Archive for category Publisher: North Light

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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Watercolor Unleashed || Julie Gilbert Pollard

Subtitled “New directions for traditional painting techniques”, there’s an immediate attractiveness to this that invites further study. The blurb adds, “This book is all about painting boldly, embracing the medium’s unpredictable nature, and achieving a loose, painterly quality” and I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Beyond that, it’s quite hard to pin down what the book is actually about. I suppose the best thing I can say is that, if you’re feeling stuck in a rut and in need of new ideas or a kick-start, this will provide it. The subjects are mostly landscapes, waterscapes and flowers and what Julie Pollard is particularly strong on is the use of colour and of negative shapes. She also has a style that tends towards abstraction, but at the same time keeping a foot firmly in the representational camp.

I find the whole thing completely refreshing, which is what it says it wants to be. Spot on.

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