Archive for category Author: John Hammond
First Impressions is about recording for yourself, so that you can convey to others, a sense of place and atmosphere. In the first demonstration, a foliage-filled courtyard garden, this amounts to the surround-sound of painting. As John explains, quite a lot of editing (“artistic licence” is a phrase that gets used quite a lot) is necessary to make the scene comprehensible.
John’s painting method is interesting. Beginning with a single-colour block-out of the shapes and general shading, he starts to build up the highlights, often moving about the scene – just, he remarks, as your eye does. “Never think of any mark as the final one and you won’t make a mistake”, he adds – a piece of profound advice that’s typical of the whole film.
As a demonstrator, John is engaging and absorbing and he keeps up a constant narrative – in fact, I think he may be the most talkative I’ve watched. Most artists stop for a moment to think, or to concentrate on a detail, but John just keeps throwing out nuggets of wisdom that you have to absorb rather than remember. I usually manage to fill these reviews with quotes, but I’m struggling to find soundbites here. He’s very sound on the value of confidence that stems from experience and one of his first pieces of advice is to find a basic palette you can work with as standard and stick with it so that you know instinctively what mix you’re going to need in any situation. Another is never to thin your acrylic paint with water because it’ll always dry dull. Use the same manufacturer’s own medium instead. Certainly, John’s paintings have a characteristic brilliance that would seem to confirm the truth of this.
Overall, there are four complete demonstrations in the film. After the garden scene, it’s a trip to Stratford on Avon to sketch a riverside view that will be worked up later in the studio, where the light and the drying times are different and require a different approach. There is also a view of the church where the changing light on water proves a challenge. A field landscape involves a journey that leads the viewer through the painting with the composition guiding the eye.
I think the whole film is best summed up as being about understanding – your materials, your subject, and yourself. Understand what you’re painting, John says, and you could almost do it from memory. Be confident with your materials and bold with your marks (remember that advice not to think of anything as final?). “If the whole thing becomes too resolved, it’ll be like a painting of a photograph rather than my experience of being there the first time.” There, we’ve even got a quote to end on.
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John Hammond’s previous book was a marvellous demonstration of what can be achieved in a medium as versatile as acrylics. In this new one, he exhibits a slightly looser, more relaxed approach, still relying on the play of light, but seeking out some perhaps less obvious viewpoints that give a very slight quality of abstraction to his work.
As before, the paintings are from France, Italy and England and capture the very different types of light that these locations offer, from shady corners in strong sunshine to dappled shade and sky effects. It’s also noticeable that John is starting to get interested in reflections, both in water and on wet streets and polished stone and he produces some striking effects from these.
With any author’s second book, the big question is: is it any different from the first? In this case, I’d have to say “yes”, but in an almost indefinable way. There’s less text, or a feeling of less text, there are still no step-by-step demonstrations (it isn’t that kind of book), but there’s an overall more relaxed feeling that I’m trying hard to put a finger on. I think what it comes down to is an artist’s confidence with their medium. To mix metaphors a bit, John speaks Acrylic like a native. Does that make sense? What I suppose I mean is that the paintings in the book look like real life without being hard and fast representations; they capture the feeling of the place, of the moment and that’s perhaps what art is about.
Whatever the truth of the matter, this is a book that can’t help but inspire you and the words and pictures together can’t help but make you a better painter just by changing the way you look at art, at the process of painting, and at your subject.
It’s nice to see books starting to appear which deal with more than just the technical aspects of acrylic painting.
The medium itself is hugely versatile and can produce effects that cannot easily be achieved in any other and is particularly useful when it comes to reproducing the effects of light. The inherent brightness of the colours that tend to be available means that the often dazzling effects of bright sunlight can be caught very effectively.
The paintings in this book are mostly done in England, France and Italy (including Venice), which gives John some very different qualities of light to work with, from the island to the continental and Mediterranean. It’s no accident that a lot of English painting tends to concentrate on skies as our island climate produces a wide variety of cloud effects and foregrounds which are illuminated by shafts of light breaking through rather than an overall brilliance. Continental light, by contrast, tends to be more consistent and the interest is to be had from the progressive recession of a broad landscape or the play of light in dappled shade in more intimate corners.
John has produced a thoroughly comprehensive guide which looks at the way in which acrylics can be used, explaining techniques in a way which should retain the interest of the more experienced painter, going beyond, as he does, simple paint application methods. Moving on, there is an extensive section on Interpreting Light in which he discusses the ways in which light appears, its many qualities and effects and shows you how to look out for how these work, this being absolutely central to successful painting.
The other main section of the book is Subjects and Inspiration, in which John looks at specific examples of composition where the effect and play of light becomes a central part of the subject rather than just another aspect of a more general work.
You may not want to paint exclusively the effects of light, but it’s going to be a central part of any outdoor work and there’s a wealth of useful advice and information to be found here. For the most part a discussion of the ways in which finished paintings were done, there are also a few step-by-step demonstrations that help to illuminate particular aspects of the methods of painting light.
It’s also good to see that this has sold out in its original hardback edition and been popular enough to make it into paperback.
Batsford 2006 (hardback published 2004)
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