Archive for category Subject: Boats

William Newton’s Complete Guide to Watercolour Painting

There’s an immediate sense of variety in this admirably comprehensive book that really does live up to its claim to be complete. In something such as this, the introduction to materials and techniques clearly has a place and it’s rightly more extensive than the cursory notes we could usually all probably do without. William is particularly good on the uses and handling of colour and tone as well as core techniques such as wet-in-wet. Although the beginner might feel the need for something more basic at this stage, as long as you’ve got the hang of how to use your materials, you’ll find it easy to pick up from where this starts.

William has a simple, relaxed and open style that relies on transparent colours, the use of washes and a constant sense of light that makes for easy and comfortable viewing that is immediately encouraging. The range of subjects is wide and includes landscapes, buildings, boats and people, and there’s also an extensive series of demonstrations that put the basic lessons of the introductory section into practice.

Because of its simplicity, the clarity of the instructions and the quality of the execution, I’d say this is the best work of its kind that I’ve seen.

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DVD: Wesson’s Watercolour Secrets || Steve Hall

I’ve written elsewhere about the book that Edward Wesson didn’t write. The truth is that Wesson actually had quite a lot to say, especially to his many students. These may be getting on in years now, but Steve Hall has had the sense to talk to some of them and record what Wesson’s teaching methods actually were. As well as this, there are the articles Wesson wrote for the Leisure Painter and Artist magazines. One way and another, there’s more information out there than you might think: it just needs someone to pull it all together.

Steve is also the author of two books on Wesson and has had the chance to look at a large amount of his work at close quarters and to see how the brushstrokes work. All-in-all, if you want an authority, Steve’s your man.

Studying Wesson is also helped by the fact that he was a great simplifier. Not only is there great economy in his work, he also used the famous squirrel-hair polishing mop (now widely sold and used as a wash brush), which means that his marks are relatively easy to see.

In this film, apart from discussing Wesson’s materials – and even using the great man’s own brushes – Steve demonstrates four classic Wesson subjects: landscape, boats, pen & wash and flowers. What emerges first is the way Wesson used darks to bring out highlights “forcing up the lights by surrounding them with darks”, as he often said. This simple technique at once explains the brilliance of Wesson’s work and gives it its apparent simplicity. By comparing an early work with a later landscape, Steve also shows how Wesson’s economy of brushwork developed. In this, he was enormously influential, as the work of John Yardley and others will testify.

The pen & wash work is interesting. In his pure watercolours, Wesson, like any other artist, uses tone and shading to give form to shapes. In the wash-work, outlines are defined by the ink and the watercolour becomes an infill – and Wesson recommended this as a technique for beginners.

Wesson’s approach to flowers is well-documented by an article he wrote for The Artist, itself the forerunner of the modern step-by-step demonstration. In this, he explained how to work from the background up to the actual bloom. In this way, you have the main colour scheme down before you attempt the main subject and are therefore more likely to get the tones of the flower right, rather than making the common mistake of having them too dark. In fact, looking back over the film as a whole, it becomes apparent that, shape-wise, Wesson tended to work from the negative to the positive in general.

So, are there great insights here? A lot of what Steve Hall says is based on common sense and a lot more of it is gleaned from talking to Wesson’s students and reading his articles. Put together, however, this is about as close as we’re going to get to having a film by the great man himself. It’s all convincing and it’s all backed up by evidence. It’s also good, basic common sense. Just what we’d expect from Wesson, in fact.

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Watercolour Boats and Harbours: Ready to Paint || Charles Evans

Like Geoff Kersey’s Trees & Woodlands in the same series, this little book is an excellent primer in its subject matter, even without the pre-drawn sketches that allow you to concentrate on getting the colour down on paper.

The idea behind the series is that you have 6 re-usable tracings that allow you to get the drawing and the composition out of the way. This is, of course, no substitute for learning either of those techniques, and you’ll have to do that in the end. However, by helping you avoid getting bogged down at the very start, these guides allow you to achieve a finished result you can justifiably be pleased with and which will encourage you to develop the other necessary skills as you progress – which you will because you weren’t discouraged at the first turn.

Charles Evans is an excellent teacher and he explains all the techniques you’ll need clearly and economically. As part of a series which is growing in popularity, this can’t be faulted. However, the information on the details of boats and harbours is so good that more experienced artists shouldn’t pass it by as just painting by numbers.

Search Press 2008

Author Charles Evans
Publisher Search Press
Medium Watercolour
Subject Boats
Series Ready to Paint

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The Artist Who Loved Boats: Percy "Powder" Thorburn || Tom Cross, David Hale & Pin Armitage

Percy Thorburn was well educated and came from a wealthy family. As a boy, he ran away to sea and became involved in a mutiny on board a square-rigged schooner in Australia. Later, he was involved in a gun-running expedition from Brixham to Africa but, changing his mind when involved with cut-throat pirates, he made for a different port and exchanged the guns for wine. All this, it says here with a commendably straight face, provided him with the experience necessary for a career with the RNVR aboard a minesweeper in the Great War.

I’ve started with this tale of what can only be described as a “character” because this is a book which is as much about the man, Percy Thorburn, as his paintings. We’re not told how he got his nickname, but a broad guess seems in order.

An entertaining life story doesn’t make a great painter, but it does concentrate the mind and excite the interest. In this case, it also tells us that this was, indeed, a man who loved boats and that when he paints them, he knows what he’s talking about, in much the same way as Joseph Conrad’s stories of the sea are informed by personal experience.

The first thing you’re going to notice, leafing through these pages, is that by no means all of Percy Thorburn’s paintings are of boats: there are a lot of landscapes and coastal scenes as well and it’s clear that the artist loved the places boats took him just as much as the boats themselves. These, in spite of what the front cover illustration might suggest, are not the grand vessels that most marine artists paint, but rather small working boats just going about their business. Although this often involves quite heavy seas, Thorburn does not introduce drama for its own sake and you won’t see towering waves that threaten to swamp the craft at any minute.

As an artist, Percy Thorburn is perfectly competent and his landscapes have a tranquil quality that suggest a sailor’s rest. His boats are well-depicted without being over-detailed and they record the ordinary, mostly inshore, craft that often go unremembered. You may never have heard of a Leigh Bawley, but there’s one here and, if you need to know what it looks like, A Leigh Bawley in the Evening Sun will fit the bill nicely.

As an entertaining read and a good look round a variety of maritime subjects, this book is well worth the cover price. I’m not sure that it particularly informs the practising artist, but this isn’t its intention. If Percy Thorburn’s life had gone unrecorded, we’d be just that little bit poorer.

First published 2006

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