Archive for category Series: How to Paint

Flowers in Acrylics (How to Paint) || Tim Fisher

This series of introductory booklets has been throwing up some surprises of late and is in a little danger of suffering an identity crisis. The implication of the head title is that it’s aimed at the beginner, but recent additions have tended to be a little more advanced, while at the same time keeping the spirit of the simple approach. I don’t think that’s a bad thing necessarily, but there might be some confusion over who the target audience is and it could be in danger of being overlooked by the casual browser.

Tim Fisher paints in the oil style of the medium, frequently in quite a heavy impasto, a fact that’s worth knowing if that’s not your thing. The meat of the book is a series of three demonstrations, of increasing complexity, that showcase nicely what you can achieve, but this is only half of it. The rest comprises an introduction to materials that the more experienced will want to skip and some quite useful notes on tone, colour and colour mixing. There’s also a solid section on getting started which includes notes on sketching and composition.

All this is quite basic and, although the demonstrations are simply explained and comprehensively illustrated you can’t help feeling they’re quite a long way beyond the scope of anyone reading the book’s first half. It’s not that everything here isn’t massively useful, I’m just not sure that it’s useful to the same set of people. On the other hand, if you want to learn to paint flowers in acrylics (and a subject-based book in the medium is to be welcomed), this is for you.


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Colour & Light in Watercolour (How to Paint) || Jean Haines

Colour and light are two of the most important elements in the composition of any painting, so a simple guide that sets you on the right road is to be welcomed.

However, before you part with your hard-earned cash, a word of caution. Jean Haines has a very loose, almost abstract style that makes heavy use of washes and spattering and is by no means going to be to everyone’s taste; in fact, at times it’s so extreme that the form tends to obscure the message it’s trying to get across. The irony is that, if they’d called it How to Paint Wet-in-Wet, I’d be here telling you what a masterclass it was.

I have no complaint with the basic ideas or the way they’re explained, but I’m really not sure that Jean’s style is suited to what, when it comes down to it is, or ought to be, a fairly technical manual.

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Watercolour Washes (How to Paint) || Fiona Peart

Now here’s something the world has been needing for a good number of years – a really good, simple introduction to the mysteries of the watercolour wash.

Fiona Peart’s loose, relaxed style is ideally suited to this most basic of techniques, which she approaches in a way that even the most inexperienced beginner should have no trouble following. The wash is, of course, one of watercolour’s best tricks, allowing subtle shading and blending as well as impressionistic backgrounds that can make the main subject really stand out. A lot of books talking about skies will begin, for example, by saying, “lay a basic wash of Cerulean Blue mixed with a little Payne’s Gray” and assume you know how.

If the wash is watercolour’s trick, then Fiona has one of her own: she paints a superb variety of subjects – flowers, figures, waterscapes, buildings – all using washes. Ordinarily, this is probably more than you’d want or need to do, but it does serve to emphasise just how versatile a wash can be. All this is on top of an introduction to basic materials and techniques, making this one of the best value books you can buy.

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Landscapes in Oils (How to Paint) || David Crane

For what’s intended to be a basic introduction, this features some quite complex subjects with a lot of elements, colours and brushwork. The extensive step-by-step photographs that are a feature of this series do a good job of working through the many stages of building up such images, but beginners might find themselves put off by the amount of work involved and the number of things you have to do to achieve the finished result. I can’t help thinking that Search Press have other series where this author might have been put to better use.

However, if you’re already reasonably proficient with oil paints, then you might find that this offers something in that no man’s land between the introduction and the masterclass. It’s not that there isn’t some good stuff here, I’m just not sure who it’s aimed at.

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Abstracts: How to Paint || Dani Humberstone

At first sight, the idea of including abstracts in a basic series that’s mainly aimed at the beginner with little or no previous experience seems a bit optimistic, to put it mildly. However, with previous books on abstraction concentrating more on the creative and philosophical aspects of the style, it’s rather good to find something that deals with the actual process of getting ideas down onto your surface. The author’s mixed media approach means that you’re not tied to one particular style and she’s absolutely sound on the techniques you need. As well as the basic introduction, there are also four demonstrations showing how the final results are built up.

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Pastels: How to Paint || Carol Hodgson

There aren’t that many books around on pastels, which is a pity, because it’s an attractive and relatively simple medium. To have one that concentrates on the absolute basics and comes from a series that assumes very little previous knowledge on the part of the reader is a double treat.

Carol Hodgson shows you how to handle pastels and then provides three very thoroughly illustrated step by step demonstrations of sunflowers, an olive grove and a Venetian scene that cover a good variety of both subject and techniques. Everything you need is there, all that’s missing is the mystique.

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Acrylics: How to Paint || Peter Jay

This new series from Search Press concentrates on the absolute basics and assumes very little prior knowledge on the part of the reader. It’s one stage on from those omnibus “how to paint everything in every medium” books that are – or claim to be – an even more elementary introduction for the general reader. Some of them are good, but a lot are aimed at people who know someone who “wants to paint” and assume that a fat, suspiciously inexpensive, tome is the way forward. That the recipient probably never gets further than the first 20 or so pages and one half-completed watercolour means that their real value is never really tested.

I’m sorry, we seem to have got a bit off-topic there and I should add there are some really quite good big fat introductions around that are the ideal starting point for someone who’s reasonably serious but hasn’t got as far as deciding which is their medium yet.

But, back to our sheep [revenons à nos moutons as they say sur le continent]. If you’ve got as far as browsing this series on the shelves, you’ve also got as far as making a decision on which medium you’re going to pursue and that’s the first rung up the ladder. So, we’ll assume that you know what a brush is and what paints are, but that you don’t really have much experience in using them. And this is where this series comes in. There’s a very good section on materials and media that will show you the basics of colour mixing and brushstrokes and then 3 fairly straightforward demonstration paintings that will get you started.

64 pages isn’t enough to offer an exhaustive study, but the point is not to bog you down, but to give you something to achieve reasonably quickly so that you can move on with something already under your belt.

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