Archive for category Subject: Buildings

DVD Greg Allen’s Watercolour Techniques

You can’t help but warm to this from the start. “Isn’t watercolour fun?” are Greg’s first words as the introductory scenes roll past. Well, yes, it can be, and it certainly is in the hands of this competent and entertaining demonstrator.

Greg has a clear understanding of the processes of watercolour painting and he also has a way of simplifying them and then explaining them coherently. He begins with his “three effects” theory. Well, it’s more than a theory, as he demonstrates how marks vary depending on how much water you have on wet, damp and dry paper. So far, so fairly conventional, but he goes further and shows how these (and just these) can be used to capture any shape. Lay a wet wash and let it run from heavy to light down the paper. It’s a sky. Turn it on its side, add defining lines and it’s a cylinder, which he rather magically turns into a tree. Back in the day, he’d have been hiding from the witchfinders!

Greg is also a versatile painter and the film includes no fewer than five demonstrations including a riverside scene, a complex boatbuilder’s shed and a portrait so lifelike you expect it to speak. His style is loose and he uses shading and colour (words that recur again and again throughout the film) to convey shape and substance. As so often happens, these aren’t always the colours you’d expect and it’s the juxtaposition and contrast rather than exact copying that convey the subject.

There’s another phrase that crops up: “If I can’t see it, I can’t paint it.” On the surface, that seems obvious, but what Greg means is that he needs to be able to see how a scene, or an element of one, translates into his three effects and how colours, and especially shadows, work.

At the end of the film, there’s a fascinating short section in which Greg explains how he has added finishing touches to each of the demonstration paintings back in the studio, changing lighting, adding or removing detail and muting or brightening colours. Even though the process isn’t shown, the explanations are so clear that you really don’t get left wanting more and I actually think making this longer could have been dull and mechanical.

This is a hugely entertaining and informative piece that perfectly captures Greg’s enthusiasm for a medium that certainly can be fun.

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DVD The Passionate Painter in Havana part 1 || Alvaro Castagnet

A lot of demonstrators adopt a persona and Alvaro Castagnet is The Passionate Painter. It’s an apt soubriquet as he is an enthusiastic and emotive practitioner and presenter. The bustling streets of Cuba’s capital are ideally suited to his working method and he captures their vibrancy with great eloquence: “Everywhere there’s a painting to be done .. there’s a painting in every corner.”

Alvaro’s painting style is quite quick and is built up in layers using broad brushstrokes, which gives depth in both tone and perspective. His commentary is less technical than some (“How about that for a brushstroke!”), but it’s easy to see what he’s doing and there is little fine detail that needs careful attention from the viewer – at one point, the “very thin brush” he introduces is about a size 8! It has to be said, I think, that the style of the commentary is something you could grow tired of. On the other hand, you’ll almost certainly forgive Alvaro’s flamboyance because of the virtuosity of his painting and his amazing handling of light, both full sun and shade, which the streets of Havana provide plentifully.

There are five demonstrations and Alvaro shows you how to create an image out of elements that have come from elsewhere rather than simply copying what you see in front of you. As he says, “I always have a vision of what I want to say in the finished painting.”

Alvaro is confident, both as a person and a painter and, as a result, he’s eminently quotable. Here are two more: “Once I’ve got the shape [of a drawing], I know how to fill it in with washes” and “Once you set up the family of hues, you stick to them for homogeneity.” Those are pearls of wisdom I haven’t heard expressed so succinctly anywhere else and they’re worth the price of the film on their own. So, now I’ve told you about them you can save your money, yes? Oh no, because you haven’t seen Alvaro at work, or heard the rest of what he has to say. Believe me, he’s charismatic and inspiring and a great exponent and demonstrator of the art of creating an image. I suspect that, in real life, he wouldn’t be my type at all, but I was captivated in these 95 minutes.

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DVD Watercolor In The Wild || James Gurney

I really can’t praise this enough. Let me enumerate:

For a start, James has what, as far as I know, is a unique viewpoint. Using an ingenious rig, he provides an artist’s-eye viewpoint as he works. Rather than getting oblique angles where the light isn’t quite right, or over-the-shoulder shots that don’t reveal quite enough detail, what you see is what he sees, and it’s as if you’re completing the demonstration yourself. The sense of immediacy is stunning and so is the clarity.

Then there’s the material and equipment section. I know, yada yada, these are my paints, here are some brushes and I have these pencils. But James has reduced things down to a watercolour kit that can be carried in a belt bag and go literally anywhere – even a theatre, he claims. He’s clearly a bit of an inventor because, as well as the camera rig, he’s also made up a magnetic water jar that attaches to his paintbox. Now you never have to wonder where exactly to put it. For longer trips where a car is available, there’s a larger backpack that includes a camera tripod that doubles as an easel, and a folding stool.

I’m mentioning all this because I sat, utterly absorbed, through the whole section without ever touching the fast forward button. Never done that before. The added fact is that James is one of the most engaging presenters you ever came across. His approach isn’t didactic or prescriptive. There’s no “you have to do it this way” or “my way’s best”. He simply describes what he’s doing – it’s always in the present tense and always what you’re looking at – and allows you to make up your own mind whether you like it or not. He’s warm and inclusive. Apart from watching this film, I’ve exchanged half a dozen emails with him and he’s my new best friend.

OK, so James can make a film, put some kit together and talk the talk, but can he paint? Oh yes, and his approach is very interesting. For a start, he allows himself about an hour for a painting. Each demonstration here – there are six, covering buildings, animals, people and landscapes – is edited down to about fifteen minutes and covers all the important bits without leaving you thinking, “hang on, what did he do just then?”. He begins, conventionally enough, with a pencil drawing, but then spends the next thirty to forty minutes putting in tones, values and shading. With a quarter of an hour or less to go, he gets to the detail. That’s not enough, surely? No, not for fine detail, but the point is he’s working on very solid foundations: the subject has structure and substance and he doesn’t paint the detail at all, just suggests what the viewer should be seeing so that they create the finer stuff for themselves. It’s very subtle and, although not unique in itself, certainly unusual in combination with so much preparatory work.

The exception to the one hour approach is a painting of a sleeping foal. Young animals are rarely still and only for short periods and this one is no exception. A large chunk of this section is taken up with watching the creature running round, interacting with its mother and eating. Finally, it needs a nap and we get to work. The point of this demonstration is to show how you can capture the essence of a subject if you’ve already understood it before you lift a brush. I like the fact that, once again, James doesn’t tell you this, but shows you.

This is an exceptional piece of work and amazingly good value. I’ll leave you with one quote. Paraphrasing Goethe, James says, “The dangers of watercolour are infinite and safety is one of the dangers.” Hell of an aphorism that, and the more you think about it, the more it means.

Available as a digital download from: – $15, credit card payment – $14.99, PayPal only
There is also a shrink-wrapped DVD, but it’s NTSC format and possibly also Region 1. I could get it to play, but without sound.

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Urban Sketching – a complete guide || Thomas Thorspecken

Well this is fun! Townscapes can be a hard sell, but this busy book records the city at work, at play and in all its moods. The author is Thor of the blog Analog Artist Digital World and he records life as it reels past his eye.

The book mainly consists of pages from his sketchbooks, with a text that explains what he’s doing and what to look for, along with useful advice on colours, as well as perspective, viewpoints and so on. There’s a lot going on on every page and Thomas also draws on the styles of other artists, designers and illustrators in the Urban Sketchers movement.

If this appeals to you, it’s also probably something you’re already doing and you may even have discovered Thomas’s work already. If you thought the city was something to escape from, think again and have a look. Whatever it is you most like to paint, the city will provide it.

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DVD Watercolour Fast and Free || John Hoar

Watching John Hoar paint is fascinating. Most artists start with the sky and/or a wash and it’s not that John never does. However, he does a great deal of structural work at the beginning so that the final image coalesces in the last third or so of the demonstration. It’s a bit like learning a language by starting with the grammar and then hanging the vocabulary on it. Yes, it can be done, but it’s a very academic exercise and you don’t really get to say anything for ages. When you do though, it’s perfectly formed. And that’s the way it is with a John Hoar painting. “Paintings are made up of shapes rather than lines”, as he puts it.

Well, that’s all pretty dull then, isn’t it? No, and the reason is that, instead of spending the demonstration describing what he’s doing (and what you can see perfectly well for yourself), John tends to talk about the creative process itself. This makes the film a bit like the Patrick George DVD I reviewed a while back, but with demonstrations. If you want to learn the mechanics of painting, then this is maybe not for you. If you want to follow the process of creating an image from what’s in front of you, it’s pretty much riveting. John is by no means a slavish representer and his simplification of the complex shapes and structure of Ely Cathedral (the film consists of four demonstrations around the town) is a masterclass.

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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: Charles Reid’s English Watercolour Sketchbook || Charles Reid

I realised as I was preparing for this review that the way I work – making notes, picking up quotes, starting ideas that I may develop later, is very much the way Charles paints. He’s immensely quotable: “The way I paint is more intuitive, it’s what intrigues me, I see things happening, I don’t have a plan.” Even my (even to me) almost illegible scribbles are a bit like some of the marks Charles makes. He always starts with a pencil sketch that defines shapes, determines proportions and puts the elements of the composition into place – “It’s very import to connect adjacent areas.”

The thing is that, because he’s not working to a prepared plan, and everything emerges organically, the film becomes more of an entertainment than a lesson. I don’t mean that it’s trivial, far from it; rather, you sit waiting for the pearls of wisdom to come, which they do almost as a stream of consciousness (“You can’t soften edges if your paint’s too watery”). At the same time, you’re on the edge of your seat because, if he doesn’t know exactly how the picture is going to turn out, neither do you. There are plot twists to come.

To begin at the end, the final demonstration of the four here is a complex scene at Stow on the Wold (they’re all in the Cotswolds). The main element is a hotel, but there’s a lot of detail in the roof and there are parasols outside and trees in the foreground. There is also a river and a bridge and constantly–passing figures that Charles works in generically. There’s a lot going on and a lot of manipulation of the image so that it becomes coherent and reflects the scene without also being incomprehensible.

Charles’s pencil drawings define the outlines and the shape of the image, but also include small details that don’t immediately appear to have a purpose. Just as I make notes while I’m watching, picking up on points I want to remember or develop, so he puts in small marks that guide the shapes later. At this stage, there’s still very little detail and no attempt to start giving substance to the picture. That comes later with the colour. “It’s all about shapes and colours” is something he said in his very first film, about flowers. I’ve always been amazed by the sheer looseness of the way Charles works and admire the way he can describe a subject in what seem to be just a few splashes of colour. Watching him here, I’m beginning to get an idea of how this works. The pencil sketch provides the form – a bit like the armature of a sculpture – and the colour provides the body, the depth, the shading and the shadows. He remarks at one point that he rarely mixes colour on the palette (“I don’t mix it all into greys”), preferring to do it on the paper. In the first demonstration, at Arlington Mill in Bibury, it’s worth taking a look at just how much colour he introduces into what at first appears to be a grey slab of a building. It’s not there to be colourful, though it can be that, but to give form and character.

I could go on, but I don’t think I need to sell this film too heavily. Charles is an immensely popular teacher and it’s easy to see why. It’s also nice to see him painting in surroundings that are more familiar to a British audience.

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Painting Acrylic Landscapes the Easy Way || Terry Harrison

Quite a lot of this (about a third) is taken up with a guide to using Terry’s proprietary brushes and I assume that’s what he means by “the easy way”. For the most part, these are likely to be things you already have, such as the 19mm flat or the Fan, but there are some, such as the Wizard, with its two hair lengths and used for foliage, that you might be glad to know about. I rather think that this section stands or falls on whether or not you buy into the Terry Harrison Method. He’s a very successful teacher, so maybe you do, and you should at least give it a look.

The second section is devoted to techniques, in which we’re talking about painting reflections, creating distance, adding life and using glaze medium. It’s more pictorial than technical, which is refreshing as it means we’re not being treated to a re-hash of basic stuff we can get elsewhere and from Terry himself, indeed.

The final section comprises six demonstrations, each of which is accomplished in about 6 pages and some thirty-odd steps – reasonably detailed but not overdone. You also get a couple of bonus examples related to the subject of the main piece.

There’s nothing wildly innovative here and the book is subtitled “Brush with Acrylics 2”, so it’s perfectly reasonable to expect more of what’s gone before. Indeed, the lack of innovation for its own sake is something its audience will probably welcome. You know where you are with Terry and, if he suddenly developed a bent for new-age abstracts, a lot of people would go into a sharp decline. Terry does what he does and knows what he does and he does it very well. Keep up the good work.

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Drawing Perspective || Gilles Ronin

Books on perspective are notoriously difficult to sell. On the one hand, artists tend to think they’ve got it sussed and, on the other, they tend to shy away from what they regard as a frighteningly technical subject. The fact of the matter is that you can’t really expect to get drawing right if you don’t understand both how perspective works and how to make it work for you; a bit like trying to learn a language while ignoring the grammar. Sooner or later, it’s going to get up and bite you.

One of the best books on the subject is Gwen White’s Perspective for Artists, Architects and Designers, which includes a lot of vanishing lines, but really shows you how to get mostly buildings upright and in line. It’s still a good book, despite having first appeared as long ago as 1968.

The time, surely, has come for a new standard work and I think we might finally have it. Although Gilles Ronin doesn’t neglect the technical approach and the diagram, he provides plenty of examples of freehand drawing that leaven the necessarily methodical way of coming at the subject. As you’d expect, there’s a fair amount about shapes and these naturally lead into buildings, but not before we’ve had a look at simple objects. Gilles is also nicely clear on isometric and atmospheric perspective as well as handy things like shadows, different viewpoints and landscapes, which will be of particular interest to the fine artist.

The simple fact of the matter is that every artist should have this book and it’s a sad fact that very few will. This is a pity, not just because it’s about a subject you really can’t ignore, but also because Gilles manages to make its study something you can actually enjoy. I think that’s a first.

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Adventurous Watercolours || Jenny Wheatley

I’ve been aware of Jenny Wheatley’s work for almost as long as I’ve been involved with art publishing, so it comes as something of a shock to realise that this is her first book. As such, I think it’s reasonable to describe it as “long-awaited” and it’s to be hoped that it will achieve the success of the other overlooked artists that Batsford have started bringing to a wider audience.

Jenny has an assured style that relies heavily on colour, using often quite muted washes over a background tone. It’s one of those styles that’s so idiosyncratic that it’s hardly to be recommended that the amateur should try to copy it and this is, indeed, certainly not an instruction manual. However, if you’re intrigued by some truly original work and want to know more about how Jenny approaches her subjects, that’s exactly what you’ll get here. For those who want to explore further, as well as the quite detailed discussions of Jenny’s working methods, there are also several step-by-step demonstrations that show exactly how she builds up her multi-layered images.

As his name now appears on the cover, it’s worth mentioning the input of Robin Capon, who has been behind a lot of the Batsford output of recent years and provides the words that go with the pictures. It’s down to him that so many people whose talents are mainly in the visual field have turned out to be quite so articulate when it comes to be putting pen to paper.

All in all, this is a book which is going to fascinate the serious student of watercolour.

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