Archive for category Series: Tips & Techniques

Handbook of Watercolour Landscapes Tips & Techniques || Richard Bolton, Geoff Kersey, Joe Francis Dowden & Janet Whittle

This is a reissue of a book that first appeared as a compilation in 2009 and as individual volumes between 2002 and 2006.

The difference is that it’s now a much smaller format. That doesn’t mean that the design has been changed, or the page count increased. No, it’s just been shrunk so that some of the illustrations are now postage stamp-sized. Why do publishers do this? What is the attraction of a book you have to squint to see? I’ll grant that the standard of reproduction is such that most of the pictures will stand this, but what was wrong with the A4-ish format?

It’s also a bit of an oddball contents-wise. Richard Bolton on Landscapes and Nature is on message and I’ll buy Geoff Kersey’s Skies, but Joe Dowden is exclusively water, and not really with –scapes in there either, and Janet Whittle’s Flowers and Plants are of themselves and without any setting.

At full-size, I’d also maybe buy the £12.99 price tag, but at half that, it looks a tad expensive. I suspect that it’s a book that’ll get bought as a gift. I really can’t see anyone buying it for themselves.

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Painting With Pastels || Jenny Keal

With pastel books being thin on the ground, any new addition is welcome and this is a rather excellent look at what the medium can do as well as a well thought-out manual on how to do it.

Jenny devotes roughly the first third of the book to materials and techniques and she includes some handy hints on using colour shapers to blend small areas, as well as how pastel pencils can help you fill in detail. She also has valuable advice on composition, perspective and recession. All of this makes this section of the book above the average application-methods tutorial and shows that Jenny is aware of the creative as well as the technical aspects of her subject. To find this where the series is avowedly on the technical side is a positive plus and is an indicator of what’s to come.

The remainder of the book is devoted, as is usual, to five well-detailed step-by-step demonstrations covering landscapes, waterscapes, flowers (in this case irises) and mountains. This is a good range of subjects and makes sure the book’s appeal isn’t limited (unless you were looking for portraits and figures, of course). There are also further example paintings at the end of each section so that the scope goes beyond the specific subject that’s been demonstrated.

All of this makes for a well-balanced book that works within the premise of the series but expands into a much more complete painting manual as well. However, there is a tiny little “but” creeping in here and it has to do, not with the areas that are Jenny’s strengths – choice and use of colour, composition, perspective and all that – but with her handling of shapes. In particular, her handling of hills and mountains, which have rather the appearance of slabs and blocks and rather oddly-shaped peaks. It’s not terminal and I do want to be careful not to damn the book with a niggle, because the rest of it really is very good, but it’s something you can’t help noticing and also something you’re going to have to work round for yourself.

All-in-all, I’d still recommend this to any pastellist, but be forewarned of the potential problem so that it doesn’t spoil the book for you.

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Handbook of Watercolour Tips and Techniques || Arnold Lowrey, Wendy Jelbert, Geoff Kersey, Barry Herniman

I don’t normally review bind-ups as I’ve usually covered the individual volumes previously. Sometimes, though, there’s a particular reason: the single books are no longer available, the anthology is particularly good value or maybe there’s some kind of health warning.

This one falls into the latter category. Be aware that this particular collection has appeared previously, but in a larger format. If you’ve already got a similar sounding book by the same four authors, don’t assume that this is more in the same vein, it’s the same thing.

I have to confess that the reason for issuing it in a half-size format eludes me and there doesn’t seem to have been any change of layout either, they’ve just shrunk the pages so that, unless you have 20:20 vision or some very strong reading glasses, you’re going to struggle with it. It’s also quite heavy and you need to break the spine in order to see the whole of each page properly. Even then, it’s a bit of a wrestle to get it to lie flat.

If you want Arnold Lowrey on starting to paint, Wendy Jelbert on working from sketch to painting, Geoff Kersey on perspective, depth and distance and Barry Herniman on mood and atmosphere, go for the full-size compilation, which appears to be still available. It’s a bit more, but it’s worth it.

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Watercolour Landscapes Tips & Techniques

This is another of Search Press’s bind-ups of several titles from the same series. Once again, if you haven’t already got most of the titles included, it’s very good value.

For the record, what you get is:

Painting Landscapes & Nature by Richard Bolton
Painting Skies by Geoff Kersey
Painting Water by Joe Francis Dowden
Painting Flowers & Plants by Janet Whittle

The Tips and Techniques series is aimed at artists who already have a little experience and features specific topics and subjects for them to develop their style and technique. There are step-by-step demonstrations as well as analyses of completed paintings and the whole is nicely balanced.

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Flowers in the Landscape || Ann Mortimer

This is a useful guide to flowers as an element within a larger painting rather than as a subject in themselves. Given that flowers feature in many landscapes this is timely, although there are a couple of demonstrations where the surrounding landscape rather seems to have disappeared and the flowers are, perhaps, more prominent than you might at first think. This isn’t necessarily a let-down, but if you were expecting less defined shapes and blocks of colour in place of quite a lot of botanical details, let’s say you might be surprised. If it’s the former you’re looking for, then you might find that Terry Harrison’s Watercolour Flowers fits the bill rather better.

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Creative Acrylic Landscapes || Wendy Jelbert

The Tips & Techniques series provides an excellent variety of extensively illustrated demonstrations frequently focussing on quite a narrow subject area. The advantage of this is that you can pick exactly what you want without having to wade through the author’s obsession with something in which you have no interest, at the same time giving yourself a deep immersion in a single topic.

There’s a good variety of subject matter here and Wendy offers tips covering all the main landscape elements as well as techniques for recession, colour and perspective. Overall, it’s excellent value for money and something you should find yourself coming back to again and again for both advice and inspiration.

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Painting Lanscape In Oils || James Horton

After all the quite innovative books on oil painting that have started to appear, it’s rather nice to find something that takes a rather more traditional approach.

Working largely in impasto and using more subdued colours than some of his contemporaries, James Horton paints a broad selection of landscape subjects both in the UK and across Europe. His demonstrations are fairly compact, showing the main stages of the construction of the painting rather than going into a lot of detail about individual brush-strokes and this well suits his style of painting which is not, itself, over-detailed. Each section – skies, water, trees & foliage, hills & mountains, seas & beaches, seasons – finishes off with a small gallery of complementary works which also illustrate the subject in question.

This is not a basic introduction to oil painting (there are plenty of those), but rather a look at a particular style that’s worthy of further investigation by those with a basic grasp of the medium.

First published 2007

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Painting With Acrylics || Arnold Lowrey

When they first appeared, acrylics were going to be the answer to everything and no one was ever going to paint with anything else. For the professional artist, they offer the great attraction of fairly brilliant colours which immediately attract the eye, a variety of methods of application and quick drying times which means a “paint it today, sell it tomorrow” approach is possible.

After the initial rush of enthusiasm, the problems that these same qualities can cause for the amateur became apparent. That quick drying time became a millstone as paint literally dried in the brush and proved impossible to wash off. A lot of people lost a lot of brushes and acrylics became a dirty word. Fortunately, the manufacturers didn’t give up and modern slow-drying formulations and retarder mediums allow working practices which are similar to those familiar for oils and watercolour.

For the general painter, the main attraction of acrylics is their versatility. As happy in a thin wash as a thick impasto, they can be used on paper or canvas and, with wider colour ranges, can virtually supplant oils and gouache. In his introduction to this handy guide, Arnold Lowrey says that, having discovered the medium, he used nothing else for ten years.

With people coming back to acrylics, a number of painting guides have appeared in recent years and this is one of the best and most comprehensive. Its strength is that it’s not a guide to using acrylics, but to painting in acrylics – the medium itself is secondary to the creative process.

The book begins with the by-now familiar formula of a guide to materials and mixing and using colour. Just about every book does it and every author has, or believes they have, their own approach. A lot of people have said they really don’t need all this all over again and, if you leave it out, a lot more will complain that they can’t follow what the author is saying because they don’t know what brushes he uses. So, let’s just say that it’s done concisely here and that you can skip it if you want to. On the other hand, there might be something you hadn’t thought of before, so give it a glance, eh?

After a chapter on Getting Started, which deals with the business of acrylics, what they are and what you need to know that applies specifically to this medium, the book is made up of 6 demonstration paintings, each of which is fully explained and copiously illustrated with step-by-step photographs. Each one covers a different aspect of painting, from the watercolour techniques (thin washes) to impasto (the “oils” method) through to mixed techniques, glazing and the use of pastes and gels.

It’s in this approach that the book lives up to its title: it’s Painting with Acrylics, not Slapping Some Acrylics On a Bit Of Paper and Being Done With It. Good stuff.

Year published: 2006
List price: £9.99

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