Archive for category Publisher: CICO Books

The Knitted Odd-bod Bunch || Donna Wilson

It is quite a joy in itself just to have a quick flick through this book to look at the 35 different little characters you can create. Each has a name and its own personality which makes them all the more lovable. As a novice knitter it’s great to see easy to follow but comprehensive instructions in the back of the book covering the styles of knit and methods used, covering everything you need to know from casting on to casting off, plus everything in between. Instructions for knitting each creature are set out clearly with a step-by-step guide to ensure your kooky animal is perfect. With some characters more complicated than others you can start more simply, building your confidence as you go and work your way up to the more fiddly and elaborate designs. With knitting becoming a hipper pastime, the relevance of a book which shows you how to make quirky creatures is greater than ever.


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Wedding Papercrafts || Ann Brownfield and Jane Cassini

This probably needs to come with a reality check. Unless you already have some competence with papercraft, or you are supremely confident of your ability, it’s probably a good idea not to do any of these projects for real. Anything less than perfection is going to result in a day that looks as though it’s been catered from a pound shop and your efforts could eclipse excellence elsewhere. This is not to belittle pound shops, or a lack of extravagance in weddings, but the fact is that, whatever you do in this area, you really do have to do it well.

Having got that out of the way, this is a brilliant little book that could give your day a very considerable edge and save a deal of money into the bargain. This is another project-based craft book, so you get fairly simple demonstrations of 35 attractive and original ideas for boxes, bags, table decorations, albums and keepsakes, all of which are achievable with something more than just a modicum of skill. All of the items preseted are things which tend to appear at weddings and which can be bought at often considerable prices. By making your own, you can add an individual touch that will make the event much more personal and less manufactured.

As long as you’re realistic about your abilities, or you’re prepared to practice until your results are nothing less than perfect, this is a worthwhile purchase.

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The Simple Art of Japanese Calligraphy || Yoko Takenami

The title of this book offers a huge hostage to fortune, for Japanese calligraphy is anything but simple and to suggest that it might be is to reduce it pretty much out of existence.

This is intended to be a project-based craft book of the kind that offers simple and colourful demonstrations that the beginner can easily follow and which presents a result which is sufficiently seductive that the reader will always feel they have a chance of emulating, however tentative their initial steps. There are plenty of books such as this and their continued appearance indicates a popularity that suggests that the approach works, so we shouldn’t damn them with accusations of triviality.

The problem that this book has, however, is that, as well as showing some very attractive ideas, it also needs to go at some length into the formation of actual characters in several different scripts and this takes up a third of its length. Already, we’re into a more specialist area and, while I can see the value of being able to write Happy Birthday or Happy Halloween correctly, some of the details of the order of brushstrokes and the characters for unexplained voiced sounds seem just a little more than is necessary in a book essentially aimed at the beginner or, dare I say it?, the dilettante.

There’s no getting away from the fact that any calligraphic letter-form book is always going to look worthy and unexciting and this aspect seems to jar with the colourful and imaginative projects that occupy the last half of the book are which are the reason, I rather think, that you might consider buying it. None of this might matter if the book had had a title which suggested that it was more than something for the beginner, but then I’d be complaining that it wasn’t comprehensive enough. No, it can’t win, but I think that’s more the fault of the format that it is mine for being picky.

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The Complete Guide to Wire & Bead Jewellery || Linda Jones

This is a simple project-based guide that will satisfy the requirements of the beginner while at the same time giving them a solid jumping-off point if they wish to pursue the craft further.

There is a well-established style of craft book of this kind which offers colourful demonstrations that perhaps make things look a little easier than they are but which, nevertheless, encourages by showing successful results that the reader will, for the most part, feel that they will be able to achieve with a little work. These books are a million miles away from the rather more specialist volumes aimed at the serious, and even professional, practitioner, but they don’t disappoint by covering only the very basics and leaving the reader wanting a great deal more.

If you feel that jewellery-making is something you’d like to have a go at, this will give you enough information and ideas without swamping you. It should satisfy your initial needs and, if you don’t want to progress very much further, may be the only book you’ll need. This is its aim and, as such, it succeeds and represents very fair value for money.

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The Simple Art of Chinese Brush Painting || Qu Lei Lei

“Simple Art of” is always a hostage to fortune because it risks reducing something that’s really quite complex to a mere formula, or of looking as though it’s missed the point completely. However, in this case, there’s a let-out because, of course, one of the main elements of Chinese painting is simplicity.

Chinese painting has long held a fascination for Westerners and it is this element of simplification that holds the greatest attraction. In its purest form, of course, every brushstroke carries a philosophical significance and forms and colours can often be reduced almost to abstraction.

Qu Lei Lei learnt calligraphy from his parents, but has lived in Britain since 1981 and adapts the Chinese style subtly for Western eyes, producing just slightly more realistic forms and slightly more subtle colours that sit comfortably with our expectations and palettes. This is a project-based book, so the 15 demonstrations are fairly short and beginners might find themselves wanting a little more detail. I’d suggest, however, that this something for those who already have a little experience in the field and are looking to expand the creative possibilities of the style rather than learn the most basic techniques. This is an attractive and delightful book that offers a great deal without ever labouring anything.

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The Complete Guide To Chinese Calligraphy || Qu Lei Lei

At first glance, you’d be forgiven for not recognising what an important book this is. Presented as a series of projects that can be completed by the amateur working at home, it has the outward appearance of a relatively superficial pictorial guide. There’s so much more to it than that, however.

Qu Lei Lei has written many books on the practice of Chinese art. Born in China, he came to the UK after the Cultural Revolution in 1981 and writes from both the Oriental and Western perspective, having both an understanding of the culture as well as the ability to describe it in a way that is immediately comprehensible to the general reader. As a result, this is a much more authoritative book than you might first think.

Oriental art forms have long held a fascination for us in the West, as witness the huge success of the Terracotta Warriors exhibition. Even coming to this book as a non-calligrapher, therefore, I find myself drawn to the history and culture behind the letterforms and Qu Lei Lei explains what the various scripts represent and how they were originally used, as well as demonstrating ways to write them. Yes, the book does indeed take the form of 16 projects, as well as a guide to materials and a series of technical exercises, and you will certainly be able to create a wide variety of artefacts as well as learning about the background to what you are doing. Qu features five major scripts and explains the background to each and their specific uses within this ancient and highly developed culture.

Between them, the author and the publisher have co-operated to produce a book that is both beautiful to look at and also remarkably comprehensive within the scope of its coverage as well as being clear and authoritative. It’s a considerable achievement.

CICO Books 2007

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The Tao Of Sketching || Qu Lei Lei

When this landed on the mat, I nearly choked on my Cornflakes. I have a diagnosed allergy to any book that has the word ‘Tao’ in the title and isn’t about Chinese philosophy. Actually, I tend to come out in spots even when that is what they’re about, but I’m too old and too cynical to be a new-ager.

However, this is by Qu Lei Lei, who has produced some very good books in the past, so I felt it could be worth a second glance and, my word, it is. According to the press release that came with it, “The Tao of Sketching explains Taoist symbolism revealing the spirituality of Chinese Sketching and how to create ‘chi’ or the essence of living energy in a sketch, showing how you can use it as a powerful means to self-development”.
Pass. The. Sick. Bag. Alice.

The truth, of course, is that there’s a lot of philosophy in Chinese art and it gets down to the point where individual brushstrokes matter. The other truth is that this gives it a simplicity that is enormously attractive and that a lot of western artists like to study and emulate its techniques without necessarily buying into the whole mindset behind it.

Put simply – and the whole point of this is that it is put simply – this is probably the best book on sketching ever. Bar none. No, don’t even bother because I’m not going to listen to you. All that stuff about creating the living essence?, well, isn’t that pretty much the heart of sketching? Get the broad outline down quickly, work from life, don’t fiddle about with details, the sonnet is a moment’s monument, etc, etc. This is packed with illustrations, but there’s one in particular I keep coming back to. It’s a panda eating bamboo and thing is that you can sense the pandaness of it. It’s not just a picture, it really is alive and has depth and substance. Oh, OK, ‘chi’. You see, there’s just no other word for it There’s another one (this is in the 30-45 minute section) of an elephant coming down a bustling, colourful, market street and it really is, you can see it swaying through the throng, feel its sheer bulk, even hear the chatter of the market sellers. I tell you, none of this stuff is two dimensional, it’s scary.

There’s a link below. Click it. Buy this book. Do it now. You can’t afford not to.

First published 2006

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