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Ready to Paint in 30 Minutes – Mountain Scenes in Watercolour || Lesley Linley

Having lived for several years on Skye, Lesley is well-placed to understand the many moods and atmospheric variation of mountain landscapes and this latest addition to an excellent series covers everything from aerial perspective and tonal recession to textures in rock and reflections in water.

Each of the 32 projects concentrates on a single topic, so there are no complex scenes to get bogged down in. The whole idea is to develop your skills through simple exercises, each with a full-size A6 tracing that’s easy to transport and can be completed quickly. If you’re stuck on a larger work of your own, you could even break off for a quick bit of revision before going on – so much better than spoiling the whole thing at the last minute!

This is a delightful book in a series that’s already been well thought-out and Lesley’s confident approach makes it especially easy to follow.

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Piranesi Drawings – visions of antiquity || Sarah Vowles

This is another of Thames & Hudson’s collaborations with the British Museum and accompanies an exhibition which, at the time of writing, is of course closed.

The quality of reproduction and generous page size make this a viable alternative to a visit and, if you want to see Piranesi drawings, shouldn’t disappoint. Fifty-one works are illustrated, mostly full page, and extended captions provide descriptive and background information. The purpose of the exhibition is to show how the artist developed as a draughtsman over time and the progression is broadly chronological, rather than by form or theme. Chronological notes and a select bibliography add both clarity and avenues for further study.

With venues closed, viewing originals isn’t possible at the present time and alternatives have to be found. This is a worthy one.

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Painting and Reinterpreting the Masters || Sara Lee Roberts

This isn’t a bad idea at all. Back in the day, students learnt painting by the Atelier method, working in the studio of a master. They’d start by grinding and then mixing colour, progress to preparing canvases and then to laying grounds. Eventually, they might also paint backgrounds for less prestigious commissions – or maybe even the whole work – giving rise to the term “school of”, where the master’s brush might never have touched the canvas.

This is an artistic form of apprenticeship and it taught not just the practicalities of painting, but also those of running a studio and working with clients. If the student wasn’t particularly imaginative, it could lead to what amounted to Master II – simply emulations of what someone had already done. The best students, however, went on the develop their own style and so art progressed through the centuries.

We don’t have apprenticeships these days and they have been replaced by formal schools, books and online tutorials. However, the idea of understanding what happened historically, then taking it up and running with it is no bad thing and that’s what this book attempts to get you to do.

The danger, as it always was, is that you’ll simply end up copying, but that’s up to you. In any case, you may well find that it’s the best starting point, but do please try not to paint a modern Goya.

There’s plenty to get your teeth into here, both from the analytical and productive point of view, but it’s worth noting that the process of the reconstructions that Sara demonstrates are covered in only three or four stages and a page or so – these are not lengthy projects and much of the work will be done on your own.

This is a worthy volume that fulfils its brief well and repays – indeed requires – considerable study. The only complaint I have with it is that the reproduction is somewhat flat and lacking in detail. This is a shame as it’s a rather important part of the whole process.

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Nineteenth-Century Art: a critical history || ed Stephen F Eisenman

This massive brick of a book covers just about every aspect of artistic output including painting, sculpture, photography and furniture.

The comprehensive text from a variety of specialist contributors is accompanied by a generous number of excellently-reproduced illustrations. Big names are here, but also some less well known and even anonymous, such as the Native American representations of both their own culture and interaction with European settlers.

Although substantial and, as I hinted, heavy, this is by no mean unmanageable. The paperback format of this fifth edition is large enough to allow you to see what’s going on without being too big to sit in the hands and it falls open easily without threatening the integrity of the spine. These things don’t happen by accident and the production team at Thames & Hudson deserve credit for giving thought to the poor reader.

Content-wise, consideration has also been given to those who are not approaching this from a drily academic viewpoint. The illustrations leaven what are inevitable text-heavy chapters and breakout features add both summaries and additional depth, with background information on subjects as diverse as race, ecology, utopianism and even madness.

As well as being a thorough survey and history, this magnificent book also manages to show the position of the nineteenth century in the wider history of art and the development of the avant-garde and modernism.

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Modern Watercolor Botanicals || Sarah Simon

Let’s say first of all that this is a very attractively presented book. That’s not to damn it with faint praise, but rather to emphasise just how much first impressions matter. As soon as I look at its gilt spiral binding and edge reinforcements, I just want to like it.

The content is a series of lessons and exercises in painting flowers and flower arrangements. There’s a standardised layout that makes following the instructions easy and each demonstration comes with plenty of step-by-step illustrations. Instructions are offered for three different skill levels: beginner, intermediate or advanced. I’ve always resisted this classification as one person’s beginner is another’s expert – I’ve spoken to professional painters who’ve said “I’m really only a beginner” and people who’ve been working for all of six months and can’t be taught anything new. Still, at least it offers you the opportunity to choose how much detail and hand-holding you want, even if at the cost of perhaps a little over-writing.

The basic outlines which, it should be said, have a strong graphic content, are traceable, so you can work with prepared outlines if you want. There’s also plenty of information about colour and materials. Yes, this has its limitations, but it’s also comprehensive and easy to understand once you get the hang of the format.

I wanted to like it and I do.

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Mixed Media Landscapes and Seascapes || Chris Forsey

If you’re into mixed media, or Alison C Board’s excellent introduction has whetted your appetite, you’ll welcome this thorough guide to landscapes.

Chris works in watercolour, oil, ink, acrylic and pastel and he shows you here how to create what can only be called dynamic images by judicious combinations of some or all of them. From the simple application of gouache to highlight breaking waves to a summer lane done in watersoluble and oil pastel, Chris demonstrates ways of capturing atmosphere through careful use of materials. He is particularly sound on the use of texture to create form and pick out highlights.

The book itself has a good mixture of discussion, exercises and demonstrations. Chris will show you what you’re trying to achieve, allow you to practise the effects you want and then move on to a full demonstration that brings everything together nicely.

There’s plenty of variety here and a host of illustrations that make everything clear and easy to follow. My only complaint is that some of the reproduction is a little unsharp, making it difficult to see some of the detail when that’s what you really want.

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Mastering The Art of Landscapes || Sarah Hoggett & Abigail Edgar

This was part of a series that was originally published a few years ago, but here has a welcome reissue. The style and presentation remain fresh and the colour reproduction shows little sign of age.

The book is a portmanteau and showcases watercolour, oils and drawing media. That may mean you get material you don’t think is relevant to you, although you may also feel that the different approaches that are demonstrated present ideas outside those you would normally expect. Some people can look at a cloud demonstration and see beyond the medium it was painted in, others need very specific information relating to colour mixing and mark-making. Neither group is wrong, you just need to take what you can from what’s presented.

What you do get is a thoroughly eclectic mix of topics, subject and mediums. There are skies, sunsets, rocks, trees, flowers, seascapes, waves and even rainbows. Each of the 30 demonstrations is fully explained and illustrated and the generous page format makes it very easy to follow.

The list of contributing artists is also impressive and includes David Curtis, Trudy Friend, Wendy Jelbert, Ronald Jesty, Ray Balkwill and quite a few more.

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Mastering The Art of Drawing || Ian Sidaway & Sarah Hoggett

Although this isn’t a new book, I haven’t reviewed it before and it remains an excellent introduction to and overview of the medium. Books of this type are often aimed at people who buy books for someone else “because I know you like art”. This, however, is one you might well choose for yourself.

It’s big USP is its thorough coverage of materials as diverse as pen & ink, pastel, charcoal and pencil in all their forms. At the book’s heart are 25 fully demonstrated projects that are thoroughly illustrated and explained – it’s relatively unusual to find an introductory explanation that explains why you’re doing this particular subject and what you’re expecting to learn. In terms of taking the reader seriously, it really doesn’t get any better than this.

You’ll be expecting me to say that subjects range from landscapes and seascapes to still lifes, figures and buildings and I won’t disappoint you. The variety is as it should be and the illustrations admirably clear.

If you want an introductory course in drawing, you can’t do much better. However, if you’re already reasonably competent and just want to immerse yourself in all the possibilities, this is for you as well.

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John Singer Sargent – his life and works in 500 images || Susie Hodge

This is one of the latest titles in a really rather excellent series. Susie Hodge is a perceptive anthologiser and her generous selection of images covers not just the gamut of her subjects’ careers, but also the whole breadth of their work.

Books such as this stand or fall largely on the quality of the reproduction. At a modest £17, one should not be over-critical and good enough is, frankly, good enough. It is therefore a pleasure to report that this is a whole lot better than merely adequate. To get this amount of material could easily cost three or four times as much and, unless you wanted a definitive monograph, you’re vanishingly unlikely to be disappointed. Frankly, I’ve seen books like that which are a whole lot worse, so you can confidently fill your boots with this one.

The text is necessarily concise, but the basic information is all there. Again, we are in the territory of an introductory survey for the general reader and you get, I think, a lot more than you might expect. It’s all very clear and there are some genuine insights – it’s a very great deal more than “this is a painting and this is what it’s of”.

There’s much to like here, much to get your teeth into and it’s an all-round thorough job.

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Degas at the Opéra || Henri Loyrette

Edgar Degas was famously at home with the ballet and his paintings of dancers are among his most famous and loved works. He was, however, also fascinated by the Opéra de Paris and this book is devoted to this sometimes overlooked aspect of his work, to the extent that this is the first book to be devoted to the subject.

It is, it should be said, an exhaustive tome. If there was anything you want to know about the artist’s involvement with the institution, you’ll find it here. It doesn’t seem likely that the author has left any gaps for subsequent volumes to fill. That’s not by any means a bad thing, but it does make this very much a book for the specialist. The depth and authority of the research is impressive, as is the production. Some 100 major works in a wide variety of media are reproduced, along with preparatory sketches and drawings of the building’s furniture and fixtures. It amounts to something of an artistic documentary.

There’s really not a lot more that can be said. If you’re a Degas completist, or a fan of the Paris Opéra, you’ll want this and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. The more general reader might baulk at the £45 price tag, but I don’t think the specialist would. Frankly, for a book of this extent and quality, it’s not even a huge amount.

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