Archive for category Subject: Techniques

Take Three Colours (compendium)

The idea of this series is a brilliant way of simplifying the painting process, either for the beginner or as a palate-cleanser for someone with more experience who’s become a bit jaded.

With just three brushes and three colours, a team of Search Press’s most successful authors demonstrate projects that show just how much you can do with an absolute minimum of equipment. With little to mess around with, the emphasis is on creativity and making the most of what you have. There’s no chance to over-complicate or get bogged down with an unwieldy palette or too many mixes.

This bind-up is fantastically good value and covers landscapes, seascapes and flowers, with more concentrated subjects such as lakes, rivers, hills and mountains thrown in. Larger books such as this can be difficult to handle, but this falls and stays open nicely and is a pleasure to use.

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Still Life || Susie Johns

This is a pleasing guide to painting simple compositions using everyday objects you’ll find about you. As such, it’s a good way of developing skills without having to look far for subjects or stretch your abilities too much. These are exercises that can be completed relatively quickly and should provide a welcome afternoon or evening break.

The front cover provides a hint of what to expect – a colour drawing of oranges on a blue plate and some pencils and watercolour brushes; inset illustrations include a fish, a shell and a ball. As I said, we’re into things which are easy to find and a straightforward selection of materials. There’s also a nod to the basic shapes that comprise some of the technical exercises, providing solid groundwork in form, perspective and shading. This kind of thing can be ineffably dull and Susie quickly applies the basic principles to real life objects such as fruit and shells that, despite their outward simplicity, present plenty of their own challenges, particularly in regard to texture.

There’s nothing here that will set the world alight, but that’s not what you want or what the book intends. Rather, it’s an excellent grounding in drawing techniques that is neither too taxing nor too elementary to be worthwhile.

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Sketching For The Absolute Beginner || Peter Cronin

Peter Cronin tells us that he found drawing in “special” classes at school, having been diagnosed as “slow”, but in reality dyslexic. For him, it was a release from the tyranny of the worded page and an introduction to a world that was all his. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that this book is, as much as anything else, a paean to the joy and freedom that Peter finds in working with drawing materials.

Yes, it’s a book of instruction and, yes, it covers all the basic principles, but Peter also manages to convey throughout the joy he feels when working, and he’ll share it with you the reader. So, yes again, it’s a course, but it’s also a journey of discovery.

Peter’s drawings are subtle and sensitive and he works mostly with pencil but also pen & wash. With plenty of examples and short exercises, he introduces line, composition, perspective, form and hatching as well as ways to control the weight of the mark to create values, tone and shading.

There’s a huge amount to get to grips with here and this is a book that you can easy work through or just dip into for advice and inspiration.

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Painting With System 3 || Charles Evans

Daler Rowney’s System 3 is an integrated set of acrylic mediums that includes heavy and soft body paints, inks and fluid colours. The overall palette remains the same across the range and all the parts are designed to work harmoniously together.

Although this is in large part a promotional piece for System 3, sticking with a single range has allowed Charles to produce a complete guide to working with acrylics that covers just about every aspect. He is able to contrast and mix styles and ways of working that would be much more difficult if different brands and types were involved.

The nature of the book means it makes complete sense to start at the absolute beginning, by introducing paints, equipment and supports and then moving on to basic methods of application and demonstrations of subjects that include landscapes, water, animals and buildings.

If you’re starting to paint, this makes an excellent introductory guide and you’ll be working with a range of materials that will be reliable and should produce no nasty surprises. You’ll also be in the hands of an experienced and generous teacher who is not afraid to explain those sometimes elementary details you really need.

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Drawing With Charcoal || Kate Boucher

There have never been many books about charcoal. It’s almost invariably lumped in with other drawing media, and not unreasonably. The basic techniques, after all, can be applied to pencils, pastels, pen & ink and so on and it makes sense not to repeat these for each one.

For all that, a thorough study will not come amiss and, given that this will probably be a one-off for quite some time, it is to be hoped that Kate Boucher steps up to the mark. It is pleasing to report that she certainly does. This is no mere “make some marks and have done with it” overview and the quality of the artwork will have you wondering why you never realised before that quite such subtlety was possible. Charcoal is a monochrome medium that is difficult to persuade into half-tones or, by its soft nature, to produce fine detail.

Just a quick look at the illustrations here will show you that such things are by no means impossible and your first thought might be that you are actually looking at a book about monoprinting. Although there is discussion at the beginning about materials and mark-making, Kate assumes a reasonable degree of experience – you can, after all, get that from one of the many introductory guides to drawing that are available. Instead, through a series of demonstrations that are fully described and analysed, she explains the use of erasers, tone, layers of texture and the use of other materials – the introduction of pastels in the final chapter is genuinely shocking, albeit in a good way.

This is everything you’d hope it would be and probably more. I said there’s unlikely to be another book for quite some time but, frankly, there’s no need for one. Kate has nailed it.

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Creative Drawing Techniques || David Brammeld

Subtitled From first mark to full expression, this is a comprehensive, but not exhausting, study of drawing using everything from pencils and pen & ink to watercolour washes, graphite, charcoal, acrylic inks and mixed media.

You could forgive yourself for asking how all this could be not creative – the title does sort of hint at that possibility. The truth is, it’s one of those rather vague words that publishers use when they’re not quite sure how to categorise the work of an author they’ve felt attracted to and want to do a book with. There’s an immediate attractiveness to David’s work that eloquently explains this without the need for any words. There’s huge variety here and he is one of those artists whose work somehow transcends their medium. In a way, this isn’t a book about drawing at all, but about creating and where the fact that tools are used is merely incidental.

That’s all very well, but you the reader are sat there with a pad on your knees, pens and pencils in hand and a bottle of ink perched precariously on a stool or tree stump beside you. You want to know how to proceed and you won’t be disappointed by how David guides you. That subtitle makes it clear that this is about the whole process of drawing and that there’s advice on mark-making before you get to the process of transcending your media. The more elementary aspects don’t dominate, however, and there’s plenty of variety and exercises to get stuck into. Subject matter includes trees, buildings, still lifes and a few portraits. David tends to go for the closer, more intimate view than the wider perspective, which is why I haven’t mentioned landscapes, even though some of his work does fall broadly into this category.

All-in-all, this is an enjoyable, instructive and thought-provoking book.

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Quick Start to Watercolor Landscapes || Kenneth Hesse

Self-publishing comes with two major pitfalls: the lack of an editor and the lack of a designer. It doesn’t have to lose out on missing a proof-reader, but often does.

An editor will restrain an author’s tendency to write either too much (going into obsessive detail about unimportant matters), or too little (those frustratingly short sentences that equate to the Bake-Off technical’s “make the batter”). A designer will bring a fresh eye to the layout, have more tools than a simple word processor and make sure that illustrations are both reasonably-sized and in the right place.

The first thing to say here is that it’s pretty obvious Ken has used a word processor. The text and, for the most part the illustrations, are fixed to a two-column page. Does this matter? Well, only if you’re a reviewer, probably, although a reader might think that the information provided had better be pretty good if the pages lack visual excitement.

And now the good news. None of the above matters here. Yes, you might observe that there are a few infelicities (let’s not call them any more than that) which a proof-reader would have picked up but even I, notoriously picky about details, passed over them with no more than a wry smile.

This is not a book for the advanced watercolourist, it’s fair to say, but neither does it pretend to be. What it mainly concentrates on is the practicality of painting – the matter of using brushes and colour to get an image down on paper. That’s really the first port of call and creativity and aesthetics can come later; if you can’t handle your materials with confidence, all the best ideas in the world will remain stuck firmly in your head.

I warmed to this on page 3, where Ken gives us a list of terms and their definitions. Sure, I’m pretty confident that I know what a ferrule is and that you do too; we could also both work out that fresh paint comes newly squeezed from the tube. I’m being unfair deliberately to make a point, because having all this in one place is good and you may well find that succinct summaries of Complementary, Convenience and Local colours are a thing to treasure. In fact, having things in one place is perhaps the book’s greatest virtue. The layout may not be exciting, but Ken’s mind is extremely well-organised and information is absolutely not scattered about and hard to find. In the step-by-step demonstrations, I particularly like the chart of steps that appears at the beginning. It makes back-reference easy and I haven’t seen it elsewhere – other publishers might want to take note.

The two-column layout maybe isn’t the friend of the demonstrations as the stage illustrations are quite small. I am, however, reviewing this from a PDF, which is not my normal practice, and I’ve zoomed the pages a few times. It’s pleasing to be able to report that image quality stands that.

As for content, there’s a lot of detail, especially about techniques of application, but no over-writing and (remember what I said about designers?) everything is in the right place. Those illustrations may be somewhat small, but they’re where you want them – next to the text and on the same page. It makes the book not just easy to follow, but a pleasure to read.

So, in summary, this is a book for the new watercolourist who needs something basic and easily understandable about technique. I would honestly recommend it as a beginner’s first book for that reason alone. Easily-followed demonstrations and subjects that aren’t over-complicated are just the icing on the cake really.

This is a US private publication, available from Barnes & Noble

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The Joy of Modern Calligraphy || Joyce Lee

This is nothing if not elaborately presented. A hard case with an elastic closure opens to reveal a beautifully produced paperback book and an envelope of practice sheets that contain outlines for basic letterforms. The same script is used throughout and is not, I think, one of the classic ones, but is still a pleasant sloping variant of Copperplate.

Calligraphy being about appearance, at least today, this elaborateness has a place, but you may also feel that there is a slight tendency for form to overtake substance. This is not, it should be said, a book about calligraphy as a complete subject. Rather, it is a guide, perhaps better, a list of suggestions for projects such as the inevitable – and obvious – invitations. What you may find useful are the extended guides to forming letters and the practice sheets for these. These exercises occupy a large portion of the book and are among the most thorough I have seen. If this is what you want (and I suspect a lot of people will), then they would justify the price of the book by themselves.

However, if you were looking for a guide to other calligraphic hands, or more extended projects, this is perhaps not the book for you. It’s very well done, beautifully presented and well laid out, but does have its limitations.

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Painting Like The Impressionists || Bruce Yardley

Back in the days of the atelier method, students (apprentices) worked in the studio of a master, initially grinding and mixing colours and preparing canvases before being allowed to work on backgrounds and eventually completing works to which the great man perhaps only added a couple of brushstrokes. The point is that you can learn a lot about the craft of painting by studying what has gone before and immersing yourself in the background business.

The Impressionists were a breath of fresh air in the world of art, though it was seen as more of a cold blast at the time and their influence is felt to the present day. Almost any tutor will tell you to work loosely, almost as if there’s no other way.

The great work on the subject, from the practical point of view, is Bernard Dunstan’s Painting Methods of The Impressionists, but that appeared some forty years ago and is mostly illustrated in black and white. We’re due another look. It’s pleasing, therefore, to be able to report that this is excellent and a worthy successor to Dunstan’s oeuvre. Bruce Yardley examines in considerable detail not just the way the Impressionists worked, but how they looked, saw and interpreted, which is after all the heart of their vision. We accept, indeed now expect, that the viewer will do a lot of the work and that the artist is a guide rather than an instructor. To an extent, it’s a reaction to the realism of photography and a way that art can re-invent itself to exist alongside that.

There’s a great deal to get into here, both visually and verbally, and this is a book to read rather than keep open beside the easel, even though there are exercises and demonstrations; you can work on these later.

If you want to have a go at being an Impressionist yourself, Bruce provides plenty of information about original brushes, paints and canvases and explains where they can still be obtained. I’m not sure that looking backward like this is either necessary or desirable, but it might be a fun exercise, for all that.

If you love and want to understand the Impressionists, this is a very thorough guide.

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En Plein Air Light & Color || Iain Stewart

This accessible and enjoyable guide is as good as you’re going to get on working from nature. The subject matter is varied and includes landscapes, buildings, boats, flowers and people, the work being conducted in a loose style that relies heavily on washes. Despite being American, the tonal values are generally insular rather than continental – that’s to say, colours are as subtle and muted as we’d expect on this side of the Atlantic, rather than the sometimes over-bright tones that characterise the light in a larger land mass.

The approach is via discussions and demonstrations and there’s more text than is sometimes the case in books of this kind. The stages work from palette selection to outline drawing and through to the finished painting and are well-described and illustrated.

There is, however, a major drawback. The paper chosen tends to swallow the colours and the images are simply too coarse, meaning that detail, particularly in some of the pencil work, can be hard to see and interpret. This is a shame, as it detracts from what would otherwise be an excellent book. If you can overlook it, however, this won’t disappoint.

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