Colour & Light in Watercolour (new edition) || Jean Haines

Well, this is a first! I’ve seen books dragged out of well-deserved retirement, kept current by revamped covers and re-issued as “classics”, but I’ve never seen one given a complete makeover that doubles the original extent.

I had reservations about this when it first appeared. It’s not that it wasn’t good, or that I didn’t like it, just that I didn’t feel that Jean’s loose and somewhat idiosyncratic style fitted comfortably into a series of what were largely technical manuals. All that clearly didn’t harm sales and Jean has, of course, gone on to become a bestselling and highly respected author. Later volumes have given her work the freedom it needs and it’s blossomed as a result.

Re-workings of what for the moment we’ll call juvenilia are rarely successful. Authors move on, their style develops and things that are largely historical are best left as pieces of history. If that means they’re a footnote, so be it. It’s often better than being something everyone comes to regret and has to make excuses for later.

And now, gentle reader, I’m going to eat my words: both my previous reservations and my suspicion of the re-vamp. This is everything the book should have been in the first place. It hasn’t been shoe-horned into a series format, for a start. Series are great and are often a way of introducing new authors who may not have the gravitas to stand alone, but can be carried on by the momentum a series provides and given a toe-hold in the water (yes, I do know that’s a mixed metaphor, but it was kind of you to mention it).

It’s also been completely re-designed and there are vastly more illustrations. Now, it has room to spread its wings and to breathe, which is exactly what Jean’s work needs. She’s not about small illustrations that populate a detailed text, she’s about illustrations, illustrations and illustrations. You need to see her work full-page and preferably on a crisp white background and that’s what you have here. I haven’t done a word-by-word comparison, but I’m pretty sure this is the original text and it now becomes an adjunct to the pictures, rather than the other way round. The best art books usually lead on the paintings and use the text just as a caption to explain what you’re looking at when you need a nudge or it isn’t immediately obvious.

This is a hard trick to pull off because, if the original book was any good, it’ll have been properly put together and be a perfect sphere it’s very hard to pull apart. No matter how much you want to, it is, as I’ve hinted above, usually better to leave well alone and start something new from scratch. So, congratulations to Search Press, whose editorial and design teams are on a bit of a roll at the moment, and to Jean too. With this many new illustrations, she’s had a pretty large part in the exercise as well. You need this book.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

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