Archive for category Series: Artist’s Studio

Dynamic Acrylics || Soraya French

It’s as hard to pin down exactly what this book is about as it is to gather that from the title. Even a quick flick through, however, will reveal that what you get is a masterclass in what can be done with paint and I’m not sure that it really matters what the medium is. In her introduction, Soraya French refers to acrylics as “a forgiving and versatile medium”, which indeed it is, “that is a great tool to enable both the newcomer and the more experienced artist to process their thoughts and ideas with more confidence.” She also remarks that the medium has found its place, being taken seriously alongside more traditional media.

All of this is true and I don’t intend as a criticism that it’s also a truism. Professional artists have been using acrylics for many years motivated, I think, by the quick-drying properties that allow them to paint it today and sell it tomorrow. This adoption has understandably filtered down to the amateur market and, with the development of retarder mediums, it has become much easier to handle.

The versatility that Soraya French refers to is the fact that acrylics can be used both in a heavy impasto, like oils, or thinned down to act like gouache. The fact that it is also opaque makes overpainting possible and also the correction of mistakes, which is why it is ideal for the beginner.

So far, so much I’ve said already about other books. What marks this out is that it’s one of the first books (although I think John Hammond just beat her to it) to look at acrylics from the creative point of view rather than just being a technical manual and, in this respect, what’s said in the introduction is spot on.

If you want a book that will teach you how to paint in acrylics, this is not it; there are no step by step demonstrations and the paintings illustrated are quite complex. However, if you’re looking for ideas and a study of creativity, along with other books in this series, this is it.

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Watercolour Textures || Ann Blockley

The appearance of this book amply demonstrates the extent to which Anne Blockley has matured as an artist and also serves to emphasise the stature of the authoritative Artists’ Studio series from Harper Collins.

Books on texture tend to concentrate on knotty timber, weathered stone- and brick-work and craggy-featured characters. Where this one differs is that it is much more about the textures of everyday subjects and is also not so much about recording the appearance of texture as actually creating it within your work through the use of colour, contrast and granulation as well as many other effects.

Anne Blockley is very much her father’s daughter and you won’t fail to recognise where she learnt her craft, but she is by no means a clone and has a style which is recognisably her own and also recognisably not that of John Blockley, even when she (with some courage) takes on some of the landscapes that made him famous.

Anne’s work is not gentle, even when her subjects are the flowers and seed-heads that characterise a lot of her work. There’s a ruggedness that tells of life outdoors, rather than confined to the studio and her paintings are more interpretative than representational; she is closer to the former, though, than Shirley Trevena, whose Vibrant Watercolours precedes this in the series. As watercolour, this is a tour de force and is yet more proof that the medium is capable of a lot more than the demure dabblings of debutantes!

As with other volumes in the Artists’ Studio series, this isn’t a step-by-step how-to-do-it book, but rather a look at the way the artist works and a discussion, in their own words, of the way they approach both their subjects and their painting methods. If you want to get to grips with the essence of your subject and you’re prepared to roll your sleeves up, so to speak, this is a book you’ll find it hard to put down.

First published 2007

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Vibrant Watercolours || Shirley Trevena

Let’s be honest, it’s a terrible title. I’d challenge anyone to tell me what a vibrant watercolour is; mind you, I’d also challenge those same people to come up with a title that adequately sums Shirley Trevena’s work up without resorting to several pages of closely-typed dialectic. So, please, can we just agree that it’s about as good as we’re going to get and, actually, we do all know what we’re talking about here.

You see, that’s the strange thing: the moment you put this author and that title together, it all becomes clear. And now I’m going to have to try to deconstruct it so that we can talk about what’s going on. Well, someone has to.

Watercolour is a demure medium. If you made a film about it, it would be a Merchant Ivory production and it would have Helena Bonham Carter in it somewhere, possibly in a cameo role as Payne’s Grey. What watercolour is not supposed to do, above all, is take its clothes off in public and shout “knickers” at the passers-by.

However, this is, metaphorically speaking, what a new generation of artists is doing with it. Watercolour is coming out of the Jane Austen era and into the twenty-first century. (Watercolour has completely bypassed the twentieth century: discuss).

No one could accuse Shirley Trevena of being a representational painter and yet her work, mainly of flowers and still lifes, is immediately recognisable. This is not abstraction either in its pure form or as a development of natural shapes where the image is developed from the subject while not quite being of it. The nearest I’m going to get is to say that it’s about producing a painting that tells you what it’s like to look at the subject without actually recording the subject. In fact, it’s about producing art rather than just painting, if you’re going to insist on getting all fancy.

Look at the contents list and the first thing you’re going to notice is just how much colour comes into it: What Makes a Painting Colourful?, Making the Most of a Single Colour, Painting With Neutrals, Favourite Colours, Subjective Colours. As much as anything else, this is a book about having just the most enormous fun with colours, about being let loose in a paint factory.

So far so, possibly, much like a lot of other books, but what sets this apart is the incorporation of the work of many other contemporary artists whose work blends, with quite astounding seamlessness, into every section. This is very much not Another Book of Shirley Trevena’s Paintings, Taking Risks With Watercolour part 2, and stands every inch in its own right. For both author and publisher, that’s a considerable achievement and one on which they should be congratulated because it’s a tricky pitfall to avoid.

You should buy it if you’re a reasonably competent artist who wants to develop their work to the next stage, if you’re prepared to wallow in the joy of colour or if you’re an admirer of the not-purely-representational in general or of Shirley Trevena in particular. Oh, go on then, buy it if you care about art at all, you won’t be disappointed.

Collins 2006

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The Secrets Of Watercolour Success || Hazel Soan

Well, ladies and gentlemen, roll up, roll up. What I have here in my hand is the very elixir of life itself, the vital spark that can ignite the most insensible of objects and bring them to existence before your very eyes.

Oh gosh, that’s so completely unfair, because Hazel Soan is about as far as you can get from a snake-oil salesman and yet there is something deeply alluring about a book whose title promises you just that: paintings that breathe with very life itself.

There have been a number of books about painting which include the word “secret” in the title and they all suggest that there is something which, if it’s only revealed to you, will transform your work and mean that you will never again produce paintings that are anything other than perfect and perfectly desirable. The counter to this, of course, is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, you pays your money and you takes your choice, I may not know much about art but I know what I like. Maybe what we’re getting at is the use of technique, the application of paint, rather than the rather abstract concept of art itself.

The truth is that we all want to believe there’s something round the corner that, if only we could find it, would transform our work. It might be the perfect paper, the magic brush or a new colour, or perhaps that chap who’s coming to the art group tonight could tell us. But it isn’t. What makes good art is imagination and a competent technique. View your scene and know how to reproduce it on paper and then don’t try to paint beyond your abilities. Do that and you’re more than half way there. And that’s what this book is about. Hazel Soan is a deservedly popular artist; she writes well and explains her technique generously. She is a very economic painter and often captures her subject with an absolute minimum of brushstrokes. Her use of colour is also interesting. A lot of her work is done in southern Africa and she is never afraid to use not just bright colours, but also combinations which emphasise that brightness, to capture a quite uncompromising brilliance of the light which is unfamiliar to English eyes.

There’s a huge range of subjects here from landscape to buildings, animals, flowers and portraiture. What Hazel does is to lead by example, showing, using both her own work and that of guest artists including John Lidzey, Shirley Trevena and John Yardley, how specific approaches and applications of technique can bring a scene to life. The book moves progressively through focus and composition, colour and tone to that perennial question: is it finished yet? There are no step-by-step demonstrations and this isn’t a book about how to apply paint, but rather one about painting as an intellectual process. Will it make you a better painter? Well, only you can do that, but I do think it will help you put yourself in the right frame of mind.

Year published: 2006
List price: £17.99

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Loosen Up Your Watercolours || Judi Whitton

Watercolour is a medium that is best suited to a relaxed impressionistic style, but this is something that requires confidence and no small amount of technical skill. None of this is something that can be taught, other than by a lifetime of experience. What you can learn, however, is some of the methods of working and of seeing your subject that move towards the interpretation that is at the heart of this style, for this is not so much about representing your subject has having something to say about it.

The visual lexicon does not contain a list of things you can look up: it’s not a dictionary. Rather, it’s a way of presenting your subject so that certain aspects of it are highlighted. It’s where a picture really does become worth a thousand words, where you make the viewer look at something in the way you did yourself. Already we’re struggling because it’s not something that you can really describe in words, but it’s why a poem is not the same as prose. It’s a matter of saying, “look at this” and yet it’s so much more as well.

The truth is, watercolour doesn’t come much looser than this and, if you’re a moderately experienced painter looking for a way to avoid your work looking rather flat, this probably isn’t it; it might just be too much. With luck, it’ll be extraordinarily inspirational and give you an idea of where you’d like your work to be if you could just develop the skills, but please don’t look at this as a practical painting manual so much as a book about the intellectual process of painting, the state of mind rather than the manipulation of the brush.

Probably the best way to sum the book up is to say that the foreword is by John Yardley (who admires Judi’s work) and that it also contains some paintings by John and also by John Palmer and Charles Reid. That’s the sort of style we’re looking at.

There aren’t very many books which can genuinely be classed as “advanced”, but this would have to be one of them. There are plenty of examples of Judi’s work and she talks extensively about her working methods and shows some paintings in the process of completion. Although these are billed as demonstrations, they’re not how-to in the usual sense, though.

“Inspirational”, that’s the word. And very competitive priced; this is seriously good value for money.

Year published 2005
List price: £16.99

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