Archive for category Author: Cathy Johnson

Painting Nature in Watercolour || Cathy Johnson

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure whether this is a completely new book or a re-working of material from some of the author’s previous works. However, it has a fresh look and feel to it, so I’m going to review it on the basis that it’s all new.

It’s a rather wonderful portmanteau of just about everything the natural world can throw at us, from vegetation to animals and even people by way of skies and clouds and land- and waterscapes. As well as subject matter, it also takes in techniques, both in pure watercolour and in mixed media with watercolour pencils.

Cathy’s style is loose and relaxed and very much to the painterly taste. Although this is an American book and you therefore get species which are specific to another continent, the differences are not intrusive and many (in fact, most) of the paintings are sufficiently generic that they have no specific place.

I could say that the modelling, particularly of some of the creatures, isn’t always completely perfect, but it always does its job and simply turning the pages of this really rather enjoyable book is going to make you feel good and want to get down to work.

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Watercolour Tricks & Techniques || Cathy Johnson

This first appeared several years ago in conventional hardback form. It was a good book then and there’s no reason to suppose it isn’t now, indeed its simple approach and sound advice have stood the test of time well. The general approach is that each chapter is a few pages devoted to a particular painting technique such as the use of masking fluid, toned paper or different types of brush. With 75 different sections, it’s packed with ideas and is something to dip into when inspiration has dried up or you just fancy having a go at something new.

And that’s the problem, because this new edition has been shoe-horned into a format North Light have dreamt up that gives you a book that folds back into a mini-easel and stands up by itself. For books that you need to follow while you’re painting and which have a lot of information packed onto one page, this is fine. However, for something like this, which is much more something to sit down and dip into, it’s an absolute pain. The spiral binding is stiff and you have to turn the page every time (you don’t get two at a spread). And as it’s not a book you need to be constantly referring to as you paint, there isn’t even a payback from the convenience factor a stand-up provides.

All-in-all, I can only suggest you look out for a secondhand copy of the original format. I can’t help feeling that frustration would have this one going out of the window after a few minutes!

North Light

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Creating Nature In Watercolour: An Artist's Guide || Cathy Johnson

This is an American book. It’s important that you know this at the outset because a lot of the wildlife and locations are things a European isn’t going to be familiar with. Equally, if you’re reading this in North America, I have to come clean and admit that this review isn’t for you. In this case, everything I like about the book applies, but some of my reservations don’t. You’ll be at home (literally) and in a comfort zone.

Having got that out of the way, I can say that, if you’re looking for a guide to specific landscapes and creatures, there’s going to be a lot in this book that will pass you by. The general principles and techniques, however, still apply and if your requirements are more general, then there’s much to enjoy here.

Cathy Johnson is an experienced writer and an engaging painter. Her watercolours are pleasantly loose, but well in the representational camp and there are plenty of ideas and techniques here that you’ll soon be wanting to try out. The visual impact of the book is an important factor; put simply, the pages are easy on the eye and this is very much something to leaf through and stop whenever something specific catches your attention.

I do think it’s a pity that the publisher felt the need to put a tint on every page that mimics a watercolour sketchpad. It’s mannered and the identical dark splodge at the bottom corner of every page just gets annoying after only a few minutes. They’ve also used a matt paper and these two things combine to give a flatness to the illustrations that does them a serious disservice.

This isn’t a bad book at all and it has a overall feelgood factor that that means it’s one you’re more likely to keep than give to the next jumble sale, but I hope you can see my problem: I’m in danger of damning it with faint praise. I suppose my overall feeling is that, if I was given it, I’d be happy with it, but, if I’d paid seventeen pounds, I might feel my cash could have been better invested elsewhere.

North Light 2007

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