Archive for category Subject: Colour

Learn Colour in Painting Quickly || Hazel Soan

This excellently-conceived series has proved that it is possible not only to learn quickly, but that the unadorned approach is often the way to go. I’m always at least a little sceptical of such claims simply because something that can be a lifetime’s study can’t be mastered in a few minutes. However, I have to concede that getting to grips with the basics is something where speed can be a considerable help. Getting bogged down at the start is not only unhelpful, but positively discouraging to efforts to proceed.

Colour is, of course, the artist’s stock-in-trade, at once the vocabulary and grammar of the language of painting. Those for whom it’s second nature wonder at the number of books about it but, for all that, there are perfectly capable painters who struggle, at least at the outset. However, once you grasp the idea that the basic concept is really quite simple and that a lot of the difficulties are self-imposed, everything becomes much clearer.

Hazel is a master of colour in all its forms and, following the series format, shows plenty of examples linked with just enough words to make sure you know and understand what you’re looking at. She explains colour theory in practice (which means as little explanation and theory as possible) as well as demonstrating ways of creating light, shade, form, tone and hue.

I’m tempted to say that this is the complete guide, but of course it isn’t, and doesn’t pretend to be. It is, however, the complete introduction and you might find that what it teaches you is enough for you to be able to learn the rest for yourself, and that’s a heck of an achievement.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours || P Syme

A band on the jacket helpfully advises that this is “the book Charles Darwin used to describe colours on his voyage on HMS Beagle”. So much, you might say, for that.

This is a facsimile (if you hadn’t guessed) of a book first published in 1814. It was invaluable then and, although mainly of historical interest now, contains information that can still be of use to the artist. This version took a previously existing colour naming system and adapted it for practical use by botanists, zoologists, mineralogists and artists.

Why, you might ask, was it necessary? Two hundred years ago, colour printing didn’t exist in any useful form. Those full-colour guides we’re so used to now are surprisingly recent. Only 30 or so years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for painting books to be illustrated with only some dozen colour plates and those would be concentrated together, not run throughout the text. The quality of the colour reproduction in the present volume suggests that the swatches were hand-tinted, so this would have been a small edition, and by no means cheap.

But still, why place so much importance on how colours are described? Well, if you can’t reproduce it in print, you need a reliable way of writing about it so that the reader can mix it for themselves, and that requires a standard approach. Enter Mr Werner, ably assisted by Mr Syme.

To see how this works in practice, let’s look at Bluish Green. It “is composed of Berlin blue, and a little lemon yellow and greyish white”. The accompanying table tells us that it’s suitable for a thrush egg, the under disc of wild rose leaves or the mineral beryl. And that’s how you get the colours right, even if you haven’t got a reliable chart.

Yes, this is mainly of historical interest, but it’s a fascinating read and a reminder of how the world got on when everything really was black and white.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

Masterclass in Colour || Meriel Thurstan & Rosie Martin

Here’s something completely different from Meriel & Rosie. After their really quite advanced books on painting flowers and natural subjects, this is altogether simpler. Simpler, in fact, than the title implies – I’m really not sure how the word “masterclass” got in there and I’m concerned it might frighten a few people off. Colour has a reputation for being difficult, you see. In many ways, the subtitle defines it better: “a colouring workbook of techniques and inspiration”.

The premise is simple enough. There are outlines that you can colour in – you could do it right there on the printed page if you want – with instructions that’ll show you how to build up tints and shading quickly and reliably. The authors suggest that you can use coloured pencils, watercolour pencils, watercolour paint or felt tips, which gives you a good choice of materials. As a primer on how colours work in an image, this is really easy to follow – to the extent that I really do think you could master it from this book alone (which doesn’t quite make a masterclass, he quibbled!)

The subjects are, as you’d probably expect, flowers and plants, and the page size is generous so that you get images that you can see and work with. It’s rather clever, too, in catching on to the popularity of adult colouring books, but teaching at the same time. Yes, it’s instructional, but fun too.

Meriel & Rosie have a reputation for hitting the nail on the head, and this won’t dent it at all.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

DVD Mixing It Up With Watercolour || Charles Sluga

Charles Sluga is a new name to me, but a look at his website reveals that he both travels and demonstrates extensively. The experience shows in this polished performance which kept me engaged from start to finish.

Stylistically, I want to say that Charles is very much like most of the contemporary Australian artists whose work I’ve seen. Is this unfair? Is there an Australian style or are there just painters who happen to hail from the other side of the world? There does, though, tend to be a spirit of the time, as well as locational influences.

Let me expand: the creative process tends to feed off itself and there have always been schools and styles that can be located both chronologically and in terms of place. It’s not just art, but design, making, music and so on. One person comes up with an idea, another embellishes it and, before you know it, it’s a theme. There’s also the fact that different locations produce different light. Britain has a varied, but often damp and cloudy climate which gives it styles like the Norwich school. Continental America can produce brilliant colours and strong lighting, although the painters of New England (maybe not so inappropriately named) give us work that we, across the Atlantic, can feel more at home with. Australia is, physically, more like America but is mostly populated round the coast. As a result, you tend to get the bright colours, but also more subtle hues. Their artists – or at least those that APV work with – also tend to work in a loose and impressionistic way.

So, back to Charles. At one point, he draws a line that goes from abstraction to hyper-realism: “You can paint anywhere on that”, he tells us although, for this film at least, he’s somewhere between representation and abstraction – recognisable subject, not much detail. His narrative can be summed up in a few quotes: “A painting is a beautiful lie” … “I approach plein air painting as just a study to fool myself and relax” … “It should look like a bit of a mess at the start”… “You don’t want to have to count legs.” What this means is that the subject in front of you is merely the basis for a design and he demonstrates this in the first session, a riverside scene where he rearranges the boats to make the subject stronger. He also indulges in a bit of theatre, showing how to handle a small brush: “break it … throw it away!”

The film is based in London and features five demonstrations starting from the riverside scene in Isleworth, and going via a study of St Pancras station, where massive detail is simplified right down. We then move to Piccadilly Circus, and finish at Greenwich in the east, where he paints the Cutty Sark contre jour as a tonal exercise in darks using Phthalo Blue. The final piece, the gates of the Naval College in flat lighting, is about colour and deliberately ignores both tones and hues. “If you can get the major shapes down without getting caught up in the detail, you’ve got the essence of the painting.”

This is, as I said hugely enjoyable, and also an informative film. Charles is knowledgeable both about his subjects – I didn’t know that the statue in Piccadilly Circus is Anteros, Eros’s brother – and painting and painters in general. He also has the ability to analyse and understand his own working methods, as well as keep up a commentary and paint at the same time. These are rare skills, especially when done this well.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

Colour From Coast to Coast || Alice Mumford

“Alice Mumford should be regarded as gifted choreographer. Her chosen objects are certainly not still. They have shimmering quality suggesting almost imperceptible movement.” I wouldn’t disagree with that, nor could I put it better, than the jacket blurb by Professor Richard Demarco.

Where I disagree is with the title. Despite the cover image, which shows a still life against a coastal background, this is not a book of coastal landscapes. In point of fact, Alice Mumford’s main subjects, certainly as presented here, are still lifes. Very good still lifes, it should be said, and frequently set in the context of a window and the view from it. These, though, tend to be land- rather than seascapes or even urban scenes. Reading Alice’s own introduction, it becomes clear that, with her studio half way between St Ives and Penzance, she has access to both Cornwall’s north and south coasts. She observes that “what you end up painting alters radically according to where you sit or stand in relation to the sun”. The point being that, look one way and you have the sun in front of you, turn round and it’s at your back. This is one of those truisms that you will either regard as an important nostrum or have you slapping your forehead in frustration and muttering, “you don’t say!”

Simple things, though, are worth remembering and my own aide-memoire, when taking a photograph in tricky light is “expose for the highlights and let the shadows look after themselves”. Basic stuff, but it gets you out of a lot of trouble and saves a lot of head-scratching.

As I said, although title of this might lead you up the wrong path, I can also see where it’s coming from. As a presentation of the work of an excellent still life artist, it’s very well done indeed.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

Colour & Light in Watercolour (new edition) || Jean Haines

Well, this is a first! I’ve seen books dragged out of well-deserved retirement, kept current by revamped covers and re-issued as “classics”, but I’ve never seen one given a complete makeover that doubles the original extent.

I had reservations about this when it first appeared. It’s not that it wasn’t good, or that I didn’t like it, just that I didn’t feel that Jean’s loose and somewhat idiosyncratic style fitted comfortably into a series of what were largely technical manuals. All that clearly didn’t harm sales and Jean has, of course, gone on to become a bestselling and highly respected author. Later volumes have given her work the freedom it needs and it’s blossomed as a result.

Re-workings of what for the moment we’ll call juvenilia are rarely successful. Authors move on, their style develops and things that are largely historical are best left as pieces of history. If that means they’re a footnote, so be it. It’s often better than being something everyone comes to regret and has to make excuses for later.

And now, gentle reader, I’m going to eat my words: both my previous reservations and my suspicion of the re-vamp. This is everything the book should have been in the first place. It hasn’t been shoe-horned into a series format, for a start. Series are great and are often a way of introducing new authors who may not have the gravitas to stand alone, but can be carried on by the momentum a series provides and given a toe-hold in the water (yes, I do know that’s a mixed metaphor, but it was kind of you to mention it).

It’s also been completely re-designed and there are vastly more illustrations. Now, it has room to spread its wings and to breathe, which is exactly what Jean’s work needs. She’s not about small illustrations that populate a detailed text, she’s about illustrations, illustrations and illustrations. You need to see her work full-page and preferably on a crisp white background and that’s what you have here. I haven’t done a word-by-word comparison, but I’m pretty sure this is the original text and it now becomes an adjunct to the pictures, rather than the other way round. The best art books usually lead on the paintings and use the text just as a caption to explain what you’re looking at when you need a nudge or it isn’t immediately obvious.

This is a hard trick to pull off because, if the original book was any good, it’ll have been properly put together and be a perfect sphere it’s very hard to pull apart. No matter how much you want to, it is, as I’ve hinted above, usually better to leave well alone and start something new from scratch. So, congratulations to Search Press, whose editorial and design teams are on a bit of a roll at the moment, and to Jean too. With this many new illustrations, she’s had a pretty large part in the exercise as well. You need this book.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

Colour Harmony & Contrast For The Artist || Michael Wilcox

This is probably the most comprehensive analysis of how colour works, both in theory and in practice, that you’re ever going to see. Typically from Michael Wilcox, it’s thorough, exhaustive and not a little exhausting. I’ve written elsewhere about guides that speak to you as an artist and, although this is written from an artistic perspective and is full of historical examples, it couldn’t be classed as a light read.

However, if you really want to understand the properties of colour and light, Michael Wilcox is the man and this is the book. It’s based around his colour-wheel palette and forms part of his colour system, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be read as a stand-alone. By using a consistent format throughout, and considering a wide range of colour pairings all individually, Michael has kept a complex subject as simple as it’s possible to make it. His knowledge of both physics and art history are impressive and he relates science and creativity well together to produce an impressive analysis.

I can’t say that this is essential reading, but it’s certainly illuminating.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

  • Archives

  • Categories