Archive for category Medium: Drawing

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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The Joy of Sketch || Jen Russell-Smith

Books of ideas are not exactly thin on the ground and what they cover is broadly similar. Where they stand or fall, therefore , is mainly on the quality of the illustrations and even that may come down to a matter of personal choice.

This pitches itself at the beginner and suggests a range of subjects from the contents of your pockets to hands and feet, trees and flowers, wildlife and even domestic fittings. This could be summed up as: if you see it, draw it, which is no bad idea if you’re feeling stuck for inspiration. Just get your pens and pencils out and have a go.

There’s a charm about this particular implementation that gets under your skin. The illustrations are simple enough, loose enough and recognisable enough to make you feel pretty sure that yes, actually, you could manage something like that. It doesn’t look too difficult and, with a little help (the text is admirably concise) and a few examples along the way, you almost certainly can.

Add in a pleasant and none-too-taxing technical introduction and some basic exercises that get you practising simple shapes without just drawing circles and ellipses and you have one of the best books in this well-served field.

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I Can (Not) Draw || Peng

At first glance, this looks as though it might be a book aimed at children.   The simple, cartoon-like illustrations and busy layout are very like titles I’ve reviewed that are intended for a younger audience.

Further examination, however, reveals a level of detail and elements of humour that are far more grown-up. Peng is, in fact, an Austrian cartoonist and, while these are not cartoons, there’s a wryness to the images that is instantly engaging. Even if you were really looking for something more serious, it’s impossible not to be drawn in. Exaggerated features and simple lines are an antidote to what is sometimes a tyranny of trying to create a likeness or get proportions right – here it doesn’t matter and the most important thing is to get something – maybe even anything – down on paper.

The title gives a strong clue to the content – it’s all about removing negativity. Anyone can have a go at this and, even if you’re already reasonably accomplished, there’s a lot to be said for letting observation rule your pen.

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Drawing Using Grids – Animals & People || Giovanni Civardi

The idea behind this series is simple and easy to comprehend – it does what it says on the tin. Each subject is overlaid by a co-ordinated grid, so that all the main points of shape and composition can easily be transferred the finished image. It’s a long-established and well-tested technique that simply works.

What makes these volumes particularly useful, as well as the quality of the illustrations, is the amount of background material – structure, anatomy and features – that prefaces each set of drawings. In the animals volume, these are not just general but applied to each type – so, dogs, horses, cats. When it comes to people, these are structure, movement and posture. The main sections here divide into character, babies and children, and figures in action.

It should be added that these are compilations of individual volumes, though only two (Portraits With Character and Portraits of Babies and Children) have previously appeared in English. The bulk, therefore, can be regarded as new material.

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Drawing Landscapes || Margaret Eggleton

Search Press have reissued this, which first appeared in the Drawing Masterclass series. You can read the original review here.

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Basics of Drawing || Leonardo Pereznieto

There are plenty of reasons to like this thoroughly sound introduction to drawing. The first, and perhaps most important, is the clarity of the lessons. Each one is concise without being terse, and admirably clear, with the accompanying illustrations and step-by-step demonstrations not adding unnecessary complication. The next is the quality of the illustrations themselves – Leonardo’s work, mostly in pencil, is soft and sensitive and does full justice to the medium, as well as complementing the text perfectly.

Chapters move from mark-making and basic shapes to individual topics such as composition,, scene-framing, creating a visual path through the image, and an introduction to drawing people. There is an extended section on perspective, which considers its different aspects (linear, aerial and three-point) separately, making the whole a great deal easier to follow.

As well as being a solid introduction, this is also an excellent primer and a revision aid to a variety of techniques. I did spot a very few infelicities of execution, but by no means enough not to recommend it.

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101 Ways To Draw || David Webb

This encyclopaedia-style guide to drawing techniques absolutely stands on the quality of its illustrations. These are sensitive and David’s working methods adapt themselves nicely to the medium and technique in question at the time.

Just about every drawing medium is here, from graphite pencils and sticks to ballpoint, felt-tips, watercolour pencils and soft pastels. Subjects include flowers, landscapes, still lifes, animals, buildings and people. Techniques cover toning, layering, hatching and blending as well as simple mark-making. Obviously, not every combination of subject, medium and technique can be included, but the matching is logical and the results always enlightening.

As well as functioning as a source of reference, this is also a book to dive into and explore for ideas and inspiration. It’s a lot of fun.

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Urban Sketching || Isabel Carmona Andreu

I’ve remarked before that there’s no shortage of, and seemingly no lack of appetite for books on urban sketching. Whether that can survive lockdown and working from home remains to be seen, but if you feel a nostalgia for the crowded streets, such volumes may provide some relief.

This subtitles itself “an artist’s guide”, which you might think is a statement of the obvious. However, it presages an approach (and goodness knows, we need a bit of variety in this field) that is more interpretive and painterly than some. Isabel’s medium is mainly watercolour and she uses its properties to considerable effect, with loose washes standing for a lot of architectural detail and providing the opportunity to block in quite large areas quickly. Most urban sketching books rely on pencils, which are easy to carry and quick to get out and put away. Watercolour requires a little more baggage and preparation, but Isabel’s work amply demonstrates that the extra labour is worthwhile.

There are plenty of exercises, projects, lessons, demonstrations and examples as well as case studies of work by other artists that introduce a pleasant additional perspective. The whole is packed with ideas and inspiration backed up with the technical information you’d want.

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The Beginner’s Guide to Drawing Portraits || Carole Massey

If publishers ask (and they do periodically), my advice with older books is to leave them as they were. The idea of re-editing something into a new product never really works. It’s a bit like trying to turn a shirt into a pair of trousers. Even if you have enough material, the pieces will never be quite the right shape and the old seams will never lie quite flat. There’ll be compromises, gaps and false joins that’ll always be unsatisfactory. That applies to the trousers as well.

This started life in the Drawing Masterclass series, but has been completely restructured and what you now have is effectively a new book. The last time Search Press did this, I raised a quizzical eyebrow because all they’d really done was change the title. This is a complete re-working and a great deal of credit must go to Carole Massey who has done the heavy lifting here. She has not only added new material, but re-written and simplified to an amazing extent. Concentrating on the head and shoulders simplifies things immeasurably – you can forget about hands, feet, clothes and posture, for instance. It also allows her to concentrate on the form, features and expressions of the face, which is mainly what the book is about.

This is not so much a course as an examination of the way portraits are built up. Although the way through it is progressive – you’re always building on and reinforcing what you learnt before, there aren’t the same number of examples, exercises and demonstrations. They’re there, and you’ll find them, but in a less structured way. It’s very subtle how the material you need is to hand just when you want it, rather than when you’ve come to expect it.

There’s an excellent variety of gender, ethnicity, shape, form and age here. Carole is particularly good with babies and children and you could justify the relatively modest cover price for that alone.

This is probably one of the best introductions to portrait drawing around and the fact that it uses recycled material is probably only of interest to reviewers like me. You won’t see the joins.

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Drawing Dramatic Landscapes || Robert Dutton

It is to be hoped that this new series from Search Press will be expanded in the not too distant future. The idea of featuring work by artists who explore and expand the horizons of their medium is an attractive one and there are enough around that it shouldn’t be necessary to stretch the criteria just for the sake of it.

Robert Dutton works mostly in graphite media – pencils, sticks, powder and liquid – but also charcoal, acrylics, inks and pastels. These latter for the most part provide accents and colour, but what he can do with straightforward monochrome will take your breath away. That’s what makes this such an exciting book.

Search Press are, of course, mainly publishers of instructional books rather than monographs, so there has to be a strong how-to element as well as the valuable featured work. They are well-practised, both in content and layout as well as selection of authors. It should come as no surprise therefore that this works as inspiration and creative encouragement just as well as straightforward technical lessons and demonstrations. The approach and style, however, make it less of a course and more of an exploratory tour in the company of an informed and competent guide. Robert has a teaching background and it shows – he is excellent at explaining what he has done, but why it was achieved that way.

Not everything in the book will be to everyone’s taste – you may prefer the sometimes dark graphite drawing, I may feel happier with coloured pencils and inked highlights. For all that, Robert’s explanations have a superb clarity and are always interesting – whatever your preferences, there’s nothing here you’d want to skip.

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