Archive for category Medium: Watercolour

En Plein Air Light & Color || Iain Stewart

This accessible and enjoyable guide is as good as you’re going to get on working from nature. The subject matter is varied and includes landscapes, buildings, boats, flowers and people, the work being conducted in a loose style that relies heavily on washes. Despite being American, the tonal values are generally insular rather than continental – that’s to say, colours are as subtle and muted as we’d expect on this side of the Atlantic, rather than the sometimes over-bright tones that characterise the light in a larger land mass.

The approach is via discussions and demonstrations and there’s more text than is sometimes the case in books of this kind. The stages work from palette selection to outline drawing and through to the finished painting and are well-described and illustrated.

There is, however, a major drawback. The paper chosen tends to swallow the colours and the images are simply too coarse, meaning that detail, particularly in some of the pencil work, can be hard to see and interpret. This is a shame, as it detracts from what would otherwise be an excellent book. If you can overlook it, however, this won’t disappoint.

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Contemporary Figures in Watercolour || Leo Crane

This is not conventional figure painting, but the subtitle – speed, gesture and story – provides a clue to what it is really about.

The images that Leo Crane, working with model Roy Joseph Butler, produces are not likenesses in the portraiture sense, but rather accounts of the dynamic nature of the human form. It’s an interesting and logical approach, but also quite shocking at first glance. Indeed, pick this up and look through it quickly and there’s a fair likelihood that you’ll put it straight back on the shelf. The illustrations are by no means immediately attractive, either by their shape or the bright and often clashing colours Roy uses.

Stay a bit longer and delve a bit deeper, though, and it all starts to make sense. We’re back with the subtitle. These are figures in movement – if they were photographs, a slow shutter speed would have been used. They have a depth that goes behind the eyes, there’s character and, yes, a story. These people have personality, not just appearance. Some of the images are almost completely abstract and represent glimpses of movement, rather like a Zoescope or a flick book taken at half speed. Particularly interesting is the use of contrasting colours and tones to achieve this and the ways in which, although initially shocking, the results are also completely natural.

When I first opened this, I didn’t know what to make of it, but I’ve had to get into it in order to write about it. It’s taken a while, but I totally get it and now I love it. It’s a very different approach that, even if you don’t follow to the letter, will inform your figure painting probably for ever.

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Colours of Nature || Sandrine Maugy

This is not a new book, having first appeared in 2013, but its reissue is timely and it’s something that really shouldn’t be out of print.

There are all kinds of guides to colour, from the mixing swatch-books to highly technical volumes that are really of more interest to the scientist than the artist. This one is firmly practical and written for those working with pigment to create end results, which are the main, indeed only, focus.

What colours do, especially in relation to each other, is of prime importance and a basic understanding of their properties is essential if predictable and reliable results are to be achieved. This doesn’t necessarily mean a crash course in chemistry, although that’s behind a lot of what happens on the palette and the paper. An author who can understand that and translate it into the language and requirements of the artist is someone to be treasured.

Sandrine works through each of a wide range of colours individually as well as explaining some basic techniques for botanical painting. She also names specific brands, but recommends alternatives as well. You don’t have to throw away the contents of your paintbox in order to work with her prescribed choices, which is very welcome – this is about you, not her.

Each colour choice is accompanied by a detailed floral demonstration that pays particular attention to the colours used – how and why – for each part of the subject. It’s particularly useful to be able to see and understand why a particular mix is appropriate at any particular stage and where they all fit into the overall result.

This is a very thorough guide to a complex subject, but one which is told clearly and concisely and, above all, in language the artist will readily understand.

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Colour Demystified || Julie Collins

Julie has previously been the author of fairly conventional colour mixing guides, but this is something else altogether.

There’s a hint of what’s to come in the list of acknowledgements, which includes several artists and art writers, the Tate Gallery and many art brands which will be familiar to the reader. Julie has not just done her research, but done it in depth.

It’s no exaggeration to say that, if this were alchemy, it would be the philosopher’s stone, the catalyst that turns the base metal of simple pigments into the gold of a successful painting. It’s not magic or witchcraft and has nothing to do with the creative side of painting (you’re on your own there). What it is, though, is a completely reliable guide to how your materials behave on paper (we’re working with watercolours here).

Watercolour has many properties and they’re all based in chemistry. Guides to this have appeared before, most notably Ralph Meyer’s Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques, an exhaustive and exhausting tome that has its roots firmly in research chemistry. For the faint-hearted it is not.

This is shorter, illustrated and altogether more manageable. Or, let’s just say, manageable. Colours can be transparent or opaque. Some are staining, some will granulate. Some are perfect for glazing, others decidedly not. You need to know all these things, you need to know which pigments play nicely together and which should never be invited to each other’s birthday parties. It’s all in the chemistry, but you’re not a chemist, you’re an artist. You want the magic (OK, it is magic really) to happen on the palette, not in the library.

This is what Julie gives you – a practical artist’s guide to how colours work for the artist. It’s full of colour swatches, examples and demonstrations and you can see what’s happening at every stage, even try it out for yourself. It’s a book you’ll want to keep handy for reference, although there’s also a very good chance that you find you’ve remembered most of it. It’s convincing, comprehensive and joyously concise. Above all, it’s a key that opens just about every door.

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Watercolour Mixing Techniques For Botanical Artists || Jackie Isard

Books on flower painting abound, as do colour mixing guides, but this is the first time I have seen something as specific as this. It is, it should be said, very thorough, but without being exhausting and the detail (which is considerable) is entirely practical. Jackie is clearly fully on top of her subject.

A lot of mixing guides consist of little more than colour swatches and these, while useful, can leave you gasping for air. Here, there are remarkably few and they’re surprisingly small. You can, though, see what you need to and the whole point is that they do not dominate. The purpose of the book isn’t to present you with an exhaustive – or exhausting – list of what you can produce, but rather a selected set of examples of what you will need. What you will see are images of flowers, leaves, stems and berries, each clearly annotated with information about the colours used. Enlarged details are included where they are needed.

Despite its relatively limited extent, this is a comprehensive guide that includes not just mixing information, but the use of colour for tone, shading and to highlight detail. Everything is in just the right place and the book wears its considerable level of technical information very lightly indeed.

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Watercolor Basics || Charles Reid

This, sadly, is going to be Charles’ last book; he died in 2019. If, however, you wanted a lasting legacy, this would be it. Although his style is, arguably, not one for the beginner, there is so much sound information here that you could view the result as something to aspire to, while still learning a great deal on the way. If you’re a more experienced worker, then some simple revision would certainly not go amiss and you might welcome the chance to catch up alongside an acknowledged master of the medium.

Topics are very much as you’d expect – composition, light and shade, values and simplification. There are plenty of exercises and demonstrations to get your teeth into. This is a book you’re going to want to spend a lot of time with and much of it bears returning to more than once, such is the depth of knowledge and information evident.

It’s probably worth saying that quite a lot of the book is devoted to figures so, if this is something you want to work on, you’ll be in your element. If not, then it’s worth some thought before diving into a purchase.

The illustrations reveal Charles at the height of his powers, exploiting colour and working as loosely as possible with simplified images that capture the essence of a subject in amazingly few brushstrokes.

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Ready to Paint in 30 Minutes – Animals in Watercolour || Matthew Palmer

Here’s an ideal subject for this nicely-maturing series. Matthew presents simple exercises that cover just about every type of animal and coat from hide to hair, fur and feathers (birds are included). Some of the backgrounds are plain, allowing you to concentrate on the subject, others include wider settings that provide context. Nothing is over-complicated, however, and the idea of working quickly on a single idea is never compromised.

Each of the 29 exercises is accompanied by an outline tracing that allows you to get the basic shapes down quickly and you’ll be working at A6 size, so you won’t need to make elaborate preparations or clear a working space. 30 minutes is probably best seen as a target rather than a limit – if you want to spend a bit more time, that’s fine, just don’t get too tied up with details and land up over-working.

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Dynamic Seascapes || Judith Yates

Social media gets a bad press. However, it was also responsible for the genesis of this book. The publishers of Leisure Painter and The Artist magazines put one of Judith’s pictures on Twitter. I thought it looked interesting and decided to investigate further. It quickly became apparent that she is one of the best seascape artists I’d seen for a long time, so I suggested that Search Press might like to talk to her. And here, a couple of years later, we are.

Water is one of the hardest subjects to paint. It’s hardly ever static, has no real substance and no colour of its own, yet it presents in many different moods, almost all of them related to movement and surroundings. So, how do you represent that in a single image? Well, that’s what the book is all about. The subtitle is “how to paint seas and skies with drama and energy” and it has that in spades.

Working in watercolour, acrylic, ink and mixed media, Judith will show you how to capture all the forms and moods of the sea, from a calm evening estuary to storm-blown waves breaking on a rocky shore. Although water is the primary subject, Judith does not forget the shorelines, landscapes and of course skies that make up a complete seascape. She’ll show you how light both affects the appearance of water and is affected by it through refraction and reflection. She’ll also demonstrate ways of capturing the solid appearance of a breaking wave and how to create the sense of power and movement that are essential to giving your image a feeling of being anything but static and two-dimensional.

There are plenty of examples, exercises and demonstrations as well as explanations of the way water behaves in just about every situation. The book is every bit as exciting as its subject.

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Creativity Through Nature || Ann Blockley

Every so often, any creative person needs to go through a reset, in which they re-assess their vision, methods and output. Ann’s has come as a result of the planet crisis and has involved considering whether she wanted to continue painting at all. I’m honestly not sure that giving up watercolours will produce the climate stasis we require, but fortunately the final outcome for Ann was an artistic rather than a material reconsideration.

What we have here, therefore, is a in-depth examination of the creative process that has also resulted in her relocating to Devon from Gloucestershire, giving her new landscapes to look at and a change of working atmosphere.

It’s a thoroughly stimulating book that’s entirely about inspiration and creativity without really considering technical processes at all. While this can be desirable for the individual, it’s something that can be as exciting for the viewer as watching the proverbial paint dry. You can’t, after all, easily demonstrate what goes on inside your head. Please note, though, that I said “easily”, because that’s exactly what Ann has done and the result is completely gripping.

There are no demonstrations or exercises here, but rather subjects, themes and ideas, with examples of how they were transferred to images on paper. You’ve probably always wanted to know the thought, intellectual and, dare I say it, mindful processes that Ann uses to create what she does and you can actually see them at work here. It really works rather well.

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3000 Colour Mixing Recipes: Watercolour || Julie Collins

Along with the welcome resurgence of David & Charles comes the equally welcome reissue of this very thorough encyclopaedia of mixes, tints and hues.

It was originally part of a larger volume, Colour Mixing Index, which covered all the main media and you can read the review of that here.

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