Archive for category Subject: Light

Light and Shade in Watercolour || Hazel Soan

Hazel Soan’s work is all about light and shade and this is the book she was always destined to write. If it seems like a long time coming, think of her previous output as the rehearsal that makes sure this is absolutely right. And absolutely right it is, a genuine tour de force that takes in light and dark, the white of the paper, contrasting and complementary colours and the use of simple shapes that say far more about a subject than any amount of fine detail. Look at any of the images here in depth and it becomes apparent just how much Hazel leaves out, relying instead on the viewer’s eye to fill the blanks and create the emotional response that defines a successful painting.

The book covers animals, figures, flowers, landscapes, buildings and townscapes, all in a variety of lighting effects that Hazel will show you how to capture. There are no step-by-step demonstrations, but neither is this a dry read; most of the text is confined to short paragraphs. Like the images themselves, these are stripped back to the bare essentials while, at the same time conveying all the information you need. Where necessary, extended captions explain what you’re looking at and for and there’s an extraordinary sense of working alongside a consummate artist, rather than simply being set homework to present later.

Hazel is a rightly popular author and demonstrator and this is easily her best book yet.

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DVD Mixing It Up With Watercolour || Charles Sluga

Charles Sluga is a new name to me, but a look at his website reveals that he both travels and demonstrates extensively. The experience shows in this polished performance which kept me engaged from start to finish.

Stylistically, I want to say that Charles is very much like most of the contemporary Australian artists whose work I’ve seen. Is this unfair? Is there an Australian style or are there just painters who happen to hail from the other side of the world? There does, though, tend to be a spirit of the time, as well as locational influences.

Let me expand: the creative process tends to feed off itself and there have always been schools and styles that can be located both chronologically and in terms of place. It’s not just art, but design, making, music and so on. One person comes up with an idea, another embellishes it and, before you know it, it’s a theme. There’s also the fact that different locations produce different light. Britain has a varied, but often damp and cloudy climate which gives it styles like the Norwich school. Continental America can produce brilliant colours and strong lighting, although the painters of New England (maybe not so inappropriately named) give us work that we, across the Atlantic, can feel more at home with. Australia is, physically, more like America but is mostly populated round the coast. As a result, you tend to get the bright colours, but also more subtle hues. Their artists – or at least those that APV work with – also tend to work in a loose and impressionistic way.

So, back to Charles. At one point, he draws a line that goes from abstraction to hyper-realism: “You can paint anywhere on that”, he tells us although, for this film at least, he’s somewhere between representation and abstraction – recognisable subject, not much detail. His narrative can be summed up in a few quotes: “A painting is a beautiful lie” … “I approach plein air painting as just a study to fool myself and relax” … “It should look like a bit of a mess at the start”… “You don’t want to have to count legs.” What this means is that the subject in front of you is merely the basis for a design and he demonstrates this in the first session, a riverside scene where he rearranges the boats to make the subject stronger. He also indulges in a bit of theatre, showing how to handle a small brush: “break it … throw it away!”

The film is based in London and features five demonstrations starting from the riverside scene in Isleworth, and going via a study of St Pancras station, where massive detail is simplified right down. We then move to Piccadilly Circus, and finish at Greenwich in the east, where he paints the Cutty Sark contre jour as a tonal exercise in darks using Phthalo Blue. The final piece, the gates of the Naval College in flat lighting, is about colour and deliberately ignores both tones and hues. “If you can get the major shapes down without getting caught up in the detail, you’ve got the essence of the painting.”

This is, as I said hugely enjoyable, and also an informative film. Charles is knowledgeable both about his subjects – I didn’t know that the statue in Piccadilly Circus is Anteros, Eros’s brother – and painting and painters in general. He also has the ability to analyse and understand his own working methods, as well as keep up a commentary and paint at the same time. These are rare skills, especially when done this well.

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Colour From Coast to Coast || Alice Mumford

“Alice Mumford should be regarded as gifted choreographer. Her chosen objects are certainly not still. They have shimmering quality suggesting almost imperceptible movement.” I wouldn’t disagree with that, nor could I put it better, than the jacket blurb by Professor Richard Demarco.

Where I disagree is with the title. Despite the cover image, which shows a still life against a coastal background, this is not a book of coastal landscapes. In point of fact, Alice Mumford’s main subjects, certainly as presented here, are still lifes. Very good still lifes, it should be said, and frequently set in the context of a window and the view from it. These, though, tend to be land- rather than seascapes or even urban scenes. Reading Alice’s own introduction, it becomes clear that, with her studio half way between St Ives and Penzance, she has access to both Cornwall’s north and south coasts. She observes that “what you end up painting alters radically according to where you sit or stand in relation to the sun”. The point being that, look one way and you have the sun in front of you, turn round and it’s at your back. This is one of those truisms that you will either regard as an important nostrum or have you slapping your forehead in frustration and muttering, “you don’t say!”

Simple things, though, are worth remembering and my own aide-memoire, when taking a photograph in tricky light is “expose for the highlights and let the shadows look after themselves”. Basic stuff, but it gets you out of a lot of trouble and saves a lot of head-scratching.

As I said, although title of this might lead you up the wrong path, I can also see where it’s coming from. As a presentation of the work of an excellent still life artist, it’s very well done indeed.

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Colour & Light in Watercolour (new edition) || Jean Haines

Well, this is a first! I’ve seen books dragged out of well-deserved retirement, kept current by revamped covers and re-issued as “classics”, but I’ve never seen one given a complete makeover that doubles the original extent.

I had reservations about this when it first appeared. It’s not that it wasn’t good, or that I didn’t like it, just that I didn’t feel that Jean’s loose and somewhat idiosyncratic style fitted comfortably into a series of what were largely technical manuals. All that clearly didn’t harm sales and Jean has, of course, gone on to become a bestselling and highly respected author. Later volumes have given her work the freedom it needs and it’s blossomed as a result.

Re-workings of what for the moment we’ll call juvenilia are rarely successful. Authors move on, their style develops and things that are largely historical are best left as pieces of history. If that means they’re a footnote, so be it. It’s often better than being something everyone comes to regret and has to make excuses for later.

And now, gentle reader, I’m going to eat my words: both my previous reservations and my suspicion of the re-vamp. This is everything the book should have been in the first place. It hasn’t been shoe-horned into a series format, for a start. Series are great and are often a way of introducing new authors who may not have the gravitas to stand alone, but can be carried on by the momentum a series provides and given a toe-hold in the water (yes, I do know that’s a mixed metaphor, but it was kind of you to mention it).

It’s also been completely re-designed and there are vastly more illustrations. Now, it has room to spread its wings and to breathe, which is exactly what Jean’s work needs. She’s not about small illustrations that populate a detailed text, she’s about illustrations, illustrations and illustrations. You need to see her work full-page and preferably on a crisp white background and that’s what you have here. I haven’t done a word-by-word comparison, but I’m pretty sure this is the original text and it now becomes an adjunct to the pictures, rather than the other way round. The best art books usually lead on the paintings and use the text just as a caption to explain what you’re looking at when you need a nudge or it isn’t immediately obvious.

This is a hard trick to pull off because, if the original book was any good, it’ll have been properly put together and be a perfect sphere it’s very hard to pull apart. No matter how much you want to, it is, as I’ve hinted above, usually better to leave well alone and start something new from scratch. So, congratulations to Search Press, whose editorial and design teams are on a bit of a roll at the moment, and to Jean too. With this many new illustrations, she’s had a pretty large part in the exercise as well. You need this book.

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Sunlight & Shadows in Watercolour || Lucy Willis

Lucy Willis’s work has always been about light, and even more, the interplay between it and shade. Most books of this type will include the word in the title, but Lucy already has one of those. If that was a consideration here, it has produced a more apt one as both aspects are equally important.

In this generously-illustrated work, Lucy examines, discusses and demonstrates all aspects of capturing light, from full sunlight to deep shade. She’ll show you how to use the white of the paper against carefully-selected colours to impart brilliance as well as how to use muted shades to capture shadows. She’s also very sound on working against the light.

Subject matter includes interiors, exteriors, landscapes, buildings, people and still lifes and the attention to detail throughout is remarkable.

As well as being a showcase for some exquisite work, this is also a thorough analysis of and guide to working with one of the most important elements of any painting.

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Cecil Rice: The Colour of Light

This is an intriguing title that points directly to the meat of Cecil Rice’s work. I’ve never come across anyone who paints light so exclusively as a subject. Every painting, of course, is informed by light but here it’s the main subject matter. The physical forms are merely an adjunct that allow it to manifest itself and they are often reduced to almost abstract shapes.

To be honest, in a book that features over 120 illustrations, this can be a bit exhausting. This is a showcase of Cecil’s work and, if it was an exhibition, it would be a substantial one which, I can’t help feeling, would leave you bewildered and maybe not sure what you might want to buy. It’s a case where less is most definitely more. However, this is a book and you can pick it up and put it down at will, and you should. If you’re an admirer of the artist, you’ll be overjoyed to find such an amount of his work in your hand for such a modest price (forty quid’s a lot for a book, but not a lot for 120 good illustrations).

Coming at this from the perspective of this blog, which is aimed at the practising artist, the lack of explanatory captions is noticeable. It’s not a fair criticism, as it’s not the main intention of the book, but it’s worth knowing. You can learn a great deal by looking at the many, many variations and qualities of light that Cecil paints, but you have to work it out for yourself. The introductory text is short and the section on working methods tells us little beyond “I have to have a clear idea of the underlying structure … behind a painting” and that he strives to maintain tonal logic throughout each work. You’d certainly hope so though, to be fair, Cecil didn’t write it, although the blurb does quote author Zoe Cooper as saying “I am always fascinated to learn what makes an artist tick”. Let’s just say that here, she had to pack a lot into a short space.

If you want to learn about painting with light, repeated perusal will provide plenty of examples and inspiration, and you could also have a look at Cecil’s DVD.

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DVD: Painting The Light In Watercolour || Cecil Rice

Books and films about painting the light usually treat it as an adjunct to capturing a more general scene – reflections in water, highlights on waves, perhaps the bright colours as the sun shines through a beach windbreak. We’re talking David Curtis here, aren’t we?

In this film, however, Cecil Rice treats light as a subject in its own right. It’s an interesting approach and not one totally without merit, although I think you’re bound to land up thinking, “does he really do that all the time?” Well, rather amazingly, having had a look at his website, I think the answer is yes. To be fair, it’s not quite as overt as it is here, and these paintings are demonstrations done to illustrate a point, but the style is definitely prevalent.

So, the sixty-four-thousand dollar question: do you want to shell out the best part of thirty quid for something you’re probably not going to emulate? Alright, the thirty-quid question. Pedant. I think the answer to that depends on who you are and what you want to do. There’s a surprise! What I mean is that, if you really want to get to grips with light, then looking at it this way will concentrate the mind wonderfully and develop your techniques by leaps and bounds. If you’ve only got the aforesaid thirty smackers, you might think twice and spend it on something more general.

So, let’s say you’ve shelled out, what do you get? In a nutshell, three demonstrations (a sunrise, an illuminated night-time scene and a sunset), a general introduction that includes a good ten minutes spent squeezing out colour, and a gallery. I mentioned the paint-squeezing thing because Cecil is either rock-solid on the use of materials or a terminal bore, depending on whether he has insights for you or not. I’m not fully decided on the matter, but you need to know as it could spoil the film for you. All artists feel they have to tell you about their favourite brushes and how they use them in a way that’s totally unique and, you know what? They’re pretty much all the same. They have hairs attached to a wooden handle and they hold paint. (And so do the brushes). Personally, I’d much rather have, “and here you can see how I’m using the point/edge of the brush to create fine detail/imply a shape.” The rest I can work out for myself. Seeing it in action is much better than a five minute lecture.

As you can see from this, I’m very much ambivalent about this film. It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just that I’m not sure I like it that much. You might buy it and have it on repeat, or you could watch it once and never really get round to it again. A Marmite one, I think.

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