Archive for category Publisher: GMC Publications

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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Painting With Watercolour: A Foundation Course || Debbie Flenley

Intended as an introduction to watercolour painting, this book achieves its aim better than many another which has billed itself as a course. Well-structured, the book has six main sections, Getting Started, Handling Watercolours, Practical Advice for Watercolourists, Colour, Theory of Painting and Becoming An Artist: all of the things, basically, that you’d look for in a course that takes you from beginner towards intermediate status and in pretty much the right order.

Within the sections, you get pieces of specific information, such as the properties of colours, how to lay a wash, the use of masking fluid and so on. These are then fleshed out with demonstration paintings that show you how these individual items fit into a more complete work. Most of the demonstrations are quite simple and concentrate on the point being made without adding complications and additional information that are not necessary at that particular time. There are also practical projects, which tend to be fairly basic exercises that you can practise yourself to get familiar with handling paint, the use of colour in a sketchbook, painting shadows and so on. Finally, there are intermittent “focus on” sections which summaries some of the more important points, such as “avoiding mud” in the colour mixing section and offer a number of bullet points to bear in mind. All of these different approaches mean that each section can be tackled in a number of different ways appropriate to what’s being dealt with at the time. Important points don’t get lost in a mass of text and critical techniques don’t disappear in a larger demonstration. It also means that the book is broken up into more manageable sections so that it’s easier to absorb. The whole problem with doing a course in a book is that the tutor isn’t able to control the pace and flow of information, with the result that the student either progresses too fast and gets bogged down or works too slowly and doesn’t pick up the things that need to link together. It’s an issue that Debbie has addressed particularly well and anyone planning a book-based course should take note.

Before you think that this is the best book ever, though, it should be pointed out that most of what Debbie paints tends to be flowers. If that’s what you like, there won’t be a problem but, if it’s the last thing you want to paint, the book may not be for you. This is not to detract from it or damn it with faint praise – every book has its emphasis, but it’s a point to note.

Another possible issue is that some of the illustrations are not reproduced as well as they might be. One or two of the paintings are dated as well as signed and it looks as though some rather old photographs may have been used, instead of reproducing direct from the artwork itself, which is always the best method. Once again, don’t necessarily let this put you off, but “could do better” isn’t an entirely unfair comment.

Year published: 2005
List price: £19.95

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