Archive for category Subject: Compendium guide
Handbook of Watercolour Tips and Techniques || Arnold Lowrey, Wendy Jelbert, Geoff Kersey, Barry Herniman
I don’t normally review bind-ups as I’ve usually covered the individual volumes previously. Sometimes, though, there’s a particular reason: the single books are no longer available, the anthology is particularly good value or maybe there’s some kind of health warning.
This one falls into the latter category. Be aware that this particular collection has appeared previously, but in a larger format. If you’ve already got a similar sounding book by the same four authors, don’t assume that this is more in the same vein, it’s the same thing.
I have to confess that the reason for issuing it in a half-size format eludes me and there doesn’t seem to have been any change of layout either, they’ve just shrunk the pages so that, unless you have 20:20 vision or some very strong reading glasses, you’re going to struggle with it. It’s also quite heavy and you need to break the spine in order to see the whole of each page properly. Even then, it’s a bit of a wrestle to get it to lie flat.
If you want Arnold Lowrey on starting to paint, Wendy Jelbert on working from sketch to painting, Geoff Kersey on perspective, depth and distance and Barry Herniman on mood and atmosphere, go for the full-size compilation, which appears to be still available. It’s a bit more, but it’s worth it.
This substantial volume is a bind-up of five previously-issued titles covering drawing, watercolour, oils, acrylics and pastel. The approach in each of these was the same: paint a complete picture (a still life), learning a good variety of basic techniques in the chosen medium as you went along. Most medium guides do more or less the same thing, that is to say they give you a series of demonstrations that showcase things like colour, tone, blending, washes, brushwork and so on. Normally, though, these are quite truncated sessions that may not really result in anything more than a collection of unrelated subjects and don’t always lead to anything in the way of a coherent finished result.
Where this book differs and is, as far as I know, unique, is that the authors work their way through different elements of a single overall composition to achieve the same result, so that what you get is a much more complete work of art at the end of it and a much better idea of whether what you’ve learned has been worthwhile. All this, of course, depends on whether you are comfortable with this single-minded way of working and whether you want to paint a still life. No pain, no gain, however, and it’s worth sacrificing the variety of the more traditional approach for this more seamless way of working.
Many artists choose to concentrate on one or maybe two media, so the value of a compendium such as this is necessarily limited. I’ve always suspected that this kind of book appeals to people who think they want to paint and to others who are looking for a gift book, rather than to those who are already a rung or two up the ladder. Nevertheless, there’s no shortage of these compendium guides about, so one has to assume there’s a market, though how may of their buyers or recipients then go on to pursue their craft at any length, I wouldn’t like to guess. It’s also worth observing that this volume is, at 415 pages, both longer than most and also more expensive. Its unique approach and the quality of the authors, both of them experienced and effective teachers and writers, do on the whole justify the price though.
Most how-to-paint or art-course books are pretty much anything but what they profess to be. Hot on technique, they tell you how to put paint on paper or canvas, but not how to paint a picture and almost all suffer from being over-designed, which means that they’re OK for dipping into, but never really offer the progression of thought, approach and development that could lead their to be regarded as any sort of substitute for a teacher-led course.
The main problem with book learning is that there isn’t someone at hand to guide the student, offer advice and comment and to answer questions and, as often as not, it’s the attempt to address this, to give the feel of a true course, that produces a book that looks anything but.
This present offering is in fact a bind-up of four different volumes that Cassell have previously published. Bind-ups rarely work. Shoehorning several entirely different books into one cover can be a bit like putting a single meal, from soup to nuts, on one plate. It’s convenient, saves on the waiter’s time and the washing up, the sales people like it because they can wax lyrical about the variety and extent that you can see it all at once (don’t shout at me, I know I’m mixing metaphors here), but it just proves that more is nearly always less. Several small, carefully presented portions are so much better than one big pile that just looks like, well, what big piles generally look like. If I’d had a hot dinner for every well-intentioned bind-up of a series of introductory guides to painting media I’ve seen, well, I wouldn’t be reduced to mixing my own metaphors.
So, that’s the bad news, but stick around because this is where it all gets better. In fact it gets very much better because this is quite the best painting course I’ve yet seen. It’s clearly presented, there are lots of illustrations, including guides, diagrams, sketches, finished paintings and step-by-step demonstrations. There are colour charts, mixing guides, palette tips for the demonstrations and break-out details, all just about where you need them, not just where they look good. The design doesn’t intrude in the way I’ve been implying it usually does, but the people who worked on the series haven’t been afraid to eschew a tight grid that makes every page look the same. Although there’s a consistent flow, there’s a feeling of variety which removes any chance that this is going to get boring at any point. It’s also worth noting that, although each section has its own contents list (there isn’t one main one at the front), this doesn’t feel like four books sheltering under one cover.
Book designers get far too little credit. If they do their work well, it becomes invisible; it’s only bad design that anyone ever notices. There should be an award and it should be an empty plinth with a label saying, “The invisible award for unobtrusive page design”.
The fact is that this is an art course you could actually work through from cover to cover. It’s problem is that it’s going to have limited appeal to people who already paint because they’ve already settled on a medium. Maybe you work in watercolour and do a bit of drawing. Well, you won’t be wanting the oils and acrylics sections, will you? Well, this isn’t really aimed at you. It’s aimed at people who are just starting and who haven’t fixed on anything yet, apart from the general idea of doing a bit drawing and painting. It’s a bookshop book, one you pick up and browse, not one you go on websites looking for, though maybe you should. The really nice thing about it is that it stands a fighting chance of giving someone like that enough confidence and ability that they might want to go on and then there’s a whole load more books they can buy.
If you’ve made it to this website, you’ve probably got an interest in art already, so do someone else a favour. Buy them this book for Christmas, or a birthday, or just because you like them, I don’t mind. Just do it. It’s wonderful value at a mere twenty pounds and it’s a hardback, whatever it may say anywhere else. With discounting going on all around us, very few books are worth the price printed on their cover. This is.
Cassell Illustrated 2006
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