Archive for category Medium: Oil

Painting The Mountain Landscape || Eileen Clark

Books on oil painting are relatively thin on the ground and many of them are a lot more general than this. You are therefore likely to approach it with high expectations and it is a pleasure to be able to report that it should certainly meet, perhaps even exceed them.

Eileen demonstrates a wide variety of work in many lighting and weather conditions. She also looks at details such as trees, waterfalls and wildlife on top of skies, mists and larger expanses of water. It is worth saying that she is based in the Lake District, so has all this on her doorstep to work with.

As is Crowood’s normal approach, there is quite a lot of discussion and analysis, but large and intimidating blocks of text have been avoided and at no point does the book give the appearance of being unmanageable. This may seem like a detail, but I’ve always felt it’s important in a visual medium – you want to see what’s going on, not be told. For all that, an explanation of the hows and whys can be extremely valuable and something you’d certainly expect in a painting film.

The reproduction is superb, even the full-page images, and details, brushwork and canvas textures are easily visible. The way Eileen works, you will want to look closely and this is possible in every image.

This really is the most thorough guide to painting mountains in oils and very well done indeed on all counts.

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Painting Like The Impressionists || Bruce Yardley

Back in the days of the atelier method, students (apprentices) worked in the studio of a master, initially grinding and mixing colours and preparing canvases before being allowed to work on backgrounds and eventually completing works to which the great man perhaps only added a couple of brushstrokes. The point is that you can learn a lot about the craft of painting by studying what has gone before and immersing yourself in the background business.

The Impressionists were a breath of fresh air in the world of art, though it was seen as more of a cold blast at the time and their influence is felt to the present day. Almost any tutor will tell you to work loosely, almost as if there’s no other way.

The great work on the subject, from the practical point of view, is Bernard Dunstan’s Painting Methods of The Impressionists, but that appeared some forty years ago and is mostly illustrated in black and white. We’re due another look. It’s pleasing, therefore, to be able to report that this is excellent and a worthy successor to Dunstan’s oeuvre. Bruce Yardley examines in considerable detail not just the way the Impressionists worked, but how they looked, saw and interpreted, which is after all the heart of their vision. We accept, indeed now expect, that the viewer will do a lot of the work and that the artist is a guide rather than an instructor. To an extent, it’s a reaction to the realism of photography and a way that art can re-invent itself to exist alongside that.

There’s a great deal to get into here, both visually and verbally, and this is a book to read rather than keep open beside the easel, even though there are exercises and demonstrations; you can work on these later.

If you want to have a go at being an Impressionist yourself, Bruce provides plenty of information about original brushes, paints and canvases and explains where they can still be obtained. I’m not sure that looking backward like this is either necessary or desirable, but it might be a fun exercise, for all that.

If you love and want to understand the Impressionists, this is a very thorough guide.

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Painting Buildings in Oils || James Willis

Books on single subjects in oils are rare, but here are two at once, with Crowood also publishing Eileen Clark’s on mountains.

The approach here is broadly similar, with plenty of discussion and examples accompanied by some short demonstrations. There is a good variety of both subject matter and painting styles. James’s own work is relatively loose so, if you don’t want to be carefully working on every brick, heave a sigh of relief right here. Building types range from domestic to grand structures, both at home and around the world and there are useful chapters on sketching, perspective, colour and light.

This is a book that takes its readers as well as its subject seriously and, although there is the obligatory chapter on materials and equipment, it is by no means over-long and you’re quickly into the meat of painting, which is what you want. There’s nothing wrong in assuming that your readers have a level of competence gained from classes, experience or other books and then simply concentrating on the subject in hand, which James does with admirable thoroughness.

There are plenty of illustrations and the reproduction throughout is generally good, although a few of the images are softer that I would ideally like. Fortunately, James’s style is such that this does not render them unusable and you should feel that you have been well-served overall on this front.

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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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