Archive for category Medium: Drawing

From Coast & Cove || Anna Koska

There is a charm to this book that draws you in and has you gripped within only a few pages. Entirely impressionistic, Anna captures the essence of the coast, from wild landscapes to playful seaside, in words and pictures.

It isn’t, on the face of it, an art book, although the illustrations, frequently peeking from the edge or corner of a page, are part of the appeal and will serve as an example to other aspiring journal writers. For them, the main lesson to be taken is how to see, observe, select and retain. A scene can be almost anything you want it to be, from the wide vista to the intimate details and the tiny creatures that cling to rocks or crawl among the grasses. What any given moment means to you will depend on an infinite variety of factors. Anna is first class at telling these stories, from how the day began to concerns about the weather, who else was there, what you grandfather told you, or how a particular colour caught your eye.

There are no lessons here, in the sense of sitting down, paying attention, practising and revising. Rather, this is a piece to enjoy and absorb. You’ll come away refreshed, informed and a whole lot wiser.

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City Sketching Reimagined || Jeanette Barnes & Paul Brandford

Whenever I see the word “exciting” applied to a book about sketching, I fear the worst. It’s usually shorthand for “expect a wild ride” and “this may be a bit exotic for your taste”. Those two are definitely the case here and there is often a feeling within the world of urban sketching that a certain harshness of line is needed to capture the dynamism of the urban scene and its life.

The drawing style here, I think it’s fair to say, takes no prisoners. The lines are staccato and betoken fast work that, it’s also fair to say, suggests a confidence with form and materials. Leavened with colour, this provides a definite sense of excitement and atmosphere. In pure black, however, I personally find the results rather overwhelming, although there’s no denying the skill and sense of artistry involved. I’m perfectly capable of admiring a piece of work without actually liking it.

The blurb tells me that the book is presented as a series of bite-size entries, by which they mean short paragraphs that do actually match the bursts of energy that go into the illustrations. Again, and this is purely personal, I find myself overwhelmed by those and barely notice the text. The same blurb also suggests that the book will suit both new and experienced artists. I can’t help thinking, however, that it will appeal a lot more to the dedicated urban sketcher who will certainly find much to take from the fast-moving approach and concise writing.

You need to see this in the flesh and I’m sure you’ll react in only one of two ways: return it hastily to the shelf or take it immediately to the checkout. There are no half-measures.

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Still Life || Susie Johns

This is a pleasing guide to painting simple compositions using everyday objects you’ll find about you. As such, it’s a good way of developing skills without having to look far for subjects or stretch your abilities too much. These are exercises that can be completed relatively quickly and should provide a welcome afternoon or evening break.

The front cover provides a hint of what to expect – a colour drawing of oranges on a blue plate and some pencils and watercolour brushes; inset illustrations include a fish, a shell and a ball. As I said, we’re into things which are easy to find and a straightforward selection of materials. There’s also a nod to the basic shapes that comprise some of the technical exercises, providing solid groundwork in form, perspective and shading. This kind of thing can be ineffably dull and Susie quickly applies the basic principles to real life objects such as fruit and shells that, despite their outward simplicity, present plenty of their own challenges, particularly in regard to texture.

There’s nothing here that will set the world alight, but that’s not what you want or what the book intends. Rather, it’s an excellent grounding in drawing techniques that is neither too taxing nor too elementary to be worthwhile.

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Sketching For The Absolute Beginner || Peter Cronin

Peter Cronin tells us that he found drawing in “special” classes at school, having been diagnosed as “slow”, but in reality dyslexic. For him, it was a release from the tyranny of the worded page and an introduction to a world that was all his. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that this book is, as much as anything else, a paean to the joy and freedom that Peter finds in working with drawing materials.

Yes, it’s a book of instruction and, yes, it covers all the basic principles, but Peter also manages to convey throughout the joy he feels when working, and he’ll share it with you the reader. So, yes again, it’s a course, but it’s also a journey of discovery.

Peter’s drawings are subtle and sensitive and he works mostly with pencil but also pen & wash. With plenty of examples and short exercises, he introduces line, composition, perspective, form and hatching as well as ways to control the weight of the mark to create values, tone and shading.

There’s a huge amount to get to grips with here and this is a book that you can easy work through or just dip into for advice and inspiration.

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Natural History Illustration in Pen and Ink || Sarah Morrish

Several books have appeared recently that take their subjects and readers entirely seriously. They avoid the trap of trying to be all things to all readers and simply assume that, if you don’t have the basic skills they demand, you can get them elsewhere. This is another such and offers a very thorough survey of a broad range of natural subjects depicted in a single medium.

With over 200 pages at her disposal, Sarah Morrish is able to expand and expound in considerable, though never exhausting detail. Her materials include traditional dip pens as well as Rotring Isographs, brush pens and felt and fibre tips. She also uses coloured as well as black inks, making the illustrations here far from sombre. Of particular interest is her use of hatching and line-placing to create very effective half-tones.

With plenty of space to manoeuvre, the choice of subjects is generous, ranging from trees and flowers to mammals, insects and invertebrates. The text studies not just working methods but the creatures and their environments as well; this is about finding your subjects as much as depicting them. Once you’re down to work, examples, case studies and demonstrations will give you plenty to get to grips with.

By concentrating on viewpoints and not being afraid to go into detail where it’s required, this is one of the most comprehensive books around on natural history drawing.

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Drawing With Charcoal || Kate Boucher

There have never been many books about charcoal. It’s almost invariably lumped in with other drawing media, and not unreasonably. The basic techniques, after all, can be applied to pencils, pastels, pen & ink and so on and it makes sense not to repeat these for each one.

For all that, a thorough study will not come amiss and, given that this will probably be a one-off for quite some time, it is to be hoped that Kate Boucher steps up to the mark. It is pleasing to report that she certainly does. This is no mere “make some marks and have done with it” overview and the quality of the artwork will have you wondering why you never realised before that quite such subtlety was possible. Charcoal is a monochrome medium that is difficult to persuade into half-tones or, by its soft nature, to produce fine detail.

Just a quick look at the illustrations here will show you that such things are by no means impossible and your first thought might be that you are actually looking at a book about monoprinting. Although there is discussion at the beginning about materials and mark-making, Kate assumes a reasonable degree of experience – you can, after all, get that from one of the many introductory guides to drawing that are available. Instead, through a series of demonstrations that are fully described and analysed, she explains the use of erasers, tone, layers of texture and the use of other materials – the introduction of pastels in the final chapter is genuinely shocking, albeit in a good way.

This is everything you’d hope it would be and probably more. I said there’s unlikely to be another book for quite some time but, frankly, there’s no need for one. Kate has nailed it.

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Creative Drawing Techniques || David Brammeld

Subtitled From first mark to full expression, this is a comprehensive, but not exhausting, study of drawing using everything from pencils and pen & ink to watercolour washes, graphite, charcoal, acrylic inks and mixed media.

You could forgive yourself for asking how all this could be not creative – the title does sort of hint at that possibility. The truth is, it’s one of those rather vague words that publishers use when they’re not quite sure how to categorise the work of an author they’ve felt attracted to and want to do a book with. There’s an immediate attractiveness to David’s work that eloquently explains this without the need for any words. There’s huge variety here and he is one of those artists whose work somehow transcends their medium. In a way, this isn’t a book about drawing at all, but about creating and where the fact that tools are used is merely incidental.

That’s all very well, but you the reader are sat there with a pad on your knees, pens and pencils in hand and a bottle of ink perched precariously on a stool or tree stump beside you. You want to know how to proceed and you won’t be disappointed by how David guides you. That subtitle makes it clear that this is about the whole process of drawing and that there’s advice on mark-making before you get to the process of transcending your media. The more elementary aspects don’t dominate, however, and there’s plenty of variety and exercises to get stuck into. Subject matter includes trees, buildings, still lifes and a few portraits. David tends to go for the closer, more intimate view than the wider perspective, which is why I haven’t mentioned landscapes, even though some of his work does fall broadly into this category.

All-in-all, this is an enjoyable, instructive and thought-provoking book.

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Drawing Perspective || Tim Fisher

Tim Fisher’s excellent guide to perspective, once part of the Drawing Masterclass series, has been reissued. You can read the original review here.

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Drawing Nature: a complete guide || Giovanni Civardi

The bind-up reissue of Giovanni Civardi’s excellent guides continues. Here, you get seven volumes on the subject of nature, covering scenery, light & shade, basic techniques, flowers, fruit & vegetables, pets, perspective and wild animals. Is all of that nature? Well, stretching a point, it does give you a thorough amount of reading around the subject. It’s perhaps a quibble, but you also get the Drawing Techniques volume in the Figure Drawing bind-up and you can’t help suspecting it may make an appearance in future collections too.

If you’re a fan of Giovanni, you’ll probably have all the original volumes anyway, so purchasers of these reduced-format collections will perhaps only buy one, so a bit of thoughtful curation maybe doesn’t go amiss. However it goes, you get seven books for a little under two quid each, which is thumpingly good value even if there is a little duplication.

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Taming Wildlife with pastel pencils || Lucy Swinburne

This stunning guide to wildlife drawing manages to be both a thoroughly serious study and completely accessible at the same time. Only someone who is fully confident and at home with their subject matter and working methods can achieve that.

The choice of pastel pencils is an interesting one. The use of pencil allows for both fine detail and a degree of blending, but Lucy is silent on why pastels specifically, which is perhaps a shame. This is a very minor niggle, given the quality of the work, content and reproduction here, but still one where perhaps a couple of sentences would have helped. Gosh, I’m hard to please.

After a general introduction to materials and reference sources (Lucy uses photographs here), you move into a series of exercises and demonstrations that usefully deal with both details such as ears, noses and paws and larger demonstrations that deal with the whole animal. These include a wolf, a chimpanzee, a panda and a prowling jaguar. The culmination is a black leopard, where Lucy shows you how to get an almost unbelievable amount of detail into an apparently monochrome subject. While there is menace in the jaguar, here the creature is at rest and has an almost soulful expression – there’s a lot more to Lucy’s work and this book than just technical wizardry.

The demonstrations are thoughtfully presented, with the sections you’re not working on greyed (or rather, blued) out. I haven’t seen this done before, but it very effectively allows you to keep the background in mind without it distracting from the details you’re currently working on. Lucy also manages to achieve a near-perfect balance between saying enough in the explanation and saying too much. This is a book which assumes a certain level of ability – let’s be honest – but not that you also know everything it’s trying to teach you. Once again, this requires a degree of confidence.

It’s also worth saying a word about the production. Self-published books often suffer from, as well as a lack of an editor, a tendency to skimp on the quality of reproduction for fear of driving up costs. This is a mistake Lucy does not make. Work with this level of detail requires the reader to be able to see every mark, and you can. The generous page size also helps. Yes, it comes at a cost (commercially produced, this would probably be ten pounds or so cheaper), but it’s not an expense you should quail at – you absolutely get what you pay for.

There are also accompanying videos on Lucy’s website, which just adds to the depth of instruction available.

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Also available from http://www.tamingwildflife.com

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