Archive for category Publisher: David & Charles

Painting Nature in Watercolour || Cathy Johnson

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure whether this is a completely new book or a re-working of material from some of the author’s previous works. However, it has a fresh look and feel to it, so I’m going to review it on the basis that it’s all new.

It’s a rather wonderful portmanteau of just about everything the natural world can throw at us, from vegetation to animals and even people by way of skies and clouds and land- and waterscapes. As well as subject matter, it also takes in techniques, both in pure watercolour and in mixed media with watercolour pencils.

Cathy’s style is loose and relaxed and very much to the painterly taste. Although this is an American book and you therefore get species which are specific to another continent, the differences are not intrusive and many (in fact, most) of the paintings are sufficiently generic that they have no specific place.

I could say that the modelling, particularly of some of the creatures, isn’t always completely perfect, but it always does its job and simply turning the pages of this really rather enjoyable book is going to make you feel good and want to get down to work.

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Acrylic Works – the best of acrylic painting || ed Nancy Reyner

This is a compilation of works by a variety of American artists, loosely grouped by style: realistic, stylistic, realistic abstractions and abstractions. These apply a sufficiently loose straitjacket that nothing seems forced into a category that isn’t suitable, but does allow more or less general themes to develop while branching across the widest possible variety of subject matter.

Each painting comes with a short paragraph by the artists themselves. The introduction implies that works were submitted, so those included are effectively self-selecting, but also not merely a collection of the ones the publishers happened to have copyright approval for. The descriptions are fairly general and most of the contributors choose to describe their overall approach to painting and maybe working methods. Some relate these specifically to the work shown, some do not.

The result is a rather pleasantly serendipitous collection where the editorial hand is more in the ordering than the choosing. On the cover, the book bills itself as “ideas and techniques for today’s artists” which does, to be frank, sound like a rather desperate attempt to sell it to this publisher’s normal practitioner market. It’s far from an inaccurate claim, as that’s exactly what the book is going to do for you if you fall into this category. However, I can’t help feeling it would have been nicer to leave the reader/purchaser to work that out for themselves. They are, after all, going to have to decide whether to dip into their wallet to buy a book that doesn’t offer any specific practical instruction.

If you do have the cash it’s a worthwhile purchase, though.

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Painting Brilliant Skies & Water in Pastel || Liz Haywood-Sullivan

When you think about it, these two subjects are a natural to go hand-in-hand and there’s a pleasing progression as they are brought together in the final chapter. Bit like a romantic novel, really.

Flicking through the book, the first impression is of a great deal of material, and this is confirmed when you get stuck in properly. Not only are there plenty of illustrations, there are demonstrations, examples, hints and tips. If it all seems a little overwhelming, remember that this is a highly-structured book that repays being worked through in order. Some books are for dipping into, but this one is definitely one to follow.

The medium is pastel, but most of what Liz says can be applied to any other, so do give it a look.

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Essential Guide to Flower & Landscape Painting || Donna Dewberry

I’m not going to spend long on this. Not because I don’t like it or because Donna Dewberry is anything other than a popular author, but because it’s actually decorative art. That’s to say, painting mostly with enamels and usually on furniture or utensils.

It is, however, extremely well done and very attractive. I think you could adapt a lot of the demonstrations to fine art, especially the flowers and it’s worth a look as an introduction to that on its own.

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Draw & Paint 50 Animals || Jeanne Filler Scott

Consisting of 50 short demonstrations, each occupying only 4 or 6 pages, this quite hefty 270 page book certainly covers a lot of ground.

I’d say that, if you’re a complete beginner, there are books that go into more detail and offer more hand-holding than this does. However, if you’re on the next rung of the ladder, then you’ll probably find as much as you could wish for. It’s an American book, so expect the odd chipmunk and racoon, but the rest of it is perfectly universal, with cattle, horses, cats, dogs, elephants and so on. The results are pleasingly realistic and the techniques not too taxing, either. Detail work is limited to what’s necessary to define the subjects rather than being obsessive.

A big thumbs-up for this one.

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Wabi-Sabi Art Workshop || Serena Barton

OK so, yes, I had to look this up too. Let’s go with Serena’s definition, since that’s how she’s applying it. It comes from two Japanese words and “refers to that which is imperfect, aged, humble and authentic.” It’s “an aesthetic that values the passing of time, the seasoning of time and the elements, the handmade and the simple.” It is also a state of mind which is expressed in haiku poetry. OK, so a bit-new age, a bit mystical and a bit of the Arts & Crafts movement. I think. Maybe the subtitle is more help, “Mixed media techniques for embracing imperfection and celebrating happy accidents”, which I’m not sure is the same thing.

At this point, you may have got the impression that I’m a little irritated by the whole thing. At least, I hope you have!

However, delving into the book, my mind is changed completely. This is a book about abstraction, but about achieving it by finding rather than creating. Oh dear, that’s about as clear as mud, but it turns out that what sounded like a woolly-headed idea is actually completely clear in Serena’s head and she presents it well. There are projects, techniques and ways of working that bring your materials to the fore and allow them to decide how the result will go. And there it is again, that new-agey thing. But the thing is that it’s all so convincingly presented, with neatly-formed chapters and plenty of illustrations. I’d defy you not to buy into the whole ethic. OK, you’re probably not going to start filling your studio with wind chimes and dressing entirely in cheesecloth, but there are some genuinely good ideas here that are worth following up.

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From Basics to Special Effects (Secrets of Watercolor) || Joe Garcia

The basic approach of this book is not dissimilar to the Top Tips series from another publisher. Each technique or subject is given a single page or spread, with example illustrations and short explanatory captions. Where it differs, though, is that it doesn’t try to get too many illustrations onto a page. Having decided on a small format, the designers seem to be aware of its limitations and to have worked within them, turning them quite frequently, into a strength. The approach is to keep it simple, stripped-back and constantly moving and the result makes it all very easy to follow and to absorb quickly. These aren’t books to pore over but rather to pick up and dip into for specific information or just for inspiration.

£9.99 is quite a lot for a book this small, and I can’t help thinking the series would have been an easier sell at a couple of quid cheaper, but I do think the titles I’ve seen so far are worth the money.

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Start to Finish (Secrets of Drawing) || Craig Nelson

Whereas the same author’s other title in this series had an obvious point, this one is less clearly defined. I think the idea of the title is that it’s full of hints and tips (the stock in trade of the series) on the whole process of drawing, but that’s not immediately clear from the title and an initial examination isn’t too much help either as the content seems all a bit jumbled up.

First impressions are important, but they aren’t the whole story, so does it fare better under closer examination? Well, yes, it does. Inevitably, cramming the book’s avowed intent into 96 smallish pages is a tall order, but, like the other titles in the series so far, the size isn’t a drawback. What does happen, though, is that a lot of material gets left out – you can’t do everything in a book this size and we therefore have to judge it on what’s left. Are enough topics covered and are they covered adequately? Well, when you only give yourself a page or two, you have to be succinct, and this can be a strength. Conveying a topic such as three-point perspective in one page is another tall order, but get it right and it can be easier to understand than a whole chapter on the subject. As long as perspective doesn’t give you brain-ache, you’ll appreciate this (if it does, you may never be able to get your head round it, sorry).

Overall, I’m impressed by what this does manage to include and, while I’m sure everyone will have their own idea of which of their favourite topics has been left out, the book nevertheless has a positive and busy feel to it that makes it a pleasure to use.

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Figures & Faces (Secrets of Drawing) || Craig Nelson

This is part of a new series from North Light which comes under the umbrella title of “Essential Artist Techniques”. Octavo format, 96 pages long, they’re clearly intended as quick and easy guides and perhaps also as impulse purchases – the sort of thing a shop might put on a display table or by the till, if art books ever make it off the lower back shelves, that is.

The pleasant surprise is how well they’re done. Small books are often rather dashed off, but care has clearly been taken over the production of these and the smaller page-size isn’t an immediate disadvantage – the illustrations are mostly full or half page and it’s the text rather than the pictures that has been condensed. There’s also a lot of colour, which is also credibly placed rather than feeling as though it’s just there to make the book look more attractive.

For the subject in question, the stripped-back approach works remarkably well and there are plenty of different poses and subjects, with sketches, diagrams and fully worked drawings. It works best, I think, as something to use for specific reference rather than to progress through from start to finish. It’s also effective if you just open it at random and take what serendipity gives you. Most topics are dealt with in a single page or spread, even the demonstrations only running to 4 pages, so you can pick up an idea quickly and easily.

As an aid to stimulating the imagination, this is superb. If you want to study a topic or the whole subject in more depth, there are plenty of other books, but they can be exhaustive (and exhausting; this is a big subject) and this has a sense of freshness and pace I really like.

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Creating Radiant Flowers in Colored Pencil || Gary Greene

If you’re looking for a guide that covers a wide variety of different species (and most of them not US-specific, although this is a American book), you’ve found it.

This is not a comprehensive guide to drawing flowers, each demonstration being limited to a single page, or a spread at most, but all of the information is there, with generous illustrations and notes on how specific details were done and on the colours used.

There’s a lot of useful information here and it’s concisely presented, so that those who want to work by example rather than wading through acres of text will be well served.

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