Archive for category Medium: Sketching

Learn to Paint People Quickly || Hazel Soan

This series from Batsford is shaping up nicely and any book on painting people, especially as furniture for a larger work, is welcome.

Not everyone by any means wants to paint people as a subject in themselves, but an unpopulated painting always has a neglected look to it. In common with the style of the series, this is very much illustration-led and the text is concise to the point of terseness and mainly confined to explanatory captions. It should also be said that this is very welcome – if you don’t want an exhaustive in-depth study, being shown what’s going on rather than lectured at length is the proverbial breath of fresh air.

This is not to say that Hazel doesn’t manage to make the coverage comprehensive. There’s information on shape, proportion, pose, lighting and clothing and the chapters are arranged so that you can locate one particular topic easily. If you want to venture into portraiture, Hazel offers good basic advice, although you will probably want to graduate to more dedicated books as well. Groups, action and settings all get a look-in as well, making this one of the best starting-points you’ll find.

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From Sketch to Watercolour Painting || Wendy Jelbert

This isn’t the first book about sketching but it is, as far as I’m aware, at least one of the first to cover the whole process right through. Yes, other books habitually include a chapter on working your sketchbook up into something grander, but this takes the logical step of following each subject from observation right through to the finished painting. And, of course, it’s Wendy Jelbert, whose expertise in this field is second to none.

The structure of the book is familiar enough, with lessons, exercises, demonstrations and tips. This is good, as it means you’re on solid ground right from the start. What you get initially are some basic lessons in seeing and observation – getting the essence of your subject. There are also useful hints on what to draw and what to annotate so that you have structure, shapes and colours at your fingertips when you get back home. There are also plenty of demonstrations that cover buildings, people, flowers and so on – typical Wendy subjects, in fact.

It’s always going to feel a little odd working from someone else’s sketches – they are, after all, intensely personal – but the way this is put together never feels intrusive. In fact, it’s more like a sketching trip with an old friend, and all the better for that.

Since writing this, I’ve realised that this is in fact a re-working of a book that first appeared in 2003. (I should have – the back cover makes it clear!) As ever, Search Press’s work is so good that it’s by no means obvious and it felt new from the start. I don’t think you can give that aspect of it higher praise.

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Quick & Lively Urban Sketching || Klaus Meier-Pauken

This relatively short (64 page) book knocks off its subject with commendable alacrity and elan, as is entirely appropriate for a sketch. Working in fast-changing environments is more about observation than technique and requires confidence in your ability and materials.

Although the book is structured as a series of lessons, it doesn’t feel like a tutorial and certainly not a demonstration. Klaus explains – and shows you – what to look for, what to include and, above all, how to achieve a record of your scene quickly and efficiently. In a world overrun with smartphones, he addresses the question of “why sketch at all?” head on – the answer being in the cover blurb: it’s “an act of personal expression”. But, as an artist, you didn’t need to be told that.

Urban sketching is very much of the moment and its literature is a crowded market. Nevertheless, this is a worthwhile addition to the canon and one which doesn’t labour the simple point it has to make, which is simplicity.

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Urban Watercolour Sketching || Felix Scheinberger

It used to be that publishing a book on townscapes was the quickest route to a tax loss for over-successful publishers. It was also something that had the hallmarks of a vanity project – look at the popularity of our list, we can do anything! Er, no you can’t.

However, hardly a batch of reviews seems to pass by these days without urban sketching turning up in one form or another and, in these straitened times, I think it’s safe to assume that publishers are looking for everything to be profitable. So, what’s changed? Maybe it’s the perceived glamour of the urban lifestyle, the rise of the metrosexual, the hipster, the cereal café. Whatever it is, there’s some serious and interesting art out there.

As is de rigueur in books of this type, everything is sketched, including the illustrations of materials. The style is loose, rough even, and Felix paints pretty much everything that comes within his purview, so expect buildings, constructions, figures, faces, random ideas, all in a more than slightly cartoon style that’s as vigorous as city life itself. The pages are practically noisy, it’s that street.

If you detect an equivocation here, you’d be right. I’m fascinated by the whole thing, drawn in and yet also slightly repelled by its grossness. I’m not a city dweller, but I have the need for the occasional fix and I get the same rush from these pages as I do from a day in the big smoke. It’s all a bit of a ragbag, bright, loud, confusing and yet also heady. If you’re a city dwelling artist, I think you’d probably love it.

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Sketching People || Lynne Chapman

Urban sketching is very much de nos jours and this vibrant and varied book is a worthy contribution to the literature. It also fits into what seems to be the accepted style of the genre, with quick, busy drawings that attempt to capture the look and the moment rather than create an idealised image or record every detail. As well as the illustrations themselves, the pages are also busy and reflect, I assume deliberately, the noise and bustle of a city street. If I were to suggest that the best place to read this would be a gluten-free organic porridge café, you’d detect my wry smile, wouldn’t you?

Although I’m the last person you’d find in such an establishment (give me a Maccy D’s every time!), I’ll admit to enjoying the books the style produces. I’m not a city boy, so I don’t get worn down by the noise, the rush and the crush on my occasional visits from my rural fastness. Rather, I find it all rather exciting and look on a book like this as the best of all worlds – quiet, relaxing atmosphere at home, but with a window onto a rather thrilling environment. Maybe you feel the same about books on landscape painting?

OK, so I’ve told you nothing about what’s in this book and I’m not going to. If you know the style, it won’t surprise you at all and, anyway, I want to sell you the sizzle, not the sausage.

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Sketch! || France Belleville-Van Stone

Subtitled “the non-artist’s guide to inspiration, techniques, and drawing daily life”, this is a rather delightful book packed with fun, inspiration and ideas. The text is somewhat anecdotal and is probably best dipped into, stopping when you see something that interests you, rather than reading through. It’s as much an observation of life (and, sometimes, a statement of the obvious) as anything else. Nevertheless, France is an engaging writer and you’ll find as much to divert you here as you will in the drawings, which are eclectic and varied. There are objects, shapes, still lifes, colours, hatching, people, buildings – well, everything you see as you make your way through daily life. If this was a website, it would be a life-log, and it’s none the worse for that.

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Reservoir: sketchbooks and selected works || Alice Maher

I’ve remarked previously that looking at an artist’s sketchbook is a view into their most intimate thoughts and not unlike rummaging through their underwear drawer. It’s not something you’d do uninvited and, even then, it can feel more than a little uncomfortable. As Alice herself says, “Sketchbooks are freewheeling workshops of the mind”. Sketches are not finished works, maybe not even fully-formed ideas but rather a stream-of-consciousness that reveals, often deliberately, the artist’s state of mind and innermost thoughts. Kept for private use, this is fine, desirable even, as it allows those same emotions to be picked up again when it comes to more formal work. When the viewer is allowed in, though, it becomes an unweeded garden.

Whitney Chadwick, an art historian specialising in surrealism, contemporary art and gender issues, says as much rather more succinctly in her introduction, while at the same time expanding on the themes of the book and drawing a parable between form – the graphic line – and function and content. Alice says that a sketchbook is “a process of letting ideas flow back and forth … a vortex out of which comes the beginning of an artwork.”

I suspect that this book is going to mean a lot more to you if you’re more familiar with Alice Maher’s work than I am. You may then be able to see the germs that became major works, and how themes have developed. As such, it would be a glossary on an oeuvre rather than a piece in its own right – which is rather as it should be. However, as a standalone, what it lacks more than anything else is a commentary. The introductions are useful, informative even, but they’re short and pretty much say the same things as you can say about any sketchbook without even looking at it. What you don’t get is any very clear idea of what the ideas and themes are that are being explored There are some handwritten philosophical musings, though these are not the easiest read, especially on a heavily-coloured background and don’t, so far as I can tell, relate to the drawings, being rather an occasional verbal- rather than visualisation.

I’m conscious of missing something here and if you want to tell me that’s the main body of Alice’s work, I wouldn’t disagree. It does, I feel, limit the appeal of the book. If you know the corpus and this illuminates it for you, then it would be one of the most valuable books you own. Equally, though, it could tell you nothing at all, other than that the artist works raw material up into finished pieces. I simply don’t know the answer to than one.

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