Archive for category Subject: Animals

The Magic of Drawing || Cliff Wright

This is a rare treat, because it’s not often you get a book on drawing by someone who is themselves a successful published illustrator.

Cliff Wright’s biggest claim to fame is a couple of Harry Potter covers (and you can bet the competition for those is pretty stiff), but he has also written some delightful children’s books himself such as Bear and Kite and The Star That Fell that are characterised by beautiful and sensitive watercolours that stop well short of being cutesy.

What this almost modest-looking paperback offers is a positive masterclass in drawing animals, people and natural history subjects, albeit slightly dressed-up as fantasy art. Cliff conveys more in a few words and drawings than many books don’t even manage in a whole chapter and this is a thoroughly practical guide as well as an absolute eye-opener to the many possibilities available to you. There’s also a good degree of humour – I just love the drawing of a Hippogriff wrapped in a blanket against the snow – and the spread where a self portrait turns into a horse eating a cake (yes, really) is in fact a masterpiece of character development and the use of line.

If you’re an aspiring illustrator, this has to be compulsory reading, but there’s so much more to it as well. It’ll show you how to develop characters, how to draw with absolute economy and how to work from life to art.

David & Charles

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Painting Unicorns In Watercolour || Rebecca Balchin

This site normally has a policy of avoiding fantasy art. It’s not that I have anything against it, I simply don’t understand it and I find it difficult to be objective and to know whether the results are any good or not.

So why would I touch a book on unicorns? They’re the stuff of fairly tale, they don’t exist, missed the last bus to Noah Central and failed to make it to the Ark. Up there with the Dodo, except that the Dodo was real, so what kind of analogy is that?

Well, a very clever one, actually, because unicorns do have a sort of existence. Artistically speaking, they’re just a horse with a broom handle stuck on its head. Take the pole away and you’re left, plus or minus the odd cloven hoof, with a horse. And what this book is, above all else, is one of the very best books on painting horses you could wish for. Horses are a tricky subject and the proportions are hard to get just right, so full marks to Rebecca for some superb, sensitive drawings and paintings which get to the very heart of her subject.

If you want a book on unicorns, this is pretty much the only one but, if you want a book on horses, it remains the one you should buy. Of course it’s a bit fairytale, but that doesn’t get in the way if you don’t want it to.

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Painting Animals || Christophe Drochon

Christophe Drochon’s animal paintings are stunning and are meant to stun. Close-up, highly detailed and against backgrounds that make them stand out, they’ll make you take a step back, even off the printed page. In this form, they’re not a style for everyone and, indeed, you might even find them a little difficult to live with when hung on a wall, but you can’t help admiring them.

However, we’re starting at the back here, in the gallery section of the book. It’s worth doing, because it helps to know where this is all going and that it isn’t watercolour cats asleep on a cushion in the window. I just thought you ought to know. The cover picture should give you an idea.

However, rewind a bit, start at the beginning, where Christophe does just that. Anyone who paints in this detail is sure as heck going to be able to draw and the book begins with some beautifully sensitive and subtle pencil sketches, moving on to watercolour and then to studio techniques in acrylics, oils and gouache. This is one of the most structured books I’ve come across and it progresses logically and with reasonable despatch, building up towards various details: eyes, fur, plumage and then to several demonstration paintings. All of this is perfectly accessible and very well organised. The hyper-realism of the gallery section doesn’t come into it until the very last minute so that you aren’t forced to emulate Christophe’s style, you can stop at any point that suits you and complete some perfectly acceptable animal paintings of your own.

The credit for this approach has to go to the writer, Françoise Coffrant. The blurbs are sadly silent about who she is, but I feel she must have some sort of close association with the artist as the text is utterly sympathetic as well as economical. Each time a new creature is introduced, Françoise gives is a brief characterisation. This is sometimes a bit philosophical for English taste, but the translator is right to retain the feel and character of the original and the book reads well in English. New Holland have published a number of art books that started life in French and they have found a thoroughly sympathetic translator who does a lot more then just move text from one language to another.

Not many people are going to want, or be able, to paint like Christophe Drochon but the real achievement of the book is to create something which can be used as much as a primer as a masterclass without short-changing anyone.

Year published 2006
List price: £14.99

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