Archive for category Subject: Nature
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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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.
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.
Many, many congratulations to the authors (and their editor) for not over-egging a successful formula and producing Yet More Flower Painting with the EP. And much, much respect to them for proving that they’re much more than (very good) flower painters.
In fact, the subject matter of their third book is a surprise on every page, partly because you just don’t see this sort of thing in painting books but also because they’ve managed to turn what are frequently unconsidered trifles into sublime little works of art. There are birds, fish, shells, pebbles, feathers, bark, beetles, rocks, crystals – the contents of a compendium of country walks, in fact and they all have the kind of beauty you’re often encouraged to look for but somehow all too often fail to see. I don’t care if you tell me you’d never want to paint these yourself, just buy the book and marvel at what Rosie and Meriel have found (and then tell me you won’t maybe just have a bit of a go, y’know, just because).
At a practical level, because that’s what’s being pitched here, this is a book about colours and textures and also about finding subjects in the unlikeliest of places. It’s about looking, seeing and interpreting and what you can do if you just keep your eyes and your mind open. It’s a revelation.
This is a rare treat, because it’s not often you get a book on drawing by someone who is themselves a successful published illustrator.
Cliff Wright’s biggest claim to fame is a couple of Harry Potter covers (and you can bet the competition for those is pretty stiff), but he has also written some delightful children’s books himself such as Bear and Kite and The Star That Fell that are characterised by beautiful and sensitive watercolours that stop well short of being cutesy.
What this almost modest-looking paperback offers is a positive masterclass in drawing animals, people and natural history subjects, albeit slightly dressed-up as fantasy art. Cliff conveys more in a few words and drawings than many books don’t even manage in a whole chapter and this is a thoroughly practical guide as well as an absolute eye-opener to the many possibilities available to you. There’s also a good degree of humour – I just love the drawing of a Hippogriff wrapped in a blanket against the snow – and the spread where a self portrait turns into a horse eating a cake (yes, really) is in fact a masterpiece of character development and the use of line.
If you’re an aspiring illustrator, this has to be compulsory reading, but there’s so much more to it as well. It’ll show you how to develop characters, how to draw with absolute economy and how to work from life to art.
This is an American book. It’s important that you know this at the outset because a lot of the wildlife and locations are things a European isn’t going to be familiar with. Equally, if you’re reading this in North America, I have to come clean and admit that this review isn’t for you. In this case, everything I like about the book applies, but some of my reservations don’t. You’ll be at home (literally) and in a comfort zone.
Having got that out of the way, I can say that, if you’re looking for a guide to specific landscapes and creatures, there’s going to be a lot in this book that will pass you by. The general principles and techniques, however, still apply and if your requirements are more general, then there’s much to enjoy here.
Cathy Johnson is an experienced writer and an engaging painter. Her watercolours are pleasantly loose, but well in the representational camp and there are plenty of ideas and techniques here that you’ll soon be wanting to try out. The visual impact of the book is an important factor; put simply, the pages are easy on the eye and this is very much something to leaf through and stop whenever something specific catches your attention.
I do think it’s a pity that the publisher felt the need to put a tint on every page that mimics a watercolour sketchpad. It’s mannered and the identical dark splodge at the bottom corner of every page just gets annoying after only a few minutes. They’ve also used a matt paper and these two things combine to give a flatness to the illustrations that does them a serious disservice.
This isn’t a bad book at all and it has a overall feelgood factor that that means it’s one you’re more likely to keep than give to the next jumble sale, but I hope you can see my problem: I’m in danger of damning it with faint praise. I suppose my overall feeling is that, if I was given it, I’d be happy with it, but, if I’d paid seventeen pounds, I might feel my cash could have been better invested elsewhere.
North Light 2007
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