Archive for category Publisher: Search Press

Watercolour Landscapes For The Absolute Beginner || Matthew Palmer

This is a reissue of Matthew Palmer’s Step-by-Step Guide to Watercolour Painting, which first appeared in 2018. Actually, the copyright page says “includes material from”, but I’m unable to check whether there is anything new here, so let’s assume that it’s probably not much.

Whatever, it remains an excellent introduction and you can read my previous review via the link above.

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The Watercolour Sourcebook

This bind-up of the What To Paint series provides 60 transferrable outlines with basic instructions on completion. You get Landscapes from Terry Harrison, Flowers from Wendy Tait, Trees, Woodlands and Forests from Geoff Kersey and Hills and Mountains from Peter Woolley.

It’s a repeat of what’s gone before but, if you don’t have the original volumes, you get a lot of material for your £15. My only issue, as with all books with removable pages is that, when you’ve removed the outlines (which you’ll need to), you’re left with half an empty spine. You might think that inevitable sacrifice is worthwhile, though.

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Plein Air Painting with Oils || Haidee-Jo Summers

Time spent with Haidee-Jo is always time well spent and feels more like a relaxed conversation with an old friend than any kind of tutorial process. If you’ve watched any of her DVDs, you’ll know that she spends time discussing not just ways of applying paint, but of reacting to scenes and conditions, explaining the way the creative process works perhaps better than anyone else.

A book is a very different beast, of course, and needs to be more prescriptive than discursive. The written word doesn’t um and ah, doesn’t wave its arms about to make a point eloquently and doesn’t get distracted by a sudden gust of wind. At least, it shouldn’t, though we can all think of books that wander infuriatingly off the topic. No, I won’t be mentioning any names.

For all that, what we have here is an enjoyable ramble through the ways of oil painting. And that’s not a sentence I’ve ever written in forty years. Rambling is normally associated with watercolour; oils are a much more serious business. Aren’t they? You see, that’s the thing, Haidee-Jo is a painter who happens to work in oils, not a (serious voice) Painter In Oils. The medium is very much not the message, merely (is that the right word?) the messenger, a way of communicating form, colour, composition and emotion.

There, I’ve said it, I’ve used the E word, because that’s really what this book is about. The subtitle (they’re always instructive) is “a practical and inspirational guide to painting outdoors”. What you’ll get here is advice about the practicalities of working the field – equipment, preparation, adaptation – as well as how to recognise a subject and construct a scene, whether it’s landscapes, trees, flowers, buildings, water or even people. There’s consideration of light, weather, seeing, interpreting, remembering (because scenes change before your very eyes) and, of course, getting the all-important paint on the also-important canvas.

This is an enjoyable book that can’t but inspire you to get outside. You probably can’t take Haidee-Jo with you, so you’ll just have to imagine her.

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David Bellamy’s Arabian Light

If you thought the Middle East was just sand and showy ziggurats, think again. David Bellamy has always been a travel writer at heart and this book explores the spirit of a region the West often dismisses. His skill lies in finding the hidden corners that define the character of a place rather than its public faces and spaces. He also explores the life of the region through its people as they go about their daily lives; again, these are things done for practical purposes rather than public show. Thus, we get a quiet corner of Cairo at night (David doesn’t completely eschew the larger settlements), the eerie light of midday heat among the rocks of a wadi (a dry valley), where scale is provided by middle-ground figures. At the same time, David also visits Petra and Abu Simbel, somehow managing either to avoid the crowds, or at least edit them out. These results typify his ability to capture atmosphere – in words as well as pictures – with an assuredness that betokens both familiarity and understanding.

David is no wide-eyed first-time tourist and the book tells the stories of several journeys, giving each section an effective narrative arc, for he is also a master storyteller whose words and pictures are part of a whole, rather than one being an adjunct to another. Travel books are often separated between a writer and a photographer whose visions are – even if subtly – different. As a result, you look at the pictures as one piece of the jigsaw and the words as another, the illustrations being a counterpoint to what you are told. When the author is an artist, the images are not necessarily a blindly faithful record, but rather an assemblage that captures both the essence of the scene and the impression it made on the painter. That eerie light would be almost impossible to capture with a camera, but responds perfectly to the subtle hues and granulation of watercolour.

The overall impression of this beautiful book is of the narrative arc I referred to before. It’s the story not just of a journey, but of a place and its people and David has done it supreme justice.

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Abstracts and Mixed Media || Helen Kaminsky

With the popularity of abstract painting showing no sign of abating (there was a time when books on it were a drag on the market), there has for some time been space for a book that comes between the simple project-based approach and the more academic, analytical tomes.

And here we have a thoroughly practical book aimed at the serious artist who has mastered the basics and is ready to move on to more advanced techniques and interpretations. Rather than pitching straight into the dual aspects of the book’s title, Helen first deals with abstraction – colour, composition, design and interpretation, with each section having an accompanying demonstration that manages to be straightforward without being annoyingly elementary. This augurs well for the book’s balance between simplicity and taking its subject and its readers seriously.

The matter of media is now introduced, with textures, pastes, gels, watercolour, inks and acrylics all coming into the picture – or do I mean mix? This is where things start to get exciting and where the book absolutely justifies its inclusion in the Innovative Artist series. Work here takes the form of examples and shorter exercises because Helen’s aim is to get and help you to develop your own vision and voice. Where project-based books will have you completing the author’s idea of a painting, the intention here is to give you ideas to work off and to spark the imagination.

Helen deals with a broad and complex subject, but the book never feels intimidating or inaccessible, but rather draws you in, eager to find out more. An added bonus is that the binding is sewn rather than glued, which is unusual outside hardbacks. As a result, the book falls open easily in the hands and the pages are easy to view and read.

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The Easy Guide to Painting Skies in Watercolour || Stephen Coates

Books on skies are not too hard to find and this important element (arguably the most important) of any landscape has been well-covered. The danger, of course, is of producing a masterclass that only serves to muddy the waters with over-complication.

Regular readers will know how wary I am about “easy” guides. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it and it wouldn’t take a lifetime of study. Intelligently approached, however, they can be reassuring and progress in simple, straightforward steps that don’t tax the beginner or those struggling a bit to keep up.

On those counts, this is absolutely admirable. Stephen starts with an analysis and explanations of materials and equipment, moving quickly to basic techniques, of which the first is a large blended wash. The initial exercise uses one colour, then we move to two. It’s simple and progressive and we’re ready to start looking at white clouds. Nothing to frighten the horses, results that will satisfy and I think we’re ready to agree that, yes, it was pretty easy.

Moving on, you’ll find heavy clouds, sunsets, storms, shafts of sunlight and mists as well as a look at perspective and focal points. Throughout, you’re really only painting skies, with rudimentary foregrounds that add only balance, without becoming an exercise in themselves – actually, if you want lessons in simplicity, you have them right there, an unexpected Brucie bonus.

Easy? Well, maybe. Not too taxing? Absolutely.

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Take Three Colours (compendium)

The idea of this series is a brilliant way of simplifying the painting process, either for the beginner or as a palate-cleanser for someone with more experience who’s become a bit jaded.

With just three brushes and three colours, a team of Search Press’s most successful authors demonstrate projects that show just how much you can do with an absolute minimum of equipment. With little to mess around with, the emphasis is on creativity and making the most of what you have. There’s no chance to over-complicate or get bogged down with an unwieldy palette or too many mixes.

This bind-up is fantastically good value and covers landscapes, seascapes and flowers, with more concentrated subjects such as lakes, rivers, hills and mountains thrown in. Larger books such as this can be difficult to handle, but this falls and stays open nicely and is a pleasure to use.

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Sketching For The Absolute Beginner || Peter Cronin

Peter Cronin tells us that he found drawing in “special” classes at school, having been diagnosed as “slow”, but in reality dyslexic. For him, it was a release from the tyranny of the worded page and an introduction to a world that was all his. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that this book is, as much as anything else, a paean to the joy and freedom that Peter finds in working with drawing materials.

Yes, it’s a book of instruction and, yes, it covers all the basic principles, but Peter also manages to convey throughout the joy he feels when working, and he’ll share it with you the reader. So, yes again, it’s a course, but it’s also a journey of discovery.

Peter’s drawings are subtle and sensitive and he works mostly with pencil but also pen & wash. With plenty of examples and short exercises, he introduces line, composition, perspective, form and hatching as well as ways to control the weight of the mark to create values, tone and shading.

There’s a huge amount to get to grips with here and this is a book that you can easy work through or just dip into for advice and inspiration.

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Painting With System 3 || Charles Evans

Daler Rowney’s System 3 is an integrated set of acrylic mediums that includes heavy and soft body paints, inks and fluid colours. The overall palette remains the same across the range and all the parts are designed to work harmoniously together.

Although this is in large part a promotional piece for System 3, sticking with a single range has allowed Charles to produce a complete guide to working with acrylics that covers just about every aspect. He is able to contrast and mix styles and ways of working that would be much more difficult if different brands and types were involved.

The nature of the book means it makes complete sense to start at the absolute beginning, by introducing paints, equipment and supports and then moving on to basic methods of application and demonstrations of subjects that include landscapes, water, animals and buildings.

If you’re starting to paint, this makes an excellent introductory guide and you’ll be working with a range of materials that will be reliable and should produce no nasty surprises. You’ll also be in the hands of an experienced and generous teacher who is not afraid to explain those sometimes elementary details you really need.

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Creative Drawing Techniques || David Brammeld

Subtitled From first mark to full expression, this is a comprehensive, but not exhausting, study of drawing using everything from pencils and pen & ink to watercolour washes, graphite, charcoal, acrylic inks and mixed media.

You could forgive yourself for asking how all this could be not creative – the title does sort of hint at that possibility. The truth is, it’s one of those rather vague words that publishers use when they’re not quite sure how to categorise the work of an author they’ve felt attracted to and want to do a book with. There’s an immediate attractiveness to David’s work that eloquently explains this without the need for any words. There’s huge variety here and he is one of those artists whose work somehow transcends their medium. In a way, this isn’t a book about drawing at all, but about creating and where the fact that tools are used is merely incidental.

That’s all very well, but you the reader are sat there with a pad on your knees, pens and pencils in hand and a bottle of ink perched precariously on a stool or tree stump beside you. You want to know how to proceed and you won’t be disappointed by how David guides you. That subtitle makes it clear that this is about the whole process of drawing and that there’s advice on mark-making before you get to the process of transcending your media. The more elementary aspects don’t dominate, however, and there’s plenty of variety and exercises to get stuck into. Subject matter includes trees, buildings, still lifes and a few portraits. David tends to go for the closer, more intimate view than the wider perspective, which is why I haven’t mentioned landscapes, even though some of his work does fall broadly into this category.

All-in-all, this is an enjoyable, instructive and thought-provoking book.

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