Archive for category Subject: People

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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Clothed Figures (Drawing Masterclass) || Lucy Swinburne

This series has gone a bit quiet lately, which is no bad thing. I don’t mean there’s anything wrong with it, just that it’s something that should only be added to when the right subject and author come along. And this new volume ticks all the boxes.

Lucy Swinburne’s sensitive pencil drawings capture personality perfectly and her modelling is also right up to standard. Perspective, especially in complex poses, is very easy to get wrong, but Lucy never misses a beat on this one. She’s also excellent on form, expression, character and the difficult subject of suggesting movement in what will always be a still-frame drawing.

The book is nicely progressive and features a good variety of subjects from young to old, male and female and different ethnicities. The instructional approach is to explain what you’re looking for under a particular heading and then to give examples with deconstructed captions that explain what was done. Demonstrations are not completely absent, but neither do they dominate in a book that’s aimed at the more experienced practitioner. This is important as both the subject and the readers are taken seriously – if you’re looking for an introduction to figure drawing, you shouldn’t be surprised to find that this isn’t it. Neither, though, is it so rarefied that it becomes inaccessible to anyone except those who don’t need it.

This is an excellent series whose standard has been kept up by judicious additions and this one enhances it considerably.

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DVD The Passionate Painter in Havana Part 2 || Alvaro Castagnet

In the second part of his Cuban adventure, Alvaro turns his attention to the people of its capital city and its vibrant street life.

Much has happened since the first instalment and the rapprochement with the US means that the island’s days of crumbling glory are surely numbered. If this is something that appeals, visit now, or maybe buy these films as a fitting memorial. If you’re a Cuban, however, you might think that much-repaired 1950’s automobiles and flaking stucco are a high price to pay for a romantic dream. Maybe you’d prefer a new car and some anonymous malls.

Alvaro is an enthusiastic demonstrator and a great talker. For some, his style of presentation might grate but, for me, he always manages to stay within the border of being irritating and he’s immensely quotable: “We need to get to know the people … absorb the atmosphere … then we paint”, “It’s a mess with order to it … we need to avoid complexity”. These nuggets of wisdom (and they are nuggets) relate not only to the technical details but to the general approach. There’s one place, in a particularly complex scene near the end of the film, where Alvaro works in silence for a minute or two and it comes as something of a shock. Normally, he’s talking about the scene, what he’s looking at and for and how he’s working with water, brushes and colour. He’s a confident painter and this often masks very considerable skill. His remark that he needs to envision the finished result before he starts is telling. It looks improvised but, like the music that pervades the film, it’s actually very carefully structured.

A word about that music. Alvaro often moves with it and he’s also, he says, painting with it. Certainly, there’s a rhythm to the way he works that the music both drives and points up. I think it’s also worth saying that the way the soundtrack is handled here is worthy of top-flight documentary–making. It’s not, as is usually the case, something that’s added later – and which will either enhance the viewing experience or annoy the hell out of you. In two of the demonstrations, there’s a live band playing and this, the commentary and the wild track (the background noises) are perfectly balanced. When Alvaro speaks, the music fades ever so slightly so that his voice is never muffled, but the sound is always a homogeneous whole. On that score, I’d class this as the best film I’ve seen from APV.

Street life is complex and real life doesn’t always appear in a neatly balanced composition. As he did with the first film, Alvaro assembles his images from their component elements. Figures are moved into a more balanced group, details are highlighted and focus shifted. His loose style means that fine detail is never there: “I’m not interested in making a portrait”. For me, this looseness makes this a slightly less satisfying film than the first part as some of the groups start to look a bit similar – I wish he perhaps wouldn’t strait-jacket them quite so much into a single personal style. Nevertheless, there’s no doubting the artistry, especially in the composition and the handling of complex and often difficult lighting, where Alvaro is pretty much pitch-perfect.

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DVD Watercolor In The Wild || James Gurney

I really can’t praise this enough. Let me enumerate:

For a start, James has what, as far as I know, is a unique viewpoint. Using an ingenious rig, he provides an artist’s-eye viewpoint as he works. Rather than getting oblique angles where the light isn’t quite right, or over-the-shoulder shots that don’t reveal quite enough detail, what you see is what he sees, and it’s as if you’re completing the demonstration yourself. The sense of immediacy is stunning and so is the clarity.

Then there’s the material and equipment section. I know, yada yada, these are my paints, here are some brushes and I have these pencils. But James has reduced things down to a watercolour kit that can be carried in a belt bag and go literally anywhere – even a theatre, he claims. He’s clearly a bit of an inventor because, as well as the camera rig, he’s also made up a magnetic water jar that attaches to his paintbox. Now you never have to wonder where exactly to put it. For longer trips where a car is available, there’s a larger backpack that includes a camera tripod that doubles as an easel, and a folding stool.

I’m mentioning all this because I sat, utterly absorbed, through the whole section without ever touching the fast forward button. Never done that before. The added fact is that James is one of the most engaging presenters you ever came across. His approach isn’t didactic or prescriptive. There’s no “you have to do it this way” or “my way’s best”. He simply describes what he’s doing – it’s always in the present tense and always what you’re looking at – and allows you to make up your own mind whether you like it or not. He’s warm and inclusive. Apart from watching this film, I’ve exchanged half a dozen emails with him and he’s my new best friend.

OK, so James can make a film, put some kit together and talk the talk, but can he paint? Oh yes, and his approach is very interesting. For a start, he allows himself about an hour for a painting. Each demonstration here – there are six, covering buildings, animals, people and landscapes – is edited down to about fifteen minutes and covers all the important bits without leaving you thinking, “hang on, what did he do just then?”. He begins, conventionally enough, with a pencil drawing, but then spends the next thirty to forty minutes putting in tones, values and shading. With a quarter of an hour or less to go, he gets to the detail. That’s not enough, surely? No, not for fine detail, but the point is he’s working on very solid foundations: the subject has structure and substance and he doesn’t paint the detail at all, just suggests what the viewer should be seeing so that they create the finer stuff for themselves. It’s very subtle and, although not unique in itself, certainly unusual in combination with so much preparatory work.

The exception to the one hour approach is a painting of a sleeping foal. Young animals are rarely still and only for short periods and this one is no exception. A large chunk of this section is taken up with watching the creature running round, interacting with its mother and eating. Finally, it needs a nap and we get to work. The point of this demonstration is to show how you can capture the essence of a subject if you’ve already understood it before you lift a brush. I like the fact that, once again, James doesn’t tell you this, but shows you.

This is an exceptional piece of work and amazingly good value. I’ll leave you with one quote. Paraphrasing Goethe, James says, “The dangers of watercolour are infinite and safety is one of the dangers.” Hell of an aphorism that, and the more you think about it, the more it means.

Available as a digital download from:
https://gumroad.com/l/watercolor – $15, credit card payment
https://sellfy.com/p/Pvxb/ – $14.99, PayPal only
There is also a shrink-wrapped DVD, but it’s NTSC format and possibly also Region 1. I could get it to play, but without sound.

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Urban Sketching – a complete guide || Thomas Thorspecken

Well this is fun! Townscapes can be a hard sell, but this busy book records the city at work, at play and in all its moods. The author is Thor of the blog Analog Artist Digital World and he records life as it reels past his eye.

The book mainly consists of pages from his sketchbooks, with a text that explains what he’s doing and what to look for, along with useful advice on colours, as well as perspective, viewpoints and so on. There’s a lot going on on every page and Thomas also draws on the styles of other artists, designers and illustrators in the Urban Sketchers movement.

If this appeals to you, it’s also probably something you’re already doing and you may even have discovered Thomas’s work already. If you thought the city was something to escape from, think again and have a look. Whatever it is you most like to paint, the city will provide it.

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DVD People at Work – watercolours || Joseph Zbukvic

The first review I did of this was for a magazine and I was limited to 150 words. You have to be pithy in that length and the challenge now, when I can write as much as I like, is to capture the joyful simplicity of this delightful film while at the same time taking the opportunity to tell you a bit more about its content.

I was captivated in the first ten minutes. In that short time, Joseph demonstrates how to capture figures from stationary to full exertion in just a few brush strokes. He also shows the importance of structure and proportion – how the rest of the body is always seven and a half times the height of the head and how you should be able to achieve that without measuring. It just looks right. Change it and you either have a Martian or a child. It’s engaging as well as a forehead-slapping moment – “Of course!”

The body of the film is shot on location and Joseph paints and sketches a variety of figurative compositions – at a market, roadworks, a harbour and a café as well as grape-pickers in a vineyard. In the course of these, he explains how to identify your subject, then to assemble the figures that will go in it and, finally, to simplify. He also has valuable advice on the structure of the whole work – “Foreground takes you in, middle ground’s the stage with your figures and the background’s just a pattern. Don’t over-work it.”

The important thing throughout is that these are not portraits, they’re figures that are there to do (and are doing) a job and they need to fit, both in terms of action and proportion, into the scene as a whole.

It’s a hugely informative film, but done with such a light touch, both artistically and in terms of presentation, that you’ll hardly notice you’re learning.

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How to Draw People in simple steps || Susie Hodge

I always said I wasn’t going to review this series because it has no words, so you’re really left with not a lot to talk about. However, I caved in when it got to Insects because, if a series gets that esoteric, it pretty much has to be popular. I mean, not only was it the only book on that subject (exclusively) I’ve seen, but it’s not exactly first-choice, is it?

So here we have people. They must have done that one before, surely? Or was is a morning-after editorial meeting? “ No, we’ve got to do the insects first.” “Have you been watching Dr Who again?” “Yes, MALCOLM TUCKER!!!”* (Sorry, but I really am excited about this).

For those of you who don’t know, the stock-in-trade of this series is a single page which starts off with the simplest outlines, then builds up a basic shape and works it, in six steps, into a finished drawing. For a subject as complex as the human figure, that does mean there’s an awful lot left out and some pretty giant leaps of the imagination, but it does work surprisingly well. If your main problem is getting started, then this is definitely the book for you and Susie does a fantastic job of choosing exactly which stages to illustrate so that you do get a genuine feeling of progression rather than giant steps.

The only fly in the ointment is that I wish each demonstration had stopped at the fifth stage, the finished drawing, because these are in every case beautiful and sensitive works in pencil that need no further embellishment. The series, however, demands a colour finale and this is done by adding (what I think is) a completely unnecessary wash that covers the pencil lines and makes the whole thing, in almost all cases, look heavy and clumsy. I don’t think it’s a problem with Susie’s work with a wash, I just think it doesn’t work with what’s gone before.

A couple of examples. There’s a woman sitting knitting. Perfectly fine in the drawing, but the colour wash leaves a chair she’ll fall off if she moves and which doesn’t look strong enough to support its own weight, let alone hers. And the man with the stick. I’m sorry, but that thing is two inches in diameter, it’s nearly as thick as his arm!

This is a quibble, but I do think it’s best to ignore stage six and just stop at five. Treat this as what it claims to be, a book about drawing and put your paint box away. You get a fantastic variety of figures and poses, both static and in motion and a stripped-down approach that simply dissolves so much of the mystique that always surrounds figure drawing.

* Peter Capaldi, Malcolm Tucker in The Thick Of It, was announced as the new Dr Who yesterday.

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