Archive for category Publisher: Crowood Press

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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Landscape Painting: The Complete Guide || Richard Pikesley

This is a bold claim which requires an artist of considerable skill and versatility to pull off at all, let alone successfully. In Richard Pikesley, Crowood undoubtedly have their man. An experienced artist and teacher, he is equally at home with oil and water-based media as well as drawing and pastel (although this latter does not receive extensive coverage).

At 224 pages, this is a substantial book that addresses the creative as well as technical processes. Richard begins with the whole question of seeing: that is to say, looking and observing, finding and understanding your subject. It says a lot about his overall approach that this is the starting point of the book, just as it should be for a painting, before brush or pencil hits paper or canvas. It’s also where he looks at perspective and parallax in both monochrome and colour. There’s a surprising amount of detail here and the subtleties that Richard finds even at this early stage are typical of the book as a whole – it’s about a lot more than just process and technique and the extent gives him space to consider much more than just major points and general headings.

As you may have gathered, there’s a lot to read here, although it’s leavened with plenty of example illustrations and the sections are nicely broken up. Extensive texts can, while invaluable, easily become indigestible in a practical context and the publisher is to be congratulated on recognising this. Richard has also chosen his words carefully and has not written simply for the sake of it, something I’ve seen happen when authors are given more space than they are perhaps used to.

Much of the book proceeds by explanation and example and there are only a few demonstrations, but this is not an exercise book – however useful and instructive those can be. Reading, rather than doing is not for everyone, but this is such a comprehensive study that this potential obstacle should be easy to overcome, especially with the wealth of illustrations that leaven and enhance the text.

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Etching: an artist’s guide || Ann Norfield

Etching is a subject that is difficult to cover in a single volume, particularly one that intends to be both an introduction and a creative guide. A fair amount of unfamiliar equipment is required, as well as a whole new range of techniques and terminology. It isn’t really something to try on a winter’s afternoon, but rather to embark on after serious consideration and with a fair degree of commitment.

Ann Norfield recognises all these issues and presents an overview that is perhaps of most use as a reader for someone whose interest has been piqued and is looking at the world of printmaking. All the basic information is here, from aquatint to photo etching, with a clear outline both of what is needed and what can be achieved. Interviews with other practitioners that punctuate the text provide different angles on the creative side of the process.

Given the bulk of some of the equipment required, the spaces and the safety considerations, it’s likely that a newcomer will be using a shared space and have access to advice from more experienced printmakers. However, a guide as thorough as this is useful – essential, perhaps – as background reading and for technical and creative insights.

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Painting Rivers || Rob Dudley

The subtitle of this fascinating and enjoyable book is “from source to sea” and it encapsulates Rob Dudley’s original approach to painting water. There have been a lot of books about that subject, but this is the first I can recall that eschews lakes and the sea in favour of the variety that can be found in what flows between them.

Water is a living thing. It has form and substance, but its shape is defined by what contains it and its outward manifestation – colour and appearance – and by the light that falls and the forces that are exerted on it. It’s a truism that you can never step into the same river twice and, on the same basis, you can never paint it twice either. Indeed, as a painting is effectively a moment frozen in time, you can’t really paint a river at all – but let’s keep well away from metaphysics!

This is as thorough and comprehensive a book as you could wish. Rob explains approaches and techniques in his chosen medium of watercolour as well as how to capture light, movement and reflection. He considers not just the river itself, but its surroundings and the people, objects and creatures that occupy it.

There are plenty of demonstrations and projects to get to work on, as well as discussions of the life of the river as it progresses downstream. This is an original idea that’s well thought-out and executed.

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Painting Landscapes || Kevin Scully

This is slightly spooky. No sooner have I written about one book on landscape painting from Crowood than another one turns up. This one is much more aimed at practical aspects and sticks to the opaque media: oils, acrylics and alkyd.

As is the style with this publisher’s approach, the text is much more discursive and, along with the sort of instructions you expect in a demonstration, there is a lot more explanation of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. If you are really more interested in the general than the specific, this will appeal: you learn how to paint anything, rather than just what the author happens to put in front of you. As the old adage has it: give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and you feed him for life.

Why aren’t all books like this, you might ask? Well, not everyone wants what we might call the deeper philosophies or to get bogged down in what they see as detail. At the start, clear, simple instructions are best. It’s only as you progress that you begin to want, or even need, the details of what’s happening under the hood. These are books for the more experienced artist and the style, authors and level of work reflect that.

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