Archive for category Medium: Sketching

City Sketching Reimagined || Jeanette Barnes & Paul Brandford

Whenever I see the word “exciting” applied to a book about sketching, I fear the worst. It’s usually shorthand for “expect a wild ride” and “this may be a bit exotic for your taste”. Those two are definitely the case here and there is often a feeling within the world of urban sketching that a certain harshness of line is needed to capture the dynamism of the urban scene and its life.

The drawing style here, I think it’s fair to say, takes no prisoners. The lines are staccato and betoken fast work that, it’s also fair to say, suggests a confidence with form and materials. Leavened with colour, this provides a definite sense of excitement and atmosphere. In pure black, however, I personally find the results rather overwhelming, although there’s no denying the skill and sense of artistry involved. I’m perfectly capable of admiring a piece of work without actually liking it.

The blurb tells me that the book is presented as a series of bite-size entries, by which they mean short paragraphs that do actually match the bursts of energy that go into the illustrations. Again, and this is purely personal, I find myself overwhelmed by those and barely notice the text. The same blurb also suggests that the book will suit both new and experienced artists. I can’t help thinking, however, that it will appeal a lot more to the dedicated urban sketcher who will certainly find much to take from the fast-moving approach and concise writing.

You need to see this in the flesh and I’m sure you’ll react in only one of two ways: return it hastily to the shelf or take it immediately to the checkout. There are no half-measures.

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Sketching For The Absolute Beginner || Peter Cronin

Peter Cronin tells us that he found drawing in “special” classes at school, having been diagnosed as “slow”, but in reality dyslexic. For him, it was a release from the tyranny of the worded page and an introduction to a world that was all his. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that this book is, as much as anything else, a paean to the joy and freedom that Peter finds in working with drawing materials.

Yes, it’s a book of instruction and, yes, it covers all the basic principles, but Peter also manages to convey throughout the joy he feels when working, and he’ll share it with you the reader. So, yes again, it’s a course, but it’s also a journey of discovery.

Peter’s drawings are subtle and sensitive and he works mostly with pencil but also pen & wash. With plenty of examples and short exercises, he introduces line, composition, perspective, form and hatching as well as ways to control the weight of the mark to create values, tone and shading.

There’s a huge amount to get to grips with here and this is a book that you can easy work through or just dip into for advice and inspiration.

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Sketching Perspective || Ilga Leimanis

This not unattractive guide is either a visual feast or an assault on the senses, depending on your point of view. You might even say it’s both, and like it all the more for that.

Books on perspective usually fall into one of two camps: technical drawing manuals, or attempts to teach the subject without any technicality at all. The former can be daunting, especially for the general artist and the latter as frustrating as a language course that pretends that grammar doesn’t exist.

Perspective is part of the grammar of art, as much as colour and colour mixing or the techniques for application of materials. It’s a thing you have to get to grips with, but also something a lot of people are afraid of, but as necessary as declension of nouns or conjugation of verbs.

Ilga is an urban sketcher, so perspective is central to her craft. She also, as is common with the genre, works quickly and loosely, so you won’t find architectural or measured drawings here, and hooray for that. It does mean that you get what I referred to at the beginning – the visual feast or assault on the senses. However, it also means that, where there are lines and diagrams (you know you need them really), they’re organic and mostly freehand, which makes them a lot more friendly and approachable. There’s also quite a lot of text, but it’s largely there to explain the images rather than a lot of theory to read, so hooray for that too.

What mainly sets this apart from other books on perspective is the way Ilga uses the technique in very fluid drawings that capture character as much as appearance. Only you can decide whether this works for you but, if it does, it should be rather successful.

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The Joy of Sketch || Jen Russell-Smith

Books of ideas are not exactly thin on the ground and what they cover is broadly similar. Where they stand or fall, therefore , is mainly on the quality of the illustrations and even that may come down to a matter of personal choice.

This pitches itself at the beginner and suggests a range of subjects from the contents of your pockets to hands and feet, trees and flowers, wildlife and even domestic fittings. This could be summed up as: if you see it, draw it, which is no bad idea if you’re feeling stuck for inspiration. Just get your pens and pencils out and have a go.

There’s a charm about this particular implementation that gets under your skin. The illustrations are simple enough, loose enough and recognisable enough to make you feel pretty sure that yes, actually, you could manage something like that. It doesn’t look too difficult and, with a little help (the text is admirably concise) and a few examples along the way, you almost certainly can.

Add in a pleasant and none-too-taxing technical introduction and some basic exercises that get you practising simple shapes without just drawing circles and ellipses and you have one of the best books in this well-served field.

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The Addictive Sketcher || Adebanji Alade

Sketching is the artist’s secret weapon. Often less intrusive than a camera, it also allows a degree of interpretation and note-taking that isn’t available to the photographer. Sometimes a quick image can be an end in itself, at others it’s the basis for a more considered work completed in the studio. The trick is to learn to see and to look, to be completely at home with your materials and to know exactly which details are important. All that comes with practice, so practise you must.

Adebanji Alade is, as the title suggests, a compulsive sketcher. In the introduction, he tells us how he learnt sketching from a battered copy of Alwyn Crawshaw’s Learn to Sketch, a slim volume that, while an excellent introduction, was hardly a full course in drawing. To learn this way requires not a little inherent skill, but Adebanji is too modest to say that. What he does tell us, though, is that, having discovered sketching, he fell in love with it. He also tells us that he loves God. This isn’t an essential part of the narrative, and he doesn’t pursue it, but what is important about it is that it tells us about him. He loves sketching and he loves God, so should we be surprised that he clearly loves his audience too? This isn’t a book that preaches, but rather one that explains. What leaps from every page is the sense of joy Adebanji feels when he out with paper and pencils. It’s infectious and I defy anyone not to want to get out there with him (probably in person, too).

This wouldn’t be an instructional book without instruction and that’s here in plenty, but it all comes from example. There are people, buildings, interiors and open spaces as well as seasons, light and weather. A huge variety of techniques are covered, but always in context and always leading to a worthwhile result – never a series of marks made for their own sake. There’s also handy advice on the etiquette of sketching – ask permission if necessary, thank people who comment on your work, be polite and, above all, stop if asked. If this is a book filled with love, it’s also one lacking in any kind of disrespect.

Adebanji immerses himself in sketching and this is a book that’s itself immersive. It’s also a joy, both tho read and to look at. “Once you catch the vision, you will never remain the same; you will spread the gospel of addictive sketching wherever you go, for the rest of your creative journey.” Couldn’t have put it better myself.

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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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Dare to Sketch || Felix Scheinberger

Felix Scheinberger has appeared here before, talking about urban sketching. This book, to be honest, is little different. The title suggests a wider view, but the previous book covered the inhabitants as well as the city and the catch-all concept is broadly similar here.

The drawing style is quick, rough and cartoon-like. The people are caricatures rather than likenesses, although they also stand for types that can be seen on every street. This is not, it should be said, a record, but rather an impression – perhaps a soundscape – of the rush, bustle and noise of city life. Felix does not stray far from the centre and there are no landscapes here. Yes, there are animals, but they’re mostly street-dwellers too.

The title and subtitle (a guide to drawing on the go) tell you the philosophy behind the book – use your sketchbook as a kind of life-log (remember them?) and draw everything you see. Don’t make a record, put down how it felt to you. This is a valid approach and encourages observation and fast working. How you use it beyond that, though, is very much up to you; for Felix it seems to be more or less an end in itself.

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5-Minute Sketching: Landscapes || Virginia Hein

I’m not normally a fan of the quick-work approach. If something’s worth drawing or painting, it’s worth taking time over. However, I’m happy to make an exception in the case of sketching. Here, speed is frequently of the essence and less is definitely more. Stop and fiddle and the scene will be lost, or have changed substantially while you’re still dithering over whether to use Payne’s or Davy’s Grey. Photographically, it’s the equivalent of having your camera out of the bag and on a full auto setting.

There’s much to like in this new series, which originates with RotoVision, purveyors of all kinds of good ideas. This book is full of ideas and exercises, each one executed in just 3 pages. Sections move from technical to creative via observation and planning. Practise now and develop ways of working that’ll stand you in good stead out in the field or on the street corner. Subjects include, as you might have guessed, landscapes but also urban scenes, skies and trees as well as the considerations of working at different times of day.

The approach is visual, vibrant and really rather exciting.

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5-minute Sketching: Animals & Pets || Gary Geraths

Animals are prime candidates for quick working. Rarely still and often found in less than ideal places, the ability to grab a quick sketch while they’re visible, or at least reasonably still, is a useful skill.

This new series carries great promise and the ideas and techniques here do it full justice. There’s plenty of information and variety, with something for everyone. If I have a reservation, it’s that the execution perhaps leaves a little to be desired, but there’s nothing wrong with the ideas and you’ll find plenty to keep you occupied.

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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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