Archive for category Medium: Watercolour

Turner’s Apprentice: a watercolour masterclass || Tony Smibert

The basic thesis of this is a sound one. Tony Smibert is a Visiting Art Researcher at Tate Britain as well as a trained art teacher. He is therefore well placed to conduct the nearest thing you’ll get to a masterclass with one of Britain’s greatest painters.

The question, though, is do you want to? What?, you ask. How can he even suggest that’s not a good thing? Well, Turner had such an individual style that emulating it is always going to look like imitation, and probably second best at that. Would it perhaps be better to study the Norwich School or the Twentieth Century tradition from Edward Seago onwards?

Well, the thing about Turner is that he taught us a huge amount about light and colour and was innovative not just in his day but, arguably, in the history of art. He was, you could posit, an impressionist before the Impressionists and one of the first to move art away from a very classical tradition that was getting just a little too rule-bound. It’s not just his paintings that merit further study, but his notebooks too, and there aren’t many artists you can say that about. No, you can’t: Turner’s notebooks contain a wealth of experimentation that led to some of his masterpieces.

So, having established that to sit at his feet is something worthwhile, what’s the experience like? Well, Tony is adept at deconstructing not just Turner’s paintings, but his methods of working. This is not an atelier process, where you stand in front of the great canvases and copy them, but rather of understanding and applying the methods that created them.

The book concludes with a chapter devoted to Tony’s own paintings – not just a gallery, they’re properly analysed. In these, you can clearly see Turner’s influence, but also the fact that the results are entirely original. It’s not at all a bad way of demonstrating what you should be aiming for – a deeper understanding of your own work, not that of someone else.


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The Kew Book of Painting Roses in Watercolour || Trevor Waugh

This is the second volume in this new series and it offers a perennially popular subject. I said of its predecessor on orchids that, while not perhaps the most obvious subject, those flowers nevertheless offered a wide variety of shape, form and colour. Well, the same is true of roses, but coupled with the fact that examples are available in just about every garden. Am I implying that this should have been the one that introduced the series? You know what, maybe I am.

Now that we have two volumes under our belt, it’s possible to take a broader look and it’s pleasing to say that, despite the Kew connection, these books are not heading in a botanical direction. That, while impressive, would be a shame because very few people want (or, perhaps, are able) to work in such precise detail. This, therefore, is primarily a Trevor Waugh book. If you’re familiar with his work, you’ll know that it’s primarily about colour and the feel, the character of the flower and not the minute details of its petals and stamens. I can’t claim to have audited every page, but I do not believe that the word “calyx” appears anywhere, and hurrah for that.

So, what you get are results that look and, above all, feel like roses. They have depth, both in terms of form and colour, they shimmer and, just maybe, if you catch them quickly, dance in the breeze. Simply, they’re a joy.

This is, of course, primarily a book about painting, not about roses. The usual preliminaries deal with colour and brushwork, with some deceptively simple exercises you really shouldn’t skip. These teach you far more than just elementary skills, even if that’s what they look like. For the reset, there are three full step-by-step projects that cover not only the whole flower, but also leaves, stems and the play of light. There’s nothing specific about perspective, but it’s in there – Trevor is very good at disguising the technical stuff and you’ll have got through it before you even realise it’s happening.

Is this perfect? Maybe. Is it too good to be true? Certainly not.

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Ready to Paint in 30 Minutes – Mountain Scenes in Watercolour || Lesley Linley

Having lived for several years on Skye, Lesley is well-placed to understand the many moods and atmospheric variation of mountain landscapes and this latest addition to an excellent series covers everything from aerial perspective and tonal recession to textures in rock and reflections in water.

Each of the 32 projects concentrates on a single topic, so there are no complex scenes to get bogged down in. The whole idea is to develop your skills through simple exercises, each with a full-size A6 tracing that’s easy to transport and can be completed quickly. If you’re stuck on a larger work of your own, you could even break off for a quick bit of revision before going on – so much better than spoiling the whole thing at the last minute!

This is a delightful book in a series that’s already been well thought-out and Lesley’s confident approach makes it especially easy to follow.

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Modern Watercolor Botanicals || Sarah Simon

Let’s say first of all that this is a very attractively presented book. That’s not to damn it with faint praise, but rather to emphasise just how much first impressions matter. As soon as I look at its gilt spiral binding and edge reinforcements, I just want to like it.

The content is a series of lessons and exercises in painting flowers and flower arrangements. There’s a standardised layout that makes following the instructions easy and each demonstration comes with plenty of step-by-step illustrations. Instructions are offered for three different skill levels: beginner, intermediate or advanced. I’ve always resisted this classification as one person’s beginner is another’s expert – I’ve spoken to professional painters who’ve said “I’m really only a beginner” and people who’ve been working for all of six months and can’t be taught anything new. Still, at least it offers you the opportunity to choose how much detail and hand-holding you want, even if at the cost of perhaps a little over-writing.

The basic outlines which, it should be said, have a strong graphic content, are traceable, so you can work with prepared outlines if you want. There’s also plenty of information about colour and materials. Yes, this has its limitations, but it’s also comprehensive and easy to understand once you get the hang of the format.

I wanted to like it and I do.

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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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