Archive for category Subject: Landscape

Kurt Jackson’s Botanical Landscape

Kurt Jackson is that rare creature, a creator who is as at home with the written word as he is with the paintbrush. Eloquent in both media, this is his account of the natural world as he sees it. If this was a collaboration such as say, Robert Macfarlane’s The Lost Words, you’d describe it as an illustrated account, or perhaps a curated portrait. As it is, though, the two strands are inseparable and the paintings, drawings, poems and accounts of travels, excursions and experiences are a single piece.

I said that Jackson is a rare creature, and the truth is that this is a unique work and has to be taken as a whole. The words don’t explain the pictures and the pictures don’t illustrate the words; both account for the landscape as it is and as Jackson sees and experiences it. To open the book is to enter a world that is very personal, and yet at once recognisable. As individuals, we’ve all been caught in motorway jams and wondered at the variety of flora that populate the verges. (That’s from a chapter entitled Weeds that makes it clear that these neglected plants are anything but second-class citizens). We’ve also marvelled at the majesty of an oak tree and perhaps wandered through the undergrowth of a woodland, disturbing small creatures as we go.

So, what is the book like? Well, imagine looking out of an all-seeing window and listening to the words of an eloquent writer. Somehow, the two meld and sound becomes vision, vision sound. It’s no accident that Robert Macfarlane contributes a preface. He gets it.

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DVD Watercolour Plein Air || Andy Evansen

There’s so much to like in this engaging and informative film that it’s hard to know where to start.

Let’s begin with an introduction: Andy Evansen is an American artist who paints in the classic English watercolour style, with muted colours and plenty of wet-in-wet. Although that mostly demands larger brushes, his is not the broad-shapes, evolving-composition method, but rather the more holistic approach we’re used to, where the starting point is a general outline that builds on overall composition and colour. He frequently starts with a value sketch which is used establish both the shape of the final work and the way the elements of the picture relate to each other. One of his particularly interesting tropes is unification of shape, where the main elements of the picture effectively merge into each other, creating the line that leads the viewer through the painting.

He is also interesting on the role of the viewer, talking at one point about “the illusion of detail”, where a few clues – in figures and animals, for instance – prompt the eye to fill in the rest of the structure. Overall, too, his way of working is to suggest rather than tell and he is very good on ways of simplifying complex shapes.

This is a film about painting on location and Andy explains why this is important. He shows how colours and composition can be adjusted to reflect the developing scene, how the value sketch can be used as a record when lighting changes and why a photograph can’t capture the subtleties of colour and hues. He also has a trick of leaving the work about 90% complete so that the final touches can be added in the calm of the studio. A quick closing section shows how subtle these can be – small marks that highlight form and structure or clarify some of the smaller details. This is not about fiddling, just tidying up when the overall vision is clearer.

Theses reviews are often peppered with quotes, but Andy isn’t that sort of demonstrator. There aren’t forehead-slapping, “Oh gosh” moments, but rather a growing sense of being informed and of watching what I can really only call the magic taking place before your eyes. It’s hugely entertaining, but strongly and subtly instructive as well. I hope we can see more of Andy.

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Take Three Colours: Watercolour Mountains || Matthew Palmer

The latest instalment in this user-friendly series is a worthy addition to the canon. Matthew Palmer is an intelligent and sympathetic tutor who carries his abilities lightly. There’s nothing too ambitious and he is happy to take a back seat and let the student work at their own pace. There’s no grandstanding or showmanship, just solid, honest instructions and demonstrations that produce solid, worthwhile results.

It’s a Yes from me.

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Essential Techniques of Landscape Drawing || Suzanne Brooker

This masterclass in landscape drawing contains a wealth of information, both practical and theoretical. A lot of Watson Guptill books are ones to read rather than work with, but there are quite a lot of exercises and demonstrations here, covering elements such as clouds and skies, hills, trees and water. Suzanne also discusses marks and lines, composition, texture and shading.

In spite of the amount and density of the information presented, the generous page size means that the layout never feels crammed and you’re unlikely ever to feel overwhelmed. This is helped in part by the sensible chapter structure that is both progressive and topical. It’s a comprehensive guide that should prove thoroughly rewarding.

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The Paint Pad Artist (Watercolour Landscapes || Grahame Booth/Watercolour Flowers || Julie King)

This new series builds on the theme of the hugely successful Ready to Paint books and provides outlines pre-printed on watercolour paper. I’ve looked for a watermark, but can’t find one, so it’s very much a take-it-as-it-is option. This shouldn’t matter, however, as these are very much aimed at the beginner and, as long as the material doesn’t have any particularly difficult characteristics, just having it there ready to use should be fine. You still have to provide your own paint and brushes, of course, but there’s a handy list of What You Need in the concise but informative introductory section to each book. Given the level of skill this is aimed at, getting the right balance between thoroughness and not being so detailed as to be off-putting is a difficult thing to judge. The decision here has been to start on practical work as soon as possible and develop skills there.

The core of each book is a series of six projects with detailed step-by-step-illustrations. There’s plenty of hand-holding and a very real sense of having a guide and tutor at your shoulder throughout. A nice touch is the suggestion of making copies of the outlines so that you can practice and repeat the exercises without the pressure of having to get it right first time or waste the material provided. This is advice any newcomer would be advised to follow as (spoiler alert), art isn’t something you can pick up in a few minutes.

There’s much to like here, quite apart from the approach and presentation. The books are spiral bound inside a substantial hard cover and the attention to detail includes an elasticated band that holds the whole thing together in the manner of a portfolio. It’s very professionally done and makes the student feel both taken, and that they’re taking it all, seriously.

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Ready to Paint in 30 Minutes – Landscapes|| Dave Woollass/Trees & Woodlands || Geoff Kersey

For a general appreciation, please look at the series tag above. I like the new iteration of the old Ready to Paint series a lot and these latest volumes diminish that not a jot.

Dave Woollass is a new author and one I hope we’ll see more of. He has a pleasantly loose style that’s readily achievable and explains his working methods well. He’s also comfortable with the variety of subject matter that the series demands and this would be a book worth seeking out even if the series in general isn’t your regular cup of tea.

Geoff Kersey is a familiar figure who’s well-practised in art instruction. Working with this will be familiar territory to many and a comfortable amble through the byways of watercolour. While there’s nothing excessively taxing (here or in the series in general), you won’t feel constrained or short-changed, your creative skills rather being gently stretched; a work-up rather than a work-out, perhaps.

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Painting Landscapes || Kevin Scully

This is slightly spooky. No sooner have I written about one book on landscape painting from Crowood than another one turns up. This one is much more aimed at practical aspects and sticks to the opaque media: oils, acrylics and alkyd.

As is the style with this publisher’s approach, the text is much more discursive and, along with the sort of instructions you expect in a demonstration, there is a lot more explanation of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. If you are really more interested in the general than the specific, this will appeal: you learn how to paint anything, rather than just what the author happens to put in front of you. As the old adage has it: give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and you feed him for life.

Why aren’t all books like this, you might ask? Well, not everyone wants what we might call the deeper philosophies or to get bogged down in what they see as detail. At the start, clear, simple instructions are best. It’s only as you progress that you begin to want, or even need, the details of what’s happening under the hood. These are books for the more experienced artist and the style, authors and level of work reflect that.

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