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Dynamic Watercolours || Jane Betteridge

This is an interesting approach to watercolour that concentrates as much on technical opportunities as it does on pure creativity. That’s not to imply that Jane is devoid of ideas – she’s brimming with them – but this is an exploration of what can be done with what’s often regarded as quite a demure medium when you push and stretch it to its limits.

Whether you like the results will depend a lot on how you feel about “pure” watercolour, about which plenty has been written. Even if this isn’t your cup of tea you will, I think, be impressed by what Jane manages to achieve and the boldness with which she’s prepared to go out on something of a limb, both technically and creatively. When you find innovative ways of working, it’s also worth looking for the same in your method of expression and this is a very happy marriage of those two strands.

So, if you’re still with me, I think we’ve established that you have a sense of adventure and are up for a challenge. Will you get that? Emphatically, yes, you will. Jane works with surfaces, textured grounds, crackle and modelling pastes and applied materials. She attacks her images with wire brushes and stamps as well as deploying inks and granulations, salt, impasto and pearlescent colours. Does that sound like a theme park ride? Prepare to hang on.

Search Press have become adept at making the illustrations an integral part of their books, rather than, more formal counterpoints to the text. The result can be an assault on the senses and an overall impression of busyness that can sometimes be difficult to take in at a glance. Delve further though and it all becomes clear as themes and subjects coalesce out of the wider view. Add to this Jane’s very clear sense of where she’s going and how she wants to get there and you land up with a coherent composition that is at once exciting and convincing.

If this isn’t a book that immediately excites you, you might find it somewhat hard to like. However, stay with it and I think you’ll be at least partly convinced by the end.

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Curious Creatures – Frans Post and Brazil

Between 1637 and 1644, the Dutch artist Frans Post travelled to Dutch territories in what is now part of Brazil to record the exotic flora and fauna found there. The paintings he made after his return to Europe became celebrated and were the first time many had seen creatures so far from their personal experience. These finished works are now in galleries around the world.

The original drawings on which the paintings were based were presumed to have been lost, but were recently discovered in an archive in Haarlem. It is these that form the basis for this exhibition, on loan to the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin. For those unable to visit, the reproduction in this slim volume that accompanies it gives an excellent indication of the closeness and accuracy of Post’s observation as well as the opportunity to compare the drawings with the conventionality – in European terms – of the full paintings.

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Art: the whole story || ed Stephen Farthing

It’s a bold title and an even bolder undertaking. Telling the story of art from cave painting to Post-Modernism is always going to be a difficult task and there are bound to be drawbacks and trade-offs. I’m not going to make list of what I think has been omitted but, if this is a game you want to play, knock yourself out. Doing that, though, is to miss the point. This isn’t the art history book to end all art history books, the last one you buy after a lifetime of study. Rather, it’s a handy introduction for those with a less than total, or maybe a passing, interest in the subject. It’s a single volume that won’t break the coffee table or occupy a whole shelf of your library. It provides both a straightforward chronological overview of the development of techniques, movements and styles. If you want to know more, there are plenty of sources of further study.

The trade-off that I hinted at previously is that each section is necessarily concise, but that may also be what you want from a book of this type. The number of illustrations is impressive and there are also useful detail analyses of the major works shown. This, of course, leads to rather small sizes and this can be frustrating. Again, however, it’s part of the nature of the beast and, in the end, worth accepting as part of the broad scope offered in a book that’s ultimately very manageable, both physically and intellectually. At a whisker under £20, it’s also stonkingly good value.

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Start to Paint with Pastels || Jenny Keal

This, one of the best introductions to pastels around, has been reissued. You can read the original review here.

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Roderic O’Conor & the Moderns: Between Paris and Pont-Aven

This nicely produced and generously illustrated book is the catalogue of an exhibition at the National Gallery of Ireland between July and October 2018.

Born in County Roscommon, O’Conor (1860-1940) moved to France and divided his time between Paris and rural art colonies such as Grez and Pont-Aven. This brought him into contact with a variety of influences at a time when art movements were developing and groups forming. An initial glance at his work tends to place him as an Impressionist or Post-Impressionist, but wider contact is evident. The exhibition shows his work alongside that of Gaugin, Van Gogh, Emile Bernard and others.

There are 66 illustrations in the book, mostly by O’Conor, but also others, reflecting the catholic nature of the exhibition. Drawings and etchings as well as paintings reflect the variety of media in which the artist worked and many have not previously been publicly exhibited.

Both the exhibition and its catalogue provide an excellent overview of a major artist whose work is perhaps not as widely known as it could be.

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Portrait Drawing (Pocket Art) || Miss Led (Joanna Henly)

There’s much to like about this fresh, and refreshing, approach to drawing portraits. The author is an illustrator by profession and this shows in the often stylised form of some of her completed works. This doesn’t detract from the nature of the instruction, however and, in fact, adds to the sense of this being something a little (but not too) different.

I will always take issue with small formats in this kind of book. It’s mannered, and you really don’t need to carry a portraiture manual around with you. It’s something you’ll sit down with when you have time. Yes, I suppose you could have a quick go on the train or the bus, but the results in a moving vehicle will never be satisfactory. However, I’m going to give this a pass partly because it’s so good and partly because of the flexible cover that makes it actually possible to see the pages.

The approach is very basic and covers the shape and form of the face as well as individual features such as eyes, noses, skin tones and hair. There are relatively few words and plenty of well-executed examples that show you both what you’re trying to achieve and how to get there.

The whole thing has a clear idea of what it wants to do and fulfils its own brief nicely.

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Pocket Book for Watercolour Artists || Terry Harrison/Geoff Kersey/Charles Evans

Search Press have reissued their handy Top Tips guides in paperback format, making them available for a new audience.

Containing concise hints and tips – often with a single illustration and a short caption, but also some longer demonstrations, they offer quick and immediate advice that can be like having your favourite artist as a private tutor with you as you work.

For more complete reviews, follow the link above.

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