Archive for category Subject: Various

Vibrant Oils || Haidee-Jo Summers

This is really rather wonderful. The initial impression, picking it up, is that it’s more than usually substantial and, at 176 pages, it most certainly is. A quick flick through reveals a wealth of illustrations and an enormous variety of subjects. Haidee-Jo’s style is loose, relaxed and colourful and this doesn’t, on the surface, feel like an oil painting book, insofar as those are often rather lofty and worthy. The truth is that it’s not really a medium book at all, but rather a guide to the whole creative process that just happens to use oils as its vehicle. I’d even go so far as to suggest that you could find plenty to get from it even if you never had any intention of working in the medium at all.

Investigate further and the next thing you might notice is that, for all its size, there are only 4 step-by-step projects. This is entirely in keeping with the approach, which is to teach you about the subject, rather than simply to train you to emulate it. In the old analogy, it teaches you to fish and feeds you for life, rather than giving you a fish and feeding you for a day. Subject matter is catholic and includes landscapes, seascapes, still lifes, figures and flowers.

Along the way, Haidee-Jo considers composition, colours, light, cropping, the use of layers, tone and more. Some sections are quite short paragraphs, some are sidebars and others simple hints. Everything is accompanied by an example painting and the explanations are commendably clear.

The publisher is trying to sell this as suitable for all levels of ability. I have my doubts. If you were a complete beginner, I think you might find its comprehensiveness overwhelming. However, if you have some experience, or are new to oils, as opposed to painting, it has a great deal to tell you and won’t disappoint.

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The Essence of Watercolour || Hazel Soan

It’s a measure of the quality of Hazel’s work and, indeed, of the production of this book, that it looks as fresh today as it did when it first appeared in hardback in 2011. You can see what I said about it at the time here.

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Glyn Macey’s World of Acrylics

There’s what amounts to a neologism in the subtitle to this: “How to paint sea, sky, land and life”. That’s right, “life” – not nature, animals or portraits, just life. This is a clue to the style of the book, and to Glyn’s work, which is itself full of vitality, like the man himself. I said quite a lot about this in relation to his first book.

Flick quickly through the pages here and you get the feeling more of a magazine than a book. You’ll see images, features and stand-outs rather than the more usual progression of projects, exercises and demonstrations. Delve further, though, and they’re all there; it’s just that the design brings Glyn’s own dynamism to the pages. I must say I like it and, if this is a new dimension in the layout of books, you can say you saw it here first. That doesn’t mean that I want all future publications to be about appearance rather than content, form rather than function, just that it works here and I think it’s worth following up.

Glyn is a passionate ambassador for his medium – not as an end in itself, but for what it can do – and this is a book that takes paint, brushes and supports by the scruff of their necks and explores their possibilities. Although Glyn is more or less a representational painter, it’s images rather than depictions that are his stock in trade and it’s the colours, tones, shades and brushwork that convey the subject rather than detailed observation. That’s not to say that he doesn’t observe at all: distillations only come from intimate understanding.

So, in sum, this isn’t a book about how to paint, it’s a book about how to paint. In the immortal words of Captain Beefheart: get me? What I mean is that this is a celebration of both painting and of acrylics. It’s about understanding your subject and feeling passionate about painting it. It’s about exploration, not least in the challenges it presents, such as “What next” and “What else could you do” that take each demonstration beyond its normal confines. Every stage is a jumping-off point for something else, every successful exercise a challenge for the next one and the journey is never complete. It’s an exhilarating, thrilling ride and the joy is that there may be no safety net.

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The Watercolor Course You’ve Always Wanted || Leslie Frontz

As if you couldn’t resist the promise of the title, this has the strapline “Guided lessons for beginners and experienced artists”. Wow, something for all the family!

It’s more than a little unfair to make fun of book titles – after all, they only want you to buy the thing and you can’t begrudge them that. This does, however, offer much and it’s only reasonable to ask at the outset: does it live up to its claims?

Well, there’s certainly plenty of variety and Leslie Frontz seems to have no particular preconceptions or prejudices of the kind that can dog all-encompassing guides. They often omit people, or water, or major just a little too much on flowers. Here, though, there’s no preponderance and, if you were wanting to get started with watercolour but were unsure of what your favourite subjects might be, this will allow you to practise everything and find out where your abilities lie. If you have some previous experience, it may still be worth revisiting old haunts from new perspectives.

There’s plenty of advice as you go along, from colour to composition, materials to perspective as well as the choice of surface and subject. You’ll have spotted from the spelling that this is an American book, but neither the style nor the subject matter should be a major stumbling block this side of the Atlantic. My only reservation is that some of the illustrations seem a little muddy. On occasions, this might be down to the use of tinted paper, but I think that some of it is simply poor reproduction, possibly from dodgy photographs. This is mainly a minor cavil though, and you’ll probably find that the author’s enthusiasm and clear explanations more than carry you through.

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Painting Without Paint – landscapes with your tablet || Matthew Palmer

There’s been a fairly steady stream of books on digital art over the years and they’ve got progressively simpler. The early ones required a desktop pc and a digitising tablet and also had to accommodate a wide variety of software packages, all of them more than subtly different in their approaches. The results were usually confusing and could make a computer manual look like easy bedtime reading. And then along came tablets. Suddenly, everything got simpler, with on-screen drawing and apps that imitated the conventional painting process as far as possible. There was still the technology gap to bridge, though. A digital image doesn’t work exactly like paper or canvas and working in layers involves a bit more than just adding more paint on top of what’s already there. It does allow for a great deal of flexibility, though.

There’s a review of what is probably the very best guide so far to working with tablets elsewhere in this batch of reviews. This more basic volume, though, is far from playing second fiddle.

As I hinted before, there are complications and paradigm shifts to digital art. You have to get used to working in different ways and with what’s effectively a new medium that bears little resemblance to any other (even if it tries to pretend it does). What Matthew does here is to treat digital as a medium for the beginner. He works with a preferred app, avoiding the need for multiple visits to the same topic, a basic range of virtual brushes and, when it comes to layers, sticks to three. Master the basics and you’re more than halfway to understanding; the rest can come later. All of these are explained in language that will be familiar to the artist and in as few pages as possible, all of which can be done by avoiding complication. There are also some straightforward demonstrations you can follow to make sure you’ve picked things up correctly.

The whole approach is remarkably successful and should cut through any apprehension you may have about technology. Some familiarity with hand-held touchscreen devices is probably desirable, but that’s about it.

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Drawing and Painting on the iPad || Diana Seidl

The first question you’re likely to ask after a first flick through this is “where’s the iPad?” It’s a pertinent one, as this is the least technology-based book about on-screen painting I’ve seen and it’s all the better for that. Right at the beginning Diana Seidl quotes David Hockney, “The iPad is a very serious medium. It’s just a new one and affects the way you do things.” This is pretty much the book’s manifesto and it would make a good one for digital art generally. Hockney is nothing if not perceptive.

This is not something for the tech fan, nor for the beginner. Rather, it’s a serious look at tablet-based art as a medium in its own right and, as far as I’m aware, the first of its type. Just as books about traditional media don’t get hung up on the physical properties of brushes and paint, but rather their potential and use, so this treats the digital medium as simply another way of creating artwork. I did manage to spot a pop-up menu in the section on working with layers – one of the main differences between physical and virtual media – but it’s a rarity. Instructions on what to do in this context are only there when they need to be.

In terms of content, the book is both comprehensive and well-structured. There’s a short introduction to the hardware – just 5 pages that tell you all you need to know because it’s little more than you’ll already know if you’re familiar with touchscreens, which you should be. This is followed by 18 pages in two chapters on ArtRage, the app you’ll be using. I’ve noticed that recent books on iPad painting tend to concentrate on a single app. This is no bad thing as previous books on computer-based art tended to try to be inclusive and deal with half a dozen or more software packages, making for no little confusion and endless repetition. True, if something better comes along, the whole thing will go out of date faster than a fresh cream cake, but that’s technology for you and, anyway, who leaves cream cakes lying about? When I did, the cat ate it. Cover the said half dozen programs and they’ll still all date at the same time. Tablets are developing all the time, but the speed of progression seems to have slowed and the platform in general to have stabilised. Brighter screens and faster processors will help, but they’re not the game changers they were.

But back to the art. The next chapters are, as they really should be, subject-based, covering still lifes, landscape, flowers, portraits and abstraction. That’s a lot for a book as serious as this, but we aren’t quite at the stage where each one gets a book on its own; in spite of what I implied before, the medium does still tend to be the message here. The final chapters deal with working with layers – and I like that it’s been left till the end when you’ve had a bit more experience – and from photographs. There’s also an overview of some of the other apps available, should you wish to shift allegiances. I do like the fact that Diana majors on her favourite, though. Software choices are a personal thing, but you’re likely to be coming to this at least relatively unprepared and unprejudiced, so a targeted approach is no bad thing.

I’m amazed by how much is packed into 144 pages here. It’s comprehensive, very much art-based and has the nice mix that Crowood provides of text, illustrations, demonstrations and projects. All of these are integrated rather than being broken out like a series of magazine articles, which you’ll either love for its consistency or find frustrating for its less broken-down structure. This publisher’s books tend to be ones to read before rather than while working, so I don’t think it’s a major problem.

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Drawing and Painting with Water Soluble Media || Fiona Peart

Fiona’s in her element with this intriguing and exciting book. I’m glad to have finally laid my hands on a finished copy. The first proofs I saw were quite low-resolution and didn’t do justice in any way to what are some very subtle images that exploit the possibilities of pencils, colour sticks, ink, watercolour, acrylic and gouache to the full.

There’s a very nice progression from the properties of the various materials – you do need to know what to use when – and experimenting with them. Fiona then moves quickly on to “the creative journey”, which shows you how to use various materials for pictorial effect. What I particularly like about the book is the fact that there are no technical exercises that are there just for their own sake; everything finishes up in a painting that captures the elements of the scene and has you thinking, “you’re right, no other medium could have done that.” If you’re familiar with the lavender fields at Snowshill in the Cotswolds, you’ll know how, although they demand representation, they’re really tricky to capture convincingly. “For this panoramic painting, bold pigment was drawn onto the paper, then sprayed with clean water and left to settle into the surface.” The result is an assault of colour, exactly as you get in life, but with little attempt at detail. It’s exactly the way to go about it, I now know.

The book is full of ideas, projects, hints and tips, demonstrations and simple wisdom. It’s a real feast of painting and of imagination and should open up a world of possibilities.

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Acrylic Works – the best of acrylic painting || ed Nancy Reyner

This is a compilation of works by a variety of American artists, loosely grouped by style: realistic, stylistic, realistic abstractions and abstractions. These apply a sufficiently loose straitjacket that nothing seems forced into a category that isn’t suitable, but does allow more or less general themes to develop while branching across the widest possible variety of subject matter.

Each painting comes with a short paragraph by the artists themselves. The introduction implies that works were submitted, so those included are effectively self-selecting, but also not merely a collection of the ones the publishers happened to have copyright approval for. The descriptions are fairly general and most of the contributors choose to describe their overall approach to painting and maybe working methods. Some relate these specifically to the work shown, some do not.

The result is a rather pleasantly serendipitous collection where the editorial hand is more in the ordering than the choosing. On the cover, the book bills itself as “ideas and techniques for today’s artists” which does, to be frank, sound like a rather desperate attempt to sell it to this publisher’s normal practitioner market. It’s far from an inaccurate claim, as that’s exactly what the book is going to do for you if you fall into this category. However, I can’t help feeling it would have been nicer to leave the reader/purchaser to work that out for themselves. They are, after all, going to have to decide whether to dip into their wallet to buy a book that doesn’t offer any specific practical instruction.

If you do have the cash it’s a worthwhile purchase, though.

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Ultimate Art Bible || ed Sarah Hoggett

This is a bind-up of a series that Collins & Brown (now part of Anova) produced a few years ago. They’ve done such a good job of it that the joins are invisible, but the process has also anonymised the contributions so that it’s actually not possible to tell whose work you’re looking at.

Not, I think, that any of that matters. This is aimed at the sort of people who will probably only buy one art book and want something comprehensive. I’ve always argued that these are probably also people who are buying for someone else. All the main media are covered and that’s not something that those who are serious about their painting tend to want. We find our medium and stick to it, thank you very much.

Whatever. Although this is old material, it doesn’t look it; the book is nicely comprehensive and very instructional and you get a heck of a lot for your money, although 25 quid is also a heck of a lot of money for what it is.

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Watercolor Painting || Tom Hoffman

This is, if nothing else, a very general title and the subtitle, “A Comprehensive Approach To Mastering The Medium” is about as ambitious as it gets.

It’s quite a claim to live up to. So, does it achieve its lofty ambitions? The initial impression is good. It’s a solid, hefty hardback and weighs more than its (generous) general dimensions would have you think, so it’s printed on good paper. The quality of the illustrations is first-class and I can’t spot one dud, which is what we’ve come to expect from Watson Guptill. From the point of view of the UK reader, the author’s style is one we’re comfortable with. Tom Hoffmann works mainly with washes and broad brushstrokes and his colours are more muted than some US artists treat us to, but without being completely in the New England school. That doesn’t mean he’s afraid of colour, though, and he also has great fun with light. There are two ways of doing this – by working from the shadows or into them and Tom is in the former camp.

As with virtually all Watson Guptill books, there’s a lot of text here and this is definitely a book to read rather than just to look at. It’s best to start with the words rather than to study the pictures and then look for the explanations. Inwards rather than outwards, if you will.

Tom describes this as “a book about becoming fluent in watercolor” and I think that’s a fair summary of what we have.

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