Archive for category Subject: Techniques

The Watercolour Companion || Matthew Palmer

There’s something about this little book that you instinctively want to like. It just feels right the moment you pick it up and this is not accidental, but rather a perfect meeting of author, editor, design and production.

Content-wise, it falls into the basic hints and tips category, but covers a very broad range of watercolour techniques and subjects, arranged as a reference that you can call on for help or inspiration, or just dip into in quiet moments to spark your own thoughts and ideas. It would have been easy to make the result a lot bigger, with more examples and variations, but this is a vade mecum, something to be carried with you out in the field. It’s small enough to fit into a pocket, slim enough not to make an inconvenient bulge or weigh you down on one side and even has an elastic closure so that it doesn’t flap about awkwardly. All of these things could be tropes or gimmicks, but they serve an obvious purpose and add to the general appeal. The binding is also sewn – something of a luxury these days, which means that the pages fall open without having to be coerced, making one-handed use perfectly feasible. There’s even a handy viewfinder in a pocket at the back. I’m not even sure that all this adds significantly to the price, which is just under a tenner. That’s not bad these days.

Matthew is an excellent explainer and he covers an awful lot of ground in a very small space – which, of course, also leaves no room for over-working, either of examples or writing. Coverage includes colour, brushwork, choice of subject, skies, light, flowers, trees, buildings, water, people and special effects. Although there’s no index, each section is concise and the contents page allows you to navigate quickly.

Will you really drop what you’re doing and look a technique up in the middle of furious creativity? Only you can decide. I think you’re more likely to dip into it as I suggested, possibly just before turning the light out at bedtime. Who knows, you may wake up with the perfect image in your head and know instinctively how to achieve it.

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Sketchbook Challenge || Susan Yeates

This is a further addition to the increasing line of project-based books aimed at what I think we can fairly describe as the occasional user. People who, perhaps, like the idea of art without being absolutely devoted to it.

For them, I’m pretty sure this is absolutely perfect. Subtitled 100 prompts for daily drawing, it’s exactly that. Simple ideas along the lines of “why not do this?”, with a text that tells you little more than that it might be a good idea and an example or two that, to be perfectly honest, look a bit rushed. If the idea is that you don’t have to produce great works of art, Susan has hit the spot perfectly, and I mean that positively, not as a veiled insult. No-one benefits from the “not for the likes of you” approach.

The ideas cover pretty much everything, from shapes to everyday objects, animals, flowers and even just the things you find in your pocket. Would you, the committed artist, benefit from it? Well, this isn’t the first book to suggest ideas for drawing based on what’s in front of you, either as a way of learning or to break through creative block. A professional artist once said to me, “if I get one idea from a book, it’s been worth it”, so you might think that this offers a fresh approach that stimulates your creativity. You might, of course, also find it just plain annoying and vow to do better, which has just achieved the same result. Chicken dinners all round, I think.

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Ready to Paint with Terry Harrison

Terry Harrison was one of the best teachers and writers about art and his death in 2017 was a great loss.

This omnibus brings together 15 of his demonstrations from the excellent and ever-popular Ready to Paint series. If you’re a fan, you probably have them already. If not, this modestly priced volume will give you an excellent introduction to fields, woodlands, wider landscapes, buildings and seascapes. Full-size outlines are provided for you to trace down onto your own paper and they can be re-used as often as you want.

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Landscape in Ink and Coloured Pencil || Helen Hanson

I think we need a new term for the style introduced by this really rather charming book, and I’m calling it Soft Realism.

As with pen & wash, the use of ink creates sharply defined outlines that provide immediate impact, with a softer core that accentuates colour and adds a more impressionistic feel. The difference between watercolour and pencil, however is that the latter works with finer lines, more shading and includes detail itself. The result is that landscapes can recede subtly by the use not just of cooler colour, but by a softer focus and a reduction in detail.

What is surprising is that this is, as far as I can remember, the first book devoted to this method of working, which has much to recommend it. Yes, there have been books on ink drawing and, yes, there have been books on pencil work and, yes, again, all of them have covered mixed media, but it’s never been the star of the show as it is here. In a whole book, there’s nowhere to hide, and you’d better have plenty to say and a very clear idea of what you’re about.

Helen covers not just the broad sweep of landscape, but details such as flowers, trees, rocks and water, and explains both her approach and working methods thoroughly but concisely. As is the way with Crowood, there are more words than some publishers, but these are well-chosen and a pleasure to read, complementing the exercises and demonstrations nicely.

If you hadn’t thought about this way of working, Helen should convert you quickly and have you fully proficient by the time you’re through.

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Cross Hatching in Pen & Ink || August Lamm

In four decades of writing about art, this is the first book I’ve seen solely devoted to the technique of cross hatching. You might think that it’s something that really only needs to be covered in a more general book about drawing, and you would be partly right because this is, in fact, a more general book than the title implies.

That’s not to say it’s running a false flag, but rather that any technique is only as valuable as the results it produces and August Lamm has the good sense to set her narrative in a wider context. Let’s say, therefore, that this is a book about drawing where cross hatching is the primary feature.

The main purpose of hatching is to create shade, emphasise detail and enhance shape in monochrome line work. This can be anything from simple shapes to still lifes, landscape and portraiture and figure work. It is those latter that form the bulk of what is presented here, although still lifes are used as conveniently simple initial exercises and the examples of landscape work well-chosen and informative.

The examples and exercises use both simple and more complex techniques, along with wash and inking where necessary. The cover illustration (I think a self-portrait) gives a good example of the sort of work than can be produced. August is also very sound on the basics of facial structure and the proportions of the figure, adding a perhaps unexpected dimension that increases the book’s broader appeal.

There is much to like here. A thorough introduction to hatching cannot but be welcomed, but the wider consideration of drawing methods provides a completeness that makes for a worthwhile and thought-provoking read.

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Watercolour Landscapes For The Absolute Beginner || Matthew Palmer

This is a reissue of Matthew Palmer’s Step-by-Step Guide to Watercolour Painting, which first appeared in 2018. Actually, the copyright page says “includes material from”, but I’m unable to check whether there is anything new here, so let’s assume that it’s probably not much.

Whatever, it remains an excellent introduction and you can read my previous review via the link above.

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Watercolor Life || Emma Block

What’s not to like about “40 Joy-Filled Lessons to Spark Your Creativity”? The answer, I’m pleased to say, is absolutely nothing. Apologies for the double negative, I’ll give you a moment to unravel it.

This is, as you might have guessed, a project-based book aimed squarely at the raw beginner. While there’s not exactly a shortage of these at the moment, this certainly fits the mould of subtle colours, a funky typeface for the headings and plenty of white space to make the pages less intimidating. It offers a good variety of subjects and background information.

The book opens with a simple introduction to techniques that is concise without being over-simplified and actually manages to explain colour mixing, use and theory as well as I’ve seen. In this context, the skill lies in stating the obvious without, um, stating the obvious. Thus, we have the different types of brush, along with their uses and merits, explained in straightforward terms.

The projects themselves are broadly undemanding and follow a standard format which works from outline to colour mixing and application seamlessly and without fuss in half a dozen pages. It wouldn’t be unfair to say that you won’t be producing great works of art here, but if you want simple lessons in colour, form, perspective, tone and so on, you have to forego something.

Organisation is neat, too, with main headings concentrating on the techniques being covered – wet-in-wet, the use of masking fluid, brushstrokes, etc. Within these, Emma covers still lifes, plants, trees, buildings, landscapes, people and decorative work. It’s all very simple but, at this level, that’s what you want.

As I said, in this part of the market, you’re fairly spoiled for choice, but you won’t do much better than this as a solid introduction and foundation to watercolour.

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The Watercolour Sourcebook

This bind-up of the What To Paint series provides 60 transferrable outlines with basic instructions on completion. You get Landscapes from Terry Harrison, Flowers from Wendy Tait, Trees, Woodlands and Forests from Geoff Kersey and Hills and Mountains from Peter Woolley.

It’s a repeat of what’s gone before but, if you don’t have the original volumes, you get a lot of material for your £15. My only issue, as with all books with removable pages is that, when you’ve removed the outlines (which you’ll need to), you’re left with half an empty spine. You might think that inevitable sacrifice is worthwhile, though.

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Plein Air Painting with Oils || Haidee-Jo Summers

Time spent with Haidee-Jo is always time well spent and feels more like a relaxed conversation with an old friend than any kind of tutorial process. If you’ve watched any of her DVDs, you’ll know that she spends time discussing not just ways of applying paint, but of reacting to scenes and conditions, explaining the way the creative process works perhaps better than anyone else.

A book is a very different beast, of course, and needs to be more prescriptive than discursive. The written word doesn’t um and ah, doesn’t wave its arms about to make a point eloquently and doesn’t get distracted by a sudden gust of wind. At least, it shouldn’t, though we can all think of books that wander infuriatingly off the topic. No, I won’t be mentioning any names.

For all that, what we have here is an enjoyable ramble through the ways of oil painting. And that’s not a sentence I’ve ever written in forty years. Rambling is normally associated with watercolour; oils are a much more serious business. Aren’t they? You see, that’s the thing, Haidee-Jo is a painter who happens to work in oils, not a (serious voice) Painter In Oils. The medium is very much not the message, merely (is that the right word?) the messenger, a way of communicating form, colour, composition and emotion.

There, I’ve said it, I’ve used the E word, because that’s really what this book is about. The subtitle (they’re always instructive) is “a practical and inspirational guide to painting outdoors”. What you’ll get here is advice about the practicalities of working the field – equipment, preparation, adaptation – as well as how to recognise a subject and construct a scene, whether it’s landscapes, trees, flowers, buildings, water or even people. There’s consideration of light, weather, seeing, interpreting, remembering (because scenes change before your very eyes) and, of course, getting the all-important paint on the also-important canvas.

This is an enjoyable book that can’t but inspire you to get outside. You probably can’t take Haidee-Jo with you, so you’ll just have to imagine her.

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Line & Wash Painting || Liz Chaderton

Crowood have carved out a rather neat niche in collaboration with Liz. Her books are quite small format and relatively short, but absolutely packed with information and illustrations.

Line & wash is a subject that’s been crying out for a book for absolutely ages and this one will not disappoint. Liz covers a huge variety of subjects, styles, materials and techniques with a thoroughness which doesn’t seem possible in the limited space she allows. What makes the book particularly interesting is how she isn’t afraid to sublimate the line element, which usually dominates, instead sometimes relegating it almost to just highlights in what is otherwise largely a watercolour wash.

You’ll find landscapes, buildings, portraits and animals and styles that range from the traditional to results that are more akin to printmaking and sometimes even veer towards abstraction.

Traditionally, the line element defines the outline, with the wash being an infill. Here, Liz does not allow herself to be bound by these constraints, either technically or creatively and this is a powerhouse of a book hiding in a small space.

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