I always said I wasn’t going to review this series because it has no words, so you’re really left with not a lot to talk about. However, I caved in when it got to Insects because, if a series gets that esoteric, it pretty much has to be popular. I mean, not only was it the only book on that subject (exclusively) I’ve seen, but it’s not exactly first-choice, is it?
So here we have people. They must have done that one before, surely? Or was is a morning-after editorial meeting? “ No, we’ve got to do the insects first.” “Have you been watching Dr Who again?” “Yes, MALCOLM TUCKER!!!”* (Sorry, but I really am excited about this).
For those of you who don’t know, the stock-in-trade of this series is a single page which starts off with the simplest outlines, then builds up a basic shape and works it, in six steps, into a finished drawing. For a subject as complex as the human figure, that does mean there’s an awful lot left out and some pretty giant leaps of the imagination, but it does work surprisingly well. If your main problem is getting started, then this is definitely the book for you and Susie does a fantastic job of choosing exactly which stages to illustrate so that you do get a genuine feeling of progression rather than giant steps.
The only fly in the ointment is that I wish each demonstration had stopped at the fifth stage, the finished drawing, because these are in every case beautiful and sensitive works in pencil that need no further embellishment. The series, however, demands a colour finale and this is done by adding (what I think is) a completely unnecessary wash that covers the pencil lines and makes the whole thing, in almost all cases, look heavy and clumsy. I don’t think it’s a problem with Susie’s work with a wash, I just think it doesn’t work with what’s gone before.
A couple of examples. There’s a woman sitting knitting. Perfectly fine in the drawing, but the colour wash leaves a chair she’ll fall off if she moves and which doesn’t look strong enough to support its own weight, let alone hers. And the man with the stick. I’m sorry, but that thing is two inches in diameter, it’s nearly as thick as his arm!
This is a quibble, but I do think it’s best to ignore stage six and just stop at five. Treat this as what it claims to be, a book about drawing and put your paint box away. You get a fantastic variety of figures and poses, both static and in motion and a stripped-down approach that simply dissolves so much of the mystique that always surrounds figure drawing.
* Peter Capaldi, Malcolm Tucker in The Thick Of It, was announced as the new Dr Who yesterday.
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