Themes, subjects and media go in cycles, and coloured pencil is having its moment in the sun again. This is no bad thing, because it’s a medium that requires little in the way of equipment and is highly portable, meaning you can work almost anywhere. On top of that, as printing tolerances improve, it’s possible to reproduce on the page the fine detail pencils allow; this is a book that sparkles in that respect.
Let’s assume, therefore, that you’re on board with the medium and subject matter presented here. You’ve also skimmed through the technical introduction because there’s never not something interesting, and perhaps new to you, to be found. Given the level of work here, you’re not a beginner, so the basic techniques are, even if not second nature, at least familiar. What you want now is to feel comfortable with your tutor and to get just the right amount of instruction to be able to follow the demonstrations and projects presented. As we’ve already cut to the chase once, we can do so again – you won’t be disappointed and should feel right at home.
This is not the first book on animal drawing, so we should look for individualities. In that respect, the word Portrait in the title is significant. These are head and shoulder images that capture the character of the subject. I really, really want to say “sitter”, but you’re going to need a photograph for that. And, yes, Lisa does indeed work from photographs. The technical introduction includes some rather useful tips on getting the photo right in the first place and also on using software to combine images for dual portraits. She also suggests reducing a colour image to line to help with the initial outline drawing. I haven’t seen that in a book where it’s not the main subject before and it’s an extremely useful addition, especially when working from photographs is essential to the subject matter.
The drawings themselves include a good variety of creatures (although not the donkeys on the cover). It’s worth saying that, although horses and cattle are here, dogs and cats predominate. Lisa goes into considerable detail about fur and hair (no feathers here) as well as features such as eyes, noses and ears. There are enlarged illustrations at all the points you need them. Lisa is a thoughtful teacher who has an excellent sense of exactly those points where a student is going to need help or a nudge.
In terms of style, as befits a portrait, backgrounds are largely neutral, but without the pitfall of looking like a blank card. The use of colour can surprise you – careful combinations of greens and reds are frequently used to create realistic shades and shading. Highlights, in the eyes especially, add character as well as that sparkle I referred to earlier.
Production-wise, the book has soft covers that open easily and deep flaps that make it feel nice in the hand. Obviously, it’s the content that matters, but ergonomics have a strong part to play in the way we react to a book and this one ticks all the right boxes. A lot of thought has clearly gone into it.
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