Archive for category Publisher: Watson Guptill

Foundations of Drawing || Al Gury

This thorough and substantial guide to drawing is based on historical principles and uses examples from old and more recent masters as well as contemporary workers, including the author himself.

It is, as is common with Watson Guptill, not a simple how-to manual, but rather a discussion of the methods, techniques and creative uses of its subject that immerses the reader in a seminar rather than a class. Al has some thirty years’ experience of teaching and he puts this to good use, with clear explanations and a text that will keep the reader absorbed at all times.

Despite the approach, this is not a dry manual on what has passed, but includes plenty of practical work that examines topics from shading to perspective, Realism to Expressionism and a comprehensive range of subjects. The overall intention is to help you to develop your own portfolio and ways of working.

If you simply want to learn the mechanics of drawing, this will probably overwhelm you. However, if you’re interested in the whole creative process, it should amply satisfy.

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Colored Pencil Painting Portraits || Alyona Nickelsen

Thorough and comprehensive, this is more than just a practical guide. Aloyna includes historical examples that set modern approaches in context and show how portrait painting has developed over the centuries. As well as exercises and demonstrations, there are example poses, explanations of skin tones, facial features and structure, and extended consideration of the medium itself.

The subtitle refers to “a revolutionary method for rendering depth and imitating life”, which is a harmless enough strapline to aid sales. The blurb glosses this as “new layering tools and techniques”, although I do seem to have heard similar claims elsewhere. I’m not debunking the claim or the superb quality of the book, but I suspect that the author hasn’t in fact discovered something completely new, but rather adapted the glazing-like approach that coloured pencil artists have been using for some time. For all that, the results are impressive and the explanation of how to achieve them well executed, so you’d have nothing to complain about.

Watson Guptill books are characterised by their assiduous approach and detailed explanations and this is no exception. It’s one to read as well as work along with and an excellent masterclass in its subject.

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The Acrylic Painter || James van Patten

A lot of books on acrylic painting tend to concentrate on its appeal to the beginner. It’s easy to see why – something opaque and quick-drying is relatively easy to handle. At the same time, it is often dismissed as suitable for fine art for the same reasons, as well as its poster paint associations. Great Art demands oils, although professional painters have long realised that something which doesn’t take six months to dry can (at least in theory) be painted one day and sold the next.

When acrylics first appeared, the range of colours was somewhat limited and drying times were ultra-quick, leading to a whole new range of problems. All that, however, has been addressed: artist’s quality paints are available in a full range of colours and there are plenty of retarder mediums that allow full control over drying. It has, in a word, come of age.

This comprehensive survey provides a through overview of techniques and practice with acrylics. It doesn’t attempt to be an in-depth study of everything – that would result in multiple heavy volumes, but James does cover an excellent range of topics, both practical and aesthetic. If you paint in acrylics and want something that takes the medium, and you, seriously, this is it.

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The Drawing Lesson || Mark Crilley

“A graphic novel that teaches you how to draw”. That got your attention, didn’t it? Well, it got mine, which is why you’re reading this review.

I’m not going to tell you the plot … oh heck, yes I am. Spoiler alert: he gets quite good at it by the end. Disheartened by an encounter with an unsympathetic bookseller in a park – well, if I only had a bench-full of books to sell, I’d be hard-nosed too – The Boy, as we’ll call him, meets A Girl. This being fantasy-land, she doesn’t tell him not to stare at her, call the cops or cover up the drawing she’s doing. Well, of course she’s drawing, that’s the point. No, she’s sympathetic and, having assured him she’s not a teacher, proceeds to help The Boy to draw. In fact, they have a load of adventures together because, hey, that’s what people do in books.

Right, I’ve had a lot of fun with this because, you know what, it is a lot of fun. The narrative is pretty straightforward; there are no unexpected plot twists. The drawing is simple, too, which keeps the message easy to follow. This isn’t a graphic novel in the sense of one that rewards detailed study, though Gene Ha, who’s worked with Alan Moore, seems to like it. He says “I can’t wait to get this for every kid on my gift buying list”, and also “Whatever your age [it’s] an essential primer on how to draw what you see”. That’s a slightly mixed message, but he’s right. I can’t decide what age group it’s intended for either. I’m going to say it’s aimed at people who like it, and I don’t think that’s age-dependent.

This sets out to be different and it succeeds. Most importantly, it doesn’t just succeed in being different.

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Pop Painting || Camilla d’Errico

“[This] is a one-of-a-kind book”, says the publisher, clearly not sure what to make if it either. I think you might also be tempted to say “let’s hope”.

The subtitle explains that it’s “inspiration and techniques form the pop surrealism art phenomenon”, and I’ll take their word for it. To me, it seems like a possibly unholy alliance between Manga, computer games and a bad acid trip. It’s the eyes, I think. They’re big (like Manga) but disturbed and disturbing. And as for that white rabbit that looks as though it’s escaped from a failed lab experiment, that’s an image I shall never get out of my head. I may wake up screaming.

It’s unfair to decry something you don’t understand, but I’m not sure I’ll ever find a way into this and I’m not sure I want to, either. It’s certainly not Surrealism as I understand it. Camilla attempts a definition in her introduction, but ends up saying “I create art for myself”, which doesn’t get us any further.

I’ve been so mesmerised by the results that I’ve only just realised that this is instructional and that it’s filled with demonstrations. So, if Pop Surrealism is your thing and a terrified maiden with octopuses* on her head and holding a lamb is your choice of subject, this is a book for you.

Octopi? Octopodes?

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Oil Painting Essentials || Gregg Kreutz

Although this is an American book, you’d be unlikely to guess just by looking through it. Gregg Kreutz’s style is firmly European and in what we might call the Old Master tradition – that’s to say, classical, quite detailed and often rather dark. If you want your oils bright and modern, you might have a problem, though that would be a pity because you’d miss out on the useful text. This, in the Watson Guptill tradition, is discursive rather than instructive and offers plenty of hints on the why as well as the how. The variety of subject matter is also comprehensive and the book lives up to its subtitle: “Mastering portraits, figures, still lifes, landscapes and interiors”.

If you’re looking for a good primer in oil painting, or even something that’ll take you beyond the first stages, this is a worthwhile purchase. The biographical information reveals that Gregg is an instructor at the Art Students League of New York, whose work I’ve praised before.

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Lessons in Classical Painting || Juliette Aristides

Juliette begins her introduction to this fascinating and well thought-out book with an apparently massive digression about what seems like a random mail delivery system that involves complete trust in its own efficacy. She relates this to the creative process with the observation: “Painting cannot be called art while the uncomfortable element of faith is absent … artists need to believe in the value and outcome of their work”.

Let’s just stop and think for a moment about the enormity of that statement. My previous nostrum, printed on a card I bought at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, is Edgar Degas’ “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see”. Well, yes, completely, obviously, I’ll buy that. But faith? That’s a big thing. What Juliette is saying is that it’s not enough to be faithful to your subject, to convey a meaning to the viewer (which is what Degas tells us). It’s not even enough to have faith in your own ability. You have to have an unshakeable belief (that’s what faith is) that your work is worthwhile and, I think by extension, that it will stand the test of time.

And that, rather conveniently, brings me to the question I thought was going to be the big one at the head of this discussion: what is classical painting? Yes, I know, it’s the Old Masters, the Atelier method, the apprenticeship, all that stuff. Except that it isn’t. There are people today painting in what we might call a Classical style and they didn’t go through all that. Heck, they may not even have suffered for their art (or not much, anyway). A lot of their work is included here and it sits seamlessly alongside luminaries such as Winslow Homer, Antonio Mancini or Laura Teresa Alma-Tadema (me neither, but Juliette is rather good on the wives of bigger male names).

So, let’s have a go at a definition of classical painting. No, it’s not about studios, or style, or materials. Well, it is, but it’s not primarily about that. It’s about that utter sense of self-belief that previous ages found so easy, or at least found an easy mantle to assume, which isn’t quite the same thing. Van Gogh was a Great Artist, but not in his lifetime. He suffered almost certainly from mental illness, but never lost faith in himself as An Artist. His eventual suicide seems to have been more to spare his brother the cost of his upkeep (you really should read Bernadette Murphy’s Van Gogh’s Ear: The True Story), rather than any kind of admission of artistic failure.

I’ve known Watson Guptill through several incarnations and I’m massively impressed by the current one as a purveyor of finely-produced, illustrated and authoritative monographs on the philosophy of the practice of painting (this one even has sewn binding, which is a rarity these days). I’d go so far as to say that, when you handle this, you know that it has as much faith in its ability to carry its message as the message itself is telling you to have in yourself as an artist.

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