Archive for category Subject: Maritime

Art and the War at Sea 1914-45 || ed Christine Riding

A lot of major art, especially in the twentieth century with the introduction of official war artists, is dedicated to military history. This being a time of anniversaries, there have been several publications devoted to a variety of aspects of it. A further feature is that you get a concentration of work by major artists so that any survey such as this has a wealth of top-quality material to draw on.

The blurb explains that the present book is intended to redress the imbalance in such publications between land-based and maritime war. As the author is Head of Arts and Curator of the Queen’s House at the National Maritime Museum, you might well respond, “Well they would, wouldn’t they?” I don’t mean that unfairly as this is a substantial undertaking that has been handled authoritatively and has a massive resource available to it. The blurb again suggests that it’s the NMM resources alone that have provided the material for the book.

And what a resource! It includes not just paintings but drawings, photographs and posters that record not just the major engagements but the times in between when sailors relaxed or recuperated. It also doesn’t shy away from moments such as Stitches removed: the man who lost his fingers, reminding us that not everything was about the heroic moments, but also their aftermath. It even references the Dazzle [Camouflage] Ball at the Chelsea Arts Club in 1919. This was a post-conflict letting down of the hair by what we might call High Society, but it also reminds us that the age of total war, as well as a conflict closer to home than many previous ones, affected a wider range of society than simply the armed services.

As well as being authoritative and wonderfully comprehensive, with 150 generously-sized illustrations, it’s also worth noting that this is superbly produced and amply justifies its cover price.

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Painting Watercolour Sea & Sky The Easy Way || Terry Harrison

Terry Harrison isn’t the only person to have used “the easy way” in a book title, but he pretty much owns the phrase at the moment. Very sensibly, he makes no attempt to define it. You know that a Terry demonstration is going to be clear, succinct and easy to follow, and that’s probably enough.

This new book is a comprehensive guide to just about every maritime subject there is, as long as it’s on the coast – we’re not in open water here. You get calm seas, rough seas, breaking and crashing waves as well as help on what to do with the horizon. At this point, moving upwards, we get to the sky – clear, cloudy, stormy and with the sun setting. As well as shorelines, cliffs and buildings, the odd boat finds its way in uncredited too, and Terry is particularly sound on the way boats sit in and not on the water. After these two-page exercises, the book concludes with a series of projects, fully demonstrated, that bring everything together.

There’s no easy way to paint, you know that, but there is an enjoyable and fulfilling way to learn that makes it seem easy. How do you find that? Follow Terry Harrison. You won’t go wrong.

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Boats & Harbours in Acrylic (What to Paint) || Charles Evans

I’ve written elsewhere about the basics of this series, so maybe this isn’t the place to repeat everything.

Suffice it to say that Charles Evans is always good value and has an excellent eye (or should that be nose?) for what the budding painter needs. There’s a splendid variety of subjects here from Polperro to a Greek boatyard and small craft to an icebreaker and a galleon in full sail. Seas are rough, choppy and calm and there are plenty of different weather and lighting conditions.

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DVD Capturing Coastal Moods || Ray Balkwill

The title of this give you an implicit hint as to what it isn’t. It’s not a guide to painting maritime subjects. How so? Well, as Ray tells us at the beginning, “I’m a great advocate of working on location. A sense of place is important, not just to capture what I see, but what I feel.” And that’s the essence of what he’s demonstrating here: it’s not the coast, it’s the mood. He continues, “I’ve painted here a few times. It’s that connection with the place that’s important”. It’s a theme that pervades the entire film and, since we’re quoting, here’s another: “I’m not looking to make an accurate representation, I’m looking to make a picture … as long as it looks like a boat, I’m happy.” (I’ve conflated two things, there, but you get the …er… picture).

Ray is known as a mixed media artist, but I’m going to burst another bubble while I’m on a roll. He’s not. What I mean is that he doesn’t paint mixed media because that’s how he’s pigeon-holed himself. He’s not really a media man at all. Yes, he uses pencil, felt-tip, Conté, pastel and gouache, almost always in that order, but only because they’re what he needs for a particular effect. It’s more like a conductor bringing in the various parts of the orchestra to provide tone, shade and colour – highlighting the violins here, backing them up with woodwinds and cellos, adding colour with the brass and then using tympani to bring the whole thing to a crescendo. I should also say that Ray not only makes this look the most natural thing in the world (you may even conclude that using only one medium is to restrict yourself quite unnecessarily), but also easy. It isn’t, of course, and it’s his supreme confidence and virtuosity that allow him to achieve what he does.

You’ll notice that I haven’t once mentioned the subjects that Ray paints here. That’s deliberate as I think that to describe this film factually would be to miss the point entirely. This isn’t about what Ray paints, but how he does it and there’s a degree of alchemy to that. There are, though, five full demonstrations, all filmed in Cornwall, as well as a studio-based postscript which includes a look at a painting worked up from a sketch done in unpromising conditions in Gweek boatyard.

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Painting Boats & Harbours in Watercolour || Terry Harrison

This straightforward guide is full of Terry’s trademark no-nonsense instruction that’s made him the popular teacher and demonstrator that he is. It also sticks nicely to its brief and contains almost nothing except the subject matter of the title – extraneous details that only serve to complicate the scene and how to paint it are ignored. Even the section on “boatyard clutter” is arranged so that, while the boatyard may be cluttered, the painting isn’t. As a result, apart from a course in maritime subjects, you also get a bit of a masterclass in simplification.

After an introduction to materials, using colour and working from photographs, you’re straight into a simple exercise in getting boat shapes right. This is important as craft sit on the water and mistakes here can make them look all-to-ready to capsize. From there, it’s a simple scene with a small cutter resting in calm waters. This is followed by some reflections and then a few ripples. It all builds up progressively and it’s not long before you’re ready to start tackling rigging.

The bulk of the book is a series of demonstrations – some of simple subjects like jetties and some more complex, but always building on the skills you have and adding more as you go along. Boats and water don’t need to be difficult, as Terry shows, and he blows away a great deal of the mystique that surrounds the subject and he makes it readily accessible in the process.

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The Power Of The Sea – Making waves in British art 1790-2014 || Janette Kerr & Christiana Payne

This is the catalogue of an exhibition at the Royal West of England Academy. However, it also stands alone and contains much useful background material that covers the history of maritime painting as well as the practical aspects of painting such subjects, what the sea means to those who commit themselves to it and even a discourse on the structure of waves.

The main meat of it is the catalogue, though, which is an excellent and representative selection of paintings that include works by Constable and Turner as well as Francis Danby, Walter Langley and John Piper from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and Kurt Jackson and Terry Setch from the contemporary section. The division into those two sections is unusual, and does rather place the emphasis on the last fourteen years, but I don’t think this detracts from the book. The exhibition, of course, flows as it does.

All of the entries are chronological, so it is possible to see styles and movements develop in front of you and there are handy label descriptions of each painting that introduce both the piece and its artist.

This is not, nor does it attempt to be, an exhaustive survey, but the entries are well-chosen and representative of the times and places they stand for. As an overview of the history of British maritime painting, it’s hard to beat.

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DVD: Just Watercolour || David Howell

David Howell travels light. It’s the motorbike, which doesn’t really cater for large or heavy equipment.

This stripped-down approach does, however, allow him to concentrate on the painting, the “Just Watercolour” of the title. A small half-pan box, a couple of brushes, a block of paper and a really quite generous roll of pencils are all he needs.

Ah yes, the pencils. David explains at the beginning that he doesn’t like to sketch on the watercolour block itself; rather he prefers to make a coloured pencil sketch that gets the composition, provides a record “in case anything changes” and also helps with details that may be important later.

With this done, David works straight onto the paper. His first outing, on the Somerset levels, is a series of washes that blend into one another, with more defined shapes, such as a gateway, done wet-in-wet, the result being a graduated progression of colours that captures a misty morning perfectly.

Later demonstrations at Brixham and Salcombe are more complex scenes with boats and buildings and it is interesting to see how David uses blocks of colour, building up a composition of initially unconnected shapes, gradually bringing them together using the pencil sketch as a guide.

The result is an intriguing and delightful wander through the ways of watercolour, with lots of good advice along the way.

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