Thursday, 31 December 2009

Product Review: Pastels by Bryan McGurgan

Product: Various soft pastels (Unison | Terry Ludwig | Diane Townsend) plus Conte crayons
Manufacturer / Distributor: Various small niche suppliers of soft pastels
Product Review by: Brian McGurgan BFA (Blog: Pastel on Paper)
Link to Product Review: Pastels
Target Audience: Pastel artists
Technical Details:
  • review of four brands of pastels
  • includes images of the pastels
Summary: Informative review of four brands of pastels - each brand gets a relatively brief review but content is good
  • covers brands of pastels which are less common
  • comments on shape of each brand, how to use them, what he uses them for and value for money
  • also comments on how he keeps and stores his pastels
Think Again?
  • for pastel artists and those interested in pastels only
Suppliers: None listed in review

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Book review - Taking a Line for a Walk: 1100 Miles on Foot, Le Havre to Rome

Title: Taking a Line for a Walk: 1100 Miles on Foot, Le Havre to Rome by Christopher Lambert
Synopsis: In the summer of 2000, Christopher Lambert drew a straight blue line between Le Havre and Rome on a map of Europe when eighteen months short of his 70th birthday. He then set off with his all leather Brasher walking boots, a small rucksack, a couple of pens, some watercolour pencils and a sketchbook journal. 1,075 miles and 71 walking days later he arrived in Rome having taken a page each day to sketch and write about what he saw on his trip.

This is the hardback facsimile version of his sketchbook. As a concession to his handwriting, there is a thin typescript margin containing two lines of summary text about each day - as he says his writing gets a bit cramped at times!

Summary review:  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED This book is a joy for all those who sketch on their travels.  It's both an inspiration to improve one's own sketches and a gentle reminder of how to slow down and reflect on life and the pleasures of our surroundings and all we encounter on our travels.  If you find his writing a bit small I recommend a magnifier as the book is a facsimile which is the only way to experience 'as if' looking at the original book.

  • daily sketches while travelling in a loose and unfussy style
  • over 240 illustrations of a huge variety of 'views', buildings, people, flowers and insects
  • one of the very best travel journals I have ever seen - sets a standard to aspire to!
  • a particulour joy for all those - like me - using pen and ink and coloured pencils
Think Again?
  • those with sight impairment might find the handwritten text a bit of a struggle - but you can still enjoy all his sketches and you can certainly read the text easily with the use of a magnifier
    Who should buy this?:
    • people who need to slow down and learn to appreciate the places they visit
    • avid sketchers
    • people planning a journey and interested in keeping a travel journal
    • artists using pen and ink and/or watercolour pencils who want to try sketching their travels
    Who should not buy this?
    • people who don't like sketches
    • people who don't like travel journals
    • anybody who likes travelling at top speed!
    Author / (Publisher) Chris Lambert / The Antique Collectors Club (15 Sep 2004) 
    Technical data: Current Publication Date: July 7, 2006  It would appear that the book may have been reprinted in 2006 and that the original publishers are no longer involved.  The link at the top is to the 2006 book.  The link at the end is to the 2004 version.
    Hardcover (with dust jacket) - 144 pages; ISBN-10: 1851494707 | ISBN-13: 978-1851494705

    Paul Klee once explained that "a drawing is simply a line going for a walk".

    Christopher Lambert, the creator of this facsimile sketchbook, developed a taste for long distance walking when, on his retirement, he walked 440 miles along five ancient footpaths across southern Britain to his new retirement home in Devon.

    For the Millennium he thought he'd like to try one of the pilgrim routes across Europe. Consequently, in July 2000 he set off carrying a pilgrim's passport - a letter of brotherly greetings in Latin from the Anglican Provost of Portsmouth Cathedral to Pope John Paul in the Vatican in Rome.

    On his trip he averaged just over 15 miles each walking day overall, although this inevitably varied along the route across France, through Switzerland, down through northern Italy and the 'thigh' of Italy to Rome. En route - and along his straight line - he visited Honfleur, Fontainebleau Forest, the Canal de Bourgogne, Dijon, Lausanne and from there along the ancient pilgrimage route, the Via Francigena, through the Grand St. Bernard pass across the Alps to Aosta, Lucca and Siena before reaching Rome.

    What particularly appealed to me about this book is his habit of doing daily sketches while travelling - a habit I developed on my two trips to the USA. I also identified with his approach to sketching. He uses pen and ink to sketch, followed by coloured pencils to indicate values and form and something of local hues. The book contains over 240 illustrations of a huge variety of 'views', buildings, people, flowers, insects and the butterfly which sat on his hand one day while he drew (see below - page 52 Col du Grand St Bernard)

    Pages 85 and 85 Lucca
    "Taking a Line for a Walk"
    copyright Christopher Lambert - used with permission

    The author is a former architect and it's evident that his working life enables him to take him scenes involving buildings with an ease which others can only aspire to.  His eye takes in and quickly absorbs the key features of complicated architecture. I loved the way he tells himself off when he's done something overly complicated - giving himself injunctions to simplify. Overall, despite what he says below, his style is very pleasing - being loose and unfussy. Some of the very simplest sketches have the greatest impact.
    "The sketches had priority - to the extent that I would often make myself late departing from a place because I just had to record it....I wanted to shake off my architectural topographical style and in a few flicks of the pen and pencils capture the essence of a thing or place, but it very rarely happened. Nevertheless these small drawings became my footsteps as the miles elapsed and the pages filled...."

    His habit of sketching over meals is also one with which I'm very familiar. I even suspect, given the nature of his sketches, that we might share the same habit of table hopping to find the table which offers the 'right' view. Which is not always the best view but rather is the one which lends itself best to sketching.

    His meditations on walking, his surroundings and the impact that a long walk has on an individual are both interesting and powerful reminders to reflect on life at something less than 4 miles an hour. It's a book which more than repays any attempt to read his handwriting - which is not so difficult once you get used to it. This is a book that I can particularly recommend to all those accustomed to travelling to many destinations at top speed and who may not be acquainted with the benefits and "the inevitability of gradualism"! ;)

    In conclusion, I'd highly recommend this book for anybody wanting to keep a sketchbook journal of a trip. Those visiting places along this route will also get an insight into life outside a car and the rhythm of life which occurs when walking everyday on a very long walk.
    "The illustrations have a wonderful vividness and the text has a gentle undercurrent of humour.......It's the kind of book that you can pick up time after time and feel yourself wandering through the byways of France and Italy, hearing the sounds and smelling the fragrance of the hedgerows and fields around and about, or imagining yourself sitting outside in a village square enjoying a glass of wine" Sir Chris Bonington
    Note:  This review was first published in my sketchbook blog  Taking a line for a walk - from Le Havre to Rome (Wednesday, March 21, 2007) and is published again here with a new front end to provide a complete record of my book reviews on this blog


    Thursday, 10 December 2009

    The other Art Blogs - art stores and manufacturers

    In my blogroll, in the side column, I have a couple of sections listing the blogs of:
    • leading art store blogs. I'm trying to keep this limited to leading art stores and/or blogs which are particularly good at explaining art materials rather than just annoucing their latest sale or unmissable offer!
    • manufacturers of art material
    Today I added these blogs into the two sections
    I'm then aiming to add all the smaller ones or location-specific ones (such as the Utrecht store blogs) to my two squidoo resources sites
    San Clemente Art Supply
    photo copyright Katherine Tyrrell

    Does anybody know of any more leading art store or art manufacturer blogs which they would recommend for this blog's blogroll?

    Tuesday, 8 December 2009

    Book review: Treasures of Botanical Art

    Treasures of Botanical Artby Shirley Sherwood and Martyn Rix
    published by Kew Publishing

    Title: Treasures of Botanical Art: Icons from the Shirley Sherwood and Kew Collections (USA/paperback)Links to:
    Synopsis: Written by two experts in botanical art and published as the catalogue of the inaugural exhibition of the The Shirley Sherwood Gallery in Kew Gardens, the first gallery in the world to be dedicated to year round exhibitions of botanical art. The book provides an overview of the richness and endurance of botanical art and the most significant artists from the 1600s through to contemporary artists.

    Summary review: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
    The book focuses on the botanical artworks in the exhibition in terms of their place in the history of botanical art and in relation to the plants they portray. Images are largely organised according to themes and so paintings completed many years apart are presented side by side. At the end of the book are biographies of all the artists whose work is reproduced in the book.

    • Provides an overview of:
      • the origins, history and relevance of botanical illustration.
      • some of the most significant artists from the 1600s through to contemporary artists
    • includes works by some of the most highly regarded botanical artists of all time
    • extensively illustrated; features some 200 illustrations of paintings and drawings from both the Kew and Shirley Sherwood collections.
    • the colour reproduction of the drawings and paintings is excellent (I saw the exhibition)
    • each illustration is annotated with particularly thorough captions, with artist's details, dimensions of the paintings, medium and material, and the nature of the plant shown.
    • informative essays on the origins, history and relevance of botanical illustration
    • selected bibliography is thorough
    Think Again?
    • this is not a 'how to' book - its focus is not on how drawing or paintings were produced
    • indices for both plants and artists could be better.
    Who should buy this?:
    • botanical artists
    • botanical art lovers
    • botanical art tutors
    Who should not buy this?
    • people not interested in botanical art
    Author / (Publisher) Shirley Sherwood, Martyn Rix / Kew Publishing
    Technical data:
    • Publication Dates: 1 April 2008 (hardback/paperback):
    • Hardcover/Paperback - 272 pages;
    • Hardcover: ISBN-10: 1842463683 ISBN-13: 978-1842463680
    • Paperback: ISBN-10: 1842462210 ISBN-13: 978-1842462218

    This book is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. It proved very popular on publication and I'm sure it will become a landmark publication over time.

    This review was first published - in a different format - on Making A Mark on Monday, April 21, 2008 - see Treasures of Botanical Art - a recommended read. This post also includes a review of the exhibition and some of the images of the work on display.

    1. Dr Shirley Sherwood has been collecting contemporary botanical drawings since 1990. Her comprehensive collection from over two hundred artists, living in thirty different countries documents the emergence of a new wave of botanical artists and the renaissance of their art form. She holds a number of distinguished posts with leading organisations in the horticulural and botanical art worlds. She has written several books on botanical art (see below)
    2. Martyn Rix is the editor of Curtis's Botanical Magazine, which is the longest running botanical periodical in the world.
    3. Kew Publishing is the publishing house of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. It produces over 20 new titles each year and aims to inspire and educate people about our work and to make available Kew’s unique heritage and resources, knowledge and cutting edge expertise to as wide an audience as possible throughout the world.

    Tuesday, 1 December 2009

    Book Review - Imaginative Realism by James Gurney

    Title: Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist
    Synopsis: This book has been described as the ultimate reference for fans of science fiction and fantasy illustration. Imaginative Realism links traditional techniques with contemporary visualisation.

    Award-winning fantasy artist and the creator of Dinotopia, James Gurney systematically examines and details practical methods for creating believable pictures of imaginary subjects. (Right click the Table of Contents on the right and open in a new tabe to see the contents page)

    This is NOT a book about the use of digital tools. Instead the focus is on the use of plein-air studies, models photographed in costume, maquettes, models and tableaus.

    He also demonstrates the use of thumbnail sketches, storyboards, charcoal comprehensive drawings, tone paper studies and a variety of approaches and techniques relevant to composition.

    This vast number of topics are typically covered in double page spreads with dense but succinct text and relevant images at various stages of development. The book also includes a useful section on careers and a detailed glossary.
    Summary review:
    On publication this book became the #1 art instruction book on Amazon. A month after publication it holds on to the #1 slot in art books about Realism. The reason being that this book sets a very high standard for all art instruction books as it is jam packed full of useful content which is both very accessible and highly informative.

    The bias is towards Gurney's normal fantasy art subject matter but the principles are applicable to all painters who create works which involve some element of imagined realism.

    Many of the technical approaches he uses are also rooted in classical realism. This book reminded me of all the ways that artists who pre-date photography often worked - assembling finished paintings from studies, mock-ups and maquettes. I looked at the Degas maquettes in the Musée d'Orsay in a whole new light after reading this book

    This book is so good I'd recommend that any aspiring fine artist buys it just for Chapter 11 which deals with composition. The approaches to developing a composition and the various devices discussed in the book are also ones which are important to the education of any artist wanting to paint in a realistic way. They also go way beyond what gets highlighted when composition gets discussed in most forums and books.

    James manages to be is very informative about past practices of leading illustrators as well as providing very clear explanations about traditional concepts and his own particular techniques developed over many years in his very successful career as a creative artist. In doing so, he maintains a very accessible writing style of the type used by the very best teachers.

    I suspect some will hope this book will be published as a hardback as I think this will become a standard reference book and be used for many years to come.
    • covers an enormous amount of material
    • a focus on classical, traditional and practical methods which enable the realisation of fantasy - updated for those using conventional media in the 21st century
    • an emphasis on different stages of development and the amount of work which cam be involved in getting it right
    • an excellent review of fundamental concepts relating to composition - with Gurney terminology
    • well evidenced challenges to conventional wisdom on composition - which will surprise quite a few people
    • a huge number of images used to illustrate and underline points
    • useful section on careers
    • extremely well written and very accessible. This book will appeal to all ages.
    • excellent production values - colours reproduce well. Binding is good - but might possibly become strained over the years of use that this book is likely to generate
    Think Again?
    • You can access much of this material on his blog - but if you find that useful you'd regret not buying this book!
    • some may find the fantasy element a little bit too much - but I'd recommend you stick with mining the nuggets of excellent advice in the text
    • I suspect this book will be very well used by some artists who might value the option of a hardback as an alternative.
    Who should buy this?:

    This is a MUST BUY who all those need to create imaginary realism - even for those working in digital format! Including:
    • fantasy artists
    • contemporary illustrators,
    • Concept artists - for films and games
    • Animators
    • comic book artists
    • figurative artists who would like to create imagined scenes - even if they don't involve dinosaurs!
    Who should not buy this?
    • Of limited interest to those not wanting to portray realism
    • dedicated digital artists might think this book has little relevance - but they'd be wrong!
    Author / (Publisher): James Gurney / Andrews McMeel Publishing
    Technical data:
    • Publication Date: October 20, 2009 in USA; November 2009 in UK
    • Paperback: 224 pages
    • ISBN-10: 0740785508
    • ISBN-13: 978-0740785504

    I've been a long-time follower and reader of James Gurney's blog Gurney Journey. I also regularly highlight his blog posts in my weekly Sunday post "Who's made a mark this week?" Indeed sometimes it feels like I'm featuring him every week! One of the reasons for that is James is so generous in sharing his expertise as an artist and illustrator.

    I've known for some time that he had a book planned and consequently it was great to be able to get hold of it, read it and now write this review.

    This long time artist and author produces what he wants to do the way he wants to do it. He's writing about what he knows, he writes from a position of many years expertise and he shares an absolutely amazing amount of content and material.

    It's very important to note that, at a time when many publishers of art instruction books are finding yet more ways to regurgitate existing content that they've already paid for into yet another format or cover, James Gurney confounds all the myths about the publication of art books.
    • He tackles complex topics - and renders them easy to understand.
    • He creates a book which appeals to those starting out and those who are experienced in this field.
    • He packs a huge amount of information into one book rather than delivering a publication which is very thin in content terms.
    • He tackles traditional concepts without any sense of the 'same old same old'.
    I do hope some of the publishers take note and many thanks to Andrews McMeel Publishing for letting James do what he does best!

    A lot of what is in this book I'd already read on Gurney Journey. This has given James the opportunity to refine some of his material as prior publication on his blog means he's already got a very good sense of what interests his readers and devotees. I really enjoyed seeing it all again in book form and there's something about having it all together in a logical sequence which I think creates an overall sum which is greater than the parts.

    You should also read Charley Parker's review on Lines and Colors - Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist. This one will particularly appeal to the fantasy artists and illustrators reading this.

    This book is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED by me. If you find somebody to buy you a copy as a present for Christmas I guarantee you'll have read it before the New Year arrives! :)


    Sunday, 22 November 2009

    Widget reviews - Google Search on Blogger

    Widget: "Google Search" widget on Blogger
    Summary: Highly recommended for all those who use a search function often - like me. Essential for those who reference posts from their own blog and/or use their own blog to file details about a book or product for when they need it for future reference - like me! I'm finding I'm using it all the time.
    Technical Details: Google Search Widget available from standard menu
    Synopsis: Performs a Google search with several options for my blog and the wider world
    • very fast - much faster and more accurate than the normal Blogger search function
    • huge flexibility as to how I seach
    • standard options are to search my blog, the pages I link to or the web
    • additional options to search specific categories of links in my blogroll (see below to see an example of the search opportunities for this blog)
    Think Again?
    • Unnecessary if you never ever search your own blog or those of other people. You might as well use your normal search engine for the rest.
    Owner/Distributor: Google/Blogger - it's the second item in the list of 'basics' widgets
    Suitable for: Anybody who has been blogging for a long time, has a substantial archive and likes to refer back to past posts - like me! Where you'll put it in your side column will depend on how often you want to search your own blog. It's a simple widget and it's now at the top of all three of my blogs

    These are the options it provides for this blog. I've used some but not all but can change my options at any time. At present I've focused it mainly on my own archives and posts but I'm still experimenting with which seem the best options. I recommend you do the same as the best option will be very personnel and vary from person to person.

    Monday, 16 November 2009

    Opinion Poll: Which is your favourite make of artist grade coloured pencil?

    This is an update on one of the polls on Coloured Pencils - Resources for Artists - my coloured pencils information site - as at November 2009. Click the image to see a larger version of the results or visit the information site.

    718 responses in total have been received to date. That's a very big increase since July 2008 when I first reviewed this poll when only 177 responses have been received. Back in April of this year it had attracted some 509 responses.

    So far as I am aware that makes this the largest online poll about brands of coloured pencils that has ever been conducted.

    It's not foolproof. It's entirely possible that the marketing people at Faber Castell and Sanford have it bookmarked and continue to vote for their own brands! ;)

    What the poll indicates
    • The poll indicates that the market for coloured pencils is an oligopoly. Some might call it a duopoly. Two firms, two brands and two pencils alone account for very nearly 60% of the market - in terms of brand preference.
    • Faber Castell Polychromos and Sanford Prismacolor continue to fight it out for top spot of most popular brand of coloured pencil with each having just under 30% of the responses. I review the poll on a regular basis and the positions do change on a regular basis and they are almost always with 1% of one another.
    • Derwent has about 20% of the responses with Derwent Artists (c. 10%) and Derwent Coloursoft (c. 10%). This mimics the fight for the top spot as the two pencils resemble Polychromos and Prismacolor respectively in terms of the way they work
    • Caran d'Ache Pablo share 3rd place with Derwent Coloursoft with just over 10%. What's missing is artists who prefer the new Luminance pencil - which ill be addressed by the new poll in 2010 - see below.
    • Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor have dropped back in terms of popularity to 6th place and just over 7% of responses. I suspect this may well be to do with distribution as the pencils work well with Polychromos and most shades do pretty well on the lightfastness tests. It's a brand which certainly will always find a home in my pencil tub.
    • Talens Van Gogh pencils continue to attracted few votes despite being predominatly lightfast and an excellent pencil to use. Again I think the issue relates to availability.
    I've included links to past reviews at the end of this post.

    A new poll for 2010

    This is to announce that a new poll about artists' coloured pencils will be launched in January 2010
    . Back in April I speculated about doing an Annual Poll and that's what I've decided to do. That way both you and I can track how preferences change over time.

    The current poll about artists' coloured pencils will be "retired" although its results will be maintained as an image on Coloured Pencils - Resources for Artists

    The main reason for starting a new poll is because there have been a lot of advances since the original poll was started:
    • CPSA has now published more data about the resusts of its lightfast testing of different brands of pencils
    • there are now more lightfast pencils, more people are aware of the lightfastness issues and people's preferences may well have shifted
    • new brands have been created eg Caran d'Ache Luminance pencils
    • people will have experimented with more brands and new brands and may well have changed their preferences!
    Hopefully by providing feedback to the manufacturers about preferences there will be some incentive to continue with a good selection in the marketplace and products which improve over time.

    If any of the marketing people from the different pencil manufacturers are reading this and want to make sure that any new brands in the pipeline are included please contact me with the date your product is due to be in the marketplace.


    Wednesday, 11 November 2009

    Book Review: The Art of Plant Evolution

    [UPDATED] This book review has now moved. The synopsis and summary from the original post are below - the rest can be found on Book Review - The Art of Plant Evolution on my website dedicated to Botanical Art and Artists.

    Title: The Art of Plant Evolution
    Synopsis: This publication is based on an 'art meets science' exhibition in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in 2009/10 to celebrate Kew’s 250th anniversary and Darwin’s bicentenary. The exhibition (and the book) provides an overview of plant relationships based on contemporary scientific discoveries and DNA test. Both contain 136 botanical paintings from the Shirley Sherwood Collection, by 84 artists, cover 44 orders of plants in 118 families, and a total of 134 species, providing a sweeping overview of the evolution of plants on earth. The paintings display a sampling of the plant world from fungi to daisies, including algae, mosses, ferns, conifers and flowering plants arranged in the most up to date evolutionary sequence, determined by recent DNA analysis. The text accompany each image of paintings in the exhibition comments on the artist's background, and the artist’s observations in the context of modern plant classification.

    Summary review: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED This book emphasises the scientific aspects of botanical art and provides all botanical art lovers with a comprehensive education in the botany of plant groups and families alongside numerous excellent examples of botanical art.

    A copy of the original post has been archived and is on file.

    Tuesday, 10 November 2009

    Book review: Private Lives of the Impressionists

    Title: Private Lives of the Impressionists

    Synopsis: This is a group biography; it provides a narrative of the story behind the famous paintings. It's a book which covers the lives of the Impressionists - Monet, Manet, Pisarro, Cézanne, Renoir, Degas, Sisley, Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt before, during and after the creation of their group. It charts the development of Impressionism within the context of contemporaneous development in Paris and the Parisian art world. The focus is very much on the birth of Impressionism and finishes in 1883 with the death of Manet.

    Summary review: RECOMMENDED This is a very dense book covering a large number of artists and has lots going on. It's scholarly and knowledgeable but a light read at the same time. I found it took a little getting into until I was clear about all the relationships between the different artists. Charting the overall relationships is also what marks this book out as being different from other biographies of the individual artists. However the author writes well, I enjoyed reading the book, didn't want to finish and would happily read it again. Knowing more about the circumstances in which artists produced their paintings helped me look at both artists and paintings in a new light. I would have liked to have been able to read more about how the artists developed during the rest of their artistic careers after 1883. Maybe that's another book?

    • comprehensive overview of the birth of Impressionism
    • includes all the main artists associated with Impressionism
    • identifies all the various relationships between the different artists
    • a huge amount of detail suggesting lots of meticulous research
    • details the impact on the artists of current events in France - such as the Franco-Prussian war
    Think Again?
    • Is Manet an Impressionist? Discuss.........

    Who should buy this?:

    • Artists interested in Impressionism
    • Art Historians
    • Teachers of art history - to find out how to make art history come alive!
    • Students of art history

    Who should not buy this?

    • People with no interest in art history or Impressionism
    Author / (Publisher): Chatto Windus (Hardback)

    Technical data: Technical data: Publication Date 2006 (hardback); 2007 (paperback): Hardover - 368 pages Paperback 352 pages; ISBN-10 0099458349: ISBN-13 978-0099458340: I read the paper back version. Covers vary depending on editions.

    What the book covers
    • it also highlights the other people who are important to the story of the Impressionists - such as painters Caillebotte and Bazille, the art dealer Durand Ruel (who established the market for Impressionism in the United States as well as in Europe) and the paint merchant Tanguey also get pretty good coverage.
    • it describes the environment of the places where they lived, frequented and painted as they were at the time which has provided for me a whole new perspective of certain of the works.
    • This is also a story of the Paris which had been transformed by Baron Haussman and of the impact of the Franco-Prussian war - which had a major impact on more than one of the painters - the siege of Paris in 1870-71, the establishment of the Paris Commune and the emergence of the Third Republic.
    • it tells the stories of the Salon des Beaux Arts and the first Salon des Refuses in 1863 and exhibitions by the Impressionists (minus Manet) starting in 1874, 1876, 1877, 1879, 1880, 1881, 1882 and 1886 and the relative success of each of the painters in different contexts
    • you gain insight into their familial and fraternal relationships - and the very many difficulties associated with the class system of the time without having to read a detailed biography of individual painters. This highlights some of the oddities such as the fact that both Manet and Cezanne had wives and children who were not known to their families.
    • For Americans, there is an interesting chapter towards the end of the book which tells the story of how Durand Ruel opened up the market for Impressionist paintings in New York.
    • The focus of the book is on the birth of Impressionism rather than about everything that happened to the Impressionist Painters. It more or less finishes in 1883 around about the time of the death of Manet - however this it does leave scope for another book! At the moment, an epilogue provides a very abbreviated summary of what happened next for each if the painters
    UK Paperback Book Cover (Vintage House)
    detail from Self Portrait in his Atelier by Claude Monet

    Why I recommend this book

    This book covers a critical period for a number of the different painters who became known as the Impressionists. It's incredibly dense and covers a huge amount of detailed information in a way which speaks of comprehensive and meticulous research.

    What makes this book different for me is the articulation of the various relationships between the different painters. So often books about the Impressionists tend to list them as individuals and comment on their works in the same way. This book focuses much more on the connections and the way they supported and influenced once another. It's an invaluable insight also into how a group with common motivations can support one another through different challenges and emotional and financial difficulties - and there were quite a few of those!

    It also gives a very good insight into just how long it took some of these painters to become successful and just how financially stretched they were at times.

    I am particularly enjoying the way in which Roe provides an insight into the incredibly different characters and personalities of the painters. I am repeatedly left wondering quite how some of them came to be members of the same group.

    I like the way the book discusses how specific paintings came into being. The index is good because you can look up a specific painting by title and check out what it says - so it's good if you also want to use it as a reference source. Unusually for a paperback, this book also provides two sections of colour plates of paintings which feature in the text.

    It's also a really great index for tracking down particular events. In fact the notes and index - which make up around 20-25% of the pages of my paperback persuade me that this is a very well read, well researched and well organised author! It's brilliant for providing you with references to sources if you want to pursue some particular aspect of one of the painters.

    One of the surprising by-products of reading this book is that I now feel I understand far more about what happened in Paris and France in the second half of the 19th century than I ever did
    while studying late 19th century European History at school!

    Now I know I've succeeded in making it seem incredibly academic - but the reality is that this book is an incredibly easy read. Roe has a gift as storyteller. She has been able to take dry facts and convert them into a narrative which is always interesting - even when it takes you down paths you're not quite expecting.

    I also think this book would be a terrific read for anybody currently facing challenges associated with the credit crunch and the recession. Reading about people facing very similar difficulties somehow helped to remind me of the enduring themes and challenges of life.

    There really is nothing new under the sun - except when somebody has a bright idea about how to apply paint!

    Note (1) A similar post first appeared on Making A Mark on 4th November 2008
    Note (2) about the author: Sue Roe is a freelance writer and teacher. A former Lecturer at the University of East Anglia, she is the author of a novel, Estella, Her Expectation, a collection of poems, The Spitfire Factory, and Writing and Gender: Virginia Woolf’s Writing Practice. She is also co-editor of the Cambridge Companion to Virginia Woolf, and her most recent book is the widely praised Gwen John: A Life. She lives in Brighton.

    Tuesday, 3 November 2009

    Call for reviews - NetworkedBlogs on Facebook

    I've just put my main blog and this blog on NetworkedBlogs on Facebook.

    I'm thinking of doing a review of this application at some future stage - from the perspective of artist bloggers on Facebook - and wondered if anybody would like to help out by offering your views (see questions below).
    NetworkedBlogs is a facebook application. Think of it as a social network for bloggers inside facebook. Add a visual blogroll on your profile, and show of your blogs and blogs you like. NetworkedBlogs also aggregates the RSS/ATOM feeds from thousands of blogs and allows you to read the latest news selected by users like you.
    Please only comment if you are an artist blogger on Facebook.
    Any spam will not be published.

    What I'd like to know

    I'd like to hear about your reviews of this facebook application. You can use my basic queries listed below if that helps you. Please respond to as many or as few as you want to.

    Accessibility and ease of use on installation
    • How long did it take you before you discovered this application
    • How did you find the installation of networked blogs?
    • What did you think of the verification process?
    Practical impact
    • Has networked.blogs helped you to build a profile on Face book? (Do you have any numbers?)
    • If yes, what if any benefits has that brought you? (If none, please say so)
    • Specifically, can you tell whether it has helped with the marketing of your art? (Please say how)
    • If it has brought you no benefits do you know why that might be?
    The Directory
    • What do you think of the blog directory generally?
    • Have you looked at and/or started to follow any of the top 50 blogs listed under any of the art terms eg art; design; illustration
    • What do you think about the Directory listing being limited to 50?
    Do you like networked blogs?
    • What's your overall impression of NetworkedBlogs after using it?
    • Would you recommend it to other Facebook users?
    • Would you recommend it to other artists on Facebook?
    Anything else? Do also feel free to comment on any other aspect not covered above.

    Sunday, 1 November 2009

    Botanical Art Bookshop Review - Kew Gardens

    Botanical art and botanical art instruction books
    at the Victoria Plaze shop at Kew Gardens

    Name of Art Bookshop: Kew Gardens - Victoria Plaza shop
    Summary: A bookshop to go to if you have a special interest in botanical art, botanical artists and/or drawing and painting gardens, flowers, plants or trees. It's useful and good but could be even better.
    Address: Kew Gardens (inside the gardens to the right of the Victoria Gate (see pdf map of Kew)
    Website: Gardens: Victoria Plas Shop
    Shop hours: Kew Gardens opening times - Kew opens at 9.30am every day except 24/25 December. Closing times vary by season.
    Telephone: None given
    email: None given
    Of interest to: emerging and experienced botanical artists and those who like botanical art
    • extensive range of botanical art books - about botanical artists and botanical art instruction books
    • catalogues from the latest and past exhibitions at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art which is the first gallery in the world dedicated solely to botanical art and which is open all year round.
    • excellent selection of books about contempory botanical art
    • interesting range of books about historical botanical art
    Think Again?
    • this is a shop which focuses on gardens rather than art so few general art books.
    • selection of books on display could be improved

    There aren't many places you can go and be sure of finding botanical art books - but the Victoria Plaza shop at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew is one of them. Alongside its vast and extensive range of books about gardens, plants trees and flowers and all things botanical are the shelves for the botanical books

    One of the highspots of my regular trips to Kew is ending up in the shop, next to the Victoria Gate, just before I leave to see what's new on the botanical art shelves. Or to see sometimes what's now on display which hasn't been around for a while.

    My visits suggest there is usually one complete set of shelves devoted to botanical art books - about the art and the artists - including most of the good books about contemporary botanical art published in recent times. This now includes the catalogues from the two or three exhibitions each year at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery. It also includes Dover publications of etchings and fine art prints of botanical art from the past - which I find quite fascinating.

    Books range from the very expensive through to the very reasonable. I've ummed and ahhed over quite a few in my time but very varely leave without at least one new book! I'm one of those people who needs to see some books in my hands before I buy them. When that's the case I invaribaly always buy them from the shop that's taken the trouble to stock them rather than online - on the basis that if we don't do that we soon won't be able to see them before we buy!

    Another set of shelves is devoted to art instruction books with many of the popular books about botanical art. It also includes more general books about painting landscapes and trees.

    It is however a botanical art bookshop which could be even better. I could improve the selection they keep in regular stock if they'd let me make suggestions! For example there are some really excellent botanical art instruction books which are not on display (see my Book Review: Botanical Illustration by Valerie Oxley). I also couldn't see the Society of Botanical Artists books this time around which is unusual. Stock levels also looked rather lower than usual.


    Monday, 19 October 2009

    Art shop review: Magasin Sennelier, Paris

    Name of shop: Sennelier
    Address: - 3 quai Voltaire 75007 Paris
    Travel to:
    • Métro: Palais Royal - Rue du Bac - Saint Germain
    • Autobus: 24 - 27 - 39 - 48 - 68 - 95
    • Parking: Drugstore - Louvre Carrousel - Saint Germain des Près - Montalembert
    Hours: Open every day except Sunday and Monday morning from 10am to 12.45 and from 2.00pm to 6.30pm
    Telephone: Tél:0142607215 / Fax:0142610069
    Online Store: The website is not really set up for dealing with online orders from people from places outside France. It's more along the lines of providing an online catalogue. I noted that the minimum order is 50.00 euro. Orders should be addressed and signed and confirmed by a deposit or the number of your credit card. The postage and packing are charged to the customer. Goods travel at the risk of the recipient.
    Of interest to: Artists who specialise, like me, in the use of dry media - pastels and pencils. Also of interest to those who would like to purchase pigments.
    • fabulous range of raw pigments sold
    • independent supplier and hence not tied into stocking product ranges 'approved'elsewhere
    • customer service appears helfpul; some English spoken
    • supplies a range of pastels (not just Sennelier)
    • excellent choice of coloured pencils - both artist grade and water soluble
    • very good range of different paint media (including some which are not often found elsewhere) and an extensive range of brushes
    • Good range of pastel supports
    Think Again?
    Summary: A traditional shop which has been around for over 120 years and is likely to be around for a long time to come. I don't think you'll find a bargain but you will see the complete range of some products which are difficult to see elsewhere.
    Magasin Sennelier
    Le spécialiste de la restauration, des toiles à peindre, des chevalets, des papiers du monde, de la calligraphie mais aussi de la sculpture, de la gravure... et de la la couleur.
    Gustave Sennelier set up his art shop at 3 Quai Voltaire in 1887 - some 122 years ago! You can read (in French) about the history of the firm and the shop.

    Since that date, many an artist from countries other than France have found their way to its front door.

    If you don't have an opportunity to visit, you can see a slideshow of all the photos I took in the Sennelier Shop at 3 Quai Voltaire in Paris on Flickr - with explanations of what each picture is showing.

    A very traditional art shop

    The shop includes more of a focus on dry media and pigments, soft pastels, coloured pencils and pencils than most. For UK readers I'd liken it to Cornelissens in London in terms of layout and style - wood floors and a limited presence of modern product display units. One got the impression these were only used if they were more effective than alternatives. Personally speaking I like to see a shop which specialises in pastels with old fashioned pastel drawers - and these were of course present!


    It's a shop which most pastellists who get to Paris try and visit - if only to see the complete range of Sennelier soft pastels and oil pastels. The display of the giant oil pastels is certainly very impressive. Other pastels stocked included Unison, Pan Pastels and Derwent pastel pencils

    Coloured pencils

    I paid a visit to see the complete Caran d'Ache Luminance 6901 range on display. I like the pencils a lot but I don't like the price and don't quite know what possessed me to pay €3.95 each for several of them! I did notice that the shop price was significantly more than the price quoted on the Sennelier website.

    This is a shop for all coloured pencils fans as it also stocks the complete range of Faber Castell Polychromos, Caran d'ache Pabo as well as Neocolor, Cretacolor and Aquamonolith.


    I wasn't paying attention to the paints on offer but the store does offer a good range of good quality paints - for oils, acrylics an watercolour paintings - plus associated media and brushes.


    The wall of jars of pigments is simply stunning.

    Website and online ordering

    The website is written in French and small parts of it have been translated quite badly (automatically?). I wouldn't feel confident about trying to order anything from the shop using the website but if you're good at French or are prepared to persevere I'm sure it's possible. The minimum order that they will deal with is €50.


    My Favourite Art Shops - Resources for Artists
    As more and more sales move online, it's crucial that all artists continue to patronise and support our favourite 'bricks and mortar' art shops in our towns and cities. These are where we can find the specialist art materials which can be impossible to find online. This site contains:
    (1) reviews of favourite art shops
    (2) photographs of what they look inside
    (3) details of how to find them.

    Thursday, 15 October 2009

    New Federal rules for product reviews/endorsements by bloggers

    Beginning Dec. 1, bloggers, Twitterers and many others who write online product reviews must disclose the receipt of free merchandise or payment for the items they write about.
    New York Times - New F.T.C. Rules Have Bloggers and Twitterers Mulling
    Not a problem for me. I've already got a disclaimer at the bottom of this blog which clearly states................

    The basic principle which underpins this blog is that all all the reviews which appear here should be independent.

    What does this mean?
    • I am sent review copies of books by publishers or authors and samples of art materials by suppliers of art materials but I have no financial relationship with those suppliers or any art shop or art bookshop.
    • I am an Amazon affiliate (which helps me to finance the purchase of any new books); however I have no formal affiliation with any other manufacturer or publisher and I buy lots of art books in various art shops)
    • I will always declare if I have any sort of affiliate interest in relation to a product or service under review and I'll also declare whether I was sent a product as a sample.
    • I expect all reviews by other artists which appear on this blog to adhere to the basic premise that any and all affiliations are declared.
    I don't think I need to take any action.

    How about you?

    There are clear issues about how to distinguish between ordinary people who write about products they use in an 'everyday' way and those who provide endorsements with a view to earning money from their blogs.

    It's been an issue that has always seemed to me to be one which is best addressed by ALWAYS being open and upfront about any products/books/items I'm sent to review. I don't give positive reviews simply because I'm sent something but I really wouldn't want people to think that a positive review is the result of getting a freebie!!!

    Overall, I say what I think - but try to be fair. In relation to negative experiences I notify a manufacturers if a sample product has failed to perform - as I've done just recently. I then seek a replacement to ensure that my review is not distorted by what might be a 'one-off' malfunction. It happens.

    Further Information

    The Guide was last updated in 1980 so this is a major and important change. It's specifically aimed at ensuring transparency in dealings as much advertising now moves away from traditional channels and towards social networking sites.

    Here are some links providing more information.
    The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service. Likewise, if a company refers in an advertisement to the findings of a research organization that conducted research sponsored by the company, the advertisement must disclose the connection between the advertiser and the research organization. And a paid endorsement – like any other advertisement – is deceptive if it makes false or misleading claims.
    Federal Trade Commission - News:
    FTC Publishes Final Guides Governing Endorsements, Testimonials
    For purposes of this part, an endorsement means any advertising message including verbal statements, demonstrations, or depictions of the name, signature, likeness or other identifying personal characteristics of an individual or the name or seal of an organization) that consumers are likely to believe reflects the opinions, beliefs, findings, or experiences of a party other than the sponsoring advertiser, even if the views expressed by that party are identical to those of the
    sponsoring advertiser. The party whose opinions, beliefs, findings, or experience the message appears to reflect will be called the endorser and may be an individual, group, or institution.
    (c) The Commission intends to treat endorsements and testimonials identically in the context of its enforcement of the Federal Trade Commission Act and for purposes of this part. The term endorsements is therefore generally used hereinafter to cover both terms and situations.
    (d) For purposes of this part, the term product includes any product, service, company or industry.
    (e) For purposes of this part, an expert is an individual, group, or institution possessing, as a result of experience, study, or training, knowledge of a particular subject, which knowledge is superior to what ordinary individuals generally acquire.

    Sunday, 6 September 2009

    Art Bookshop Review: Waterstones (Covent Garden)

    Sections for Graphics, Design, Type and Illustration
    in Waterstones in Garrick Street, Covent Garden

    Name of Art Bookshop: Waterstones (Covent Garden)
    Address: 9-13 Garrick Street, London WC2E 9BA
    Art and Photography - online
    Shop hours: Sun 12.00-18.00 Monday - Saturday 10.00-20.00
    Telephone: 020 7836 6757
    Of interest to: Grapic designers, illustrators, photographers, typographers, artists and art lovers
    • extenstive and indepth sections devoted to graphics, design, type, illustration and photography
    • fairly good section for art instruction
    • very wide range of specialist art journals - particularly those oriented towards contemporary art, graphic design and photography
    • generally a good bookshop for other books as well
    • conveniently located for people visiting Covent Garden/Leicester Square area
    Think Again?
    • a very decent section on art history - but this isn't the best Waterstones for art history and art monographs (you need to go to the flagship branch at Piccadilly for that)
    Summary: This is a really bookshop to go to if your area of interest is largely focused on commercial art in all its aspects as it has particularly good sections for those involved in graphic design and illustration. Also lots and lots books for photographers.

    (left) Photography and (right) Art Instruction and Art Monographs

    I don't get involved with illustration, graphic design or commercial art but I do love looking at some of the books which relate to that field.

    Also, since I realised that an awful lot of fine artists with really good design and composition skills started off working in design or illustration, I've also been interested in whether there are books about design which are also helpful to fine artists.

    There again - I love looking at fonts and books about type - I don't quite know why but I do!

    If you've ever wanted to explore books in these fields then the Waterstones in Garrick Street - half way between Covent Garden tube and Leicester Square is the place to go. There's also an entrance into the art section of the shop from Long Acre.

    The Waterstones Art & Photography website gives a good indication of the sort of books they carry.

    I've decided I'm going to create a Google Map of where all the good art bookshops are in London. If anybody wants to send in suggestions please comment below.

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