Archive for category Publisher: GMC Publications

Acrylics || Adrian Burrows

This is a further instalment in GMC’s series of media guides for the complete beginner. Slim and uncomplicated, these introduce basic techniques in a straightforward manner and include lessons, exercises and demonstrations that will guide even the most tentative through the processes required.

There isn’t a lot more to say than that. Adrian Burrows’ style is readily accessible and he includes a good variety of subjects and techniques. That he mostly works in the oil rather than the watercolour/wash style is no bad thing as it reduces complication and confusion. These are not intended to be exhaustive guides, and certainly not masterclasses – there are plenty of books that offer further study if you decide that the medium is for you and you want to take it further.

As a starting point, this is hard to better.

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Oils: techniques and tutorials for the complete beginner || Norman Long

It’s not really surprising that the vast majority of books published concentrate on watercolour, it being by far the most popular medium, even if the opaque alternatives are often easier for the beginner.

This short introduction is all the more welcome, therefore, and especially because it is so good and so accessible. If you want to give oils a try, this is the ideal place to start. The introduction to materials and basic methods is concise but leaves nothing out. You won’t be bogged down with detail, but neither will you feel short-changed. A series of worked demonstrations then introduces subjects that include still lifes, boats, buildings, skies and figures. There’s also a handy glossary that sums up terms such as perspective, alla prima, plein air and underpainting.

At 96 pages, this inevitably skims the surface a bit, but it should get you set nicely on the path and ready for some of the more advanced books if you want to progress.

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Drawing – techniques and tutorials for the complete beginner || Christine Allison

This is the sort of book that GMC manages really rather well. General introductions are prone to two main traps: being too specific so that the beginner is shoehorned into the author’s personal obsession or so general that the instruction whizzes by faster than you can focus on it. Those latter are the books I often remark seem to be aimed at the non-artist who is buying for a friend.

This is certainly general, both in terms of subject and style as well as mediums, which range from charcoal to ink blocks. At 96 pages, there’s no great detail, but that’s good, because it encourages those new to art to dip a toe in a variety of waters. The introduction to materials and techniques is undaunting and makes you want to get started rather than feel you’ll never get to grips with the complexity. The nine demonstrations are quite short, but contain plenty of information and manage to cover most of what you’ll need to know, including colour, tone and even positive and negative shapes. Subjects include still lifes, portraits and landscapes and Christine deals with both monochrome and colour work. There’s even a nicely thought-out chapter at the end on where to go next.

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Watercolour Techniques and Tutorials For The Complete Beginner || Paul Clark

There’s a lot to like about this straightforward, patient and thorough guide. I might take slight issue with the idea of it being for “the complete beginner”. In truth, I think a little facility with the medium would probably help, although the explanations are simple and concise and certainly won’t blind you with terminology.

Paul explains materials, the basics of colour theory and technical matters such as brushstrokes and washes in short paragraphs and simple illustrations that are completely to the point. He even manages to cover perspective pretty adequately in just two pages. No, this isn’t exhaustive but, if you’ve been put off by some of the whole books dedicated to the subject, this one might be worth the cover price for that topic alone.

The rest of the book is devoted to a series of demonstrations, many of which I think the complete tyro might struggle with. Inevitably, the results are complex and the use of washes and wet-in-wet could well seem daunting. Paul has a facility with the medium that makes for excellent results and his clear explanations will probably make you think that following him is worth the effort, though.

The range of subjects covered is impressive and this is entirely teaching by example. There are buildings, landscapes, birds, still lifes, trees and clouds as well as handy hints on figures, skies, flowers and much more. If you’re serious about learning watercolour, this is a guide that should keep you satisfied for quite a long time and one which, in spite of the somewhat virtuoso illustrations, you won’t lose patience with.

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The Artist’s Guide to Drawing the Clothed Figure || Michael Massen

There have been guides before that cover the subject of drawing people with their clothes on – something you probably want to do more than you think – but nothing remotely as comprehensive as this.

Michael Massen works in a format that will feel familiar from the generality of figure-drawing books – a variety of poses, body types and points of view – but the emphasis throughout is on the way fabrics hang, fold and crease in natural wear. It seems obvious, but other books that cover the same ground go into nothing like this amount of detail and, if the feel of the attire is important to your subject, then it deserves as much study as the figure itself.

You’d easily be forgiven for thinking that this is a subject you can busk, make up as you go along and, up to a point, you probably can. It’s worth remembering, however, that the greatest portraits are remembered as much for their rendition of fabrics as they are for capturing the sitters themselves.

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Painting Portraits & Figures in Watercolor || Mary Whyte

One of the features of Watson Guptill publications is that they have quite a lot more text than those from other publishers. As such, these are books to sit down and read rather than to skim through and dip into. If you like the more visual approach, then you might find that this bogs you down. However, if you’re looking for something that approaches a subject more thoughtfully and in more depth, then they’re right up your street.

This isn’t a series of lessons or demonstrations, but rather a progressive look at the whys and wherefores of portrait painting as well as, of course, the how. The opening section of the Getting Started chapter, for instance, is “Why paint people?”, a reasonable question in the circumstances. The answer (spoiler alert!) is basically that all people are different. Yes, we knew that, but this gives a flavour of the author’s approach, the rudiments of which I outlined above.

The style of painting is pleasantly loose and the illustrations are generally informal – the sort of thing you might paint for yourself or a friend rather than specific sittings.

If you like portrait work and want to look at it in more depth, I don’t think you’d be disappointed by this book. It’s well and comprehensively illustrated and goes into a bit more detail than some of the alternatives.

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Traditional Oil Painting || Virgil Elliott

This is probably one of the most serious books on painting around at the moment. Generally speaking, books which place themselves in the art instruction camp concentrate on a how-to approach with plenty of pictures and a limited number of words. This, in its way, is no bad thing. In fact, it’s no bad thing at all, whether it its own or any other way. Painting is, after all, a visual medium and if you can’t explain it visually, well, the chances are you’re not doing it right.

What we have here, and what is certainly the author’s intention, is a look at the practice of painting in oils, taken from the viewpoint of the study of Old Masters (the “traditional” bit) and relating it to materials available today. This is done largely in words and with occasional illustrations to back them. You can, for example, get a dozen or so pages without a single picture, while types of oil and oil-to-pigment ratios are being discussed. There are step-by-step demonstrations – and the author makes it clear that the publisher insisted on more than he originally intended – but they are by no means the backbone of the book and they have something of the feeling of a sidebar about them.

All this sounds dry as dust, but your reaction to it will depend very much on what you’re looking for. If you want a beginner’s guide to how to paint in oils, then it’s fair to say this is not for you. However, if you’re perhaps quite an experienced practitioner, then you could well find that this is an absorbing read (and it is definitely a book to read, not one primarily to look at) going, as it does, into extensive detail of the nature and use of the materials. It reminds me a lot of Ralph Meyer’s Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques; as a source of reference, it’s invaluable and perhaps even second to none.

Watson Guptill 2007

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