Archive for category Publisher: Sterling
The Visual Language of Drawing || James L McElhinney & the instructors of The Art Students League of New York
The Art Students League of New York, if you’re not familiar with it, has been providing studio-based art education for 135 years. Its instructors work in styles that vary from the classical to the avant-garde and the first section of this book is devoted to a series of essays which explain their approaches to seeing and drawing as well as to the process of instruction itself. Even if the names are unfamiliar, the ground is well-trodden and the insights offered are fascinating as well as valuable.
The second, shorter, section is given over to a series of lessons which have a more obvious feel to them; they do not really break new ground and, being largely textual, have the feeling of a talking head to them. I think the League wants to emphasise its position as a serious school and that perhaps the idea of a fully illustrated course might have felt a little too lightweight. However, dip into this part and, once again, there are insights to be had. Ignore it, and you’ll still be getting your money’s worth from the essays.
According to the introduction, the purpose of the book is “to re-assess the art of drawing at the beginning of the twenty-first century – not as an artistic genre but as a visual language” – and you can’t get more high-minded than that. On balance, I’d have to say it’s mission accomplished.
Subtitled, “The ultimate introduction or the art of hand lettering”, this is indeed a comprehensive guide and covers everything from letterforms and pen strokes to map-making and even writing on the human body.
The layout is not so much an instruction manual or a course as something to read through and immerse yourself in and, as such, is not (nor, it should be emphasised, does it claim to be) something for the beginner. Rather, it’s a book for those whose interest has been established and who already have some facility in the medium. The text is discursive rather than concise and the book is also generously illustrated with both examples and tips as well as finished works.
Having said that it’s not an instruction manual, there is nevertheless plenty of practical material and, if you want to take calligraphy seriously, this should satisfy you for a long time.
The climate of New England has much in common with the Old Country and its artists can therefore speak to a UK audience with little translation. In this case, that means that the colours, washes, mists and occasional bursts of sunlight will be immediately familiar and the subjects rarely, if ever, alien.
Light is the artist’s stock in trade and many books have been, either explicitly or implicitly, about it. Often though, they are really just a way of pegging a book about how a particular author, who may be said to have a knack, paints. This one though is soundly practical and has much useful advice. The downside of this (don’t I always find one?) is that there are a lot of words. This is no bad thing in itself and it isn’t a bad thing here, because the authors explain all the processes of design, composition and execution in not overfull detail. However, it does mean that some of the illustrations are smaller than you might like, in particular those that show progressive stages, and that details can be hard to pick out.
It should be said that this wasn’t what struck me on first looking through the book: what I saw then was how practical and comprehensive it was. Looking at it in more detail did throw the issue up, though. I don’t think it’s a deal-breaker, but it’s one of those things that, when you’ve noticed it once, you can’t ignore.
The Spanish publishing house of Parramon has had a reputation for many years for the quality of its art books which tend to be well-structured and copiously illustrated. It’s a shame that that the publishers of the English language edition of this one have chosen not to credit the author on the cover as David Sanmiguel is one of Parramon’s best writers.
This isn’t a subject that’s particularly widely covered. Still lifes tend to conjure up an image of something, ironically, rather dead (for those who care, the French is nature morte!), a composition you throw together on a wet winter evening when there’s nothing on telly and nothing to paint. On top of that, it’s also going to be full of boxes, cylinders and cones and all those dry-as-dust exercises you’ve spent your life trying to get away from.
But then again, some of the world’s greatest paintings have been still lifes – Van Gogh’s Sunflowers are, after all, in a vase. So, okay, yes there are bottles and wine glass and bowls of fruit in this book, but, rather cleverly, they’re part of an image rather than being entirely an end in themselves. The book also follows the Parramon formula of being illustration-led: that is to say, the words are captions rather than treatises and this allows the author to get away with a lot. As a guide to drawing, it’s hard to beat, in fact.
You get a lot for you money here. There are five main sections, beginning with Starting Drawing, which is where most of the basic exercises are and which, if you feel you’re already competent, you could skip. It only occupies 32 pages, so as well as being concise, it also won’t hold you up for too long. The next three sections cover Light and Shadow, Shapes Qualities and Subjects and Composition. Each one is sub-divided and adds progressively to your knowledge and skills. The final section covers a series of step-by-step demonstrations in a variety of media, including pencil, charcoal, pastel and pen & ink.
The text does slightly betray its origin in another language: it doesn’t absolutely feel as though it was written in English, but this is a minor and slightly unfair niggle as it’s more important in a book of this kind to relay the information than to write a piece of elegant prose. As I said before, the book is led by its illustrations and these work in any language, so it’s not something you’re exactly going to be tripping over.
Year published 2006
List price: £12.99
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