Archive for category Publisher: Batsford

Maps of London and Beyond || Adam Dant

This rather wonderful synthesis of cartography, art and social comment is both beautiful and intriguing. Its large format allows the reader to savour fully the attention to detail and the stories that Adam Dant has to tell. We begin, for instance, with a series of maps showing four stages of the development of Shoreditch, that now achingly trendy hipster enclave, but which has had what might be termed a chequered history. The captions explain what has been lost and what has appeared, the style of each map reflecting that of the period it covers, from the rural area of Tudor times to its modern incarnation.

This is not, though, conventional map-making and London Enraged – a map of the riots from AD60 to the present comes as an explosion surrounding a central colossus. The Centrally Planned London Underground is, entirely fittingly, circular, but without captions or station names and with the symbols looking even more like the electrical circuit diagram that inspired Harry Beck’s original. London Digested, a simplified layout, comes as an anatomical dissection.

Although this is a book probably best appreciated by those with some connection to London, the inventiveness and jeu d’esprit of the artworks reflects Adam’s imagination. It’s a book to pick up again and again for the joy of discovering new angles and details.

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Learn Colour in Painting Quickly || Hazel Soan

This excellently-conceived series has proved that it is possible not only to learn quickly, but that the unadorned approach is often the way to go. I’m always at least a little sceptical of such claims simply because something that can be a lifetime’s study can’t be mastered in a few minutes. However, I have to concede that getting to grips with the basics is something where speed can be a considerable help. Getting bogged down at the start is not only unhelpful, but positively discouraging to efforts to proceed.

Colour is, of course, the artist’s stock-in-trade, at once the vocabulary and grammar of the language of painting. Those for whom it’s second nature wonder at the number of books about it but, for all that, there are perfectly capable painters who struggle, at least at the outset. However, once you grasp the idea that the basic concept is really quite simple and that a lot of the difficulties are self-imposed, everything becomes much clearer.

Hazel is a master of colour in all its forms and, following the series format, shows plenty of examples linked with just enough words to make sure you know and understand what you’re looking at. She explains colour theory in practice (which means as little explanation and theory as possible) as well as demonstrating ways of creating light, shade, form, tone and hue.

I’m tempted to say that this is the complete guide, but of course it isn’t, and doesn’t pretend to be. It is, however, the complete introduction and you might find that what it teaches you is enough for you to be able to learn the rest for yourself, and that’s a heck of an achievement.

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Learn Acrylics Quickly || Soraya French

This series from Batsford is shaping up nicely. The key to its success is to use authors who are at home with larger books, rather than to assume that, because the format is simple, the approach can be too. In fact, it’s quite the opposite and simplicity requires greater communication skill than does complexity.

Soraya French has a pleasant, approachable and colourful style that suits the medium well. The series method is to concentrate on illustrations, explain them with straightforward captions and link them with concise paragraphs that carry the narrative and the reader forward and retain their interest.

There’s plenty here, from different types of acrylic to colours and colour mixing, working methods and a good range of subjects. If you want to get started, this will live up to its title and get you producing worthwhile results with a minimum of fuss. The more experienced student might also find it a handy source of recapping and revision.

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John Blockley – a retrospective || Ann Blockley

John Blockley was one of the founders of modern watercolour and his muscular style reflects not just the form of the landscape but its texture.

Relatively little of his work has been seen in print: The Challenge of Watercolour, published in 1979, had the customary few colour plates and 1987’s Watercolour Interpretations was more inclusive, although the quality of reproduction, even by then, was not up to modern standards. John also ran courses and contributed regularly to The Artist magazine. His reputation during his lifetime was considerable but he has, inevitably, faded from view somewhat since his death in 2002.

This beguiling retrospective is therefore important on several fronts. Firstly, it brings John’s work to a new audience. It also plays a part in showing the development of watercolour painting since the 1970s and, in particular, puts the work of John’s daughter Ann in context. Best, though, the superb reproduction makes his work available in all its glory to a wider audience for the first time. Originals are relatively hard to find and a book is as close as many of us will get.

This is really quite a revelation. The richness of John’s use of colour and the vigorous nature of his brushwork at last become apparent. Ann has also included sketches that show her father’s sensitive and perceptive use of line and how he could create form from just a few marks.

I really hope this book does well and gets the attention it deserves. It’s tempting to say that it’s a brave publication sixteen years after the artist’s death, given that his reputation was to such a large extent gleaned from teaching and writing. It certainly should be read by anyone who cares about the practice of watercolour because it shows just what the medium can achieve and why it is by no means a poor relation to the often more seriously-regarded oils.

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John Piper || Darren Pih

This nicely-produced and eminently-affordable introduction to John Piper’s work was produced to accompany an exhibition at Tate Liverpool. It stands, nevertheless, on its own and contains a representative selection of pieces that range throughout Piper’s career and includes useful guides to his various periods and artistic directions. If you were looking for a primer rather than a more comprehensive but expensive survey, this would fit the bill very well.

The book is arranged chronologically and moves from the early, quintessentially British landscapes to Piper’s interest in abstraction. It also takes account of his work across a variety of media, including printmaking, ceramics, collage and stained glass and includes his work as a Second World War artist.

With a text that covers writings and interviews, the book provides an insight into not just the works, but also the creative processes behind them and, within its self-imposed limitations, is remarkably complete.

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Ann Blockley’s Watercolour Workshop

This is one of Ann’s most practical books to date and one where she shares many of her working methods. It is not a painting manual in the wider sense, but rather an introduction to her unique style and a jumping-off point for your own creative endeavours. Although Ann has included step-by-step demonstrations, the intention is never that you should copy slavishly with emulation as an end in itself, but rather that, by understanding the technical process, you will learn about the thought process that go into the finished result.

To this end, there is considerable discussion of approaches and interpretation, with simple subjects portrayed in different ways, with no single one being “right”, but merely suitable for the impression you are trying to create. As you work through the projects that are at the heart of the book, you’ll be encouraged to explore further avenues by adding other mediums, varying the palette or even the use of collage – something at which Ann is particularly adept and which can produce amazing results.

At all times, although Ann explains the technical background to what she is doing, the emphasis is on the art, the result and how it relates to the subject. This does not have to be – indeed rarely is – purely representational and a final chapter on Towards Abstraction will expand your horizons even further.

This is every inch a classic Ann Blockley book and will appeal instantly to her many fans. Broadening the scope, however, should add to their number.

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Masterclass in Colour || Meriel Thurstan & Rosie Martin

Here’s something completely different from Meriel & Rosie. After their really quite advanced books on painting flowers and natural subjects, this is altogether simpler. Simpler, in fact, than the title implies – I’m really not sure how the word “masterclass” got in there and I’m concerned it might frighten a few people off. Colour has a reputation for being difficult, you see. In many ways, the subtitle defines it better: “a colouring workbook of techniques and inspiration”.

The premise is simple enough. There are outlines that you can colour in – you could do it right there on the printed page if you want – with instructions that’ll show you how to build up tints and shading quickly and reliably. The authors suggest that you can use coloured pencils, watercolour pencils, watercolour paint or felt tips, which gives you a good choice of materials. As a primer on how colours work in an image, this is really easy to follow – to the extent that I really do think you could master it from this book alone (which doesn’t quite make a masterclass, he quibbled!)

The subjects are, as you’d probably expect, flowers and plants, and the page size is generous so that you get images that you can see and work with. It’s rather clever, too, in catching on to the popularity of adult colouring books, but teaching at the same time. Yes, it’s instructional, but fun too.

Meriel & Rosie have a reputation for hitting the nail on the head, and this won’t dent it at all.

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