Archive for category Medium: Watercolour

Watercolour: the natural world || Tim Pond

An artist’s second book can be a challenge. Quite often, they’ve said as much as they can already and, if the subject is predominantly the same, finding a different approach that doesn’t simply repeat what’s gone before can be tricky. In his previous book, Tim pretty much wrote the definitive guide to animal drawing. True, we have a change of medium here, but the style is the broadly the same and The Field Guide to Drawing and Sketching Animals certainly didn’t lack colour.

So, Tim had a hard act to follow and quite a mountain to climb. It’s therefore a pleasure to say that, in terms of absolute triumph, Tim has scored again. A change of publisher has certainly helped, because of the shift of editorial and design priorities that brings. There is a further change of emphasis in the arrangement of the book, which is now both by season and habitat. The way books are ordered is sometimes a conceit, just a way of putting one thing after another, but this makes complete sense as you get those creatures you’re likely to find together all in the same place and also relates fur, plumage and behaviour to the time of year. It’s also noticeable that there’s a lot less anatomy in this book than there was in the previous one. It’s not lacking completely, and there when you need it but, if you want lessons on structure, see previous.

This is also, as the title implies, not just a book about animals and, when ordering by habitat, Tim also includes lessons on related matters such as deciduous trees, rainforests and savannahs. He even takes time out to explain why leaves turn brown in Autumn; it’s not essential, but piques the interest and improves your overall understanding and immersion in the subject.

The studies, lessons, exercises and demonstrations mostly occupy no more than a couple of pages, thoughtfully arranged as a spread so that you can see everything at once. Tim’s style is at once precise and yet also slightly impressionistic – he doesn’t get every detail of hair or feather with a quadruple-nought brush. The result is creatures and their surroundings that have a sense of life and potential movement that should appeal to the artist rather than the zoologist.

This is a remarkably thorough and enjoyable book that will have instant appeal to any wildlife artist, but also instruct those for whom the subject is perhaps more peripheral. To do this twice in two books is no small achievement.

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The Watercolour Companion || Matthew Palmer

There’s something about this little book that you instinctively want to like. It just feels right the moment you pick it up and this is not accidental, but rather a perfect meeting of author, editor, design and production.

Content-wise, it falls into the basic hints and tips category, but covers a very broad range of watercolour techniques and subjects, arranged as a reference that you can call on for help or inspiration, or just dip into in quiet moments to spark your own thoughts and ideas. It would have been easy to make the result a lot bigger, with more examples and variations, but this is a vade mecum, something to be carried with you out in the field. It’s small enough to fit into a pocket, slim enough not to make an inconvenient bulge or weigh you down on one side and even has an elastic closure so that it doesn’t flap about awkwardly. All of these things could be tropes or gimmicks, but they serve an obvious purpose and add to the general appeal. The binding is also sewn – something of a luxury these days, which means that the pages fall open without having to be coerced, making one-handed use perfectly feasible. There’s even a handy viewfinder in a pocket at the back. I’m not even sure that all this adds significantly to the price, which is just under a tenner. That’s not bad these days.

Matthew is an excellent explainer and he covers an awful lot of ground in a very small space – which, of course, also leaves no room for over-working, either of examples or writing. Coverage includes colour, brushwork, choice of subject, skies, light, flowers, trees, buildings, water, people and special effects. Although there’s no index, each section is concise and the contents page allows you to navigate quickly.

Will you really drop what you’re doing and look a technique up in the middle of furious creativity? Only you can decide. I think you’re more likely to dip into it as I suggested, possibly just before turning the light out at bedtime. Who knows, you may wake up with the perfect image in your head and know instinctively how to achieve it.

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The Kew Book of Botanical Illustration || Christabel King

This thoroughly worthwhile guide has been reissued in paperback. You can read my original review here.

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Simply Paint Flowers || Becky Amelia

This is one to file under Decorative Arts, projects for the beginner or part-time painter. That’s not to belittle it, but it’s not a guide to flower painting for the more serious watercolourist and, to be completely fair to it, neither does it aspire to be.

Having got that out of the way, what it does give is a simple and simplified set of ideas for floral designs in both watercolour and gouache. The emphasis is on shape and colour and it comes as absolutely no surprise that Becky is an illustrator. Although the author biography doesn’t mention graphic design, this is very much her approach. The book revolves around a series of projects that use a simple set of colours (selected for each project) and designs. The images are compact and could easily be reproduced and set to repeat for wallpaper or other coverings.

No, this isn’t flower painting as depiction of flowers, it’s flower painting as floral design and it’s well done and simply presented. Even the more serious flower painter could probably get a few ideas.

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Ready to Paint with Terry Harrison

Terry Harrison was one of the best teachers and writers about art and his death in 2017 was a great loss.

This omnibus brings together 15 of his demonstrations from the excellent and ever-popular Ready to Paint series. If you’re a fan, you probably have them already. If not, this modestly priced volume will give you an excellent introduction to fields, woodlands, wider landscapes, buildings and seascapes. Full-size outlines are provided for you to trace down onto your own paper and they can be re-used as often as you want.

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Hazel Soan’s Art of the Limited Palette

Most watercolour books will have a section on working with a limited palette and there have been previous volumes on the subject. Those, however, have tended to base themselves on the author’s specific and unvaried selection. Yes, you could probably buy a set of them – how convenient.

I have never seen a Hazel Soan branded product and I doubt I ever will. This is not a book about what you should do half so much as what you can do. The difference is both subtle and vast and anyone who’s familiar with Hazel’s work will understand immediately. She’s an artist and writer who leads by example, inspires and gently guides and this is what has won her so many fans.

The paintings here are mostly done with between three and five colours, but they’re not prescriptive and Hazel varies them depending on the subject, so you might get the unsurprising Ultramarine Blue, Yellow Ochre and Permanent Rose where a blue shirt is the key hue in a simple composition. Then, a few pages later, you’re working on a summer landscape with Aureolin, Ultramarine Blue and Alizarin Crimson. The point being eloquently made is that it’s the subject that guides you, not the paintbox. These are pictures, not technical exercises.

Even more interesting are the sections where we’re down to just two colours. These are not clever tricks, but rather a way of achieving a particular result in a particular part of the work. You’ll be aware, for example, of how good Hazel is with shadows and reflections. So you’ll find yourself making a pre-mix of two greys, one red- and the other blue-shifted. Yes, there are five colours involved here, but they come down to two and depict those shadows and reflections in a rain-soaked street scene perfectly.

As much as anything else, this is a book about thinking about colour. The limited palette forces you to avoid the tendency to reach for yet another shade from the dozens you have in your box (yes you do). Hazel begins with some studies that look at how different combinations enhance and set each other off – blues and yellows (obviously), but also yellows and reds, reds and blues. She also explains, with well-chosen examples that make the message abundantly clear, how to make secondary colours quickly and easily. There’s a look at the earth colours as well as the use of both related and opposing shades.

There’s so much here that this becomes one of the most comprehensive studies of and guides to colour there is.

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Botanical Watercolours Through The Seasons || Sandrine Maugy

When it comes to the arrangement of flower painting books, you pays your money and you takes your choice. Do you want them alphabetical for reference, by colour for handy palette selection, or seasonal for easy access to what’s around at any particular time? We shouldn’t be unkind, because the publisher has to do something and all these are perfectly valid and what really matters is the quality of the instruction.

The sales blurb for this begins: “This stunning book follows the rhythm of nature through the year”, and I wouldn’t disagree with any of that. It is stunning and there’s also a sense of originality and wonder in what is, let’s face it, a crowded field.

Open any art instruction book at random and it’s usually fairly easy to pick out the structure: general introduction, materials, techniques, basic exercises, demonstrations. It’s a convention because it works and you break away from it at your peril. Sandrine and the production team at Search Press have taken quite a risk here, because this doesn’t have an obviously linear structure. Rather, the technical pieces, such as Drawing a Rose, or discussions of colour (Drawing and A Viridian Palette) appear within the body of the work. This could very easily break up the flow but, sensitively handled, puts what sometimes amount to thought pieces right next to the subject they relate to. It also makes the book subtly immersive and I think it’s one you’d probably want to read right through before breaking out the paintbox and then going to the section covering the season you’re in right now.

Style-wise, Sandrine works with individual subjects – these include fruit and leaves as well as flowers – rather than larger arrangements and she paints them with quite a lot of, but not obsessive, detail. She’s not afraid of a wash when the result demands it. This makes the book eminently accessible and the overall sense is of immersing yourself in the subject and a feeling of being enveloped, informed and entertained. And that’s quite an achievement.

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Watercolour Landscapes For The Absolute Beginner || Matthew Palmer

This is a reissue of Matthew Palmer’s Step-by-Step Guide to Watercolour Painting, which first appeared in 2018. Actually, the copyright page says “includes material from”, but I’m unable to check whether there is anything new here, so let’s assume that it’s probably not much.

Whatever, it remains an excellent introduction and you can read my previous review via the link above.

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Watercolor Life || Emma Block

What’s not to like about “40 Joy-Filled Lessons to Spark Your Creativity”? The answer, I’m pleased to say, is absolutely nothing. Apologies for the double negative, I’ll give you a moment to unravel it.

This is, as you might have guessed, a project-based book aimed squarely at the raw beginner. While there’s not exactly a shortage of these at the moment, this certainly fits the mould of subtle colours, a funky typeface for the headings and plenty of white space to make the pages less intimidating. It offers a good variety of subjects and background information.

The book opens with a simple introduction to techniques that is concise without being over-simplified and actually manages to explain colour mixing, use and theory as well as I’ve seen. In this context, the skill lies in stating the obvious without, um, stating the obvious. Thus, we have the different types of brush, along with their uses and merits, explained in straightforward terms.

The projects themselves are broadly undemanding and follow a standard format which works from outline to colour mixing and application seamlessly and without fuss in half a dozen pages. It wouldn’t be unfair to say that you won’t be producing great works of art here, but if you want simple lessons in colour, form, perspective, tone and so on, you have to forego something.

Organisation is neat, too, with main headings concentrating on the techniques being covered – wet-in-wet, the use of masking fluid, brushstrokes, etc. Within these, Emma covers still lifes, plants, trees, buildings, landscapes, people and decorative work. It’s all very simple but, at this level, that’s what you want.

As I said, in this part of the market, you’re fairly spoiled for choice, but you won’t do much better than this as a solid introduction and foundation to watercolour.

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The Watercolour Sourcebook

This bind-up of the What To Paint series provides 60 transferrable outlines with basic instructions on completion. You get Landscapes from Terry Harrison, Flowers from Wendy Tait, Trees, Woodlands and Forests from Geoff Kersey and Hills and Mountains from Peter Woolley.

It’s a repeat of what’s gone before but, if you don’t have the original volumes, you get a lot of material for your £15. My only issue, as with all books with removable pages is that, when you’ve removed the outlines (which you’ll need to), you’re left with half an empty spine. You might think that inevitable sacrifice is worthwhile, though.

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