Archive for category Medium: Watercolour

The Whole Story || Christina Hart-Davies

Books from Two Rivers Press arrive with very little flourish and, it should be said, no loud thump onto the mat. Moderate in format and extent, they pack a lot more punch than you would expect and this is one of the most eloquent works on botanical illustration I’ve seen.

To be clear, this is not an instructional book as such, although “the inside story” sections do include concise step-by-step exercises. The bulk of the book is devoted to examples and explanations of the subjects illustrated. And what a range of subjects it is. The book is subtitled “Painting more than just the flowers” and Christina includes leaves, ferns, lichens, bark and fungi as well as the creatures that inhabit the natural world: butterflies, bees, birds (represented by a feather), even a cat.

Much of the charm of the book stems from the fact that the paintings are not just dry specimens for the botanical specialist but living tableaux that appear to have been plucked – or rather borrowed – from their natural habitat. There’s an immediacy that stems from some very careful brushwork and use of colour.

If you’re looking for a book that will teach you, this is probably not it. If you want one you can learn much from, though, it absolutely is.

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Take 3 Colours – Watercolour Snow Scenes || Grahame Booth

Search Press have become adept at producing series that include books that stand on their own merits rather than simply fitting into pre-defined slots. Much of that is down to having as simple an idea as possible. As a result authors don’t need to go into contortions to get the correct shape and are free to express themselves as they normally do. This makes the whole idea easy to explain to those same authors so that everyone has a clear idea of what’s required. That, of course, is the key to any successful book, but it’s surprising (and rather alarming) how often it gets missed. If everyone’s pulling in different directions, the dog’s sure not to miss out on its dinner.

All of which is a preamble to saying that I like this a lot. Snow is as tricky a subject as water: it’s one of those things that isn’t really there. Water relies on reflection, but snow can be even more difficult. No, it’s not just matter of a large tube of titanium white or areas of paper left intentionally blank. Snow doesn’t reflect exactly, and it has an identifiable form in a way that water doesn’t, but it takes its appearance from the light and shade that fall on it. Cue plenty of opportunities for over-complication and far too many colours in the mix.

And, as if by magic – 3 colours and 3 brushes. Less is more, simplification is always going to be your friend. As the nights draw in and who knows what precipitation the weather will bring, here’s a guide that will tell you all you need to know. No, not everything – that would be a tall order in just 9 projects – but enough for you to understand what’s happening on your palette, brushes and paper and you didn’t really need more than that, did you?

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David Bellamy’s Landscapes Through The Seasons in Watercolour

This is an expanded version of David’s Winter Landscapes which appeared in 2014. It’s therefore no surprise that this is the season that gets the greatest coverage. Overall, on a back-of-the-envelope calculation, about two-thirds is new material. For a ten quid paperback, that’s not exactly daylight robbery if you have the previous book (which, as one of David’s super-fans, you will).

If this is all new to you, be assured that the integration is good and you won’t be able to see the joins. Search Press are very good at this kind of thing and the progress is seamless. What may appear slightly odd is that it begins with Summer, especially as it comes out in Autumn. This is all down the Beastly Virus – it was one of the many titles that got delayed, having been slated for the middle of the year. Most books on the seasons begin with Spring because – well – because any start point than that is always going to be idiosyncratic. Move on, it’s not a biggie.

The whole thing is sound and well executed, with the demonstrations and overall quality of work fully up to the standard you’d expect but (whispers), sometimes don’t get from David. One or two of his more recent books have felt – to me, at least – a little rushed and almost as though his heart wasn’t in it. If you wondered whether he was losing his creative mojo, though, just look at Arctic Light. That’s a tour de force.

So, anyway, this is as thorough a guide to painting outdoors at all times of the year and in all weathers as you could wish. At 96 pages, it’s practically concise, but there’s no wasted space and it feels a lot larger. David isn’t just a great painter, he’s a great distiller of information and the way it’s presented. Do you get the impression I’m telling you to buy this? Good.

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Paint Pad Poster Book – City Scenes

The first thing that’ll strike you on opening this is the sheer amount of detail in the source images. These are not simply blow-ups of the ones that appeared in the original books (I noted features of the series when I wrote about the first volume), they’ve been completely re-originated so that colours, marks and even granulation are immediately visible. It’s striking, as it should be.

The five scenes here cover bridges, statues, vegetation and street furniture as well as water, buildings and other structures. The instructions are simple and you should be able to produce results you can be proud to display for only a little over £3 a time.

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Learn Watercolour Landscapes Quickly || Hazel Soan

This excellent little series continues to impress. Inevitably, small potted guides can only tell you a limited amount, but all the authors who have so far been involved have managed to distil a wealth of knowledge and information into the space and word count available. These are not so much books to study in depth, but rather bullet points to use as inspiration and to jump off from. Even the most experienced artist should find the uncomplicated approach refreshing for the creative spirit.

Hazel Soan is, it hardly needs to be said, one of the most experienced and instructive authors there is. Unsurprisingly, therefore, this is quite simply one of the best guides to landscape painting you’ll find. No, it’s not a complete course and yes, you might want one of those as well. However, just when you’re feeling dispirited and bogged down, this will cheer you up immensely. Hazel has made a few films; her sheer enthusiasm shines throughout those and you can even feel it off the page. She loves what she does and wants you to love it too – and you will.

Shall I tell you what’s here? In detail, no. Trust me – it’s everything you want to know wrapped up in a few short paragraphs that’ll enhance your understanding in a way it’s perhaps never experienced before. Wonderful.

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DVD Tonal Watercolours || Amanda Hyatt

“Tone does all the work, colour gets all the glory”, Amanda rather helpfully sums up at the start of this varied film. It is, she goes on to explain, about light rather than colour, using highlights, shade and contrast to give shape to a two dimensional representation of a three dimensional scene.

It is both helpful and unhelpful that the weather is somewhat stormy. Helpful in the sense that there’s plenty of variety and drama, less so in that bright highlights are hard to come by. Then again, it gives Amanda a chance to demonstrate how to create something almost out of nothing and to work with what you have. In the overview discussion at the end of the film, there’s a genuine sense of “I really don’t remember it being like that at all”, as what looked flat at the time springs off the paper in a really rather dramatic way.

There are four demonstrations. The first, a simple Kentish landscape, provides a chance to work with skies and for Amanda to remark “don’t be tempted to go back into it, let it do its own thing”. Here, the wash provides the anchor that holds the rest of the work together, balanced by fore- and middle grounds. The main feature is a patch of light that runs through the centre of the scene and provides a path for the eye as well as a balance for the left and right sides.

Two paintings at Ramsgate harbour are exercises in planning and simplification. “Everything’s difficult, that’s what I like about art”, Amanda says as she works with a complex subject, changing light and blustery wind. Her main theme here is about identifying points of interest and leaving the eye to fill in details that are only suggested – “I haven’t tried to paint all the boats”.

A dramatic sky at Reculver comes with many challenges and, ignoring her previous advice to leave things alone, Amanda re-works this one several times to get the right contrast between dark and light clouds, the foreground and the bright stone of the Roman towers themselves. Again, careful consideration of light and dark produces an exciting result.

The final demonstration, at Whitstable, introduces figures as well as buildings and boats. As befits Amanda’s impressionistic style, these are suggested, but add an extra dimension not present in the previous work. Her approach can be summed up in the remark, “it’s an impression of a building, it doesn’t have to be correct”, the point being that the viewer’s eye will see both what it wants and what the art guides it towards.

This is an intriguing film, both in terms of what’s painted and how to overcome difficult and changing conditions. “You can achieve a lot with a few colours”.

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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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