Archive for category Subject: Townscapes

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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Urban Watercolour Sketching || Felix Scheinberger

It used to be that publishing a book on townscapes was the quickest route to a tax loss for over-successful publishers. It was also something that had the hallmarks of a vanity project – look at the popularity of our list, we can do anything! Er, no you can’t.

However, hardly a batch of reviews seems to pass by these days without urban sketching turning up in one form or another and, in these straitened times, I think it’s safe to assume that publishers are looking for everything to be profitable. So, what’s changed? Maybe it’s the perceived glamour of the urban lifestyle, the rise of the metrosexual, the hipster, the cereal café. Whatever it is, there’s some serious and interesting art out there.

As is de rigueur in books of this type, everything is sketched, including the illustrations of materials. The style is loose, rough even, and Felix paints pretty much everything that comes within his purview, so expect buildings, constructions, figures, faces, random ideas, all in a more than slightly cartoon style that’s as vigorous as city life itself. The pages are practically noisy, it’s that street.

If you detect an equivocation here, you’d be right. I’m fascinated by the whole thing, drawn in and yet also slightly repelled by its grossness. I’m not a city dweller, but I have the need for the occasional fix and I get the same rush from these pages as I do from a day in the big smoke. It’s all a bit of a ragbag, bright, loud, confusing and yet also heady. If you’re a city dwelling artist, I think you’d probably love it.

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Sketching People || Lynne Chapman

Urban sketching is very much de nos jours and this vibrant and varied book is a worthy contribution to the literature. It also fits into what seems to be the accepted style of the genre, with quick, busy drawings that attempt to capture the look and the moment rather than create an idealised image or record every detail. As well as the illustrations themselves, the pages are also busy and reflect, I assume deliberately, the noise and bustle of a city street. If I were to suggest that the best place to read this would be a gluten-free organic porridge café, you’d detect my wry smile, wouldn’t you?

Although I’m the last person you’d find in such an establishment (give me a Maccy D’s every time!), I’ll admit to enjoying the books the style produces. I’m not a city boy, so I don’t get worn down by the noise, the rush and the crush on my occasional visits from my rural fastness. Rather, I find it all rather exciting and look on a book like this as the best of all worlds – quiet, relaxing atmosphere at home, but with a window onto a rather thrilling environment. Maybe you feel the same about books on landscape painting?

OK, so I’ve told you nothing about what’s in this book and I’m not going to. If you know the style, it won’t surprise you at all and, anyway, I want to sell you the sizzle, not the sausage.

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