All About Acrylics || Oliver Löhr, Kristina Schaper and Ute Zander

The moment anything claims to be a comprehensive guide, my first reaction is, “Oh, yeah? Prove it”. And the truth is that hardly anything completely passes that test. Some are commendably wide-ranging in their coverage, some introduce a wealth, even a world, of new ideas and I concede that they do enough to justify their claim.

There’s something in the “all about” here that makes me give it special attention and I do feel that it’s a misleading title; not deliberately, although it isn’t a direct translation of the original German (and we’ll come back to that). If you were to think that this is going to be a thorough-going look at materials and their properties, application methods and painting techniques, you’d be misled.

It’s at this point that we go back to the translation issue. This is a German book and it has that quality of expressionism that characterises a lot of European painting guides. They don’t tend to go for the direct instruction that English readers expect, but adopt an oblique approach of dissected examples and a painting style that tends to be quite abstract. I don’t mean that there’s anything wrong, but it’s worth a mention because the British reader is going to get a bit of an initial shock, even if it turns out to be a pleasant and welcome one. If you wanted to be kind, you’d say it was “refreshing” and, the truth is, that’s how it usually is. Some home-produced books can, if we’re honest, be a bit plodding and the step-by-step approach can pall after a while, which is why the best of the French, Dutch and German translations often prove quite remarkably popular.

So, having established what this isn’t: a guide to the medium primarily aimed at the beginner, what is it? Well, the original title translates as, “Handbook of acrylic painting – materials, techniques, examples and exercises”, which is quite a mouthful and you can see why it’s come out shorter in the English version. While that latter isn’t exactly it, neither is the original. What you do get, though, is a very different look at acrylics and what you can do with it as a medium of interpretation. In fact, I’d suggest that this is more a book about artistic expression than it is about any particular medium. There aren’t really any demonstrations and most of the illustrations are completed examples; there are plenty of them and they’re quite admirably varied. There are also a lot of words and this is as much a book to read as it is to look at.

So, should you buy it? If you’re looking for what I think it claims to be (and the English subtitle is: a compete guide to painting using this versatile medium), then no. Pass it by, it’s not for you and it’ll confuse and disappoint you. On the other hand, if you’re an experienced painter and you’re looking for some new and often left-field ideas that come from a culture you maybe don’t see every day, then emphatically yes. If you’re that person, you won’t just not be disappointed, I think you’ll be filled with transports of delight at the new directions opening up to you. Just decide which reader you are, though.

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