Archive for category Subject: Landscape

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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How to Paint Atmospheric Landscapes in Acrylics || Fraser Scarfe

Apart from the fact that it’s a substantial offering, the first thing that strikes you about this rather beautiful new book is the quote from John Constable on the front flap. Let’s be clear, it’s the only thing on the front flap, so it wants you to take notice. It’s bold and confident, being if nothing else, a hostage to fortune – it’s a lot to live up to. The gist of the quote is that the world is constantly changing, “no two days are alike, nor even two hours; nor were there ever two leaves of a tree alike”. In short, it’s about the moment, and that’s where the atmosphere comes from.

At 192 pages this is, as I said, a substantial volume and Fraser makes full use of the available space to discuss a good variety of subjects, lighting conditions and seasons as well as materials and the practicalities of working outdoors. Given room, authors too often indulge themselves or go off a tangents. Fraser, however, has a clear plan and the book flows nicely and includes plenty of generously-sized illustrations without resorting to endless demonstrations with almost identical steps.

As well as all the variations above, there’s also handy information on skies, clouds, trees, buildings and other elements that go to make up a scene. I do have a couple of reservations: Fraser’s style can be rather dark and Old Masterly. I’m writing this review a couple of weeks before Christmas. It’s already dark and I haven’t had my tea yet, so maybe I’m feeling a little jaded and in need of summer meadows. The other thing is that, although Fraser is very good at buildings on the skyline, he’s not so hot when they’re close up. There are only a few of these, though, so you can ignore them without feeling short-changed.

One thing I particularly like is a clever detail of the production. When it matters, the paintings are photographed in raking light so that you can see the texture of the impasto, which adds a lot, just where it matters. I haven’t seen it before and it’s a nice touch.

Overall, this is an impressive book that’s well worth its not excessive cover price.

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Take Three Colours: Watercolour Landscapes || Geoff Kersey

This is a brilliantly simple idea brilliantly presented. Working with a limited palette isn’t new, of course, but working with an absolute minimum of colours removes a major element of complication that can be a stumbling block for beginners: colour mixing. What’s impressive is just how much you can do with ultramarine, cadmium yellow pale and light red. A few mixes, some washes and even a bit of drybrush gives you an impressive array of options that can produce subtle and varied results. The rule of three even extends to the brushes – less, as ever, is more.

The book itself is nicely structured and the early demonstrations are only four pages long. Sure, a cloudy sky and an evening lake are basically a foreground, a background and some middle distance, but it’s amazing what you can achieve with this. Results are the important thing and what encourage any beginner to keep going and progress. By the end, you’re ready for the simple, but complete, landscape that’s on the front cover.

If you’re new to watercolour – a complete beginner just getting started, or have maybe had a go and got lost along the way, this simple and clearly laid-out book will get you on track.

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Down An English Lane || Richard Thorn

Billed as “a celebration of rural England”, this utterly charming collection achieves exactly what it sets out to do.

Richard’s watercolour style is very loose and makes extensive use of washes and spattering to create an impression of a scene rather than record it in detail. With only a few exceptions, that impression is of bright sunlight and quiet calm. Figures do not appear and this is more about an idealised than a working landscape. It’s none the worse for that.

Given the subject matter and that Halsgrove is a West Country publisher, I initially assumed that these were the lanes of Devon and Cornwall. Although it’s not explicit anywhere, there are hints in the introductory material that I’m right. Some of the titles give hints to location (“Down Surrey Way” is perhaps further afield), but most don’t and that’s right. Although Richard is painting in specific places, they stand for anywhere and this is as much the creation of an idealised countryside as it is the record of a real one (though it performs the neat trick of being that too).

You’ve probably gathered that I like this a lot. It’s a joyous book that makes you smile and feel that all things are not completely wrong, even if the politics currently are. If you love the English countryside, I think – I hope – you’ll agree. If you want to paint it, there’s plenty of inspiration in Richard’s excellent work.

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DVD Vibrant Oils || Haidee-Jo Summers

Some painting films are a polished performance, both in the presentation and on the paper or canvas. Others are more of an engaging couple of hours spent in the company of an artist as they explore their surroundings. Haidee-Jo falls into the latter camp and my notes add that some of her most eloquent passages are when she’s completely silent, allowing the brushes to speak for themselves.

The title “Vibrant Oils” tells you little and it’s possible to see how difficult it is to characterise the work of an artist who is constantly fascinated by shapes and colours, and also by working out of doors – “the nice thing is that you get to choose the best bits … there’s a little bit of sparkle in the sea over there; I’ll try to remember”. There’s also a dichotomy of subject matter. The first three demonstrations – the DVD is filmed on the Roseland peninsula in Cornwall – are of harbour scenes, so boats play a large part. The second slightly-less-than-half, when the sun is bright, involves flowers and buildings. In the last of those, Haidee-Jo only half-jokingly laments having to put in the flowers in front of a nondescript tin barn she’s fallen in love with. The thing is, though, that so have we. The film shows something about as unpromising as it can get, yet Haidee-Jo finds beauty, colours and shapes that have been keeping themselves well-hidden and, more importantly, communicates them to the viewer.

All-in-all, I’d class this as a film about observation as much as anything else. If you want to paint plein air it is, to a large extent, something you simply have to do. There are certain practicalities, mainly involving equipment, sun hats and protective clothing, but in the matter of painting, looking, seeing and selecting subjects are the most important thing. “It’s amazing how little information the viewer needs … what simple marks I can make”, perhaps summing that particular message up most succinctly. There’s also sound advice about planning your painting, working from dark to light and defining the image: “Details are a treat to do at the end”.

Some films are relatively easy to pin down. The artist has a message they want to get across and the demonstrations are a neatly-structured way of doing it. Here, much happens (almost) by accident and because something caught the eye, the first flower demonstration being one such. The whole is much more of a slippery customer when it comes to attempting a definition. Haidee-Jo works as she goes along and has what we might call an “Oooh, look” personality. If you want an enjoyable couple of hours where you can learn far more than you’ll perhaps ever realise, this is it.

It’s also worth adding that the wildtrack perfectly captures the atmosphere of the scenes, from the proliferation of birdsong to tiny details such as the snick of a tripod being closed. It’s attention to detail like this that make APV films such complete works.

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The Elements of Landscape Oil Painting || Suzanne Brooker

This thorough and comprehensive guide makes use of explanations, photographs, examples, exercises and demonstrations to teach ways to handle sky, terrain, trees and water.

As with a lot of Watson Guptill books, it’s something to sit down and read, rather than use as a workbook and the text involves quite a lot of discussion rather than simply prescriptive instruction. If you have little patience with that kind of thing, it’ll exasperate you. On the other hand, if you find a list of things to do limiting, you’ll be in your element here. It’s beautifully produced and a pleasure to handle.

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