Archive for category Subject: Seascape

Take Three Colours: Watercolour Seascapes || Geoff Kersey

This is the second outing for a promising new series that breaks popular subjects down into manageable form. The idea of using just three colours (red, blue and yellow) is that there’s a minimum of fussing about with mixing. What’s impressive, though, is the range of tints and hues that Geoff manages to achieve and there’s no hint of the extremely limited palette.

These books are, as you might have guessed, aimed at the beginner and the instruction and hand-holding are comprehensive; you’re never left feeling that something has been missed out, that there was another stage in there somewhere. Handy jargon busters deal with any technical terms that may be unfamiliar.

The pictures you’ll work on are not complex images, but that’s not what you’d want. The tone and detail are nicely judged.

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DVD Vibrant Oils || Haidee-Jo Summers

Some painting films are a polished performance, both in the presentation and on the paper or canvas. Others are more of an engaging couple of hours spent in the company of an artist as they explore their surroundings. Haidee-Jo falls into the latter camp and my notes add that some of her most eloquent passages are when she’s completely silent, allowing the brushes to speak for themselves.

The title “Vibrant Oils” tells you little and it’s possible to see how difficult it is to characterise the work of an artist who is constantly fascinated by shapes and colours, and also by working out of doors – “the nice thing is that you get to choose the best bits … there’s a little bit of sparkle in the sea over there; I’ll try to remember”. There’s also a dichotomy of subject matter. The first three demonstrations – the DVD is filmed on the Roseland peninsula in Cornwall – are of harbour scenes, so boats play a large part. The second slightly-less-than-half, when the sun is bright, involves flowers and buildings. In the last of those, Haidee-Jo only half-jokingly laments having to put in the flowers in front of a nondescript tin barn she’s fallen in love with. The thing is, though, that so have we. The film shows something about as unpromising as it can get, yet Haidee-Jo finds beauty, colours and shapes that have been keeping themselves well-hidden and, more importantly, communicates them to the viewer.

All-in-all, I’d class this as a film about observation as much as anything else. If you want to paint plein air it is, to a large extent, something you simply have to do. There are certain practicalities, mainly involving equipment, sun hats and protective clothing, but in the matter of painting, looking, seeing and selecting subjects are the most important thing. “It’s amazing how little information the viewer needs … what simple marks I can make”, perhaps summing that particular message up most succinctly. There’s also sound advice about planning your painting, working from dark to light and defining the image: “Details are a treat to do at the end”.

Some films are relatively easy to pin down. The artist has a message they want to get across and the demonstrations are a neatly-structured way of doing it. Here, much happens (almost) by accident and because something caught the eye, the first flower demonstration being one such. The whole is much more of a slippery customer when it comes to attempting a definition. Haidee-Jo works as she goes along and has what we might call an “Oooh, look” personality. If you want an enjoyable couple of hours where you can learn far more than you’ll perhaps ever realise, this is it.

It’s also worth adding that the wildtrack perfectly captures the atmosphere of the scenes, from the proliferation of birdsong to tiny details such as the snick of a tripod being closed. It’s attention to detail like this that make APV films such complete works.

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Sea & Sky in Acrylics || Dave White

Few artists can resist the temptation to introduce a bit of drama when it comes to painting the sea, and Dave White is no exception. It is, after all, a bit boring if you just paint flat calm and there’s nothing like a good storm to get the juices flowing. Add a nice ripe sunset and you’ll be getting through your dark greens, rich blues and deep reds like there’s no tomorrow!

It’s perhaps unfair to start a review like that as this is one of the most thorough and useful books on painting seascapes that I’ve seen in a long time. Dave White is more than sound on achieving that tricky balance between solidity and fluidity in breaking waves and I particularly like his trick of using gulls that skim the surface (as they do) to give scale. His clouds are similarly light, fluffy and ethereal without looking half-hearted or like clumps of cotton wool stuck onto a Cerulean wash.

For all that, it’s the drama that’ll strike you on a quick flick through, but you shouldn’t let it put you off. The sea is dramatic and, as I hinted earlier, it should be. Some of the treatments here are a bit over the top for me but, equally, they might be just what you want. In terms of technique and presentation, though, this one’s hard to beat.

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DVD Greg Allen’s Watercolour Techniques

You can’t help but warm to this from the start. “Isn’t watercolour fun?” are Greg’s first words as the introductory scenes roll past. Well, yes, it can be, and it certainly is in the hands of this competent and entertaining demonstrator.

Greg has a clear understanding of the processes of watercolour painting and he also has a way of simplifying them and then explaining them coherently. He begins with his “three effects” theory. Well, it’s more than a theory, as he demonstrates how marks vary depending on how much water you have on wet, damp and dry paper. So far, so fairly conventional, but he goes further and shows how these (and just these) can be used to capture any shape. Lay a wet wash and let it run from heavy to light down the paper. It’s a sky. Turn it on its side, add defining lines and it’s a cylinder, which he rather magically turns into a tree. Back in the day, he’d have been hiding from the witchfinders!

Greg is also a versatile painter and the film includes no fewer than five demonstrations including a riverside scene, a complex boatbuilder’s shed and a portrait so lifelike you expect it to speak. His style is loose and he uses shading and colour (words that recur again and again throughout the film) to convey shape and substance. As so often happens, these aren’t always the colours you’d expect and it’s the juxtaposition and contrast rather than exact copying that convey the subject.

There’s another phrase that crops up: “If I can’t see it, I can’t paint it.” On the surface, that seems obvious, but what Greg means is that he needs to be able to see how a scene, or an element of one, translates into his three effects and how colours, and especially shadows, work.

At the end of the film, there’s a fascinating short section in which Greg explains how he has added finishing touches to each of the demonstration paintings back in the studio, changing lighting, adding or removing detail and muting or brightening colours. Even though the process isn’t shown, the explanations are so clear that you really don’t get left wanting more and I actually think making this longer could have been dull and mechanical.

This is a hugely entertaining and informative piece that perfectly captures Greg’s enthusiasm for a medium that certainly can be fun.

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Painting Watercolour Sea & Sky The Easy Way || Terry Harrison

Terry Harrison isn’t the only person to have used “the easy way” in a book title, but he pretty much owns the phrase at the moment. Very sensibly, he makes no attempt to define it. You know that a Terry demonstration is going to be clear, succinct and easy to follow, and that’s probably enough.

This new book is a comprehensive guide to just about every maritime subject there is, as long as it’s on the coast – we’re not in open water here. You get calm seas, rough seas, breaking and crashing waves as well as help on what to do with the horizon. At this point, moving upwards, we get to the sky – clear, cloudy, stormy and with the sun setting. As well as shorelines, cliffs and buildings, the odd boat finds its way in uncredited too, and Terry is particularly sound on the way boats sit in and not on the water. After these two-page exercises, the book concludes with a series of projects, fully demonstrated, that bring everything together.

There’s no easy way to paint, you know that, but there is an enjoyable and fulfilling way to learn that makes it seem easy. How do you find that? Follow Terry Harrison. You won’t go wrong.

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DVD Capturing Coastal Moods || Ray Balkwill

The title of this give you an implicit hint as to what it isn’t. It’s not a guide to painting maritime subjects. How so? Well, as Ray tells us at the beginning, “I’m a great advocate of working on location. A sense of place is important, not just to capture what I see, but what I feel.” And that’s the essence of what he’s demonstrating here: it’s not the coast, it’s the mood. He continues, “I’ve painted here a few times. It’s that connection with the place that’s important”. It’s a theme that pervades the entire film and, since we’re quoting, here’s another: “I’m not looking to make an accurate representation, I’m looking to make a picture … as long as it looks like a boat, I’m happy.” (I’ve conflated two things, there, but you get the …er… picture).

Ray is known as a mixed media artist, but I’m going to burst another bubble while I’m on a roll. He’s not. What I mean is that he doesn’t paint mixed media because that’s how he’s pigeon-holed himself. He’s not really a media man at all. Yes, he uses pencil, felt-tip, Conté, pastel and gouache, almost always in that order, but only because they’re what he needs for a particular effect. It’s more like a conductor bringing in the various parts of the orchestra to provide tone, shade and colour – highlighting the violins here, backing them up with woodwinds and cellos, adding colour with the brass and then using tympani to bring the whole thing to a crescendo. I should also say that Ray not only makes this look the most natural thing in the world (you may even conclude that using only one medium is to restrict yourself quite unnecessarily), but also easy. It isn’t, of course, and it’s his supreme confidence and virtuosity that allow him to achieve what he does.

You’ll notice that I haven’t once mentioned the subjects that Ray paints here. That’s deliberate as I think that to describe this film factually would be to miss the point entirely. This isn’t about what Ray paints, but how he does it and there’s a degree of alchemy to that. There are, though, five full demonstrations, all filmed in Cornwall, as well as a studio-based postscript which includes a look at a painting worked up from a sketch done in unpromising conditions in Gweek boatyard.

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Joe Dowden’s Complete Guide to Painting Water in Watercolour || Joe Francis Dowden

When it comes to water, Joe Dowden’s your man. If you want that elusive quality of depth and solidity, the way water occupies rather than lying on a surface, he’s got it. One of the exercises in this genuinely comprehensive book is of a wet pavement, a simple subject that’s really tricky because the water and the flagstones are effectively the same thing, but he pulls it off perfectly. Another is a child running through the shallow ripples at the edge of the tide and, again, he manages to get the passing-through-ness without the feet being engulfed or somehow tripping along on top. Both these little moments are virtuoso performances that aren’t even the big set pieces of the book.

Joe doesn’t just paint water, but the things that surround water – trees, landscapes, people (he’s particularly good on people), boats and light. The thing about water is that it’s a reactive subject, informed and shaped by the things that illuminate it, reflect in and off it and shape it with waves, ripples and spray.

There’s a huge amount of material here and I can’t find a stone that isn’t – often literally – left unturned. Books that make big claims sometimes fail to live up to them and need a qualification, but this delivers everything you could want.

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