Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Book Review: The Pastel Book

Title: The Pastel Book
Author: (Publisher): Bill Creevy (Watson Guptill)
Synopsis: An introduction to pastels which is methodical in its approach and comprehensive in its scope. It provides very high quality advice about materials and stimulating demonstrations of what can be achieved in terms of basic techniques, the use of colour and mixing pastels with other media. The explanations and images are excellent and the instruction is stimulating.
Suitable for: Beginners, intermediate and advanced artists using pastels who want to understand the medium better and to explore what's possible when using pastels. Likely to appeal to those who prefer a painterly approach to realism.
  • comprehensive section on materials, papers and tools with authoritative explanations about how different media and materials work
  • excellent and inspiring explanations and demonstrations of basic techniques and more advanced methods of combining pastels with other media
  • pitches explanations at people who want to learn rather than to be spoon fed
  • excellent production values and images
Think Again?
  • This book is dated insofar as it's not completely up to date on all available brands. However much of what it covers is readily available and relevant.
  • May well not appeal to those who like their realism photorealistic
  • Not suitable for those people who like very basic explanations and beginner level demonstrations.
Summary: A book that has made a lasting impression on me and opened my eyes to what is possible using soft pastels. This book is a "standard" in art instruction which attracts positive comments from a variety of sources. So far as I'm aware its not yet been beaten in terms of the comprehensive nature of its coverage of different brands of pastels and the range of ways you can use pastels to make art.

The Pastel Book was the very first book I ever bought about pastels any my hardback edition is dated 1991 and I bought shortly after it became available in the UK for £22.95! It was excellent value for money then and it's excellent value for money now.

The most recent edition is a paperback dated 1999. I've checked on Amazon and it's still selling well - both new and used!

I don't think I could have started with a better book. Bill Creevy is a Master Pastellist member of the Pastel Society of America and is listed in Who's Who in American Art. I very much appreciate books where the author is experienced and authoritative in their use of the media in question.

The book is very methodical in its approach and comprehensive in its scope. In particular it covers oil pastels and well as soft pastels. This will of course be heresy to some but the title of the book is The Pastel Book! It's also particularly suitable for people who want to work with an abrasive surface.

One characteristic of the book is the excellent production values in terms of a well made book with good quality paper and excellent graphics and images.

Materials and tools

As with all of the Watson Guptill Books which seek to explain a particular media, the book is extraordinarily thorough. There are 30 pages just devoted to explaining about:
  • the different makes of pastels (soft pastels, handmade pastels, oil pastels and oil sticks),
  • different types of papers and other supports and their various merits
  • mediums and fixatives which can be used with pastels - a topic which is frequently omitted from a number of other books introducing people to pastels
  • tools - in terms of erasers and spreaders and mark makers of all kinds
The analysis of the history and behaviour of different brands is the best I've ever read anywhere. What's also good to see is a commentary which pays attention to the legislation on issues. Having dealt with how the pastels came into being and manufacture, Creevy then goes on to describe in detail what each pastel feels like to use and their relative size and hardness/softness. He spells out which are good for which sort of techniques or what sort of support.

The giant Sennelier pastels are soft and smooth to work with but not fragile or brittle

Rembrandts are extremely easy to work with

Quentin de la Tour has a unique consistency somewhere between soft and hard: very firm but still soft

That's something you don't readily appreciate when you're starting out. Looking back now I can see how well-informed his commentaries are. This of course is where having an author who is a master at using the media really pays off! It also helps hugely if you want to develop your set of pastels.

However one of the problems is that some of the pastel names have changed and some pastels are no longer easily available. For example 'Quentin de la Tour' stopped being a tradename in 1995 and they are now known as Pastels Girault. The list of suppliers is also inevitably going to be out of date. Others such as Grumbacher can now be very difficult to find. The likelihood is that the only place you'll find them is as vintage sets being sold on eBay!

I'm finding that it's nice to look back at all the descriptions of pastels and - in the age of the Internet selling - to realise that it's now possible to purchase some of the pastels (like Diane Townsends) which were just names to me when I started out!

The section on papers explains what each is good for - and re-reading for this review, I discovered that I'd never thought of using handmade watercolour papers from India which he recommends. he also explains how to make your own canvas panel and cover it with the medium of your choice.

Basic pastel techniques
if hard pastels are this medium's pencil points, then soft pastels are its paintbrushes
It's when you read simple sentences like that, that you know this is somebody who enjoys this medium!

What I particularly like about this section on basic pastel techniques is that the drawings are anything but basic. I do get annoyed when books which introduce a medium only ever show techniques at a beginner level of dexterity and application. Where's the source of inspiration in that? What this book did for me was make me want to try and achieve some of the techniques and pictures I saw demonstrated - and buy all the different pastel brands!

A double page spread provides an overview of with a variety of techniques for applying pastels in terms of the scope for drawing and mark-marking strokes , dusting and scumbling and other ways of manipulating pastels, and using pastels with other media and various tools. Each is then explained further in a double page spread - or more with excellent images. You'll get a sense of how good they are, if I say that I've had this book very nearly 20 years and I can still remember vividly what some of these demonstrations look like without even looking at the book!

What I love is that this is an accomplished artist who can ably demonstrate a variety of techniques. He does not attempt to 'sell' only one method - rather he opens up a world of possibilities and leaves you wanting to get started as soon as you can. However anybody (like me!) who likes painterly realism will really appreciate this book.

He finishes with a detailed review of the role of erasers and fixatives.

Pastel textures

This section looks at the special properties of pastels in terms of how they can blend and represent colour and explains what can be achieved using pastels in different ways. He demonstrates the use of various blending tools - and on the opposite page shows what can be done in terms of representing the same image in broken colour. His explanations of how to use the pastels are again very detailed and accessible.

This was the book which persuaded me that broken colour was much more visually exciting than smooth and blended colour and got me started on feathering, scumbling and the use of broken colour.

They didn't skimp on the photography for this book. This is also one of the few pastel books which shows you proper 'grainy' pictures of pastel paintings - of pastels on an abrasive surface. This is one of the few books where I've ever had a real sense of texture and scumbling.

Color and Pastels

Given the availability of techniques for creating optical mixtures of colours, it's also important to explain basic approaches to colour management as well as the techniques for delivery pastel to support - and this is what this section does. He doesn't spend forever explaining the colour wheel in basic terms. Rather he gets into the different approaches to using colour, how these relate to how light works in relation to colour and how all of this can be achieved with the use of pastels.

Pastels and Mixed Media

One of the aspects of pastels which often gets neglected is the scope to mix pastels with other media. This book does the reverse and devotes an entire section to this topic. He highlights in particular one of his favourite ways of working - using acrylic gel without using any acrylic paint to create a textured surface. He also explains how to use alkyd gels or liquin - which then reduce the need for fixative.

I've also never seen pastel monotypes or gum traganth combined with pastels ever tackled by any other book!

Oil Pastels and Oil Sticks

If I was wanting to learn more about oil pastels and oil sticks this is the book I'd want to start with. It has a section for each and deals with how they handle and the sort of strokes you can create and how they can be combined with other media. It pretty much follows the same sequence as used for soft pastels in terms of materials, basic techniques and ways to combine the media with other media.


Overall I have to endorse the publishers description of this book. It's one of the best books I've ever read about pastels and it has more about the basics relating to materials, papers and tools then many books which are much more modern.
Absolutely the most thorough guide to pastel materials and techniques ever assembled in a single volume, this is the book for anyone working with pastels, from beginners to experienced artists looking to develop more professional skills.
For anybody wanting a really good overview of each different type of soft pastel, this book is worth buying for that aspect alone - even with the omissions and amendments to names. It's such a pity that there isn't a modern and updated version of this book. Personally, I think the various pastel brands ought to get together and sponsor an update!

There is no doubt that this book is a "standard" in the field of pastel art instruction. I know that it attracts positive comments from a variety of sources. Different people like different aspects of it but all appreciate the quality of the content.

On a final note, in rereading The Pastel Book for this review, I started to itch to get my pastels out again!


Monday, 25 May 2009

Product Review: Ampersand Pastelbord for coloured pencil artwork

Product: Pastelbord
Manufacturer: Ampersand - This is a specialist manufacturer; they only produce painting panels for artists
Technical Details: Manufacturer's product description and data:
  • Pastelbord is a clay and gesso coated hardboard panel with a granular marble dust finish comparable to a sanded pastel paper except more durable and more versatile.
  • It can be used with wet or dry traditional pastel techniques or with acrylics, and more!
  • The coating is pH neutral and non-yellowing, making it a truly permanent museum quality surface.
  • Available in Gray, Green, Sand and White.
  • available in most American standard sizes (i.e. inches not metric) between 7" x 5" up to 24" x 36" with the grey shade having the most options. 18" x 24" is the most easily available large size. Custom made sizes also available.
Eco-friendly: Made from FSC certified sustainable US forest products. No harmful chemicals used in production and no dangerous emissions for artists. See the green section of the Ampersand website for more details
Suitable for: Most dry media - Soft or hard pastels, pastel pencils and wax-based coloured pencils (Prismacolor, Coloursoft, Luminance). However it doesn't like oil based coloured pencils (Polychromos and Lyra Rembrandt) so much. Acrylics and Neosoft II can both be used for underpaintings.
  • Museum/archival quality support. Acid-free and rigid, this support is not going to warp nor will it discolour
  • Marble dust grips dry media well
  • possible to remove media with relative ease as surface does not abrade in the same way as paper
  • enables coloured pencils to be framed without glass if sealed properly
  • sources and production processes are both eco-friendly
  • rigid support means that it can be shipped overseas with fewer concerns about damage
  • reduced costs for purchaser - no matting or glazing required for coloured pencil works which are sealed
  • they have a detailed article about how to frame and glaze pastelbord if framing pastels
  • endorsed by a number of professional artists for use with dry media (soft pastels and wax based coloured pencils)
  • Ampersand will accommodate custom panel requests up to 44” x 90” with cradles and cross braces up to 3 inches deep. Contact them for a quote by phone or email.
Think Again?
  • very expensive for UK and European artists
  • oil based coloured pencils (Polychromos / Lyra Rembrandt) don't seem to like it as much as wax-based pencils. However they can be used as a finishing layer over fixed work.
This is a high quality rigid support with a grain which makes it very suitable for use with dry media. It can also take an underpainting using other media. Its one drawback is the lack of a UK or European distributor making it an expensive option for all UK and European residents
UK Distributor: There is no UK distributor

Available in the UK: No known distributors or suppliers in the UK. Can be imported from the USA - it's more cost effective to have it shipped rather than air freighted.

Available in the USA from:
  • Ampersand - buy online - lists all the approved retailers for buying online
  • Ampersand - approved "premier retailers" - they have a facility to find stores by state in the USA and Canada on their website. You can also get an extra discount on list prices by shopping with an approved retailer.
  • Dick Blick - stocks a great range of sizes and colours and packages smaller supports too. Will export to the UK. They are happy to quote for an estimate of shipping costs before placing an order.
  • Cheap Joes Art Stuff
  • Jerry's Artarama
  • Daniel Smith - very limited range

This post is based on my own experience of using pastelbord with coloured pencils plus comments made by other artists - as listed below.

The image is a closeup of part of a portrait I've done on Pastelbord.

I first wrote about Ampersand Pastelbord on Making A Mark back in 2006. I'd first become aware of it when my friend Nicole Caulfield began experimenting with a variety of abrasive surfaces. On her recommendation, when I was in New England in September 2006, I bought an 11” x 14” Pastelbord by Ampersand to try out. Subsequently I imported some more.

I loved the surface, wished they had more base colours but haven't actually used it extensively due to the cost of shipping. This is not a lightweight support like paper! I've also only used it for coloured pencils but having read pastel artists' comments and experienced the level of adhesion I have no doubt it's good for soft pastels as well.

Further information is available on the websites of Ampersand and USA suppliers (see the end of the summary box for links to suppliers).

What is pastelbord?

This is what Ampersand's excellent information sheet which comes with each sheet has to say.
"Pastelbord is a clay-coated hardboard panel designed for pastels that is suitable for paints of all types, especially acrylics. The granular marble dust finish holds many more layers of pastels than traditional pastel papers and can be reworked wet or dry without affecting the integrity of the surface......the rigid 1/8" hardboard backing makes this an ideal panel for on-location work and standard sizes fit in pochade boxes and carriers easily. pastelbord is acid-free and non-yellowing, making it a truly permanent museum quality surface. Choose from Gray, Green, Sand and White"
Concerns about yellowing, curling, warping and separation are apparently a thing of the past with Pastelbord. Preparation and benefits, according to Ampersand, includes:
  • hardboard base is made using a wet manufacturing process that removes the lamella from the wood that can cause discolouration in paintings
  • the tempered hardboard is manufactured without thick tempering oils and is made from Aspen trees, which have more unform fibers and a more neutral Ph than that of other woods
  • less prone to warping due to the highest tensile strength of any art hardboard available
  • acid-free ground produced by using two coats of acrylic to seal the hardboard before application of the acid-free clay coating.
Key features for artistic use include:
  • very fine tooth with capacity for rich colour
  • ability to use wet or dry techniques on the board eg watercolour painting under pastels
  • heavy water applications do not affect the integrity of the surface
  • acrylic washes stay wet longer
  • flexible use for multi-media people - also suitable for use with oils, acrylics, watercolours and other types of pain
I haven't yet tried using it with any wet media but others who have say it works fine. I have to tell you that the whole feel of the board says 'quality' to me.

Overall, the the surface is quite hard in wear terms on the coloured pencils. However one bonus is that I produce very little dust compared to when using more obviously abrasive surfaces. The amazing thing is I can layer and layer and layer and it never loses its surface - marble dust is very robust! The very fine nature of the abrasive surface also makes it really easy to blend as you can see from the sample image.

More importantly, I found that I could develop good rich dark tones on it without any problem - there's no sinking into the surface or dulling down as can happen on some abrasive surfaces.

Thw downside of this support is that there is no supplier in the UK or Europe - although artists in Australasia can get hold of Ampersand products from a limited number of retailers in Australia and New Zealand. The best thing is to try and work out how to maximise boards and minimise delivery charges.

Artists who use Pastelbord with
coloured pencils

My two friends Nicole Caulfield and Gayle Mason has both made extensive use of pastelbord with coloured pencils. Here's a summary of their views and links to their blog posts which have more comments.
Let me know if you've written about using Pastebord and I'll update this lens to include a link.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Product Review : Clairefontaine Pastelmat

Gayle Mason (Fur in the Paint) has done a very nice post about a Comparison of Pastelmat, Pastelbord and Fisher 400 paper which summarises the relative merits of different supports for coloured pencil work.

I'm going to highlight each product in turn and reference the relevant websites, others who have produced reviews and produce a summary for each type of support.

Today is the turn of the Pastelmat by Clairefontaine

Blogs which comment on pastelmat for coloured pencils
Blogs which comment on pastelmat for pastels
Product: Pastelmat
Manufacturer / Distributor: Clairefontaine
Technical Details: A smooth cork grained surface available in different colours.
Two sizes of acid free 360g/m2 (170lb) sheet available: 50 x 70cms (19.75" x 27.5") or 70 x 100cm's.
Also available in smaller sizes as pastelmat pads. Version 2 of the Pastelmat pad: colours are Brown, Sienna, Anthracite and White. Pads are available in 3 different formats. Each pad contains 4 shades x 3 sheets. Each sheet is protected by a crystal insert.
Summary: Suitable for soft or hard pastels, pastel pencils and coloured pencils.
Suitable for: Realistic art using coloured pencils or pastel pencils. Enables both fine lines and smudged/softness.
  • possible to get a really white 'white' on the black pastelmat
  • possible to get a very sharp line / suits those drawing hair or fur
  • manufacturer claims that there is no need to use fixative for soft pastels between layers
  • work on sheets in pads protected by crystal inserts
  • good quality saturation means less layers required
  • possible to blend and smudge (unlike with velour)
  • not abrasive (unlike Colourfix and Fisher 400)
  • Creative Art Company states that it has a tough waterproof surface
Think Again?
  • this support won't take as many layers as some supports
  • expensive for those living in the USA given the need to import from Europe
Suppliers: Available in the UK from

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Widget Review: LinkWithin

Widget: LinkWithin
Owner/Distributor: Who knows? There are no details available on the website!
Technical Details: Widget produces three relevant/related posts from your blog with a photo thumbnail and full post title for each at the end of every blog post. The plugin is available for Wordpress, Typepad, and Blogger
Summary: Widget looks good and works reasonably well in terms of identifying internal links to relevant posts. Simple and quick installation of code on Blogger. Website provides a link to FAQs but this didn't answer any of my questions (see "Think Again" below). The major failing is that the website lacks basic details (ie postal address and policies covering data security and privacy) which should be essential and available on any any website which asks you for your email address.
Suitable for: Bloggers who want to try and increase the number of relevant internal links available to readers - but only if they use an email address which they can dump if need be!
  • free to install / no plans for an advertising model as yet
  • installation is easy(on Blogger)
  • possible to review installation code
  • nice clean design - will integrate well with a variety of blogs
  • no requirement to provide any personal and identifiable information (but you do need to provide an email address - see below)
Think Again?
  • you need to know what you're doing if you want to try customising the code
  • no instructions provided if you want to change the position of the widget
  • you give away your email address before you see how the widget works on your blog - Bad!
  • no privacy policy relating to your email address and its connection to the blog URL - Bad!
  • no security policy (as above) - Bad!
  • no details about who produced this and how they can be contacted other than an email address - Bad!

I've been seeing LinkWithin on a number of blogger's websites recently. Following my post on Making A Mark on Monday about 5 positive ways to help your art website rank well in Google, I decided to try this new widget plugin out on this blog and write a review about it.

Why? Well this widget addresses one of the factors highlighted on Monday's post Link Popularity within the Site's Internal link Structure on Making A Mark.
  • First - Google likes to see you making navigation to related content easy for your visitors.
  • Second - this is an excellent way of increasing page views on your blog. Seeing options around more content may persuade casual visitors to return again and read/see some more.

LinkWithin is a widget that links to related stories from your archive under each story on your blog.

Don't Let Your Past Stories Go to Waste! We retrieve and index all stories from your blog archive, not just recent stories, making them accessible to new or casual readers of your blog who would not otherwise encounter them.

Increase Pageviews, Keep Readers Engaged - The widget links to stories that are relevant and interesting to readers of a particular story, keeping them engaged
LinkWithin produces a related posts with a photo thumbnail at the end of each blog post - just look at the end of this post to see what I mean.

It's not clear how the widget produces the links. I think it's doing more than just looking at the tags/labels given to each post. It may well be scanning text as well.

It was particularly interesting to test it on this blog given that it's very new and there are not that too many blog posts as yet. In theory, that should make it easier to get a good match. It also means I can tell how good the widget is at doing it's job. At the moment, I've noticed that the three posts highlighted change every time the page is refreshed. Overall I think my initial conclusion - after reviewing what it produced for a number of posts - is that it's not bad but it could be better.

The plugin is available for Wordpress, Typepad, and Blogger. The instructions for installing the widget on Blogger were nice and clear. There are also instructions which tailor it to different types of webware. HOWEVER you can't see the instructions until you've included and supplied your email email address.

The html for the page then includes both your blog and address and your email - which is why you don't see the page linked to here!

This is what it looks like though - see image on right

I thought the actual widget itself looked very good - it has a nice clean design which fits well with a lot of different websites and is one of the better aspects of this widget.

The bad news: My major reservations relate to
  • a complete lack of data about the company which owns/markets this widget and the postal address where they can be contacted (something they'll have to remedy before they take any money off anybody - including advertisers). Providing an email addresses is simply not good enough! They are either very naieve or negligent or they don't care about your data because, despite the fact they ask for your email address, the website also has............
I'm going to keep an eye on this widget and how it gets on as the posts on this blog multiply and will report back in due course.

However I am NOT installing this widget on any of my other blogs unless and until the website omissions relating to widget owner details, data security and privacy are remedied.

I've written to the email addresses supplied on the website and I'll update this post with a note about what sort of response I get. None of the issues I've raised are difficult to deal with - but in my view they should have been dealt with before this site went live.

I'd also caution people installing this widget to be very careful about which email address they supply.

BTW - there are a fair few reviews out there about this widget and not one of the ones I read identified the issue about the lack of an address or policy relating to data protection. They may think the practices used by this website are OK - but I don't they are and I think you should be aware of what they are.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Book Review: Japanese Art in detail

Title: Japanese Art in detail
Author: (Publisher): John Reeve / The British Museum Press. (American version/ Harvard Press)
Synopsis: A book about the art of a country, illustrated entirely by images of items in the British Museum collection. Includes outstanding examples of design and craft in prints, paintings and screens, metalwork, ceramics, wood, stone and lacquer and some examples of twentieth century art.
Suitable for: People wanting to learn about Japanese Art. No prior knowledge is assumed.
  • an overview with depth!
  • a good book for those new to Japanese art.
  • focuses on woodblock prints, ceramics and lacquer work, paintings and sculpture and the Japanese culture with making art
  • adopts a thematic approach
  • image of whole object shown alongside enlargements of details
  • excellent appendices providing a glossary and pointers for further research and reading
  • good design and production standards
  • neat square format - easy to read and not too heavy
Think Again?
  • content is not organised chronologically
  • no coverage of textile art or folk art
  • most of the images are also accessible via COMPASS (the British Museum online database website)
Summary: A good introduction to Japanese Art.

Last Thursday I was at the British Museum and took the opportunity to have a good look round the rooms housing the artwork and artifacts of Japan. It's the most comprehensive collection in Europe and it appears as if it gets very many visitors from Japan too!

Japanese Art in detail by John Reeve attempts to provide an overview of both Japanese Art and the scope of the collection of the British Museum. It performs that difficult trick of being both accessible to the general public while grounded in excellent knowledge of the art and period under review. It's probably a bit lightweight for the academically inclined although the reproductions of the items is very informative.

It's a jolly good place to start if you want to understand more about Japanese Art. No prior knowledge of Japanese Art is assumed. It includes work by more famous artists but also highlights less well known artists. Each item has a detailed explanation. Each chapter is prefaced by an explanation of why the theme is important to Japanese art. Most of the art is associated with the more popular periods - but it also included some examples of 20th century art - such as the wonderful Kamisuki colour woodblock print by Hashiguchi Goyo.

I can't recommend trying to buy this book from the British Museum Shop Online as the search facility is slow, rather feeble and doesn't seem to understand its own publications - and I tried three times before the 'search' facility finally coughed up! However do persevere if you want to! :)

The author was the Head of Education at the British Museum for many years. His specialist area was the Asian collections. The price you'll pay for this book varies between £11.50 and £15.00 ($15+ for the American version produced by the Haravard Press). I think it's reasonable value for money.

Making a Mark

Monday, 18 May 2009

Product Review - Renaissance micro-crystalline wax polish

[UPDATE: This product review has now MOVED. The summary from the original post can be found below - the rest can be found at Conservation Products on my website dedicated to Art Business Information for Artists.]  

Product: Renaissance Micro-Crystalline Wax Polish

Technical Details: A refined micro-crystalline wax with no acid component

Summary: A refined wax polish designed and formulated by the British Museum for the long term conservation and protection of museum exhibits. This product is now a universally respected standard conservation material because of its high quality and wide scope for use.

  • A high quality product researched, designed and used by the British Museum
  • Used by conservation framers
  • very easy to use and produces a soft sheen on wood

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Art Bookshop Review: The National Gallery Bookshop

The National Gallery Bookshop
all photos copyright Katherine Tyrrell

There's nothing better than a browse round a bookshop after you've been to see an exhibition or a favourite painting. In the National Gallery you have the choice of three shops - however the one located in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery in London has recently had a "makeover". Its focus on art books has now been underlined and emphasised in terms of design.

I thought people who have visited in the past would like to see what it now looks like and those that have never visited might now be tempted! You can see a series of photos which I took - with the permission of the manager - on Flickr here National Gallery Bookshop and I comment on the changed below.

Name of Art Bookshop: National Gallery - Sainsbury Wing Shop
Address: The National Gallery (Sainsbury Wing), Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN
Website: Shop Love Art
(National Gallery Company Ltd.)
Of interest to: art lovers, exhibition visitors, art students, art teachers, and art history buffs
Think Again?
  • Focus of books tends to be on what the gallery covers ie art by artists prior to 1900
Summary: An art bookshop which is well worth a visit. Besides fulfilling its role of helping to explain the art in exhibitions and on display, it also has a much wider range of good quality art books. Visual accessories in the form of postcards and prints complement but do not overpower the bookshop.
Sainsbury Wing shop: located on the ground floor of the Sainsbury Wing, offers an unparalleled selection of art books and gifts related to the collection. The book department offers both the full range of National Gallery publications and several thousand books from other publishers, making this one of the premier specialist art bookshops in London. As well as a wide selection of postcards and posters, the shop also offers a regularly updated variety of specially commissioned gift items produced exclusively for the National Gallery.
National Gallery Company website
The layout of the shop has been completely changed. Very clear zones have been created for different aspects of the shop and the flow - within the bookshop part - works really well. In my view it's got a much better lay-out and it's much easier to find the type of book or the topic you're interested in. Dark bookcases have also been introduced which signal from outside in the Lobby area that this is a shop with some serious reading materials and lots of books! Previously a casual glance into the shop would have left you thinking it wasn't much different to the other two shops whereas there were in fact a lot of serious art books around - you just couldn't see them too easily from the entrance!

As you walk in from the lobby to the Sainsbury Wing, on the left is a cash desk and a whole bank of postcards which are displayed so it's very easy to see what's available - and it's a lot!

Art Postcards

On the right and in front of you are what one might term the gift items and gift books.

Towards the west wall (the one with the windows) are banks of bookcases. They've mixed these up in terms of size and introduced 'pouffes' for people to sit down on while they browse the books. It only needs a sofa and a coffee machine and you'd think you were in a rather upmarket Borders!

In either corner to the far right of the entrance are the "Print on Demand" fine art giclee print shop and the "ready to go" giclee prints on paper and canvas. Also up this end is a good selection of art journals.

What sort of books does it stock?

I think it needs to be remembered that this is a bookshop in a national gallery. This naturally influences the type of stock since there obviously need to be links to both the collection and the exhibitions. Having said that it's an excellent bookshop to go to if you want a book in any of the areas in which it specialises (or you can order online!)

Links in the text below are to photographs that I took last week (with the kind permission of Greg Sanderson, the manager - thanks Greg!) and which are now part of my latest set of photos on Flickr - National Gallery Bookshop (Set).

National Gallery publications: Pride of place goes to the National Gallery exhibition catalogues and the National Gallery publications. They don't stock all the catalogues for all the exhibitions - presumably because some sold out. However if you missed an exhibition and now want the catalogue this is the place to go.

There are some excellent titles in the National Gallery publications series - I like the way they focus on making a topic within art accessible. An example is the National Gallery Pocket Guide Flowers and Fruit. However I must confess I tend to wait for their sales, which are held twice a year (in the summer and around the end of the calendar year) and buy then. The main point about the bookshop in relation to these titles is that it's difficult to find the whole range anywhere else and this is the place to come and browse!

Exhibition catalogues: They also stock exhibition catalogues from other galleries and other countries. This is the place I try first if I'm trying to pick up a catalogue from one of the national galleries in the USA or Australia. These don't always arrive at the same time the exhibition is on. I've always thought they tend to get distributed after the exhibition is over. If you can't get to see the exhibition, then the catalogue is the next best thing!

Guides to art: They stock a good range of each of the 'guides' to art which they stock. Notable in terms of numbers are their own National Gallery publications, the Taschen Basics series which must represent the best value for money of any art book publisher and the Getty Guides to Imagery

Some of the bookshelves

It also is one of the very few places in the UK which stocks the new catalogues of art in public ownership. You can read more about this in today's post on Making A Mark (later today - I'll post the link here when posted).

Books about Artists: Considerable shelfspace is also given over to good quality books (from any publisher) about individual artists. These tend to be about artists who've featured in some way in an exhibition in the gallery but this is not always the case.

Art Instruction Books / Theory and techniques : The shop only offers a small selection of art instruction books covering drawing and sketching and painting in acrylics, oil and watercolours. They are generally good quality books and/or new publications. For example it includes Sarah Simblet's excellent book on Anatomy for the artist. I also noticed it had a very new release - Ann Kullberg's Colored Pencil Secrets for Success and I came home and sent Ann an email to tell her!

Both art theory and art techniques are covered by the books in stock. I noted they had a particularly good section on colour.

In summary - I think the revamp has created a much improved layout and scope for easier navigation and access to the items people want to find, review - and maybe buy! The shop continues to maintain a high standard in terms of the nature of the books it holds in stock and on the shelves.

For the serious browsers amongst us, having anywhere to sit down is always a boon, however if the budget will stretch to it, it would be really great if the odd chair with back support could be introduced! As an added incentive maybe I should share that I buy more books in bookshops where I can sit down and feel at ease!

Note: This is the first in a set of reviews of art bookshops. If you've done a review of an art bookshop which you'd like to share please contact and I'll post a summary (in the proforma table - see above) and a link to your review.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Book Review: Botanical Illustration

Title: Botanical Illustration

An In-depth Book Review of this book was first published here on 13th April 2010. The complete text has now been moved to my new website - see Book Review: Botanical Illustration on Botanical Art and Artists 

Synopsis: A manual for those who like their botanical illustration with a strong botanical and practical slant. It includes
  • an introduction to basic botany;
  • preparation of plant material for drawing;
  • use of different media for botanical illustration (pencil, watercolour, coloured pencil and pen and ink).
An excellent manual for anybody who wants to learn more about botanical illustration with a strong botanical perspective. Rated an average of:
  • 4.8 out of 5 stars by 20 customers on
  • 5 out of 5 stars by 4 customers on
This book differentiates itself by focusing on botany. It's very detailed and practical and consequently very helpful. It provides lots of detailed facts, useful information, tips and techniques - doubtless derived from the author's many years of teaching botanical illustration and developing a diploma

Author - Valerie Oxley
​Paperback; 280x220 mm; 192 pages; 216 colour illustrations.
​Publisher: Crowood Press
Publication date: September 2008

Friday, 8 May 2009

Product Review: Moleskine Folio A3 Watercolor Album

Vivien Blackburn (Painting, Prints and Stuff) has reviewed the new large A3 Moleskine - Folio books - REVIEW. Click this link and visit her blog to read her review and see examples of what her work in this new Moleskine Folio Book looks like

Here's an overview of what she had to say.

Product: Moleskine Folio A3 Watercolor Album
Manufacturer / Distributor: Moleskine
Technical Details: The Folio A3 Watercolor Album is bound in cardboard, with a 'moleskine' cover having rounded corners and an elastic enclosure.

Size: 11 ¾ x 16 ½ in. (297 x 420 mm) / List price $40.00

The 60 pages of heavy, 200 gsm (25% cotton fiber) cold-pressed paper are thread bound, and the notebook includes an expandable pocket in the back made of cardboard and cloth. Each Moleskine journal has a ribbon placeholder and removable card with the history of Moleskines.
Summary: A new - and expensive - A3 sized product in the Moleskine product line. Designed for sketching in watercolour or fluid media on paper which is 11 ¾ x 16 ½ in (or 11 ¾ x 33" for a double page spread)
Suitable for: Artists who want to sketch using fluid/mixed media in a larger than average sketchbook
  • Paper takes liquid media beautifully and performs well when using watercolour, acrylics, acrylic inks
  • paper does not buckle when using liquid media and will also take a reasonable amount of scratching and working.
  • performs well when using coloured pencil, oil pastel and inktense over or with watercolour/acrylic/acrylic inks.
  • performs well when using Charcoal, Pitt Pastel Pencils, charcoal pencils, Tombo double ended water soluble pens and pencil. (not shown here)
  • paper is OK with watercolour pencils and Derwent Inktense pencils (although these probably work better on hot pressed, smooth paper)
Think Again?
  • An expensive product.
  • The paper is NOT the same as the Moleskine Sketchbooks
  • Only 25% is cotton fibre. Hence the paper is NOT the same as the Moleskine Watercolour Sketchbooks (small and large sizes) (these contain 72 pages of acid-free, 200 gsm, archive-quality (ISO 9706) cotton-fiber paper)
  • Coloured pencil can be used on dry/on its own but other papers will work better
  • There are cheaper alternatives if the paper is the equivalent of cartridge paper.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Art Shop Review: Falkiners Fine Paper / Shepherd Bookbinders

Name of shop: Shepherd Bookbinding/Falkiners Fine Paper shop
Address: 76 Southampton Row, London WC1B 4AR.
NOTE: No longer at this address.  Moved in November 2012 to:
30 Gillingham Street, London SW1V 1HU (near Victoria Station)
Hours: Southampton Row sop now open seven days a week. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 10 - 6; Wednesdays 10.30 - 6; Saturdays 10 - 5; Sundays 11.30 - 4.30
Telephone: 020 7831 1151
Online Store:
Of interest to: Bookbinders, printmakers and artists wanting fine quality papers
  • Probably one of the best - if not the best - fine paper suppliers in the UK
  • Truly amazing selection of fine papers - can be perused in binders
  • Comprehensive supply of bookbinding materials and supplies in the basement
  • Very good selection of archival tapes for mounting and mending
  • Printmaking press available
  • Knowledgeable staff
  • Online store order supply
Think Again?
  • No media supplies (ie no paints, drawing media etc)
Summary: This shop is genuinely superior and is also a genuine "one off". I can't think of another shop which combines their range and quality of fine papers together with a comprehensive supply of bookbinding materials.

Last Friday I visited - and photographed - the Shepherd Bookbinding/Falkiners Fine Paper shop at 76 Southampton Row, London WC1B 4AR.

You can see a slideshow of the photographs I took on Flickr. Click the 'info' (top right) to see my description of every image.

This post is a review of what the shop has to offer. I'm never quite sure what to call them - and I've decided they're Falkiners on the ground floor where the paper is and Shepherd's in the basement where the bookbinding supplies are.

Fine Paper

It's getting progressively more difficult to find fine paper in a shop in London. A number of suppliers are switching to focus more and more on student supplies at the cheaper end of the range and/or are restricting their range. It is therefore a complete joy to go into a shop like Shepherd/Falkiners and find shelves and shelves (and shelves) of paper!

The way the shop works is that you review the selection on offer in the boxes at the browing cabinet. You make a note of what you want, hand that to one of the members of staff and they will retrieve the paper from the floor to ceiling shelves at the back of the shop.

(Left) A selection of boxes of paper samples
(Right) a member of staff retrieving paper from the paper shelves

all photos copyright Katherine Tyrrell

One thing they don't stock is illustration board. I'm still trying to find a shop in London which does!

Here are the links to the different types of paper that the stock (and a photo of their very large paper sizes diagram which was attached to one set of the paper shelves):
In addition there is also a wide selection of Decorative Patterned Paper

Interestingly while I was in the shop, there was a chap at the counter who was picking up a range of paper (pictured on the right). It turned out that these are all set to reappear on a television screen near you next year when they will downsized and used as the papers for various letters in an episode of Poirot on ITV!


This shop has the best range of effective and/or archival adhesives that I've seen in a very, very long time. Check out the adhesives page on their website - it's enough to make those who appreciate the differences between different types of adhesive drool! Downstairs in the basement are all the adhesives for bookbinding - together with the Japanese paste brushes. Upstairs are a variety of starch adhesives and a jolly good range of acid-free hanging tapes from LineCo which is an American company which does mounting and framing supplies (but which does not have an ecommerce site). It was great to be able to see the gummed Japanese Paper Tape which is amazing but almost impossible to find. I bought a roll of the Self-Adhesive Line Hanging Tape (see end).

Essentially the shop has just about anything you might need for document repair and conservation.


The bookbinding supplies can be found down in a large and well lit basement - where there's also a very helpful guy who provides informative answers to questions.

(Left) Rolls of bookbinding tapes
(Right) Rolls of bookbinding cover materials

I'm not a bookbinder but I can imagine those that are going into raptures when entering this shop. Here's some of the things I noticed:
Interestingly the chap I talked to said they'd never been busier in terms of business demand. I gather the onset of the recession has led people to start making more things for themselves rather than paying other people to do it for them.

On the media front their only supplies seem to be pens, ink and printmaking presses. I picked up a couple of Zif archival lightfast pens - in sepia ink - which are quite difficult to track down.

Future reviews

I came away with a small haul of supplies which will be the subject of future reviews on this blog.


This is a shop which the paper and/or bookbinding fanatic should definitely visit if they live in or are visiting London. It has an excellent range of suupplies and very helpful staff - basically it's the stuff of dreams! For everbody else you'll just have to make do with the very well organised and well illustrated online store!

Art Supplies in the UK - Resources for Artists
Do you have problems finding art shops or sites providing artist supplies or just anywhere that has got that illusive item that you want. Do you forget who stocks which range? This site provides details about where to find fine art materials and art supplies in and around the UK. It shares details of online suppliers and the locations of retail shops and stores that you can visit as a retail or trade customer.
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.

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