Archive for category Author: Steve Hall

DVD: Wesson’s Watercolour Secrets || Steve Hall

I’ve written elsewhere about the book that Edward Wesson didn’t write. The truth is that Wesson actually had quite a lot to say, especially to his many students. These may be getting on in years now, but Steve Hall has had the sense to talk to some of them and record what Wesson’s teaching methods actually were. As well as this, there are the articles Wesson wrote for the Leisure Painter and Artist magazines. One way and another, there’s more information out there than you might think: it just needs someone to pull it all together.

Steve is also the author of two books on Wesson and has had the chance to look at a large amount of his work at close quarters and to see how the brushstrokes work. All-in-all, if you want an authority, Steve’s your man.

Studying Wesson is also helped by the fact that he was a great simplifier. Not only is there great economy in his work, he also used the famous squirrel-hair polishing mop (now widely sold and used as a wash brush), which means that his marks are relatively easy to see.

In this film, apart from discussing Wesson’s materials – and even using the great man’s own brushes – Steve demonstrates four classic Wesson subjects: landscape, boats, pen & wash and flowers. What emerges first is the way Wesson used darks to bring out highlights “forcing up the lights by surrounding them with darks”, as he often said. This simple technique at once explains the brilliance of Wesson’s work and gives it its apparent simplicity. By comparing an early work with a later landscape, Steve also shows how Wesson’s economy of brushwork developed. In this, he was enormously influential, as the work of John Yardley and others will testify.

The pen & wash work is interesting. In his pure watercolours, Wesson, like any other artist, uses tone and shading to give form to shapes. In the wash-work, outlines are defined by the ink and the watercolour becomes an infill – and Wesson recommended this as a technique for beginners.

Wesson’s approach to flowers is well-documented by an article he wrote for The Artist, itself the forerunner of the modern step-by-step demonstration. In this, he explained how to work from the background up to the actual bloom. In this way, you have the main colour scheme down before you attempt the main subject and are therefore more likely to get the tones of the flower right, rather than making the common mistake of having them too dark. In fact, looking back over the film as a whole, it becomes apparent that, shape-wise, Wesson tended to work from the negative to the positive in general.

So, are there great insights here? A lot of what Steve Hall says is based on common sense and a lot more of it is gleaned from talking to Wesson’s students and reading his articles. Put together, however, this is about as close as we’re going to get to having a film by the great man himself. It’s all convincing and it’s all backed up by evidence. It’s also good, basic common sense. Just what we’d expect from Wesson, in fact.

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John Yardley: as I see it || Steve Hall

This new collection of John’s work covers largely the last couple of years and therefore includes much that has not been seen in print before. The subtitle refers to John’s own assertion that he paints what is in front of him, usually from life rather than sketches, this being the key to the immediacy of his work and the predominance of his use of light and colour, with form often taking a back seat. The selection is John’s own, assisted by his wife Brenda, with an introduction by Steve Hall that provides a brief narrative of John’s life and career to date.

It’s easy to see why John’s work is so popular with other painters, with his simplification of form and his use of light and colour to suggest atmosphere, all very painterly qualities, and this collection will not disappoint. Given that the work is recent, however, and that there should therefore not be issues with the photography, it’s a pity that some of the images are a little less than sharp. It’s only slight, though, and the book is splendid value.

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June & Alwyn Crawshaw: their story, their paintings || Steve Hall

It’s good that a serious monograph has been devoted to Crawshaw, and not just to Alwyn but to June as well. Alwyn is, of course, well-known and has been part of the practical art scene for many years having written many books. June, however, has only emerged as an artist in her own right relatively recently and she has matured into a painter who has mastered small, intimate scenes, the details that are often overlooked. Although you can see Alwyn’s influence in her work, she has her own recognisable style and the two of them complement each other nicely.

As ever with Halsgrove books, this is mainly about the paintings – over 100 of them and pretty much equally divided between the two artists. There is, of course, no shortage of Alwyn’s work in print because of the number of books he has written, but not many of them are as generously sized as these are, or they are part of a step by step demonstration. Steve Hall’s approach is to categorise by artist and subject – Alwyn paints landscapes, June paints flowers, gardens and beaches, etc and, although it inevitably pigeonholes things a bit, this does bring some order to what could otherwise have become a bit of a ragbag and have done its subjects no justice at all.

There is also a short biographical introduction that contains most of the factual information you could want, especially if you haven’t managed to get hold of a copy of Alwyn’s painting autobiography, The Artist at Work. A pleasant surprise is the foreword by the editor of most of Alwyn’s art instruction books, which gives a very real sense of the warmth of both Alwyn and June and a clue to why it is they have been so enduringly popular in print, as demonstrators and on television.

Popularity often has the effect of trivialising – someone that ubiquitous somehow can’t really be a serious artist, can they? Look at this collection, however, and you’ll realise that the Crawshaws deserve another look.

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Edward Wesson: The Master's Choice || Steve Hall and Barry Miles

With the exception of the limited edition My Corner of The Field, Edward Wesson never published a book in his lifetime, but the subsequent literature more than makes up for that!

The lack of first-person writing is a shame because, by many accounts, Wesson was an inspiring teacher whose enthusiasm, as much as his technical instruction, encouraged many aspiring artists. Preceding the paintings in this new book are several shortish essays that capture some of the personality behind the easel and that’s a welcome addition that marks this one out.

Wesson was an influence on many painters of the late twentieth century and himself carries echoes of Edward Seago. Flicking quickly through this book, you might be forgiven for thinking you’ve picked up the James Fletcher Watson volume that comes from Halsgrove at the same time. That’s not a criticism of either artist, but James was himself very much the inheritor of Wesson’s mantle, both as regards subject matter and teaching style. Both led by example and encouraged by positive criticism, making their courses as much a pleasure as they were instructional.

I’ve hinted that there have been a lot of books about Wesson (most of them from Halsgrove) in recent years. Can there possibly be any material left that’s worth reproducing? That’s the question I’ve asked with each new volume and the answer has always been “yes”. Wesson was remarkably prolific and a lot of what appears here are in fact demonstration paintings, done in the field in front of a group. But they’re not just sketches, not something half-finished, not just of interest as souvenirs for those who were there. Some are looser than others, sure, but if you didn’t know, you’d just stand back in amazement at the flexibility of Wesson’s style and especially how he could record all the necessary detail of a scene while working about as loosely as is possible. One of the introductory essays is a portrait of Wesson during a course and a valuable record of the man himself at work.

As for the reproduction, I think the publisher must have gone back to original paintings for everything that appears; you can’t get this sort of quality from transparencies and they’re to be congratulated for eschewing that much easier route. This isn’t a cheap book, but it doesn’t cut any corners either. There’s a slight hint in the cover blurb that some of the pictures that appear here might also have made it into print before. I can’t conduct a full audit, but it’s possible that you may have some of them already. Equally, what’s said might mean that the book is made up of his personal archive as well as other unpublished work. I’m not sure. Either way, I’d recommend this book strongly simply for the variety and quality of the collection and the personal memoirs that accompany it.

Halsgrove 2007

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