Archive for category Medium: Watercolour

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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New Ideas in Botanical Painting || Carolyn Jenkins & Helen Birch

If you were to approach this expecting some revolutionary ideas, you would be either disappointed or relieved. To be honest, flower painting probably doesn’t really lend itself to a great deal of innovation, but there is nevertheless a freshness to the approach here that might well appeal.

Carolyn is a gardener as well as an artist, so there’s quite a lot about cultivation and working with plants in order to understand them as a prelude to painting them. She also talks a lot about structure, but from the artistic rather than scientific point of view and this is certainly useful.

The style of the work veers strongly towards botanical illustration, being detailed and precise but, again, tends more towards the artistic than the scientific. The overall impression is colourful and inviting – this is a book that’s heavier on interpretation than it is on representation. It should also be noted that there are no lessons or demonstrations as such, the book being more a discussion of approaches and working methods. That said, the chapter on photography and the use of Photoshop to create the “perfect” specimen is something new and certainly useful.

This is an inviting book that you can’t help delving into.

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From Coast & Cove || Anna Koska

There is a charm to this book that draws you in and has you gripped within only a few pages. Entirely impressionistic, Anna captures the essence of the coast, from wild landscapes to playful seaside, in words and pictures.

It isn’t, on the face of it, an art book, although the illustrations, frequently peeking from the edge or corner of a page, are part of the appeal and will serve as an example to other aspiring journal writers. For them, the main lesson to be taken is how to see, observe, select and retain. A scene can be almost anything you want it to be, from the wide vista to the intimate details and the tiny creatures that cling to rocks or crawl among the grasses. What any given moment means to you will depend on an infinite variety of factors. Anna is first class at telling these stories, from how the day began to concerns about the weather, who else was there, what you grandfather told you, or how a particular colour caught your eye.

There are no lessons here, in the sense of sitting down, paying attention, practising and revising. Rather, this is a piece to enjoy and absorb. You’ll come away refreshed, informed and a whole lot wiser.

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David Bellamy’s Arabian Light

If you thought the Middle East was just sand and showy ziggurats, think again. David Bellamy has always been a travel writer at heart and this book explores the spirit of a region the West often dismisses. His skill lies in finding the hidden corners that define the character of a place rather than its public faces and spaces. He also explores the life of the region through its people as they go about their daily lives; again, these are things done for practical purposes rather than public show. Thus, we get a quiet corner of Cairo at night (David doesn’t completely eschew the larger settlements), the eerie light of midday heat among the rocks of a wadi (a dry valley), where scale is provided by middle-ground figures. At the same time, David also visits Petra and Abu Simbel, somehow managing either to avoid the crowds, or at least edit them out. These results typify his ability to capture atmosphere – in words as well as pictures – with an assuredness that betokens both familiarity and understanding.

David is no wide-eyed first-time tourist and the book tells the stories of several journeys, giving each section an effective narrative arc, for he is also a master storyteller whose words and pictures are part of a whole, rather than one being an adjunct to another. Travel books are often separated between a writer and a photographer whose visions are – even if subtly – different. As a result, you look at the pictures as one piece of the jigsaw and the words as another, the illustrations being a counterpoint to what you are told. When the author is an artist, the images are not necessarily a blindly faithful record, but rather an assemblage that captures both the essence of the scene and the impression it made on the painter. That eerie light would be almost impossible to capture with a camera, but responds perfectly to the subtle hues and granulation of watercolour.

The overall impression of this beautiful book is of the narrative arc I referred to before. It’s the story not just of a journey, but of a place and its people and David has done it supreme justice.

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The Easy Guide to Painting Skies in Watercolour || Stephen Coates

Books on skies are not too hard to find and this important element (arguably the most important) of any landscape has been well-covered. The danger, of course, is of producing a masterclass that only serves to muddy the waters with over-complication.

Regular readers will know how wary I am about “easy” guides. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it and it wouldn’t take a lifetime of study. Intelligently approached, however, they can be reassuring and progress in simple, straightforward steps that don’t tax the beginner or those struggling a bit to keep up.

On those counts, this is absolutely admirable. Stephen starts with an analysis and explanations of materials and equipment, moving quickly to basic techniques, of which the first is a large blended wash. The initial exercise uses one colour, then we move to two. It’s simple and progressive and we’re ready to start looking at white clouds. Nothing to frighten the horses, results that will satisfy and I think we’re ready to agree that, yes, it was pretty easy.

Moving on, you’ll find heavy clouds, sunsets, storms, shafts of sunlight and mists as well as a look at perspective and focal points. Throughout, you’re really only painting skies, with rudimentary foregrounds that add only balance, without becoming an exercise in themselves – actually, if you want lessons in simplicity, you have them right there, an unexpected Brucie bonus.

Easy? Well, maybe. Not too taxing? Absolutely.

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Take Three Colours (compendium)

The idea of this series is a brilliant way of simplifying the painting process, either for the beginner or as a palate-cleanser for someone with more experience who’s become a bit jaded.

With just three brushes and three colours, a team of Search Press’s most successful authors demonstrate projects that show just how much you can do with an absolute minimum of equipment. With little to mess around with, the emphasis is on creativity and making the most of what you have. There’s no chance to over-complicate or get bogged down with an unwieldy palette or too many mixes.

This bind-up is fantastically good value and covers landscapes, seascapes and flowers, with more concentrated subjects such as lakes, rivers, hills and mountains thrown in. Larger books such as this can be difficult to handle, but this falls and stays open nicely and is a pleasure to use.

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Still Life || Susie Johns

This is a pleasing guide to painting simple compositions using everyday objects you’ll find about you. As such, it’s a good way of developing skills without having to look far for subjects or stretch your abilities too much. These are exercises that can be completed relatively quickly and should provide a welcome afternoon or evening break.

The front cover provides a hint of what to expect – a colour drawing of oranges on a blue plate and some pencils and watercolour brushes; inset illustrations include a fish, a shell and a ball. As I said, we’re into things which are easy to find and a straightforward selection of materials. There’s also a nod to the basic shapes that comprise some of the technical exercises, providing solid groundwork in form, perspective and shading. This kind of thing can be ineffably dull and Susie quickly applies the basic principles to real life objects such as fruit and shells that, despite their outward simplicity, present plenty of their own challenges, particularly in regard to texture.

There’s nothing here that will set the world alight, but that’s not what you want or what the book intends. Rather, it’s an excellent grounding in drawing techniques that is neither too taxing nor too elementary to be worthwhile.

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Learn to Paint Portraits Quickly || Hazel Soan

This excellent series from Batsford continues to impress. Illustration-led and based around clearly executed examples and exercises, it packs a vast amount of information into a compact format and relatively few pages. If you find larger books sometimes intimidating, this is about as user-friendly as you can get.

The choice of authors has been critical to its success, as they are required to understand their subjects intimately and be able to condense the fundamentals into the format required. Lengthy explanations are out and eloquent illustrations de rigeur. It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that Hazel Soan features so prominently in the list.

The idea that you can learn portrait painting quickly is a conceit, of course. It requires a lifetime of study to understand both people and ways of representing their appearance and character on paper or canvas. For all that, there are plenty of basics, such as putting your sitter at ease, getting the basic outline and then working with colour, skin tones, hair, eyes and so on. These are the basic mechanics and the foundations that you can spend the rest of your time working on. Although this is a book you can read through in probably an hour or so and whose message can be picked up in perhaps a week, it forms the basis for additional work that will occupy you for a very long time if you decide you want to continue.

And therein lies its chief value. Under Hazel’s expert tuition, you should find yourself understanding the basics quickly and producing results that work and will encourage you to progress further. If you find you are enjoying the process and have the necessary skills, this short book will take you a lot further than you might expect. If it’s still not working, you’ve lost very little in time and outlay.

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