Archive for category Subject: Techniques

Turner’s Apprentice: a watercolour masterclass || Tony Smibert

The basic thesis of this is a sound one. Tony Smibert is a Visiting Art Researcher at Tate Britain as well as a trained art teacher. He is therefore well placed to conduct the nearest thing you’ll get to a masterclass with one of Britain’s greatest painters.

The question, though, is do you want to? What?, you ask. How can he even suggest that’s not a good thing? Well, Turner had such an individual style that emulating it is always going to look like imitation, and probably second best at that. Would it perhaps be better to study the Norwich School or the Twentieth Century tradition from Edward Seago onwards?

Well, the thing about Turner is that he taught us a huge amount about light and colour and was innovative not just in his day but, arguably, in the history of art. He was, you could posit, an impressionist before the Impressionists and one of the first to move art away from a very classical tradition that was getting just a little too rule-bound. It’s not just his paintings that merit further study, but his notebooks too, and there aren’t many artists you can say that about. No, you can’t: Turner’s notebooks contain a wealth of experimentation that led to some of his masterpieces.

So, having established that to sit at his feet is something worthwhile, what’s the experience like? Well, Tony is adept at deconstructing not just Turner’s paintings, but his methods of working. This is not an atelier process, where you stand in front of the great canvases and copy them, but rather of understanding and applying the methods that created them.

The book concludes with a chapter devoted to Tony’s own paintings – not just a gallery, they’re properly analysed. In these, you can clearly see Turner’s influence, but also the fact that the results are entirely original. It’s not at all a bad way of demonstrating what you should be aiming for – a deeper understanding of your own work, not that of someone else.


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Painting and Reinterpreting the Masters || Sara Lee Roberts

This isn’t a bad idea at all. Back in the day, students learnt painting by the Atelier method, working in the studio of a master. They’d start by grinding and then mixing colour, progress to preparing canvases and then to laying grounds. Eventually, they might also paint backgrounds for less prestigious commissions – or maybe even the whole work – giving rise to the term “school of”, where the master’s brush might never have touched the canvas.

This is an artistic form of apprenticeship and it taught not just the practicalities of painting, but also those of running a studio and working with clients. If the student wasn’t particularly imaginative, it could lead to what amounted to Master II – simply emulations of what someone had already done. The best students, however, went on the develop their own style and so art progressed through the centuries.

We don’t have apprenticeships these days and they have been replaced by formal schools, books and online tutorials. However, the idea of understanding what happened historically, then taking it up and running with it is no bad thing and that’s what this book attempts to get you to do.

The danger, as it always was, is that you’ll simply end up copying, but that’s up to you. In any case, you may well find that it’s the best starting point, but do please try not to paint a modern Goya.

There’s plenty to get your teeth into here, both from the analytical and productive point of view, but it’s worth noting that the process of the reconstructions that Sara demonstrates are covered in only three or four stages and a page or so – these are not lengthy projects and much of the work will be done on your own.

This is a worthy volume that fulfils its brief well and repays – indeed requires – considerable study. The only complaint I have with it is that the reproduction is somewhat flat and lacking in detail. This is a shame as it’s a rather important part of the whole process.

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Mastering The Art of Drawing || Ian Sidaway & Sarah Hoggett

Although this isn’t a new book, I haven’t reviewed it before and it remains an excellent introduction to and overview of the medium. Books of this type are often aimed at people who buy books for someone else “because I know you like art”. This, however, is one you might well choose for yourself.

It’s big USP is its thorough coverage of materials as diverse as pen & ink, pastel, charcoal and pencil in all their forms. At the book’s heart are 25 fully demonstrated projects that are thoroughly illustrated and explained – it’s relatively unusual to find an introductory explanation that explains why you’re doing this particular subject and what you’re expecting to learn. In terms of taking the reader seriously, it really doesn’t get any better than this.

You’ll be expecting me to say that subjects range from landscapes and seascapes to still lifes, figures and buildings and I won’t disappoint you. The variety is as it should be and the illustrations admirably clear.

If you want an introductory course in drawing, you can’t do much better. However, if you’re already reasonably competent and just want to immerse yourself in all the possibilities, this is for you as well.

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Charcoal || Richard Rochester

GMC’s occasional series of simple introductions to individual media lands on one that’s rarely covered on its own. Even as part of a more general survey of drawing media, charcoal often only gets a passing mention.

Why this is, is hard to say. True, it can be messy. True also, it can look a mess in unskilled hands. Pure black that can’t be easily diluted into a tone is tricky to master. It requires a lot of leavening with a light touch and generous use of the background support or additional materials. Keeping to the spirit of the single medium approach, Richard uses “white charcoal” which, while technically not that substance, nevertheless behaves like it.

The book is based around a series of demonstrations that cover a good range of subjects from still lifes to wildlife, figures, landscapes and seascapes. Each one requires a different technical approach and this is where you’ll learn the more detailed skills. As well as traditional sticks, Richard also works with compressed charcoal and charcoal pencils.

Even if you don’t think, at the end of it, that you’d want to work in charcoal on its own, you’ll nevertheless be impressed and surprised by its versatility and be ready – eager even – to incorporate it in your drawing armoury.

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A Beginner’s Guide to Watercolour With Mixed Media || Alison C Board

Mixed media is all too often an excuse for playing with technique to no specific end. Alternatively, it’s a footnote in a book about another medium – “you can always add a bit of gouache to create highlights” or “how about rolling up some cling film and seeing what happens?”

Alison has made something of a career out of working with a huge variety of techniques and media and her armoury is huge. So huge, in fact, that if she wasn’t absolutely on top of it, this would be the messiest book ever, both in terms of results and organisation. She is, however, absolutely confident with her methods and this is a masterpiece.

Its main merit is that it isn’t a technical book at all. Or, rather, it’s absolutely about technique, but only for creative ends. You don’t put paint on paper to cover up the surface, you do it to create an image that satisfies both you and the viewer. You might want to convey the tranquillity of a rolling landscape, or the play of light and colour in a flower or plant, but the point is that it’s all about the end result, not how you got there. A chef creates a dish that delights the diner and, if another chef admires the method of cooking, that’s just a sideshow.

So, buckle up and prepare to be astounded. The projects here include flowers, landscapes, people and animals. Materials include both wet and dry media as well as accessories such as hessian, bubble wrap and even chicken wire to create texture. All these things you’d expect, but look at the results – they don’t scream “clever” at you, they invite you to study the inner character of the subject. Less is more, the invisible is the first thing you see. Oh, and by the way, the figure demonstration is of a dancer: the sense of movement Alison (a trained ballet teacher) gets into a static pose will just take your breath away.

If you haven’t already gathered that I’m calling this the best book ever on mixed media, well, I am.

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The Addictive Sketcher || Adebanji Alade

Sketching is the artist’s secret weapon. Often less intrusive than a camera, it also allows a degree of interpretation and note-taking that isn’t available to the photographer. Sometimes a quick image can be an end in itself, at others it’s the basis for a more considered work completed in the studio. The trick is to learn to see and to look, to be completely at home with your materials and to know exactly which details are important. All that comes with practice, so practise you must.

Adebanji Alade is, as the title suggests, a compulsive sketcher. In the introduction, he tells us how he learnt sketching from a battered copy of Alwyn Crawshaw’s Learn to Sketch, a slim volume that, while an excellent introduction, was hardly a full course in drawing. To learn this way requires not a little inherent skill, but Adebanji is too modest to say that. What he does tell us, though, is that, having discovered sketching, he fell in love with it. He also tells us that he loves God. This isn’t an essential part of the narrative, and he doesn’t pursue it, but what is important about it is that it tells us about him. He loves sketching and he loves God, so should we be surprised that he clearly loves his audience too? This isn’t a book that preaches, but rather one that explains. What leaps from every page is the sense of joy Adebanji feels when he out with paper and pencils. It’s infectious and I defy anyone not to want to get out there with him (probably in person, too).

This wouldn’t be an instructional book without instruction and that’s here in plenty, but it all comes from example. There are people, buildings, interiors and open spaces as well as seasons, light and weather. A huge variety of techniques are covered, but always in context and always leading to a worthwhile result – never a series of marks made for their own sake. There’s also handy advice on the etiquette of sketching – ask permission if necessary, thank people who comment on your work, be polite and, above all, stop if asked. If this is a book filled with love, it’s also one lacking in any kind of disrespect.

Adebanji immerses himself in sketching and this is a book that’s itself immersive. It’s also a joy, both tho read and to look at. “Once you catch the vision, you will never remain the same; you will spread the gospel of addictive sketching wherever you go, for the rest of your creative journey.” Couldn’t have put it better myself.

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Paint Pouring Workshop || Marcy Ferro

Paint pouring is The Latest Thing. How long it will continue to be popular, I wouldn’t like to say, but the results are striking if, perhaps, somewhat similar once you’ve got the basic principle. The effect is a cross between marbling and super-abstraction – I was reminded of the abstract books that were popular a few years ago.

Any new technique is about experimentation and there can be a lot of fun – and a lot to learn – in finding out about it. Familiarity is left far behind and new avenues and possibilities open up as rules and certainties vanish. Yes, it most precisely is a voyage of discovery.

In some ways, you might think that this is something you can more or less pick up for yourself and there’s a degree of truth in that. However, as with most things, a few hints and guidelines will save a degree of wasted time and materials – and maybe even a degree of mess!

There’s a good amount of information here, and plenty that’ll be of use to the beginner, which is pretty much everyone. There are also projects, although whether this is a field where you want to re-create someone else’s images only you can decide.

If this is something you think might be for you, this is not a bad way in.

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