Archive for category Subject: Techniques

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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Light and Shade in Watercolour || Hazel Soan

Hazel Soan’s work is all about light and shade and this is the book she was always destined to write. If it seems like a long time coming, think of her previous output as the rehearsal that makes sure this is absolutely right. And absolutely right it is, a genuine tour de force that takes in light and dark, the white of the paper, contrasting and complementary colours and the use of simple shapes that say far more about a subject than any amount of fine detail. Look at any of the images here in depth and it becomes apparent just how much Hazel leaves out, relying instead on the viewer’s eye to fill the blanks and create the emotional response that defines a successful painting.

The book covers animals, figures, flowers, landscapes, buildings and townscapes, all in a variety of lighting effects that Hazel will show you how to capture. There are no step-by-step demonstrations, but neither is this a dry read; most of the text is confined to short paragraphs. Like the images themselves, these are stripped back to the bare essentials while, at the same time conveying all the information you need. Where necessary, extended captions explain what you’re looking at and for and there’s an extraordinary sense of working alongside a consummate artist, rather than simply being set homework to present later.

Hazel is a rightly popular author and demonstrator and this is easily her best book yet.

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Five-Minute Watercolour || Samantha Nielsen

This is not – praise be – a book about painting for those who are too busy to paint. I’ve ranted about that elsewhere: art is something that takes time and deserves to have time taken.

No, this is far better. It’s about working quickly and grabbing the idea before it fades and then not over-working it so that the soul of the subject and the painting are lost. It’s not a particularly new idea and you could call it sketching, except that it’s more than that because it’s more than a notebook. This is about seeing, interpreting and distilling.

There’s a wealth of ideas, subjects and techniques here and plenty to pick up and run with. The illustrations are attractive (essential given what’s being presented) and, although Samantha analyses them, they’re not demonstrations and you’re not intended to copy them. You should instead go out and find your own ideas, but what’s here will give you plenty of inspiration and jumping-off points.

There are plenty of books like this and they usually end up with a qualification – yes, but … it only goes so far. Not so here. It’s a rather joyful book and provides a wealth of encouragement.

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Acrylics || Adrian Burrows

This is a further instalment in GMC’s series of media guides for the complete beginner. Slim and uncomplicated, these introduce basic techniques in a straightforward manner and include lessons, exercises and demonstrations that will guide even the most tentative through the processes required.

There isn’t a lot more to say than that. Adrian Burrows’ style is readily accessible and he includes a good variety of subjects and techniques. That he mostly works in the oil rather than the watercolour/wash style is no bad thing as it reduces complication and confusion. These are not intended to be exhaustive guides, and certainly not masterclasses – there are plenty of books that offer further study if you decide that the medium is for you and you want to take it further.

As a starting point, this is hard to better.

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Matthew Palmer’s Step-by-Step Guide to Watercolour Painting

There is always room for a good solid introduction to any subject, and this is one of the best on watercolour.

Just picking it up gives an immediate and encouragingly meaty feel. It’s substantial at 144 pages and, with the added outlines in the middle, really quite heavy. Physical feel, of course, means nothing if the content is lightweight and it’s good to know that there’s plenty here to get your teeth into. We open with a good discussion of materials that will aid the tyro though the maze of what’s available before moving on to a look at inspiration. This is the basic “what am I going to paint and where am I going to find it”, but the language used is serious and assumes that the reader is too. It’s nice to see at this level and this early in the book. Again, it inspires and engenders confidence.

After a look at basic techniques and how to use colour, the first exercise appears as early as page 38. Art is a visual medium and there’s nothing worse than having to wade through acres of talk before you get to work. You want to paint, you bought all those materials so come on, let’s get down to it – and we do. Nothing too taxing: it’s a very basic scene of some hills with a simple foreground and a graduated sky. Follow the six stages, each with its own series of steps and you’d be hard put to it to get it wrong. Look, your first painting, on day one. Way to go!

The rest of the book introduces more subjects, techniques and complexity. It’s beautifully structured, thoroughly explained and very easy to follow. And, in case you get stuck, there are the aforesaid tracings that help you get the basic sketch right. Build on solid foundations and the structure will stand.

I really don’t think you could better this.

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