Archive for category Subject: Townscapes

DVD Planning Your Painting || Joseph Zbukvic

This is a film about looking, seeing and refining. It’s less about the mechanics of painting and Joseph spends quite a lot of time walking around Rome in search of subjects, rejecting the obvious, the pretty and the main tourist sites – “Don’t start just because it’s beautiful”, he says.

He begins with a short lesson in the basic shapes of composition and shows how these guide the viewer in and balance the elements of the picture. This leads on to a watercolour sketch in a quiet back street that demonstrates the use of shapes and tones: “I don’t think about colour, I just think about tone … warm, cool”.

Rome is a busy, bustling city and Joseph is at pains to show you how to find and isolate a subject in the middle of crowds and confusion. He is looking all the time for shapes and edges and the time spent not painting in this film contains some of the most important lessons. He is insistent about understanding and absorbing a place in order to commit it to memory: a photograph takes a moment and isn’t a real memory, he explains. Joseph is also insistent on the importance of working and sketching all the time: “Not matter how good you are, you should practise your craft”, he reminds us. The result of this is that he is able to produce pencil sketches quickly and accurately, although he also emphasises the importance of not getting bogged down in detail and accuracy: “Just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you have to put it in” is perhaps the most sound piece of advice in the whole film. Details can overwhelm both the composition and the viewer.

This film comes from a different perspective to many, but Joseph is an astute observer and an excellent communicator and his message: observe, practise, simplify comes across loud and clear.

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Dare to Sketch || Felix Scheinberger

Felix Scheinberger has appeared here before, talking about urban sketching. This book, to be honest, is little different. The title suggests a wider view, but the previous book covered the inhabitants as well as the city and the catch-all concept is broadly similar here.

The drawing style is quick, rough and cartoon-like. The people are caricatures rather than likenesses, although they also stand for types that can be seen on every street. This is not, it should be said, a record, but rather an impression – perhaps a soundscape – of the rush, bustle and noise of city life. Felix does not stray far from the centre and there are no landscapes here. Yes, there are animals, but they’re mostly street-dwellers too.

The title and subtitle (a guide to drawing on the go) tell you the philosophy behind the book – use your sketchbook as a kind of life-log (remember them?) and draw everything you see. Don’t make a record, put down how it felt to you. This is a valid approach and encourages observation and fast working. How you use it beyond that, though, is very much up to you; for Felix it seems to be more or less an end in itself.

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DVD My Chinese Vision || Herman Pekel

In my review of Herman’s previous film with APV, I described him as a magician. To that, I think I’ll add alchemist. Although this is filmed in China, the city street and beach scenes could be almost anywhere, although a session around (newly built) traditional architecture does give more sense of place. All the sessions are dogged by heat, humidity and a dense haze (which might be smog). It’s clear that working in these conditions is hard labour and Herman does well to keep going and produce what can really only be described as pure gold from base metal.

What makes the film watchable, indeed compelling, is Herman himself. His commentary is continuous – few other artists can manage to work and talk at the same time as well as he does – and includes nuggets of wisdom you’ll want to write down. In the city, where buildings, street furniture and signs abound, he remarks, “The more complex a subject is, the more I tend to use just drybrush”. This combines with advice to “Let the water, pigment and paper do the work for you” to demonstrate ways of simplifying not just the subject, but your technique. He adds later, “You must have a vision, you must see the painting finished before you start.”

The scenes Herman chooses are unpromising and the haze makes things more difficult as details are obscured and distances barely visible. His ability to focus on a small area and to manipulate it into an effective composition is the alchemy I referred to earlier. He also has sound advice, especially in the conditions, to do 90% of the work on location, but to leave the remainder for later (on this occasion in the comfort of an air-conditioned hotel room) when you have had a chance to rethink. Here, outlines are tightened up and further details added that pull everything together.

I’m not sure how much of a flavour of China this presents, apart from the heat and the crowds, and it would be unreasonable to suggest that it was something to look at from that point of view. However, as a lesson on painting in unpromising conditions, and on working on location with watercolour, it’s utterly gripping.

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Ready to Paint in 30 Minutes – street scenes, flowers

There was much to like about the old Ready to Paint series. The pre-drawn outlines and extended demonstrations made light work of a wide variety of subjects.

This new departure is more than just a re-vamp or extension of the original idea. In place of the complete paintings, there are thirty-odd smaller exercises that concentrate on a particular element of the subject, or a technique in the medium. Being A6, they can be completed in the field if you want, and using a pocketable watercolour pad (the series is all watercolour so far). The finale is 3 full-size (A4) paintings that bring everything together – the full orchestral run-though, as it were.

The approach is nicely progressive and these first two volumes cover subjects (street scenes and flowers) that benefit from the breakdown approach. Two more are in the pipeline for next year . There’s a pleasantly solid feel to the books and plenty of technical sections, hints, tips and generous instruction in the step-by-steps.

The original series went a long way and this deserves to as well.

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Painting Urban and Cityscapes || Hashim Akib

Time was, you couldn’t shift books on townscapes for love nor money. Now, we seem to be drowning in them. I’m not sure what has caused the shift; there’s been no great move to cities, no evidence that we’ve suddenly fallen in love with them, no explosion of interest in art (that I’ve detected) among the urban population. The fact is, though, that drawing and sketching in towns has gained popularity quite suddenly and there have been some fascinating books as a result.

This volume is slightly different, in that it concentrates on painting, a slower and more considered process than a few minutes spent with a sketchbook and some pencils. It does, however, retain the same vibrancy that the sketching books labour to maintain. Hashim Akib’s style absolutely lends itself to the subject and his work is permeated by a sense of movement and colour that suits street scenes.

Hashim considers all the aspects of city working, from techniques to composition, perspective and weather. The presentation of the book is as a discussion rather than a series of demonstrations and it’s definitely something to read at leisure rather than work through. There are plenty of illustrations and explanations that will give you ideas as well as clarify the points being made. The medium is largely acrylic, used in impasto, and it is these blocks of colour that mainly give the results the life they exude.

The book sparkles with the confidence of an author who’s on comfortable home ground, making it one of the most worthwhile of these guides around.

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DVD A Simple Approach in Oils || Roger Dellar

Simplicity is a complicated thing. It takes a lot of skill and experience to learn how to extract the essence of a scene without fiddling, over-working and getting bogged down in unnecessary detail. In the five paintings demonstrated here, Roger works from a basic blocking-out of shapes, a carefully selected palette that reflects the dominant colours and an economy of brushstrokes. His remark, “I’m lazy; I only use a few brushes” is disingenuous – there’s nothing lazy about it and, although he’s not one of those painters who thinks hard before making every mark, each one is deliberately placed. There’s no random working, placing and re-placing. It’s fascinating to see how he works from the general to the specific, with details at first scratched into shapes and blocks before being delineated with colour some time later.

Of the five scenes, three involve water – the other two are in the centres of Chichester and Midhurst. The common factor is that there’s a lot going on – different craft on the water, details, people coming and going or a jumble of buildings. A literal approach, where everything is recorded, would be indigestible, but Roger’s way of building up manages to leave nothing out while at the same time omitting all extraneous matter. That’s what I meant by the complication of simplicity: it’s not just about developing an eye for a picture, but about the means of putting it down on canvas.

It’s also worth noting the palette exposition that starts the film. These are usually a matter of “this is my palette, I put these colours on it”. Roger’s is much more, because he works with such a limited range and he explains here and throughout the film how these are chosen to reflect the scene in front of him. His idea of having two sections of white, one for warm and one for cool colours is a neat one, too. Palette explanations are rarely of more than passing interest, but this is riveting.

After I watched this film, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say about it. I left it overnight. “It has to mature”, I said, and it has. Roger doesn’t instruct, he just explains what he’s doing, so extracting the information is like brewing coffee – it can’t be hurried. I find I have a surprisingly clear memory of almost the whole film and that’s a measure of good explanation – simplicity always leads to comprehension.

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Quick & Lively Urban Sketching || Klaus Meier-Pauken

This relatively short (64 page) book knocks off its subject with commendable alacrity and elan, as is entirely appropriate for a sketch. Working in fast-changing environments is more about observation than technique and requires confidence in your ability and materials.

Although the book is structured as a series of lessons, it doesn’t feel like a tutorial and certainly not a demonstration. Klaus explains – and shows you – what to look for, what to include and, above all, how to achieve a record of your scene quickly and efficiently. In a world overrun with smartphones, he addresses the question of “why sketch at all?” head on – the answer being in the cover blurb: it’s “an act of personal expression”. But, as an artist, you didn’t need to be told that.

Urban sketching is very much of the moment and its literature is a crowded market. Nevertheless, this is a worthwhile addition to the canon and one which doesn’t labour the simple point it has to make, which is simplicity.

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