Archive for category Medium: Drawing

Sketchbook Challenge || Susan Yeates

This is a further addition to the increasing line of project-based books aimed at what I think we can fairly describe as the occasional user. People who, perhaps, like the idea of art without being absolutely devoted to it.

For them, I’m pretty sure this is absolutely perfect. Subtitled 100 prompts for daily drawing, it’s exactly that. Simple ideas along the lines of “why not do this?”, with a text that tells you little more than that it might be a good idea and an example or two that, to be perfectly honest, look a bit rushed. If the idea is that you don’t have to produce great works of art, Susan has hit the spot perfectly, and I mean that positively, not as a veiled insult. No-one benefits from the “not for the likes of you” approach.

The ideas cover pretty much everything, from shapes to everyday objects, animals, flowers and even just the things you find in your pocket. Would you, the committed artist, benefit from it? Well, this isn’t the first book to suggest ideas for drawing based on what’s in front of you, either as a way of learning or to break through creative block. A professional artist once said to me, “if I get one idea from a book, it’s been worth it”, so you might think that this offers a fresh approach that stimulates your creativity. You might, of course, also find it just plain annoying and vow to do better, which has just achieved the same result. Chicken dinners all round, I think.

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Landscape in Ink and Coloured Pencil || Helen Hanson

I think we need a new term for the style introduced by this really rather charming book, and I’m calling it Soft Realism.

As with pen & wash, the use of ink creates sharply defined outlines that provide immediate impact, with a softer core that accentuates colour and adds a more impressionistic feel. The difference between watercolour and pencil, however is that the latter works with finer lines, more shading and includes detail itself. The result is that landscapes can recede subtly by the use not just of cooler colour, but by a softer focus and a reduction in detail.

What is surprising is that this is, as far as I can remember, the first book devoted to this method of working, which has much to recommend it. Yes, there have been books on ink drawing and, yes, there have been books on pencil work and, yes, again, all of them have covered mixed media, but it’s never been the star of the show as it is here. In a whole book, there’s nowhere to hide, and you’d better have plenty to say and a very clear idea of what you’re about.

Helen covers not just the broad sweep of landscape, but details such as flowers, trees, rocks and water, and explains both her approach and working methods thoroughly but concisely. As is the way with Crowood, there are more words than some publishers, but these are well-chosen and a pleasure to read, complementing the exercises and demonstrations nicely.

If you hadn’t thought about this way of working, Helen should convert you quickly and have you fully proficient by the time you’re through.

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Drawing Architecture || Richard Taylor

It’s a tribute to how book production has progressed that this looks as fresh as it did when it was first published in 2005 (as Drawing & Painting Buildings). If you want an excellent introduction to the subject, look no further.

You can read my original review via the link above.

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Cross Hatching in Pen & Ink || August Lamm

In four decades of writing about art, this is the first book I’ve seen solely devoted to the technique of cross hatching. You might think that it’s something that really only needs to be covered in a more general book about drawing, and you would be partly right because this is, in fact, a more general book than the title implies.

That’s not to say it’s running a false flag, but rather that any technique is only as valuable as the results it produces and August Lamm has the good sense to set her narrative in a wider context. Let’s say, therefore, that this is a book about drawing where cross hatching is the primary feature.

The main purpose of hatching is to create shade, emphasise detail and enhance shape in monochrome line work. This can be anything from simple shapes to still lifes, landscape and portraiture and figure work. It is those latter that form the bulk of what is presented here, although still lifes are used as conveniently simple initial exercises and the examples of landscape work well-chosen and informative.

The examples and exercises use both simple and more complex techniques, along with wash and inking where necessary. The cover illustration (I think a self-portrait) gives a good example of the sort of work than can be produced. August is also very sound on the basics of facial structure and the proportions of the figure, adding a perhaps unexpected dimension that increases the book’s broader appeal.

There is much to like here. A thorough introduction to hatching cannot but be welcomed, but the wider consideration of drawing methods provides a completeness that makes for a worthwhile and thought-provoking read.

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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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