Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Art Bookshop Review: Tate Britain Millbank Shop

The Millbank Shop at Tate Britain
shelves of books about British Artists

all photos copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I love the warm but light wood floors and bookshelves of the Millbank Shop in Tate Britain. It gives a feel of a modern classic. It also fits very well with the nature of the art in this great museum of British art.

One of the things I like most about this museum is that whenever I visit it's quiet! I'm not sure what it's like at weekends but whenever I've visited on weekdays it doesn't have the hordes who are always thronging around the comparable bookshop at Tate Modern - and I like it a lot better for that.

Name of Art Bookshop: Tate Britain - Millbank Shop
Address: Millbank, London SW1P 4RG
Shop opening hours: 10.00–17.40 Monday to Sunday
Contact: If you would like to contact the shops at Tate Britain email
Telephone: 020 7887 8888
Of interest to: art lovers, exhibition visitors, art students, art teachers and art history buffs
  • great range of good quality art books about British Art and British Artists - past and present
  • A very nice environment providing a good "bookshop" feel
  • Tends to be quiet and a bit library like - which is a big plus point for me
  • Books in stock include ones which can be difficult to find elsewhere
  • exhibition catalogues from current and past exhibitions
  • exhibition catalogues from overseas exhibitions in comparable galleries
  • selection of art instruction books
  • selection of art books for children
  • basic art materials available
  • offers a mail order service
Think Again?
  • For books about more contemporary/international art see the bookshop in the basement of the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern
  • more oriented towards the art lover than the hobby artist wanting art instruction books
Summary: This is the bookshop to go if:
  • you enjoy books about British Art and artists
  • you need an art bookshop near Victoria

See large versions of the photos featured in this review in my Tate Britain Millbank Shop set on Flickr.

Shelves devoted to British Art History A-F, F-P and P-Z

The Millbank Shop has a great range of books about British Art History and a fantastic selection of books about British Artists - both past and present - including catalogues of their work. I had an impression that it favours painters. In terms of living artists, it certainly seemds to lean more towards Freud, Hockney and Doig than artists like Hirst and Emin.

I found a copy of the David Hockney catelogue Nur Natur - Just Nature for the current Hockney exhibition in Germany here when the Annely Juda Gallery holding another recent David Hockney exhibition only had one copy of Just Nature - for reference only - and had told me they couldn't get hold of any more!

In the home of the Turner Bequest, it naturally has a great selection of books about Turner and his art. It also has an extensive selection of books about the artists who formed the PreRaphaelite Brotherhood and other British painting groups such as The Camden Town Group of artists.

There's also a section devoted to art instruction books. Although it has some good books for both adults and children, I found it less impressive than the similar section at The National Gallery Bookshop. You can see from this photo the type of books it's stocking.

Art Instruction Books for adults and children

A basic set of art materials are also on sale in the shop. I bought a couple of their sketchbooks to try when I was there - the Green Landscape Sketchbook and the Postcard Sketchbook

There is also an online shop for all books and products sold by Tate Shops - including those at Tate Modern, Tate St Ives and Tate Liverpool

Overall, I recommend this bookshop to anybody who likes the art found in the galleries at Tate Britain.

You can find my other reviews of art bookshops in London on Art Bookshops - Resources for Artists

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Product review: Artcoe - Bluebell panoramic drawing book

Product: Blue Bell Spiral Bound - Panoramic Drawing Book
Manufacturer / Distributor: Artcoe.
Technical Details:
  • panoramic sketchbook - 152mm x 430mm (very nearly 6" x 17")
  • 200 gsm cartridge paper. Distributor states cartridge paper is acid free
  • long side spiral bound
  • wide range of sizes of drawing books with different paper weights (1650gsm or 200gsm) and spiral binding options (long or short side)
  • competitively priced
Summary: A panoramic sketchbook suitable for sketching using pencils, coloured pencils, pen and ink and (probably) light watercolour washes. Helps you break out of conventional formats for sketching.
Who should buy this?:
  • Suitable for the art, craft and student market
Who should not buy this?
  • Anybody wanting a proper watercolour paper (but the same company market sketchbooks filled with Saunders Waterford or Bockingford paper)
  • the panoramic sketchbook is great for getting you to look at scenes with a fresh eye
  • enables you to sketch scenes which 'go off the paper' in most sketchbooks
  • good price for work which you're not planning to sell
  • solid front and back boards provide goos support for sketching
Think Again?
  • It's cartridge paper. Meaning it's OK for pen and ink work and coloured pencils but it it's still cartridge paper and some papers suit pen and ink and CP better
  • not archival.
Suppliers: Available from Artcoe who Artcoe supply over 20,000 products to the art, craft and graphics trade. Stockists in the UK listed on website.
I got mine at the SAA Art Event at Islington however a review of their online catalogue this morning suggests this panoramic sketchbook is not listed - although other sizes are. Very limited references on the internet suggesting this is a product supplied trade only to independent distributors.

The Serpentine Bridge
17" x 6"
pen and sepia ink and and coloured pencil in panoramic Artcoe Bluebell sketchbook

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Last week I acquired a Blue Bell Spiral Bound Drawing Books. I've never seen them before but they appear to be very competitively priced.

The range of drawing books covers a wide range of sizes with most being from A3 to A5. Most have either 30 sheets of 200gsm cartridge paper or 40 sheets of 150gsm paper. The Jumobo version coimes with 100 sheets. Some are spiral bound on the short edge while others are spuiral bound on the long edge

What marks them out for me is that they also a have a panoramic sketchbook measuring 430x152mm in either 150 gsm or 200 gsm. I got the 200 gsm panoramic sketchbook (code 31042006) for £4.49 - and then couldn't wait to try it out on my sketching trip on Sunday!

I found it was OK for coloured pencils. It tends to be difficult to get a good depth of colour on cartridge paper due to the surface (HP smooth surfaces tend to work best for pigment rich colour).

The surface was however smooth enough for pen and ink work to be easy. It also blots nicely when you ink gets wet because it's raining!

I tried some pencil drawings of the geese and my guess is this is the sort of sketchbook which is probably best suited to graphite where you can vary the softness of the pencil to get changes in values while sketching.

The weight of the paper - 200 gsm - does mean that you can't see a sketch done on one side of the paper on the other side

I haven't yet tried it for watercolour - but I'd never recommend cartridge for watercolour work when there are sketchbooks with watercolour paper which work so much better!

The front and back boards provided a very solid support for sketching which is an especial concern when working in such an unusual format.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Book Review: Garden Painters

Title: Garden Painters: 21 Contemporary Artists
Author: (Publisher): Ariel Luke (A&C Black London)
Hardback 128 pages; 120 Illustrations in full colour
ISBN 9780713682069
Synopsis: A survey of 21 contemporary painters who specialise in painting gardens. The artists come from the United Kingdom as well as Europe and the United States. They work in a wide range of media including watercolour, acrylics, oils and tempera.
Who should buy this?:
  • artists interested in painting gardens - to appreciate the wide range of ways this can be tackled
  • botanical artists wanting to extend their range of work
  • people who like paintings of gardens!
Who should not buy this?
  • painters who don't like painting foliage!
  • great range of artists demonstrating different styles and approaches to painting gardens
  • detailed profile of each artist with multiple images
Think Again?
  • lacks an overall context for the genre of garden painting
  • reservations about some of the colour reproduction of work by some artists
  • lacks details for how to contact/commission each artist
Summary: It's actually a book about some dedicated garden painters and some painters who happen to have painted gardens at some point in the past. The distinction is not as clear in the book as it is when you start looking for their work on the Internet. It makes a useful contribution to understanding the genre of garden painting but leans towards being a personal perspective rather than an authoritative overview.

Painting gardens is once more becoming an important art genre. The practice of painting gardens definitely went out of vogue at one point - indeed it was probably associated with 'things past'. Also painting gardens has also been by some as an activity which engages the interest of amateurs rather than serious professionals.
However the increasing interest in gardens within the UK (do we need to thank Garden Force and Alan Titchmarsh I wonder?) means that painting gardens is very much back in fashion again. Which pleases me as I love drawing gardens! (You can see my gardens on my website as both drawings of gardens in the UK and overseas and sketches of English gardens). It also looks like it never went out of fashion with those with large houses and equally large gardens judging by some of the commissined work executed by some of the garden painters.
It'll come as no surprise that I was very pleased to see the publication of Garden Painters: 21 Contemporary Artists. I hoped it would give me some insight into how other people approach the subject matter and it certainly did that.
The book highlights:
  • artists working with diverse media
  • artists with different techniques for painting gardens
  • a profile of each artist with images and a commentary
For each artist, there is a brief biographical thumbnail sketch, reproductions of a variety of their work, and comments from the artists on their painting styles and working practices. The result is a intriguing look at what is for some a fascinating subject. The artists reviewed have a variety of backgrounds and work in different ways, for example some work mainly to commission.

The artists covered are:
  • Ivor Abrahams RA (b. 1935) - this is the link to his Garden Suites, Garden Emblems and Privacy plots - now in the ownership of the Tate
  • Graham Bannister (b. 1954) - although the artist has obviously painted gardens, images on the Internet suggest this isn't his primary subject matter (update January 2012 - link is now to the page about garden paintings on his website)
  • Jennifer Bartlett (b. 1941) - She abstracts from reality. I liked the way she has used many different mediums when drawing the garden. (Note: Revelations in a Dank Garden is an interesting article by Robert Hughes of her experience of drawing the garden which is featured in the book)
  • Robert Bates (b. 1943) - a watercolourist whose work tends towards miniature dimensions. Some of the images in the book are bigger than the originals.
  • Adrian Berg RA (b. 1929) - the slideshow of his work on his website features garden paintings from image 15 onwards. His panoramic watercolours relating to Kew Gardens, the Alhambra in Grenada and the Alcazar in Seville work is created from watercolour pencil and crayon.
  • June Berry RWS - this link to a recent exhibition of June Berry's paintings (in oil and watercolour) at the Alresford Gallery demonstrates what a delightful figurative painter she is and how wonderfully she handles both light and colour. The colour reproduction in the book either does not do justice to her work or the selection has unfortunately not included any of her more luminous works which can remind one of Bonnard.
  • Michael Dillon (b. 1957) - He is an unusual garden painter since he paints murals and trompe l'eoil. It's always nice to be reminded of the different ways of painting and he certainly seems to be accomplished. It was also fascinating to read about the approach he used to execute commission for clients all over the world.
  • John Doyle MBE PPRWS - This Past President of the Royal Watercolour Society paints traditional watercolours on paper. The views often involve gardens but he's not a specialist in this area.
  • Annabel Gault (b. 1952) - the Internet suggest she produces some very strong paintings on paper however the impression of the colour of her works gained from the Internet is unfortunately not repeated in the book which makes her work look very muted. It made me wonder about the quality of the digital images used and whether they had been colour corrected to the originals. I found myself itching to tweak the colour profile!
  • Angela Gladwell (b. 1952) - this is an artist with a strong affinity with natural history. Although she produces some splendid paintings, neither the book nor her website persuaded me that she is a garden painter.
  • Jeffrey Hessing (b.1952) - I'm not sure I'd call Hessing a garden painter so much as a painter who has painted gardens in the past. He has adistintive style.
  • Francois Houtin (b. 1950) - Initially trained as a landscape architect, he participated in the restoration of The Tuileries. Now uses his botanical knowledge to create Utopian and highly detailed gardens in pen and chinese ink and as etchings
  • David Inshaw (b 1943) - he was an early member of the Brotherhood of Ruralists. He now has work in the Tate Collection
  • Ariel Luke - the author and an artist with a very distinctive style. She has worked on garden paintings snice 1884, mainly on commission.
  • Natasha Morland - her website has galleries of park life and trees
  • Jonathan Myles-Lea (b. 1969) - paints house and garden portraits with a different perspective. His topographical painting of the The Laskett, created by Sir Roy Strong and his wife features cartouches - scenes of the garden in different seasons
  • John Pearce (b. 1942) - prefers the wilderness of private gardens
  • Ramiro Fernandez Saus (b. 1961) - a Catalan artist
  • John Shelley (b.1938) - he paints two to three pictures a year and has one picture in the Tate
  • Dick Smyly (b. 1972) - He's an artist who paints grand country houses in Britain and abroad, which , of course, tend to come with very large gardens!
  • Jonathan Warrender - this artist does not work exclusively on gardens but does have a major talent for being able to create very large paintings of gardens from a birds eye view. He's devised a way of working which involves mapping out his subject and making studies prior to executing the work. I gather from the book that at times the waiting list for commissioned work can stretch to three years! Take a look at his website to find out why his work is so popular.
I've found searching for the links that I've now got a much better sense of the scale which people work in. Something I feel which the book could have made more of since the nature of garden painting is such that it can vary from the very large to the very small. The artists are ordered in alphabetical order whereas grouping them according to their different approaches (architectural; fantasy etc) or the media they typically work in might possibly have offered an additional insight into their work.

I've got some reservations about the colour reproduction of some of the images in the book which I don't think do all the artists concerned justice.

Personally, I would have liked to have seen more coverage of the history of garden painting in order to provide a a guide and framework to the different approaches adopted today. Instead we have a very brief skip through the history of garden painting and a mention of a few names. It was interesting - but it cried out for more depth. Indeed this brief two page review is limited to UK artists only whereas there has been something of a traditon of painting gardens in Europe which has involved some very notable artists. The artists chosen for the book are not limited to UK artists - but I'm unclear how representative they are of garden painters generally.

Another useful addition might have been details of how best to contact each artist. As some of the artists' careers have themselves demonstrated, coverage in print can provide an exposure which greatly enhances the amount of commission work they receive. It's a pity that this wasn't a benefit which was offered to these artists in this book in terms of details of how to contact them. (On the other hand I was rather surprised by how many of these artists - compared to usual - did not have their own websites. Maybe they rely more on 'word of mouth' to generate their income?)

I think my main reservation about this book is that some of the painters are simply not garden painters. They're artists who have on occasion painted gardens. In that sense they're like very many other painters who could have been included in this book in relation to their distinctive painting style or an interest in gardens during their painting career. As such I'd characterise the book as very much a personal view rather than any sort of authoritative index of contemporary garden painters. If the book had been divided into dedicated garden painters - and Luke is one - and painters who've used interesting styles or approaches to portraying gardens I wouldn't be quibbling. However when a book is called Garden painters and the subject is about the genre I expect to find it chock full of dedicated painters of gardens - hence the quibble.

Despite my reservations, I have enjoyed very much looking at the images in this book and reading it. I've also enjoyed finding all the links and looking at relevant websites. I think my conclusion is that the book provides a very useful addition to the library of books about garden painting - but leaves scope for improvement and another book.

Link: For those interested in garden painting see my information site Gardens in Art - Resources for Artists

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Book review: David Hockney - Nur Natur - Just Nature

Title: David Hockney - Nur Natur - Just Nature
Author: (Publisher): Editor and project management C. Sylvia Weber (Swiridoff Verla)
ISBN 978-3-89929-154-4
Synopsis: Bilingual catalogue of the Just Nature (Nur Natur) exhibition at the Kunsthalle Würth Schwäbisch Hall from 27th April 2009 until 27th September 2009.
Foreword by C. Sylvia Weber. Series of inteersting and informative essays by Christoph Becker, Director of the Kunsthaus Zürich, Switzerland; Marco Livingstone, Richard Cork and Ian Barker. Contains photographs of Hockney painting plein air and images/details of works produced
Who should buy this?:
  • people interested in the art of David Hockney
  • landscape artists
  • landscape artists working in series
  • art historians
  • art libraries
Who should not buy this?
  • people who will feel seriously impoverished by paying the full price - get your library to order it for you!
  • Images of the works 'on site', in exhibitions and of Hockney creating art in his studio
  • Front and back endpapers include multiple images from Hockney's 80 page Yorkshire Sketchbook dated April 04.
  • Contains a list of works with full details (ie title, dimensions, medium and support, date started/painted, how signed and the catalogue page no. where it can be seen
  • Includes as an appendix a revised and updated biography based on the Hockney Pictures website biography
  • excellent production values in terms of colour, paper and book binding/publication
Think Again?
  • Limited distribution - not yet on Amazon - (May not be distributed via Amazon?)
  • It's very expensive. My copy cost me £44.50
  • Not yet indexed on Google (apart from my blog post) or listed on Google Books - so it's very difficult to know who's stocking it
Summary: This is a recommended read It's an expensive but useful addition to the library of any Hockneyphile

I find that people who buy exhibition catalogues are people who creating a library about a particular topic or artist. I've been buying books about David Hockney for a very long time now and I'd have felt that my small library was somehow deficient if it hadn't contained this catalogue of his exhibition David Hockney - Just Nature which is at Kunsthalle Würth, Schwäbisch Hall in Germany 27th April 2009 – 27th September 200

Front Cover of the Catalogue for the Just Nature exhibition

That's despite the fact that this relates to an exhibition which I may not get to see. (Is it going to come to England I ask myself?). When developing landscapes, I'm also very partial to drawing trees and vistas so the subject matter is also very special to me. The notion of doing a series is also one that I started to develop this year with my Ecology Park Pond series - and Hockney's work has provided a bit of an impetus for me to get on with it!
You can't beat nature, it never lets you down.... It's the biggest painting project I've ever done, and I've only just begun
David Hockney - quoted on the back cover of the catalogue
The book comes in three parts
  • The German version of the essays
  • the catalogue in the middle which comprises a comprehensive list of works and reproductions of all works - both drawings and paintings. This groups works as listed below - the names will be familiar to those who saw the documentary
    • Woldgate Woods
    • The Tunnerl near Kilham
    • Roads, Fields and Vistas
    • Bigger Trees
    • Hawthorne Blossom
    • Trees near Thixendale
    • Timber and Totems
    • Computer Drawings
Essentially this cxatalogue an insight into what Hockney has been doing for the last four years or so - which is painting the landscapes he's seen in the Wolds of East Yorkshore in watercolour on paper and in sketchbooks, then oil on canvas and latterly as digital artwork published as giclee prints. You can see images of various works in the links contained in mt post yesterday on Making A Mark (see David Hockney - recent exhibitions). As such it provides an excellent complement to the recent BBC documentary about Hockney which also focused on Hockney's return to painting and new venture of painting plein air as well as the approach used for developing his oil paintings and the development of very large multiple canvas works.

The major benefit for me of this book is being able to see:
  • sequences of paintings - of the same subject across the seasons
  • close up reproductions of sections of paintings
  • being able to see his drawings and sketchbooks which didn't feature in any significant way in the documentary or exhibitions of work I've seen so far. Some of the drawings remind me of the mark-making made by Van Gogh in his series of drawings of vistas of the Provencal landscape. If I had a choice I think I'd probably want to own one of his drawings - but that's me!
  • the essays which recount the author's relationship with this area of Yorkshire, the context for and influences on his most recent work, plus experiences of discussing particular works or the project as a whole with Hockney. It's chock full of quotable quotes.
If you start with some excitement, you will probably finish up with some excitement as well.

I'll tell you this - cold makes you work fast

It's not just about landscape; it's about being in it, seeing it, it's about England. I'm painting the real England.

You have to plan to be spontaneous

various quotations found in this catalogue
One of the reasons this is not a cheap book is that, first it's bilingual and consequently it's like two books in one. Secpomd, it's a quality production in terms of the design and layout, the colour reproduction of the images (some of which I have seen in real life) and the quality of the paper and binding used for this catalogue. This is not going to fall apart!

The difficulty experienced in locating a copy suggests there may not have been many produced which also might mean buying this book coiuld be a good investment!

You can find more details - in German - on the website of publisher Swiridoff Verlag

This is a recommended read
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