Archive for category Subject: Animals

Taming Wildlife with pastel pencils || Lucy Swinburne

This stunning guide to wildlife drawing manages to be both a thoroughly serious study and completely accessible at the same time. Only someone who is fully confident and at home with their subject matter and working methods can achieve that.

The choice of pastel pencils is an interesting one. The use of pencil allows for both fine detail and a degree of blending, but Lucy is silent on why pastels specifically, which is perhaps a shame. This is a very minor niggle, given the quality of the work, content and reproduction here, but still one where perhaps a couple of sentences would have helped. Gosh, I’m hard to please.

After a general introduction to materials and reference sources (Lucy uses photographs here), you move into a series of exercises and demonstrations that usefully deal with both details such as ears, noses and paws and larger demonstrations that deal with the whole animal. These include a wolf, a chimpanzee, a panda and a prowling jaguar. The culmination is a black leopard, where Lucy shows you how to get an almost unbelievable amount of detail into an apparently monochrome subject. While there is menace in the jaguar, here the creature is at rest and has an almost soulful expression – there’s a lot more to Lucy’s work and this book than just technical wizardry.

The demonstrations are thoughtfully presented, with the sections you’re not working on greyed (or rather, blued) out. I haven’t seen this done before, but it very effectively allows you to keep the background in mind without it distracting from the details you’re currently working on. Lucy also manages to achieve a near-perfect balance between saying enough in the explanation and saying too much. This is a book which assumes a certain level of ability – let’s be honest – but not that you also know everything it’s trying to teach you. Once again, this requires a degree of confidence.

It’s also worth saying a word about the production. Self-published books often suffer from, as well as a lack of an editor, a tendency to skimp on the quality of reproduction for fear of driving up costs. This is a mistake Lucy does not make. Work with this level of detail requires the reader to be able to see every mark, and you can. The generous page size also helps. Yes, it comes at a cost (commercially produced, this would probably be ten pounds or so cheaper), but it’s not an expense you should quail at – you absolutely get what you pay for.

There are also accompanying videos on Lucy’s website, which just adds to the depth of instruction available.

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Also available from http://www.tamingwildflife.com

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The Art of Angela Gaughan

There’s a variety of material in this utterly enthralling book, but by far the majority of it is of wildlife, and that’s what you’d buy it for. I’ve always been surprised by the success in the practical art market of books which deal with such sharp focus and fine detail. I don’t mean to denigrate the skills of amateur artists, but this kind of thing is almost certainly beyond the capabilities of more than a few. The truth is, I suspect, that it’s aspirational and you’d certainly be pleased if you could come up with something even half as good.

Although there are demonstrations here, they aren’t really the focus of the book, which is much more of a masterclass aimed at those who already have quite a lot more than the basic skills. If you can already paint animals, you’ll be glad at the lack of rehearsal of the basics you already know. As far as materials are concerned, Angela works mostly in acrylics.

The results are stunning. Angela absolutely understands form, colouring, posture and behaviour and here it’s not only her creatures that are believable, but their settings and their place in them. It’s true that she works a lot from photographs, but those don’t always give quite the right composition or feature the perfect specimen. The art is to provide what nature intended, rather in the way of the identification guide, which shows a typical rather than exact example.

The majority of the subjects are large wildlife – apes, elephants, big cats – but there are some domestic ones as well as some figurative work that demonstrates similar skills. There’s not enough of this to make it a reason for purchase, but it adds variety and a further dimension.

And now we must turn to the production, which is the jewel in the book’s crown. This is a slightly oversize volume and excellent use has been made of the space, both to showcase finished paintings and to feature details and stages at a good size. The quality of the reproduction is stunning. Angela’s work concentrates on fine detail and every hair and brushstroke are clearly visible. Going through, I started to wonder whether some of the images weren’t quite up to snuff and were perhaps not quite as sharp as they might be. Further inspection showed that this is absolutely not the case and that what I was actually seeing was the texture of the painting surface. Yes, it’s that good.

Only a hundred years ago, colour reproduction was so coarse that you could see the individual dots of ink with the naked eye. Photo litho improved that and then mechanical tolerances in the printing presses themselves allowed much finer register and smaller dots, which you now need a powerful magnifier to see.

For all that, there’s much that can go wrong and choice of paper is a major stumbling block. Search Press’s production department has been at the top of its game for some time, but this surpasses anything I’ve seen, even from more august publishing houses dealing with fine art. That they have achieved this with a cover price of just under £20 is barely credible and you have to suspect witchcraft may be involved! If you’re involved with book production, you should have a copy of this, just to remind yourself of what’s possible. You have nowhere to hide and there are no excuses for anything less.

So, to sum up: an amazing book in every respect.

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Ready to Paint in 30 Minutes – Animals in Watercolour || Matthew Palmer

Here’s an ideal subject for this nicely-maturing series. Matthew presents simple exercises that cover just about every type of animal and coat from hide to hair, fur and feathers (birds are included). Some of the backgrounds are plain, allowing you to concentrate on the subject, others include wider settings that provide context. Nothing is over-complicated, however, and the idea of working quickly on a single idea is never compromised.

Each of the 29 exercises is accompanied by an outline tracing that allows you to get the basic shapes down quickly and you’ll be working at A6 size, so you won’t need to make elaborate preparations or clear a working space. 30 minutes is probably best seen as a target rather than a limit – if you want to spend a bit more time, that’s fine, just don’t get too tied up with details and land up over-working.

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Drawing Using Grids – Animals & People || Giovanni Civardi

The idea behind this series is simple and easy to comprehend – it does what it says on the tin. Each subject is overlaid by a co-ordinated grid, so that all the main points of shape and composition can easily be transferred the finished image. It’s a long-established and well-tested technique that simply works.

What makes these volumes particularly useful, as well as the quality of the illustrations, is the amount of background material – structure, anatomy and features – that prefaces each set of drawings. In the animals volume, these are not just general but applied to each type – so, dogs, horses, cats. When it comes to people, these are structure, movement and posture. The main sections here divide into character, babies and children, and figures in action.

It should be added that these are compilations of individual volumes, though only two (Portraits With Character and Portraits of Babies and Children) have previously appeared in English. The bulk, therefore, can be regarded as new material.

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Painting Animals in Watercolour || Liz Chaderton

This is a small and slim volume and you would be forgiven for thinking it can’t have much to say. Look inside, though, and there’s a remarkable amount of variety, both in subject matter as well as approaches and techniques. The secret is some really rather nifty design work that allows the maximum number of illustrations with a text that’s mainly there to point you in the right direction. If you wanted proof of the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words, this is it.

So, you’ll find birds and animals – both wild and domestic – and an imaginative use of colour that perfectly suits Liz’s loose, painterly style. There’s not a lot about anatomy and structure beyond some basic information, but this is a book about interpretation rather than necessarily strict detailed representation. If the subjects were flowers, this would not be botanical illustration.

Basically, it’s not so much a book about animals as a book about how to paint animals that have presence and character. It’s not a complete course, although it’s a lot more thorough than you’d think and a genuinely worthwhile addition to the bookshelf.

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Drawing Animals | Lucy Swinburne

This is an enlarged edition of a book that first appeared in the Masterclass series in 2013. Sensibly, this time, the publisher has resisted the temptation to re-brand it as being for the beginner.

The Masterclass series was a good idea intended to appeal to more advanced artists who perhaps didn’t feel the need for instruction in basic techniques or a breakdown of the materials they’d need. However, it’s a risky approach as the non-specialist can easily feel excluded and that the whole thing is maybe too difficult.

Although there is plenty of advanced work here, this is nevertheless a thoroughly approachable book and should certainly appeal to anyone with reasonable drawing skills who is wanting to turn their attention to the animal world. Domestic, wild and zoo animals are included and there’s plenty of information on structural features such as eyes, ears and noses as well as complete projects that put the techniques you’ve developed into practice. There’s also a handy section on working from photographs and transferring that image to paper using a grid to get the proportions right.

I liked the original and, although I’m unable to compare the two editions, this has the feel of a complete guide.

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How to Draw Dogs & Cats from Simple Templates || Christopher Hart

Christopher Hart is always good value and his many figure drawing books have proved deservedly popular. Turning his attention to the animal world, his straightforward approach will get you quickly on the road to success with what can be a tricky subject.

The book does what it says on the tin. The simple shapes really are simple, being mainly circles and ovals with variations on that theme. Put a few of those together and, before you know where you are, you have a recognisable outline. A little detail, some manipulation and a modicum of shading later, and there’s an entirely realistic dog or cat. You can accommodate smooth or rough fur, long or short ears and even a wide variety of facial expressions.

Whether you’re just starting out or part of the way along and starting to feel lost, this is a simple guide that will give you confidence from page one.

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Painting Dog Portraits in Acrylics || Dave White

This extensive study will tell you everything you could conceivably want to know about painting dogs. It is not, it should be said, a guide for the beginner and Dave makes no attempt to explain the very basics. However, if you have some facility with painting in general and animals in particular, you’re unlikely to want any more than you get here.

There’s plenty of technical information about hair, fur, eyes, ears, noses and structure as well as the all-important methods of combining all those details into a result that looks like your subject. Dave is a professional dog painter and his audience – the owners themselves – is a demanding one. They don’t want a dog, they want their dog and Dave explains what to look for in order to capture the character of the subject as well as how to transfer that to canvas.

Although there is a section on working from photographs, which can provide a useful aide-mémoire, Dave explains the importance of spending time with the animal you’re about to paint in order to get to know it properly. He also deals with the important but often overlooked matter of the owner, of how the two relate and also what the person who is ultimately paying for the work is looking for.

This is a thorough and thoughtful guide that delivers on every count.

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10 Step Drawing: Flowers || Mary Woodin, Animals || Heather Kilgour

This new series presents what we might call a quick route to drawing. Each of 75 projects includes nine outline stages, plus a final one where the colour is added. What is most useful is the simple shapes with which each begins. If you’re new to drawing, getting this right can be the hardest part and represents the foundations on which the finished result will stand or fall. Anyone with experience will probably find the rather regimented steps that follow exasperating, but do please move along there – this isn’t for you. Beginners should find the process much more reassuring and the routines easy to follow and get to grips with. The fact that the colouring-in is one stage with little more instruction that “colour it in” isn’t ideal, but these are books about drawing, not painting, and you’d need at least another 10 steps to cover this fully. Stop quibbling. The method and results are really quite attractive.

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The Field Guide to Drawing & Sketching Animals || Tim Pond

This is, I think, the best book on drawing animals I’ve seen. The sheer breadth of the coverage and the amount of detail that Tim goes into is breathtaking. More than that, though, it remains at all times completely accessible and you’re never left feeling bewildered by the amount of information on every page.

The ability to do this comes from confidence and, as you can see from the results, Tim is completely at home with his subject and his materials. For what is avowedly a book about drawing, there’s a lot of colour, much of it in the form of washes. As I write, I have to keep reminding myself that this is a drawing, not a painting, book although there is a convincing argument for treating it as the latter. One of the things I particularly like is that Tim doesn’t bother with backgrounds, except for the occasional prop of a bit of vegetation. Too many artists opt either for a complete jungle or a nondescript cyclorama that makes the subject look like an exhibit in a menagerie. Tim’s creatures exist for themselves and in their own right. They leap off the page and they’re all the better for that.

Drawing (or painting) animals is a complex subject. There’s structure, form and behaviour as well as that elephant in the corner, anatomy. Tim has a neat way of dealing with that: shading. I’ve seen this done before and, frankly, it often just adds to the confusion. Tim uses a lot more colours than is usual and it just works. Even I can understand it and, more to the point, I believe I can. Another of his tricks is what he calls Wizards and Gizmos, little shortcuts to getting shapes and proportions right that allow you to build solid foundations for your subject that will pay dividends later. These are more than clever tricks for their own sake and are very handy ways of dealing with some of the more technical aspects of the subject.

There’s masses to get your teeth into here, from techniques to almost every living thing you can think of, from crustaceans to ungulates. This is a book that will keep you engaged – even engrossed – for a very long time and which delivers everything it promises as well as a lot more.

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