Archive for category Medium: Pencil

DVD Planning Your Painting || Joseph Zbukvic

This is a film about looking, seeing and refining. It’s less about the mechanics of painting and Joseph spends quite a lot of time walking around Rome in search of subjects, rejecting the obvious, the pretty and the main tourist sites – “Don’t start just because it’s beautiful”, he says.

He begins with a short lesson in the basic shapes of composition and shows how these guide the viewer in and balance the elements of the picture. This leads on to a watercolour sketch in a quiet back street that demonstrates the use of shapes and tones: “I don’t think about colour, I just think about tone … warm, cool”.

Rome is a busy, bustling city and Joseph is at pains to show you how to find and isolate a subject in the middle of crowds and confusion. He is looking all the time for shapes and edges and the time spent not painting in this film contains some of the most important lessons. He is insistent about understanding and absorbing a place in order to commit it to memory: a photograph takes a moment and isn’t a real memory, he explains. Joseph is also insistent on the importance of working and sketching all the time: “Not matter how good you are, you should practise your craft”, he reminds us. The result of this is that he is able to produce pencil sketches quickly and accurately, although he also emphasises the importance of not getting bogged down in detail and accuracy: “Just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you have to put it in” is perhaps the most sound piece of advice in the whole film. Details can overwhelm both the composition and the viewer.

This film comes from a different perspective to many, but Joseph is an astute observer and an excellent communicator and his message: observe, practise, simplify comes across loud and clear.

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Figure Drawing – a complete guide || Giovanni Civardi

I’m not normally a fan of smaller-format bind-ups. The original books were the way they were for a reason and smaller pages and thick spines can make for difficult reading. All too often, they look like the sort of bumper value nonsense someone else would buy for you and which just sits on the shelf taking up space.

So, it’s a pleasure to be able to welcome this one. The Giovanni Civardi drawing books are a valuable resource, and there are a lot of them. This compilation includes seven, which would cost you the wrong side of sixty quid to buy individually. £12.99 for a bulk deal is a real bargain, especially as the result is actually usable. I’d like to say that Search Press have taken my previous criticisms of this kind of thing on board, but it’s probably more to do with the happenstance of production. What seems to have happened is that thinner paper and cover card have been used, meaning that the book falls open easily and isn’t too heavy to hold. It’ll even, more or less, lay flat by itself without breaking the spine. The smaller format also adds to the manageability: 440 A4 pages would make for a coffee table book, which this emphatically isn’t.

So, what do you get? Well, not Giovanni’s complete output, for sure. However, the selection is nicely thought-out and makes for a book that lives up to its own billing of being the complete guide. Drawing Techniques is a useful introduction. Being from 2002, some of the repro is showing its age compared to later titles, but not so much that it’s an issue, though the half-tones aren’t as good as they are later. Further chapters are Understanding Human Form & Structure, The Nude, Sketching People, Heads & Faces, Drawing Hands & Feet and Clothing on Figures. It’s worth a complete list to show just how nicely this progresses.

The page-size reduction necessarily reduces the size of the type too, so you may find yourself needing your glasses more that you otherwise would, but this isn’t too much of an issue due to the fact that so much of Giovanni’s instruction is done via the drawings rather than the words. The illustrations themselves are still perfectly adequate.

If you haven’t already got an extensive collection of the separate volumes, and you’re looking for a good primer on figure drawing, buy this. It’s very reasonably priced and so practical as to be ridiculously good value.

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The Realism Challenge || Mark Crilley

There was a time, when the world was young, and before the dawn of the internet, when you couldn’t move for books on magic realism. It was a mainly American thing and I always had the feeling it was primarily about being clever for the sake of being clever, but it was certainly eye-catching.

I therefore had an enormous sense of dejà vu when this flopped onto the mat and looked forward to reliving the days of my youth. I know, wild dissolution or what?

Anyway, it’s not magic realism anymore – do keep up – it’s hyperrealism and Mark Crilley is a master of it, it says here. His work is pretty amazing and, if you miss the intermediate stages, you could be forgiven for thinking this is a book of photographs. Whether that’s what you want is up to you but, if your aim is to paint a spanner a mechanic might try to pick up, this is the book that’ll tell you how to do it. Mark is sound on the handling of minute detail and, particularly, of dealing with reflections. To be fair, as well as said spanner, there are also flowers, fruit and seashells, as well as a lot more things that have the kind of texture that lends itself to detailed reproduction. Cardboard, anyone?

If you detect a note of unconviction, you’re right. I’m not sure how many people will want this. However, if you do, I think you’ll find everything you want here. I’m just a little bothered by the reproduction, though, which seems a trifle coarse, spoiling the effect.

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Drawing & Painting Cats || Vic Bearcroft

I had my doubts about Vic’s previous book. I felt that, excellent as his wildlife paintings were, some of his backgrounds were a bit flat. I couldn’t decide if this was deliberate – to push the main subject forward or not, but I felt a lack of impact. There are no such worries here. All the works in this volume are complete and the subjects are either set properly in context or isolated against a plain wash that’s entirely suitable for a portrait.

There’s no doubt that Vic loves cats – it’s apparent on every page, both in the way he depicts them and a hundred small details I’ll leave you to find for yourself. His dedication indicates that he’s lived with them and it shows. There are plenty of domestic moggies here, both young and old, alert and at rest and Vic captures perfectly both their physical and mental attitudes. My favourite is of a black Tom sitting on a roof in moonlight. Its posture and expression say both “I’m lord of all I survey” and “What am I doing here?”. And that’s pure cat.

This understanding extends to the larger cats, too, and Vic has some excellent demonstrations of a prowling black leopard and of lions and tigers. He works in watercolour, acrylic, pastel, pencil and ink, so there’s something for everyone. As long as you like cats, of course.

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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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Draw Animals in Nature || Lee Hammond

Lee Hammond is a prolific and competent author who can not only turn her hand to a wide variety of subjects but also write about them with authority.

This book covers a wide variety of wild animals (ie not cats and dogs) depicted sensitively in pencil. It is not a series of detailed demonstrations, but rather examples, each of which provides a specific lesson in shapes, textures and surfaces. There are, though, several exercises that get you practising a specific subject in three or four stages and allow you to practise with a guiding hand beside you.

As a result, this isn’t a book about how to draw specific animals, and especially not about how to complete a series of projects, but rather a more generalised look at the practice of drawing animals in general. It’s something that could keep you occupied for some time and will, in the process, teach you a great deal.

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