Archive for category Publisher: Crowood Press

Sketching Perspective || Ilga Leimanis

This not unattractive guide is either a visual feast or an assault on the senses, depending on your point of view. You might even say it’s both, and like it all the more for that.

Books on perspective usually fall into one of two camps: technical drawing manuals, or attempts to teach the subject without any technicality at all. The former can be daunting, especially for the general artist and the latter as frustrating as a language course that pretends that grammar doesn’t exist.

Perspective is part of the grammar of art, as much as colour and colour mixing or the techniques for application of materials. It’s a thing you have to get to grips with, but also something a lot of people are afraid of, but as necessary as declension of nouns or conjugation of verbs.

Ilga is an urban sketcher, so perspective is central to her craft. She also, as is common with the genre, works quickly and loosely, so you won’t find architectural or measured drawings here, and hooray for that. It does mean that you get what I referred to at the beginning – the visual feast or assault on the senses. However, it also means that, where there are lines and diagrams (you know you need them really), they’re organic and mostly freehand, which makes them a lot more friendly and approachable. There’s also quite a lot of text, but it’s largely there to explain the images rather than a lot of theory to read, so hooray for that too.

What mainly sets this apart from other books on perspective is the way Ilga uses the technique in very fluid drawings that capture character as much as appearance. Only you can decide whether this works for you but, if it does, it should be rather successful.

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Painting The Mountain Landscape || Eileen Clark

Books on oil painting are relatively thin on the ground and many of them are a lot more general than this. You are therefore likely to approach it with high expectations and it is a pleasure to be able to report that it should certainly meet, perhaps even exceed them.

Eileen demonstrates a wide variety of work in many lighting and weather conditions. She also looks at details such as trees, waterfalls and wildlife on top of skies, mists and larger expanses of water. It is worth saying that she is based in the Lake District, so has all this on her doorstep to work with.

As is Crowood’s normal approach, there is quite a lot of discussion and analysis, but large and intimidating blocks of text have been avoided and at no point does the book give the appearance of being unmanageable. This may seem like a detail, but I’ve always felt it’s important in a visual medium – you want to see what’s going on, not be told. For all that, an explanation of the hows and whys can be extremely valuable and something you’d certainly expect in a painting film.

The reproduction is superb, even the full-page images, and details, brushwork and canvas textures are easily visible. The way Eileen works, you will want to look closely and this is possible in every image.

This really is the most thorough guide to painting mountains in oils and very well done indeed on all counts.

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Painting Like The Impressionists || Bruce Yardley

Back in the days of the atelier method, students (apprentices) worked in the studio of a master, initially grinding and mixing colours and preparing canvases before being allowed to work on backgrounds and eventually completing works to which the great man perhaps only added a couple of brushstrokes. The point is that you can learn a lot about the craft of painting by studying what has gone before and immersing yourself in the background business.

The Impressionists were a breath of fresh air in the world of art, though it was seen as more of a cold blast at the time and their influence is felt to the present day. Almost any tutor will tell you to work loosely, almost as if there’s no other way.

The great work on the subject, from the practical point of view, is Bernard Dunstan’s Painting Methods of The Impressionists, but that appeared some forty years ago and is mostly illustrated in black and white. We’re due another look. It’s pleasing, therefore, to be able to report that this is excellent and a worthy successor to Dunstan’s oeuvre. Bruce Yardley examines in considerable detail not just the way the Impressionists worked, but how they looked, saw and interpreted, which is after all the heart of their vision. We accept, indeed now expect, that the viewer will do a lot of the work and that the artist is a guide rather than an instructor. To an extent, it’s a reaction to the realism of photography and a way that art can re-invent itself to exist alongside that.

There’s a great deal to get into here, both visually and verbally, and this is a book to read rather than keep open beside the easel, even though there are exercises and demonstrations; you can work on these later.

If you want to have a go at being an Impressionist yourself, Bruce provides plenty of information about original brushes, paints and canvases and explains where they can still be obtained. I’m not sure that looking backward like this is either necessary or desirable, but it might be a fun exercise, for all that.

If you love and want to understand the Impressionists, this is a very thorough guide.

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Painting Buildings in Oils || James Willis

Books on single subjects in oils are rare, but here are two at once, with Crowood also publishing Eileen Clark’s on mountains.

The approach here is broadly similar, with plenty of discussion and examples accompanied by some short demonstrations. There is a good variety of both subject matter and painting styles. James’s own work is relatively loose so, if you don’t want to be carefully working on every brick, heave a sigh of relief right here. Building types range from domestic to grand structures, both at home and around the world and there are useful chapters on sketching, perspective, colour and light.

This is a book that takes its readers as well as its subject seriously and, although there is the obligatory chapter on materials and equipment, it is by no means over-long and you’re quickly into the meat of painting, which is what you want. There’s nothing wrong in assuming that your readers have a level of competence gained from classes, experience or other books and then simply concentrating on the subject in hand, which James does with admirable thoroughness.

There are plenty of illustrations and the reproduction throughout is generally good, although a few of the images are softer that I would ideally like. Fortunately, James’s style is such that this does not render them unusable and you should feel that you have been well-served overall on this front.

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Colours of Nature || Sandrine Maugy

This is not a new book, having first appeared in 2013, but its reissue is timely and it’s something that really shouldn’t be out of print.

There are all kinds of guides to colour, from the mixing swatch-books to highly technical volumes that are really of more interest to the scientist than the artist. This one is firmly practical and written for those working with pigment to create end results, which are the main, indeed only, focus.

What colours do, especially in relation to each other, is of prime importance and a basic understanding of their properties is essential if predictable and reliable results are to be achieved. This doesn’t necessarily mean a crash course in chemistry, although that’s behind a lot of what happens on the palette and the paper. An author who can understand that and translate it into the language and requirements of the artist is someone to be treasured.

Sandrine works through each of a wide range of colours individually as well as explaining some basic techniques for botanical painting. She also names specific brands, but recommends alternatives as well. You don’t have to throw away the contents of your paintbox in order to work with her prescribed choices, which is very welcome – this is about you, not her.

Each colour choice is accompanied by a detailed floral demonstration that pays particular attention to the colours used – how and why – for each part of the subject. It’s particularly useful to be able to see and understand why a particular mix is appropriate at any particular stage and where they all fit into the overall result.

This is a very thorough guide to a complex subject, but one which is told clearly and concisely and, above all, in language the artist will readily understand.

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A Florilegium – Sheffield’s Hidden Garden

This rather beautiful book is an excellent example of what can be produced by the best botanical artists. The Florilegium Society at Sheffield Botanical Gardens is non-selective, which means that it effectively acts as an atelier – members can learn about both plants and how to paint them from their more experienced colleagues, although the archive they create is scrutinised by a selection panel.

This is not an instructional book, but does contain a wealth of top quality illustrations and a great deal of information about the plants included. It should delight any lover of plants or botanical illustration.

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Watercolour Mixing Techniques For Botanical Artists || Jackie Isard

Books on flower painting abound, as do colour mixing guides, but this is the first time I have seen something as specific as this. It is, it should be said, very thorough, but without being exhausting and the detail (which is considerable) is entirely practical. Jackie is clearly fully on top of her subject.

A lot of mixing guides consist of little more than colour swatches and these, while useful, can leave you gasping for air. Here, there are remarkably few and they’re surprisingly small. You can, though, see what you need to and the whole point is that they do not dominate. The purpose of the book isn’t to present you with an exhaustive – or exhausting – list of what you can produce, but rather a selected set of examples of what you will need. What you will see are images of flowers, leaves, stems and berries, each clearly annotated with information about the colours used. Enlarged details are included where they are needed.

Despite its relatively limited extent, this is a comprehensive guide that includes not just mixing information, but the use of colour for tone, shading and to highlight detail. Everything is in just the right place and the book wears its considerable level of technical information very lightly indeed.

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Urban Sketching || Isabel Carmona Andreu

I’ve remarked before that there’s no shortage of, and seemingly no lack of appetite for books on urban sketching. Whether that can survive lockdown and working from home remains to be seen, but if you feel a nostalgia for the crowded streets, such volumes may provide some relief.

This subtitles itself “an artist’s guide”, which you might think is a statement of the obvious. However, it presages an approach (and goodness knows, we need a bit of variety in this field) that is more interpretive and painterly than some. Isabel’s medium is mainly watercolour and she uses its properties to considerable effect, with loose washes standing for a lot of architectural detail and providing the opportunity to block in quite large areas quickly. Most urban sketching books rely on pencils, which are easy to carry and quick to get out and put away. Watercolour requires a little more baggage and preparation, but Isabel’s work amply demonstrates that the extra labour is worthwhile.

There are plenty of exercises, projects, lessons, demonstrations and examples as well as case studies of work by other artists that introduce a pleasant additional perspective. The whole is packed with ideas and inspiration backed up with the technical information you’d want.

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Painting Animals in Watercolour || Liz Chaderton

This is a small and slim volume and you would be forgiven for thinking it can’t have much to say. Look inside, though, and there’s a remarkable amount of variety, both in subject matter as well as approaches and techniques. The secret is some really rather nifty design work that allows the maximum number of illustrations with a text that’s mainly there to point you in the right direction. If you wanted proof of the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words, this is it.

So, you’ll find birds and animals – both wild and domestic – and an imaginative use of colour that perfectly suits Liz’s loose, painterly style. There’s not a lot about anatomy and structure beyond some basic information, but this is a book about interpretation rather than necessarily strict detailed representation. If the subjects were flowers, this would not be botanical illustration.

Basically, it’s not so much a book about animals as a book about how to paint animals that have presence and character. It’s not a complete course, although it’s a lot more thorough than you’d think and a genuinely worthwhile addition to the bookshelf.

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Painting and Reinterpreting the Masters || Sara Lee Roberts

This isn’t a bad idea at all. Back in the day, students learnt painting by the Atelier method, working in the studio of a master. They’d start by grinding and then mixing colour, progress to preparing canvases and then to laying grounds. Eventually, they might also paint backgrounds for less prestigious commissions – or maybe even the whole work – giving rise to the term “school of”, where the master’s brush might never have touched the canvas.

This is an artistic form of apprenticeship and it taught not just the practicalities of painting, but also those of running a studio and working with clients. If the student wasn’t particularly imaginative, it could lead to what amounted to Master II – simply emulations of what someone had already done. The best students, however, went on the develop their own style and so art progressed through the centuries.

We don’t have apprenticeships these days and they have been replaced by formal schools, books and online tutorials. However, the idea of understanding what happened historically, then taking it up and running with it is no bad thing and that’s what this book attempts to get you to do.

The danger, as it always was, is that you’ll simply end up copying, but that’s up to you. In any case, you may well find that it’s the best starting point, but do please try not to paint a modern Goya.

There’s plenty to get your teeth into here, both from the analytical and productive point of view, but it’s worth noting that the process of the reconstructions that Sara demonstrates are covered in only three or four stages and a page or so – these are not lengthy projects and much of the work will be done on your own.

This is a worthy volume that fulfils its brief well and repays – indeed requires – considerable study. The only complaint I have with it is that the reproduction is somewhat flat and lacking in detail. This is a shame as it’s a rather important part of the whole process.

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