Archive for category Subject: Techniques

The Watercolour Enigma || Stephen Coates

The science of watercolour is intriguing but, if the very idea makes your eyes glaze over, prepare to be intrigued. This bills itself as “a complete course revealing the secrets and science of watercolour” and, while I wouldn’t quite classify it as nose-to-tail eating, it oozes practicality on every page.

Stephen quite rightly understands that a watercolourist’s only interest in the physical properties of their medium relates to what it can do for them and how they can exploit and control its behaviour. To this end, he explains the properties of water, how and why washes blend and the ways in which different pigments mix. The whole process is constructed as a series of exercises and demonstrations that show you what’s happening rather than simply telling you, although there are also panels that explain the technicalities in simple terms.

If you want to get the most out of your medium, this is a fascinating and absorbing look under the hood.

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Realistic Painting

I’ll be honest, I’m not absolutely sure what this is. The blurb tells me that it “will provide both the amateur and the seasoned creator with helpful knowledge in order to successfully execute the Realism style”. That, however, is not Magic Realism – highly detailed work that emulates photography – and looks suspiciously like conventional art that gets things like form and perspective right. There are occasional slight echoes of Edward Hopper, but I’m not convinced that’s deliberate. There is also an associated app that claims to be augmented reality but is, as far as I can tell, just a portal via on-page codes to video tutorials. I think it’s more added content than augmented reality.

So, having pretty much trashed the intent of the book, is there any point in going any further? Well, yes, because once you get past the ache to be new and high-tech, this is a very sound introduction to painting a good variety of subjects in watercolour, oil and acrylic. Yes, that old cross-media chestnut rears its head and, yes the subject you want may not be covered in the medium you use but, as long as you can follow the basic principles, the actual style of instruction, particularly working with problem areas and enlarged details is perfectly sound.

The lack of a named author is slightly odd, but there are plenty of different contributing artists and the text is concise and to the point. My initial thought was that it has the feel of a Parramon original and so, on further investigation, it turns out to be. That pedigree is generally a recommendation in itself and I’d say it is here. It’s hard to know who to recommend the book to – it’s a little too advanced for the complete beginner and sometimes a little too basic for the experienced artist. However, it’s something that may grab your attention and, as long as you feel you can get enough out of it to justify the price, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed and may well feel it has more to offer than you first thought.

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Everyday Watercolor || Jenna Rainey

This is another of those “learn watercolour in 30 days” books. I don’t mean that to sound dismissive, but it’s important to distinguish it from guides that encourage you to look at the mundane and to paint as often as possible so that you have to find subjects wherever you are. It isn’t one of those.

The initial impression is favourable. This is important because any book in this category has to make you feel welcome, encouraged, and that you want to get stuck in. We’re here for a month, not just a one night stand. The lessons are straightforward, short and simple. You may be painting every day, but not all day and, by tea time, you won’t have forgotten what you learnt at breakfast. You’ve got time to practise, absorb and make sure you’re fully up to speed before the alarm clock tomorrow. You won’t even have to take leave of absence from your job; there’s plenty you can do while dinner’s cooking.

All that’s absolutely fine, but where I do have a reservation is that the execution isn’t all that good. Many of the examples seem flat and lacking any real sense of atmosphere, and there are too many cacti. It does mean that you’re not going to be faced with something you feel you can never hope to emulate, but there’s also a sense that you have a teacher who maybe only completed the book themselves last week. You might think that the method outweighs that, though.

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Drawing for the Absolute Beginner || Carole Massey

This is quite the best introduction to drawing I’ve seen. Carole has a simple, unfussy style and she’s also very good at simplification – reducing subjects to their essence, avoiding unnecessary detail, working loosely and explaining simple shapes and their relationships.

Although it has the same series title as its watercolour and acrylics cousins, it isn’t associated with the SAA. Although the cover doesn’t mention tracings, they are there and are helpful when laying out some of the more complex subjects.

There’s plenty to get your teeth into, from basic techniques to outlines, hatching, shading and the use of colour. Subjects range from landscapes, trees and water to figures and animals (both static and moving) and buildings.

Like the rest of the series, this is well thought-through and will take you from first steps and on to some really quite advanced work.

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Drawing – techniques and tutorials for the complete beginner || Christine Allison

This is the sort of book that GMC manages really rather well. General introductions are prone to two main traps: being too specific so that the beginner is shoehorned into the author’s personal obsession or so general that the instruction whizzes by faster than you can focus on it. Those latter are the books I often remark seem to be aimed at the non-artist who is buying for a friend.

This is certainly general, both in terms of subject and style as well as mediums, which range from charcoal to ink blocks. At 96 pages, there’s no great detail, but that’s good, because it encourages those new to art to dip a toe in a variety of waters. The introduction to materials and techniques is undaunting and makes you want to get started rather than feel you’ll never get to grips with the complexity. The nine demonstrations are quite short, but contain plenty of information and manage to cover most of what you’ll need to know, including colour, tone and even positive and negative shapes. Subjects include still lifes, portraits and landscapes and Christine deals with both monochrome and colour work. There’s even a nicely thought-out chapter at the end on where to go next.

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Ann Blockley’s Watercolour Workshop

This is one of Ann’s most practical books to date and one where she shares many of her working methods. It is not a painting manual in the wider sense, but rather an introduction to her unique style and a jumping-off point for your own creative endeavours. Although Ann has included step-by-step demonstrations, the intention is never that you should copy slavishly with emulation as an end in itself, but rather that, by understanding the technical process, you will learn about the thought process that go into the finished result.

To this end, there is considerable discussion of approaches and interpretation, with simple subjects portrayed in different ways, with no single one being “right”, but merely suitable for the impression you are trying to create. As you work through the projects that are at the heart of the book, you’ll be encouraged to explore further avenues by adding other mediums, varying the palette or even the use of collage – something at which Ann is particularly adept and which can produce amazing results.

At all times, although Ann explains the technical background to what she is doing, the emphasis is on the art, the result and how it relates to the subject. This does not have to be – indeed rarely is – purely representational and a final chapter on Towards Abstraction will expand your horizons even further.

This is every inch a classic Ann Blockley book and will appeal instantly to her many fans. Broadening the scope, however, should add to their number.

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Matthew Palmer’s Step-by-Step Guide to Watercolour Painting/Acrylics for the Absolute Beginner || Charles Evans

These two introductions to watercolour and acrylics are published in conjunction with the SAA and are not unlike the old What to Paint series that was an early development of Ready to Paint.

Both books begin with an introduction to techniques that assumes little prior knowledge and is designed to set you on the right path from the outset. They each then build to a series of projects for which outlines are provided, allowing you to get the basic drawing with proportions and perspective out of the way without having to worry about it. This approach has proved so popular that Search Press are making quite widespread (but always appropriate) use of it.

You could argue that perspective and proportion are two of the most important aspects of art and that having them done for you is not just cheating, but flattering to deceive; if you don’t tackle them at some point, you’ll never succeed as an artist. All this is true, but it’s also true that getting bogged down in technique can be massively discouraging and that success makes you want to go on and learn more. As long as you know you can only walk, you’re less likely to try to run before you’re ready.

Both of these books will get you painting and have you producing results early and reliably. This is about learning reasonably quickly and having fun – if you find you have some talent and want to progress, there are plenty of other books that will help you in that direction. You can also join the SAA and benefit from all the services they provide.

Basically, it’s a winner all round and these are well thought-out and nicely progressive books that take as much of the mystique out of painting as is possible.

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