Archive for category Subject: Techniques

Terry Harrison’s Complete Brush with Watercolour

This is not a new book, except that it is, and it even feels like one. How so? Well, it’s another of those bind-ups that Search Press are becoming so adept at, comprising the original (and excellent) Brush With Watercolour and subsequent Watercolour Landscapes The Easy Way.

As we’ve come to expect, you can’t see the join and the new whole is, if not greater than the sum of its parts, then at least equal in terms of the usefulness of the book. The result, in fact, is one of the most coherent watercolour courses I’ve seen in quite some time. It’s slightly shorter than the combination of the originals, demonstrating that the preliminary material has been filleted for duplication. I also suspect that some running orders have been changed so that there’s no jumping about. You can’t, like Ernie Wise’s supposed wig, see the join.

The best way to sum the book up, I think, is simply to list the main chapter headings: Choosing your equipment, Using the brushes, Techniques, Demonstrations. You see, perfectly logical. As to those brushes, yes they are all from the Terry Harrison range. I’ve observed before that you may have suitable alternatives already, or you can get them – one fan brush is, let’s face it, pretty much like another. Except that it isn’t. Terry’s brushes have a very slightly ragged edge from new, so they don’t produce a sharp line. It’s a small detail, but worth pointing out as it shows the attention he’s given them and that they’re designed to help you, rather than just make money for him. Quite a lot of artists have tried a brush range over the years, but Terry’s has stood the test of time, which is an endorsement in itself.

Sorry to bang on at length there, but I think it’s important to stress that Terry is assiduous in his efforts to help you paint, rather than simply to show you how clever he is. It’s the main reason why, as well as the brushes, he himself is as popular as ever.

There’s plenty here to like, from the simple technical explanations at the beginning, the exercises in skies, foliage, water, flowers and buildings as well as wet-in-wet, drybrush and the use of masking fluid. To conclude, the ten demonstrations cover just about every aspect of landscape painting across differing conditions and seasons. It really is that comprehensive.

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Vibrant Watercolours || Hazel Lale

Rather helpfully, Hazel explains in her introduction, some of what a “vibrant” watercolour is. To summarise, it’s about the use of colour, often unexpected colour and in unconventional ways. She recounts, as a child, wondering why some artists painted portraits with white or green faces and of coming to understand how painting was more than simple representation – an artistic maturity, as it were.

The subtitle also provides a clue: How to paint with drama and intensity. This is, in short, a book mainly about working with and revelling in colour. It’s about seeing, not the obvious, the superficial, but the true character of any subject, whether it’s a person, an animal or any inanimate object. On top of colour, there are also shape and form and these can be manipulated, along with the colours, to tell the viewer more about what you’re painting than simple representation. A photograph will record a subject and allow the onlooker to interpret it for themselves. The job of an artist is to shape the response and convey a personal view. At its extreme, this leads to abstraction, where the response is purely emotional but, here, it’s also about the object itself as much as the pure image. It’s a hard topic to explain in words because it’s so inherently visual, but think of it as poetry rather than prose.

This is an approach that’s been covered before, but Hazel’s sheer enthusiasm will carry you along and almost certainly open your eyes to, if not a new, then certainly an enhanced way of seeing.

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Learn to Paint in Watercolour with 50 Small Paintings || Wil Freeborn

This is one of the most original, entertaining and instructive books I’ve seen in a long time. The starting point, Wil tells us, was the idea of doing a daily drawing as part of his commute. This extended to wider travels in search of new places, subjects and ideas.

The result is a book that records not the grand scenes, but the mundane. This is a tricky thing to get right because that very familiarity can lead to a lack of interest. It only works if you’re determined to find new angles on the things you see every day. Will makes it work and a drawing of breakfast, for example, becomes an exercise in distorted perspective, like a photograph taken with a wide-angle lens. Suddenly, the full English becomes a technical challenge as well as a worthy subject.

Wil manages to sustain interest throughout the book and explores a wide variety of techniques and subjects. The whole is handily divided into Still Lifes, Landscapes, Cityscapes, Animals and People. None of the demonstrations is long and, when the emphasis is on the quick sketch, that’s right. There are, however, sufficient notes on materials, the colour palette and the stages of completion for you to pick up what’s going on. I’d suggest using the paintings here as a jumping-off point for your own ideas, rather than as exercises to copy but, if something intrigues you and you want to delve deeper, you could certainly use any of them as a lesson.

I’d originally assumed that this was an inspired one-off, but the publisher’s forthcoming list shows that there’s an acrylic volume to come, so it’s beginning to look like a series. Can they make it work? Can I trust Wil’s assertions in the introduction – has the rest built on his idea or is he being disingenuous? It’s still a good idea and only time will tell if it’s sustainable.

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Learn to Paint in Watercolour Step by Step || William Newton

This isn’t, as far as I can tell, a re-working, just a reissue with a new title of a book which first appeared in 2013 as William Newton’s Complete Guide to Painting. To the credit of Search Press, I got that information from the copyright page.

I don’t normally review reissues, but this is so good, and has stood the test of time so well, that I will at least give it a mention. It’s a classic guide to classic watercolour and well worth a read. You can see what I said originally here.

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Sketch Your Stuff || Jon Stich

I’ve remarked in the past how refreshing it is when an author provides drawings rather than photographs in the (perhaps) inevitable materials section. It can be revealing of their skills with perspective too, as complex shapes are frequently involved.

When I first picked this up, I thought “I’ll bet it says it’s useful for when you’re stuck for ideas” and sure enough, the back cover blurb begins with just that. I’m not convinced, and I never have been. If you’re stuck for ideas, my guess is that you’re really stuck. However, there are days when you want to practise and it’s too cold or wet, or just not convenient to go out, and that’s when looking around the home is a good idea. And, as I said, there are some complex shapes there that can flex your perspective muscles like nothing else.

This is an imaginative book that will certainly convince you of its premise. Jon’s style is pleasantly loose and he sets himself a variety of challenges that include simple as well as complicated subjects – spectacles, mugs, a pile of tumblers, a self-portrait, an untidy bedroom, even a bathroom. I’m not totally sure he gets the perspective right every time but hey, if you think you can do better – well, there’s your challenge.

This is a book about drawing the mundane, which means noticing things you don’t normally notice, and lifting them out of everyday invisibility. It’s a brave premise and Jon carries it off really rather well.

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From Sketch to Watercolour Painting || Wendy Jelbert

This isn’t the first book about sketching but it is, as far as I’m aware, at least one of the first to cover the whole process right through. Yes, other books habitually include a chapter on working your sketchbook up into something grander, but this takes the logical step of following each subject from observation right through to the finished painting. And, of course, it’s Wendy Jelbert, whose expertise in this field is second to none.

The structure of the book is familiar enough, with lessons, exercises, demonstrations and tips. This is good, as it means you’re on solid ground right from the start. What you get initially are some basic lessons in seeing and observation – getting the essence of your subject. There are also useful hints on what to draw and what to annotate so that you have structure, shapes and colours at your fingertips when you get back home. There are also plenty of demonstrations that cover buildings, people, flowers and so on – typical Wendy subjects, in fact.

It’s always going to feel a little odd working from someone else’s sketches – they are, after all, intensely personal – but the way this is put together never feels intrusive. In fact, it’s more like a sketching trip with an old friend, and all the better for that.

Since writing this, I’ve realised that this is in fact a re-working of a book that first appeared in 2003. (I should have – the back cover makes it clear!) As ever, Search Press’s work is so good that it’s by no means obvious and it felt new from the start. I don’t think you can give that aspect of it higher praise.

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Travelogue – round the world in watercolour || Bee Morrison

Bee Morrison is quite a traveller. Forty years as a practising artist has taken her to five continents, eighteen countries and twenty-eight ports, a journey she calculates would take some four months to complete as one trip. This journal is her imaginary tour, culled from her numerous sketchbooks.

Altogether, there are fifty illustrations which the cover tells us are “to colour”. That seems a shame, as Bee’s simple and sensitive line drawings stand well on their own and could, I think, be studied as a lesson in the art of less-is-more. However, if you want to go ahead, there’s a handy colour reference guide that gives you an idea of what that added dimension brings to the scene. Actually, I’m not sure that the paper the book is printed on would take watercolour terribly well, so you might well want to copy or trace the outlines – the upside is that they’re nicely crisp for that purpose.

This has been produced in a limited edition of 200 copies and each will be signed. If you’re a fan of Bee’s work, this is a nice personal souvenir. If she’s new to you, check out her website and have a look at some of her other books while you’re there.

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Postscript: Bee tells me that the paper in the book is in fact remarkably suitable for both watercolour and coloured pencils, so give it a try if you want to.   She says, “It is quite bizarre …you would think that it would reject pencil and paint but quite the opposite.  My sample book has had a lot of layers of a very cheap pencil and keeps on taking the colour.”   She also says, helpfully, “please quote me and tell everyone that when they buy the Travelogue they also get the right to print any page for their own personal use.”

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