Archive for category Series: Secrets of

From Basics to Special Effects (Secrets of Watercolor) || Joe Garcia

The basic approach of this book is not dissimilar to the Top Tips series from another publisher. Each technique or subject is given a single page or spread, with example illustrations and short explanatory captions. Where it differs, though, is that it doesn’t try to get too many illustrations onto a page. Having decided on a small format, the designers seem to be aware of its limitations and to have worked within them, turning them quite frequently, into a strength. The approach is to keep it simple, stripped-back and constantly moving and the result makes it all very easy to follow and to absorb quickly. These aren’t books to pore over but rather to pick up and dip into for specific information or just for inspiration.

£9.99 is quite a lot for a book this small, and I can’t help thinking the series would have been an easier sell at a couple of quid cheaper, but I do think the titles I’ve seen so far are worth the money.

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Start to Finish (Secrets of Drawing) || Craig Nelson

Whereas the same author’s other title in this series had an obvious point, this one is less clearly defined. I think the idea of the title is that it’s full of hints and tips (the stock in trade of the series) on the whole process of drawing, but that’s not immediately clear from the title and an initial examination isn’t too much help either as the content seems all a bit jumbled up.

First impressions are important, but they aren’t the whole story, so does it fare better under closer examination? Well, yes, it does. Inevitably, cramming the book’s avowed intent into 96 smallish pages is a tall order, but, like the other titles in the series so far, the size isn’t a drawback. What does happen, though, is that a lot of material gets left out – you can’t do everything in a book this size and we therefore have to judge it on what’s left. Are enough topics covered and are they covered adequately? Well, when you only give yourself a page or two, you have to be succinct, and this can be a strength. Conveying a topic such as three-point perspective in one page is another tall order, but get it right and it can be easier to understand than a whole chapter on the subject. As long as perspective doesn’t give you brain-ache, you’ll appreciate this (if it does, you may never be able to get your head round it, sorry).

Overall, I’m impressed by what this does manage to include and, while I’m sure everyone will have their own idea of which of their favourite topics has been left out, the book nevertheless has a positive and busy feel to it that makes it a pleasure to use.

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Figures & Faces (Secrets of Drawing) || Craig Nelson

This is part of a new series from North Light which comes under the umbrella title of “Essential Artist Techniques”. Octavo format, 96 pages long, they’re clearly intended as quick and easy guides and perhaps also as impulse purchases – the sort of thing a shop might put on a display table or by the till, if art books ever make it off the lower back shelves, that is.

The pleasant surprise is how well they’re done. Small books are often rather dashed off, but care has clearly been taken over the production of these and the smaller page-size isn’t an immediate disadvantage – the illustrations are mostly full or half page and it’s the text rather than the pictures that has been condensed. There’s also a lot of colour, which is also credibly placed rather than feeling as though it’s just there to make the book look more attractive.

For the subject in question, the stripped-back approach works remarkably well and there are plenty of different poses and subjects, with sketches, diagrams and fully worked drawings. It works best, I think, as something to use for specific reference rather than to progress through from start to finish. It’s also effective if you just open it at random and take what serendipity gives you. Most topics are dealt with in a single page or spread, even the demonstrations only running to 4 pages, so you can pick up an idea quickly and easily.

As an aid to stimulating the imagination, this is superb. If you want to study a topic or the whole subject in more depth, there are plenty of other books, but they can be exhaustive (and exhausting; this is a big subject) and this has a sense of freshness and pace I really like.

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