This substantial volume is a bind-up of five previously-issued titles covering drawing, watercolour, oils, acrylics and pastel. The approach in each of these was the same: paint a complete picture (a still life), learning a good variety of basic techniques in the chosen medium as you went along. Most medium guides do more or less the same thing, that is to say they give you a series of demonstrations that showcase things like colour, tone, blending, washes, brushwork and so on. Normally, though, these are quite truncated sessions that may not really result in anything more than a collection of unrelated subjects and don’t always lead to anything in the way of a coherent finished result.
Where this book differs and is, as far as I know, unique, is that the authors work their way through different elements of a single overall composition to achieve the same result, so that what you get is a much more complete work of art at the end of it and a much better idea of whether what you’ve learned has been worthwhile. All this, of course, depends on whether you are comfortable with this single-minded way of working and whether you want to paint a still life. No pain, no gain, however, and it’s worth sacrificing the variety of the more traditional approach for this more seamless way of working.
Many artists choose to concentrate on one or maybe two media, so the value of a compendium such as this is necessarily limited. I’ve always suspected that this kind of book appeals to people who think they want to paint and to others who are looking for a gift book, rather than to those who are already a rung or two up the ladder. Nevertheless, there’s no shortage of these compendium guides about, so one has to assume there’s a market, though how may of their buyers or recipients then go on to pursue their craft at any length, I wouldn’t like to guess. It’s also worth observing that this volume is, at 415 pages, both longer than most and also more expensive. Its unique approach and the quality of the authors, both of them experienced and effective teachers and writers, do on the whole justify the price though.