Archive for category Subject: Techniques

Oil/Pastel Painting Step-by-Step

Search Press have re-reissued these compilations of their Leisure Arts series of short books, originating form 1999-2004. Age is not necessarily a barrier to usefulness and these were always sound guides that offered simple advice clearly presented.

The problem with older books, though, can be that the quality of reproduction doesn’t compare well with what can be achieved today. However, there are no problems here – whether a particularly good job was done in the first place, or there has been some re-originating, I can’t say, but there are no complaints on that score. The results are therefore stonkingly good value at under a tenner each.

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The 15-Minute Artist || Catherine V Holmes

Can you? Really? Should you? I’m no fan of the art-if-you-have-no-time school of book, which this proclaims itself to be. On the other hand, something that teaches you to get an image down quickly, without fiddling, while the idea is fresh in your mind and before it gets up and goes off for its lunch, I don’t have a problem with that.

So, let’s pretend, for all its protestation, that this is one of the latter. The idea of reducing the steps of drawing a wide range of subjects to a few simple stages can be liberating and enlightening, although it can also frustrate if the step reduction is achieved simply by leaving a lot out. Although there’s a tendency to do that here, the steps that are included do actually progress nicely and I don’t think you’d be too bothered by having to make giant leaps completely on your own.

The subjects chosen are, frankly, a bit weird. There’s a lightbulb, a paintbrush, a serpent and an ant. Yeah, me too, though there are also some animals and birds and what you get taught does handle what are often complex shapes rather well. The author’s style is a bit flat and unadventurous, but that also makes the book easy to follow and is, I think, one of the reasons the truncated demonstrations are easy to follow – neither of you is trying to do too much at once.

I can’t honestly say this is a must-have book but, if you want an introduction that doesn’t ask you to spend hours on a single drawing and doesn’t tax your skills too much too early, it could be quite useful.

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Pastels for the Absolute Beginner || Rebecca de Mendonça

The idea of an Absolute Beginner series is a good one. Anyone taking up painting, or starting with a new medium needs a sound guide that is well-grounded in the basics and assumes no previous knowledge. Previous volumes have taken that very much to heart and included some very basic work that doesn’t tax the creative or technical endeavours too heavily.

This is a bit different and, although there’s a sound introduction to materials and techniques, I can’t help feeling it fits better with Search Press’s surveys of the Cinderella media (gouache and oil pastels, for instance). This is by no means a criticism and indeed, if you were looking for a complete guide to pastel – while it’s maybe not a completely Cinderella medium, it’s certainly a lot less published than some – this could well be it.

The book is certainly thorough. Subjects include landscapes, waterscapes, people and animals, with skies, trees and waves thrown in along the way. Rebecca is primarily a portrait and equestrian artist and this shows – these are easily her strongest subjects. However, she is thoroughly at home with her medium and handles everything well. Her demonstrations and explanations are concise, but easy to follow. They will, I think, be of value to anyone – at whatever level – working with pastel.

If you’re a complete beginner, I perhaps wouldn’t make this your very first book. The comprehensive nature of its coverage might put you off. I’d probably start with the compilation Pastel Painting Step-by-Step that Search Press are handily republishing in February 2020. However, once you’ve mastered the basics, you may well find that this one will take you as far as you want to go. If you’re already a practitioner with some experience, it could be the only book you’ll ever need.

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Painting Mood & Atmosphere in Watercolour || Barry Herniman

This is an enlarged reissue of a book which first appeared in 2004. I don’t have a copy of the original to hand, so how much new material there is, and what it is, I am unable to say. I don’t however, remember it being quite this vibrant in terms of colour, so I suspect that, as well as everything else, there may have been a degree of re-origination. The only tiny fly in the ointment is that some of the illustrations aren’t quite as sharp as modern standards allow, so you may have to forgive that, if you notice it – it’s not a major problem, but one inevitably gets used to being able to analyse things like brushwork in quite minute detail.

Subject-wise, the book is mainly land and waterscapes plus a few buildings, which is about right for the topic in question. There are plenty of skies, from looming and overcast to vivid sunsets (though I do wonder whether the vividness I referred to earlier has been achieved by dialling up the red and yellow in the printing process – the book has a very orange feel to it).

Whatever these reservations, this is an excellent look at getting a sense of place into your work and Barry’s water, in particular, has that elusive sense of solidity that suggests volume and movement.

There are five full projects as well as explanations and analyses – the style of the book pre-dates the breakout hints and tips that pepper modern volumes and the text is longer than we’re perhaps used to now. If you shout “hurrah”, make a beeline for your bookshop. If you’re not sure, you may be surprised by how well a more in-depth look works and how a more relaxed pace can induce understanding.

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Colour-Pencil Drawing || Kendra Ferreira

In a field that’s not widely covered, any book is welcome, and a good one doubly so. It’s therefore something of a relief to be able to report that this ticks all the boxes.

This media-related series from GMC is intended to be fairly elementary, but the variety of subjects covered here and the quality of the results – well-reproduced so that the individual marks are easy to distinguish – should satisfy more than just the raw beginner.

The nature of the book, both in terms of scope and extent, precludes any examination of anything other than fairly basic pencil types, but both dry and water-soluble ones get a look-in, which allows for a decent variety of styles to be considered. Subjects range from landscapes and skies to still lifes, people and animals. There are plenty of exercises and demonstrations as well as a pleasantly inclusive look at materials and techniques.

Although this is not intended to be an absolutely comprehensive look at the medium that would satisfy the most demanding specialist, it nevertheless goes a lot further than being merely a quick introductory guide and is a welcome addition to a fairly small body of literature.

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Watercolour With Love || Lena Yokotha-Barth

This is a strange book, which I suspect you’ll either love or hate. The subtitle describes it as “50 modern motifs to paint in 5 easy steps” and it does have the feeling of icons or emojis. There’s no great technical subtlety and the colour tends to work in blocks producing, it has to be said, often attractive and different images.

The various projects, which include a watermelon, ice cream cone, toucan and orange, are the end result in themselves. This is not a book about watercolour technique, but really one of design. If you want simple images to decorate your home that you can say you’ve created yourself, this is a slam-dunk.

I’m trying not to damn it with faint praise, but I think the market I normally write for isn’t the one this is addressing. Within the confines of what it is, my reservation is that there are no instructions beyond the very basic and, if you want to know how to create shading using a wash, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Given that its average buyer probably isn’t at all experienced in the medium, I think that could be quite a drawback.

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Watercolour Painting Step-by-Step || Jackie Barrass, Richard Bolton, Ray Campbell Smith, Frank Halliday, William Newton, Wendy Tait, Bryan A Thatcher

This is a reissue of an earlier compilation, which I was convinced I had reviewed before, but don’t seem to have. It originated as a bind-up of Search press’s Leisure Arts series and makes available lessons from what was a very serviceable series from quite a long time ago.

Although I had reservations about the reproduction in its acrylic counterpart, and some of it here isn’t quite up to modern standards, it’s not too bad and not quite the stumbling block I found it in the other volume. At a shade under £10, it’s enormously good value and I think you could overlook any shortcomings simply in favour of the wealth and variety of material you get for your money.

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Painting Masterclass || Susie Hodge

At first sight, this has the appearance of another of Susie Hodge’s excellent analyses of the painting methods of historical masters. The format and binding are even the same as her Art in Detail series.

This is not entirely surprising, as that’s exactly what it is. However, the book is more specifically geared to the practical reader and uses what we’ll call great works to analyse a wide variety of topics. Call it learning by example, the descriptive rather than the prescriptive method.

The word Masterclass is bandied about rather indiscriminately in the book world and is frequently applied to anything the publisher thinks isn’t obviously introductory or for the beginner. Sometimes, my inner cynic mutters that they just want a title that appeals to the more experienced artist, who perhaps hasn’t been buying enough of their books lately. Well hush my mouth – a bit.

Here, though the word is entirely justified (and you might want to add that, if anyone isn’t going to misuse it, that person would be Susie Hodge). This is most precisely a masterclass. The teachers are masters and the class is absolutely for the experienced worker. There are no instructions – you won’t be following any exercises or demonstrations here. What you will be doing is learning how Georges Seurat used form and colour, how shapes work in Manet’s Déjuner sur l’Herbe (actually, Anglicised titles are used throughout) or light breathes atmosphere into a Fantin-Latour still life.

Susie is, as ever, concise and cogent in her analyses and the book works almost as well as an introduction to art appreciation, meaning you could say you’re getting twice the value which, given the quality and quantity of the illustrations, would make it an absolute steal.

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Drawing: a complete guide || Stephen C P Gardner

This very thorough book really does live up to its title. The range of styles and subjects covered and the progression of the chapters provides a complete course. As a professor and administrator, Stephen Gardner has not only personal teaching experience, but also the opportunity to watch others at work and learn from their methods and (perhaps) mis-steps. It’s also worth saying that the very soft binding means that the book (it’s a substantial paperback) falls open easily and doesn’t have to be manhandled if you have both hands occupied trying to follow the exercises. Small things like that can make a big difference and, if that much thought has gone into the detail, the substance is likely to be good as well.

This isn’t, as you may have gathered, a book to dip into, try a few things and then zone out. The organisation, which is clear and structured, does mean that you can concentrate on one topic – mark-making, line, form, values, shape etc – at a time, but do expect a chapter to occupy most of a day, or maybe even a week, allowing for practice, studio exercises and a bit of revision.

Substantial in every way, this is essential reading for anyone who’s serious about drawing.

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Artist Toolbox: Tools & Materials/Surfaces & Supports

This handy little series offers a lot more than appears at first sight. You would be forgiven for thinking that it was something aimed at the complete beginner and maybe even for the buying-it-for-someone-else market.

Although it is both of these – if you know someone who’s expressed an interest in art, these are a good starting point – there’s also information that will provide a handy resumé for the more experienced worker. The contents are much more than just a list of what’s available with the sort of description that leaves you muttering, “well, I could have worked that out for myself”.

What separates these books from the crowd is the amount of information (packed into a very small space) about what to do with the equipment you’ve just bought. Oils, watercolours, acrylics and ink are there, of course, but also glass, plastic and even stone. Technical information runs to shading, perspective and composition as well as the more expected methods of application. Within that limited space, don’t expect a full-on course, but do be amazed by the amount of depth achieved in only a page or two.

These are genuinely useful books that have been well thought out and are very much more than just the shelf-fillers that this sort of thing so often is.

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