Archive for category Author: Hazel Soan

Hazel Soan’s Art of the Limited Palette

Most watercolour books will have a section on working with a limited palette and there have been previous volumes on the subject. Those, however, have tended to base themselves on the author’s specific and unvaried selection. Yes, you could probably buy a set of them – how convenient.

I have never seen a Hazel Soan branded product and I doubt I ever will. This is not a book about what you should do half so much as what you can do. The difference is both subtle and vast and anyone who’s familiar with Hazel’s work will understand immediately. She’s an artist and writer who leads by example, inspires and gently guides and this is what has won her so many fans.

The paintings here are mostly done with between three and five colours, but they’re not prescriptive and Hazel varies them depending on the subject, so you might get the unsurprising Ultramarine Blue, Yellow Ochre and Permanent Rose where a blue shirt is the key hue in a simple composition. Then, a few pages later, you’re working on a summer landscape with Aureolin, Ultramarine Blue and Alizarin Crimson. The point being eloquently made is that it’s the subject that guides you, not the paintbox. These are pictures, not technical exercises.

Even more interesting are the sections where we’re down to just two colours. These are not clever tricks, but rather a way of achieving a particular result in a particular part of the work. You’ll be aware, for example, of how good Hazel is with shadows and reflections. So you’ll find yourself making a pre-mix of two greys, one red- and the other blue-shifted. Yes, there are five colours involved here, but they come down to two and depict those shadows and reflections in a rain-soaked street scene perfectly.

As much as anything else, this is a book about thinking about colour. The limited palette forces you to avoid the tendency to reach for yet another shade from the dozens you have in your box (yes you do). Hazel begins with some studies that look at how different combinations enhance and set each other off – blues and yellows (obviously), but also yellows and reds, reds and blues. She also explains, with well-chosen examples that make the message abundantly clear, how to make secondary colours quickly and easily. There’s a look at the earth colours as well as the use of both related and opposing shades.

There’s so much here that this becomes one of the most comprehensive studies of and guides to colour there is.

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Learn to Paint Portraits Quickly || Hazel Soan

This excellent series from Batsford continues to impress. Illustration-led and based around clearly executed examples and exercises, it packs a vast amount of information into a compact format and relatively few pages. If you find larger books sometimes intimidating, this is about as user-friendly as you can get.

The choice of authors has been critical to its success, as they are required to understand their subjects intimately and be able to condense the fundamentals into the format required. Lengthy explanations are out and eloquent illustrations de rigeur. It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that Hazel Soan features so prominently in the list.

The idea that you can learn portrait painting quickly is a conceit, of course. It requires a lifetime of study to understand both people and ways of representing their appearance and character on paper or canvas. For all that, there are plenty of basics, such as putting your sitter at ease, getting the basic outline and then working with colour, skin tones, hair, eyes and so on. These are the basic mechanics and the foundations that you can spend the rest of your time working on. Although this is a book you can read through in probably an hour or so and whose message can be picked up in perhaps a week, it forms the basis for additional work that will occupy you for a very long time if you decide you want to continue.

And therein lies its chief value. Under Hazel’s expert tuition, you should find yourself understanding the basics quickly and producing results that work and will encourage you to progress further. If you find you are enjoying the process and have the necessary skills, this short book will take you a lot further than you might expect. If it’s still not working, you’ve lost very little in time and outlay.

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Learn Watercolour Landscapes Quickly || Hazel Soan

This excellent little series continues to impress. Inevitably, small potted guides can only tell you a limited amount, but all the authors who have so far been involved have managed to distil a wealth of knowledge and information into the space and word count available. These are not so much books to study in depth, but rather bullet points to use as inspiration and to jump off from. Even the most experienced artist should find the uncomplicated approach refreshing for the creative spirit.

Hazel Soan is, it hardly needs to be said, one of the most experienced and instructive authors there is. Unsurprisingly, therefore, this is quite simply one of the best guides to landscape painting you’ll find. No, it’s not a complete course and yes, you might want one of those as well. However, just when you’re feeling dispirited and bogged down, this will cheer you up immensely. Hazel has made a few films; her sheer enthusiasm shines throughout those and you can even feel it off the page. She loves what she does and wants you to love it too – and you will.

Shall I tell you what’s here? In detail, no. Trust me – it’s everything you want to know wrapped up in a few short paragraphs that’ll enhance your understanding in a way it’s perhaps never experienced before. Wonderful.

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Light and Shade in Watercolour || Hazel Soan

Hazel Soan’s work is all about light and shade and this is the book she was always destined to write. If it seems like a long time coming, think of her previous output as the rehearsal that makes sure this is absolutely right. And absolutely right it is, a genuine tour de force that takes in light and dark, the white of the paper, contrasting and complementary colours and the use of simple shapes that say far more about a subject than any amount of fine detail. Look at any of the images here in depth and it becomes apparent just how much Hazel leaves out, relying instead on the viewer’s eye to fill the blanks and create the emotional response that defines a successful painting.

The book covers animals, figures, flowers, landscapes, buildings and townscapes, all in a variety of lighting effects that Hazel will show you how to capture. There are no step-by-step demonstrations, but neither is this a dry read; most of the text is confined to short paragraphs. Like the images themselves, these are stripped back to the bare essentials while, at the same time conveying all the information you need. Where necessary, extended captions explain what you’re looking at and for and there’s an extraordinary sense of working alongside a consummate artist, rather than simply being set homework to present later.

Hazel is a rightly popular author and demonstrator and this is easily her best book yet.

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Learn Colour in Painting Quickly || Hazel Soan

This excellently-conceived series has proved that it is possible not only to learn quickly, but that the unadorned approach is often the way to go. I’m always at least a little sceptical of such claims simply because something that can be a lifetime’s study can’t be mastered in a few minutes. However, I have to concede that getting to grips with the basics is something where speed can be a considerable help. Getting bogged down at the start is not only unhelpful, but positively discouraging to efforts to proceed.

Colour is, of course, the artist’s stock-in-trade, at once the vocabulary and grammar of the language of painting. Those for whom it’s second nature wonder at the number of books about it but, for all that, there are perfectly capable painters who struggle, at least at the outset. However, once you grasp the idea that the basic concept is really quite simple and that a lot of the difficulties are self-imposed, everything becomes much clearer.

Hazel is a master of colour in all its forms and, following the series format, shows plenty of examples linked with just enough words to make sure you know and understand what you’re looking at. She explains colour theory in practice (which means as little explanation and theory as possible) as well as demonstrating ways of creating light, shade, form, tone and hue.

I’m tempted to say that this is the complete guide, but of course it isn’t, and doesn’t pretend to be. It is, however, the complete introduction and you might find that what it teaches you is enough for you to be able to learn the rest for yourself, and that’s a heck of an achievement.

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The Essence of Watercolour || Hazel Soan

It’s a measure of the quality of Hazel’s work and, indeed, of the production of this book, that it looks as fresh today as it did when it first appeared in hardback in 2011. You can see what I said about it at the time here.

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Learn to Paint People Quickly || 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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Learn Oils Quickly || Hazel Soan

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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Learn Watercolour Quickly || Hazel Soan

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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Hazel Soan’s Watercolour Rainbow

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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