Traditional Oil Painting || Virgil Elliott

This is probably one of the most serious books on painting around at the moment. Generally speaking, books which place themselves in the art instruction camp concentrate on a how-to approach with plenty of pictures and a limited number of words. This, in its way, is no bad thing. In fact, it’s no bad thing at all, whether it its own or any other way. Painting is, after all, a visual medium and if you can’t explain it visually, well, the chances are you’re not doing it right.

What we have here, and what is certainly the author’s intention, is a look at the practice of painting in oils, taken from the viewpoint of the study of Old Masters (the “traditional” bit) and relating it to materials available today. This is done largely in words and with occasional illustrations to back them. You can, for example, get a dozen or so pages without a single picture, while types of oil and oil-to-pigment ratios are being discussed. There are step-by-step demonstrations – and the author makes it clear that the publisher insisted on more than he originally intended – but they are by no means the backbone of the book and they have something of the feeling of a sidebar about them.

All this sounds dry as dust, but your reaction to it will depend very much on what you’re looking for. If you want a beginner’s guide to how to paint in oils, then it’s fair to say this is not for you. However, if you’re perhaps quite an experienced practitioner, then you could well find that this is an absorbing read (and it is definitely a book to read, not one primarily to look at) going, as it does, into extensive detail of the nature and use of the materials. It reminds me a lot of Ralph Meyer’s Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques; as a source of reference, it’s invaluable and perhaps even second to none.

Watson Guptill 2007

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