Archive for category Author: Hazel Soan
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
Quite what an art book is doing in the Collins Gem series, I’m not sure. Not much more than 3” x 4”, the text is small to the point of myopic, the illustrations make a postage stamp look like a broad canvas and, if you don’t break the spine down to lay the book flat, you can only see about half the page. Having spent some 25 years screaming at publishers to produce art books in a decent-sized format, I can’t help feeling this is a step backwards, possibly into the dawn of prehistory.
When I set up this site, I promised I wouldn’t pan books just to show how clever I am and I also suggested that, if I though a book was a real stinker, I’d probably give it a miss. So, what’s this doing here? Well, the fact is that it’s been out for a while and it’s very popular. I think part of that has to do with the author: Hazel Soan is rightly very much in demand. So, OK, why not give her some space to work in? Well the first thing to observe is that Collins have, on other occasions, done just that. The second is that this isn’t a book that’s made up of bits of other books as smaller guides like this sometimes are. It’s been written from the ground up according to a previously agreed specification. In short, Hazel didn’t have to write it and clearly thought there was something to be said in and for this format.
So, getting to the positive, the first thing you’re going to notice is that the contents list is a lot longer than for many larger books. There’s a lot of stuff in here (there are 192 pages, even if they are tiny ones). So, what’s it all about? Well, here’s what the publisher says: “This book is for those people who want to paint but are too busy and don’t have the time. Hazel shows how much can be achieved in just 10 minutes!”
Um, excuse moi, don’t have time? What is this? Ten years or so ago, Alwyn Crawshaw (another Collins author) came up with a book called The Half Hour Painter, which I rapidly and very unkindly re-christened “The Half-Hearted Painter” for much the same reason as I have reservations about the book being reviewed here. The true, and valid, point of that one was to do a painting in the time it took to get the image on paper and then leave it alone. It was an embodiment of the standard advice, “don’t fiddle” and it was a huge success. If that was all it was, a book about how to paint quickly so that you can get on with the business of doing other things, running your full and varied life or some such, it would have been deservedly consigned to the rubbish bin of history, but of course it wasn’t – about that or consigned (etc).
So, have our attention spans decreased to the extent that half an hour is now too long and 10 minutes is all we’re prepared to spare for an artistic endeavour? Well, I certainly hope not but, if you want ideas on how to grab a quick sketch, how to suggest a subject in a minimum of brushstrokes and, in the course of it, how to give your work a renewed freshness, then this book will do it. Yes, it’s a gimmick and, yes, that minuscule format is going to annoy you pretty soon but, hey, its small, you’ll probably put it down and lose it and then you’ll find out just how much you want it. It’s full of good ideas.
Year published: 2005
List price: £4.99
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