This is one of those books where the above-the-title billing for the author is actually more than just a conceit. To call this book just “Atmospheric Watercolours” would completely miss the point. Atmosphere is one of the hardest words to define in relation to art. On the one hand, we all know what we mean by it: it’s the sense of time and place that can be achieved by the use of washes, glazes and wet-in-wet, but also by composition and colour choice – pretty much the standard technical arsenal, in fact. On the other hand, it’s a woolly term that really means nothing except that the work has an essential quality of je ne sais quoi.
So that’s a good start, then. And what do we actually have here? Well, it’s easy to say what Jean Haines’ work is. It’s definitely well into the spectrum of abstraction, and she uses a lot of washes to create a sense of what her subjects are about, more than just what they are. Is this “atmospheric”? Not really, if you buy my definition, but do please feel free to come up with a better word.
I do think we’re getting there, though. I don’t think this could really be classed as an instruction manual, even though there are plenty of demonstrations and lots of discussions of how Jean works – for someone with such a personal style, she’s actually very good at this part. Yes, it’s practical, but the approach isn’t half so much do-this, do-that as an analysis of Jean’s own working methods and, through that, showing you how you can achieve not so much the same thing, as something similar. This is perhaps a first, and an invaluable aid for anyone wanting to move beyond representation and to develop their own way of describing what they see. If this sounds like the heart of abstraction, it is, and this book is probably one of the best ways of learning about a technique that so frequently defies description and really has to be absorbed rather than learnt.
If you’ve followed what I’ve said, then I’m pretty sure you’ll like the book. If not, proceed with caution; it may be that you’re not ready for it yet – but persevere!