Archive for category Author: Jean Haines

Paint Yourself Positive || Jean Haines

This is the successor to 2016’s Paint Yourself Calm and is ostensibly about mindfulness and working with your imagination rather than a visible subject.

Does that sound unbearably new-agey? You bet it does and in less skilled hands it could be a mess, both in terms of concept, presentation and results. However, Jean is a very capable painter who already works on the edge of abstraction and the illustrations here are very little different to her more conventional work, as seen in books such as Atmospheric Flowers in Watercolour. For her state-of-mind work, she uses imagination to control what appears on paper, but that doesn’t mean unintelligible blobs, but rather images that capture the essence of their subjects – flowers, fish, buildings and animals.

It would be perfectly possible to use this as an aid to mindfulness, but it’s also a very worthwhile guide to a rather different approach to painting. If you already love Jean’s work, this is another pearl of wisdom to treasure. If you’re new to it, it’s no bad place to start.

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Jean Haines’ Atmospheric Flowers in Watercolour

Jean Haines’ work is approaching a form of abstraction. Extreme looseness and the extensive use of washes has led to images that are more about shapes and colour than they are about form. In the wrong hands, this leads all too easily to confusion, and not just in the mind of the viewer – the artist themselves can lose sight of their vision and thus the ability to communicate.

This has not happened with Jean and the paintings here are always recognisable even if they are about as far from botanical illustration as it is possible to get. At the same time, the essence of not just flower, but species is retained and you get the sense of a plant growing in the wild, dancing in the breeze and seen with the lack of distinction brought on by distance. When Jean is painting figures, it’s natural to say that she captures character and soul. While that’s not such an obvious factor with flowers, it’s hard not to make the comparison. This is what flowers are about more than what they are.

But this is also a practical book and we must therefore ask the questions: can you re-create this and would you want to emulate the highly individual style of another artist? The answer to the first is simple: Jean is very good at explaining her working methods, so the lessons and demonstrations are admirably clear. Technically, it can certainly be done. As to the more creative question, well, if you follow the book, you’ll end up with a copy, but you’ll also learn how to see, think and interpret, so you can develop your own approaches. I think that’s an entirely reasonable aim and falls well within the scope of what the book is about.

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Paint Yourself Calm || Jean Haines

It’s hard to convey just how much I hate all that new-agey stuff. Most of it’s just an excuse for a load of self-obsessed navel gazing. And it’s never cheap, either. Do please feel free to disagree with me, but please read the rest of this before you write in!

It would be a shame to dismiss this on the basis I’ve outlined, or even to regard it as having nothing to do with practical art. It has everything to do with the practice of painting and, above all, of getting yourself into the state of mind where you can put down on paper what you feel in your head and see with your mind’s eye. If you want a book that explains the creative process in a way that’s completely relevant and comprehensible, this is it. It may or may not be Jean’s prime purpose, but, for the artist at least, it’s the result she’s produced.

The thing about painting is that it’s so much more than a mechanical process. Sure, there are things you have to do, such as prepare grounds, mix colours and lay washes, but these can take on Zen-like properties if you let them. A lot of people say that routine helps set them in the right frame of mind for what comes next, which is pretty much the same thing.

A lot of the content of this genuinely intriguing book is what might be called pure watercolour. This isn’t a step-by-step how-to manual at all, not one that tells you how to paint specific subjects. Rather, it’s about the use and application of colour to create a state of mind. Jean’s intention, I think, is that this should be within yourself, but the thing is that paintings have an audience: other people will see them and that state can be induced in them as well. Art, as Edgar Degas said, is not what you see but what you make others see. It’s not exactly abstraction – most of the illustrations are entirely recognisable – but the form is definitely more important than the function.

If you know how to paint, but want to understand why, and why that why is important, read this book. It’s beautiful, rewarding and full of insights.

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Colour & Light in Watercolour (new edition) || Jean Haines

Well, this is a first! I’ve seen books dragged out of well-deserved retirement, kept current by revamped covers and re-issued as “classics”, but I’ve never seen one given a complete makeover that doubles the original extent.

I had reservations about this when it first appeared. It’s not that it wasn’t good, or that I didn’t like it, just that I didn’t feel that Jean’s loose and somewhat idiosyncratic style fitted comfortably into a series of what were largely technical manuals. All that clearly didn’t harm sales and Jean has, of course, gone on to become a bestselling and highly respected author. Later volumes have given her work the freedom it needs and it’s blossomed as a result.

Re-workings of what for the moment we’ll call juvenilia are rarely successful. Authors move on, their style develops and things that are largely historical are best left as pieces of history. If that means they’re a footnote, so be it. It’s often better than being something everyone comes to regret and has to make excuses for later.

And now, gentle reader, I’m going to eat my words: both my previous reservations and my suspicion of the re-vamp. This is everything the book should have been in the first place. It hasn’t been shoe-horned into a series format, for a start. Series are great and are often a way of introducing new authors who may not have the gravitas to stand alone, but can be carried on by the momentum a series provides and given a toe-hold in the water (yes, I do know that’s a mixed metaphor, but it was kind of you to mention it).

It’s also been completely re-designed and there are vastly more illustrations. Now, it has room to spread its wings and to breathe, which is exactly what Jean’s work needs. She’s not about small illustrations that populate a detailed text, she’s about illustrations, illustrations and illustrations. You need to see her work full-page and preferably on a crisp white background and that’s what you have here. I haven’t done a word-by-word comparison, but I’m pretty sure this is the original text and it now becomes an adjunct to the pictures, rather than the other way round. The best art books usually lead on the paintings and use the text just as a caption to explain what you’re looking at when you need a nudge or it isn’t immediately obvious.

This is a hard trick to pull off because, if the original book was any good, it’ll have been properly put together and be a perfect sphere it’s very hard to pull apart. No matter how much you want to, it is, as I’ve hinted above, usually better to leave well alone and start something new from scratch. So, congratulations to Search Press, whose editorial and design teams are on a bit of a roll at the moment, and to Jean too. With this many new illustrations, she’s had a pretty large part in the exercise as well. You need this book.

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Jean Haines’ World of Watercolour

Well, if nothing else, this is a brave title! It tells you nothing about the content but focuses entirely on the author. If you don’t know who Jean Haines is, you’ll be at sea. Not, though, that I think there’s much danger of that. Jean Haines writes and exhibits extensively and, if anyone can survive the “my work” approach, she can.

Popular for her extremely loose approach to watercolour, Jean paints a variety of mostly natural subjects – there are a couple of portraits and street scenes here as well. The kingfisher on the cover will give you a good feel of what she’s about. There’s hardly any detail, the colours are subdued compared to (say) a photograph and the form is getting lost in the looseness of the wash on the left-hand side. And yet. It is a kingfisher, isn’t it? Not a static, stuffed exhibit in a museum, but a living, breathing, moving bird about to dart away from the barely-suggested branch it’s sitting on. In fact, are you even sure it hasn’t darted away already, while your attention was briefly elsewhere?

It takes the most enormous skill to reduce your subjects to mere suggestions of form as Jean does. You need not only immense ability and confidence with your materials, but an inherent, instinctive understanding of what your subjects are about. Not just their character, but how they move, how they think even. That kingfisher has vitality not just because we know what it’s about to do but because it does too.

I’m not sure that most people would be able to achieve what Jean does and, because it’s so individual, so idiosyncratic, I’m not sure they’d want to – maybe even should. However, in terms of a masterclass in what you can do with colour and a lot of water, this is it. Read it, marvel and enjoy.

PS. The publisher’s short name for this on their advance material was Jean Haines’ WOW. They got that right!

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DVD: Jean Haines’ Watercolour Passion || Jean Haines

This is a film about possibilities. Jean is enthusiastic about her materials and she constantly uses words like “enjoy” and “fun”. Her aim, stated at the beginning is, “to inspire you to paint in a way you haven’t even considered before”. All this sounds like a lot of gushing and I must admit I took a bit of convincing. Artists tend to do this and what they’re really saying is, “I paint the way I paint” and you don’t have to be a Sherlock Holmes to deduce that.

What comes out of this film, however, is the sheer joy of experimentation and the stream of happy accidents that emerge when you work with as much water as Jean does. One of her last quotable remarks (and there are a lot of them) is, “I can’t repeat what I do”. The skill, it turns out, is to realise when something has possibilities and exploit it.

It takes a lot of courage to produce a large wash from bold colours and Jean starts with some simple, quite abstract exercises on small pieces of paper which are designed to be thrown away. These are not intended to be anything, they’re just a way of warming up and getting over that first-mark anxiety. Rather conveniently, they also produce ideas and, when it comes to the full sheet, you should have an idea of what it is you want to produce.

There are four demonstrations here, of flowers, animals and landscapes, but the subjects don’t really matter, because Jean’s way of working is always broadly the same – shapes emerge from a haze of colours, effects serendipitously produce or point towards textures, and colours blend so that a complete composition is produced.

“Don’t copy what I do”, Jean advises sagely, but, “you’re only going to know how pigments interact if you practise your washes.”

I’ve been struggling to work out how to sum this film up and, in the end, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s one of the least instructional and yet most instructive I’ve seen. The way Jean works doesn’t lend itself to a “do this, do that” approach – it’s too evolutionary for that. Rather, she keeps up a running commentary, observing, exclaiming and developing ideas and opportunities and it’s that which tells you so much about the process of painting itself.

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Jean Haines’ Atmospheric Watercolours || Jean Haines

This is one of those books where the above-the-title billing for the author is actually more than just a conceit. To call this book just “Atmospheric Watercolours” would completely miss the point. Atmosphere is one of the hardest words to define in relation to art. On the one hand, we all know what we mean by it: it’s the sense of time and place that can be achieved by the use of washes, glazes and wet-in-wet, but also by composition and colour choice – pretty much the standard technical arsenal, in fact. On the other hand, it’s a woolly term that really means nothing except that the work has an essential quality of je ne sais quoi.

So that’s a good start, then. And what do we actually have here? Well, it’s easy to say what Jean Haines’ work is. It’s definitely well into the spectrum of abstraction, and she uses a lot of washes to create a sense of what her subjects are about, more than just what they are. Is this “atmospheric”? Not really, if you buy my definition, but do please feel free to come up with a better word.

I do think we’re getting there, though. I don’t think this could really be classed as an instruction manual, even though there are plenty of demonstrations and lots of discussions of how Jean works – for someone with such a personal style, she’s actually very good at this part. Yes, it’s practical, but the approach isn’t half so much do-this, do-that as an analysis of Jean’s own working methods and, through that, showing you how you can achieve not so much the same thing, as something similar. This is perhaps a first, and an invaluable aid for anyone wanting to move beyond representation and to develop their own way of describing what they see. If this sounds like the heart of abstraction, it is, and this book is probably one of the best ways of learning about a technique that so frequently defies description and really has to be absorbed rather than learnt.

If you’ve followed what I’ve said, then I’m pretty sure you’ll like the book. If not, proceed with caution; it may be that you’re not ready for it yet – but persevere!

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