Archive for category Subject: Landscape

Found In The Fields || Carry Akroyd

The Northamptonshire peasant poet John Clare said of his poems that he didn’t write them so much as “find them in the fields”. Similarly based herself, artist and printmaker Carry Akroyd works intimately with nature and landscape, including elements as she finds them rather than as they could be idealised. Back when there were more American airbases in the area, jets and vapour trails would often appear in her work, “because it was there”. The amazing thing was that this mechanisation did not jar with a bucolic scene, but became as much a part of it as anything else. In this book, you’ll often find queues of heavy traffic along the major roads that cut through the region.

The core of this collection of some 210 prints and paintings is Carry’s series of 16 lithographs based on Clare’s work and incorporating some of his words. There is, however, much more, including landscapes from further afield in East Anglia as well as Wales and Scotland.

Carry’s images are rarely straightforwardly pictorial and include elements of abstraction that place wildlife and insects in their habitat, but out of proportion. Edges are often jagged and roads wind through patchwork fields that do indeed look almost stitched together. The result is a sense of location and habitat much more than of place, but the atmosphere is perfect. Of the Fens, she says it’s “a land that lends itself to abstraction”, with its flatness and huge skies. This she often portrays from a high viewport than cannot be obtained from land, but requires the wings of the birds that ride the wind overhead.

As well as working with Clare’s poems, Carry is also influenced by them, and it’s impossible to ignore parallels between a man who found words in the fields and an artist whose work comes out of, rather than looking into them.

I have known Carry Akroyd’s work for thirty-odd years and it’s a genuine privilege to be able to review this magnificent book, the quality of whose reproduction is the work of a publisher who takes real care.

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5-Minute Sketching: Landscapes || Virginia Hein

I’m not normally a fan of the quick-work approach. If something’s worth drawing or painting, it’s worth taking time over. However, I’m happy to make an exception in the case of sketching. Here, speed is frequently of the essence and less is definitely more. Stop and fiddle and the scene will be lost, or have changed substantially while you’re still dithering over whether to use Payne’s or Davy’s Grey. Photographically, it’s the equivalent of having your camera out of the bag and on a full auto setting.

There’s much to like in this new series, which originates with RotoVision, purveyors of all kinds of good ideas. This book is full of ideas and exercises, each one executed in just 3 pages. Sections move from technical to creative via observation and planning. Practise now and develop ways of working that’ll stand you in good stead out in the field or on the street corner. Subjects include, as you might have guessed, landscapes but also urban scenes, skies and trees as well as the considerations of working at different times of day.

The approach is visual, vibrant and really rather exciting.

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Painting Watercolour Snow Scenes the Easy Way || Terry Harrison

Sadly, this is going to be my last review of a new Terry Harrison book. His death has left a huge hole in the world of art instruction and many readers are going to be asking where they will go now. Terry was one of the best explainers and his relaxed style of both painting and demonstrating made the results look, while easy, not too easy. You think, “With a bit of effort, I could do that too” and the real secret is that you can. Terry always gave a polished performance, but there was never any sleight of hand, no secrets he kept to himself. Follow the instructions, maybe even use his own range of brushes (they really do what they promise) and the results will follow. He may be gone, but there’s a substantial legacy of books and articles that we can refer to for many years to come.

This new book was the one he always wanted to write. Given a free choice of topic, it was the one he chose and I’ve been told he saw the proofs and was delighted by the result.

Snow is one of the hardest things to paint, harder even than water, which is all about reflections. Snow looks white, but isn’t. It’s blue, it’s grey and it’s every colour in between. It obscures familiar shapes but creates new ones and has a structure and perspective all of its own. All the techniques are here, along with exercises and demonstrations that cover tracks, trees, mountains, water, buildings and much else. There are even some well-wrapped figures and one snowman! Snow is an impermanent thing, but Terry gives it the substance you’d expect.

It’s both ironic and typical of him that Terry chose to subtitle this “the easy way”. As we all know, there is no quick or easy way to paint and it’s a private joke between us and the author that there might be. This, though, is Terry saying “trust me” and very gently showing you the way without leading. If it was mountaineering, he’d be holding the rope, but still letting you do the climb. He may be gone, but all the belays are still there.

A version of this review appeared in The Artist magazine for August 2017.

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David Bellamy’s Arctic Light

I first encountered David Bellamy almost by accident. The husband of a friend of my wife’s was a freelance designer and happened to remark that I ought to see the book he was working on, which was The Wild Places of Britain. It was amazing. I followed it up with the publisher, struck a deal and sold an awful lot of copies. I said of it then that David visits hidden and out-of-the-way places and brings back their atmosphere, people and stories.

Since then, there have been many more books, mostly instructional, and the work he does for exhibition has only occasionally been seen in print.

The Arctic is one of the world’s last great wildernesses and getting to it imposes a huge number of difficulties. Simply existing there is also a challenge and carries very real dangers. Imagine, then, trying to paint in freezing winds, snow and ice when your body and materials are as unwilling to co-operate as they can be. David has a reputation for painting on the edge and has been shown hanging off ropes on desolate crags before. This, however, is a whole different ballgame.

If this was just a tale of endurance, it would have little to recommend it. Sure, learning that gin is a great antifreeze (for your painting water) is all part of the fun that David manages to make this seem, but if the art wasn’t up to scratch, the book would be meaningless.

It’s therefore a pleasure to report that David is at the peak of his powers. The conditions that make the Arctic a challenge to visit also make photography difficult and painting captures the landscapes better than the camera ever can. Few of us will ever make it this far north, and that’s as it should be. Wildernesses like this can only be preserved by their remoteness and lack of visitors. The Antarctic is already being endangered by tourism.

The value of the book, therefore, is the tale it tells, in both words and pictures, of a beautiful region that is filled with mystery, unfamiliar creatures, and inhabitants who live on the edge and have strange legends. This is both a traveller’s tale and a love story and David is perhaps the only person alive who can tell it so effectively. His paintings, all exquisitely reproduced, are breath-taking and the words he weaves round them create the nearest impression of actually being there that most of us will, or should, ever achieve.

This is a major contribution to science as well as to art and a magnificent production of which all involved should be proud.

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Contemporary Landscapes in Mixed Media || Soraya French

Mixed media gets a mixed press and can have mixed results. Like everything else, it’s important not to use it for its own sake, but rather for the effects it offers and creative opportunities it makes available.

Soraya French’s work involves a fair degree of abstraction, which both enhances and is enhanced by her use of colour. This is a fine balance that produces results that are recognisable while going a good way beyond simple representation.

Soraya uses acrylics, watercolours, inks and gel media to create vivid images that capture mood, atmosphere and lighting. In this hugely informative book, she explains her working methods and even includes a few projects and demonstrations that give you a chance to practise for yourself. As well as traditional media, you’ll find out about texture mediums, gels and pastes and, most importantly, how to combine all these into worthwhile results. Soraya also explains how she finds inspiration and chooses formats and composition for maximum impact. She also looks at technical matters such as underpainting, lost and found edges and negative shapes that affect how the viewer sees the result.

This is a comprehensive guide to both mixed media and semi-abstract landscape painting that is full of inspiration and practical advice.

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Terry Harrison’s Complete Brush with Watercolour

This is not a new book, except that it is, and it even feels like one. How so? Well, it’s another of those bind-ups that Search Press are becoming so adept at, comprising the original (and excellent) Brush With Watercolour and subsequent Watercolour Landscapes The Easy Way.

As we’ve come to expect, you can’t see the join and the new whole is, if not greater than the sum of its parts, then at least equal in terms of the usefulness of the book. The result, in fact, is one of the most coherent watercolour courses I’ve seen in quite some time. It’s slightly shorter than the combination of the originals, demonstrating that the preliminary material has been filleted for duplication. I also suspect that some running orders have been changed so that there’s no jumping about. You can’t, like Ernie Wise’s supposed wig, see the join.

The best way to sum the book up, I think, is simply to list the main chapter headings: Choosing your equipment, Using the brushes, Techniques, Demonstrations. You see, perfectly logical. As to those brushes, yes they are all from the Terry Harrison range. I’ve observed before that you may have suitable alternatives already, or you can get them – one fan brush is, let’s face it, pretty much like another. Except that it isn’t. Terry’s brushes have a very slightly ragged edge from new, so they don’t produce a sharp line. It’s a small detail, but worth pointing out as it shows the attention he’s given them and that they’re designed to help you, rather than just make money for him. Quite a lot of artists have tried a brush range over the years, but Terry’s has stood the test of time, which is an endorsement in itself.

Sorry to bang on at length there, but I think it’s important to stress that Terry is assiduous in his efforts to help you paint, rather than simply to show you how clever he is. It’s the main reason why, as well as the brushes, he himself is as popular as ever.

There’s plenty here to like, from the simple technical explanations at the beginning, the exercises in skies, foliage, water, flowers and buildings as well as wet-in-wet, drybrush and the use of masking fluid. To conclude, the ten demonstrations cover just about every aspect of landscape painting across differing conditions and seasons. It really is that comprehensive.

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Zawn: Walking West Penwith/Cliff-edge painting by Paul Lewin || Paul Gough

Helpfully, the back cover blurb provides an explanation of the enigmatic title. “Zawn: a coastal inlet in a cliff face, with steep or rocky sides. Often the result of a roof-collapse in a littoral cave.”

This is useful to know, as it defines the content of this beautifully illustrated book, which exudes a sumptuous feel in spite of its relative slimness and soft cover.

The paintings themselves, some already existing, others produced especially for the book, are a superb evocation of coastal landscapes and of the weather that inevitably assaults a West-facing peninsula. I haven’t traced the chronology on a map, but there is a sense of a journey, as opposed to randomly-selected landmarks and that sits well with the idea of a coastal path.

The text is an account at once of the book, of Paul Lewin’s working methods and of the creative process as a whole. Whether you feel you need it, or whether these three things sit altogether comfortably together, is a matter of personal taste. Although what Paul Gough writes is firmly grounded in the work it accompanies, there is still a slight disconnect due to the tendency to expand and generalise. You might feel, though, that it adds to, rather than detracts from, the book’s appeal.

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