Archive for category Publisher: Batsford

Experimental Coasts in Mixed Media || Mike Bernard with Susie Hodge

Mike Bernard’s approach to mixed media is well known by now and involves quite a lot of collage. It’s probably therefore fair to say that this is a book that will have instant appeal to his many followers, although it is by no means a closed shop and there is plenty of explanation of materials and techniques that will instruct those new to the form.

There is always a danger with mixed media that it becomes an end in itself, ignoring the basic tenets of creativity. Here, though, the starting point is always the subject – how it appears, what it tells the artist and what they can then say about it to the viewer. The opening sections, for example, are Motivation, Inspiration, Location and Focal Point. The next chapter covers the palette, which is where the choice of materials comes in, but also includes a section on “releasing the inner child” (basically, looking and seeing anew). This is followed by a chapter on Creative Techniques, so we’re quickly back with ideas rather than methods.

Mike’s way of working is largely instinctive. This is probably true of any artist who has extensive experience, but he has a broad range of materials and techniques available to him that encourage a keen analytical eye, which this book will help you to develop too.

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Contemporary Flowers in Mixed Media || Soraya French

When a publisher uses the word “contemporary” in a title, it can all too often mean “we’re not quite sure about this one, it’s a bit off the wall and perhaps not quite what we had in mind”. Mixed media can have multiple meanings too, from the artist using a bit of gouache or maybe pastel here and there to frankly alarming amounts of collage.

It’s therefore a pleasure to be able to report that this is a thoroughly thought through guide to flower painting that fits well into the Impressionist wing of the art and sometimes even borders on abstraction. These are flowers as they appeal to the emotions rather than as botanical specimens. You’d expect no less from Soraya French. “When working on personal projects”, she says, “I am careful not to let the analytical side stifle the intuitive process”. Amen, I think we can say, to that.

Although this is a relatively short book, it packs in a lot of analysis, wisdom and creative ideas, all concisely expressed and thoroughly illustrated. There are musings (I think that’s the right word) about the properties of media: watercolour, gouache, acrylic, inks and oils as well as dry media, and quite a lot about colour, light and palettes. This is entirely appropriate as the book itself is the proverbial riot of colour that’s often applied to gardens.

The whole thing is about exploration, both creative and technical – Soraya talks quite a lot about mediums, for instance, but also examines shades, tints, complementary colours and colour harmony.

I honestly think this is, as much as anything else, a book that will lift your spirits (and don’t we need that right now?) as much as teach you about painting. I’m not a flower painter, but I’m itching to have a go just looking at it.

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Contemporary Figures in Watercolour || Leo Crane

This is not conventional figure painting, but the subtitle – speed, gesture and story – provides a clue to what it is really about.

The images that Leo Crane, working with model Roy Joseph Butler, produces are not likenesses in the portraiture sense, but rather accounts of the dynamic nature of the human form. It’s an interesting and logical approach, but also quite shocking at first glance. Indeed, pick this up and look through it quickly and there’s a fair likelihood that you’ll put it straight back on the shelf. The illustrations are by no means immediately attractive, either by their shape or the bright and often clashing colours Roy uses.

Stay a bit longer and delve a bit deeper, though, and it all starts to make sense. We’re back with the subtitle. These are figures in movement – if they were photographs, a slow shutter speed would have been used. They have a depth that goes behind the eyes, there’s character and, yes, a story. These people have personality, not just appearance. Some of the images are almost completely abstract and represent glimpses of movement, rather like a Zoescope or a flick book taken at half speed. Particularly interesting is the use of contrasting colours and tones to achieve this and the ways in which, although initially shocking, the results are also completely natural.

When I first opened this, I didn’t know what to make of it, but I’ve had to get into it in order to write about it. It’s taken a while, but I totally get it and now I love it. It’s a very different approach that, even if you don’t follow to the letter, will inform your figure painting probably for ever.

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Creativity Through Nature || Ann Blockley

Every so often, any creative person needs to go through a reset, in which they re-assess their vision, methods and output. Ann’s has come as a result of the planet crisis and has involved considering whether she wanted to continue painting at all. I’m honestly not sure that giving up watercolours will produce the climate stasis we require, but fortunately the final outcome for Ann was an artistic rather than a material reconsideration.

What we have here, therefore, is a in-depth examination of the creative process that has also resulted in her relocating to Devon from Gloucestershire, giving her new landscapes to look at and a change of working atmosphere.

It’s a thoroughly stimulating book that’s entirely about inspiration and creativity without really considering technical processes at all. While this can be desirable for the individual, it’s something that can be as exciting for the viewer as watching the proverbial paint dry. You can’t, after all, easily demonstrate what goes on inside your head. Please note, though, that I said “easily”, because that’s exactly what Ann has done and the result is completely gripping.

There are no demonstrations or exercises here, but rather subjects, themes and ideas, with examples of how they were transferred to images on paper. You’ve probably always wanted to know the thought, intellectual and, dare I say it, mindful processes that Ann uses to create what she does and you can actually see them at work here. It really works rather well.

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Watercolour Landscapes || Richard Taylor

This is not a new book or, rather, it is not new material, having appeared as a subject-based series some twenty years ago. It is all the more remarkable then, that both the style and the presentation remain fresh. If it was all new, I’d be praising the style, layout and presentation as highly as I could. So I will – clearly it was ahead of its time.

It’s not a little impressive that, being a bind-up with, as far as I can see, little if any re-editing, this fits together seamlessly. It’s possible that the individual volumes each had materials and techniques sections – if so, these have sensibly been moved to the start and agglomerated. This part alone is so good that I could easily recommend the whole book just for this introduction to watercolour basics. Richard is not only a good painter, but an excellent presenter of his material who knows exactly what to leave out as much as what needs to be included.

This skill is characteristic of the rest of the book. What are now chapters cover hills & mountains, skies & clouds, forests & woodlands and lakes & rivers – all the main landscape elements – presented in exactly the way you’d expect from any general guide. Shapes, texture, colour and perspective are all covered, but mostly within wider demonstrations rather than separate topics. Even when there are individual lessons, such as the use of cool neutrals, the examples are little works of art in their own right – this simply never feels like dry schoolwork.

This is a thick book with no fewer than 368 pages. That would normally be a matter for comment, with things harder to see and pages difficult to handle, but it actually makes the weight manageable and using a softer binding means that the book falls open easily without being forced. Counter-intuitively, it becomes a pleasure to handle. Well done all round.

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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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Mixed Media Landscapes and Seascapes || Chris Forsey

If you’re into mixed media, or Alison C Board’s excellent introduction has whetted your appetite, you’ll welcome this thorough guide to landscapes.

Chris works in watercolour, oil, ink, acrylic and pastel and he shows you here how to create what can only be called dynamic images by judicious combinations of some or all of them. From the simple application of gouache to highlight breaking waves to a summer lane done in watersoluble and oil pastel, Chris demonstrates ways of capturing atmosphere through careful use of materials. He is particularly sound on the use of texture to create form and pick out highlights.

The book itself has a good mixture of discussion, exercises and demonstrations. Chris will show you what you’re trying to achieve, allow you to practise the effects you want and then move on to a full demonstration that brings everything together nicely.

There’s plenty of variety here and a host of illustrations that make everything clear and easy to follow. My only complaint is that some of the reproduction is a little unsharp, making it difficult to see some of the detail when that’s what you really want.

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Rosie Sanders’ Roses

Let’s be clear what this is not. It is not a book about painting roses. However, if you love flowers in general – and roses in particular – it’s likely to be high on your shopping list. If you’re here, it’s because you’re interested in art and it ticks those boxes too. These are stunning paintings and a joy to look at. The large format and excellent reproduction make this easily possible and, even though this is not instructional, it’s likely you could learn a lot simply from its example.

It’s a big book, but not an unmanageable one and the sheer scale of the illustrations hits you squarely in the eye. If you like images that dominate and leap out at you, this will be a delight. It’s a bit like the contrast between seeing a film at the cinema and on television – one is just there, the other has to be peered at.

As well as the images, there’s a nice introduction that looks at the rose in history, religion, medicine and myth. As much as the main matter of the book isn’t about how to paint, neither is this for the horticultural specialist – the whole thing is aimed squarely at the interested general reader. While I had this in the office awaiting review, I lent it to a friend who’s a keen gardener and she absolutely covets it. That’s the effect it has.

Where I do have an issue is with the handwritten captions. The writing hand isn’t the easiest thing to read and the fact that the publisher has chosen to reproduce it halftone (ie in the four process colours of printing, broken down into dots) rather than line (solid black) does nothing to improve this. Yes, it’s a small quibble, but there are quite a lot of these captions and it adds a degree of difficulty to what is otherwise an effortless book.

For all that, it’s a stunning piece of work and one well worth more than a passing glance.

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Learn Flower Painting Quickly || Trevor Waugh

This excellent series continues apace, bringing with it a welcome return by Trevor Waugh, whose loose, evocative style is admirably suited to a book where fine-detail work is not the main criterion.

Loose washes and broad brushwork create flowers that are about shape, colour and impression rather than botanical illustration. If this is what you want to do, you’ll feel right at home. Similarly, if for you flowers are more of an adjunct to a larger painting, you’ll be glad of the lack of intricate work with small brushes and of botanical information that’s irrelevant to you.

As is the series style, instruction is by example, with the text being mainly confined to guiding you through what you’re seeing. Exercises and demonstrations are short, but there’s plenty of information on shape, colour and composition, as well as foliage and backgrounds.

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Painting Nature’s Details || Meriel Thurstan and Rosie Martin

This was originally published in 2009 as Natural History Painting With The Eden Project and has now been reissued in paperback.

You can read my original review here.

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