Watercolor: a beginner’s guide || Elizabeth Horowitz

You’d think that, after some 30 years in this business, I’d have seen far too many beginner’s guides to painting and be about as excited about a new one as a child getting a re-wrapped toy for Christmas.

But the strange thing is that I’ve seen hardly any. I don’t mean that all the books that pass across my desk are aimed at the super-competent professional, because they’re not. What I mean is that books which just explain the basic processes to someone who’s wanting to get started are few and far between. And, actually, most of those try to cover every possible medium and are surely aimed at the gift market, people who are buying a book for someone else, rather than someone who has a serious interest but doesn’t quite know how to get that first foot on the ladder. How many people, hearing, “I know you’re a bit arty, so I thought you might like this”, don’t feel like a ten-year-old being given a rattle?

So, this is a bit of a treasure, not least because it confines itself to watercolour and doesn’t try to be all things to all persons. Immediately, it has the feeling that it means business. Delving inside reveals a technique-based approach that works surprisingly (or do I mean unsurprisingly?) well. This moves from Setup and Basic Techniques to Colour and Glazing and then on to Composition and Perspective, and Positive and Negative Shapes. Given that these last four things are the basic grammar of painting, you really shouldn’t gloss over them in the early stages and hope that you can pick them up later when you have a head full of vocabulary; it won’t work. Negative shapes are very rarely covered anywhere, so it’s particularly pleasing to find them dealt with here.

The overall layout of the book is pleasantly simple and easy to follow and each section within the chapter headings is relatively short so that you have time to linger and absorb things one at a time. There are bullet-lists of hints and tips and example paintings when you need them. What there are not are lots of demonstrations, but the author isn’t afraid to include the odd step-by-step when it’s absolutely necessary.

Altogether, I get the feeling of a book that includes and cares about me, rather than being pleased with itself and trying to show me how great the author is.

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