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There’s a variety of material in this utterly enthralling book, but by far the majority of it is of wildlife, and that’s what you’d buy it for. I’ve always been surprised by the success in the practical art market of books which deal with such sharp focus and fine detail. I don’t mean to denigrate the skills of amateur artists, but this kind of thing is almost certainly beyond the capabilities of more than a few. The truth is, I suspect, that it’s aspirational and you’d certainly be pleased if you could come up with something even half as good.
Although there are demonstrations here, they aren’t really the focus of the book, which is much more of a masterclass aimed at those who already have quite a lot more than the basic skills. If you can already paint animals, you’ll be glad at the lack of rehearsal of the basics you already know. As far as materials are concerned, Angela works mostly in acrylics.
The results are stunning. Angela absolutely understands form, colouring, posture and behaviour and here it’s not only her creatures that are believable, but their settings and their place in them. It’s true that she works a lot from photographs, but those don’t always give quite the right composition or feature the perfect specimen. The art is to provide what nature intended, rather in the way of the identification guide, which shows a typical rather than exact example.
The majority of the subjects are large wildlife – apes, elephants, big cats – but there are some domestic ones as well as some figurative work that demonstrates similar skills. There’s not enough of this to make it a reason for purchase, but it adds variety and a further dimension.
And now we must turn to the production, which is the jewel in the book’s crown. This is a slightly oversize volume and excellent use has been made of the space, both to showcase finished paintings and to feature details and stages at a good size. The quality of the reproduction is stunning. Angela’s work concentrates on fine detail and every hair and brushstroke are clearly visible. Going through, I started to wonder whether some of the images weren’t quite up to snuff and were perhaps not quite as sharp as they might be. Further inspection showed that this is absolutely not the case and that what I was actually seeing was the texture of the painting surface. Yes, it’s that good.
Only a hundred years ago, colour reproduction was so coarse that you could see the individual dots of ink with the naked eye. Photo litho improved that and then mechanical tolerances in the printing presses themselves allowed much finer register and smaller dots, which you now need a powerful magnifier to see.
For all that, there’s much that can go wrong and choice of paper is a major stumbling block. Search Press’s production department has been at the top of its game for some time, but this surpasses anything I’ve seen, even from more august publishing houses dealing with fine art. That they have achieved this with a cover price of just under £20 is barely credible and you have to suspect witchcraft may be involved! If you’re involved with book production, you should have a copy of this, just to remind yourself of what’s possible. You have nowhere to hide and there are no excuses for anything less.
So, to sum up: an amazing book in every respect.
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