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A band on the jacket helpfully advises that this is “the book Charles Darwin used to describe colours on his voyage on HMS Beagle”. So much, you might say, for that.
This is a facsimile (if you hadn’t guessed) of a book first published in 1814. It was invaluable then and, although mainly of historical interest now, contains information that can still be of use to the artist. This version took a previously existing colour naming system and adapted it for practical use by botanists, zoologists, mineralogists and artists.
Why, you might ask, was it necessary? Two hundred years ago, colour printing didn’t exist in any useful form. Those full-colour guides we’re so used to now are surprisingly recent. Only 30 or so years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for painting books to be illustrated with only some dozen colour plates and those would be concentrated together, not run throughout the text. The quality of the colour reproduction in the present volume suggests that the swatches were hand-tinted, so this would have been a small edition, and by no means cheap.
But still, why place so much importance on how colours are described? Well, if you can’t reproduce it in print, you need a reliable way of writing about it so that the reader can mix it for themselves, and that requires a standard approach. Enter Mr Werner, ably assisted by Mr Syme.
To see how this works in practice, let’s look at Bluish Green. It “is composed of Berlin blue, and a little lemon yellow and greyish white”. The accompanying table tells us that it’s suitable for a thrush egg, the under disc of wild rose leaves or the mineral beryl. And that’s how you get the colours right, even if you haven’t got a reliable chart.
Yes, this is mainly of historical interest, but it’s a fascinating read and a reminder of how the world got on when everything really was black and white.
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I’ll be honest, I’m not absolutely sure what this is. The blurb tells me that it “will provide both the amateur and the seasoned creator with helpful knowledge in order to successfully execute the Realism style”. That, however, is not Magic Realism – highly detailed work that emulates photography – and looks suspiciously like conventional art that gets things like form and perspective right. There are occasional slight echoes of Edward Hopper, but I’m not convinced that’s deliberate. There is also an associated app that claims to be augmented reality but is, as far as I can tell, just a portal via on-page codes to video tutorials. I think it’s more added content than augmented reality.
So, having pretty much trashed the intent of the book, is there any point in going any further? Well, yes, because once you get past the ache to be new and high-tech, this is a very sound introduction to painting a good variety of subjects in watercolour, oil and acrylic. Yes, that old cross-media chestnut rears its head and, yes the subject you want may not be covered in the medium you use but, as long as you can follow the basic principles, the actual style of instruction, particularly working with problem areas and enlarged details is perfectly sound.
The lack of a named author is slightly odd, but there are plenty of different contributing artists and the text is concise and to the point. My initial thought was that it has the feel of a Parramon original and so, on further investigation, it turns out to be. That pedigree is generally a recommendation in itself and I’d say it is here. It’s hard to know who to recommend the book to – it’s a little too advanced for the complete beginner and sometimes a little too basic for the experienced artist. However, it’s something that may grab your attention and, as long as you feel you can get enough out of it to justify the price, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed and may well feel it has more to offer than you first thought.
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