Archive for category Medium: Gouache

The Art of Gouache || Jeremy Ford

Gouache is often regarded as the poor relation of “proper” watercolour. Being opaque, it is more forgiving and less challenging, although, for that matter, so are oils and acrylics. It’s not a newcomer to the scene, being the cousin of tempera, which has a long and honourable tradition. Where it mainly suffers is from its schoolroom connotation and memories of that awful (and almost always unmanageable) powdered stuff many of us remember, which also used poor pigments that couldn’t, even by the most fevered imagination, be called “artist quality”.

Properly-constituted, though, gouache can be a thing of beauty and has qualities that set it apart from any other medium. Understand its properties and you can produce images with a strongly graphic content that can take their place alongside the best of anything else.

Just as they did with Oil Pastels, Search Press have set out to rescue a Cinderella medium and, in Jeremy Ford, they’ve found an author who’s prepared not merely to look at the medium, but to champion and challenge it. A substantial book with plenty of illustrations, examples, lessons, exercises and demonstrations, this is as thorough and comprehensive a guide as you could wish for. Jeremy not only discusses materials and techniques, but looks at just about every way gouache can be used, from straightforward representation to poster-style and to images that look almost photographic. Subjects include landscapes, flowers, people and animals and there’s plenty of instruction as well as discussion of what you might want to do and how to tackle it.

There’s a fair chance that any reader will find some parts more to their taste than others but, as I said, this is a very thorough guide, so that’s to be expected. If you want to explore the medium as much as possible, I don’t think you’re going to find many (if any) omissions. For me, gouache is at its best when it’s not pretending to be anything else and moves towards graphic art, even if only slightly. There are some illustrations I can’t help thinking would work better with transparent watercolour, but that’s helpful in itself. If you agree, you’ll be glad Jeremy at least gave it a try.

If you want to learn about gouache, this should keep you satisfied for a very long time.

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Botanical Painting With Gouache || Simon Williams

This is at once a paean to the merits of gouache as well as a well-structured guide to its use in botanical painting that manages not to get caught between the two prongs of its message.

Often dismissed as “body colour” or “poster paint”, gouache is the poor relation of the water-based media, yet there is no reason for it to be taken any less seriously than acrylic, which does much the same thing. Classroom associations don’t help, something which acrylic’s late arrival on the scene has largely saved it from.

The materials and techniques sections that open the book are commendably brief and mainly confine themselves to the specifics of the subject matter in hand. The main meat is in the step-by-step projects, which are pitched more towards the capable painter than the complete beginner. There are enough stages for you to see what’s going on, but without illustrating every brushstroke, and the captions are much more detailed than is often the case, explaining both the why as well of the what in the picture. A final section looks at in situ working, which is invaluable for serious botanical artists who may wish to avoid the use of photographs. The less-committed may enjoy this, but also not feel the need to memorise it!

There has been a huge number of books on painting flowers, and maybe more on botanical painting that you think is strictly necessary, but this fills a neat and identifiable niche, demonstrating a serious application for an often-overlooked medium.

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Painting Still Life in Gouache || Kevin Scully

I always get a slight sense of time-warp when I pick up a book from Crowood. That’s no bad thing and I’m sure a lot of people are in fact going to like their approach, which is a lot more wordy than many books these days. The tendency in most practical books is to be illustration-led, with extended captions making the links and relying on the pictures to carry the message. Increasing the text has the downside of sometimes submerging the images and, in some cases, making them too small in order to accommodate the verbiage. That’s if it’s done badly. Although the sense, when you flick through a Crowood book is indeed of a lot of text you will, if you slow down, also notice that the illustrations are well-reproduced and given quite as much space as they need. Some are indeed quarter-page, but they’re usually the footnotes that are at least as small in other books. The main event is still full page and enhanced by the glossy paper the publisher usually uses.

There are up and downsides to this approach, of course. The first obstacle is that you need an artist who can write and that’s not a given. People who think visually aren’t always good when plonked in front of a typewriter and the natural writer may not be the best artist. It’s a book editor’s nightmare! On the other hand, strike a balance, as we have here, and you have the chance for some reasoned discussion and explanation of the hows and whys, the choice of destination and the possible routes to it. It does mean that, if you’re looking for clear and simple teaching, you may not so easily find it but, if you want a more mature consideration, these are books you’ll welcome and blaze a trail to.

Having said all that, there’s not a great deal more to add in this particular case. Kevin Scully discusses (I think we’ve agreed we can use that word) two subjects that don’t get a lot of coverage – still life as a subject and gouache as a medium. He does so thoughtfully and in considerable detail so that, if this is a combination you want, you’ll probably find this is the only book you’ll need.

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Colour From Coast to Coast || Alice Mumford

“Alice Mumford should be regarded as gifted choreographer. Her chosen objects are certainly not still. They have shimmering quality suggesting almost imperceptible movement.” I wouldn’t disagree with that, nor could I put it better, than the jacket blurb by Professor Richard Demarco.

Where I disagree is with the title. Despite the cover image, which shows a still life against a coastal background, this is not a book of coastal landscapes. In point of fact, Alice Mumford’s main subjects, certainly as presented here, are still lifes. Very good still lifes, it should be said, and frequently set in the context of a window and the view from it. These, though, tend to be land- rather than seascapes or even urban scenes. Reading Alice’s own introduction, it becomes clear that, with her studio half way between St Ives and Penzance, she has access to both Cornwall’s north and south coasts. She observes that “what you end up painting alters radically according to where you sit or stand in relation to the sun”. The point being that, look one way and you have the sun in front of you, turn round and it’s at your back. This is one of those truisms that you will either regard as an important nostrum or have you slapping your forehead in frustration and muttering, “you don’t say!”

Simple things, though, are worth remembering and my own aide-memoire, when taking a photograph in tricky light is “expose for the highlights and let the shadows look after themselves”. Basic stuff, but it gets you out of a lot of trouble and saves a lot of head-scratching.

As I said, although title of this might lead you up the wrong path, I can also see where it’s coming from. As a presentation of the work of an excellent still life artist, it’s very well done indeed.

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The Kew Book of Botanical Illustration || Christabel King

This, as far as botanical illustration is concerned, is pretty much the tablets of stone, the Authorised Version. Kew do not hand out their imprimatur lightly and want to approve every stage of the production. If they sign off, it’s a guarantee that everything is absolutely right. Having a book like this, and having Kew in the title, is therefore quite a coup, especially for an independent publisher.

On top of that, Christabel King is one of a very select band of illustrators who works at Kew itself and can therefore be regarded as absolutely top flight. I really can’t emphasise too much how good this is getting. Botanical illustration at this level is respected and used by botanists around the world for identification purposes. The work produced is better than photography as, rather than show an individual example of a specimen, it can create a typical one, with all the likely characteristics included. As well as a section on using a microscope, there is also advice on preserving specimens and showing spots and markings. At this level, detail is everything and it gets very minute indeed.

For all this technicality, the book is surprisingly accessible. I don’t mean for a moment that the casual reader will become a fully-fledged professional as soon as they’ve read it but, if this kind of work interests you, you won’t feel swamped. There’s a nice sense of progression to the chapters and Christabel explains everything clearly and, above all, with worked examples. If you do get serious, the chapter on Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, with sample pages and a template for laying out a plate, will give you an idea of what to aim for.

Despite the weight of its authority, this is not a book solely for the expert, but is accessible to anyone who is reasonably serious about flower painting. You may never reach its dizzy heights, but you’ll enjoy the journey and the attempt.

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Tales of The Brothers Grimm with drawings by Natalie Frank

I’m not a great fan of fairy tales. They belong (to me) to a slightly alien world and, in spite of claims that they’re part of folk art, collections made from the oral tradition, I get a strong sense of authorship – that the “compilers” in fact altered things to fit their own morality and world view. Presenting them, as they so often are, as something for children is also misleading. It’s an infantilising of now-forgotten origins, just as with nursery rhymes, that does no service either to the stories or the children whose nights are traumatised by the frankly horrific.

All that said, if you disagree with me, then I think you’ll love this new edition. The thirty-six stories that are included here are unsanitized (as the blurb has it) and therefore appear as their authors/compilers intended. The seventy five gouache and pastel illustrations are properly scary, Gothic and Surrealist and the marginalia maintain a sense of mystery and menace throughout.

Just, please, don’t buy this for your children!

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The Explorer’s Guide to Drawing Fantasy Creatures || Emily Fiegenschuh

Even if you don’t want to paint dragons, chimeras or a marsh nymph, the clear instructions and block diagrams here actually give rather a good grounding in animal drawing. You need to ignore or adapt the odd tail and maybe tone down some of the fins, but there’s no doubting that this is well done and achieves what it sets out to do.

Actually, a lot of fantasy and manga guides seem to be well-produced and I wonder whether it has something to do with the fact that their artists have to think more about their subjects. Interesting. General authors should take note.


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