Archive for category Subject: Nature

Peggy Dean’s Guide to Nature Drawing & Watercolor

This is a simple guide that uses simple shapes to help you build up images of flowers, trees, plants and animals. The text is written in a pleasantly conversational style that comes across as warm and accessible, rather than affected and mannered, as these things often can. I get the feeling that Peggy would be an appealing tutor in person and that you could have a lot of fun as well as learning a great deal with her.

As it is, we just have the book, but the author’s personality shines through. The presentation is at all times down-to-earth and business-like and the whole thing is generally easy to follow. That the illustrations are graphic – made up from printed colours – rather than being half-tones of actual paint – doesn’t matter and actually just seems to make things clearer.

The initial impression is of a cornucopia, of much more than you can take in at a glance and this is borne out by further examination. Given the wide variety of subjects covered, this isn’t so much a book to read from cover to cover as one to turn to when you want advice on a particular topic. That you may also find yourself straying further afield just adds to the sense of fun and adventure it engenders.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Painting Nature’s Details || Meriel Thurstan and Rosie Martin

This was originally published in 2009 as Natural History Painting With The Eden Project and has now been reissued in paperback.

You can read my original review here.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

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.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

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.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

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.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

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!

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

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.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

  • Archives

  • Categories