Archive for category Subject: Techniques

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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Drawing Nature: a complete guide || Giovanni Civardi

The bind-up reissue of Giovanni Civardi’s excellent guides continues. Here, you get seven volumes on the subject of nature, covering scenery, light & shade, basic techniques, flowers, fruit & vegetables, pets, perspective and wild animals. Is all of that nature? Well, stretching a point, it does give you a thorough amount of reading around the subject. It’s perhaps a quibble, but you also get the Drawing Techniques volume in the Figure Drawing bind-up and you can’t help suspecting it may make an appearance in future collections too.

If you’re a fan of Giovanni, you’ll probably have all the original volumes anyway, so purchasers of these reduced-format collections will perhaps only buy one, so a bit of thoughtful curation maybe doesn’t go amiss. However it goes, you get seven books for a little under two quid each, which is thumpingly good value even if there is a little duplication.

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Watercolor Basics || Charles Reid

This, sadly, is going to be Charles’ last book; he died in 2019. If, however, you wanted a lasting legacy, this would be it. Although his style is, arguably, not one for the beginner, there is so much sound information here that you could view the result as something to aspire to, while still learning a great deal on the way. If you’re a more experienced worker, then some simple revision would certainly not go amiss and you might welcome the chance to catch up alongside an acknowledged master of the medium.

Topics are very much as you’d expect – composition, light and shade, values and simplification. There are plenty of exercises and demonstrations to get your teeth into. This is a book you’re going to want to spend a lot of time with and much of it bears returning to more than once, such is the depth of knowledge and information evident.

It’s probably worth saying that quite a lot of the book is devoted to figures so, if this is something you want to work on, you’ll be in your element. If not, then it’s worth some thought before diving into a purchase.

The illustrations reveal Charles at the height of his powers, exploiting colour and working as loosely as possible with simplified images that capture the essence of a subject in amazingly few brushstrokes.

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The Joy of Sketch || Jen Russell-Smith

Books of ideas are not exactly thin on the ground and what they cover is broadly similar. Where they stand or fall, therefore , is mainly on the quality of the illustrations and even that may come down to a matter of personal choice.

This pitches itself at the beginner and suggests a range of subjects from the contents of your pockets to hands and feet, trees and flowers, wildlife and even domestic fittings. This could be summed up as: if you see it, draw it, which is no bad idea if you’re feeling stuck for inspiration. Just get your pens and pencils out and have a go.

There’s a charm about this particular implementation that gets under your skin. The illustrations are simple enough, loose enough and recognisable enough to make you feel pretty sure that yes, actually, you could manage something like that. It doesn’t look too difficult and, with a little help (the text is admirably concise) and a few examples along the way, you almost certainly can.

Add in a pleasant and none-too-taxing technical introduction and some basic exercises that get you practising simple shapes without just drawing circles and ellipses and you have one of the best books in this well-served field.

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I Can (Not) Draw || Peng

At first glance, this looks as though it might be a book aimed at children.   The simple, cartoon-like illustrations and busy layout are very like titles I’ve reviewed that are intended for a younger audience.

Further examination, however, reveals a level of detail and elements of humour that are far more grown-up. Peng is, in fact, an Austrian cartoonist and, while these are not cartoons, there’s a wryness to the images that is instantly engaging. Even if you were really looking for something more serious, it’s impossible not to be drawn in. Exaggerated features and simple lines are an antidote to what is sometimes a tyranny of trying to create a likeness or get proportions right – here it doesn’t matter and the most important thing is to get something – maybe even anything – down on paper.

The title gives a strong clue to the content – it’s all about removing negativity. Anyone can have a go at this and, even if you’re already reasonably accomplished, there’s a lot to be said for letting observation rule your pen.

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Basics of Drawing || Leonardo Pereznieto

There are plenty of reasons to like this thoroughly sound introduction to drawing. The first, and perhaps most important, is the clarity of the lessons. Each one is concise without being terse, and admirably clear, with the accompanying illustrations and step-by-step demonstrations not adding unnecessary complication. The next is the quality of the illustrations themselves – Leonardo’s work, mostly in pencil, is soft and sensitive and does full justice to the medium, as well as complementing the text perfectly.

Chapters move from mark-making and basic shapes to individual topics such as composition,, scene-framing, creating a visual path through the image, and an introduction to drawing people. There is an extended section on perspective, which considers its different aspects (linear, aerial and three-point) separately, making the whole a great deal easier to follow.

As well as being a solid introduction, this is also an excellent primer and a revision aid to a variety of techniques. I did spot a very few infelicities of execution, but by no means enough not to recommend it.

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Alcohol Ink || Desirée Delȃge

Fluid art is, apparently, “the hottest art trend since paint pouring”. You can call me sceptical if you wish but I have to say that, on the basis of the results demonstrated here, I could be a convert.

Most books of this kind play heavily on serendipity and “happy accidents”, which I interpret as a lack of controllability and, just maybe, of ability on the part of the practitioner. Here, however, the emphasis is on control and making a very fluid medium conform to your intentions. Where other books that I’ve seen tend to concentrate on abstracts and patterns, Desirée will show you how to prepare surfaces and manipulate the medium to create recognisable images – mainly flowers and leaves – that have what I can really only describe as an ethereal beauty I haven’t seen achieved with other media of this type.

As you would hope and expect, there’s a good introduction to materials and working methods, particularly soaking and drifting, which is how you allow the ink to pool and then draw it out rather in the matter of a watercolour wash. She’ll also show you how to work with brushes, colour shapers, droppers and swabs to create finer detail, as well as how to control when colours do or don’t blend. As well as paper, Desirée works with wood, ceramics, glass and plastic to decorate a wide variety of objects.

This is a thorough, but also enjoyable and hugely practical introduction to what looks like a really rather rewarding medium.

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101 Ways To Draw || David Webb

This encyclopaedia-style guide to drawing techniques absolutely stands on the quality of its illustrations. These are sensitive and David’s working methods adapt themselves nicely to the medium and technique in question at the time.

Just about every drawing medium is here, from graphite pencils and sticks to ballpoint, felt-tips, watercolour pencils and soft pastels. Subjects include flowers, landscapes, still lifes, animals, buildings and people. Techniques cover toning, layering, hatching and blending as well as simple mark-making. Obviously, not every combination of subject, medium and technique can be included, but the matching is logical and the results always enlightening.

As well as functioning as a source of reference, this is also a book to dive into and explore for ideas and inspiration. It’s a lot of fun.

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