Archive for category Subject: Landscape

David Bellamy’s Arabian Light

If you thought the Middle East was just sand and showy ziggurats, think again. David Bellamy has always been a travel writer at heart and this book explores the spirit of a region the West often dismisses. His skill lies in finding the hidden corners that define the character of a place rather than its public faces and spaces. He also explores the life of the region through its people as they go about their daily lives; again, these are things done for practical purposes rather than public show. Thus, we get a quiet corner of Cairo at night (David doesn’t completely eschew the larger settlements), the eerie light of midday heat among the rocks of a wadi (a dry valley), where scale is provided by middle-ground figures. At the same time, David also visits Petra and Abu Simbel, somehow managing either to avoid the crowds, or at least edit them out. These results typify his ability to capture atmosphere – in words as well as pictures – with an assuredness that betokens both familiarity and understanding.

David is no wide-eyed first-time tourist and the book tells the stories of several journeys, giving each section an effective narrative arc, for he is also a master storyteller whose words and pictures are part of a whole, rather than one being an adjunct to another. Travel books are often separated between a writer and a photographer whose visions are – even if subtly – different. As a result, you look at the pictures as one piece of the jigsaw and the words as another, the illustrations being a counterpoint to what you are told. When the author is an artist, the images are not necessarily a blindly faithful record, but rather an assemblage that captures both the essence of the scene and the impression it made on the painter. That eerie light would be almost impossible to capture with a camera, but responds perfectly to the subtle hues and granulation of watercolour.

The overall impression of this beautiful book is of the narrative arc I referred to before. It’s the story not just of a journey, but of a place and its people and David has done it supreme justice.

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Painting Abstract Landscapes || Gareth Edwards & Kate Reeves-Edwards

Over many years of selling and writing about art books, I have been asked whether it would be possible to grade books according to whether they are intended for the beginner, intermediate or advanced student. The true answer is: no. This is largely because all books contain something that will be of value to all those groups but also, it should be said, because one person’s beginner is another’s expert. I’ve spoken to people who’ve been painting for all of a few months and have nothing left to learn, but also to a professional portraitist who was buying what seemed to me a very elementary book. The explanation in that case (I had to ask) was, “If I get one idea from it, it’ll be worthwhile”.

All of which is a lengthy preamble to saying that this is very much a book for the advanced student. Yes, there are exercises and demonstrations here, but the bulk of the book is devoted to a discussion of approaches, analyses and working methods – the practice, in short, of abstract painting. It is, of course, all the better for that and anyone who has felt frustrated at the elementary approach of the books that have appeared so far will breathe a huge sigh of relief. Abstraction is as much a state of mind as a technical exercise and one that needs to be understood as much as taught. For something so deeply visual in terms of speaking to its audience, it’s also something that needs to be talked about in order to crystallise and understand the intellectual processes that go into it.

As well as those worked examples (let’s call them that), there are plenty of other illustrations and the aforesaid discussions of interpretation and working methods. The authors are father and daughter, the one a professional abstract landscapist, the other an experienced art writer. As well as the personal connection you also get the best of two worlds – top-quality writing as well as painting. This really is a stupendous book.

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Quick Start to Watercolor Landscapes || Kenneth Hesse

Self-publishing comes with two major pitfalls: the lack of an editor and the lack of a designer. It doesn’t have to lose out on missing a proof-reader, but often does.

An editor will restrain an author’s tendency to write either too much (going into obsessive detail about unimportant matters), or too little (those frustratingly short sentences that equate to the Bake-Off technical’s “make the batter”). A designer will bring a fresh eye to the layout, have more tools than a simple word processor and make sure that illustrations are both reasonably-sized and in the right place.

The first thing to say here is that it’s pretty obvious Ken has used a word processor. The text and, for the most part the illustrations, are fixed to a two-column page. Does this matter? Well, only if you’re a reviewer, probably, although a reader might think that the information provided had better be pretty good if the pages lack visual excitement.

And now the good news. None of the above matters here. Yes, you might observe that there are a few infelicities (let’s not call them any more than that) which a proof-reader would have picked up but even I, notoriously picky about details, passed over them with no more than a wry smile.

This is not a book for the advanced watercolourist, it’s fair to say, but neither does it pretend to be. What it mainly concentrates on is the practicality of painting – the matter of using brushes and colour to get an image down on paper. That’s really the first port of call and creativity and aesthetics can come later; if you can’t handle your materials with confidence, all the best ideas in the world will remain stuck firmly in your head.

I warmed to this on page 3, where Ken gives us a list of terms and their definitions. Sure, I’m pretty confident that I know what a ferrule is and that you do too; we could also both work out that fresh paint comes newly squeezed from the tube. I’m being unfair deliberately to make a point, because having all this in one place is good and you may well find that succinct summaries of Complementary, Convenience and Local colours are a thing to treasure. In fact, having things in one place is perhaps the book’s greatest virtue. The layout may not be exciting, but Ken’s mind is extremely well-organised and information is absolutely not scattered about and hard to find. In the step-by-step demonstrations, I particularly like the chart of steps that appears at the beginning. It makes back-reference easy and I haven’t seen it elsewhere – other publishers might want to take note.

The two-column layout maybe isn’t the friend of the demonstrations as the stage illustrations are quite small. I am, however, reviewing this from a PDF, which is not my normal practice, and I’ve zoomed the pages a few times. It’s pleasing to be able to report that image quality stands that.

As for content, there’s a lot of detail, especially about techniques of application, but no over-writing and (remember what I said about designers?) everything is in the right place. Those illustrations may be somewhat small, but they’re where you want them – next to the text and on the same page. It makes the book not just easy to follow, but a pleasure to read.

So, in summary, this is a book for the new watercolourist who needs something basic and easily understandable about technique. I would honestly recommend it as a beginner’s first book for that reason alone. Easily-followed demonstrations and subjects that aren’t over-complicated are just the icing on the cake really.

This is a US private publication, available from Barnes & Noble

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Painting The Mountain Landscape || Eileen Clark

Books on oil painting are relatively thin on the ground and many of them are a lot more general than this. You are therefore likely to approach it with high expectations and it is a pleasure to be able to report that it should certainly meet, perhaps even exceed them.

Eileen demonstrates a wide variety of work in many lighting and weather conditions. She also looks at details such as trees, waterfalls and wildlife on top of skies, mists and larger expanses of water. It is worth saying that she is based in the Lake District, so has all this on her doorstep to work with.

As is Crowood’s normal approach, there is quite a lot of discussion and analysis, but large and intimidating blocks of text have been avoided and at no point does the book give the appearance of being unmanageable. This may seem like a detail, but I’ve always felt it’s important in a visual medium – you want to see what’s going on, not be told. For all that, an explanation of the hows and whys can be extremely valuable and something you’d certainly expect in a painting film.

The reproduction is superb, even the full-page images, and details, brushwork and canvas textures are easily visible. The way Eileen works, you will want to look closely and this is possible in every image.

This really is the most thorough guide to painting mountains in oils and very well done indeed on all counts.

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DVD Painting The Light in Oils || Haidee-Jo Summers

Although the main purpose of art demonstration films is to be instructive, a degree of entertainment helps as it retains the viewer’s interest and makes watching a pleasure much more than a chore. APV have always been good at this, but here have an added bonus in the presenter. Haidee-Jo is not just informative and entertaining, she is also highly engaging and time spent in her company is a joy that seems to pass all too quickly. Perhaps her greatest quality is to be able to keep up a running commentary as she works that is not just a description of what she is doing (we can see that), but why, and how decisions are made and directions taken. Some artists paint in almost complete silence, dropping the odd bon mot from time to time and we should not criticise that – the ability to keep up a patter is something you either have or you don’t. All of which is to say that this is a thumpingly good film you’ll probably get a great deal from, even if you never have the intention of touching oil paint.

There are four demonstrations. The first is a boatyard filled with possibilities, prompting a discussion of subject selection and simplification. We are also introduced to the relationship between colour and light, as well as how to deal with shadow. This is developed further in the second section, a garden view seen through a dark barn, where the final addition of a dash of bright red to the handles of a half-seen wheelbarrow brings things not just together, but to life. It’s perhaps one of the shortest and simplest lessons I’ve seen in any film.

The third demonstration is at Whitstable harbour and includes buildings, boats, sea and sky. It’s instructive to observe how Haidee-Jo omits much of the latter two elements because they don’t contribute to “the story”. This is a theme that recurs throughout the film, the idea of a narrative being central to her work and contributing to composition, colour choice and perspective.

The final painting is an interior filled with dappled light that changes as the work progresses. It’s here that the importance of an initial reference photograph comes to the fore and Haidee-Jo explains how to use it to ensure consistency as the work progresses. It’s a difficult painting that leaves her physically exhausted, but an intriguing exercise to watch – you’re rooting for her just as you would the hero of a thriller.

My notes are full of quotations and I seem not to have included any here, but let’s sum up: “It’s only paint, I can change my mind”; “If you get into a muddle mixing colours, just think of the three primaries”; “What people respond to is the way you feel”; “I don’t want it to be the same colour – it’s OK to be the same value”.

Finally, to conclude: “I’m a great one for saying, say what you want to say then get out”. At which point, so shall I.

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http://www.apvfilms.com

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Drawing Landscapes || Margaret Eggleton

Search Press have reissued this, which first appeared in the Drawing Masterclass series. You can read the original review here.

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Creativity Through Nature || Ann Blockley

Every so often, any creative person needs to go through a reset, in which they re-assess their vision, methods and output. Ann’s has come as a result of the planet crisis and has involved considering whether she wanted to continue painting at all. I’m honestly not sure that giving up watercolours will produce the climate stasis we require, but fortunately the final outcome for Ann was an artistic rather than a material reconsideration.

What we have here, therefore, is a in-depth examination of the creative process that has also resulted in her relocating to Devon from Gloucestershire, giving her new landscapes to look at and a change of working atmosphere.

It’s a thoroughly stimulating book that’s entirely about inspiration and creativity without really considering technical processes at all. While this can be desirable for the individual, it’s something that can be as exciting for the viewer as watching the proverbial paint dry. You can’t, after all, easily demonstrate what goes on inside your head. Please note, though, that I said “easily”, because that’s exactly what Ann has done and the result is completely gripping.

There are no demonstrations or exercises here, but rather subjects, themes and ideas, with examples of how they were transferred to images on paper. You’ve probably always wanted to know the thought, intellectual and, dare I say it, mindful processes that Ann uses to create what she does and you can actually see them at work here. It really works rather well.

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Watercolour Landscapes || Richard Taylor

This is not a new book or, rather, it is not new material, having appeared as a subject-based series some twenty years ago. It is all the more remarkable then, that both the style and the presentation remain fresh. If it was all new, I’d be praising the style, layout and presentation as highly as I could. So I will – clearly it was ahead of its time.

It’s not a little impressive that, being a bind-up with, as far as I can see, little if any re-editing, this fits together seamlessly. It’s possible that the individual volumes each had materials and techniques sections – if so, these have sensibly been moved to the start and agglomerated. This part alone is so good that I could easily recommend the whole book just for this introduction to watercolour basics. Richard is not only a good painter, but an excellent presenter of his material who knows exactly what to leave out as much as what needs to be included.

This skill is characteristic of the rest of the book. What are now chapters cover hills & mountains, skies & clouds, forests & woodlands and lakes & rivers – all the main landscape elements – presented in exactly the way you’d expect from any general guide. Shapes, texture, colour and perspective are all covered, but mostly within wider demonstrations rather than separate topics. Even when there are individual lessons, such as the use of cool neutrals, the examples are little works of art in their own right – this simply never feels like dry schoolwork.

This is a thick book with no fewer than 368 pages. That would normally be a matter for comment, with things harder to see and pages difficult to handle, but it actually makes the weight manageable and using a softer binding means that the book falls open easily without being forced. Counter-intuitively, it becomes a pleasure to handle. Well done all round.

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Drawing Dramatic Landscapes || Robert Dutton

It is to be hoped that this new series from Search Press will be expanded in the not too distant future. The idea of featuring work by artists who explore and expand the horizons of their medium is an attractive one and there are enough around that it shouldn’t be necessary to stretch the criteria just for the sake of it.

Robert Dutton works mostly in graphite media – pencils, sticks, powder and liquid – but also charcoal, acrylics, inks and pastels. These latter for the most part provide accents and colour, but what he can do with straightforward monochrome will take your breath away. That’s what makes this such an exciting book.

Search Press are, of course, mainly publishers of instructional books rather than monographs, so there has to be a strong how-to element as well as the valuable featured work. They are well-practised, both in content and layout as well as selection of authors. It should come as no surprise therefore that this works as inspiration and creative encouragement just as well as straightforward technical lessons and demonstrations. The approach and style, however, make it less of a course and more of an exploratory tour in the company of an informed and competent guide. Robert has a teaching background and it shows – he is excellent at explaining what he has done, but why it was achieved that way.

Not everything in the book will be to everyone’s taste – you may prefer the sometimes dark graphite drawing, I may feel happier with coloured pencils and inked highlights. For all that, Robert’s explanations have a superb clarity and are always interesting – whatever your preferences, there’s nothing here you’d want to skip.

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Ready to Paint in 30 Minutes – Landscapes in Acrylics || Barry Herniman

There’s something for everyone in this welcome addition to an excellent series. Barry covers trees, rocks, buildings, water, skies and even seas. Demonstrations use the watercolour technique, so you’ll be working on paper without impasto. I’ve yet to see traceable outlines that work on canvas, though I can’t see why it would be impossible.

This isn’t just a good book within the series, though, it’s a very thorough grounding in landscape elements and techniques in its own right and something to consider even if you don’t want pre-drawn outlines.

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