Archive for category Medium: Pencil

The 15-Minute Artist || Catherine V Holmes

Can you? Really? Should you? I’m no fan of the art-if-you-have-no-time school of book, which this proclaims itself to be. On the other hand, something that teaches you to get an image down quickly, without fiddling, while the idea is fresh in your mind and before it gets up and goes off for its lunch, I don’t have a problem with that.

So, let’s pretend, for all its protestation, that this is one of the latter. The idea of reducing the steps of drawing a wide range of subjects to a few simple stages can be liberating and enlightening, although it can also frustrate if the step reduction is achieved simply by leaving a lot out. Although there’s a tendency to do that here, the steps that are included do actually progress nicely and I don’t think you’d be too bothered by having to make giant leaps completely on your own.

The subjects chosen are, frankly, a bit weird. There’s a lightbulb, a paintbrush, a serpent and an ant. Yeah, me too, though there are also some animals and birds and what you get taught does handle what are often complex shapes rather well. The author’s style is a bit flat and unadventurous, but that also makes the book easy to follow and is, I think, one of the reasons the truncated demonstrations are easy to follow – neither of you is trying to do too much at once.

I can’t honestly say this is a must-have book but, if you want an introduction that doesn’t ask you to spend hours on a single drawing and doesn’t tax your skills too much too early, it could be quite useful.

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Botanical Illustration From Life || Işik Güner

Isn’t all proper botanical illustration done from life?, asks a pedant. It’s a valid question, though, but one which is also unfair given the wide range of books available on the subject and relative shortage of titles.

The first thing that should be said is that this is not a manual for the budding botanical illustrator. The style of work that appears here is not the sort that would grace a species identification guide. The manner, however, is much more than the more relaxed plant portrait and includes sufficient detail for even the most demanding general painter of natural subjects.

What it does offer is probably the most thorough guide to top-end botanical painting you could wish for. At 208 pages, it’s a substantial tome and the space is not wasted. There are no establishing shots and few intrusive hands or photos of the artist at work. Rather, there are the exercises and demonstrations you’d expect, but also extensive analyses of flower, leaf and stem structure, all illustrated with some really rather exquisite paintings that make this more scientific aspect not merely interesting but a joy to work with. It’s about art and so it should be artistic.

Just about every aspect of botanical subjects is covered – I mentioned flowers, leaves and stems, but roots, fruit and seeds are here too. These, though, are only the subject matter and the technical aspects of portraying them are dealt with extensively as well. Once again, the extent is put to good use and, despite the comprehensive nature of the coverage, there’s never any sense of rush, or of things being crammed in. The pages are relaxed and very user-friendly

I quibbled over the title. If I was going to choose, I might call it The Complete Guide to Botanical Painting, but that’s probably been bagged already.

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Painting Nature’s Details || Meriel Thurstan and Rosie Martin

This was originally published in 2009 as Natural History Painting With The Eden Project and has now been reissued in paperback.

You can read my original review here.

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The Two-Pencil Method || Mark Crilley

The title tells you what this book is likely to be about, and the subtitle confirms the bold claim: “the revolutionary approach to drawing it all”. No holding back, then.

The claim should be easy to verify – open the book at any point and … are the results any good? A bit more flicking through confirms that, oh my goodness, they are. Not only can Mark draw, but confining himself to one graphite and one black coloured pencil isn’t going to hold him back. A short discussion of materials leads on to basic mark-making and you’ll want to read this because this level of simplicity absolutely depends on getting the foundations right.

From here, there’s a look at working with simple objects and different types of subject, handily introducing things such as hard and soft edges, shapes, tones and textures. As well as being a revolutionary approach, it also turns out that this is a very nicely graduated course in basic drawing. You like it even more, don’t you?

The final section (roughly half the book) is a series of short demonstrations that are really more like tutorials. These cover just about every subject you’re likely to encounter, by way of landscapes to portraits via animals, water and still lifes.

If you like drawing, this is a stonkingly good survey of working methods tucked inside the aforesaid “revolutionary approach” (that’s really just an excuse for simplifying and clearing out a few cobwebs).

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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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