Archive for category Medium: Oil

DVD Painting The Light in Oils || Haidee-Jo Summers

Although the main purpose of art demonstration films is to be instructive, a degree of entertainment helps as it retains the viewer’s interest and makes watching a pleasure much more than a chore. APV have always been good at this, but here have an added bonus in the presenter. Haidee-Jo is not just informative and entertaining, she is also highly engaging and time spent in her company is a joy that seems to pass all too quickly. Perhaps her greatest quality is to be able to keep up a running commentary as she works that is not just a description of what she is doing (we can see that), but why, and how decisions are made and directions taken. Some artists paint in almost complete silence, dropping the odd bon mot from time to time and we should not criticise that – the ability to keep up a patter is something you either have or you don’t. All of which is to say that this is a thumpingly good film you’ll probably get a great deal from, even if you never have the intention of touching oil paint.

There are four demonstrations. The first is a boatyard filled with possibilities, prompting a discussion of subject selection and simplification. We are also introduced to the relationship between colour and light, as well as how to deal with shadow. This is developed further in the second section, a garden view seen through a dark barn, where the final addition of a dash of bright red to the handles of a half-seen wheelbarrow brings things not just together, but to life. It’s perhaps one of the shortest and simplest lessons I’ve seen in any film.

The third demonstration is at Whitstable harbour and includes buildings, boats, sea and sky. It’s instructive to observe how Haidee-Jo omits much of the latter two elements because they don’t contribute to “the story”. This is a theme that recurs throughout the film, the idea of a narrative being central to her work and contributing to composition, colour choice and perspective.

The final painting is an interior filled with dappled light that changes as the work progresses. It’s here that the importance of an initial reference photograph comes to the fore and Haidee-Jo explains how to use it to ensure consistency as the work progresses. It’s a difficult painting that leaves her physically exhausted, but an intriguing exercise to watch – you’re rooting for her just as you would the hero of a thriller.

My notes are full of quotations and I seem not to have included any here, but let’s sum up: “It’s only paint, I can change my mind”; “If you get into a muddle mixing colours, just think of the three primaries”; “What people respond to is the way you feel”; “I don’t want it to be the same colour – it’s OK to be the same value”.

Finally, to conclude: “I’m a great one for saying, say what you want to say then get out”. At which point, so shall I.

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Painting Portraits in Oils || Robert Wareing

Painting portraits in oils is generally regarded as one of the highest art forms, something refined, complex and generally best left to the specialist. That’s hardly surprising as oils do require a fair amount of equipment. Finding suitable sitters, as well as the little matter of getting a worthwhile likeness, are considerable obstacles for the amateur.

So how do you set about getting started? Until now, that’s been the conundrum. There have been few books and those that exist have been, well, rather so-so.

This is different. Rob is a portrait artist with considerable experience, but he also has a YouTube channel where he posts demonstrations, and this experience shows. This is a book aimed at the needs of the learner rather than at the subject of portraiture itself. It’s a subtle but important difference. Open the pages at random and you’ll find yourself in the middle of a complete project. Look further and you’ll struggle to find the smaller lessons and exercises you’d be expecting. This is, in part at least, an extension of his online method. However, the idea of not having to wade through pages of eyes, ears, mouths and hands has an appeal, as long as it works. Portraiture is a language and has a grammar – there are technicalities you need to know as part of the foundations and to short-circuit those can be dangerous.

Rob, however, is a patient and thorough explainer and all these foundations are here, but he manages to make them interesting. All those details come up both in the projects and also discussions of various approaches – mixing colours, preparing canvases, getting to know your subject. There are examples on every page that precisely illustrate each point that’s being made.

The whole process is intensely practical and Rob manages to make what is genuinely a complex subject seem, if not easy (that would be sleight of hand), at least manageable. Knowing the limits of what you can teach is perhaps Rob’s greatest skill and this is a truly remarkable piece of work.

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Oil/Pastel Painting Step-by-Step

Search Press have re-reissued these compilations of their Leisure Arts series of short books, originating form 1999-2004. Age is not necessarily a barrier to usefulness and these were always sound guides that offered simple advice clearly presented.

The problem with older books, though, can be that the quality of reproduction doesn’t compare well with what can be achieved today. However, there are no problems here – whether a particularly good job was done in the first place, or there has been some re-originating, I can’t say, but there are no complaints on that score. The results are therefore stonkingly good value at under a tenner each.

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Landscape Painting: The Complete Guide || Richard Pikesley

This is a bold claim which requires an artist of considerable skill and versatility to pull off at all, let alone successfully. In Richard Pikesley, Crowood undoubtedly have their man. An experienced artist and teacher, he is equally at home with oil and water-based media as well as drawing and pastel (although this latter does not receive extensive coverage).

At 224 pages, this is a substantial book that addresses the creative as well as technical processes. Richard begins with the whole question of seeing: that is to say, looking and observing, finding and understanding your subject. It says a lot about his overall approach that this is the starting point of the book, just as it should be for a painting, before brush or pencil hits paper or canvas. It’s also where he looks at perspective and parallax in both monochrome and colour. There’s a surprising amount of detail here and the subtleties that Richard finds even at this early stage are typical of the book as a whole – it’s about a lot more than just process and technique and the extent gives him space to consider much more than just major points and general headings.

As you may have gathered, there’s a lot to read here, although it’s leavened with plenty of example illustrations and the sections are nicely broken up. Extensive texts can, while invaluable, easily become indigestible in a practical context and the publisher is to be congratulated on recognising this. Richard has also chosen his words carefully and has not written simply for the sake of it, something I’ve seen happen when authors are given more space than they are perhaps used to.

Much of the book proceeds by explanation and example and there are only a few demonstrations, but this is not an exercise book – however useful and instructive those can be. Reading, rather than doing is not for everyone, but this is such a comprehensive study that this potential obstacle should be easy to overcome, especially with the wealth of illustrations that leaven and enhance the text.

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Oils: techniques and tutorials for the complete beginner || Norman Long

It’s not really surprising that the vast majority of books published concentrate on watercolour, it being by far the most popular medium, even if the opaque alternatives are often easier for the beginner.

This short introduction is all the more welcome, therefore, and especially because it is so good and so accessible. If you want to give oils a try, this is the ideal place to start. The introduction to materials and basic methods is concise but leaves nothing out. You won’t be bogged down with detail, but neither will you feel short-changed. A series of worked demonstrations then introduces subjects that include still lifes, boats, buildings, skies and figures. There’s also a handy glossary that sums up terms such as perspective, alla prima, plein air and underpainting.

At 96 pages, this inevitably skims the surface a bit, but it should get you set nicely on the path and ready for some of the more advanced books if you want to progress.

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In Perspective || Robert E Wells

This magnificently produced volume has introduced me to the work of an artist with whom I’ll admit I was not previously familiar.

Robert’s style, in both oils and sketches, is generally impressionistic, but his control of detail is interesting. Some works are almost abstract and convey more of an atmosphere than a scene. Others have just enough information to make the location recognisable, while blurring specifics so that, for instance, it is not always clear whether those are street bollards or pedestrians hurrying to get out of the wind and the rain. In the same work, St Martin-in-the Fields, traffic is present, yet the details of individual vehicles obscured. In the wrong hands, this could be mannered and annoying (obscurantism always is) but here the grey light of an autumn afternoon – there are just enough leaves on the foreground tree to suggest the season – is perfectly captured.

Robert isn’t just a painter of townscapes – although his former career as an architectural illustrator does feed into these. There are also portraits, figures and rural scenes. It is in these, perhaps ironically, that his abstract tendencies most show themselves and where the sense of atmosphere versus record is most noticeable. Except in the sketches, which are sensitively done, his people have little facial detail and stand almost as placeholders. There is one particular work, Walking to the Shops, where a mother and two children are almost level with the artist and, although they dominate the scene, the view behind them is as important as the foreground, to which it is both a foil and a balance to the image. The colours are also reminiscent of Victorian painting, Walter Sickert in particular.

Robert is an intriguing painter whose work could be frustrating in the lack of information it presents, but who manages to turn this to intrigue instead.

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Painting Landscapes || Kevin Scully

This is slightly spooky. No sooner have I written about one book on landscape painting from Crowood than another one turns up. This one is much more aimed at practical aspects and sticks to the opaque media: oils, acrylics and alkyd.

As is the style with this publisher’s approach, the text is much more discursive and, along with the sort of instructions you expect in a demonstration, there is a lot more explanation of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. If you are really more interested in the general than the specific, this will appeal: you learn how to paint anything, rather than just what the author happens to put in front of you. As the old adage has it: give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and you feed him for life.

Why aren’t all books like this, you might ask? Well, not everyone wants what we might call the deeper philosophies or to get bogged down in what they see as detail. At the start, clear, simple instructions are best. It’s only as you progress that you begin to want, or even need, the details of what’s happening under the hood. These are books for the more experienced artist and the style, authors and level of work reflect that.

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Painting Clouds and Skies in Oils || Mo Teeuw

This is easily the best book on its subject, probably ever. If you were to combine the spirits of John Constable and JMW Turner, perhaps with a dash of Edward Seago thrown in, I’m not sure you could better it.

The extent of the coverage is breath-taking. It’s a given that skies are infinitely variable. East Anglian based Mo Teeuw has, however, managed to cover just about every type you can imagine, from clear to clouded, cirrus to cumulus, in clear and overcast weather and in all seasons. And she manages this without repeating herself once or leaving the reader overwhelmed. If you care about skies and, as a landscape painter you must, this book is an essential guide. Even if you think you know the subject inside out, there will be something new for you here.

Although this looks a slim volume, it has a surprising weight when you pick it up and this is down to the 160 pages. Although the paper is quite thin it’s of excellent quality and the images are all superbly reproduced – to have not one dud among this many is an achievement worth celebrating.

The book has examples and demonstrations as well as practical information and extensive discussions of how and why skies appear the way they do. This is about more than just applying paint, it’s an in-depth study of its subject. I think you could even get quite a lot out of it if you aren’t a painter but just a lover of landscape. You should certainly also look at it even if you’re not an oil painter. As well as Mo’s own work, the book features a number of guest artists who add a welcome additional perspective.

I said that this is easily the best book on its subject. Skies in oils is, of course, a small field, but I really don’t see how this will be bettered in a very long time, if ever. It’s a true classic.

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Vibrant Oils || Haidee-Jo Summers

This is really rather wonderful. The initial impression, picking it up, is that it’s more than usually substantial and, at 176 pages, it most certainly is. A quick flick through reveals a wealth of illustrations and an enormous variety of subjects. Haidee-Jo’s style is loose, relaxed and colourful and this doesn’t, on the surface, feel like an oil painting book, insofar as those are often rather lofty and worthy. The truth is that it’s not really a medium book at all, but rather a guide to the whole creative process that just happens to use oils as its vehicle. I’d even go so far as to suggest that you could find plenty to get from it even if you never had any intention of working in the medium at all.

Investigate further and the next thing you might notice is that, for all its size, there are only 4 step-by-step projects. This is entirely in keeping with the approach, which is to teach you about the subject, rather than simply to train you to emulate it. In the old analogy, it teaches you to fish and feeds you for life, rather than giving you a fish and feeding you for a day. Subject matter is catholic and includes landscapes, seascapes, still lifes, figures and flowers.

Along the way, Haidee-Jo considers composition, colours, light, cropping, the use of layers, tone and more. Some sections are quite short paragraphs, some are sidebars and others simple hints. Everything is accompanied by an example painting and the explanations are commendably clear.

The publisher is trying to sell this as suitable for all levels of ability. I have my doubts. If you were a complete beginner, I think you might find its comprehensiveness overwhelming. However, if you have some experience, or are new to oils, as opposed to painting, it has a great deal to tell you and won’t disappoint.

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Painting Portraits of Children || Simon Davis

Children are a popular subject for anyone who wants to paint people. Although photographs are ubiquitous, getting the right pose or expression is tricky and school portraits are rarely satisfactory. Although far from instant, a painting can capture character and expression in a way that photography fails to.

Simon Davis is Vice President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and, the blurb adds, uses the square brush technique. This, and the frontispiece photo, are a clue to the fact that the medium here is oil. This matters, as techniques in other media (other than, perhaps acrylics), will be different. It’s doubly important as the main meat of the book is a series of demonstrations where the methods of application are to the fore. Workers in other media may find useful tips about working with their subject and the various considerations of pose, skin tone, expressions and so on, however. The examination of the historical development of child portraiture is also of interest.

This is quite a slim volume that majors on the practical demonstrations. Simon includes useful tips on the use of initial sketches, but does not work from photographs, which would have been a useful addition, for the amateur especially. The illustrations are also held back by a slightly muted reproduction which makes it a little difficult to see some of the details.

For all that, this is a useful manual that doesn’t over-elaborate or confuse with unnecessary detail. If you work in oil, it’s the perfect introduction and would take you well beyond the first steps. If you want other media, the appeal must be limited, but it’s still worth a look.

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