Archive for category Medium: Mixed Media

Watercolours Unleashed || Jane Betteridge

This is one of those unfortunate titles that tells you very little about the content of the book, yet is almost impossible to think of an alternative for. If you’re not familiar with Jane’s work, you’re going to be a little nonplussed. It’s tempting to class it as mixed-media, but it’s not exactly that, because what she works with are mainly water-based media, though with quite a lot of ink thrown (almost literally) in.

The results are, I think, a bit Marmite; you’re either going to love them or hate them, though you should find them intriguing. Personally, I admire her experimentation and, when it works, it’s superb and unmatched. Sometimes, I’m not so sure. I do like the book, though. I think it’s honest, and prepared to take risks. I also don’t get the sense of this being the more successful tip of an iceberg of failed attempts piling up round the artist’s feet. If you like the idea of the watercolour version of taking a line for a walk, give this a look. If it does nothing else, it’ll stimulate your own experimental juices and get you going off on a track of your own.

The Society For All Artists (www.saa.co.uk) has produced a DVD to accompany the book. This is worth seeking out as it gives you a chance to see Jane in action, mainly with inks, and adds a sense of the dynamism that the printed page doesn’t quite convey.

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Place || Kurt Jackson and contributors

If that sounds like a different, and certainly intriguing authorship, this is a different and intriguing book. Kurt Jackson is unusual as a visual artist in that the written word is an important part of his work. He writes well himself and doesn’t adopt the painter’s common maxim that “my art speaks for itself”.

At this point, I think it’s worth quoting what amounts to a manifesto from the information sheet that came with the book: “A dedication to the environment is intrinsic to Kurt Jackson’s art and his politics, with a holistic involvement with his subjects providing a springboard for his formal innovations.” OK, I agree, that sounds about as pseud as it gets, but it also sums up Kurt’s work perfectly and I’d challenge anyone to put it better and avoid sounding as if they were wearing red spectacles and check trousers. If you know anything of Kurt’s work, you’ll know that his involvement with his environment is complete.

The book is a series of interpretations of single-point places around the United Kingdom – that’s to say, individual viewpoints rather than extensive explorations. They’re as varied as Penarth Head, the Grand Union Canal, Paddington Station and Spaghetti Junction. The places are chosen because they’re there, rather than because they necessarily have an attraction for the artist – though, of course, Kurt finds a kind of beauty in all of them. Each painting (sometimes accompanied by small details or sketches) is complemented by a description by a different writer, both friends and colleagues as well as people Kurt simply admires. A template of the letter that went out is included and this makes it clear that the locations were chosen by the writers rather than the artist, a brave and bold move that requires a large degree of confidence and even chutzpah.

If I say that the result is interesting, I mean just that, not as a sort of back-handed compliment. Kurt takes what he’s given and produces some amazing results. Many of the places have a natural beauty, or perhaps a sense of mystery, but some must have been a challenge. He’ll have known that, of course, and it’s a challenge he must have wanted to rise to. The result is an impressive, as well as rare, fusion of the verbal and the visual and there’s a link to readings of the pieces in there as well, if you want it.

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Travelling Light || Ray Balkwill

It’s a good few years since someone told me I should check out the West Country artist Ray Balkwill and I’ve been a fan of his work ever since.

This new collection showcases an excellent variety and quantity of his paintings and even includes a chapter on methods and materials – Ray is candid about the way he works and isn’t averse to sharing. Locations include his home territory, of course, but also Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Italy and France. Ray is at home with most subjects, although it has to be said that his paintings really come alive when boats and water are involved.

Ray is often characterised as a mixed media artist, but the truth is that medium isn’t the raison d’être of how he works. He’s not a “media” painter at all, I’d contend, rather a painter who works with whatever best suits and interprets the particular part of the subject he’s working on. For a more detailed demonstration and analysis of his working methods, have a look at his DVD, Capturing Coastal Moods.

This is a beautiful book and will appeal to those who appreciate good art, lovers of landscape and waterscape and, of course, fans of Ray’s work. The quantity and quality of the illustrations will pretty much guarantee that no-one will be disappointed, or even regard the book as particularly expensive.

Travelling Light: The Sketches and Paintings of Ray Balkwill
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DVD Capturing Coastal Moods || Ray Balkwill

The title of this give you an implicit hint as to what it isn’t. It’s not a guide to painting maritime subjects. How so? Well, as Ray tells us at the beginning, “I’m a great advocate of working on location. A sense of place is important, not just to capture what I see, but what I feel.” And that’s the essence of what he’s demonstrating here: it’s not the coast, it’s the mood. He continues, “I’ve painted here a few times. It’s that connection with the place that’s important”. It’s a theme that pervades the entire film and, since we’re quoting, here’s another: “I’m not looking to make an accurate representation, I’m looking to make a picture … as long as it looks like a boat, I’m happy.” (I’ve conflated two things, there, but you get the …er… picture).

Ray is known as a mixed media artist, but I’m going to burst another bubble while I’m on a roll. He’s not. What I mean is that he doesn’t paint mixed media because that’s how he’s pigeon-holed himself. He’s not really a media man at all. Yes, he uses pencil, felt-tip, Conté, pastel and gouache, almost always in that order, but only because they’re what he needs for a particular effect. It’s more like a conductor bringing in the various parts of the orchestra to provide tone, shade and colour – highlighting the violins here, backing them up with woodwinds and cellos, adding colour with the brass and then using tympani to bring the whole thing to a crescendo. I should also say that Ray not only makes this look the most natural thing in the world (you may even conclude that using only one medium is to restrict yourself quite unnecessarily), but also easy. It isn’t, of course, and it’s his supreme confidence and virtuosity that allow him to achieve what he does.

You’ll notice that I haven’t once mentioned the subjects that Ray paints here. That’s deliberate as I think that to describe this film factually would be to miss the point entirely. This isn’t about what Ray paints, but how he does it and there’s a degree of alchemy to that. There are, though, five full demonstrations, all filmed in Cornwall, as well as a studio-based postscript which includes a look at a painting worked up from a sketch done in unpromising conditions in Gweek boatyard.

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Expressive Painting in Mixed Media || Soraya French

Mixed media books are, collectively, like the curate’s proverbial egg. This, it should be said, is one of the good ones, being results-focussed rather than concentrating on the technique itself and not worrying about how it all turns out. Mixed media is not like a dog walking on its hind legs and the fact that’s it’s done at all is unremarkable.

This is also not an obviously how-to book. Yes, there are demonstrations and projects, but they’re part of a wider discussion of techniques and creative possibilities. It should also be said that Soraya French’s style is admirably suited to mixed media, being highly impressionistic and veering towards abstraction. She’s much more about colours and shapes than she is about fine detail and the cover illustration gives you a good idea of what to expect, capturing the atmosphere and bustle of a busy street or market scene.

In terms of what’s covered, Soraya works with watercolour, acrylic, ink, pastel, coloured pencil and some collage. Not all at once, of course, but with the medium carefully chosen to suit the message. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that the book’s greatest strength is to show you which of the many possibilities is appropriate where and how to work sensitively and economically. As I intimated at the beginning, mixed media is a tool and not and end in itself. To convey this clearly and convincingly is quite an achievement.

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DVD Pastel Alchemy – a masterclass in ink over pastel || Jason Bowyer

The title and subtitle of this film, taken together, sum it up perfectly. What Jason Bowyer does with watercolour wash, ink applied with brushes and reed pens and with textures and highlights added with pastel does feel like the legendary philosopher’s stone.

Jason provides a more or less continuous and comprehensive narrative that builds up through the various sections into a discussion of the creative process itself. In this, the editing is very like Paintwork’s previous offering on Patrick George, although here there are demonstrations to run alongside the commentary.

It’s a film that’s in many ways best taken in reverse. The main meat of it is the complete demonstration, filmed over two days at Kew Bridge Steam Museum (now the London Museum of Water and Steam). Boiled down into a little under an hour, this nevertheless feels like the complete thing, covering all the processes from the initial sketch through the blocking out of the basic shapes with brush-applied ink and the gradual build-up of detail through to the finished work.

It should be said that, as the location implies, the subject is industrial. Please don’t let this put you off, though, as Jason is much more interested in working with shapes and light than he is in the details of a piece of machinery – “[painting the same thing repeatedly] gives you the freedom to play with the abstract nature of your motif.” Although that has the potential to sound as though it comes straight from Pseud’s Corner, it demonstrates the way Jason regards any subject matter. It is merely the starting point for a creative process and a journey that ends with a piece of art that is about much more than simple representation – although, it should be said, his work is not in itself abstract.

The film actually begins with a series of technical demonstrations, from stretching paper to making a reed pen, mark-making and the use of pastel with ink. Interesting as these are (and the paper-stretching section even has Zen-like qualities), they become more informative if you re-visit them after watching the set-piece, the main demonstration. What can be perhaps slightly dry now has context and relevance. You can see exactly why you need to make what look like random marks with pastel over heavily-laid ink washes and where the initially-applied blocks of watercolour fit in.

Jason has a warm and engaging delivery that encourages you to relax and listen. If you like Radio 4, you’ll feel at home here. Visually, this is not always the easiest film to get to grips with – the colours are dark and some of the marks uncompromising, but the narrative that I referred to earlier carries it all forward and makes the whole thing subtly compulsive.

Available from http://www.paintworkfilms.com

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Abstracts: Techniques and Textures || Rolina van Vliet

Show me an abstract book and I’ll bang on about how the style is as much about a state of mind as it is about techniques. I’ll also say that the skills you need are mostly the ones you already have. Am I about to contradict myself, then?

Well, no. Paint is paint, brushes are brushes and they all do what they do. However, there is a certain shorthand that can help in the ultimate aim of abstract painting, which is to make your viewer feel the same as you do about what you saw. This means that shapes and colours become pre-eminent, but you can also use textures to emphasise them and draw the viewer into and around the image in a particular way.

The contents list includes terms like Negative Line, Textile Texture and Sketching Using Liquid Paint. Telling you this tells you the facts, but it doesn’t tell you how it all works and you really have to see it to get the idea. The book itself is arranged as a series of studies (being neither demonstrations nor deconstructions) which include several illustrations, notes and a work sequence. I’m not sure you’d necessarily want to follow one through, or that you’re meant to.

If you’re already a fan of abstraction, then this is the next logical step.

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