Archive for category Subject: Techniques

Watercolour Techniques and Tutorials For The Complete Beginner || Paul Clark

There’s a lot to like about this straightforward, patient and thorough guide. I might take slight issue with the idea of it being for “the complete beginner”. In truth, I think a little facility with the medium would probably help, although the explanations are simple and concise and certainly won’t blind you with terminology.

Paul explains materials, the basics of colour theory and technical matters such as brushstrokes and washes in short paragraphs and simple illustrations that are completely to the point. He even manages to cover perspective pretty adequately in just two pages. No, this isn’t exhaustive but, if you’ve been put off by some of the whole books dedicated to the subject, this one might be worth the cover price for that topic alone.

The rest of the book is devoted to a series of demonstrations, many of which I think the complete tyro might struggle with. Inevitably, the results are complex and the use of washes and wet-in-wet could well seem daunting. Paul has a facility with the medium that makes for excellent results and his clear explanations will probably make you think that following him is worth the effort, though.

The range of subjects covered is impressive and this is entirely teaching by example. There are buildings, landscapes, birds, still lifes, trees and clouds as well as handy hints on figures, skies, flowers and much more. If you’re serious about learning watercolour, this is a guide that should keep you satisfied for quite a long time and one which, in spite of the somewhat virtuoso illustrations, you won’t lose patience with.

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Pure Watercolour Painting || Peter Cronin

As you might expect, Peter is a member of the Pure Watercolour Society and this is a hymn to the medium.. Forewords by David Curtis and David Bellamy should leave you in no doubt about how good it is.

My first question on opening the book was: what is “pure” watercolour and how does it differ from any other kind? Peter helpfully enlightens us: “One may suspect that there is perhaps more to good painting than a huge toolkit, and it may be possible to take simple tools and use them well. This concept and approach to painting are at the heart of pure watercolour”. Put kindly, I take that to mean that simplicity is always best and that you should work with your imagination and media rather than your tools; they’re not what makes a painting, you do.

In the wrong hands, this could come across as a fundamentalist rant, but Peter lets his brushes do the talking and the work here is simply extraordinary. If he wasn’t such a good explainer and demonstrator, you could easily be put off by his virtuosity. As it is, follow his advice carefully and you’ll stand a very good chance of finishing this book a much better painter then when you started.

Watercolour is, as I think we all know, a very special medium. It’s one that does sometimes seem to have a mind of its own and is nowhere near as controllable as the opaque ones. The skill is to work with that and to learn ways of encouraging it to do what you want rather than trying to wrestle it into submission and merely working against it. Handle a wash sensitively, know when colours are going to bleed and blend and large sections will almost complete themselves.

Peter explains much about the properties of watercolour and the techniques you’ll need. He also demonstrates extensively and these paintings will show you how to produce some really quite advanced work.

It’s a bit of a tour de force.

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Learn to Paint Acrylics with 50 Small Paintings || Mark Daniel Nelson

I am now completely confused. When I saw this, I didn’t like it. It doesn’t compare well with its companion volume on watercolour and seems to lack the fizz that has. However, I now realise that it is, in fact, a reissue of Little Ways to Learn Acrylics, which I liked a lot.

The moral of this, I think, is always to check that books aren’t quiet reissues (this one isn’t completely silent and is acknowledged in small print on the title page). What is interesting, though, is how perception can change when comparison is made to something else. In this case, Learn to Paint in Watercolour with 50 Small Paintings has a huge amount of originality and this now looks like a pale comparison and a feeble attempt to jump on a series bandwagon. And yet it’s the same book that I liked two years ago.

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Drawing Masterclass || Guy Noble

A masterclass can take a number of forms. It can be simply a set of lessons for the advanced student or a lecture by an acknowledged expert, often for a selected audience. It can also, as is the case here, be an analysis of the work of other masters as a way of learning the techniques that mark true greatness.

The weakness of this approach is that it can all too easily become a study of art history rather than practice. The analysis has to be cogent and the lessons clearly and incisively extracted in order to be meaningful. Guy Noble studied at Byam Shaw School and teaches at Central St Martins. He is also a practising artist and has work in collections worldwide. His bona fides are impeccable.

The book begins with an overview of the art and method of drawing and this is, perhaps, its weakest point: some of it is a bit too basic. Does a masterclass need to be told about elementary techniques or how to stretch paper? However, the 100 studies of the work of an impressive variety of artists, both older and modern, are both concise and incisive and the analyses always to the point for the practical student. Subdividing by subject makes the book particularly easy to use and the whole richly deserves its self-applied masterclass tag.

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Complete Guide to Watercolour || David Webb

This really rather attractive book is arranged more or less in an encyclopaedia format, but without quite falling into the tabulated effect that implies. It’s a difficult thing to define, but the result is both a rattle bag and the basis of a nicely-structured course at the same time.

Subtitling itself “all the essential skills and techniques you need” is a pointer to this: it’s not so much a manual as a connected series of lessons that you can work with in almost any order. And there lies its attraction: each section is easily separated out and you can read up about what you need or what interests you at the moment. It would be possible to work through from cover to cover and, indeed, you’ll probably want to at some point. For the rest, it’s something to keep by you and dip into serendipitously. It has many treasures to reveal and these are best discovered by chance.

There are hints, tips, lessons, exercises and demonstrations and the book finishes rather pleasingly with a section titled “Approaches to Watercolour”, introducing a range of other contributors who present their own ways of working.

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Artist’s Drawing Techniques

The strapline of this really rather enjoyable book, “develop your style, guided by professional artists” is perhaps an exercise in stating the obvious (would you want a bunch of amateurs telling you absolutely nothing?), but it does sum up what you get here. I think it’s pretty much certain that, if you were to pick it up for a cursory glance, you would be immediately enthralled and reckon there’s something – indeed quite a lot – for you.

The presentation is very much like the sort of book which I describe as something people buy for others rather than themselves. This, however, although slickly presented, is about much more than just appearance and the contributors offer a wide range of styles, subjects and techniques. Indeed, it’s precisely this variety that makes the book so appealing.

The layout is in the encyclopaedia style, with each topic generally covered in a single spread. What this can lose in superficiality, it makes up for in comprehensibility and the editors do seem to have addressed the dichotomy; there is no sense of trivialisation and the sheer number of illustrations keeps you engaged and informed at all times.

Media include pencil (graphite and colour), charcoal, pen & ink and pastel. There is also a bold attempt to cater for all levels of ability by dividing each section into techniques that are for the beginner, intermediate and advanced. This is always a hostage to fortune as one person’s beginner is another’s expert. However, some things genuinely are more difficult and the gradation is welcome. Maybe “elementary” might have made it clearer that the reference is (I think) to the techniques rather than the artist. It’s neatly done, though, and consistent throughout the book, which helps break up the broad range of the coverage and makes for easier reference.

All-in-all, this is one of the best general guides around and something which merits a lot more than a second look.

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Vibrant Oils || Haidee-Jo Summers

This is really rather wonderful. The initial impression, picking it up, is that it’s more than usually substantial and, at 176 pages, it most certainly is. A quick flick through reveals a wealth of illustrations and an enormous variety of subjects. Haidee-Jo’s style is loose, relaxed and colourful and this doesn’t, on the surface, feel like an oil painting book, insofar as those are often rather lofty and worthy. The truth is that it’s not really a medium book at all, but rather a guide to the whole creative process that just happens to use oils as its vehicle. I’d even go so far as to suggest that you could find plenty to get from it even if you never had any intention of working in the medium at all.

Investigate further and the next thing you might notice is that, for all its size, there are only 4 step-by-step projects. This is entirely in keeping with the approach, which is to teach you about the subject, rather than simply to train you to emulate it. In the old analogy, it teaches you to fish and feeds you for life, rather than giving you a fish and feeding you for a day. Subject matter is catholic and includes landscapes, seascapes, still lifes, figures and flowers.

Along the way, Haidee-Jo considers composition, colours, light, cropping, the use of layers, tone and more. Some sections are quite short paragraphs, some are sidebars and others simple hints. Everything is accompanied by an example painting and the explanations are commendably clear.

The publisher is trying to sell this as suitable for all levels of ability. I have my doubts. If you were a complete beginner, I think you might find its comprehensiveness overwhelming. However, if you have some experience, or are new to oils, as opposed to painting, it has a great deal to tell you and won’t disappoint.

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