Archive for category Subject: Portraiture

The Beginner’s Guide to Drawing Portraits || Carole Massey

If publishers ask (and they do periodically), my advice with older books is to leave them as they were. The idea of re-editing something into a new product never really works. It’s a bit like trying to turn a shirt into a pair of trousers. Even if you have enough material, the pieces will never be quite the right shape and the old seams will never lie quite flat. There’ll be compromises, gaps and false joins that’ll always be unsatisfactory. That applies to the trousers as well.

This started life in the Drawing Masterclass series, but has been completely restructured and what you now have is effectively a new book. The last time Search Press did this, I raised a quizzical eyebrow because all they’d really done was change the title. This is a complete re-working and a great deal of credit must go to Carole Massey who has done the heavy lifting here. She has not only added new material, but re-written and simplified to an amazing extent. Concentrating on the head and shoulders simplifies things immeasurably – you can forget about hands, feet, clothes and posture, for instance. It also allows her to concentrate on the form, features and expressions of the face, which is mainly what the book is about.

This is not so much a course as an examination of the way portraits are built up. Although the way through it is progressive – you’re always building on and reinforcing what you learnt before, there aren’t the same number of examples, exercises and demonstrations. They’re there, and you’ll find them, but in a less structured way. It’s very subtle how the material you need is to hand just when you want it, rather than when you’ve come to expect it.

There’s an excellent variety of gender, ethnicity, shape, form and age here. Carole is particularly good with babies and children and you could justify the relatively modest cover price for that alone.

This is probably one of the best introductions to portrait drawing around and the fact that it uses recycled material is probably only of interest to reviewers like me. You won’t see the joins.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

Portraits for NHS Heroes || initiated by Tom Croft

This was published towards the end of 2020 and coming late to this review has had a number of effects. The first is to add perspective, and question whether it was a thing of its moment and whether that moment has passed. The second is to wonder whether what amounts to a retrospective hasn’t enhanced that very viewpoint. This is particularly so as we are in the middle of an even greater wave with almost unbearable pressure on health services and frequent accounts of burnout. Thirdly, I’ve had a chance to mull this over and decide my reaction in what I hope is more than just the emotion of the moment.

You can hardly have missed this. The publisher’s PR department went into overdrive and virtually every major publication contained an extract. It’s a worthy cause and it wears its heart very prominently on its sleeve. There’s nothing wrong with that in essence, but we’re reviewing this as a book in general, not a cause, and a book of paintings in particular.

There’s a degree of self-awareness relating to that in the choice of writers for the forewords – Michael Rosen (writer par excellence, national treasure and Covid survivor himself), Adebanji Alade (everyone’s favourite character sketcher, mine included) and Dr Jim Down (ICU medic and therefore messenger from the front line). You’d want some boxes ticked and they all are. Tom Croft is a self-employed portrait painter who started the online “free portrait for NHS workers” campaign that took off to such an extent that he’d matched 500 artists and subjects in two weeks. This is a collection of some of those.

The first thing that strikes you is the sheer variety of subjects, styles, approaches and treatments. There are small amounts of text, either from the subject or artist (sometimes both) that add just enough depth to make this more than a random snapshot album. It will in future, I think, stand as a record of what will amount to a moment in world and human history. There will be retrospective analyses of this pandemic in coming years and it’s hard not to see this book featuring in them.

From the artistic point of view, it’s up to you to decide what you can (and for what matter want) to learn from a collection of other people’s work. However, if you think this amount of variety is what you need, this book is probably unique on that front.

My only slight criticism, and I feel like a terrible curmudgeon for having it, is that the majority of subjects are doctors, nurses and paramedics – there’s only one administrator. Where are the support staff – porters, cleaners, caterers, without whose background – often unseen – labours none of those on the frontline would be able to function? They were at least as vulnerable, often more so as protective equipment was diverted away from them. Maybe someone feels like filling that void?

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

Painting Portraits in Oils || Robert Wareing

Painting portraits in oils is generally regarded as one of the highest art forms, something refined, complex and generally best left to the specialist. That’s hardly surprising as oils do require a fair amount of equipment. Finding suitable sitters, as well as the little matter of getting a worthwhile likeness, are considerable obstacles for the amateur.

So how do you set about getting started? Until now, that’s been the conundrum. There have been few books and those that exist have been, well, rather so-so.

This is different. Rob is a portrait artist with considerable experience, but he also has a YouTube channel where he posts demonstrations, and this experience shows. This is a book aimed at the needs of the learner rather than at the subject of portraiture itself. It’s a subtle but important difference. Open the pages at random and you’ll find yourself in the middle of a complete project. Look further and you’ll struggle to find the smaller lessons and exercises you’d be expecting. This is, in part at least, an extension of his online method. However, the idea of not having to wade through pages of eyes, ears, mouths and hands has an appeal, as long as it works. Portraiture is a language and has a grammar – there are technicalities you need to know as part of the foundations and to short-circuit those can be dangerous.

Rob, however, is a patient and thorough explainer and all these foundations are here, but he manages to make them interesting. All those details come up both in the projects and also discussions of various approaches – mixing colours, preparing canvases, getting to know your subject. There are examples on every page that precisely illustrate each point that’s being made.

The whole process is intensely practical and Rob manages to make what is genuinely a complex subject seem, if not easy (that would be sleight of hand), at least manageable. Knowing the limits of what you can teach is perhaps Rob’s greatest skill and this is a truly remarkable piece of work.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

Painting Portraits in Acrylics || Hashim Akib

“Exciting” isn’t normally a word I’d associated with portraiture. “Thorough”, “lifelike”, maybe even “vibrant”, but it’s not normally a subject to get the pulses racing.

This, though, is astounding. Hashim’s style is quite blocky and, if you were looking for almost photographic realism, this is not for you. You actually have to look at the finished results for a few seconds before the features of the faces emerge. When they do, however, they’re full of character and these are people whose presence you can feel. This is something that all portrait painters strive for, but it’s one of the most difficult qualities to achieve. If personality is your goal, place your order now.

I think it also helps that Hashim appears simply to like people. I don’t think it would be possible to get results like this if you simply regarded your subjects as a job. There’s a warmth here, and an understanding of the life and light behind mere structure and outward appearance. This isn’t really something that can be taught, so I’d suggest you might simply want to learn from example here – don’t expect a magic ingredient.

In practical terms, the book offers all the variety you could want. There are male and female figures, different hair styles and skin colours and a wide range of ages. Hashim explains colour, lighting and perspective and he’s also rather good on the main features – eyes, noses, ears, etc. Here, his style is your friend as its vibrancy makes what is inevitably a rather technical section interesting and – well – exciting.

Although it’s inevitably on the idiosyncratic side – no good if you hate Hashim’s style – this is nevertheless a very complete guide.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

Painting Portraits of Children || Simon Davis

Children are a popular subject for anyone who wants to paint people. Although photographs are ubiquitous, getting the right pose or expression is tricky and school portraits are rarely satisfactory. Although far from instant, a painting can capture character and expression in a way that photography fails to.

Simon Davis is Vice President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and, the blurb adds, uses the square brush technique. This, and the frontispiece photo, are a clue to the fact that the medium here is oil. This matters, as techniques in other media (other than, perhaps acrylics), will be different. It’s doubly important as the main meat of the book is a series of demonstrations where the methods of application are to the fore. Workers in other media may find useful tips about working with their subject and the various considerations of pose, skin tone, expressions and so on, however. The examination of the historical development of child portraiture is also of interest.

This is quite a slim volume that majors on the practical demonstrations. Simon includes useful tips on the use of initial sketches, but does not work from photographs, which would have been a useful addition, for the amateur especially. The illustrations are also held back by a slightly muted reproduction which makes it a little difficult to see some of the details.

For all that, this is a useful manual that doesn’t over-elaborate or confuse with unnecessary detail. If you work in oil, it’s the perfect introduction and would take you well beyond the first steps. If you want other media, the appeal must be limited, but it’s still worth a look.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

Colored Pencil Painting Portraits || Alyona Nickelsen

Thorough and comprehensive, this is more than just a practical guide. Aloyna includes historical examples that set modern approaches in context and show how portrait painting has developed over the centuries. As well as exercises and demonstrations, there are example poses, explanations of skin tones, facial features and structure, and extended consideration of the medium itself.

The subtitle refers to “a revolutionary method for rendering depth and imitating life”, which is a harmless enough strapline to aid sales. The blurb glosses this as “new layering tools and techniques”, although I do seem to have heard similar claims elsewhere. I’m not debunking the claim or the superb quality of the book, but I suspect that the author hasn’t in fact discovered something completely new, but rather adapted the glazing-like approach that coloured pencil artists have been using for some time. For all that, the results are impressive and the explanation of how to achieve them well executed, so you’d have nothing to complain about.

Watson Guptill books are characterised by their assiduous approach and detailed explanations and this is no exception. It’s one to read as well as work along with and an excellent masterclass in its subject.

Click here to view on Amazon:
http://amzn.to/2x4d1NY

Leave a comment

Portraits of Babies & Children || Giovanni Civardi

The sheer variety of this ongoing series is breathtaking, as is the quality that actually seems to improve with time.

Children are difficult subjects, not least because they’re hardly ever still and Giovanni acknowledges this with a short section on the use of photography. As ever, the main part of the book is a series of worked examples that demonstrate techniques with children of all ages – as the title implies.

What is particularly impressive is the depth of character that Giovanni manages to get into his work. Children are very much a work in progress and features, expressions and poses are constantly fluid. Picking the right moment is very much an exercise in observation and Giovanni is also sound on this – it’s getting to know your subject, as you should, but in particular detail.

Although this is not an in-depth study of a what is certainly a complex subject, it is nevertheless an excellent primer that includes much more than its 64 pages implies.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

Painting and Drawing the Head || Daniel Shadbolt

There’s no doubting the seriousness of this comprehensive study of portrait painting. As well as plenty of illustrations, there is a copious text that discusses just about every aspect of the subject in considerable detail – some four pages, for instance, are devoted to the process of priming canvases. This is, it should be said, a book about painting in oils and, although there is much general information that applies to any medium, it’s best studied with this in mind.

The book is constructed around the sequence of the painting process. We begin with the assembly and preparation of materials and, if you feel this goes into more detail than you perhaps need at this stage, do remember that few other books cover it quite so thoroughly and analytically, so you may not find this much information anywhere else. Lessons then move to the all-important observation and basic principles and on to composition, perspective, light and tone.

The second section is the main one and where Daniel considers the process of painting the head in detail. Style-wise, it is perhaps a shame that he tends to soften and obscure features, and this may explain the book’s title and its concentration on “the head” rather than “the portrait”. Daniel’s work also tends to be quite dark and of limited tonal range and this can make some of the illustrations hard to decipher in reproduction. You may feel, though, that the quality of the work, and the detailed discussion that surrounds it, more than make up for this and that you can add more detailed features yourself if you wish. There are, after all, other books that demonstrate this. In its own terms, though, this is something of a masterpiece.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

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.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

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.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

  • Archives

  • Categories