Archive for category Medium: Watercolour

The Kew Book of Painting Orchids in Watercolour || Vivienne Cawson

This book signals the beginning of a relationship between Kew Gardens and Search Press that can surely only lead to some pretty wonderful productions. Previous attempts with other publishers have tended to concentrate on botanical accuracy and an insistence on getting every detail absolutely right. For botanical illustration manuals, this is perfectly fine – essential even – but the new regime seems to come with a lighter touch, allowing a degree of interpretation more appropriate to the general art market. Put simply, this is a book for people who want to paint orchids, not study them, and that’s a good thing.

So, why orchids, which seems like a rather specialised subject for a first foray? Well, they’re one of the most varied species, offering a wide variety of different shapes and colours and not all of them are the exotic specimens of Victorian plant-collecting adventure stories (yes, I do remember one called The Boy Orchid Hunters by J G Rowe).

In simple terms, if you want to start flower painting, orchids are an excellent place to begin because of the opportunities they offer. Rather than being tied to a limited range of shapes and colours, you’ll be confronted by variety from the outset, developing ways of looking and working that’ll stand you in good stead later.

So, think of this as a flower painting primer. While it is not, perhaps a book for the complete beginner, as long as you have the basic watercolour skills, you should find it relatively easy to follow. The basic technical sections at the beginning are all flower-related, but still cover shapes, colours and mark-making. This means you’ll be working with petal and leaf shapes from the start, rather than abstract shapes, so it feels real immediately. Most of the work is with single specimens and props are limited to pots and vases – this is a book about orchids, after all, not flower arrangements – and this keeps the approach both simple and on track. Examples and exercises lead up to three full projects that demonstrate the range of possibilities available.

Don’t think of this as a book about a single plant type that’s only for the specialist. Look at it as one of the best flower painting manuals around.

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Landscape Painting: The Complete Guide || Richard Pikesley

This is a bold claim which requires an artist of considerable skill and versatility to pull off at all, let alone successfully. In Richard Pikesley, Crowood undoubtedly have their man. An experienced artist and teacher, he is equally at home with oil and water-based media as well as drawing and pastel (although this latter does not receive extensive coverage).

At 224 pages, this is a substantial book that addresses the creative as well as technical processes. Richard begins with the whole question of seeing: that is to say, looking and observing, finding and understanding your subject. It says a lot about his overall approach that this is the starting point of the book, just as it should be for a painting, before brush or pencil hits paper or canvas. It’s also where he looks at perspective and parallax in both monochrome and colour. There’s a surprising amount of detail here and the subtleties that Richard finds even at this early stage are typical of the book as a whole – it’s about a lot more than just process and technique and the extent gives him space to consider much more than just major points and general headings.

As you may have gathered, there’s a lot to read here, although it’s leavened with plenty of example illustrations and the sections are nicely broken up. Extensive texts can, while invaluable, easily become indigestible in a practical context and the publisher is to be congratulated on recognising this. Richard has also chosen his words carefully and has not written simply for the sake of it, something I’ve seen happen when authors are given more space than they are perhaps used to.

Much of the book proceeds by explanation and example and there are only a few demonstrations, but this is not an exercise book – however useful and instructive those can be. Reading, rather than doing is not for everyone, but this is such a comprehensive study that this potential obstacle should be easy to overcome, especially with the wealth of illustrations that leaven and enhance the text.

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The Paint Pad Artist: Coastal Landscapes || Charles Evans

I dealt with the mechanics of this new series in the introductory review, so this is a look just at one particular volume.

Charles Evans is an experienced and popular demonstrator who is ideally suited to this introduction to painting coastal scenes. Each of the six demonstrations introduces a new topic or technique, such as drawing out colour to create clouds, capturing reflections, using a rigger to create trees and working with stormy skies and seas.

There’s plenty of variety, but nothing is too taxing and the beginner will feel at home quickly, producing worthwhile results that can only encourage further work.

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Take 3 Colours – Watercolour Lakes & Rivers || Stephen Coates

Take 3 Colours is a brilliantly simple idea that’s been brilliantly presented. All of the authors so far have understood the brief impeccably and Stephen Coates is no exception.

The strapline is “3 colours, 3 brushes, 9 easy projects” and it’s not just a superb way to get started with painting, but also an approach that strips your technique back to essentials if you’re feeling it’s got just too complicated and that you may be over-working.

Don’t expect great works, but do prepare to be surprised at just how much variety you can get and how many subjects you can work with in this way. My only reservation in this particular volume is the overall impression of ochre. With base colours of Light Red, Raw Sienna and Ultramarine, this might perhaps be expected, but other volumes have managed to provide a somehow brighter appearance and the lack of a good green from the mix shows. It’s a shame as the results and explanations are excellent.

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Rosie Sanders’ Roses

Let’s be clear what this is not. It is not a book about painting roses. However, if you love flowers in general – and roses in particular – it’s likely to be high on your shopping list. If you’re here, it’s because you’re interested in art and it ticks those boxes too. These are stunning paintings and a joy to look at. The large format and excellent reproduction make this easily possible and, even though this is not instructional, it’s likely you could learn a lot simply from its example.

It’s a big book, but not an unmanageable one and the sheer scale of the illustrations hits you squarely in the eye. If you like images that dominate and leap out at you, this will be a delight. It’s a bit like the contrast between seeing a film at the cinema and on television – one is just there, the other has to be peered at.

As well as the images, there’s a nice introduction that looks at the rose in history, religion, medicine and myth. As much as the main matter of the book isn’t about how to paint, neither is this for the horticultural specialist – the whole thing is aimed squarely at the interested general reader. While I had this in the office awaiting review, I lent it to a friend who’s a keen gardener and she absolutely covets it. That’s the effect it has.

Where I do have an issue is with the handwritten captions. The writing hand isn’t the easiest thing to read and the fact that the publisher has chosen to reproduce it halftone (ie in the four process colours of printing, broken down into dots) rather than line (solid black) does nothing to improve this. Yes, it’s a small quibble, but there are quite a lot of these captions and it adds a degree of difficulty to what is otherwise an effortless book.

For all that, it’s a stunning piece of work and one well worth more than a passing glance.

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Ready to Paint in 30 Minutes – Boats & Harbours in Watercolour || Charles Evans

The re-imagining of the Ready to Paint series continues apace and continues to impress.

Charles Evans offers a good variety of subject matter and stylistic approaches through 33 step-by-step projects along with useful exercises, hints and tips. The book has a clear progression and feels busy without being confusing and there is an overall sense that you’re getting a lot for your money.

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Painting Mood & Atmosphere in Watercolour || Barry Herniman

This is an enlarged reissue of a book which first appeared in 2004. I don’t have a copy of the original to hand, so how much new material there is, and what it is, I am unable to say. I don’t however, remember it being quite this vibrant in terms of colour, so I suspect that, as well as everything else, there may have been a degree of re-origination. The only tiny fly in the ointment is that some of the illustrations aren’t quite as sharp as modern standards allow, so you may have to forgive that, if you notice it – it’s not a major problem, but one inevitably gets used to being able to analyse things like brushwork in quite minute detail.

Subject-wise, the book is mainly land and waterscapes plus a few buildings, which is about right for the topic in question. There are plenty of skies, from looming and overcast to vivid sunsets (though I do wonder whether the vividness I referred to earlier has been achieved by dialling up the red and yellow in the printing process – the book has a very orange feel to it).

Whatever these reservations, this is an excellent look at getting a sense of place into your work and Barry’s water, in particular, has that elusive sense of solidity that suggests volume and movement.

There are five full projects as well as explanations and analyses – the style of the book pre-dates the breakout hints and tips that pepper modern volumes and the text is longer than we’re perhaps used to now. If you shout “hurrah”, make a beeline for your bookshop. If you’re not sure, you may be surprised by how well a more in-depth look works and how a more relaxed pace can induce understanding.

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