Archive for category Medium: Pencil

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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The Figure in Composition || Paul G Braun

There’s a charm and lightness to the illustrations in this book that makes it immediately attractive. The slightly retro look to the costumes also, perversely, gives it a sense of modernity. Finally, the looseness of the line gives the figures a sinuousness and a sense of movement, or the potential for it. The man relaxing with a cigarette in one hand and the other in a trouser pocket might push himself away from the wall and walk off at any moment.

So it comes as a surprise, a shock even, to discover that this is a reprint of something that first appeared in 1930. There’s really very little to give it away and the reproduction from what may very well have been a printed original (surely the printing plates can’t have survived?) has been sensitively handled.

The words are descriptive rather than tied to the illustrations – “you will see how the folds give the form and pose of the figure” – but, as in this example, you really do see, and the lack of detailed instructions doesn’t matter at all.

Honestly, this is one of the best books on figure drawing I’ve seen. It’s over eighty years old and fresh as a daisy. Have we really progressed so little? £8.99 is maybe a tad expensive for a 64-page octavo paperback, but it doesn’t need any further padding.

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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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How to Draw & Paint Science Fiction Art || Geoff Taylor

This particular branch of fantasy art is highly specialised and there’s more to it than can really be covered in a single volume. However, this introductory guide makes a very good job of introducing landscapes, buildings, characters and visions. There’s a good variety of subjects from the technical (machines and robots) to figures, animals and aliens. Techniques used include traditional pen & pencil as well as digital work, but it’s probably best that you have a basic grounding in your tools as this is more about working with them than learning to work with them. Geoff Taylor has worked for Disney Interactive Studios and has also done work for Microsoft and his experience and expertise really show.

This is an excellent production and to be recommended on that basis alone.


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