Archive for category Publisher: Search Press

The Watercolour Companion || Matthew Palmer

There’s something about this little book that you instinctively want to like. It just feels right the moment you pick it up and this is not accidental, but rather a perfect meeting of author, editor, design and production.

Content-wise, it falls into the basic hints and tips category, but covers a very broad range of watercolour techniques and subjects, arranged as a reference that you can call on for help or inspiration, or just dip into in quiet moments to spark your own thoughts and ideas. It would have been easy to make the result a lot bigger, with more examples and variations, but this is a vade mecum, something to be carried with you out in the field. It’s small enough to fit into a pocket, slim enough not to make an inconvenient bulge or weigh you down on one side and even has an elastic closure so that it doesn’t flap about awkwardly. All of these things could be tropes or gimmicks, but they serve an obvious purpose and add to the general appeal. The binding is also sewn – something of a luxury these days, which means that the pages fall open without having to be coerced, making one-handed use perfectly feasible. There’s even a handy viewfinder in a pocket at the back. I’m not even sure that all this adds significantly to the price, which is just under a tenner. That’s not bad these days.

Matthew is an excellent explainer and he covers an awful lot of ground in a very small space – which, of course, also leaves no room for over-working, either of examples or writing. Coverage includes colour, brushwork, choice of subject, skies, light, flowers, trees, buildings, water, people and special effects. Although there’s no index, each section is concise and the contents page allows you to navigate quickly.

Will you really drop what you’re doing and look a technique up in the middle of furious creativity? Only you can decide. I think you’re more likely to dip into it as I suggested, possibly just before turning the light out at bedtime. Who knows, you may wake up with the perfect image in your head and know instinctively how to achieve it.

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The Kew Book of Botanical Illustration || Christabel King

This thoroughly worthwhile guide has been reissued in paperback. You can read my original review here.

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Sketchbook Challenge || Susan Yeates

This is a further addition to the increasing line of project-based books aimed at what I think we can fairly describe as the occasional user. People who, perhaps, like the idea of art without being absolutely devoted to it.

For them, I’m pretty sure this is absolutely perfect. Subtitled 100 prompts for daily drawing, it’s exactly that. Simple ideas along the lines of “why not do this?”, with a text that tells you little more than that it might be a good idea and an example or two that, to be perfectly honest, look a bit rushed. If the idea is that you don’t have to produce great works of art, Susan has hit the spot perfectly, and I mean that positively, not as a veiled insult. No-one benefits from the “not for the likes of you” approach.

The ideas cover pretty much everything, from shapes to everyday objects, animals, flowers and even just the things you find in your pocket. Would you, the committed artist, benefit from it? Well, this isn’t the first book to suggest ideas for drawing based on what’s in front of you, either as a way of learning or to break through creative block. A professional artist once said to me, “if I get one idea from a book, it’s been worth it”, so you might think that this offers a fresh approach that stimulates your creativity. You might, of course, also find it just plain annoying and vow to do better, which has just achieved the same result. Chicken dinners all round, I think.

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Simply Paint Flowers || Becky Amelia

This is one to file under Decorative Arts, projects for the beginner or part-time painter. That’s not to belittle it, but it’s not a guide to flower painting for the more serious watercolourist and, to be completely fair to it, neither does it aspire to be.

Having got that out of the way, what it does give is a simple and simplified set of ideas for floral designs in both watercolour and gouache. The emphasis is on shape and colour and it comes as absolutely no surprise that Becky is an illustrator. Although the author biography doesn’t mention graphic design, this is very much her approach. The book revolves around a series of projects that use a simple set of colours (selected for each project) and designs. The images are compact and could easily be reproduced and set to repeat for wallpaper or other coverings.

No, this isn’t flower painting as depiction of flowers, it’s flower painting as floral design and it’s well done and simply presented. Even the more serious flower painter could probably get a few ideas.

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Ready to Paint with Terry Harrison

Terry Harrison was one of the best teachers and writers about art and his death in 2017 was a great loss.

This omnibus brings together 15 of his demonstrations from the excellent and ever-popular Ready to Paint series. If you’re a fan, you probably have them already. If not, this modestly priced volume will give you an excellent introduction to fields, woodlands, wider landscapes, buildings and seascapes. Full-size outlines are provided for you to trace down onto your own paper and they can be re-used as often as you want.

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Painting Stones || Marion Kaiser

There’s nothing new about painting on stones, and we’ll all have seen faces, animals and geometric designs in many different places. For all that, this is only the second book I’ve seen on the subject, the previous one also coming from Search Press, about thirty years ago.

This is full of ideas and really rather well-executed and I can’t help thinking anyone would be inspired to have a go. The required materials (acrylic paints and brushes) are simple and the surfaces, of course, free.

What is particularly attractive about the approach here is the way Marion adapts the design to the stone in hand. It’s not quite as high-flown as Michelangelo’s advice to find the sculpture in the block, but the principle is not dissimilar.

The book is project-based and each one has simple instructions that, accompanied by clear photographs, are easy to follow. The whole thing is really rather delightful.

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Botanical Watercolours Through The Seasons || Sandrine Maugy

When it comes to the arrangement of flower painting books, you pays your money and you takes your choice. Do you want them alphabetical for reference, by colour for handy palette selection, or seasonal for easy access to what’s around at any particular time? We shouldn’t be unkind, because the publisher has to do something and all these are perfectly valid and what really matters is the quality of the instruction.

The sales blurb for this begins: “This stunning book follows the rhythm of nature through the year”, and I wouldn’t disagree with any of that. It is stunning and there’s also a sense of originality and wonder in what is, let’s face it, a crowded field.

Open any art instruction book at random and it’s usually fairly easy to pick out the structure: general introduction, materials, techniques, basic exercises, demonstrations. It’s a convention because it works and you break away from it at your peril. Sandrine and the production team at Search Press have taken quite a risk here, because this doesn’t have an obviously linear structure. Rather, the technical pieces, such as Drawing a Rose, or discussions of colour (Drawing and a Viridian Palette) appear within the body of the work. This could very easily break up the flow but, sensitively handled, puts what sometimes amount to thought pieces right next to the subject they relate to. It also makes the book subtly immersive and I think it’s one you’d probably want to read right through before breaking out the paintbox and then going to the section covering the season you’re in right now.

Style-wise, Sandrine works with individual subjects – these include fruit and leaves as well as flowers – rather than larger arrangements and she paints them with quite a lot of, but not obsessive, detail. She’s not afraid of a wash when the result demands it. This makes the book eminently accessible and the overall sense is of immersing yourself in the subject and a feeling of being enveloped, informed and entertained. And that’s quite an achievement.

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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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