Archive for category Publisher: Search Press

The Watercolour Flower Painter’s A-Z || Adelene Fletcher

This was originally published sufficiently long ago that I haven’t reviewed it here before. It was always a good book and has stood the test of time well. The idea of a series of demonstrations, each occupying a single spread and running from Agapanthus to Zantedeschia, means that a wide variety of types, species, shapes and colours are included. Even though the demonstrations are necessarily concise, the instructions are thorough and will certainly be enough for anyone with a reasonable amount of experience (I’m leaving you to define “reasonable” for yourself as everyone wants something different).

Re-publication has brought this under the umbrella of Search Press’s relationship with Kew, and this is no bad thing. Kew are a world authority and don’t issue their imprimatur lightly, so there’s considerable added authority here. The crispness of the illustrations also suggests re-origination, so there’s really rather a lot to like here.

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The Art of Gouache || Jeremy Ford

Gouache is often regarded as the poor relation of “proper” watercolour. Being opaque, it is more forgiving and less challenging, although, for that matter, so are oils and acrylics. It’s not a newcomer to the scene, being the cousin of tempera, which has a long and honourable tradition. Where it mainly suffers is from its schoolroom connotation and memories of that awful (and almost always unmanageable) powdered stuff many of us remember, which also used poor pigments that couldn’t, even by the most fevered imagination, be called “artist quality”.

Properly-constituted, though, gouache can be a thing of beauty and has qualities that set it apart from any other medium. Understand its properties and you can produce images with a strongly graphic content that can take their place alongside the best of anything else.

Just as they did with Oil Pastels, Search Press have set out to rescue a Cinderella medium and, in Jeremy Ford, they’ve found an author who’s prepared not merely to look at the medium, but to champion and challenge it. A substantial book with plenty of illustrations, examples, lessons, exercises and demonstrations, this is as thorough and comprehensive a guide as you could wish for. Jeremy not only discusses materials and techniques, but looks at just about every way gouache can be used, from straightforward representation to poster-style and to images that look almost photographic. Subjects include landscapes, flowers, people and animals and there’s plenty of instruction as well as discussion of what you might want to do and how to tackle it.

There’s a fair chance that any reader will find some parts more to their taste than others but, as I said, this is a very thorough guide, so that’s to be expected. If you want to explore the medium as much as possible, I don’t think you’re going to find many (if any) omissions. For me, gouache is at its best when it’s not pretending to be anything else and moves towards graphic art, even if only slightly. There are some illustrations I can’t help thinking would work better with transparent watercolour, but that’s helpful in itself. If you agree, you’ll be glad Jeremy at least gave it a try.

If you want to learn about gouache, this should keep you satisfied for a very long time.

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Take Three Colours: Watercolour Mountains || Matthew Palmer

The latest instalment in this user-friendly series is a worthy addition to the canon. Matthew Palmer is an intelligent and sympathetic tutor who carries his abilities lightly. There’s nothing too ambitious and he is happy to take a back seat and let the student work at their own pace. There’s no grandstanding or showmanship, just solid, honest instructions and demonstrations that produce solid, worthwhile results.

It’s a Yes from me.

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Painting Expressive Landscapes || Carole Robson

If you’re interested in exploring the outer reaches of the possibilities of watercolour, this is the book for you. If, at the same time, you want to keep things creative and are doing this for something more than just technical curiosity, please form an orderly queue. What’s truly remarkable about Carole’s work is that it’s always the creative dog wagging the technical tail and not, as can so easily happen, the other way round.

This is a book that’s full of ideas and a quick flick through reveals a wealth of illustrations that can’t really fail to capture the interest and have you wanting to learn more. It’s also apparent that there’s plenty of information, as is common these days, in extended captions and concise paragraphs. Printing technology (of which more anon) is such now that any book of this type really should be “show me” and not “tell me”. There’s a wealth of information here and, for once, I’m not going to say “such as” because I think you can assume that, if there’s something you want, you’ll find it. If I’m wrong and something is missing, you’ll probably be too busy with what is here to mind too much. This is busy, colourful, packed with information and thoroughly inspiring and I love it.

Now, about printing technology. The basic method hasn’t changed much since Caxton’s day. You have a printing plate that gets covered with ink and then it’s pressed against a sheet of paper. Start to work in colour and there are four plates. Add a half-tone image and there are dots of different colour on each plate and they’re put together in alignment so that you get a colour picture. As mechanical tolerances get finer, the dots can be smaller and closer together and the image gets sharper. All these things tend to progress gently but, every so often, there’s a larger jump and we’re just had one of those. Look at a book published even ten years ago and the quality looks rough compared to what’s possible today. Most publishers and printers adopt these advances fairly quickly, but not all of the publishers and not all of the advances. Search Press, however, have swallowed the whole goody bag and the quality of what’s coming out of their warehouse now is truly remarkable. I’ve been at this a long time and my father was a printer, so I grew up with the technology, and it has me stunned.

So, anyway, buy this book.

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Painting Dog Portraits in Acrylics || Dave White

This extensive study will tell you everything you could conceivably want to know about painting dogs. It is not, it should be said, a guide for the beginner and Dave makes no attempt to explain the very basics. However, if you have some facility with painting in general and animals in particular, you’re unlikely to want any more than you get here.

There’s plenty of technical information about hair, fur, eyes, ears, noses and structure as well as the all-important methods of combining all those details into a result that looks like your subject. Dave is a professional dog painter and his audience – the owners themselves – is a demanding one. They don’t want a dog, they want their dog and Dave explains what to look for in order to capture the character of the subject as well as how to transfer that to canvas.

Although there is a section on working from photographs, which can provide a useful aide-mémoire, Dave explains the importance of spending time with the animal you’re about to paint in order to get to know it properly. He also deals with the important but often overlooked matter of the owner, of how the two relate and also what the person who is ultimately paying for the work is looking for.

This is a thorough and thoughtful guide that delivers on every count.

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Jean Haines’ Atmospheric Flowers in Watercolour

Jean Haines’ work is approaching a form of abstraction. Extreme looseness and the extensive use of washes has led to images that are more about shapes and colour than they are about form. In the wrong hands, this leads all too easily to confusion, and not just in the mind of the viewer – the artist themselves can lose sight of their vision and thus the ability to communicate.

This has not happened with Jean and the paintings here are always recognisable even if they are about as far from botanical illustration as it is possible to get. At the same time, the essence of not just flower, but species is retained and you get the sense of a plant growing in the wild, dancing in the breeze and seen with the lack of distinction brought on by distance. When Jean is painting figures, it’s natural to say that she captures character and soul. While that’s not such an obvious factor with flowers, it’s hard not to make the comparison. This is what flowers are about more than what they are.

But this is also a practical book and we must therefore ask the questions: can you re-create this and would you want to emulate the highly individual style of another artist? The answer to the first is simple: Jean is very good at explaining her working methods, so the lessons and demonstrations are admirably clear. Technically, it can certainly be done. As to the more creative question, well, if you follow the book, you’ll end up with a copy, but you’ll also learn how to see, think and interpret, so you can develop your own approaches. I think that’s an entirely reasonable aim and falls well within the scope of what the book is about.

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Five-Minute Watercolour || Samantha Nielsen

This is not – praise be – a book about painting for those who are too busy to paint. I’ve ranted about that elsewhere: art is something that takes time and deserves to have time taken.

No, this is far better. It’s about working quickly and grabbing the idea before it fades and then not over-working it so that the soul of the subject and the painting are lost. It’s not a particularly new idea and you could call it sketching, except that it’s more than that because it’s more than a notebook. This is about seeing, interpreting and distilling.

There’s a wealth of ideas, subjects and techniques here and plenty to pick up and run with. The illustrations are attractive (essential given what’s being presented) and, although Samantha analyses them, they’re not demonstrations and you’re not intended to copy them. You should instead go out and find your own ideas, but what’s here will give you plenty of inspiration and jumping-off points.

There are plenty of books like this and they usually end up with a qualification – yes, but … it only goes so far. Not so here. It’s a rather joyful book and provides a wealth of encouragement.

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