Archive for category Author: Hazel Soan
This series from Batsford is shaping up nicely and any book on painting people, especially as furniture for a larger work, is welcome.
Not everyone by any means wants to paint people as a subject in themselves, but an unpopulated painting always has a neglected look to it. In common with the style of the series, this is very much illustration-led and the text is concise to the point of terseness and mainly confined to explanatory captions. It should also be said that this is very welcome – if you don’t want an exhaustive in-depth study, being shown what’s going on rather than lectured at length is the proverbial breath of fresh air.
This is not to say that Hazel doesn’t manage to make the coverage comprehensive. There’s information on shape, proportion, pose, lighting and clothing and the chapters are arranged so that you can locate one particular topic easily. If you want to venture into portraiture, Hazel offers good basic advice, although you will probably want to graduate to more dedicated books as well. Groups, action and settings all get a look-in as well, making this one of the best starting-points you’ll find.
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Oils. Quickly. Really? You’ll forgive my cynicism because you probably share it, but also my curiosity because this is Hazel Soan and she doesn’t make wild claims. You may also conclude that any book by her has a head start and is going to contain more wise words than most others. And you’d be right.
Let’s deal with the “quick” bit. This is not a lengthy tome. Its 112 pages are quite small, so you could really call it 56. There also aren’t very many words, so it’s hardly enough even to scratch the surface, is it? Well, yes it is. The simple fact is that this is a distillation of a very considerable amount of wisdom. Let’s pick a topic at random, in this case reflections:
“Reflections are a great subject because they offer repetition of a shape or colour, which makes for interesting composition. In water, the repetition is above and below the waterline. The condition of water is shown in a painting by the character and nature of the brushstrokes. Some examples are shown here.”
Yes, there’s a lot more you can say, but the essence of it’s here, beautifully distilled. And don’t forget the “Examples shown”. This is a book that teaches from its illustrations and the text is merely the lead-in that tells you what you should be looking for, not what you’re looking at. All-in-all, it’s a polished and accomplished performance – just what you’d expect from Hazel – that offers so much sound advice that it’s worth a look even if you have no interest in oil painting. You even get a penny change from a tenner, which makes it the most amazing value.
The Society for All Artists have produced a DVD that goes with it and that’s worth seeking out too.
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Well, this is a bold claim! All those people who claim that drawing can’t be taught and that art is something it takes a lifetime to study are going to be scoffing at the very idea. If I had an arty beard, I’d be stroking it right now. (Yes, I do, but it’s not arty).
However, this is a new book by Hazel Soan and you’re either going to pick it up because the title intrigues you or because, well, it’s a new book by Hazel Soan. In her introduction, she claims you can read it from cover to cover in 30 minutes. I’m sure you can – there’s not much text and, if you ignore the illustrations, you could get to the end just as the oven timer rings. But you won’t. You’ll start looking at the images and you’ll start thinking about your own techniques and I pretty much guarantee that, when you do finally come out the other end, you’ll have rethought your entire approach to painting.
This isn’t, it should be noted, a book about painting quickly. Yes, the pictures you’ll see are unfussy and don’t include a lot of over-working or unnecessary detail and, no, they won’t have taken long, but that’s because Hazel is bringing a lifetime of experience to her work. That’s why you’re reading the book, because her work isn’t so much about what you include as what you leave out; she can do figures walking down a street in fewer brushstrokes than seems decent!
If you’re new to painting and haven’t a clue where to start, you’ve found the Go square. This is refreshingly simple and you won’t even need to invest your £200 in equipment. The first section in the chapter on The stuff you need is refreshingly headed Less is more. Everything is simple and progressive – and there are even QR codes you can scan to see short videos online. I said once before that more publishers should do this, and here they are.
If you’re an experienced painter but also a fan of Hazel, is this a book you should buy or ignore? Trust me: buy it. It has far more to tell you than you’d believe possible and it’ll have you re-evaluating your own approaches and working methods from the ground up. Even if you change nothing, you’ll know why you do what you do and be more confident when you do it.
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This is, in short, a book about colour written by one of its acknowledged masters.
Hazel Soan’s portrayal of light and shade is legendary and here she shares the secrets of her palette. This isn’t some dry-as-dust technical tome and there isn’t a colour wheel in sight, either (well, there is one, but it’s very basic and quite small). The book isn’t about theory but about practice and there’s an important difference, of which you’re probably all too well aware.
Colour can depict recession, shape and mood. It can also influence how the viewer sees your subject and how the different pictorial elements appear in importance. It can emphasise highlights while at the same time putting detail into deep shadows. It’s the most important tool you have.
The book is arranged, if you look at the contents list, by colour – or, rather, by the main colour groups. That’s to say, yellows, reds, blues, greens, browns and blacks, greys and whites. That’s not, you may have noticed, exactly a rainbow, or a conventional colour wheel either. As I said, this isn’t a book about theory and these are the colours you’re most likely to find on your palette. There’s plenty of information about the background to the various hues, as well as their properties when this is necessary, but much more about how and when they’re used. And, of course, every page is filled with examples that hit the spot perfectly. It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that you could use this without ever reading a word and just working from the illustrations.
Like all of Hazel’s books, it’s about painting, pure and simple. Did you expect anything else?
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This is one of those books that’s hugely difficult to review because you turn the pages muttering, “gosh, that’s fantastic” as you go and it can be quite difficult to pick out exactly where the instruction comes in.
However, further study reveals a rather clever structure and Hazel shows you how to use a wide range of techniques including transparent versus opaque colour, the limited palette, layering, brushwork and so on. But the thing is that there are no demonstrations, no break-out hints, in fact, nothing to suggest there’s any instruction going on at all and the reason for this is that Hazel’s approach is to teach by example. It’s all, “look at this, try that, explore …”
It’s all hugely inspiring and well, to be honest, exactly what you’d expect from Hazel. She has many fans and this isn’t going to disappoint any of them.
Exactly what constitutes a vibrant watercolour is something we could discuss for the rest of our lives, but what Hazel Soan means by it is “[colours] that sing out from the page”, paintings that don’t suffer from fiddling and overwork and which don’t betray a lack of confidence on the part of the artist.
So far, you might say, so obvious, but Hazel Soan is a popular author whose style is that of simple palettes and brushstrokes and she has an enthusiasm that rubs easily off on the reader; put simply, when she tells you, you just know you can do it.
It’s hard, perhaps impossible, to define what this book is about and, in any case, it probably doesn’t matter. Hazel has many fans and they’re not going to be disappointed by it. Equally, new readers will probably join their number, too.
Collins 2000, reissued 2008
Well, ladies and gentlemen, roll up, roll up. What I have here in my hand is the very elixir of life itself, the vital spark that can ignite the most insensible of objects and bring them to existence before your very eyes.
Oh gosh, that’s so completely unfair, because Hazel Soan is about as far as you can get from a snake-oil salesman and yet there is something deeply alluring about a book whose title promises you just that: paintings that breathe with very life itself.
There have been a number of books about painting which include the word “secret” in the title and they all suggest that there is something which, if it’s only revealed to you, will transform your work and mean that you will never again produce paintings that are anything other than perfect and perfectly desirable. The counter to this, of course, is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, you pays your money and you takes your choice, I may not know much about art but I know what I like. Maybe what we’re getting at is the use of technique, the application of paint, rather than the rather abstract concept of art itself.
The truth is that we all want to believe there’s something round the corner that, if only we could find it, would transform our work. It might be the perfect paper, the magic brush or a new colour, or perhaps that chap who’s coming to the art group tonight could tell us. But it isn’t. What makes good art is imagination and a competent technique. View your scene and know how to reproduce it on paper and then don’t try to paint beyond your abilities. Do that and you’re more than half way there. And that’s what this book is about. Hazel Soan is a deservedly popular artist; she writes well and explains her technique generously. She is a very economic painter and often captures her subject with an absolute minimum of brushstrokes. Her use of colour is also interesting. A lot of her work is done in southern Africa and she is never afraid to use not just bright colours, but also combinations which emphasise that brightness, to capture a quite uncompromising brilliance of the light which is unfamiliar to English eyes.
There’s a huge range of subjects here from landscape to buildings, animals, flowers and portraiture. What Hazel does is to lead by example, showing, using both her own work and that of guest artists including John Lidzey, Shirley Trevena and John Yardley, how specific approaches and applications of technique can bring a scene to life. The book moves progressively through focus and composition, colour and tone to that perennial question: is it finished yet? There are no step-by-step demonstrations and this isn’t a book about how to apply paint, but rather one about painting as an intellectual process. Will it make you a better painter? Well, only you can do that, but I do think it will help you put yourself in the right frame of mind.
Year published: 2006
List price: £17.99
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