Archive for category Medium: Watercolour

Light and Shade in Watercolour || Hazel Soan

Hazel Soan’s work is all about light and shade and this is the book she was always destined to write. If it seems like a long time coming, think of her previous output as the rehearsal that makes sure this is absolutely right. And absolutely right it is, a genuine tour de force that takes in light and dark, the white of the paper, contrasting and complementary colours and the use of simple shapes that say far more about a subject than any amount of fine detail. Look at any of the images here in depth and it becomes apparent just how much Hazel leaves out, relying instead on the viewer’s eye to fill the blanks and create the emotional response that defines a successful painting.

The book covers animals, figures, flowers, landscapes, buildings and townscapes, all in a variety of lighting effects that Hazel will show you how to capture. There are no step-by-step demonstrations, but neither is this a dry read; most of the text is confined to short paragraphs. Like the images themselves, these are stripped back to the bare essentials while, at the same time conveying all the information you need. Where necessary, extended captions explain what you’re looking at and for and there’s an extraordinary sense of working alongside a consummate artist, rather than simply being set homework to present later.

Hazel is a rightly popular author and demonstrator and this is easily her best book yet.

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Jean Haines’ Atmospheric Flowers in Watercolour

Jean Haines’ work is approaching a form of abstraction. Extreme looseness and the extensive use of washes has led to images that are more about shapes and colour than they are about form. In the wrong hands, this leads all too easily to confusion, and not just in the mind of the viewer – the artist themselves can lose sight of their vision and thus the ability to communicate.

This has not happened with Jean and the paintings here are always recognisable even if they are about as far from botanical illustration as it is possible to get. At the same time, the essence of not just flower, but species is retained and you get the sense of a plant growing in the wild, dancing in the breeze and seen with the lack of distinction brought on by distance. When Jean is painting figures, it’s natural to say that she captures character and soul. While that’s not such an obvious factor with flowers, it’s hard not to make the comparison. This is what flowers are about more than what they are.

But this is also a practical book and we must therefore ask the questions: can you re-create this and would you want to emulate the highly individual style of another artist? The answer to the first is simple: Jean is very good at explaining her working methods, so the lessons and demonstrations are admirably clear. Technically, it can certainly be done. As to the more creative question, well, if you follow the book, you’ll end up with a copy, but you’ll also learn how to see, think and interpret, so you can develop your own approaches. I think that’s an entirely reasonable aim and falls well within the scope of what the book is about.

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Five-Minute Watercolour || Samantha Nielsen

This is not – praise be – a book about painting for those who are too busy to paint. I’ve ranted about that elsewhere: art is something that takes time and deserves to have time taken.

No, this is far better. It’s about working quickly and grabbing the idea before it fades and then not over-working it so that the soul of the subject and the painting are lost. It’s not a particularly new idea and you could call it sketching, except that it’s more than that because it’s more than a notebook. This is about seeing, interpreting and distilling.

There’s a wealth of ideas, subjects and techniques here and plenty to pick up and run with. The illustrations are attractive (essential given what’s being presented) and, although Samantha analyses them, they’re not demonstrations and you’re not intended to copy them. You should instead go out and find your own ideas, but what’s here will give you plenty of inspiration and jumping-off points.

There are plenty of books like this and they usually end up with a qualification – yes, but … it only goes so far. Not so here. It’s a rather joyful book and provides a wealth of encouragement.

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Botanical Artistry || Julia Trickey

This really rather beautiful collection of images from an award-winning botanical artist isn’t just about flowers, but looks at dying and damaged leaves as well as fruit and fading blooms. All these are an important part of botanical illustration as few specimens are perfect in real life. In the right hands, they can, as we see here, be things of considerable beauty.

This isn’t an instructional book, but Julia includes handy observations on what she was looking for and why many of the particular subjects were chosen. If you’re a student of botanical art, these insights will be both fascinating and a valuable way of learning how to develop you own skills in the company of an accomplished professional.

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In Bloom || Rachel Reinert

This simple guide contains outlines that will enable you to practise flower painting quickly and easily. The subtitle refers to “florals”, an American term I have always understood to refer to more elaborate flower arrangements, rather than single blooms or stems. Here, however, it is the latter that are to the fore, which is good if you are a beginner in the field.

The subtitle also refers to drawing and what you’re presented with is a series of increasingly detailed printed outlines with the instructions in short captions. As an exercise in copying, it’s fine, but I’m not sure how much you’d actually learn by working through its varied contents – there’s no question that the covering is comprehensive.

Of more use are the last dozen pages, which deal with colour and do manage to pack a good amount of information in. I’m not sure, though, that this would justify the price of the book, or that there’s information you couldn’t get – albeit in a less concise form – elsewhere.

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Matthew Palmer’s Step-by-Step Guide to Watercolour Painting

There is always room for a good solid introduction to any subject, and this is one of the best on watercolour.

Just picking it up gives an immediate and encouragingly meaty feel. It’s substantial at 144 pages and, with the added outlines in the middle, really quite heavy. Physical feel, of course, means nothing if the content is lightweight and it’s good to know that there’s plenty here to get your teeth into. We open with a good discussion of materials that will aid the tyro though the maze of what’s available before moving on to a look at inspiration. This is the basic “what am I going to paint and where am I going to find it”, but the language used is serious and assumes that the reader is too. It’s nice to see at this level and this early in the book. Again, it inspires and engenders confidence.

After a look at basic techniques and how to use colour, the first exercise appears as early as page 38. Art is a visual medium and there’s nothing worse than having to wade through acres of talk before you get to work. You want to paint, you bought all those materials so come on, let’s get down to it – and we do. Nothing too taxing: it’s a very basic scene of some hills with a simple foreground and a graduated sky. Follow the six stages, each with its own series of steps and you’d be hard put to it to get it wrong. Look, your first painting, on day one. Way to go!

The rest of the book introduces more subjects, techniques and complexity. It’s beautifully structured, thoroughly explained and very easy to follow. And, in case you get stuck, there are the aforesaid tracings that help you get the basic sketch right. Build on solid foundations and the structure will stand.

I really don’t think you could better this.

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The Paint Pad Artist (Watercolour Landscapes || Grahame Booth/Watercolour Flowers || Julie King)

This new series builds on the theme of the hugely successful Ready to Paint books and provides outlines pre-printed on watercolour paper. I’ve looked for a watermark, but can’t find one, so it’s very much a take-it-as-it-is option. This shouldn’t matter, however, as these are very much aimed at the beginner and, as long as the material doesn’t have any particularly difficult characteristics, just having it there ready to use should be fine. You still have to provide your own paint and brushes, of course, but there’s a handy list of What You Need in the concise but informative introductory section to each book. Given the level of skill this is aimed at, getting the right balance between thoroughness and not being so detailed as to be off-putting is a difficult thing to judge. The decision here has been to start on practical work as soon as possible and develop skills there.

The core of each book is a series of six projects with detailed step-by-step-illustrations. There’s plenty of hand-holding and a very real sense of having a guide and tutor at your shoulder throughout. A nice touch is the suggestion of making copies of the outlines so that you can practice and repeat the exercises without the pressure of having to get it right first time or waste the material provided. This is advice any newcomer would be advised to follow as (spoiler alert), art isn’t something you can pick up in a few minutes.

There’s much to like here, quite apart from the approach and presentation. The books are spiral bound inside a substantial hard cover and the attention to detail includes an elasticated band that holds the whole thing together in the manner of a portfolio. It’s very professionally done and makes the student feel both taken, and that they’re taking it all, seriously.

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