Archive for category Subject: Maritime

Charles Dixon and the Golden Age of Maritime Painting || Stuart Boyd

Charles Dixon is one of the world’s foremost maritime artists. His work is highly sought-after and can be found in many national museums and galleries as well as corporate and private collections. His paintings feature just about every kind of maritime subject from yachts to liners, steam and sailing ships and working boats of every kind as well as dramatic naval battles.

As well as being a comprehensive and readable account of Charles Dixon’s life and work, this is also the first book to illustrate a significant number of his paintings and these represent the full scope of his work. This is quite a substantial volume and is of value not just to those interested specifically in Charles Dixon’s work, but also to anyone who follows maritime art or who wants to paint the subject themselves. The sheer variety of what’s on offer means that this book can act pretty much as a single source of reference for that.

Stuart Boyd has written extensively on maritime art and has a particular passion for the work of Charles Dixon.


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Watercolour Boats and Harbours: Ready to Paint || Charles Evans

Like Geoff Kersey’s Trees & Woodlands in the same series, this little book is an excellent primer in its subject matter, even without the pre-drawn sketches that allow you to concentrate on getting the colour down on paper.

The idea behind the series is that you have 6 re-usable tracings that allow you to get the drawing and the composition out of the way. This is, of course, no substitute for learning either of those techniques, and you’ll have to do that in the end. However, by helping you avoid getting bogged down at the very start, these guides allow you to achieve a finished result you can justifiably be pleased with and which will encourage you to develop the other necessary skills as you progress – which you will because you weren’t discouraged at the first turn.

Charles Evans is an excellent teacher and he explains all the techniques you’ll need clearly and economically. As part of a series which is growing in popularity, this can’t be faulted. However, the information on the details of boats and harbours is so good that more experienced artists shouldn’t pass it by as just painting by numbers.

Search Press 2008

Author Charles Evans
Publisher Search Press
Medium Watercolour
Subject Boats
Series Ready to Paint

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Marine Painting || Françoise Coffrant

The littoral, that is to say, the area where the land meets the sea, offers a wide variety of subject matter as well as constantly changing conditions that can be both a challenge and an opportunity for the artist. As such, it’s a huge subject and one which is often covered in parts, boats and harbours being the most popular.

It’s not possible to cover the whole subject in great detail in only 96 pages, but this guide, based on a French original, makes a surprisingly good job of it. The author deals mainly with coastal landscapes, but also ventures into boats, harbours, buildings and people. The structure of the book is to begin with an overall survey of subject matter and painting elements (skies, waves, high and low tide, boats and so on). These are covered concisely and, at this stage, the main concern is simply to note what’s there and what the possibilities are. Françoise then looks in more detail at six paintings by different artists, with step-by-step analyses of their progress. These are rather like demonstrations except that the approach is more that of “this is what was done” rather than “this is what you do”. It’s a subtle differentiation, but one which more experienced painters may appreciate, it being more analytic than prescriptive. The artists themselves won’t be familiar to a British audience, but don’t feel you won’t be at home with their style and subject matter: these are people of whom we’d be glad to see more. The final section is a gallery of paintings by professional artists that more than adequately demonstrate what you can achieve at the edge of the water.

This is, in many ways, much more a book of ideas than it is of techniques, and this well suits its approach of being a survey rather than a detailed guide. It would be ideal for someone who has a reasonable amount of basic technical ability and is interested in learning more about subject matter than just the nuts and bolts of how to apply paint to paper or canvas.

New Holland 2008

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Glyn Macey's Cornwall

Cornwall is one of the few English counties that has both a north and a south facing coastline, giving it an almost unrivalled variety of lighting quality. Born and raised in Newlyn, Glyn Macey is well placed to be able to understand and exploit this to the full and he freely acknowledges the influence both of place and of his illustrious predecessors.

Glyn works mainly in acrylics giving, as do many professional artists, the medium’s quick-drying properties as one of his main reasons for switching to it. In an introductory interview with the book’s editor, Vivien Minton, he also talks enthusiastically about its versatility and how it can be overpainted to give a richness of colour, especially the blues, and even a quick perusal of the illustrations will reveal that he exploits this fully and joyously.

Seascapes form by far the bulk of Glyn’s work, but he is by no means afraid to move inland and the book also includes an interesting couple of pages devoted to flowers which should have you hoping the he expands this aspect of his work in the future.

Although this is not a practical book, it will be an inspiration to anyone who wants to see what can be done with acrylics, as well as an introduction to one of the South West’s most promising new artists.

Halsgrove 2008

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Terry Harrison’s Sea & Sky In Watercolour

Terry Harrison’s rather excellent little series on the various elements of landscape painting is beginning to resemble a partwork and you can’t help wondering when the publisher is going to stick them all together in one volume and call it “Terry Harrison’s Complete Guide to Landscape Painting”. I know I would. That said, there’s no reason to hold off and not buy the individual volumes as they appear and if they appeal. If any one of the subjects isn’t for you, well then, that’s 48 pages you haven’t bought unnecessarily.

Truth to tell, Terry probably isn’t the greatest painter in the world and I don’t think it’s likely that, in a hundred years’ time, galleries will be competing to buy examples of his work. That, however, isn’t to belittle him in any way, because it’s not what he sets out to be. Terry is, in very many ways, a born teacher (and the people whose work will be on those gallery walls will probably have taught you nothing during the lifetimes) and he’s also a very generous one, holding back very little from the reader. Like his other books, this one is filled with step-by-step demonstrations that show you exactly how to paint rocks, boats, waves, clouds and more in all the detail you could possibly want. If you have trouble painting boats that look as though they actually sit in the water and aren’t floating health-hazards, this book is worth it’s modest cover price for that alone.

I intimated that Terry has his drawbacks and there are one or two completed paintings where, frankly, I think the perspective is a bit suspect. I’m not sure that the publisher should have let him get away with a whole page illustration where the sea is running downhill towards the shore. Maybe it’s a minor niggle, because the demonstration itself is fully up to standard and has all the usual helpful details. It’s just that, if it grates, well . . . it grates and might detract from the rest of the book, which is a pity.

Overall, a worthwhile purchase that will tell you a lot for your money and increase your knowledge not inconsiderably.

First published 2007

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Painting Boats & Harbours || Anthony Flemming

Of all the subjects that attract the painter, for no particularly obvious reason, boats & harbours have always been the poor relation when it comes to publishing. Apart from the odd slim paperback, very little has been written about this varied and rewarding subject which also presents a whole range of opportunities and challenges.

Anthony Flemming has lead a full life that has encompassed painting, sailing and odd bouts of motor racing into the bargain and all of this experience filters through into his debut work in print. An artist of great skill and sensitivity, he’s at home in both watercolours and oils and confident and competent with landscapes, seascapes, boats, buildings and people – all, in fact, of the elements that present themselves where the water meets the land.

This isn’t a book in the simple how-to mould. There are no step-by-step demonstrations, although there are diagrams, detail sketches and some quite intricate drawings where they are required. The text is more discursive than instructional as well; that is to say, it’s more about the practice and the experience of painting than it is about the minutiae of applying colour to paper or canvas. For all that, there’s a wealth of information imparted and a sense of being led by example – you just want to get down to it and see if you can’t manage something even half as good as Anthony.

Production quality is up to Black’s usual exacting standard, although one or two of the many illustrations do betray their origin in older, possibly 35mm, transparencies that aren’t perhaps as sharp as more modern equivalents. For all that, nothing is so unclear as to be worthless and many publishers will include much worse as a matter of course. It’s as much as anything else a mark of how much colour reproduction has improved even in the last 10 or 20 years and maybe I’m being picky even mentioning it.

Overall, there’s nothing here that won’t excite the artist or satisfy the lover of boats and the enduring sense is of being led gently through an engrossing and rewarding subject by a true lover of all things maritime and an amateur in the best sense of the word.

First published 2006

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The Artist Who Loved Boats: Percy "Powder" Thorburn || Tom Cross, David Hale & Pin Armitage

Percy Thorburn was well educated and came from a wealthy family. As a boy, he ran away to sea and became involved in a mutiny on board a square-rigged schooner in Australia. Later, he was involved in a gun-running expedition from Brixham to Africa but, changing his mind when involved with cut-throat pirates, he made for a different port and exchanged the guns for wine. All this, it says here with a commendably straight face, provided him with the experience necessary for a career with the RNVR aboard a minesweeper in the Great War.

I’ve started with this tale of what can only be described as a “character” because this is a book which is as much about the man, Percy Thorburn, as his paintings. We’re not told how he got his nickname, but a broad guess seems in order.

An entertaining life story doesn’t make a great painter, but it does concentrate the mind and excite the interest. In this case, it also tells us that this was, indeed, a man who loved boats and that when he paints them, he knows what he’s talking about, in much the same way as Joseph Conrad’s stories of the sea are informed by personal experience.

The first thing you’re going to notice, leafing through these pages, is that by no means all of Percy Thorburn’s paintings are of boats: there are a lot of landscapes and coastal scenes as well and it’s clear that the artist loved the places boats took him just as much as the boats themselves. These, in spite of what the front cover illustration might suggest, are not the grand vessels that most marine artists paint, but rather small working boats just going about their business. Although this often involves quite heavy seas, Thorburn does not introduce drama for its own sake and you won’t see towering waves that threaten to swamp the craft at any minute.

As an artist, Percy Thorburn is perfectly competent and his landscapes have a tranquil quality that suggest a sailor’s rest. His boats are well-depicted without being over-detailed and they record the ordinary, mostly inshore, craft that often go unremembered. You may never have heard of a Leigh Bawley, but there’s one here and, if you need to know what it looks like, A Leigh Bawley in the Evening Sun will fit the bill nicely.

As an entertaining read and a good look round a variety of maritime subjects, this book is well worth the cover price. I’m not sure that it particularly informs the practising artist, but this isn’t its intention. If Percy Thorburn’s life had gone unrecorded, we’d be just that little bit poorer.

First published 2006

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