Archive for category Series: Encyclopaedia
This was originally published sufficiently long ago that I’ve never reviewed it here, so let’s have a go at it as a Search Press Classic. The first thing that should be said is that there’s no clue to its age on the copyright page or in the information sheet I get in advance. I would take points off for that, but I think the “classic” billing probably has it just about covered.
The Encyclopedia series, originated by the packager Quarto, was ground-breaking in its day. Innovation often looks stale after a few years, but this still has a vitality that won’t leave you feeling you’ve been left with cast-offs, and the information is still sound. Quarto productions are always design-led and usually work on a spread-by-spread basis, so you can open this more or less at random and find a topic covered as completely as it’s going to be – which is with surprising thoroughness, given the space allocated. Quarto are always good at conveying information efficiently.
Information contained covers media, styles, subjects and techniques and there are plenty of illustrations to guide and inspire you. At £12.99, this is about the same price as it was when it was new, which is a reduction if you allow for inflation, but not a fantastic bargain. However, it’s not an unreasonable addition to the canon of Classics and emphatically one that’s worth keeping in print.
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The Encyclopaedia series was a winning format when it first appeared and one that has stood the test of time well, setting the standard for design-led instruction books where each spread is an entity in its own right. Several of the volumes have been revamped and, although I can’t see any evidence that this one is more than a straight reissue, it retains a fresh and inviting feel.
There are two distinct sections, Techniques and Themes and the combination of what to do and what to do with it is pretty much unique, most calligraphy books going for just one or the other.
Techniques covers all the things you’d expect, from basic penmanship to letterforms in Carolingian, Copperplate, Italic, etc. Diana also includes extras such as gilding, the use of quill pens and ornamentation.
In Themes, she gives extensive examples of the sort of work you can produce, with illustrations from a variety of contemporary practitioners. There is a limited amount of detail here, so this is more a gallery than a series of projects, but the extended captions and chapter introductions go a long way towards giving you ideas to work on.
If you want what is effectively two books in one, you’ll get excellent value for money.
In an age when we’re all being encouraged to recycle, I suppose it’s inevitable that publishers start to raid their back catalogues in order to beef up their front lists. Usually, all this does is prove that, however good a book may have been in its day, unless it’s a consistent seller on its own, it’s usually best left to gather dust while the world moves on.
However, in the case of Search Press and the Encyclopaedia series (which started life with Headline when they were a young, niche publisher), a little – and surprisingly little, too – redesign work has freshened what was already a good idea up no end. What I was implying before was that you can’t breathe new life into a corpse. It’s surprising, though, what you can do with some minor surgery, a shot of botox and a new hair-do.
The basic layout here consists of three main sections: Tools And Materials, Techniques and Picture Making. The first two are pretty much self-explanatory, with things such as washes, drybrush and brushwork getting a double-page spread each with nice clear illustrations and extended captions that explain what you’re looking at. The final section continues in much the same vein, but gets into more general areas such as choosing a palette, the use of body colour and how to create textures. The aim throughout is not so much to create a linear course that you can follow from start to finish, but rather to give you reasonably detailed (but not exhaustive) coverage of the techniques that others books may just refer to. It’s something to have on the shelf for reference, but it’s also entertaining enough, through the extensive use of illustrations, to be worth simply leafing through from time to time to see what catches your eye and, hopefully, sticks in your mind.
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Although this isn’t actually a new book, it looks like it and the editors have done a good job on updating what was already an excellent idea that has stood the test of time well.
The book is organised into a logical sequence that begins with a section on Preparing To Paint, which deals with preparing canvases, stretching paper, priming and so on. The layout here shows us how the book is going to progress, with each section given a double-page spread with plenty of pictures and simple, short captions that explain what you’re looking at. From here, you get Making A Start, Ways Of Working, Special Techniques and then Themes, which is a rather neat way of working from a technique-based approach to something more practical, where you look at techniques in action in portraits, landscapes, waterscapes and so on.
A lot of people will tell you that painting isn’t, or shouldn’t be, about the technical stuff but rather about expressing your creativity and that’s fine as far as it goes. However, you still need to know how to mix colour, use resists, drybrush, glazing and all that in order to be able to get the effects you want. If you went on a course, this is what they’d teach you but, if you’re working on your own, you need something to help and this mixture of the encyclopaedia (the book grows out of the encyclopaedia series) and the practical guide will give you a lot of help all in one place.
This was a good book when it first appeared and it’s a measure of its fundamental quality that it still is.
The Encyclopaedia series first saw the light of day over 20 years ago and many of the original titles are still in print. So why the longevity and has it dated? I think a lot of the success is down to an eclectic choice of material and a slightly scattergun approach which gives an instant appeal; they’re books that, on first glance, make you feel you want to delve deeper into them and that’s what sells to the casual buyer who’s picked one up in a shop.
The square format helps too. It’s unusual because publishers generally feel it has a not-one-thing-or-the-other feel, but it works here because it means that both upright and landscape format illustrations can get equal billing. It also allows the designers a lot of flexibility in page layout which they use enthusiastically. No two pages are exactly alike and the layout reflects the material to be presented rather than it being shoe-horned into a grid that no-one seems to be able to break out of. Once again, this is unusual because it means a lot more work and a lot more potential cost, something publishers shy away from like a plague of, well, anything you can have a plague of, basically.
Well, what a lot of innovation and we haven’t even got to what the book’s about yet! There’s more, too, because this is a welcome break from a positive deluge of colour guides and encyclopaedias that are basically just collections of colour swatches. These are fine in their place and have sold in just about every size, flavour and colour, but what about colour in practice in, like, y’know, a painting? Well hallelujah, here it is! After a broad introduction to colour groups, this book moves out into an exploration of how the colours of the paint you use apply to capturing the colour you see in the scene in front of you. By explaining these groups and presenting a series of projects, demonstrations and analyses Jan Hart breaks the use of colour down in a way that’s pretty easy to understand.
This is a serendipitous sort of book, one to dip into as well as maybe to work through, a repository of little as well as larger treasures that act like beams of light into a world that many find complex, even though it is, when all’s said and done the lingua franca of the artist. Did I mention increased costs earlier? Well, you wouldn’t know it because, at £12.99, they’re practically giving it away. Me, I’d have printed it on thicker paper, stuck a hard cover on it and charged double, but don’t tell them that.
Search Press 2007
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