Archive for category Subject: Seascape

David Bellamy’s Seas and Shorelines in Watercolour

This is David’s best book in a long time and his Arctic trip seems to have rekindled his love of all things rugged. It tells the story of the littoral – the point where land and sea meet. Astonishingly, although there have been books on painting the sea and on coastal scenes, this moment of transition has largely passed the instructional book market by. It’s possible that this is because margins are always hard to define – they’re small and tend to vanish when you look at them.

So, is this a book about nothing at all? Well, no, of course it isn’t. What David has done is to combine the two conventional approaches – sea and land – and show you how they inextricably interact. So, you get waves both crashing and lapping on cliffs and beaches, harbour villages clinging to rocky slopes that teeter down to the water’s edge, as well as boats, buildings, birds and people.

There’s also a nicely complete narrative to the book’s construction. You don’t just get a series of unconnected exercises and demonstrations, but rather the story of how the coastline connects land to water and the margin to itself, creating a string of scenes and opportunities. It’s as thrilling as it is informative and the results are stunning.

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DVD My Chinese Vision || Herman Pekel

In my review of Herman’s previous film with APV, I described him as a magician. To that, I think I’ll add alchemist. Although this is filmed in China, the city street and beach scenes could be almost anywhere, although a session around (newly built) traditional architecture does give more sense of place. All the sessions are dogged by heat, humidity and a dense haze (which might be smog). It’s clear that working in these conditions is hard labour and Herman does well to keep going and produce what can really only be described as pure gold from base metal.

What makes the film watchable, indeed compelling, is Herman himself. His commentary is continuous – few other artists can manage to work and talk at the same time as well as he does – and includes nuggets of wisdom you’ll want to write down. In the city, where buildings, street furniture and signs abound, he remarks, “The more complex a subject is, the more I tend to use just drybrush”. This combines with advice to “Let the water, pigment and paper do the work for you” to demonstrate ways of simplifying not just the subject, but your technique. He adds later, “You must have a vision, you must see the painting finished before you start.”

The scenes Herman chooses are unpromising and the haze makes things more difficult as details are obscured and distances barely visible. His ability to focus on a small area and to manipulate it into an effective composition is the alchemy I referred to earlier. He also has sound advice, especially in the conditions, to do 90% of the work on location, but to leave the remainder for later (on this occasion in the comfort of an air-conditioned hotel room) when you have had a chance to rethink. Here, outlines are tightened up and further details added that pull everything together.

I’m not sure how much of a flavour of China this presents, apart from the heat and the crowds, and it would be unreasonable to suggest that it was something to look at from that point of view. However, as a lesson on painting in unpromising conditions, and on working on location with watercolour, it’s utterly gripping.

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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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