Rosa Branson: a portrait || Lynn Mitchell

Rosa Branson’s story mirrors and is heavily influenced by events of the latter part of the Twentieth Century. Growing up with Communist parents in wartime Battersea saw hardships as well as a life lived against the grain, something which continued when she began her art career. Expressionism was the favoured style during her time at Camberwell and the Slade art schools, but she preferred to learn Old Master techniques at a time when they were largely out of favour. What we might call Reactionism is perhaps ironic, given her background, or perhaps it isn’t – if we reject the nostrums of our parents, what are we to do if those are of the left? Answers on a postcard, please.

What does become clear, though, is that Rosa has inspired a generation of traditionalists. It is clear from the really rather good reproduction, of her work that are included here that she is completely at ease with – and committed to – the style she has chosen.

This is a very thorough and also thoroughly affectionate account of what I think we might call a life well-lived and a person one feels instinctively one would be at home with.

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Ready to Paint in 30 Minutes – Animals in Watercolour || Matthew Palmer

Here’s an ideal subject for this nicely-maturing series. Matthew presents simple exercises that cover just about every type of animal and coat from hide to hair, fur and feathers (birds are included). Some of the backgrounds are plain, allowing you to concentrate on the subject, others include wider settings that provide context. Nothing is over-complicated, however, and the idea of working quickly on a single idea is never compromised.

Each of the 29 exercises is accompanied by an outline tracing that allows you to get the basic shapes down quickly and you’ll be working at A6 size, so you won’t need to make elaborate preparations or clear a working space. 30 minutes is probably best seen as a target rather than a limit – if you want to spend a bit more time, that’s fine, just don’t get too tied up with details and land up over-working.

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Islamic Art Meets British Flowers || Hadil Tamim and Adrian Lawson

This is one of those fusions that either works brilliantly or falls horribly flat. In Hadil Tamim’s sensitive hands it is, thankfully, the former. Of Palestinian heritage, but having lived in Reading for the last two decades, she is well-versed in both traditions in a neat symbiosis of the two.

Using British architectural design as the basis for cartouches, but with the vibrant colours of Islamic tradition, she creates images which are unique, yet also not alien, certainly to this English eye. It’s also worth remarking that anything less than excellent reproduction could mar an otherwise excellent idea, but Two Rivers have, in their usual way, stepped fully up to the plate.

Although this is not an instructional book, Hadil does show and explain how the images were built up, and the architectural shapes adapted. You might not want to emulate her work completely, but it is full of intriguing ideas.

For each flower, naturalist Adrian Lawson provides a concise but informative commentary that nicely complements the images.

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I Can (Not) Draw || Peng

At first glance, this looks as though it might be a book aimed at children.   The simple, cartoon-like illustrations and busy layout are very like titles I’ve reviewed that are intended for a younger audience.

Further examination, however, reveals a level of detail and elements of humour that are far more grown-up. Peng is, in fact, an Austrian cartoonist and, while these are not cartoons, there’s a wryness to the images that is instantly engaging. Even if you were really looking for something more serious, it’s impossible not to be drawn in. Exaggerated features and simple lines are an antidote to what is sometimes a tyranny of trying to create a likeness or get proportions right – here it doesn’t matter and the most important thing is to get something – maybe even anything – down on paper.

The title gives a strong clue to the content – it’s all about removing negativity. Anyone can have a go at this and, even if you’re already reasonably accomplished, there’s a lot to be said for letting observation rule your pen.

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Dynamic Seascapes || Judith Yates

Social media gets a bad press. However, it was also responsible for the genesis of this book. The publishers of Leisure Painter and The Artist magazines put one of Judith’s pictures on Twitter. I thought it looked interesting and decided to investigate further. It quickly became apparent that she is one of the best seascape artists I’d seen for a long time, so I suggested that Search Press might like to talk to her. And here, a couple of years later, we are.

Water is one of the hardest subjects to paint. It’s hardly ever static, has no real substance and no colour of its own, yet it presents in many different moods, almost all of them related to movement and surroundings. So, how do you represent that in a single image? Well, that’s what the book is all about. The subtitle is “how to paint seas and skies with drama and energy” and it has that in spades.

Working in watercolour, acrylic, ink and mixed media, Judith will show you how to capture all the forms and moods of the sea, from a calm evening estuary to storm-blown waves breaking on a rocky shore. Although water is the primary subject, Judith does not forget the shorelines, landscapes and of course skies that make up a complete seascape. She’ll show you how light both affects the appearance of water and is affected by it through refraction and reflection. She’ll also demonstrate ways of capturing the solid appearance of a breaking wave and how to create the sense of power and movement that are essential to giving your image a feeling of being anything but static and two-dimensional.

There are plenty of examples, exercises and demonstrations as well as explanations of the way water behaves in just about every situation. The book is every bit as exciting as its subject.

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Drawing Using Grids – Animals & People || Giovanni Civardi

The idea behind this series is simple and easy to comprehend – it does what it says on the tin. Each subject is overlaid by a co-ordinated grid, so that all the main points of shape and composition can easily be transferred the finished image. It’s a long-established and well-tested technique that simply works.

What makes these volumes particularly useful, as well as the quality of the illustrations, is the amount of background material – structure, anatomy and features – that prefaces each set of drawings. In the animals volume, these are not just general but applied to each type – so, dogs, horses, cats. When it comes to people, these are structure, movement and posture. The main sections here divide into character, babies and children, and figures in action.

It should be added that these are compilations of individual volumes, though only two (Portraits With Character and Portraits of Babies and Children) have previously appeared in English. The bulk, therefore, can be regarded as new material.

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Drawing Landscapes || Margaret Eggleton

Search Press have reissued this, which first appeared in the Drawing Masterclass series. You can read the original review here.

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Creativity Through Nature || Ann Blockley

Every so often, any creative person needs to go through a reset, in which they re-assess their vision, methods and output. Ann’s has come as a result of the planet crisis and has involved considering whether she wanted to continue painting at all. I’m honestly not sure that giving up watercolours will produce the climate stasis we require, but fortunately the final outcome for Ann was an artistic rather than a material reconsideration.

What we have here, therefore, is a in-depth examination of the creative process that has also resulted in her relocating to Devon from Gloucestershire, giving her new landscapes to look at and a change of working atmosphere.

It’s a thoroughly stimulating book that’s entirely about inspiration and creativity without really considering technical processes at all. While this can be desirable for the individual, it’s something that can be as exciting for the viewer as watching the proverbial paint dry. You can’t, after all, easily demonstrate what goes on inside your head. Please note, though, that I said “easily”, because that’s exactly what Ann has done and the result is completely gripping.

There are no demonstrations or exercises here, but rather subjects, themes and ideas, with examples of how they were transferred to images on paper. You’ve probably always wanted to know the thought, intellectual and, dare I say it, mindful processes that Ann uses to create what she does and you can actually see them at work here. It really works rather well.

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Basics of Drawing || Leonardo Pereznieto

There are plenty of reasons to like this thoroughly sound introduction to drawing. The first, and perhaps most important, is the clarity of the lessons. Each one is concise without being terse, and admirably clear, with the accompanying illustrations and step-by-step demonstrations not adding unnecessary complication. The next is the quality of the illustrations themselves – Leonardo’s work, mostly in pencil, is soft and sensitive and does full justice to the medium, as well as complementing the text perfectly.

Chapters move from mark-making and basic shapes to individual topics such as composition,, scene-framing, creating a visual path through the image, and an introduction to drawing people. There is an extended section on perspective, which considers its different aspects (linear, aerial and three-point) separately, making the whole a great deal easier to follow.

As well as being a solid introduction, this is also an excellent primer and a revision aid to a variety of techniques. I did spot a very few infelicities of execution, but by no means enough not to recommend it.

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Alcohol Ink || Desirée Delȃge

Fluid art is, apparently, “the hottest art trend since paint pouring”. You can call me sceptical if you wish but I have to say that, on the basis of the results demonstrated here, I could be a convert.

Most books of this kind play heavily on serendipity and “happy accidents”, which I interpret as a lack of controllability and, just maybe, of ability on the part of the practitioner. Here, however, the emphasis is on control and making a very fluid medium conform to your intentions. Where other books that I’ve seen tend to concentrate on abstracts and patterns, Desirée will show you how to prepare surfaces and manipulate the medium to create recognisable images – mainly flowers and leaves – that have what I can really only describe as an ethereal beauty I haven’t seen achieved with other media of this type.

As you would hope and expect, there’s a good introduction to materials and working methods, particularly soaking and drifting, which is how you allow the ink to pool and then draw it out rather in the matter of a watercolour wash. She’ll also show you how to work with brushes, colour shapers, droppers and swabs to create finer detail, as well as how to control when colours do or don’t blend. As well as paper, Desirée works with wood, ceramics, glass and plastic to decorate a wide variety of objects.

This is a thorough, but also enjoyable and hugely practical introduction to what looks like a really rather rewarding medium.

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