Archive for category Subject: Waterscape

Painting Rivers || Rob Dudley

The subtitle of this fascinating and enjoyable book is “from source to sea” and it encapsulates Rob Dudley’s original approach to painting water. There have been a lot of books about that subject, but this is the first I can recall that eschews lakes and the sea in favour of the variety that can be found in what flows between them.

Water is a living thing. It has form and substance, but its shape is defined by what contains it and its outward manifestation – colour and appearance – and by the light that falls and the forces that are exerted on it. It’s a truism that you can never step into the same river twice and, on the same basis, you can never paint it twice either. Indeed, as a painting is effectively a moment frozen in time, you can’t really paint a river at all – but let’s keep well away from metaphysics!

This is as thorough and comprehensive a book as you could wish. Rob explains approaches and techniques in his chosen medium of watercolour as well as how to capture light, movement and reflection. He considers not just the river itself, but its surroundings and the people, objects and creatures that occupy it.

There are plenty of demonstrations and projects to get to work on, as well as discussions of the life of the river as it progresses downstream. This is an original idea that’s well thought-out and executed.

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Zawn: Walking West Penwith/Cliff-edge painting by Paul Lewin || Paul Gough

Helpfully, the back cover blurb provides an explanation of the enigmatic title. “Zawn: a coastal inlet in a cliff face, with steep or rocky sides. Often the result of a roof-collapse in a littoral cave.”

This is useful to know, as it defines the content of this beautifully illustrated book, which exudes a sumptuous feel in spite of its relative slimness and soft cover.

The paintings themselves, some already existing, others produced especially for the book, are a superb evocation of coastal landscapes and of the weather that inevitably assaults a West-facing peninsula. I haven’t traced the chronology on a map, but there is a sense of a journey, as opposed to randomly-selected landmarks and that sits well with the idea of a coastal path.

The text is an account at once of the book, of Paul Lewin’s working methods and of the creative process as a whole. Whether you feel you need it, or whether these three things sit altogether comfortably together, is a matter of personal taste. Although what Paul Gough writes is firmly grounded in the work it accompanies, there is still a slight disconnect due to the tendency to expand and generalise. You might feel, though, that it adds to, rather than detracts from, the book’s appeal.

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How to Paint Water in Watercolour || Joe Francis Dowden

This is another of the bind-ups and re-workings that Search Press are making something of a speciality of at the moment. I think that needs to be said, if only to alert buyers to the fact that it is not all new material. And, as ever, the job has been done so well that you might, at first glance, think that it is.

This is based on two previous volumes, Watercolour Tips & Techniques: Painting Water from 2003 and 2014’s Joe Dowden’s Complete Guide to Painting Water in Watercolour. Only a cynic would question why the latter needs any augmentation, so I will. The simple fact of it is: simplicity. The Complete Guide was encyclopaedic in its content and something for the more experienced practitioner. The Tips & Techniques title is perhaps beginning to look a little dated and was rather more elementary. There’s clear space for something in between and, while water is not a subject that books exactly ignore, if you have Joe Dowden on hand, why not make use of him?

Bind-ups often suffer from being exactly that. Every book has its own introductory material and ways in, as well as idiosyncrasies and shoving multiple titles together leads to repetition and ungainly jumps. What you need to do is extract the best, or most suitable, bits from each one and then re-originate so that the new work is genuinely new and has a coherence of its own. If you can see the joins, it hasn’t worked.

Search Press have, as I’ve remarked, form on this and it’s very good form. This has a nice progression to it and works perfectly as an introductory course in painting water that won’t blind the beginner with science or, for that matter, leave the more experienced tutting with frustration. Those amongst you eyeing up your backlists, take note.

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Sea & Sky in Oils || Roy Lang

This is not a new book and I’ve reviewed it before, but it remains pretty much the only work on the subject and has become something of a classic, so I think this re-origination and reissue is worth a mention. Search Press have been revisiting some of their backlist titles recently and have had the good sense to start from scratch with a complete redesign. In some cases, these make the original almost unrecognisable, though I’m not sure that’s the case here. The work, both in terms of design and the finished result, looks fresh though, and the layout and illustrations have a clarity that make this look new rather than something that’s been mucked about for the sake of it. To deconstruct something that was originally as good as it could be made and come up with something that not only looks good but also doesn’t look like a camel (which, you’ll recall, is a horse designed by a committee) is quite an achievement.

I don’t think this is one of those books I’d say is worth a look even if you have the original. However, if you’re new to painting, or to oils, and want something like this, you’d be glad to find it. It would certainly be worth springing for the new edition rather than buying an older one second-hand.

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Lakes, Rivers & Streams in acrylic (What to Paint) || Paul Apps

The style and layout of this series should be sufficiently familiar by now. It’s well tried and tested and new authors should have no trouble tailoring their work to fit in. Paul Apps, indeed, does not, offering a good variety of moving and still water subjects and plenty of different surrounding details such as trees, rocks, boats and structures.

The thing that did surprise me was the lack of any colour charts. I’m pretty sure I remember simple palette guides from earlier volumes and they’d certainly have been handy here. It’s there in the text, but you have to tease it out. The expanded details are merely enlarged sections of the final painting that appears on the right hand page of the single spread devoted to each demonstration. I think this is standard across the series but, as they’re no larger – and in some cases smaller – that than the full image, I’m really not sure how much they add to the sum of the whole.

I’m really sorry to come across as slightly lukewarm about this, especially as I actually rather like it. Paul Apps works in the oil style of acrylics and he has an instant appeal that will probably find you taking this to the till. “A painting and how I went about it” with an outline sketch you can trace down is an attractive formula that works for many people and I hope you’ll brush my reservations aside.

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Travelling Light || Ray Balkwill

It’s a good few years since someone told me I should check out the West Country artist Ray Balkwill and I’ve been a fan of his work ever since.

This new collection showcases an excellent variety and quantity of his paintings and even includes a chapter on methods and materials – Ray is candid about the way he works and isn’t averse to sharing. Locations include his home territory, of course, but also Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Italy and France. Ray is at home with most subjects, although it has to be said that his paintings really come alive when boats and water are involved.

Ray is often characterised as a mixed media artist, but the truth is that medium isn’t the raison d’être of how he works. He’s not a “media” painter at all, I’d contend, rather a painter who works with whatever best suits and interprets the particular part of the subject he’s working on. For a more detailed demonstration and analysis of his working methods, have a look at his DVD, Capturing Coastal Moods.

This is a beautiful book and will appeal to those who appreciate good art, lovers of landscape and waterscape and, of course, fans of Ray’s work. The quantity and quality of the illustrations will pretty much guarantee that no-one will be disappointed, or even regard the book as particularly expensive.

Travelling Light: The Sketches and Paintings of Ray Balkwill
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Painting Boats & Harbours in Watercolour || Terry Harrison

This straightforward guide is full of Terry’s trademark no-nonsense instruction that’s made him the popular teacher and demonstrator that he is. It also sticks nicely to its brief and contains almost nothing except the subject matter of the title – extraneous details that only serve to complicate the scene and how to paint it are ignored. Even the section on “boatyard clutter” is arranged so that, while the boatyard may be cluttered, the painting isn’t. As a result, apart from a course in maritime subjects, you also get a bit of a masterclass in simplification.

After an introduction to materials, using colour and working from photographs, you’re straight into a simple exercise in getting boat shapes right. This is important as craft sit on the water and mistakes here can make them look all-to-ready to capsize. From there, it’s a simple scene with a small cutter resting in calm waters. This is followed by some reflections and then a few ripples. It all builds up progressively and it’s not long before you’re ready to start tackling rigging.

The bulk of the book is a series of demonstrations – some of simple subjects like jetties and some more complex, but always building on the skills you have and adding more as you go along. Boats and water don’t need to be difficult, as Terry shows, and he blows away a great deal of the mystique that surrounds the subject and he makes it readily accessible in the process.

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