Archive for category Author: Soraya French
This series from Batsford is shaping up nicely. The key to its success is to use authors who are at home with larger books, rather than to assume that, because the format is simple, the approach can be too. In fact, it’s quite the opposite and simplicity requires greater communication skill than does complexity.
Soraya French has a pleasant, approachable and colourful style that suits the medium well. The series method is to concentrate on illustrations, explain them with straightforward captions and link them with concise paragraphs that carry the narrative and the reader forward and retain their interest.
There’s plenty here, from different types of acrylic to colours and colour mixing, working methods and a good range of subjects. If you want to get started, this will live up to its title and get you producing worthwhile results with a minimum of fuss. The more experienced student might also find it a handy source of recapping and revision.
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Mixed media gets a mixed press and can have mixed results. Like everything else, it’s important not to use it for its own sake, but rather for the effects it offers and creative opportunities it makes available.
Soraya French’s work involves a fair degree of abstraction, which both enhances and is enhanced by her use of colour. This is a fine balance that produces results that are recognisable while going a good way beyond simple representation.
Soraya uses acrylics, watercolours, inks and gel media to create vivid images that capture mood, atmosphere and lighting. In this hugely informative book, she explains her working methods and even includes a few projects and demonstrations that give you a chance to practise for yourself. As well as traditional media, you’ll find out about texture mediums, gels and pastes and, most importantly, how to combine all these into worthwhile results. Soraya also explains how she finds inspiration and chooses formats and composition for maximum impact. She also looks at technical matters such as underpainting, lost and found edges and negative shapes that affect how the viewer sees the result.
This is a comprehensive guide to both mixed media and semi-abstract landscape painting that is full of inspiration and practical advice.
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Mixed media books are, collectively, like the curate’s proverbial egg. This, it should be said, is one of the good ones, being results-focussed rather than concentrating on the technique itself and not worrying about how it all turns out. Mixed media is not like a dog walking on its hind legs and the fact that’s it’s done at all is unremarkable.
This is also not an obviously how-to book. Yes, there are demonstrations and projects, but they’re part of a wider discussion of techniques and creative possibilities. It should also be said that Soraya French’s style is admirably suited to mixed media, being highly impressionistic and veering towards abstraction. She’s much more about colours and shapes than she is about fine detail and the cover illustration gives you a good idea of what to expect, capturing the atmosphere and bustle of a busy street or market scene.
In terms of what’s covered, Soraya works with watercolour, acrylic, ink, pastel, coloured pencil and some collage. Not all at once, of course, but with the medium carefully chosen to suit the message. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that the book’s greatest strength is to show you which of the many possibilities is appropriate where and how to work sensitively and economically. As I intimated at the beginning, mixed media is a tool and not and end in itself. To convey this clearly and convincingly is quite an achievement.
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It’s as hard to pin down exactly what this book is about as it is to gather that from the title. Even a quick flick through, however, will reveal that what you get is a masterclass in what can be done with paint and I’m not sure that it really matters what the medium is. In her introduction, Soraya French refers to acrylics as “a forgiving and versatile medium”, which indeed it is, “that is a great tool to enable both the newcomer and the more experienced artist to process their thoughts and ideas with more confidence.” She also remarks that the medium has found its place, being taken seriously alongside more traditional media.
All of this is true and I don’t intend as a criticism that it’s also a truism. Professional artists have been using acrylics for many years motivated, I think, by the quick-drying properties that allow them to paint it today and sell it tomorrow. This adoption has understandably filtered down to the amateur market and, with the development of retarder mediums, it has become much easier to handle.
The versatility that Soraya French refers to is the fact that acrylics can be used both in a heavy impasto, like oils, or thinned down to act like gouache. The fact that it is also opaque makes overpainting possible and also the correction of mistakes, which is why it is ideal for the beginner.
So far, so much I’ve said already about other books. What marks this out is that it’s one of the first books (although I think John Hammond just beat her to it) to look at acrylics from the creative point of view rather than just being a technical manual and, in this respect, what’s said in the introduction is spot on.
If you want a book that will teach you how to paint in acrylics, this is not it; there are no step by step demonstrations and the paintings illustrated are quite complex. However, if you’re looking for ideas and a study of creativity, along with other books in this series, this is it.
The idea of the quick painting is that it teaches you to see and work quickly, visualising your subject in a short time and then getting it down on paper or canvas with a minimum of fiddling and thus retaining the freshness of what attracted you in the first place. “Sketching, in other words”, I hear from the back. Well, yes, but only up to a point, because sketching doesn’t actually have a time limit and you can spend hours recording a series of quite small details that are notes to a later work; a sketch is not necessarily a painting in itself.
Overdone, this quick-working technique can lead you into bad habits (“30 minutes, bah, I’ll give you The 10-Minute Watercolour”) and sloppy working where the timing is more important than the result. However, sensitively handled, it can teach you to take in a scene almost at a glance, to concentrate on the subject that attracted you in the first place and not to worry about (and at) all the details that surround it. Many artists have had a go at it, from Edward Wesson’s varnishing brush or Ron Ranson’s hake, both big brushes that provided the broad stroke and defied fiddling, and it’s a valuable teaching aid. I also suspect that it’s an excuse for publishers to come up with a series of small books that don’t obviously duplicate all the other small books that are out there. Cynical? Moi?
What you get here is a series of ideas and executions that stand out for their simplicity and freshness. Did they all take exactly half an hour? Well, frankly, am I bovvered? These are images with a minimum of detail, the painting equivalent of a good spring clean or some decluttering. It’s a book to flick through and stop when you see something that makes you go, “ooh”, or just at random. For something so simple, you’ll be surprised if I say it probably has more for the experienced painter than the beginner, just because it’s a way of blowing out the cobwebs and stimulating new ideas rather than a manual.
It’s fresh and it’s interesting. Don’t expect a clearly structured course of instruction, or even a list of ideas. Do expect to be intrigued, maybe surprised, and certainly stimulated.
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