Archive for category Medium: Coloured Pencil

Botanical Illustration for Beginners || Meriel Thurstan & Rosie Martin

If your first reaction to seeing the title of this is “no it isn’t”, please bear with me, because I want to convince you it’s something that you can approach with a reasonable amount of skill, experience and determination.

No, you’re right, it’s not something you should attempt as your first foray into flower painting. Yes, no less an institution than Kew runs a prestigious course for something that many exponents will tell you is a lifetime’s study. A few years back, you could also have headed off to Cornwall’s Eden Project and enrol in its diploma course, where you’d have met the authors of this innovative and intriguing book.

Meriel and Rosie have an impeccable track record of explaining what can at first seem (and can easily be) tricky subjects. They also have the teaching experience to know where students’ blocks are and how to get over that initial hurdle of simply getting started.

Botanical Illustration in its purest form is a complex and highly technical subject. It’s used in preference to photography for producing example images that aid identification, picturing a typical plant or flower rather than a specific example and sometimes emphasising particular characteristics in a way that may not been seen in nature, but which guide the viewer towards what to look for. It requires a detailed knowledge both of the subject and of painting in general and the medium (usually watercolour) in particular. As I implied, at this level, it’s not something you can learn just from a book.

And yet. Here we have a beginner’s step-by-step guide. And it works. The trick is that this isn’t a book for the aspiring professional, but for the amateur who wants something a bit more specific than the slightly less formal flower portrait. What it has up its sleeve is to keep you working all the time on demonstrations and projects, rather than technical exercises. This is important because, in something as painstaking as this, it’s important to keep the reader’s interest engaged and there’s nothing like a steady stream of results to do that. Each stage builds on what has gone before and you’re learning and building skills as you go, almost without noticing it. No, it’s neither easy nor completely painless and you will have to put a lot of work in, but you didn’t expect anything less (did you?).

Every time Meriel and Rosie produce another book, I say it’s their best. I’m running out of superlatives. This one is maybe slightly niche but, my goodness, they’ve nailed a tricky subject.

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The New Colored Pencil || Kristy Ann Hutch

I’ll admit that I double-checked the publication date (it’s 2014) as most of the materials covered here have been around for a while and have been the subject of a good number of earlier books.

This doesn’t mean that this one isn’t any good, or is late to the party. In fact, having had time to consider its subject and the earlier treatments, it’s perhaps more of a considered opinion. The approach is highly practical and is based on a series of how-to’s such as Grating Pigment Over A Wet Surface, Creating a Muted Foliage Background or How to Use The Grid Method. All of these are subsections to general chapters on wax-based coloured pencils, water-soluble pencils and wax pastels as well as working with different media in combination.

I can’t say that the book offers any great new insights, but it does have a novel and accessible approach that, combined with a catholic selection of subject matter, gives it a wide appeal that may well make you think that, out of all that’s available, this is the one to buy.

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Drawing Birds With Colored Pencils || Kaaren Poole

Let’s get one thing clear before we start: this is an American book. You need to know that or you’ll be in for a shock the moment you look up “Robin”. There’s a UK-originated book coming later this year, but that’ll be on acrylics and anyway, this is so good that I think its transatlantic coverage is something you should try to ignore.

The book consist of a series of demonstrations which have a good amount of step-by-step instruction, but a limited number of individual illustrations. This makes it something for the more advanced worker, but frankly, this is a subject you probably wouldn’t want to tackle as a beginner anyway. Each demonstration covers a different species and starts with the colours you’re going to need. Kaaren tends to work using her colours straight, with only a small amount of blending, so it may be more pencils than you’re used to. She then proceeds in a series of three layers and explains the stages that go into each. You get an illustration for each layer but, as I said, not each stage.

Coloured pencils can produce wonderfully fine detail and are perfect for feathers, where a little blending gives you the softness of colour interaction. Achieving this is something Kaaren covers comprehensively.

This is a gorgeous book. The basic principles of mark-making, colour and structure can be applied to any bird, but you are going to have to be prepared to make that jump from what you see on the page to what you see on the branch. It’s worth the effort, though.

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Drawing & Painting Flowers With Coloured Pencils || Trudy Friend

Search Press have been packing a lot into their art instruction books lately, and this is no exception. It follows the pattern of Trudy’s previous books in having break-out details of completed paintings, but there are also some longer demonstrations as well as hints and tips. The overall impression is of a busy and fact-packed book, and this is borne out in practice.

Trudy begins with a useful survey of the various materials available today (and it’s become so diverse that this is rather more than the basic overview), from simple coloured pencils to those from Coloursoft and Academy and on to Iktense and Aquatone, before looking at pastels, papers and the various watercolour options. The quite detailed illustrations in this section drive out any dryness and you can easily see how the different types produce individual results. The same thing applies to the Techniques chapter, where basic marks are quickly worked up into an example – perhaps a leaf or a petal.

The detailed sections are divided into Flowers in Containers, Flowers in the Garden and Flowers in the Countryside. The categories are relatively arbitrary, but serve to avoid what could otherwise become a lengthy and perhaps even indigestible final chapter. It really doesn’t matter, because this is a section you’re going to want to dip into, pick and choose and just have a go. It’s that sort of book: do you keep reading or put it down and get drawing?

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DVD: Just Watercolour || David Howell

David Howell travels light. It’s the motorbike, which doesn’t really cater for large or heavy equipment.

This stripped-down approach does, however, allow him to concentrate on the painting, the “Just Watercolour” of the title. A small half-pan box, a couple of brushes, a block of paper and a really quite generous roll of pencils are all he needs.

Ah yes, the pencils. David explains at the beginning that he doesn’t like to sketch on the watercolour block itself; rather he prefers to make a coloured pencil sketch that gets the composition, provides a record “in case anything changes” and also helps with details that may be important later.

With this done, David works straight onto the paper. His first outing, on the Somerset levels, is a series of washes that blend into one another, with more defined shapes, such as a gateway, done wet-in-wet, the result being a graduated progression of colours that captures a misty morning perfectly.

Later demonstrations at Brixham and Salcombe are more complex scenes with boats and buildings and it is interesting to see how David uses blocks of colour, building up a composition of initially unconnected shapes, gradually bringing them together using the pencil sketch as a guide.

The result is an intriguing and delightful wander through the ways of watercolour, with lots of good advice along the way.

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Colored Pencil Explorations || Jane Gildow

This is a tour de force of coloured pencil work and very much a book for the more advanced practitioner.

As well as being artistically creative, the book is also technically adventurous. Although only one author is credited, there are illustrations and demonstrations from a variety of contributors, who show us an enormous variety of work which exploits both the characteristics of pencils themselves and also their use in combination with other media.

It’s not really possible to convey just how much there is here or how varied and surprising the results are unless you can see the book itself, so it’s to be hoped that the distributor can get it into shops. There are several images on the front cover, which you can see here, but they don’t convey the half of it.


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Figures & Faces (Secrets of Drawing) || Craig Nelson

This is part of a new series from North Light which comes under the umbrella title of “Essential Artist Techniques”. Octavo format, 96 pages long, they’re clearly intended as quick and easy guides and perhaps also as impulse purchases – the sort of thing a shop might put on a display table or by the till, if art books ever make it off the lower back shelves, that is.

The pleasant surprise is how well they’re done. Small books are often rather dashed off, but care has clearly been taken over the production of these and the smaller page-size isn’t an immediate disadvantage – the illustrations are mostly full or half page and it’s the text rather than the pictures that has been condensed. There’s also a lot of colour, which is also credibly placed rather than feeling as though it’s just there to make the book look more attractive.

For the subject in question, the stripped-back approach works remarkably well and there are plenty of different poses and subjects, with sketches, diagrams and fully worked drawings. It works best, I think, as something to use for specific reference rather than to progress through from start to finish. It’s also effective if you just open it at random and take what serendipity gives you. Most topics are dealt with in a single page or spread, even the demonstrations only running to 4 pages, so you can pick up an idea quickly and easily.

As an aid to stimulating the imagination, this is superb. If you want to study a topic or the whole subject in more depth, there are plenty of other books, but they can be exhaustive (and exhausting; this is a big subject) and this has a sense of freshness and pace I really like.

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Exotic Botanical Illustration with the Eden Project || Rosie Martin & Meriel Thurstan

You could be forgiven for thinking that this franchise might be nearing the end of its shelf life and that the authors must be struggling for something new to say. However, this latest volume (the fourth, if you include Natural History Painting as part of the canon) is as fresh as ever and, in many ways, could be regarded as the best yet.

The first thing you’re likely to think is, “Hmm, exotic plants, how likely am I to come across those?” and the answer is: not much. However, open the book almost anywhere and the surprise is just how familiar the subjects are. It’s probably all down to television, the armchair explorer. Orchids, check. Carnivorous plants, check. Pak Choi and Globe Artichokes, check. Pumpkins and maize – hang on, how exotic are they? But that’s the point, you don’t have to be a Joseph Banks to be at least aware of practically everything here. And then, when you delve deeper, the book turns out not to be half so much how to paint all the things that didn’t appear in the earlier books as how to paint plants full stop.

There’s a huge amount here about how to draw (pencils and coloured pencils come into it quite a lot) and paint plants, from the use of colour (including “difficult colours”) to capturing textures and sheens. The subjects may not be completely common or garden, but this is one of the best technical manuals I’ve seen, simply because it’s not actually aiming to be one. What Rosie and Meriel are trying to do is show you, in as practical a way as possible, how to capture your subjects. I think they’ve actually sublimated the technical stuff and, as a result, explained it extraordinarily well just because they’re not trying to.

Oh, and the book is just a joy to look at as well.

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Creating Radiant Flowers in Colored Pencil || Gary Greene

If you’re looking for a guide that covers a wide variety of different species (and most of them not US-specific, although this is a American book), you’ve found it.

This is not a comprehensive guide to drawing flowers, each demonstration being limited to a single page, or a spread at most, but all of the information is there, with generous illustrations and notes on how specific details were done and on the colours used.

There’s a lot of useful information here and it’s concisely presented, so that those who want to work by example rather than wading through acres of text will be well served.

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Creating Textures in Colored Pencil || Gary Greene

As a quick and easy to access guide, this volume, originally published in 1996, is hard to beat. It pretty much says what it does in the title, and each subject is dealt with in a single page. This inevitably means that coverage is sparse and you’re left on your own to develop techniques further, but conciseness has its virtue and you get everything quickly and straightforwardly.

The range of subjects varies from the inevitable rusty metal and weather-beaten timber to water, flowers and human faces. There really isn’t much more you could wish for. I do take issue with the cover’s claim of “50+ step-by-step demonstrations”, as a single image and 5 or 6 numbered steps does not, in my humble opinion, make for a full-on demonstration. However the information is all there and you may find that you far prefer the lack of fuss to pages and pages of only slightly different steps.

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