Archive for category Subject: Beginners

Watercolour For The Absolute Beginner || Matthew Palmer

Matthew Palmer is an experienced teacher of beginners’ courses and also the engaging presenter of A Splash of Paint on the SAA’s Painting & Drawing TV channel.

This is an encouraging pedigree that augurs well for what purports to be an absolute from-the-basics guide that assumes no prior knowledge or experience and merely an enthusiasm to get started.

So, does it live up to its billing? Well, starting from an introduction to materials, we’re into simple drawing by page 12. These are easy shapes, but you will have got under way with buildings, boats, people and animals almost immediately, and this can do nothing but inspire confidence. Just a few lines and it turns out you can do it after all! It’s the same with composition and perspective, each explained in only a few pages and without any added complication. It’s not the full story, of course, but it’s enough to get you on to the next stage.

Before long, we’re into demonstrations of trees, skies and water. Things are beginning to take shape nicely and you’re ready for the first full painting, with a detailed step-by-step demonstration for which there is also a pull-out tracing in the manner of the Ready To Paint series. Further demonstrations (also with tracings) bring further subjects and techniques into play.

It’s all very gentle, very progressive and, above all, it proceeds by results, which can be nothing but encouraging. If you want to learn to paint, but don’t know where to start, start here.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

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Watercolor: a beginner’s guide || Elizabeth Horowitz

You’d think that, after some 30 years in this business, I’d have seen far too many beginner’s guides to painting and be about as excited about a new one as a child getting a re-wrapped toy for Christmas.

But the strange thing is that I’ve seen hardly any. I don’t mean that all the books that pass across my desk are aimed at the super-competent professional, because they’re not. What I mean is that books which just explain the basic processes to someone who’s wanting to get started are few and far between. And, actually, most of those try to cover every possible medium and are surely aimed at the gift market, people who are buying a book for someone else, rather than someone who has a serious interest but doesn’t quite know how to get that first foot on the ladder. How many people, hearing, “I know you’re a bit arty, so I thought you might like this”, don’t feel like a ten-year-old being given a rattle?

So, this is a bit of a treasure, not least because it confines itself to watercolour and doesn’t try to be all things to all persons. Immediately, it has the feeling that it means business. Delving inside reveals a technique-based approach that works surprisingly (or do I mean unsurprisingly?) well. This moves from Setup and Basic Techniques to Colour and Glazing and then on to Composition and Perspective, and Positive and Negative Shapes. Given that these last four things are the basic grammar of painting, you really shouldn’t gloss over them in the early stages and hope that you can pick them up later when you have a head full of vocabulary; it won’t work. Negative shapes are very rarely covered anywhere, so it’s particularly pleasing to find them dealt with here.

The overall layout of the book is pleasantly simple and easy to follow and each section within the chapter headings is relatively short so that you have time to linger and absorb things one at a time. There are bullet-lists of hints and tips and example paintings when you need them. What there are not are lots of demonstrations, but the author isn’t afraid to include the odd step-by-step when it’s absolutely necessary.

Altogether, I get the feeling of a book that includes and cares about me, rather than being pleased with itself and trying to show me how great the author is.

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Charles Evans' Watercolours In A Weekend

The “In A Weekend” series from David and Charles has been around for a good many years now and has progressed from general media books to subjects and what we now have is one specific artist’s approach to the idea that, if you sit down and practice with suitable guidance, you really can get a workable result in two days (and 10 out of 10 for not starting on Friday evening and putting the finishing touches in first thing on Monday morning, too!).

The great granddaddy of this idea was Ron Ranson, who used to offer weekend courses from his studio in the Wye valley which he’d refined to the point where this rather bold claim – come with no experience and leave with a painting you’ve no need to be ashamed of – could be put into practice. Like a lot of demonstrating, there’s a degree of sleight of hand, but not of dishonesty. Ron’s trick was to get his students to use a hake brush, a broad and ostensibly unwieldy implement that made fiddling and over-attention to detail impossible, forcing the student to concentrate on the painting rather than the manner of producing it.

To put Charles Evans in the same category is meant as praise and you shouldn’t think that he’s simply copying what Ron did, either. There aren’t many books aimed at the complete beginner which understand that the student needs to be taken by the hand and led patiently through what, to anyone with even a modicum of experience, would be the blindingly obvious. One of the first things he does in the book is to explain colour mixing and the need for simplicity. So much so conventional, but he goes on to explain a few basic mixes you’ll need and also the reason why he chooses the component colours that he does. All of this has been done a thousand times before, but rarely with such clarity and it’s an encouraging start.

The rest of the book is devoted to a series of eight projects, each designed to occupy a weekend (and only a pedant would quibble that that’s eight weekends, then, isn’t it?!). These cover all the main subjects you’re likely to want to paint from landscapes, skies and water to building flowers and figures. It’s a good selection that flexes all the right muscles and allows anyone wanting to progress to decide which areas they’re best at and want to concentrate on – and could save you a fortune in further books you buy to develop your skills, too. These projects are illustrated with well-chosen step-by-step photographs that show all the major stages of completing the exercises or the main painting and there’s a good sense of things developing, almost like a video, rather than new sections appearing as if by magic. Each step has a concise caption that tells you what’s going on and the book is entirely led by its illustrations – there are no heavy textual sections to make sense of unaided.

Charles Evans is an experienced teacher and he’s put his course together with imagination and a skill that conceals a lot of the mechanics behind it. The essence of a good teacher is that they can understand the problems faced by the learner and explain ways round them. This usually means that they’ve had to learn themselves and are not instinctive practitioners. It would be fair to say that Charles is not one of the great painters of the world, but this isn’t a book about him, it’s a book about you, the reader and it requires a quality of self-effacement on the part of the author who has to be pleased by your progress, not his success in being a clever teacher: it requires a generosity which Charles appears to have in bundles. And, truth be told, if you can produce a result half as good as his examples, you’ll be well pleased.

This is a well thought-out book that bears the hallmarks of everyone involved having clearly understood and believed in. It’s presented in a square format that allows the designer plenty of scope to keep the progression fluid and to work equally with pictures that are upright or landscape. The colour reproduction is also extremely good, something which isn’t always the case – though it should be, of course. First impressions in this sort of thing are important and anyone picking this up, I think, is going to feel immediately that it’s accessible and understandable and that’s the first major hurdle over before you even start. I’ve rarely seen better, although, at £18.99, it’s a tad pricey.

First published 2007

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