Archive for category Subject: Waterscape

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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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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DVD A Journey in Watercolour || Herman Pekel

Herman Pekel is a magician. Most of the commentary on this film is something akin to a running patter with occasional nuggets of wisdom (“Never let a sky dry until it’s finished”) dropped in apparently at random. In fact, it took me half the film before I had any idea how I was going to find anything to say about it. Part of the problem is that he likes unpromising subjects, but they are in fact the proverbial blank canvas, ideas on which a composition can be superimposed and a painting built.

The first two demonstrations take place in Herman’s native Melbourne and are complex street scenes that need careful marshalling of shapes, colours and structures. Spontaneity is Herman’s stock in trade and he allows the work to develop almost with a life of its own. The result is that, because he has no detailed plan, the audience is similarly in the dark and this can make viewing difficult.

Where the film comes into its own, however, is when we move to Faversham in Kent. A dull day, a flat landscape and a muddy river at low tide do not augur well. However, this is where the magic happens, because Herman pulls three amazing pictures from, quite literally, nothing, manipulating elements of composition, adding boats, vegetation and a church and working in cool colours that reflect the conditions without actually portraying them.

One of the things you also notice is that Herman is a fan of darks – “A dirty palette always has lovely greys”.

It’s in conditions like this that spontaneity comes to the fore and Herman really does create something out of nothing. A rabbit out of a hat, in fact.

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DVD Watercolour Fast and Free || John Hoar

Watching John Hoar paint is fascinating. Most artists start with the sky and/or a wash and it’s not that John never does. However, he does a great deal of structural work at the beginning so that the final image coalesces in the last third or so of the demonstration. It’s a bit like learning a language by starting with the grammar and then hanging the vocabulary on it. Yes, it can be done, but it’s a very academic exercise and you don’t really get to say anything for ages. When you do though, it’s perfectly formed. And that’s the way it is with a John Hoar painting. “Paintings are made up of shapes rather than lines”, as he puts it.

Well, that’s all pretty dull then, isn’t it? No, and the reason is that, instead of spending the demonstration describing what he’s doing (and what you can see perfectly well for yourself), John tends to talk about the creative process itself. This makes the film a bit like the Patrick George DVD I reviewed a while back, but with demonstrations. If you want to learn the mechanics of painting, then this is maybe not for you. If you want to follow the process of creating an image from what’s in front of you, it’s pretty much riveting. John is by no means a slavish representer and his simplification of the complex shapes and structure of Ely Cathedral (the film consists of four demonstrations around the town) is a masterclass.

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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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