Archive for category Subject: Various

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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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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