Painting Landscapes || Kevin Scully

This is slightly spooky. No sooner have I written about one book on landscape painting from Crowood than another one turns up. This one is much more aimed at practical aspects and sticks to the opaque media: oils, acrylics and alkyd.

As is the style with this publisher’s approach, the text is much more discursive and, along with the sort of instructions you expect in a demonstration, there is a lot more explanation of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. If you are really more interested in the general than the specific, this will appeal: you learn how to paint anything, rather than just what the author happens to put in front of you. As the old adage has it: give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and you feed him for life.

Why aren’t all books like this, you might ask? Well, not everyone wants what we might call the deeper philosophies or to get bogged down in what they see as detail. At the start, clear, simple instructions are best. It’s only as you progress that you begin to want, or even need, the details of what’s happening under the hood. These are books for the more experienced artist and the style, authors and level of work reflect that.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Painting Flowers – a creative approach || Siȃn Dudley

This is not a book about painting flowers. I think it’s best to clear that up at the outset. What I mean is that it isn’t about how to paint botanical illustrations or flower portraits. If the details aren’t exactly correct, every stamen in place or the species immediately available for identification purposes, that’s fine. This is what the creative approach of the subtitle is.

What we do have is a book about creating stunning images using flowers as the main subject, but as a jumping-off point. What the non-specialist sees is shapes, colours and hues. Names and identities are unimportant and what matters is the infinite variety of possibility that flowers present. They can be indoors or out, alone or in arrangements, solitary clumps or jostling for space in a meadow. Light, shade and weather will change the way they appear. In this world, nothing is ever the same twice, no ideal specimen has to be found to create the perfect illustration; it’s all about creativity and paint.

If you’re fascinated by flowers but put off painting them because of the sometimes overly scientific approach and the fact that true enthusiasts know the exact names of everything, this is for you. It revels in its subject and makes the most of the properties of light, colour, watercolour and art.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

Modernists & Mavericks || Martin Gayford

This remarkably thorough and authoritative account of the development of painting in London from the Second World War to the 1970s draws on extensive interviews Martin Gayford conducted with its participants and personalities. Gayford, art critic of The Spectator, offers what is effectively an insider view of an important period in, and strand of, contemporary art. Although it was not a movement as such, it was inevitable that any group, however diverse, that was working in reasonably close proximity would develop friendships and rivalries and share experiences and ideas both deliberately and unconsciously.

Just about everyone who was a part of the scene gets a mention somewhere here and luminaries include Hockney, Freud, Bacon, Bridget Riley, Gillian Ayres, Peter Black, Allen Green and Howard Hodgkin. The book, however, is very much more than a simple trawl through the notes and a tour of the exhibits. Gayford, an insightful viewer and incisive commentator, demonstrates how the group (as we might just get away with calling them) were influenced by teachers such as David Bomberg and William Coldstream and also drew on American Abstract Expressionism and more traditional Western art.

Comprehensively illustrated, this should be set fair to be the definitive history as well as an appreciation of its period. The published version will have an index, the lack of which I felt dearly in my proof copy, indicating how essential it will be.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

Misère || Linda Nochlin

This is, on the face of it, a seemingly unlikely subject for a book about art history. However, it fits with the Victorian style of narrative painting and fascination with – and often glamorisation of – the lower orders of society. Many nineteenth century artists depict working people in suspiciously well-kept clothes, but there were others, themselves living hand-to-mouth, who shared the world of the underclass and understood the conditions of their companions all too well.

Linda Nochlin concentrates for the most part on these latter: there are no Stanhope Forbes, William Powell Friths or Ford Maddox Browns here, although Landseer’s The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner (his dog) is reproduced and is a masterpiece of sentimentalisation. Her thesis, expressed in the cover blurb, is that the rapid changes in society brought about by the Industrial Revolution caused displacement and destitution for those whom it did not benefit. This is, I think, to stretch a point somewhat and potentially to fall into the trap that artists themselves sometimes did, distinguishing between the happy, free, rural poor and their downtrodden urban counterparts.

The book itself, however, does not bear this out and begins with a lengthy examination of what Linda calls The Irish Paradigm. This is the rural poverty brought about by the potato famine and which was documented in publications such as The Illustrated London News, many of whose images are reproduced. Linda also includes illustrations which show a less charitable viewpoint: that of drunkenness and simple depravity; not everyone idolised the “deserving poor”.

It is, I think, important to take note of the fact that the title of the book is Misère and not Misery, although that word does appear in the subtitle. The difference is subtle (Linda explains its genesis from a discovery in a Parisian bookshop) and represents a construct rather than a state of existence – the representation of poverty rather than its sociological fact. It is easy to fall into another trap: that of assuming that all the people here are unhappy. I’m not suggesting that Courbet’s agricultural labourers, Gericault’s street-dwellers or Degas’ prostitutes are happy noble savages, but the works illustrated are perhaps more documentary than comment. No-one likes being at the bottom of the heap, but there is sometimes, maybe often, a degree of acceptance. These are people and they survive, at least after a fashion.

This is an interesting work that explores a corner of nineteenth century art that is, while not forgotten, not frequently commented on. The narrative maybe stretches a point sometimes, but Linda is also careful not to wear a campaigner’s hat; she is an art historian, not a social one. Reading the book, I was reminded of the Kasmin’s Postcards series, which shines another light on our forebears’ fascination with poverty and disaster.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

John Piper || Darren Pih

This nicely-produced and eminently-affordable introduction to John Piper’s work was produced to accompany an exhibition at Tate Liverpool. It stands, nevertheless, on its own and contains a representative selection of pieces that range throughout Piper’s career and includes useful guides to his various periods and artistic directions. If you were looking for a primer rather than a more comprehensive but expensive survey, this would fit the bill very well.

The book is arranged chronologically and moves from the early, quintessentially British landscapes to Piper’s interest in abstraction. It also takes account of his work across a variety of media, including printmaking, ceramics, collage and stained glass and includes his work as a Second World War artist.

With a text that covers writings and interviews, the book provides an insight into not just the works, but also the creative processes behind them and, within its self-imposed limitations, is remarkably complete.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

Figure It Out! Workbook || Christopher Hart

Christopher Hart’s simplified method of drawing figures is based around simple shapes and lines that allow you to re-create any pose quickly and easily. This spiral-bound workbook provides the initial example, with a short explanation on the upper page and then a dot-grid below for you to copy it. Giving you points of reference makes sure that you retain all the proportions throughout for a perfect result every time.

The whole system is one of the best explanations of figure drawing around and should have you working with confidence in short order. This workbook is a welcome addition to the canon. It bills itself as “ a complete figure-drawing class in one simple workbook” and I wouldn’t argue with that.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

Everyday Watercolor || Jenna Rainey

This is another of those “learn watercolour in 30 days” books. I don’t mean that to sound dismissive, but it’s important to distinguish it from guides that encourage you to look at the mundane and to paint as often as possible so that you have to find subjects wherever you are. It isn’t one of those.

The initial impression is favourable. This is important because any book in this category has to make you feel welcome, encouraged, and that you want to get stuck in. We’re here for a month, not just a one night stand. The lessons are straightforward, short and simple. You may be painting every day, but not all day and, by tea time, you won’t have forgotten what you learnt at breakfast. You’ve got time to practise, absorb and make sure you’re fully up to speed before the alarm clock tomorrow. You won’t even have to take leave of absence from your job; there’s plenty you can do while dinner’s cooking.

All that’s absolutely fine, but where I do have a reservation is that the execution isn’t all that good. Many of the examples seem flat and lacking any real sense of atmosphere, and there are too many cacti. It does mean that you’re not going to be faced with something you feel you can never hope to emulate, but there’s also a sense that you have a teacher who maybe only completed the book themselves last week. You might think that the method outweighs that, though.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

  • Archives

  • Categories