Archive for category Medium: Pastel

Pastels Unleashed || Margaret Evans

I’m always a bit wary of saying that something may be the best ever, because almost immediately something else comes along and I have to find a way of saying it’s even better. I’m probably on safer ground with this, though, as pastels are definitely the Cinderella medium, with relatively few books written about them. The strange thing is, though, that there are almost no truly bad ones. It may be that the medium only really attracts the committed artist who’s spent time developing their craft, or maybe publishers are more selective. Whatever it is, most pastels books are good and this is quite possibly the best ever.

Let’s start by saying what it’s not: it’s not a beginner’s guide. Yes, there are step-by step -demonstrations, yes there are chapters on materials and techniques, but they all assume a degree of prior knowledge. This isn’t a way of warning you off if you want to learn the medium, though there are enough basic guides available that you should maybe start with. Rather, it’s a whoop of delight to find a book that treats you as a grown-up, that says, “Add highlights to the centre of the right hand poppy. Tidy up the edges of the main flowers and freshen the colours” and assumes you don’t need any more detail than that.

This is a book that sells itself. All you need to do is pick it up and flick through the pages and there’s no chance you won’t buy it. There’s just so much variety, from people and animals to landscapes and seascapes, fine-detail and broad-stroke work. Techniques include the relatively new idea of adding water and spirit to free the pure colour the medium contains. I usually manage to come up with a list of things a book is packed with, but this is packed with everything. It’s a celebration of the medium that’s going to delight and enthuse any pastellist.

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John Patchett: Painting From The Heart || Adrian Hill

John Patchett is one of the country’s leading pastellists and his work is characterised by his interpretation of light, whether strong, subtle or contrasting. His treatment of shadows is particularly masterful.

Although much of his painting is now done in East Anglia, where he lives, he has worked around the world and painted both large vistas and quiet corners, where his eye for detail excels.

This celebratory book includes over a hundred paintings that represent the totality of John’s work, with an introductory essay that provides an account of his life from his time at art college to the present.

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Pastel Painting Atelier || Ellen Eagle

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book that deals with pastel in such breadth and depth. Watson Guptill are becoming known for their really quite serious monographs on media, subjects and techniques and they are also finding some intriguing authors to create them. The biography that appears on the back flap lists some impressive credentials, albeit many not perhaps familiar to a UK audience, and ends by describing Ellen as “a sought-after teacher”. Having luxuriated in this splendid book, I can’t say I’m surprised.

The atelier method involved the student working in the studio of the master, initially observing and doing menial tasks, gradually working up underpainting, then perhaps body colour and, finally, the majority of a painting the great man would finish off and sign. It’s this last experts mean when they say “studio of”. In a book, you don’t have to sweep the floor and scrape the old palettes, but we do start with a lot of basic preparation. In lesser books, this is the “materials and techniques” section we’re usually tempted to skip. Here, however, it serves to introduce the medium slowly and progressively, giving you time and space to think. A whole spread (with illustrations) on storing and organizing pastels isn’t dull or over-written, but part of a longer sequence on the properties of the thing you’re going to be working with. I should say here that Ellen writes well: it’s a trait WG seem able to find in their authors, who might be expected to think more visually than verbally.

And now, finally, let’s talk about the illustrations. As I’ve lead you to believe, there are Old Masters here and also contemporary practitioners. However, the bulk of the work is Ellen’s. This isn’t just an academic treatise, but a highly practical book and the fourth chapter, The working process contains extended lessons that deal with a wide variety of topics from the technical to composition, perspective and lighting. At this point, it should be said that Ellen is primarily a figurative painter. If the book has a weakness, it is this. It’s not that she isn’t any good – she’s really, really excellent. It’s just that I’d have liked more variety of subject matter in a book like this. After all, when is anything like it going to come along again? Probably not in my lifetime.

Even with that small reservation, though, this is still the best book on pastel you’re probably ever going to find.

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Painting Brilliant Skies & Water in Pastel || Liz Haywood-Sullivan

When you think about it, these two subjects are a natural to go hand-in-hand and there’s a pleasing progression as they are brought together in the final chapter. Bit like a romantic novel, really.

Flicking through the book, the first impression is of a great deal of material, and this is confirmed when you get stuck in properly. Not only are there plenty of illustrations, there are demonstrations, examples, hints and tips. If it all seems a little overwhelming, remember that this is a highly-structured book that repays being worked through in order. Some books are for dipping into, but this one is definitely one to follow.

The medium is pastel, but most of what Liz says can be applied to any other, so do give it a look.

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DVD: Capturing a Likeness || Rob Wareing

I came up by chance with the realisation of just how much a self-produced DVD relies on the quality of the demonstrator. This may seem like a truism, indeed a basic fact of any film, but an unedited, single-shot take can be unbearably dull. In professional productions, fluffs can be edited out, silent gaps where nothing much is happening on the paper can be bridged and an air of slickness overlaid. The self-producer often lacks these tools and therefore has to be able to stand up for 30 or 60 minutes and talk coherently without hesitation, deviation or repetition as well as without long silences for thought or concentration. It’s not really even a skill you can learn, it’s just something you have or you don’t.

I said this all happened by chance and this is how it was. The first time I watched the film, just to get a preliminary feel for it, I was on my own and needed to keep an ear open for the doorbell. I use headphones on my computer, so my initial run-through was with without sound. The film was not promising and I remarked later that it was going to need a damn good commentary to lift it.

Happily, I can report that it has that. Rob is an engaging demonstrator and does all the things I said above are essential. He also speaks clearly and the quality of the soundtrack is excellent.

In a full demonstration, a lot happens before you really get to the meat of the subject. It’s a bit like building a house. There’s a lot of groundwork to be done first and nothing much is visible for a long time, but then the structure suddenly appears and the basic outline is there quite quickly – and all because of the quality of what went before.

Rob is excellent on all these details, the basic stuff and on the many pitfalls, such as slipping into painting the side of the face (in a profile) that you can’t see, thus twisting the mouth unnaturally. Working on two demonstrations in pastel and one in oils, he also explains the practicalities of the medium he’s using.

I do have one small niggle, and it’s that all the subjects are posed, for no apparent reason, in front of another of Rob’s works. I can see the point of having a studio/gallery setting, but I did find this just a bit distracting at times. It’s not a deal-breaker and, interestingly, it bothered me a lot less the second time round, with the sound on.

If you want to paint portraits, this film is going to be helpful and it certainly does what its title claims. In many ways, I’m reminded of Karen Simmons’ excellent 1-2-3 of Portraits, but with more detail.

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Pastel Painting Step by Step || Margaret Evans, Paul Hardy and Peter Coombs

This is another re-working of the old Leisure Arts series from Search Press and proves that it was an excellent series that deserves a new outing.

For a mere £12.99, you get four books in one: Peter Coombs’ introduction, Paul Hardy on Landscapes and on Light and Margaret Evans on Flowers.

My only quibble, in the form of a warning, is that the Peter Coombs book is also available on its own in the Art Handbooks series, which is appearing at the same time as this bind-up. I have no objection to publishers re-issuing or re-working old material, in fact I think it’s a valuable way of keeping good books fresh, but to put the same thing out in different formats at the same time is just a little bit naughty, imho.

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Painting With Oils (Art Handbooks) || Noel Gregory Painting With Pastels (Art Handbooks) || Paul Coombs

This is a “new” series from Search Press that raids their extensive and, let’s be honest, excellent backlist. Once upon a time, my children, these books were part of the Leisure Arts series, something which itself went through more than one incarnation. These are the first two titles in what could be an extensive re-publishing programme.

They’re simple beginners’ guides (“simple” applies to the books, not the beginners, for the avoidance of confusion). What you get is a basic introduction to materials and equipment, some general notes on techniques and then some very short demonstrations that flex your muscles gently without any danger of over-exertion, all in 48 pages.

I don’t think anyone could learn to paint from just these books, but that’s not what they were intended for. As a general introduction for someone putting a toe in the water – either as a complete novice or as a newcomer to the medium, they’re a good way of easing yourself in. More perhaps than any other series, they absolutely stand or fall on how well the authors have understood the basic brief and, as Search Press usually contrive, they do it well.

These were only ever intended to be pocket guides and, although the previous release was about A4 size, these new ones are only about half that. Normally, I don’t like small-format books and I invariably fail to see the point of a book you can carry about with you. Give me illustrations I can see without my super-strength glasses, for goodness sake! However, I’ve been seduced by the way these sit in the hand. They’re slightly larger than the Top Tips series and I’ve never complained about the size of the illustrations in those. It’s also worth remarking that these books are a vindication of this site’s policy of only reviewing from finished copies, rather than advance proofs. By getting the feel of the books in my hand, I’ve discovered that what I originally thought was an incredibly bad idea actually works well.

All-in-all, a good job has been done here. The material has been brought subtly up to date and some perfectly good books whose only crime is to be middle-aged have been brought back to life. At £4.99, they compare well with the old pricing, too.

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