra for fancy binding and the wire-o stand-up format here certainly counts as that. At £18.99 it’s at roughly the right level, but the other two books they sent me in the same package are normal hardbacks at £16.99, so slapped-wrist, you naughty people. On the other hand, 2 quid isn’t that much to pay for an innovative format (and it really does stand up, too), so punishment suspended.
So, do you need a book that you can stand up like a mini-easel next to you while you paint? Well, if you’re going to follow the exercises, you’re going to need to refer to the pages constantly and, yes, I’d say the advantage of being able to maintain more or less the same line of sight is a definite advantage. The thing is that, hidden amongst what amounts to rather a lot of bally-hoo, there lies what is really a very sound painting course. If you are a beginner, you could do a lot worse and, by sticking with the same teacher, you can avoid a lot of the confusion that arises from constant switching and from the fact that one book never quite takes up where the other one left off. I’d be inclined to say: buy this book and stick with it until you’ve gained both competence and confidence and you’ll learn a lot more a lot quicker than you will by any other self-teaching method.
There are 156 well-structured demonstrations that deal with a huge variety of subjects and techniques. It’s worth pointing out that the insistence on the A-Z ordering means that the book itself isn’t a structured course, which is a pity as this would have made it just about perfect. For the benefit of a cheap laugh, I’ll tell you that the list includes K: kayaks and canoes and Z: zero in, but all the other 24 letters of the alphabet fit neatly into what you’d want and expect, so no-one has to stretch their imagination more that the tiniest bit.
All in all, this is an idea it would have been very easy to get wrong and both the author and the publisher deserve full credit for getting it so remarkably right and avoiding the many pitfalls they’ve set up for themselves.
North Light 2007