Archive for category Publisher: A&C Black

The Painter’s Studio Handbook || Simon Fletcher

This is the sort of book I haven’t seen in perhaps twenty years. A book about the materials and equipment of painting rather than the methods of using them, other than in the most rudimentary way. And I’d have to say that the genre has come a long way in that time, with clear, full-colour illustrations that show you not only the items themselves, but also examples of the sort of results they can produce.

Flicking through, it all looks very attractive, but there’s no great sense of unity or of a theme emerging. The problem with it is that Simon assumes that your first action as an artist is going to be to equip a studio with everything you need to work in every single medium. Given that most artists start on their kitchen table, this isn’t very likely. The blurb says that he, “teaches masterclasses in drawing, pastels and watercolour at various academies in Europe and at his studio in France” and I think you have it there. If you were going to set up a teaching establishment, this book would tell you everything you need to know about equipping it. The trouble is, if you were doing that, you’d have your own very firm ideas already and I don’t think you’d need this book, or even consider someone else’s layout.

The blurb also says that the book is “a complete resource for all artists working in oils, acrylics, pastel, chalk or ink”. Up to a point, as I think I’ve demonstrated. It’s not, you see, a book about how to work in all these media, which very few people want to do anyway.

Sorry, but I can’t help feeling this is misplaced. I also can find little trace of the quoted “eight books about watercolour and pastel” Simon Fletcher has apparently written.

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The Complete Guide to Spinning Yarn || Brenda Gibson

That this is a packaged book rather than a Black’s original is immediately apparent (if you know what you’re looking for) from the fact that it’s design rather than content-led. This isn’t necessarily (or even) a bad thing, but it does affect the way you approach and use the book.

Speaking as one who’s not qualified to comment on the value or accuracy of the contents, I can nevertheless say that it offers an easy way into the subject, with each yarn type being given a single spread in typical Quarto (they’re the people behind it) fashion.

I suspect that this is a book for the beginner and dabbler rather than the seasoned expert but, like all these things, a simple overview can sometimes bring new insights, so I’d never recommend that anyone passes them by without at least a glance.

The layout progresses from equipment – the sections on spindles and wheels are nicely simple and concise – to techniques such as carding, spinning in a variety of ways, skein making and then to the “recipes”, which discuss the merits and uses of a wide variety of yarn types. Finally, there is a series of projects, with full instructions and also a section on professional approaches if you decide to try making a living at the craft.

If this was something I was interested in and wanted to develop as a beginner, I’d feel this had given me a good start.

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The Art of Perspective || Yves LeBlanc

Books on perspective always suffer from the fact that they look incredibly technical. There’s no real way round this because it’s necessary to know how lines and planes project towards a putative vanishing point.

Over the years, various books have attempted to get round this. Occasionally, someone tries omitting the diagrams altogether and the result leaves you knowing less that when you started. Others, like Gwen White’s excellent manual, aim themselves at the technical drawing market and just go for it. Overall, the middle way, with as many example drawings as possible and simplified line-work, generally works as well as it can.

This book falls somewhere between the middle and let-it-all-hang-out ways. The diagrams are all there, but so are the drawings. I think that you have to want to take perspective pretty seriously (and there’s a convincing argument that says you should) to be both prepared and able to get to grips with this. However, it’s all broken down into relatively digestible bite-size chunks and, as long as you proceed at a fairly steady pace, you should find yourself getting somewhere.

One of the most user-friendly books on perspective is the same publisher’s The Art of Perspective by Janet Shearer. This uses specially taken photographs to illustrate what is going on and is probably the best place to start a study of the subject. The book under review here, though, picks the baton up and takes it a lot further.

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Setting Up A Successful Jewellery Business || Angie Boothroyd

This is another in Black’s occasional series that looks at the business side of art and craft.

It could be said that a business is a business and that it doesn’t really matter what you do within it. The basic principles of premises, staff, marketing, costing and record keeping are all the same. It’s also true that it’s as important that you run your business well as it is that you’re good at the process it supports. Make stunning products but fail to control your costs or get behind with your tax returns and the business will fail as surely as if your work is rubbish but your records exemplary.

So, do you need a book on running a jewellery business, or just a good accountant? Well, the truth is that it’s a lot easier to understand the common requirements when they’re presented in the context of what you’re familiar with than it is if they’re just abstract. If you make jewellery, it’s unlikely you’ll be setting up any other business, so it makes sense to buy this book rather than any other. And, anyway, what you learn in this context will apply if you turn your hand to pottery (more or less) and you can apply the lessons you’ve already learnt.

There’s plenty of meat here and Angie Boothroyd starts from the very beginning – whether to be a limited company or a sole trader, choosing a name, opening a bank account, etc. She also gives a helpful list of the things you absolutely need, such as a workplace, a computer and business cards. Those new to business have a tendency to over-invest in this area, so this is a particularly useful section and could save you a lot of wasted money.

From here, Angie looks at pricing, including wholesale versus retail, an important area to consider if you’re going to get maximum value or if you’re planning to sell to other outlets. Once again, beginners often make the mistake of under-pricing at the outset and this can hamper later development.

In the section on selling she looks at the various markets, including individual sales, fairs and the development of a website and thus online sales. Under the heading of presentation she offers sound advice on branding – giving yourself a recognisable identity – and the PR that protects and develops it. The final section covers the basic business skills of time and money management.

All-in-all, this is a nicely worked guide that should give you the confidence to start your own business without making many of the easily-made and elementary errors that bedevil the inexperienced. At £12.99, it’s excellent value, will probably pay for itself if the first few minutes, and could be your first business expense. Actually, the sale-or-return agreement in the sample documents at the back probably merits the cost alone.

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Practical Mixed-Media Printmaking Techniques || Sarah Riley

Black’s have always had a strong line in books on printmaking and this welcome addition looks at ways of working with a variety of low-cost materials.

Printmaking is a very technical medium, and I’m not really qualified to comment on the quality of the advice offered here, but I can say that the book is nicely produced and copiously illustrated and that there is a nice progress from relatively simple instruction to consideration of the work of a variety of practitioners in the field.

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Mixed Messages – the versatility of collage || Ann Manie

Collage has always been a hard sell in the amateur art market and I’m tempted to say that this contribution isn’t going to make it any easier. That’s a bit unfair and we’ll come to why later.

The problem collage has is its primary school associations. It’s hard enough to get leisure-time artists to consider coloured pencils; and show them any sort of oil-based crayon and they similarly run screaming for the hills. There have, though, been some successes with mixed media (meaning more than just watercolour with a subtle hint of pastel) in recent years, notably the popularity of Mike Bernard’s book. All of this means that it may be possible, eventually, to show that collage is capable of excellent and striking results.

I don’t think, as I hinted before, that this is going to be the breakthrough book though, because most of the work illustrated is probably a little too avant garde for the domestic reader unless they have a predisposed interest. However, if you’re adventurous, you’ll welcome this. Ann Manie provides a good survey of what’s going on at the present time, illustrating works by many contemporary practitioners from around the world. She also examines practicalities and working methods and provides a historical introduction to the medium.

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Contemporary Weaving Patterns || Margo Selby

Once again, this is a Quarto package and therefore aimed more at the beginner or intermediate end of the market than the professionals who often benefit from Black’s list. And, again, I don’t mean that as a criticism.

Basically it’s a recipe book for the weaver, with the patterns shown two-per-page along with accompanying pattern grids. I don’t know anything about weaving, but I assume this is all you need. Introductory sections cover yarns, textures and techniques, all fairly briefly.

From the layout, I’m assuming that this is aimed at those who have a basic practical knowledge and are looking for design ideas – much as you’d expect from a book of knitting patterns. There’s plenty here to work from and with, and the whole thing looks well thought-out and presented.

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Photograph Your Own Art and Craft || Susie Ahlburg

If only they’d left “your own” out of the title! The fact of the matter is that this is a book for photographers and not for artists who just want to record their work. It’s perfectly true that, to get top-quality results, you need a studio and a lot of expensive equipment; this much becomes apparent as you progress. In reality, probably the most useful section is the two pages at the end on “Commissioning a professional photographer”. If you want the sort of results that are illustrated, that’s the best thing you can do.

I do happen to believe that there is a need for a basic guide to recording artworks that’s aimed at creative people who want the best quality record they can achieve – but who can’t afford or can’t justify calling in a professional – but the reality is that it could probably be covered in a couple of magazine articles. It’s just a question of realising the limitations of your equipment, using the best light you can find and – please – getting the damn thing in focus.

As a photographer myself, I gained a great deal from this book and also found much to admire. If you want to look at good quality images of mostly 3-dimensional objects (there’s nothing here for painters), there are plenty to choose from. As examples of the sort of results you’d be looking for from a professional, they’re also invaluable, but it soon becomes apparent that even a keen amateur is going to have trouble matching them. As a photographer, I was also able to understand the technical stuff which is, to be fair, explained very simply. However, when I showed the book to someone with little technical expertise (but a good eye for a picture), they were completely at sea – something I did to confirm what I already suspected.

I am also concerned by some of the content. In the context of what the book purports to be, the section on the use of film can only be seen as a digression – film may have its attractions for the specialist but, for the simple purposes of record, it’s now so difficult to get processed that it’s really not practical. Additionally, some of the equipment illustrated looks a little dated and I can’t help wondering whether the book hasn’t been hanging around for a while. There are also some statements that really need to come with a health warning, such as “lenses for SLR film cameras are interchangeable with lenses for digital SLR cameras as long as they have the same lens mount” – yes, but also as long as they have the same set of electrical connections, or the auto-focus and, more importantly, the auto-exposure systems won’t work. Stick an old lens on a modern camera and you’ll need a separate light meter at least – assuming you can get the camera to work at all; they can be a bit picky.

As an introduction to photographing artworks, the book has quite a lot to recommend it although, because it so quickly falls into the realms of the specialist, much of the basic information, such as the (commendably clear) explanation of depth of field, is going to be superfluous. Once we get to the practical considerations of lighting, backgrounds and composition, everything gets onto a more sure footing and the student of photography may find themselves well informed. I think we’ll have lost the artists by that point, however.

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Reinventing Screenprinting || Caspar Williamson

Screenprinting is one of those media that hang on in the digital age because they have a genuine craft feel rather than the detachment that computer work can give; a bit like airbrushing or film photography. Whereas they were once the province of the commercial artist, they’re now being increasingly taken up (or reclaimed) by the purely creative fraternity.

The subtitle of this timely look at what’s been going on sums it up completely: Inspirational pieces by contemporary practitioners. The bulk of the book is taken up with examples of work from around the world, with notes explaining the background to the pieces reproduced. There’s also a handy Short History at the beginning which is brief enough not to bother those who know, but long enough to give those less familiar with it an idea of what they’re looking at. Much the same can be said of Screenprinting in Practice. In three pages it isn’t going to tell you how to go about making your own prints, but it does give a hint to the processes involved.

As an introduction to what screenprinting can do and what’s going on around the world at the moment, this can’t be faulted. I might wish for a larger format, though, and maybe a paper stock that didn’t knock the colours back quite so much.

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Making Great Illustration || Derek Brazell & Jo Davies

This exquisitely produced survey of contemporary work and workers in the field of illustration provides a cornucopia of images showing what’s going on in the world at the moment. With over 250 illustrations, there really is something for everyone.

The book is organised by types of work, so that you get chapters on Design and Advertising, Editorial and Political, and Fashion as well as the more technical areas of Typography and Graphic Literature. Each chapter is introduced by agents and clients within the relevant field, thus providing a buyer’s perspective from organisations such as The Conran Shop and the New York Times. In an avowedly commercial field, such a view is invaluable and adds much to the book’s appeal.

Within the chapters, the authors showcase the work of a huge variety of practitioners including Quentin Blake, Oliver Jeffers and Ronald Searle.

This is a heavyweight and authoritative volume that says pretty much all there is to be said on its subject and it’s worth noting that the standard of production even extends to the way it lays open in your hands, allowing the whole of a double-page spread to be seen without the need to force the spine. Close it up, put in on the shelf and it’ll look as good as new.

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