Archive for category Subject: Townscapes

DVD Watercolour Fast and Free || John Hoar

Watching John Hoar paint is fascinating. Most artists start with the sky and/or a wash and it’s not that John never does. However, he does a great deal of structural work at the beginning so that the final image coalesces in the last third or so of the demonstration. It’s a bit like learning a language by starting with the grammar and then hanging the vocabulary on it. Yes, it can be done, but it’s a very academic exercise and you don’t really get to say anything for ages. When you do though, it’s perfectly formed. And that’s the way it is with a John Hoar painting. “Paintings are made up of shapes rather than lines”, as he puts it.

Well, that’s all pretty dull then, isn’t it? No, and the reason is that, instead of spending the demonstration describing what he’s doing (and what you can see perfectly well for yourself), John tends to talk about the creative process itself. This makes the film a bit like the Patrick George DVD I reviewed a while back, but with demonstrations. If you want to learn the mechanics of painting, then this is maybe not for you. If you want to follow the process of creating an image from what’s in front of you, it’s pretty much riveting. John is by no means a slavish representer and his simplification of the complex shapes and structure of Ely Cathedral (the film consists of four demonstrations around the town) is a masterclass.

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DVD: Charles Reid’s English Watercolour Sketchbook || Charles Reid

I realised as I was preparing for this review that the way I work – making notes, picking up quotes, starting ideas that I may develop later, is very much the way Charles paints. He’s immensely quotable: “The way I paint is more intuitive, it’s what intrigues me, I see things happening, I don’t have a plan.” Even my (even to me) almost illegible scribbles are a bit like some of the marks Charles makes. He always starts with a pencil sketch that defines shapes, determines proportions and puts the elements of the composition into place – “It’s very import to connect adjacent areas.”

The thing is that, because he’s not working to a prepared plan, and everything emerges organically, the film becomes more of an entertainment than a lesson. I don’t mean that it’s trivial, far from it; rather, you sit waiting for the pearls of wisdom to come, which they do almost as a stream of consciousness (“You can’t soften edges if your paint’s too watery”). At the same time, you’re on the edge of your seat because, if he doesn’t know exactly how the picture is going to turn out, neither do you. There are plot twists to come.

To begin at the end, the final demonstration of the four here is a complex scene at Stow on the Wold (they’re all in the Cotswolds). The main element is a hotel, but there’s a lot of detail in the roof and there are parasols outside and trees in the foreground. There is also a river and a bridge and constantly–passing figures that Charles works in generically. There’s a lot going on and a lot of manipulation of the image so that it becomes coherent and reflects the scene without also being incomprehensible.

Charles’s pencil drawings define the outlines and the shape of the image, but also include small details that don’t immediately appear to have a purpose. Just as I make notes while I’m watching, picking up on points I want to remember or develop, so he puts in small marks that guide the shapes later. At this stage, there’s still very little detail and no attempt to start giving substance to the picture. That comes later with the colour. “It’s all about shapes and colours” is something he said in his very first film, about flowers. I’ve always been amazed by the sheer looseness of the way Charles works and admire the way he can describe a subject in what seem to be just a few splashes of colour. Watching him here, I’m beginning to get an idea of how this works. The pencil sketch provides the form – a bit like the armature of a sculpture – and the colour provides the body, the depth, the shading and the shadows. He remarks at one point that he rarely mixes colour on the palette (“I don’t mix it all into greys”), preferring to do it on the paper. In the first demonstration, at Arlington Mill in Bibury, it’s worth taking a look at just how much colour he introduces into what at first appears to be a grey slab of a building. It’s not there to be colourful, though it can be that, but to give form and character.

I could go on, but I don’t think I need to sell this film too heavily. Charles is an immensely popular teacher and it’s easy to see why. It’s also nice to see him painting in surroundings that are more familiar to a British audience.

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Collage, Colour & Texture In Painting || Mike Bernard

Mike Bernard’s style is unique and in this, his first book, he shows how he builds up images, starting with a paper collage and then working up the shapes and textures using acrylic paint, inks and other materials. The results are a stunning meeting of the abstract and the representational, with recognisable scenes that are nevertheless constructed from geometric shapes and strong colours that add an artist’s commentary to the finished work.

It’s important to look at the title of the book in full, because this is by no means something about collage itself as the technique is only part of the final result and both the book, and Mike’s style, are about using a number of different tools and techniques in painting.

There’s no doubt that this is a style of working that’s so individual that you’d never want to emulate it completely, but Mike offers many valuable insights into the way he works that you can use to stimulate your own creativity and provide jumping-off points to get yourself started in a wealth of new directions.

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