Archive for category Author: Noel Gregory
Search Press have re-reissued these compilations of their Leisure Arts series of short books, originating form 1999-2004. Age is not necessarily a barrier to usefulness and these were always sound guides that offered simple advice clearly presented.
The problem with older books, though, can be that the quality of reproduction doesn’t compare well with what can be achieved today. However, there are no problems here – whether a particularly good job was done in the first place, or there has been some re-originating, I can’t say, but there are no complaints on that score. The results are therefore stonkingly good value at under a tenner each.
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Painting With Oils (Art Handbooks) || Noel Gregory Painting With Pastels (Art Handbooks) || Paul Coombs
This is a “new” series from Search Press that raids their extensive and, let’s be honest, excellent backlist. Once upon a time, my children, these books were part of the Leisure Arts series, something which itself went through more than one incarnation. These are the first two titles in what could be an extensive re-publishing programme.
They’re simple beginners’ guides (“simple” applies to the books, not the beginners, for the avoidance of confusion). What you get is a basic introduction to materials and equipment, some general notes on techniques and then some very short demonstrations that flex your muscles gently without any danger of over-exertion, all in 48 pages.
I don’t think anyone could learn to paint from just these books, but that’s not what they were intended for. As a general introduction for someone putting a toe in the water – either as a complete novice or as a newcomer to the medium, they’re a good way of easing yourself in. More perhaps than any other series, they absolutely stand or fall on how well the authors have understood the basic brief and, as Search Press usually contrive, they do it well.
These were only ever intended to be pocket guides and, although the previous release was about A4 size, these new ones are only about half that. Normally, I don’t like small-format books and I invariably fail to see the point of a book you can carry about with you. Give me illustrations I can see without my super-strength glasses, for goodness sake! However, I’ve been seduced by the way these sit in the hand. They’re slightly larger than the Top Tips series and I’ve never complained about the size of the illustrations in those. It’s also worth remarking that these books are a vindication of this site’s policy of only reviewing from finished copies, rather than advance proofs. By getting the feel of the books in my hand, I’ve discovered that what I originally thought was an incredibly bad idea actually works well.
All-in-all, a good job has been done here. The material has been brought subtly up to date and some perfectly good books whose only crime is to be middle-aged have been brought back to life. At £4.99, they compare well with the old pricing, too.
The Ready to Paint the Masters series has so far left me cold, but I can see a definite merit in this one as Noel Gregory has chosen to interpret the originals rather than copy them slavishly. In the process, he manages to tell you much more about the way Renoir worked and it’s an exercise worth following as the Impressionists laid the foundation for so much of the modern approach to painting. It’s to them that we owe looseness and interpretation and the abandonment of the studied formality that had built up prior to their arrival.
For this book, Noel uses acrylics rather than oils, but in impasto, so the net effect is similar and this is not an exercise in working in another medium, but simply the convenience of what’s available now. The interpretation comes rather from allowing for all the history that has come between then and now, and not trying to paint like an Old Master. If it was a radio, it would have a retro case and modern DAB innards; a bit of a mule, but none the worse for that.
As I sometimes do, I’m going to sit on the fence on this one. I’m not going to tell you to rush out and buy it, but I do think it’s worth a look as you might be pleasantly surprised.
I’m pretty sure that this is a bind-up of eight short guides that have been previously published – I certainly recognise Roy Lang’s Sea & Sky in Oils, but publishers are getting a lot better at the stitching-together trick these days and it’s really quite hard to see the joins here. At a mere £12.99, though, it’s hardly worth quibbling in the face of the huge variety of material you get.
Because everything runs together so neatly, it’s best to look as this as a compendium of single-subject demonstrations, albeit a themed one. Turning the pages more or less at random reveals all sorts of useful information on subjects such as on skies, light, reflections, choosing a subject, underpainting and glazing, as well as a good selection of demonstration paintings on subjects including flowers, landscapes and water.
The individual volumes were definitely something to work through, but I rather favour serendipity here. Just let the book fall open and read from there; it’s full of wisdom and good advice.
One of the features of this series that I haven’t remarked on before is the 2-page potted biography of the artist in question that prefaces each volume. Whether this is enough to make the purchase worthwhile is debatable, since most of it could probably be acquired in ten minutes on the internet, but it’s something worth noting.
What you get here is the opportunity to re-create, in slightly garish tones, five of Turner’s most famous works, including The Fighting Temeraire, in the medium of acrylics.
Excuse me, Monet in Acrylics? Yes folks, in the comfort of your own home you can reproduce accurately the works of one of the great Impressionists using a medium that wasn’t available to him. How cool is that?
I’m sorry, but it’s hard not to have just a little fun at the expense of a series which has proved its value elsewhere and has now strayed into the realms of the Old Masters. My first reaction is not to be convinced by this departure but, if you want to measure yourself against the greatest, or just have a little fun, then this will do it for you. As a painting instruction manual, I have my doubts about its value, but is this what it ever intends to be, I wonder? Time and sales will tell.
It’s good to see Noel Gregory, one of Search Press’s best oil painters, back in their lists. His brush-applied impasto style and use of bright colours produces attractive and not over-worked results that have an instant appeal. This is, as far as I know, the first time the Ready to Paint series, with its pre-printed tracings, has ventured into oils and you might think that it’ll struggle with what’s sometimes seen as the expert’s medium. However, that’s a myth Noel easily dispels and, by allowing you to concentrate on the painting without worrying about the draughtsmanship, he’ll show that results can come quickly and with relative ease.
It’s a title that’s going to make you take a step back. Instant oil painting? Is that possible? I mean, don’t oils take months to dry and a lifetime to learn and isn’t it supposed to be, well, difficult?
Those are the myths. There’s a mystique about oil painting which has largely grown up out of the fact that oils appear in big gilt frames in prestigious galleries and have old master names attached to them. These historic masterpieces also tend to be very sombre and worthy, often, it has to be said, because they’ve been around for a couple of hundred years and could really do with a good clean. How Clean Is Your Painting, hmmm? Now there’s a TV series no-one’s going to be making any time soon, I’ll be bound. Watercolours, by comparison, have an association with the amateur, with bright colours and with Victorian ladies who combined a little watercolour with a little embroidery and a few good works. So very civilised.
The truth, of course, is that watercolour fades more easily than oil, so you really only see the paintings that have been kept away from light and retained their freshness. Because you don’t varnish them, the same problems of age darkening don’t occur. With the exception of J M W Turner and the painters of the Norwich School, there are few famous names attached to the medium.
Any art teacher will tell you that, because watercolour is a transparent medium, you can’t paint over it easily and that it really has to be got right first time, which actually makes it much more difficult for the beginner than an opaque medium such as oils, acrylic or gouache. But you know that. For heaven’s sake, with modern low-odour thinners, they’re not even smelly!
So, what do we actually have here? Well, probably one of the best introductions to oil painting you could wish for. The “instant” bit is that Noel shows you how to complete a painting in less than a day. That’s not groundbreaking in itself, but it means you don’t have to spend ages fiddling with detail. I’ve seen books that do this and, frankly, it can be a bit of a gimmick, but that’s not the case here. This isn’t about any kind of sleight of hand or “get it down quickly and leave it alone”, but rather a straightforward manual that encourages you to concentrate on the subject, not the method of painting it.
After a short introduction to materials and basic techniques, the book itself consists mainly of a series of 9 demonstrations covering trees, landscapes, flowers, still lifes and figures in a straightforward style that doesn’t use any particularly tricky techniques and uses brushes rather than knives for paint application. Noel generally paints in impasto rather than going for the brushed-out approach and this maintains the freshness of his get-on-with-it approach.
Experienced oil painters aren’t going to gain a huge amount from this book and it isn’t aimed at them, but rather at anyone who fancies having a go and has perhaps already got started and doesn’t really know where to go next. The paintings are pleasant and the demonstrations sufficiently well illustrated to make the progression easy to follow and, overall, the book should make you feel good about oil painting and want to do more of it.
First published 2006
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