Archive for category Subject: Nature

Botanical Drawing || Penny Brown

This is a comprehensive guide that will take you through all the stages of drawing flowers, fruit and vegetables. Penny’s medium is pencil and the concise technical notes she opens with are in context to the point. It’s always a good sign when an author excludes anything that isn’t relevant at this point as it invariably means you aren’t going to get bogged down in excessive detail later.

The book progresses by way of a series of demonstrations that are also studies of the subject in question, with field notes, detail sketches and lessons on what to look for and how to observe. As is common with natural subjects, similarities and a wealth of detail can be confusing and it’s as essential to know what to discard as what’s important. Alongside these exercises, you’ll find information about composition, perspective and the use of photographs.

This is a gentle and nicely progressive guide that, while it requires a reasonable level of skill in drawing, doesn’t assume too much previous knowledge of botany and will take you from first steps to competent work with more complex subjects by an entirely practical route.

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Anna Mason’s Watercolour World

I notice that I had reservations about the reproduction in Anna’s previous book. I’m pleased to say that the same does not apply here and this is, indeed, an absolute delight.

The basis of the book is a series of natural subjects: birds, animals, flowers, leaves and fruit and, in each of the demonstrations, Anna shows you how to build up colour and details in layers. An added feature is the oversize final illustration which allows you to see the brushwork in considerable detail; this is where the quality of reproduction really counts. Any unsharpness here would render the book useless.

This is one of Search Press’s larger format offerings and they’ve made good use of the real estate by providing space on the pages and allowing quite a lot of white paper. The result is an overall feeling of lightness that’s enhanced by the rather surprising number of pictures of the author painting in a sunlit garden. Are these absolutely necessary: unequivocally, no. Do they intrude or detract from the content: again, no. In fact, I think they actually add to the overall experience by providing a warmth and lightness and a sense of Anna’s presence in the text.

The sense I get from the book is of a pleasant afternoon spent with a congenial companion and teacher. There are the demonstrations I’ve mentioned already, but also more general advice on technique, composition, form, structure and style – how naturalistic do you want to be?

In this respect, the book is absolutely sound and, although I’ve made quite a lot of the overall experience, the quality of the instruction, which is what ultimately matters, is of the best.

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Abstract Nature || Waltraud Nawratil

Open this and the first thing that’s going to strike you are the blocks of frankly garish colour behind some of the text. It’s a shame, as they tend to overshadow the illustrations, which are similarly bright. It’s worth mentioning at the outset and you shouldn’t let it put you off what is an excellent and useful guide.

If you’re interested in abstraction but unsure of where and how to get started, this is a very good jumping-off point. Each demonstration occupies only 2 or 4 pages and is very straightforward, with a finished result, an enlarged detail, a materials list and a short series of simple steps. There is guidance in the introductory section on basic techniques and what to look for.

In truth, this isn’t pure abstraction, and every example is easily recognisable. Rather, it’s more an exploration of the limits of representation, and it’s none the worse for that. Abstraction itself is the culmination of a journey of which this is a part and you should be able to take further steps yourself once you’ve mastered the basics.

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Jean Haines’ World of Watercolour

Well, if nothing else, this is a brave title! It tells you nothing about the content but focuses entirely on the author. If you don’t know who Jean Haines is, you’ll be at sea. Not, though, that I think there’s much danger of that. Jean Haines writes and exhibits extensively and, if anyone can survive the “my work” approach, she can.

Popular for her extremely loose approach to watercolour, Jean paints a variety of mostly natural subjects – there are a couple of portraits and street scenes here as well. The kingfisher on the cover will give you a good feel of what she’s about. There’s hardly any detail, the colours are subdued compared to (say) a photograph and the form is getting lost in the looseness of the wash on the left-hand side. And yet. It is a kingfisher, isn’t it? Not a static, stuffed exhibit in a museum, but a living, breathing, moving bird about to dart away from the barely-suggested branch it’s sitting on. In fact, are you even sure it hasn’t darted away already, while your attention was briefly elsewhere?

It takes the most enormous skill to reduce your subjects to mere suggestions of form as Jean does. You need not only immense ability and confidence with your materials, but an inherent, instinctive understanding of what your subjects are about. Not just their character, but how they move, how they think even. That kingfisher has vitality not just because we know what it’s about to do but because it does too.

I’m not sure that most people would be able to achieve what Jean does and, because it’s so individual, so idiosyncratic, I’m not sure they’d want to – maybe even should. However, in terms of a masterclass in what you can do with colour and a lot of water, this is it. Read it, marvel and enjoy.

PS. The publisher’s short name for this on their advance material was Jean Haines’ WOW. They got that right!

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Painting Nature in Watercolour || Cathy Johnson

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure whether this is a completely new book or a re-working of material from some of the author’s previous works. However, it has a fresh look and feel to it, so I’m going to review it on the basis that it’s all new.

It’s a rather wonderful portmanteau of just about everything the natural world can throw at us, from vegetation to animals and even people by way of skies and clouds and land- and waterscapes. As well as subject matter, it also takes in techniques, both in pure watercolour and in mixed media with watercolour pencils.

Cathy’s style is loose and relaxed and very much to the painterly taste. Although this is an American book and you therefore get species which are specific to another continent, the differences are not intrusive and many (in fact, most) of the paintings are sufficiently generic that they have no specific place.

I could say that the modelling, particularly of some of the creatures, isn’t always completely perfect, but it always does its job and simply turning the pages of this really rather enjoyable book is going to make you feel good and want to get down to work.

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Exotic Botanical Illustration with the Eden Project || Rosie Martin & Meriel Thurstan

You could be forgiven for thinking that this franchise might be nearing the end of its shelf life and that the authors must be struggling for something new to say. However, this latest volume (the fourth, if you include Natural History Painting as part of the canon) is as fresh as ever and, in many ways, could be regarded as the best yet.

The first thing you’re likely to think is, “Hmm, exotic plants, how likely am I to come across those?” and the answer is: not much. However, open the book almost anywhere and the surprise is just how familiar the subjects are. It’s probably all down to television, the armchair explorer. Orchids, check. Carnivorous plants, check. Pak Choi and Globe Artichokes, check. Pumpkins and maize – hang on, how exotic are they? But that’s the point, you don’t have to be a Joseph Banks to be at least aware of practically everything here. And then, when you delve deeper, the book turns out not to be half so much how to paint all the things that didn’t appear in the earlier books as how to paint plants full stop.

There’s a huge amount here about how to draw (pencils and coloured pencils come into it quite a lot) and paint plants, from the use of colour (including “difficult colours”) to capturing textures and sheens. The subjects may not be completely common or garden, but this is one of the best technical manuals I’ve seen, simply because it’s not actually aiming to be one. What Rosie and Meriel are trying to do is show you, in as practical a way as possible, how to capture your subjects. I think they’ve actually sublimated the technical stuff and, as a result, explained it extraordinarily well just because they’re not trying to.

Oh, and the book is just a joy to look at as well.

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David Bellamy’s Mountains and Moorlands in Watercolour

Well, here’s a thing. Somehow, when I first heard about it, I assumed this was going to be a much larger book than it is but, if it had been, it would have been too much of a re-hash of many of David’s previous books.

So, having got over the slight shock of how he’s managed to concertina the subjects he’s best known for into a mere 80 pages, has David managed to do himself justice? A quick flick through gives a strong sense of a return to form and style. David’s previous book, the Complete Guide to Watercolour Painting, maybe suffered a little from being spread too thinly and perhaps going into a few areas he wasn’t completely comfortable with. Can I say he’s maybe not the greatest figure painter that’s ever lived? What he’s done here, however, is to create a guide to painting mountains that manages to be entirely about its subject and, in spite of the above-the-title billing, not just David Bellamy’s mountains.

Books about upland painting are not entirely thin on the ground, but this is David’s speciality and, in this amazingly compact and comprehensive guide, he’s reclaimed the subject and stamped his authority firmly on it. If you ever had any doubts, when it comes to rugged subjects, David Bellamy is the man.

The book consists of a basic introduction to materials and techniques, moving into subject matter: trees, water, rocks and buildings. After that, there are four demonstration paintings, each with a good, but not excessive number of steps, which give you ample opportunity to try out the ideas and techniques previously learnt.

As an introduction to landscape painting, this is, perhaps inevitably, hard to beat. At the same time, it’s also going to satisfy David’s many fans and leave them relieved that, even after all these years (sorry, David!), he hasn’t lost his touch or started to repeat himself.

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