Archive for category Subject: People

Learn to Paint People Quickly || Hazel Soan

This series from Batsford is shaping up nicely and any book on painting people, especially as furniture for a larger work, is welcome.

Not everyone by any means wants to paint people as a subject in themselves, but an unpopulated painting always has a neglected look to it. In common with the style of the series, this is very much illustration-led and the text is concise to the point of terseness and mainly confined to explanatory captions. It should also be said that this is very welcome – if you don’t want an exhaustive in-depth study, being shown what’s going on rather than lectured at length is the proverbial breath of fresh air.

This is not to say that Hazel doesn’t manage to make the coverage comprehensive. There’s information on shape, proportion, pose, lighting and clothing and the chapters are arranged so that you can locate one particular topic easily. If you want to venture into portraiture, Hazel offers good basic advice, although you will probably want to graduate to more dedicated books as well. Groups, action and settings all get a look-in as well, making this one of the best starting-points you’ll find.

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DVD Painting Arles || Peter Brown

Pete “the street” Brown is an engaging presenter who has a nice line in self-analysis. At the same time, he is not a chatty painter. Most of his aperçus appear in voiceover, the nicely-judged wild track filling the gaps and providing a welcome sense of place and atmosphere.

His casual approach to painting (“I’m an old git who does what he wants”) is belied by a throwaway line, “I’ve been here a week and painted [this scene] a couple of times” – he clearly does a fair bit of research and immerses himself in a place before embarking on full-scale work. This makes one of the demonstrations, a quiet alley in evening light, all the more interesting. Working in unfamiliar surroundings where he has to interpret the location against fading and constantly changing light, we can see Pete thinking on his feet, and it’s a nimble performance.

The Arles that Peter paints is not that of Van Gogh or the tourist trail. That research and immersion leads him to places that are, while not completely off the beaten track, more domestic than grand. He begins with the Roman amphitheatre, but chooses to paint just three high arches, working from the basic shape to tone and shading, all in the almost monotone warm limestone of its construction. As an exercise in control and observation, this simple-seeming work is a masterclass in its own right and the magician’s reveal is the addition of the bright blue sky right at the end that brings the whole thing suddenly to life, “Like putting in a red letterbox at the end”.

The other major demonstration is a backstreet with a variety of buildings, trees and more Roman remains. Again, Peter works from shapes to tones and then brings in detail. Of interest here is the way he works with figures. As we watch the painting develop, people pass, but rarely in great numbers. They barely get a mention and don’t appear until near the end, when it turns out that Peter has been observing them all the time and they come both from immediate memory and a personal library based on constant drawing – “I do a lot of drawing”. It’s the same in a quiet square where the day starts overcast and then brightens. “Do I follow the light?” leads to a discussion of the practicalities of plein air painting: “It’s a confidence thing, painting … the more you nail it in one, the better”.

If you want a guide to painting Arles, this is perhaps not it. However, if you want a masterclass in observation and working alla prima, as well as a pleasant hour and a half spent in the company of an engaging and informative demonstrator, step right up.

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Figure Drawing – a complete guide || Giovanni Civardi

I’m not normally a fan of smaller-format bind-ups. The original books were the way they were for a reason and smaller pages and thick spines can make for difficult reading. All too often, they look like the sort of bumper value nonsense someone else would buy for you and which just sits on the shelf taking up space.

So, it’s a pleasure to be able to welcome this one. The Giovanni Civardi drawing books are a valuable resource, and there are a lot of them. This compilation includes seven, which would cost you the wrong side of sixty quid to buy individually. £12.99 for a bulk deal is a real bargain, especially as the result is actually usable. I’d like to say that Search Press have taken my previous criticisms of this kind of thing on board, but it’s probably more to do with the happenstance of production. What seems to have happened is that thinner paper and cover card have been used, meaning that the book falls open easily and isn’t too heavy to hold. It’ll even, more or less, lay flat by itself without breaking the spine. The smaller format also adds to the manageability: 440 A4 pages would make for a coffee table book, which this emphatically isn’t.

So, what do you get? Well, not Giovanni’s complete output, for sure. However, the selection is nicely thought-out and makes for a book that lives up to its own billing of being the complete guide. Drawing Techniques is a useful introduction. Being from 2002, some of the repro is showing its age compared to later titles, but not so much that it’s an issue, though the half-tones aren’t as good as they are later. Further chapters are Understanding Human Form & Structure, The Nude, Sketching People, Heads & Faces, Drawing Hands & Feet and Clothing on Figures. It’s worth a complete list to show just how nicely this progresses.

The page-size reduction necessarily reduces the size of the type too, so you may find yourself needing your glasses more that you otherwise would, but this isn’t too much of an issue due to the fact that so much of Giovanni’s instruction is done via the drawings rather than the words. The illustrations themselves are still perfectly adequate.

If you haven’t already got an extensive collection of the separate volumes, and you’re looking for a good primer on figure drawing, buy this. It’s very reasonably priced and so practical as to be ridiculously good value.

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Classical Drawing Atelier || Juliette Aristides

As if you hadn’t already guessed what it does, the subtitle of this thorough and sumptuously produced book is “a contemporary guide to traditional studio practice”.

At once both a study and a practical guide, the author’s immersive approach reproduces exactly the way students would have learnt in former times. Illustrations are a mixture of older and modern works and it’s remarkable how often the only way to tell which is which is by reading the captions. Such an approach can often lead to jarring, even confusing, juxtapositions, but that is not the case here and it’s typical of the care that has gone into the book.

This is, it should be said, entirely about drawing the human figure. While this is somehow not unexpected, it is never stated either in the title or the blurb. As long as you’re aware, you won’t be disappointed. I do think, though, that if this is what you want, the formality of the approach, the thoroughness and attention to detail should delight. It’s quite one of the best books on the subject I’ve seen.

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Sketching People || Lynne Chapman

Urban sketching is very much de nos jours and this vibrant and varied book is a worthy contribution to the literature. It also fits into what seems to be the accepted style of the genre, with quick, busy drawings that attempt to capture the look and the moment rather than create an idealised image or record every detail. As well as the illustrations themselves, the pages are also busy and reflect, I assume deliberately, the noise and bustle of a city street. If I were to suggest that the best place to read this would be a gluten-free organic porridge café, you’d detect my wry smile, wouldn’t you?

Although I’m the last person you’d find in such an establishment (give me a Maccy D’s every time!), I’ll admit to enjoying the books the style produces. I’m not a city boy, so I don’t get worn down by the noise, the rush and the crush on my occasional visits from my rural fastness. Rather, I find it all rather exciting and look on a book like this as the best of all worlds – quiet, relaxing atmosphere at home, but with a window onto a rather thrilling environment. Maybe you feel the same about books on landscape painting?

OK, so I’ve told you nothing about what’s in this book and I’m not going to. If you know the style, it won’t surprise you at all and, anyway, I want to sell you the sizzle, not the sausage.

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Drawing & Painting Portraits in Watercolour || David Thomas

This is quite the best book on portrait painting, in any medium, that I’ve seen for a very long time, perhaps ever. I’m drawn to a comparison with Capturing Personality in Pastel by Dennis Frost, which appeared in the late 1970’s. The main similarity, it seems to me, is that this is more about getting the character of your subject than of preserving a detailed likeness, which is perhaps the prerogative of oils or acrylics. Watercolour is a more fluid medium and its washes, tints and hues are perhaps best suited to this more relaxed, looser approach. There is certainly great subtlety here.

As an instructional book, this is maybe not one for the complete beginner. There are very few simple exercises and David assumes a fair degree of familiarity with your materials and the techniques and properties associated with the medium. Although there are demonstrations, they are there more to show how the work was built up than to be followed literally, I feel. I would also question how useful it is to work on a subject you’ve never met, though you might find it worth practising with some of them just to see whether you can achieve the result aimed for.

However, as a book for someone who’s had a bit of experience and wants to progress further, particularly in relation to capturing character, this is totally worthwhile. It’s thorough and goes into a lot of detail, with plenty of examples and explanations that will keep you happy for a very long time. Even if you were to conclude that your work will never be as good as David’s, it can’t help but be a very great deal better than when you started.

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We Think the World of You || David Remfry

I’d better explain that the subtitle to this tells you what it’s about: People and Dogs Drawn Together. And, yes, that wins my personal prize for the most bizarre idea of the year. Maybe even decade. No, millennium. In fact, what in all that’s crazy did a body as august as the RA think they were doing putting their name to this?

I thought we’d better get all that out of the way right at the start, let off steam, because this is a fantastic idea that’s beautifully executed and reproduced. The title and subtitle, of course, are ambiguous. Who thinks the most of who? Both, of course, because the relationship between an owner and their dog is a very special one – I can see that and I’m not even a dog person, by the way. Even if I didn’t, David’s sensitive portraits would convince me.

So, how do you go about presenting a book of drawings of people and dogs? Well, the answer is that you devote a chapter to each session. You get to know the people – some are in the public eye and some aren’t – and then you start sketching to get the basic character. Finally, you put them together and that’s where the alchemy takes place. You know that old adage about people getting to look like their dogs? Well, it’s true, especially when an artist as sensitive as David (try telling me he’s not a dog person) gets under their skin, as a good portraitist should, and exposes their character and inner being. And what’s so brilliant is that he can do this for both humans and animals; it’s a rare artist who’s good at both.

I love this. It’s charming, it has a warm heart and it will make you smile, both from affection and amusement. Of course the RA should be the publisher. Who else has the gravitas?

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