Archive for category Subject: Techniques

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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Acrylic Painting Step-by-Step || Wendy Jelbert, Carole Massey, David Hyde

A reissue of an earlier compilation. You can read the original review here. There doesn’t appear to be any re-origination and the image quality isn’t really up to modern standards, however.

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The Two-Pencil Method || Mark Crilley

The title tells you what this book is likely to be about, and the subtitle confirms the bold claim: “the revolutionary approach to drawing it all”. No holding back, then.

The claim should be easy to verify – open the book at any point and … are the results any good? A bit more flicking through confirms that, oh my goodness, they are. Not only can Mark draw, but confining himself to one graphite and one black coloured pencil isn’t going to hold him back. A short discussion of materials leads on to basic mark-making and you’ll want to read this because this level of simplicity absolutely depends on getting the foundations right.

From here, there’s a look at working with simple objects and different types of subject, handily introducing things such as hard and soft edges, shapes, tones and textures. As well as being a revolutionary approach, it also turns out that this is a very nicely graduated course in basic drawing. You like it even more, don’t you?

The final section (roughly half the book) is a series of short demonstrations that are really more like tutorials. These cover just about every subject you’re likely to encounter, by way of landscapes to portraits via animals, water and still lifes.

If you like drawing, this is a stonkingly good survey of working methods tucked inside the aforesaid “revolutionary approach” (that’s really just an excuse for simplifying and clearing out a few cobwebs).

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The Art of Gouache || Jeremy Ford

Gouache is often regarded as the poor relation of “proper” watercolour. Being opaque, it is more forgiving and less challenging, although, for that matter, so are oils and acrylics. It’s not a newcomer to the scene, being the cousin of tempera, which has a long and honourable tradition. Where it mainly suffers is from its schoolroom connotation and memories of that awful (and almost always unmanageable) powdered stuff many of us remember, which also used poor pigments that couldn’t, even by the most fevered imagination, be called “artist quality”.

Properly-constituted, though, gouache can be a thing of beauty and has qualities that set it apart from any other medium. Understand its properties and you can produce images with a strongly graphic content that can take their place alongside the best of anything else.

Just as they did with Oil Pastels, Search Press have set out to rescue a Cinderella medium and, in Jeremy Ford, they’ve found an author who’s prepared not merely to look at the medium, but to champion and challenge it. A substantial book with plenty of illustrations, examples, lessons, exercises and demonstrations, this is as thorough and comprehensive a guide as you could wish for. Jeremy not only discusses materials and techniques, but looks at just about every way gouache can be used, from straightforward representation to poster-style and to images that look almost photographic. Subjects include landscapes, flowers, people and animals and there’s plenty of instruction as well as discussion of what you might want to do and how to tackle it.

There’s a fair chance that any reader will find some parts more to their taste than others but, as I said, this is a very thorough guide, so that’s to be expected. If you want to explore the medium as much as possible, I don’t think you’re going to find many (if any) omissions. For me, gouache is at its best when it’s not pretending to be anything else and moves towards graphic art, even if only slightly. There are some illustrations I can’t help thinking would work better with transparent watercolour, but that’s helpful in itself. If you agree, you’ll be glad Jeremy at least gave it a try.

If you want to learn about gouache, this should keep you satisfied for a very long time.

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Take Three Colours: Watercolour Mountains || Matthew Palmer

The latest instalment in this user-friendly series is a worthy addition to the canon. Matthew Palmer is an intelligent and sympathetic tutor who carries his abilities lightly. There’s nothing too ambitious and he is happy to take a back seat and let the student work at their own pace. There’s no grandstanding or showmanship, just solid, honest instructions and demonstrations that produce solid, worthwhile results.

It’s a Yes from me.

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Painting Expressive Landscapes || Carole Robson

If you’re interested in exploring the outer reaches of the possibilities of watercolour, this is the book for you. If, at the same time, you want to keep things creative and are doing this for something more than just technical curiosity, please form an orderly queue. What’s truly remarkable about Carole’s work is that it’s always the creative dog wagging the technical tail and not, as can so easily happen, the other way round.

This is a book that’s full of ideas and a quick flick through reveals a wealth of illustrations that can’t really fail to capture the interest and have you wanting to learn more. It’s also apparent that there’s plenty of information, as is common these days, in extended captions and concise paragraphs. Printing technology (of which more anon) is such now that any book of this type really should be “show me” and not “tell me”. There’s a wealth of information here and, for once, I’m not going to say “such as” because I think you can assume that, if there’s something you want, you’ll find it. If I’m wrong and something is missing, you’ll probably be too busy with what is here to mind too much. This is busy, colourful, packed with information and thoroughly inspiring and I love it.

Now, about printing technology. The basic method hasn’t changed much since Caxton’s day. You have a printing plate that gets covered with ink and then it’s pressed against a sheet of paper. Start to work in colour and there are four plates. Add a half-tone image and there are dots of different colour on each plate and they’re put together in alignment so that you get a colour picture. As mechanical tolerances get finer, the dots can be smaller and closer together and the image gets sharper. All these things tend to progress gently but, every so often, there’s a larger jump and we’re just had one of those. Look at a book published even ten years ago and the quality looks rough compared to what’s possible today. Most publishers and printers adopt these advances fairly quickly, but not all of the publishers and not all of the advances. Search Press, however, have swallowed the whole goody bag and the quality of what’s coming out of their warehouse now is truly remarkable. I’ve been at this a long time and my father was a printer, so I grew up with the technology, and it has me stunned.

So, anyway, buy this book.

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