Archive for category Subject: Water

Joe Dowden’s Complete Guide to Painting Water in Watercolour || Joe Francis Dowden

When it comes to water, Joe Dowden’s your man. If you want that elusive quality of depth and solidity, the way water occupies rather than lying on a surface, he’s got it. One of the exercises in this genuinely comprehensive book is of a wet pavement, a simple subject that’s really tricky because the water and the flagstones are effectively the same thing, but he pulls it off perfectly. Another is a child running through the shallow ripples at the edge of the tide and, again, he manages to get the passing-through-ness without the feet being engulfed or somehow tripping along on top. Both these little moments are virtuoso performances that aren’t even the big set pieces of the book.

Joe doesn’t just paint water, but the things that surround water – trees, landscapes, people (he’s particularly good on people), boats and light. The thing about water is that it’s a reactive subject, informed and shaped by the things that illuminate it, reflect in and off it and shape it with waves, ripples and spray.

There’s a huge amount of material here and I can’t find a stone that isn’t – often literally – left unturned. Books that make big claims sometimes fail to live up to them and need a qualification, but this delivers everything you could want.

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Painting Brilliant Skies & Water in Pastel || Liz Haywood-Sullivan

When you think about it, these two subjects are a natural to go hand-in-hand and there’s a pleasing progression as they are brought together in the final chapter. Bit like a romantic novel, really.

Flicking through the book, the first impression is of a great deal of material, and this is confirmed when you get stuck in properly. Not only are there plenty of illustrations, there are demonstrations, examples, hints and tips. If it all seems a little overwhelming, remember that this is a highly-structured book that repays being worked through in order. Some books are for dipping into, but this one is definitely one to follow.

The medium is pastel, but most of what Liz says can be applied to any other, so do give it a look.

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Handbook of Watercolour Landscapes Tips & Techniques || Richard Bolton, Geoff Kersey, Joe Francis Dowden & Janet Whittle

This is a reissue of a book that first appeared as a compilation in 2009 and as individual volumes between 2002 and 2006.

The difference is that it’s now a much smaller format. That doesn’t mean that the design has been changed, or the page count increased. No, it’s just been shrunk so that some of the illustrations are now postage stamp-sized. Why do publishers do this? What is the attraction of a book you have to squint to see? I’ll grant that the standard of reproduction is such that most of the pictures will stand this, but what was wrong with the A4-ish format?

It’s also a bit of an oddball contents-wise. Richard Bolton on Landscapes and Nature is on message and I’ll buy Geoff Kersey’s Skies, but Joe Dowden is exclusively water, and not really with –scapes in there either, and Janet Whittle’s Flowers and Plants are of themselves and without any setting.

At full-size, I’d also maybe buy the £12.99 price tag, but at half that, it looks a tad expensive. I suspect that it’s a book that’ll get bought as a gift. I really can’t see anyone buying it for themselves.

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30 Minute Artist Series

Painting Water in Watercolour || Terry Harrison
Painting Flowers in Watercolour || Fiona Peart

This is a new series that Terry Harrison (whose idea it was) is justifiably proud of. There’s nothing new in the limited-time idea and I have in the past criticised some of its implementations for pandering to the “time-restricted artist”. I’m sorry, but art is something you devote time to. The whole point of it, of any recreation, is that it gives you a chance to relax and recharge. If you’re that busy-busy-busy, you probably have a time-management issue that bish-bosh painting won’t solve.

But enough of that, because that’s not the matter in hand. The proper use of the half-hour painting is to discourage fiddling and promote the skill of getting things down quickly, as you see them. It’s about spontaneity and freshness, and therefore to be applauded.

The structure here is really rather neat. The first half of the book is taken up with a series of exercises, Quick Techniques as they’re described here. These are all about ways of seeing and thinking, but also about methods of working – rocks and waves or foliage and petals in a few quick brushstrokes. The idea is to suggest your subject rather than capture it in every minor detail.

Following that is a series of projects that bring everything together. There’s always a slight contradiction when you have printed demonstrations in a book that’s supposed to be about spontaneity, but you have to describe the process somehow and these short (4 page) sections are very effective at showing you how to work within the time allowed. I suspect the best way of making this work is to read the chapter through and then work with it as just notes. If you don’t head straight for home, but keep looking at the map, the oven-timer is going to ring while you’re still getting the tops off the tubes!

There’s a nice busy feel to both these books that somehow encourages the whole idea they’re trying to promote and, price-wise, they’re a steal.

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Oil Painting Step by Step || Noel Gregory, James Horton, Roy Lang & Michael Sanders

I’m pretty sure that this is a bind-up of eight short guides that have been previously published – I certainly recognise Roy Lang’s Sea & Sky in Oils, but publishers are getting a lot better at the stitching-together trick these days and it’s really quite hard to see the joins here. At a mere £12.99, though, it’s hardly worth quibbling in the face of the huge variety of material you get.

Because everything runs together so neatly, it’s best to look as this as a compendium of single-subject demonstrations, albeit a themed one. Turning the pages more or less at random reveals all sorts of useful information on subjects such as on skies, light, reflections, choosing a subject, underpainting and glazing, as well as a good selection of demonstration paintings on subjects including flowers, landscapes and water.

The individual volumes were definitely something to work through, but I rather favour serendipity here. Just let the book fall open and read from there; it’s full of wisdom and good advice.

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Venice in Watercolour (Ready to Paint) || Joe Francis Dowden

Whether to publish a series of books on painting in specific places has been the subject of often quite anguished discussions over the years. On the one hand, people go on holiday and the idea of a guide to where to look, what to paint and what materials to take looks like the proverbial no-brainer. On the other hand, books on painting on holiday sell like stale cakes.

So it’s quite amusing to find that the Ready to Paint series has developed a branch that takes this idea one step further, with its pre-printed tracings of classic subjects in a variety of cities. But then again, with all that done for you, do you really need to spring for the air ticket as well? The real purpose here, it seems to me, is that you can paint the Grand Canal at sunset in the comfort of your own living room, and get make a decent fist of it at the same time. I mean, what’s not to like? (That was a rhetorical question, please don’t write in.)

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Watercolour Rivers & Streams (Ready to Paint) || Keith Fenwick

The thing about water is that, if it isn’t moving, it’s stagnant and the trick for the artist is to convey this sense of movement in a static medium. Mostly, it’s about the highlights: where to put them and how many to include. Once you’ve got the idea, it can become straightforward, but getting there is what takes time.

Even without the pre-drawn tracings that are the main feature of the Ready to Paint series, this rather excellent little guide would be the perfect primer in getting it right. Keith is an experienced artist and demonstrator and he knows exactly what to include to make sure you understand first time.

The book includes a good selection of types of water from fast to slow moving as well as settings and seasons so that you have a choice of context. Overall, it’s superb value.

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