There was a time, long ago, when Watson Guptill was the kid on the block when it came to art publishing. True, some of their books were almost aggressively, insularly American and really didn’t travel, but they still came up with such gems as Charles Reid’s Flower Painting in Watercolor, the first practical art book to be illustrated in full colour (which was not until 1979, amazing as that might seem). In later years, the quality seemed to fall off and there was a sense that they had lost their direction. More recently, there has been an indication of a climb back, with some solid offerings that got the job done, even if, perhaps, they didn’t have the old spark.
It’s with a real sense of delight, therefore, that I can report that they’ve finally regained their mojo. There are three of their books in this batch of reviews and I’ve been enthusiastic about all of them. OK, technically, I haven’t been enthusiastic about this one yet, but I’m about to say that it’s a tour de force.
This is a book about drawing. So much, so obvious, and so simple. Actually, it’s pretty much the book about drawing that I’ve been trying to get publishers interested in for several years, though with a rather specific author in mind. What I mean is that it’s neither a practical manual, nor a collection of pretty or interesting pictures positioning itself as a survey of current work. Its both of those things and yet it’s so much more as well. It’s a book about the philosophy of drawing as well as its practice, both in creative and technical terms. When I say it’s about drawing, I mean it’s all about drawing and it’s about all drawing as well. Literally opening it at random, I’ve come up with two sections that sort of show you what I mean: “The Self-Governed but Unforeseeable Mark” is what other books would refer to as a happy accident, but putting it the way Margaret has raises something simple to a much higher plane, yet without being pretentious. Then again, “A Brief History of Paper” is exactly the sort of digression a book like this should go in for and, as you might expect, it becomes not a digression at all, but an essential part of the main thesis.
I could go on, but I’m hoping you get the idea, because now I’ve got to talk about the illustrations. These are extraordinary. They’re beautiful, intriguing and often challenging and they’re magnificently reproduced. A lot of care has gone into this book and it’s apparent that the editors have fully understood the nature of what the author has presented them with. The pictures themselves come from a variety of contemporary (American) practitioners but are also interspersed with Margaret’s own work and diagrams when it comes to the practical sections.