Archive for category Medium: Oil

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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DVD A Simple Approach in Oils || Roger Dellar

Simplicity is a complicated thing. It takes a lot of skill and experience to learn how to extract the essence of a scene without fiddling, over-working and getting bogged down in unnecessary detail. In the five paintings demonstrated here, Roger works from a basic blocking-out of shapes, a carefully selected palette that reflects the dominant colours and an economy of brushstrokes. His remark, “I’m lazy; I only use a few brushes” is disingenuous – there’s nothing lazy about it and, although he’s not one of those painters who thinks hard before making every mark, each one is deliberately placed. There’s no random working, placing and re-placing. It’s fascinating to see how he works from the general to the specific, with details at first scratched into shapes and blocks before being delineated with colour some time later.

Of the five scenes, three involve water – the other two are in the centres of Chichester and Midhurst. The common factor is that there’s a lot going on – different craft on the water, details, people coming and going or a jumble of buildings. A literal approach, where everything is recorded, would be indigestible, but Roger’s way of building up manages to leave nothing out while at the same time omitting all extraneous matter. That’s what I meant by the complication of simplicity: it’s not just about developing an eye for a picture, but about the means of putting it down on canvas.

It’s also worth noting the palette exposition that starts the film. These are usually a matter of “this is my palette, I put these colours on it”. Roger’s is much more, because he works with such a limited range and he explains here and throughout the film how these are chosen to reflect the scene in front of him. His idea of having two sections of white, one for warm and one for cool colours is a neat one, too. Palette explanations are rarely of more than passing interest, but this is riveting.

After I watched this film, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say about it. I left it overnight. “It has to mature”, I said, and it has. Roger doesn’t instruct, he just explains what he’s doing, so extracting the information is like brewing coffee – it can’t be hurried. I find I have a surprisingly clear memory of almost the whole film and that’s a measure of good explanation – simplicity always leads to comprehension.

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DVD Painting Arles || Peter Brown

Pete “the street” Brown is an engaging presenter who has a nice line in self-analysis. At the same time, he is not a chatty painter. Most of his aperçus appear in voiceover, the nicely-judged wild track filling the gaps and providing a welcome sense of place and atmosphere.

His casual approach to painting (“I’m an old git who does what he wants”) is belied by a throwaway line, “I’ve been here a week and painted [this scene] a couple of times” – he clearly does a fair bit of research and immerses himself in a place before embarking on full-scale work. This makes one of the demonstrations, a quiet alley in evening light, all the more interesting. Working in unfamiliar surroundings where he has to interpret the location against fading and constantly changing light, we can see Pete thinking on his feet, and it’s a nimble performance.

The Arles that Peter paints is not that of Van Gogh or the tourist trail. That research and immersion leads him to places that are, while not completely off the beaten track, more domestic than grand. He begins with the Roman amphitheatre, but chooses to paint just three high arches, working from the basic shape to tone and shading, all in the almost monotone warm limestone of its construction. As an exercise in control and observation, this simple-seeming work is a masterclass in its own right and the magician’s reveal is the addition of the bright blue sky right at the end that brings the whole thing suddenly to life, “Like putting in a red letterbox at the end”.

The other major demonstration is a backstreet with a variety of buildings, trees and more Roman remains. Again, Peter works from shapes to tones and then brings in detail. Of interest here is the way he works with figures. As we watch the painting develop, people pass, but rarely in great numbers. They barely get a mention and don’t appear until near the end, when it turns out that Peter has been observing them all the time and they come both from immediate memory and a personal library based on constant drawing – “I do a lot of drawing”. It’s the same in a quiet square where the day starts overcast and then brightens. “Do I follow the light?” leads to a discussion of the practicalities of plein air painting: “It’s a confidence thing, painting … the more you nail it in one, the better”.

If you want a guide to painting Arles, this is perhaps not it. However, if you want a masterclass in observation and working alla prima, as well as a pleasant hour and a half spent in the company of an engaging and informative demonstrator, step right up.

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