Archive for category Subject: Various

Splash 13 – alternative approaches || ed Rachel Rubin Wolf

Splash is all about the editorial eye and Rachel Rubin Wolf is very good at collecting works that, while unconnected in themselves, play off each other and develop a theme. This isn’t a painting manual as such, but it shows you what can be – and is being – achieved with watercolour.

There’s a huge variety of stuff here, from the highly realistic to the totally abstract. I turned to the introduction in the hope of a definition of the alternative approach, but Rachel and the artists she quotes are coy on the subject. I think that the idea is that these people are working in ways that are less familiar to them. As a concept, it’s fine, but it does rather assume that we know the rest of their work. In the US, this might be the case, but here, I don’t think the idea works, these not being artists we are familiar with. Not that it really matters. There’s some super work here and the book is worth much more than a passing look.

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Discover Your World in Pen, Ink & Watercolor || Claudia Nice

After some excursions into the wider world, Claudia returns here to her roots. Best known for her work with small details and hidden corners, she takes the same approach with slightly larger subjects. Sure, there’s some weathered timber, but there are also buildings, seashores and even street corners.

The book is loosely grouped into headings like Nostalgic Buildings, Wild Wanderings and Out in the Weather. Nice general headings that don’t act as a straitjacket. Within them, Claudia paints what takes her fancy, so that you get reflections and highlights in water, wild berries in winter, a sunset and even “how to paint a flat wash”. The last isn’t a subject, it’s even, in its context, a surprise, but that’s the point. This is a book you could read from cover to cover, but which is much better dipped into for the gems it throws at you. Discover Painting Night Lights (a townscape) or Funny Fat Frogs (when else would you suddenly decide to paint a frog?) Stumble on a short section on Populating the Scene – as good a guide to putting people into a composition as you’ll find.

This is a book of ideas. Some of them are discoveries, so are short technical guides, but all of them are delightful and you find yourself sharing Claudia’s joy at finding them. I’ve always admired her work and I think that, here, she’s at the top of her game.

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Strokes of Genius 4 || ed Rachel Rubin Wolf

It’s always hard to know why to recommend books like this, though never hard to recommend them in the first place.

None of the blurb gives any clue to how or why the illustrations were chosen, and I rather like that. I like the idea that I’ve been presented with a collection of works that someone else likes, or thinks I (an unknown quantity to her) might like. I’ve known Rachel Rubin Wolf by name for more years than she’d probably thank me for mentioning and it’s a name that has always signified quality; she knows how to put a book together and this one is no exception.

The book is divided into five sections: portraits, ʼscapes [sic], still lifes, figures and animals, which provides a structure, though by far the best approach is simply to open it at random and follow your hands. If you just want a collection of contemporary drawings by artists you may never have heard of, this’ll suit perfectly. If you want ideas and inspiration, ditto. It won’t teach you anything and it’s not meant to. It exists because it is and, personally, I think it adds considerably to the greater good (whatever that is).

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Sketchbook Confidential 2 || ed Pamela Wissman and Kathryn Kipp

It’s almost exactly two years since I reviewed the first Sketchbook Confidential and I wasn’t exactly complimentary about it. My problem with it was that, despite having two editors, it had no editorial content and therefore no way of knowing what it was that I was looking at. However, it must have struck some kind of a chord, at least in its home country, for here we are with volume 2.

Once again, 38 artists (two fewer than last time) present pages from their sketchbooks and say what they mean to them. And, again, they all seem to mean the same thing: a way of recording things, places, events and ideas. Robin Poteet says that sketching probably helps lower her blood pressure, which is arguably better, and certainly cheaper, than medication. I also don’t feel I know any more than I already did by being told that, “The local office-supply retailer binds my blank books for a nominal fee”. I’m guessing she’s a good customer and it’s sort of nice to know that her books are made for her, rather than being one of the almost endless variety available off the shelf, but I haven’t got any further into the creative process.

Selective quotes are unfair and I should say that the artists do their best to help us, but the problem, the same problem I had with the first volume, is that they all say the same thing and I have no editorial guidance to know what I should be looking for, or what these people are telling me about the creative process. Looking at an artist’s sketchbook can be illuminating. It can reveal what went on behind their public works, but it can also be like rummaging through their underwear drawer – just a little too intimate, too personal and, ultimately, unenlightening. Without a useful commentary, it can also be like looking though a pile of their family photographs albums – an endless parade of fading anonymity.

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Light and Movement in Watercolour || Jake Winkle

Jake Winkle’s paintings are all about colour. These can frequently be surprising as, for example, in the front cover image of the boxing hares, where reds, blues and greens are used to give shade and depth as well as to impart vitality and movement.

It takes a little practice to get your eye accustomed to his style, which at first sight appears very loose. Well, it is very loose, but there’s more detail in there than you first realise and you’ll eventually begin to appreciate the way in which carefully placed and graduated blocks and splashes of colour are used to define shape and depth. The trick is in the juxtaposition of advancing and receding hues that give an almost 3-dimensional appearance. Look again at those hares: if they were done any other way, they’d be a magnificent image, but they’d be static and flat.

Not all Jake’s work is quite as avant-garde as this, but the sense of colour is always there, even if it’s sometimes more subtle, as in his more tranquil landscapes as well as interiors and flowers. The book is mostly about how Jake paints, although there are four demonstrations included so that you can have a go at a guided attempt at his style for yourself – and I’d certainly recommend that you try this.

This is without doubt a challenging book, but it’s also a rewarding one. As ever with a highly individualistic style, you wouldn’t want to copy it completely, but it’s certainly worth considering the way Jake uses colour and seeing if you can’t incorporate at least a few of his ideas.

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Splash 12 – celebrating artistic vision || ed. Rachel Rubin Wolf

This is one of those books that North Light put out once in a while, ostensibly to showcase new talent but which, being a cynic, I suspect of being a way to re-use material they already own the rights to.

As a concept, it’s a good idea because you get to see what current trends are and also to have a look at the work of a wide range of (American) artists you wouldn’t necessarily be buying books by. It’s also not subject specific, so you get landscapes, people, buildings, animals, townscapes. Each picture has a caption which very briefly explains it and there’s also a selection of short quotes, sometimes by the artist, sometimes by a critic and sometimes by someone completely irrelevant. It’s a bit like a lucky dip and definitely has a whiff of sawdust about it, but whether that’s from the tombola or the hasty construction, I’m not quite sure.

From all of which, you can probably gather that I’m not going to recommend that you buy it. However, I am going to suggest that you track down a copy in your local library, because you’re pretty much guaranteed to find at least one interesting painting here and maybe get a few ideas you didn’t even know you were looking for, into the bargain. That’s assuming you still have a local library. With the demise of the independent bookshop and the marketing of books as commodities, browsing serendipitously is a thing of the past. Go into any bookshop you can find and you’ll be pretty much guaranteed to see the same old stuff, even on the back shelves.

Yes, I know you can go online and find anything but, when you can see it all, you can actually see nothing. The point of the sidestreet bookshop was that the stock reflected the owner’s preoccupations and there’d always be something you hadn’t even considered and the surprise of the new guaranteed a sale. Back in the days when I ran an architectural bookshop, one of my favourite customers used that phrase to me, “surprise the reader” – show them something they, as an expert, didn’t know about. It’s a tall order for a non-specialist, but it made the research fun, and it worked too.

Now we’re killing off libraries as well and they were the last bastion of quiet browsing over random subjects. We only care about information, not knowledge, and it’s not something you can teach in schools, however much you tinker with the exam system. The trouble with books is they’re written by writers and writers tend to have liberal minds and we really must stamp liberal thought out at all costs.

Rant over, but don’t forget to have a look at this book. They’re up to number 12 in the series, so it must be working.

North Light

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Your Artist’s Brain || Carl Purcell

The whole “right side of the brain” thing can be applied to a great deal of creative endeavour and can be summed up as, “you need to develop an artist’s eye”.

Based on what I’ve picked up here and elsewhere, this comes down to the fact that your left, or intellectual brain, sees flat shapes while your right, emotional, artistic side sees colour, shading and texture whilst also understanding what it sees as a subject, rather than an object.

That’s about it, basically and I’ve saved you the cost of several books. So, is there anything left that you can learn from this one? Well, it’s a perfectly sound look at the creative process, covering a good variety of techniques and subject matter and there are plenty of good ideas. One of the things I struggle with is that, having banged on about colour, shading and depth, a remarkable number of the finished results are, well, a bit flat, which rather overturns the point of the book.

I think this is one you need to see before you buy. If you turn the pages and think, “I could learn from this”, then it’s for you. If, like me, it leaves you a bit disappointed well, don’t worry, there are plenty more fish in the sea.

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Sketchbook Confidential || Pamela Wissman & Stefanie Laufersweiler

This is subtitled “secrets from the private sketches of over 40 master artists”, but it’s worth noting that this is an American book and these are not, on the whole, names you’re likely to have come across before in the UK.

That doesn’t however, need to be an impediment because an artist’s sketchbook can reveal more about them than a whole volume of their own writing. What are the details they concentrate on, what subjects grab their attention out in the field, how do they select the quick ideas and work them up into a finished painting? If you learn about the creative process, it doesn’t really matter who’s telling you.

The problem here is that, although the book has no fewer than two editors, it has virtually no editorial content. Each artist gets 4 pages to present their sketches and say what sketching means to them and, guess what?, it means the same to all of them and the same it would to you and me – it’s a notebook, the basis for a painting. I’d never have guessed. Without some more context: some notes on the images, points to watch, colours and then examples, or at least a description of how they were used later, I just feel as though I’m looking at the raw ingredients for a banquet. The result could be a thing of beauty as well as interest, but I have no way of telling how.

This has the feel of a good idea hastily cobbled together and leaves me wanting so much more, which is a shame.

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Learn To Paint Vibrant Watercolours || Hazel Soan

Exactly what constitutes a vibrant watercolour is something we could discuss for the rest of our lives, but what Hazel Soan means by it is “[colours] that sing out from the page”, paintings that don’t suffer from fiddling and overwork and which don’t betray a lack of confidence on the part of the artist.

So far, you might say, so obvious, but Hazel Soan is a popular author whose style is that of simple palettes and brushstrokes and she has an enthusiasm that rubs easily off on the reader; put simply, when she tells you, you just know you can do it.

It’s hard, perhaps impossible, to define what this book is about and, in any case, it probably doesn’t matter. Hazel has many fans and they’re not going to be disappointed by it. Equally, new readers will probably join their number, too.

Collins 2000, reissued 2008

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