On the face of it, this seems a pretty unlikely idea for a book. I mean, I can see the attraction of flower portraits, obviously, but the ingredients for soup? On the other hand, when you see the really rather beautiful results that Billy gets, it’s ten to one you’re going to want to have a go yourself. However, if it wasn’t done as well as it is here, I still contend that you’d lower your gaze and hurry on by.
But no matter. The greengrocer’s stock in trade provides a wealth of colour and texture and something you, as an artist, can really get your teeth into (yes, yes, I know, but you should see the ones that got edited out!) and there are some really serious exercises in watercolour virtuosity here. Clearly, this is not a book aimed at the beginner and all of the introductory material is written for the experienced artist who just needs a little guidance in what’s required for this specific subject matter – there’s none of the elementary how-to-paint stuff that plagues so many books. It’s nice to be treated as a grown-up for once and this is undoubtedly going to make you well-disposed towards the author before you even get started and that can’t be a bad thing. After that, it’s straight into the subject matter with a nicely varied chapter on drawing a wide range of different shaped vegetables and fruit. From here, it’s on to composition though, as this is a book of portraits (that is to say, the bare subject without any real context) this tends toward some sometimes slightly bizarre arrangements, the value of which I’m not totally sure of. However, this is a bit of a quibble, because the next chapter is about colour and this is really valuable as it deals with shades you may well not have encountered before and Billy offers some excellently clear advice that’s likely to be useful in all your work, not just this specialised area. There’s a lot more on light and shade, dealing with white vegetables, flowers and details before a set of projects where Billy demonstrates four subjects in some detail.
If you’re tired of the same old subjects and you fancy something that’s really going to challenge your abilities as a painter, then this is undoubtedly the book for you. I don’t think it’s going to turn you into a fruit and veg specialist and you may well feel that, when you’ve tried it, that’s quite enough, thank you, but I don’t think you’ll feel it was an exercise that wasn’t worthwhile.