Archive for category Subject: Animals

Painting Nature in Watercolour || Cathy Johnson

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure whether this is a completely new book or a re-working of material from some of the author’s previous works. However, it has a fresh look and feel to it, so I’m going to review it on the basis that it’s all new.

It’s a rather wonderful portmanteau of just about everything the natural world can throw at us, from vegetation to animals and even people by way of skies and clouds and land- and waterscapes. As well as subject matter, it also takes in techniques, both in pure watercolour and in mixed media with watercolour pencils.

Cathy’s style is loose and relaxed and very much to the painterly taste. Although this is an American book and you therefore get species which are specific to another continent, the differences are not intrusive and many (in fact, most) of the paintings are sufficiently generic that they have no specific place.

I could say that the modelling, particularly of some of the creatures, isn’t always completely perfect, but it always does its job and simply turning the pages of this really rather enjoyable book is going to make you feel good and want to get down to work.

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DVD Going Wild In Watercolour || Jake Winkle

The range of colours in a Jake Winkle painting always astonish. In this film, his wildlife subjects are generally monochrome, their brown colouring designed to make them blend into, rather than stand out from, their background. Jake’s method of working is designed to make you look again, and yet there’s nothing forced or unnatural about it. By blending juxtaposed warm and cool colours, he creates shape and adds vitality that give a flat painting a three-dimensional appearance.

Jake is an excellent and generous demonstrator and he explains not only what he doing, but why. “Warm against cool gives luminosity”, “If you put too much detail in, you end up painting by numbers” and “If I think about it too much, I’m going to get repetitive shapes”. He works quickly, often aiming to have the first brushstrokes still wet as the last ones go down. Much of it is done by instinct, the build-up of colour defining the shape of the painting as much as it does the subject. It’s also interesting to see just what a limited range of equipment Jake uses: a total of four brushes and a very small paintbox that he says contains only primary and secondary – no tertiary colours. It all helps with the simplicity he’s aiming for, as few decisions have to be made and everything is readily to hand.

The practice looks simple because, of course, Jake is a master of what he does. In reality, it takes a lot of confidence and practice, but you do feel at the end of this that you could make at least a decent stab.

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Wild Animals in Acrylics (Ready to Paint) || Angela Gaughan

The selection of animals here is, of necessity, limited, but maybe also rather surprising. You get a zebra, a leopard, an alpaca, a red panda and a tiger: three of the big beasts and a couple of less common ones. It does, however, provide a good variety of structure and of hair and fur types, which is a plus point in a book of this kind. You’ll also either love or hate the fact that these are often head and shoulders portraits against a plain background – love it because it keeps things simple or hate it because it seems limiting. This isn’t a reflection on the book (it’s much more a case of it is what it is than anything else I’ve ever reviewed), but merely a reflection of where it’s aimed. Despite these being relatively complex subjects, Angela has done well to present them in a way that’s accessible for the relative beginner and she should be congratulated for that.

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DVD Wild About Oil || Pip McGarry

This film is quite a departure, both for the SAA and for art instruction films in general. Not only does it include location work, it also has documentary elements at the same time.

This latter is something that clearly needs to be handled with caution. You certainly wouldn’t want to find that what you thought was a piece about painting animals turned out to be the story of the Yorkshire Wildlife Park. However, the short interviews with staff about some of the animals don’t intrude and make a pleasant change of pace in what is a nicely-judged film. There’s also plenty of meat, in the form of demonstrations, to tip the balance in the right direction.

Pip begins by sketching a lion and emphasises the importance, with something that’s quite likely to get up and walk off, of choosing a pose it’s likely to maintain for some time. This is a cat, so that’ll be lying down, then. Getting the light balance right between the presenter, the subject and the reflective white paper is not a given, and it’s pleasing to report that, at the first attempt, this is well done. Pencil lines on a drawing pad don’t show up well at the best of times, but here you can clearly see what’s going on. I know it sounds like faint praise to pick on this, but it’s something not all video-makers get right.

This session is followed by a short interview with the keeper of the big cats which adds that extra dimension I was talking about and gives the film depth that makes it about more than just mark-making.

The main painting work is done back in the studio and is on more familiar ground. SAA studios are plain-background affairs which can seem a little bland, but also show up the artist and the canvas with no extraneous distractions. In the first of these demonstrations, Pip does an oil sketch of an elephant, showing how it’s important to get the basic shapes right at this stage to ensure the success of the finished result.

After this, it’s back to the Wildlife Park for another sketching session before we return to the studio to finish off a painting of an ostrich. It’s a nice touch that, in this, the basic sketch has been done – it effectively picks up from the point the elephant left off. Pip completes the painting, showing how to pick up details and put in a background that provides context without overshadowing the main subject.

Finally, there’s an interview which explains the work of the Yorkshire Wildlife Park. It’s impossible not to think that there isn’t going to be some sort of tie-up here, which would be perfect and ound things off nicely.

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Draw & Paint 50 Animals || Jeanne Filler Scott

Consisting of 50 short demonstrations, each occupying only 4 or 6 pages, this quite hefty 270 page book certainly covers a lot of ground.

I’d say that, if you’re a complete beginner, there are books that go into more detail and offer more hand-holding than this does. However, if you’re on the next rung of the ladder, then you’ll probably find as much as you could wish for. It’s an American book, so expect the odd chipmunk and racoon, but the rest of it is perfectly universal, with cattle, horses, cats, dogs, elephants and so on. The results are pleasingly realistic and the techniques not too taxing, either. Detail work is limited to what’s necessary to define the subjects rather than being obsessive.

A big thumbs-up for this one.

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The Artist’s Guide to Drawing Animals || J C Amberlyn

There’s a delightful simplicity to this, both in the style of the illustrations and the presentation. Throughout, it’s very easy to follow and even the finished drawings are not too complicated. If you want a beginner’s guide that doesn’t leave you feeling left behind before the final hurdle, then this is it.

The author covers just about every type of animal there is, furred, feathered and even reptilian. There are nice, straightforward guides to shapes and proportions as well as specific features: eyes, legs, beaks, feet, tails and so on. The words are few and very concise, confining themselves just to telling you what you’re looking at. Though whether I really needed to be told that, “a baby sheep is called a lamb”, I somehow doubt. That’s a quibble, but there’s another. I’m not totally sure about the modelling of some of the finished pictures. I don’t think it’s fatal flaw, because this is not a staring-you-in-the-face flaw and, anyway, I can forgive it because the rest of the book is so good, but it’s there.

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Horses in Acrylics (Ready to Paint) || Dave White

Horses have a reputation for being difficult, and not just in the hand or on the plate (sorry, topical reference at the time of writing!).

They’re a particular combination of shapes and proportions that even the most competent artists struggle to get right. Good books are hard to come by – in fact, the last one was actually about unicorns. This, however, is a humdinger. Dave White is an accomplished animal painter and he’s chosen a nice selection of approaches to illustrate here, from a head and shoulders portrait to a mare and foal and a steeplechaser, the latter conveying strength, movement and speed with effortlessness and elegance.

As ever, the Ready to Paint format provides pre-printed tracings that take the hit-and-miss out of getting the drawing right, leaving you to concentrate on the colour and shading that are also central to a convincing result.

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Complete Guide to Drawing Animals || Gottfried Bammes

This is a weighty and impressive tome that is, I think, more likely to appeal to the serious, maybe even semi-professional artist than to the beginner. To be fair to it, it makes no claim to be an introduction.

The first thing that strikes you, looking through it, is how few actual complete drawings there are and that, for the most part. those you get are very loose and quite sketchy. Again, this isn’t a book that aims to impress by wizardry. Rather, it’s a comprehensive and progressive guide that proceeds by looking at structure and anatomy – differences between, say, herbivores and carnivores come as sub-headings in chapters such as The Hindquarters.

Based on a German original, the book has quite a literal approach, but is invaluable if you want to get the details of your work absolutely correct and it’s something to be worked through rather than dipped into. Used in this way, it could keep you occupied for anything up to a year and leave you very proficient indeed at the end.

Whether you think it’s for you very much depends on whether you want such an exhaustive (and potentially exhausting) approach. It’s pretty much one of a kind and certainly not for the faint-hearted. If you’re of sterner stuff, though, I think you could love it.

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Animals (Drawing Masterclass) || Lucy Swinburne

As with previous volumes in this series, you get a lot for your money, though the layout here is a little more conventional, the book consisting mainly of a series of demonstrations and some notes on detail work. An innovation is the online demonstrations which you can access through a link or a QR code that you scan with a mobile phone. This is a good idea, though I must admit that I find the codes intrusive on the page and I do wonder whether the small screen of a phone is the ideal viewing medium. Tablets tend to have lower-resolution cameras and can struggle with these codes, so typing URLs on a keyboard may be the best solution. All the codes are the same and lead to a long online menu, so placing a single reference on the title page might have been a better idea.

I’m sorry to have taken so long over what sounds like a quibble, but the idea of using YouTube rather than supplying a bound-in DVD is so stunningly obvious that I’m genuinely surprised that this is the first time I’ve seen it done. It’s cheap, flexible and adds immeasurably to the value of the book without compromising the price and I’d urge other publishers to follow suit. Just keep the content good and appropriate, that’s all. A video done for the sake of it undoes all the good work of the printed page.

The book itself doesn’t start hugely promisingly. Lucy draws, as artists often do, her materials and equipment and it seems she struggles with three-dimensional objects and their perspective. This is particularly odd as this is one of her strengths when it comes to animals, which are much more difficult than a simple water pot. In every single case, her subjects have depth, texture, life and character and she is one of the best animal artists I’ve come across.

After the usual introduction to materials and techniques the book is, as I said, a series of demonstrations. These are divided into wild and domestic animals and include meerkats, elephants and tigers, dogs, cats and horses. Each section is a specific image, so you don’t get the huge variety that some other volumes in the series have introduced. At the same time, these are subjects that need a lot of attention and detail work and the trade-off is worthwhile.

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Draw Animals in Nature || Lee Hammond

Lee Hammond is a prolific and competent author who can not only turn her hand to a wide variety of subjects but also write about them with authority.

This book covers a wide variety of wild animals (ie not cats and dogs) depicted sensitively in pencil. It is not a series of detailed demonstrations, but rather examples, each of which provides a specific lesson in shapes, textures and surfaces. There are, though, several exercises that get you practising a specific subject in three or four stages and allow you to practise with a guiding hand beside you.

As a result, this isn’t a book about how to draw specific animals, and especially not about how to complete a series of projects, but rather a more generalised look at the practice of drawing animals in general. It’s something that could keep you occupied for some time and will, in the process, teach you a great deal.

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