Archive for category Medium: Pen & ink

Natural History Illustration in Pen and Ink || Sarah Morrish

Several books have appeared recently that take their subjects and readers entirely seriously. They avoid the trap of trying to be all things to all readers and simply assume that, if you don’t have the basic skills they demand, you can get them elsewhere. This is another such and offers a very thorough survey of a broad range of natural subjects depicted in a single medium.

With over 200 pages at her disposal, Sarah Morrish is able to expand and expound in considerable, though never exhausting detail. Her materials include traditional dip pens as well as Rotring Isographs, brush pens and felt and fibre tips. She also uses coloured as well as black inks, making the illustrations here far from sombre. Of particular interest is her use of hatching and line-placing to create very effective half-tones.

With plenty of space to manoeuvre, the choice of subjects is generous, ranging from trees and flowers to mammals, insects and invertebrates. The text studies not just working methods but the creatures and their environments as well; this is about finding your subjects as much as depicting them. Once you’re down to work, examples, case studies and demonstrations will give you plenty to get to grips with.

By concentrating on viewpoints and not being afraid to go into detail where it’s required, this is one of the most comprehensive books around on natural history drawing.

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Pen & Ink || James Hobbs

Books on pen & ink drawing aren’t exactly two a penny. It’s the Cinderella medium that everyone assumes is covered by something else and then goes and does a more general book on drawing or sketching.

This rather nice little volume is packed with ideas. Subtitled “contemporary artists, timeless techniques”, it achieves with aplomb what it promises. Each spread is a different idea, with a completed drawing and some explanatory text that deals not just with the technique itself, but also the particular way the artist has executed it. To do all this in really very few words is quite an achievement. I also like the colour-keyed running heads that denote the sections – line, tone, colour, texture etc, allowing you to focus on a particular area quickly. You can also dip in at random which, in my ’umble opinion, is the best way to approach books like this. The unexpected often sets your creative mind off in fresh directions far more than dedicated study and research.

Having so many different contributors from all around the world (I counted 35, contributing some 200 pieces of artwork) provides an easy route to variety and James Hobbs acts as an overall curator to pull it all together and make sure the approach is coherent rather than messy.

If you like drawing for its own sake, as well as variety and originality, this is a delightful and inspiring book that even provides some gentle instruction as well. You’d have to work hard to find anything not to like.

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The Kew Book of Botanical Illustration || Christabel King

This, as far as botanical illustration is concerned, is pretty much the tablets of stone, the Authorised Version. Kew do not hand out their imprimatur lightly and want to approve every stage of the production. If they sign off, it’s a guarantee that everything is absolutely right. Having a book like this, and having Kew in the title, is therefore quite a coup, especially for an independent publisher.

On top of that, Christabel King is one of a very select band of illustrators who works at Kew itself and can therefore be regarded as absolutely top flight. I really can’t emphasise too much how good this is getting. Botanical illustration at this level is respected and used by botanists around the world for identification purposes. The work produced is better than photography as, rather than show an individual example of a specimen, it can create a typical one, with all the likely characteristics included. As well as a section on using a microscope, there is also advice on preserving specimens and showing spots and markings. At this level, detail is everything and it gets very minute indeed.

For all this technicality, the book is surprisingly accessible. I don’t mean for a moment that the casual reader will become a fully-fledged professional as soon as they’ve read it but, if this kind of work interests you, you won’t feel swamped. There’s a nice sense of progression to the chapters and Christabel explains everything clearly and, above all, with worked examples. If you do get serious, the chapter on Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, with sample pages and a template for laying out a plate, will give you an idea of what to aim for.

Despite the weight of its authority, this is not a book solely for the expert, but is accessible to anyone who is reasonably serious about flower painting. You may never reach its dizzy heights, but you’ll enjoy the journey and the attempt.

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Landscapes (Drawing Masterclass) || Margaret Eggleton

There’s an excellent variety of material here, including buildings, water, trees, flowers and even a few people. The structure of the book is to have main chapter headings that deal with various landscape elements such as skies, water or man-made structures and then to introduce examples and vignettes before moving on to a specific project that brings everything together. As a way of proceeding, this works very well and the sense of variety is encouraging, both creatively and as a way of drawing you into the book and getting you to explore further. I do have a reservation about some of the illustrations, though. These seem a little less than sharp and I can’t decide whether it’s the reproduction, the method of working or whether they’ve somehow been reduced to a different grayscale to that in which they were made. Other titles in this generally excellent series have crisp outlines, as, indeed, are the majority of those here, so I’m not sure what’s going on.

It’s a worthwhile book, for all that, and should contain pretty well everything you want to know.

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Discover Your World in Pen, Ink & Watercolor || Claudia Nice

After some excursions into the wider world, Claudia returns here to her roots. Best known for her work with small details and hidden corners, she takes the same approach with slightly larger subjects. Sure, there’s some weathered timber, but there are also buildings, seashores and even street corners.

The book is loosely grouped into headings like Nostalgic Buildings, Wild Wanderings and Out in the Weather. Nice general headings that don’t act as a straitjacket. Within them, Claudia paints what takes her fancy, so that you get reflections and highlights in water, wild berries in winter, a sunset and even “how to paint a flat wash”. The last isn’t a subject, it’s even, in its context, a surprise, but that’s the point. This is a book you could read from cover to cover, but which is much better dipped into for the gems it throws at you. Discover Painting Night Lights (a townscape) or Funny Fat Frogs (when else would you suddenly decide to paint a frog?) Stumble on a short section on Populating the Scene – as good a guide to putting people into a composition as you’ll find.

This is a book of ideas. Some of them are discoveries, so are short technical guides, but all of them are delightful and you find yourself sharing Claudia’s joy at finding them. I’ve always admired her work and I think that, here, she’s at the top of her game.

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Strokes of Genius 3 – Fresh Perspectives || ed Rachel Rubin Wolf

For this survey of contemporary work, the contributing artists were asked to complete the phrase, “Drawing is…”. That’s a wide brief, but it’s also arguably the best way to go as it merely provides a conundrum for thought rather than a constriction. Rachel was obviously pleased with the response, “the connection between eye, heart and hand”, as she’s quoted it on the jacket flap. It’s an obvious answer, perhaps rather trite, saccharine even, but it’s quite hard to sum it up any better.

Every book needs a way in and this is as good as any for what’s otherwise going to be a random collection (and none the worse for that). As long as it’s a rattle- rather than a rag-bag, we’re OK. In fact, this is a generously formatted and superbly reproduced look at what’s going on in the world (or at least the North American part of it) today. There’s some stunning and genuinely innovative work here, all of which the book does full justice to (and, in these straitened times it’s nice to see the publisher hasn’t been afraid to do the work and let the price follow). The chapters groups things by land and townscapes, portraits, still lifes, figures and animals, and each artist has provided short notes that explain what they were trying to do.

If you love drawing, this is definitely one to put on your Christmas list.

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Brian Ryder – Painting Atmospheric Landscapes: Norfolk & beyond || Adrian Hill

Brian Ryder will be familiar to amateur painters mostly through his instructional books and, especially his first, Beyond Realism, which paved the way for what has become almost a flood on non-representational painting.

Those who are familiar with Brian’s work through this route will get something of a surprise here because he turns out to be quite an impressionist landscape painter in both oils and pen & wash. If I say that Brian’s style is conventional, I’m really referring to his paint application methods. Compositionally, there’s no doubt that he’s a fan of big skies (no bad thing in Norfolk!) and he combines these with loosely painted and often compressed foregrounds that serve mainly as context.

As a record of a county, this is a beautiful collection of work but it also, with the “and beyond” that takes us to other counties and countries, showcases the artist as well. For the practising artist, it’s pure inspiration, but be prepared for a strong sense of, “if only” because this is definitely an aspirational style!

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Creating Textured Landscapes with Pen, Ink and Watercolour || Claudia Nice

It says a lot for this book that, as soon as I saw who the author was, my first reaction was, “oh, jolly good, not before time”.

There isn’t, it has to be said, a huge difference between Claudia’s various books; her style really hasn’t changed much and that subtitle “with pen, ink and watercolor” could apply to all of them. And yet there’s a freshness to every one that some authors struggle to maintain even to the end of their first effort and her popularity makes it clear that Claudia speaks to a great many readers who take something from every leaf, branch, rock and mountain.

If you’re familiar with Claudia’s work, the chances are that all I need to tell you is that this is her latest book; you’ll have skipped to the “buy it” link already. If not, then I’ll explain what her stock in trade is: the little details of landscape – those subjects I mentioned above and how you can use them to bring a larger scene alive. The layout of this new book won’t be unfamiliar: lots of little details, exquisitely handwritten text and some whole page set-piece paintings that provide the broader context.

What does strike about this book, though, is the quality. The production is definitely a step up, the colours are brighter and sharper and I’d say the artwork is better too. One of the things that sometimes let Claudia down was the set-pieces, which could be just a little bit flat. Here they’re not and, if you’re thinking, do I need another book by Claudia Nice?, come down on the side of yes for these improvements alone.

North Light 2007

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