Saturday, 29 August 2009

Product review: Pentel Waterbrush

My Pentel Aquash Water Brush next to Derwent's new small/fin waterbrush
photo copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Product: Pentel Aquash Water Brush
Manufacturer / Distributor: Pentel / Derwent & various online suppliers - see below
Technical Details:
  • made in Japan by Pentel
  • nylon tipped brush pen with one way valve and barrel to supply water
  • barrel can be filled with plain water OR a dilute solution of any water-soluble art medium (the best being artists' inks, watercolours or gouache)
  • provides a constant supply of water when the brush applied to paper; squeeze the barrel to control the flow
  • Pentel Aquash comes in three sizes - fine (10mm), medium (13mm) and broad (17mm) - see Heaton Cooper website for a very good photo of the different sizes of Aquash waterbrush pen
  • Derwent now supply two sizes - small and medium
Summary: This is a very popular and effective waterbrush. It's made by Pentel but is now also available via Derwent and Derwent retailers. It's repackaged with the Derwent name on the packaging.
Who should buy this?:
  • artists using watercolour or watercolour pencils
  • artists wanting to use dilute solutions of artist's ink
Who should not buy this?
  • artists who don't like brushes
  • artists who use media not amenable to dilution using water
  • neat and effective design - very simple to use
  • easily portable - a way of taking a brush and water out with you without carrying a pot of water
Think Again?
  • Fine for sketching. However, if using watercolour pencils indoors, conventional brushes may well give you more control
  • Nylon brush is springy but does not provide the quality of control of (say) a sable watercolour brush
  • Requires a support which accepts water - and not all sketchbooks do, although most will take a light wash
  • Not always easy to locate these brushes in B&M art materials shops. Unless you've already seen them in your local shop you might find them easier to obtain from an online supplier. However, this situation may well have changed now that Derwent is supplying two brushes to Derwent retailers
Suppliers: Available from:

Derwent now have a small Waterbrush. When I was sent a sample to try I looked at it and was very puzzled. I had to go and get my existing waterbrush to check it out - you can see the photo above. They were exactly the same! I asked Derwent about this and it turns out that Derwent is now repackaging the very popular and very efficient Aquabrush/waterbrush made by Pentel - which isn't always very easy to find in art materials shops.

Derwent have sold the medium size waterbrush for some time but are now also selling the small/fin waterbrush which is suitable for more detailed work as well. So that's good news!

Basically this is a tool which has a nylon brush on one end (with a cover) and a transparent plastic barrel sitting behind it. It works very like a conventional pen - hence the name brush pen. There's a one-way valve which allows water through to thr brush when there is pressure on the end of the brush. Squeezing the flexible barrel increases the flow - and you can squeeze out drops if you try hard!

You need to give the brush a good 'wash' in warm water before using it for the first time. I'd also be very wary of using it with inks which you shouldn't put in conventional pens - like Indian ink. Essentially you don't want to use it with anything which when dry will stop the valve from working or refuse to budge from the inside of the barrel!

This is a tool which is very useful for those who sketch and those who use watercolour pencils. I was sat on a tube when I dried my waterbrush out for the first time! This is a page of my Talens watercolour pencils on a sheet of Winsor & Newton heavy weight (80lb) sketchbook.

I think I probably need to do a review at some point of all the different brands of watercolour pencils when used with this brush!

Tim Fisher has produced a very helpful video about watercolour pencil techniques in which this brush features which has been posted on YouTube by Jacksonstops (who I think might be Tim - it's not obvious from YouTube). See this post on Making A Mark - Watercolour pencil techniques.

The differences in cost between different suppliers are not very significant. For most people it's going to boil down to whether you prefer to buy your supplies at your local art shop or online and which retailer you usually use!

I can confidently state that if this is a product which you like, you'll find yourself using it a lot and will probably want more than one - especially you want dilute solutions of water-based medium in the barrel - and that's when cost will be of more relevance.

See also:
Art Equipment - Resources for Artists
Art Equipment -   Resources for Artists
This site is for visual artists. It provides links to: items of art equipment and tools recommended ways of putting together toolkits and recommendations for equipment for working in the studio or plein air

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Book Review: The Art Atlas

Title: The Art Atlas
Author / (Publisher): John Onians (Laurence King)
Technical data: Publication Date: May 2008 352 pages; 300 illustrations and 300 maps in full color; CD-included ISBN-10: 1856695573 ISBN-13: 978-1856695572
Synopsis: The first work to treat the art of the whole world from prehistory to the present day through the extensive use of maps. It places an emphasis on art as a visual expression of the story of different cultures at different times. Covering painting, sculpture and architecture as well as other arts and artefacts, The Art Atlas provides an entirely new vision of the history of the world's art by showing how physical and political geography has shaped its developments.
Who should buy this?: Art Historians and teachers and students of art history. People (like me) who love art AND maps.
Who should not buy this? Those with no interest in art history or how art has developed over time and in different cultures. People who don't like maps and/or cannot read a map.
  • Maps showing how art flowed between towns, countries and cultures.
  • Expert comment from art historians, archeologists, anthropoligists and people expert in a particular region
  • Very well illustrated
  • provides an excellent context for studying different artists, different art movements and the art of different cultures and countries
  • A reference book forever!
  • Comes with a CD which includes a searchable form of the entire book
Think Again?
  • Not a book you are ever going to digest in a hurry!
Summary: This is a large tome for people who want to get to grips with a geographical and cultural overview of how art has developed across cultures, countries and over time.

What I like about the book is that it does try to embrace all of art. What makes it unsatisfactory is that in so doing it inevitably has to skim across the surface of some of the artists and aspects of art with which we might be more familiar. In doing this it made me realise just how much I didn't know! Which, as I indicated earlier, means I can see this book being around as a reference book for some years to come.

I recommend people read what interests them and then see where that takes them.

This is a summary of my comprehensive book review posted on Making A Mark earlier this year. See Book review: The Art Atlas for more information and detail about this book.

Here's a flavour of what my book review talks about
What I have how ever grasped is that this book appeals to the geographer in me (all those maps - heaven!) and that it tries to get to grips with explaining the flows between different parts of the world at different times in world history in visual terms. Thus it conceptualises art as a global phenomenon rather than something which is totally discrete and tidy (like "European Art") which is often the way art history can tend to be presented at times - even if this can be rather inaccurate.
Professor John Onians, BA, PhD, FSA. specialises in architecture, especially the architectural theory of the Italian Renaissance; painting, sculpture and architecture in Ancient Greece and Rome; material culture, metaphor and thought; perception and cognition, and the biological basis of art. His publications include Art and Thought in the Hellenistic Age (Thames & Hudson) and Bearers of Meaning. The Classical Orders in Antiquity, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (Cambridge University Press, 1988), which was awarded the Sir Banister Fletcher Prize in 1989. He is also the founding editor, in 1978, of the prestigious journal Art History.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Book Review: The Art of Impressionism

Title: The Art of Impressionism: Painting Technique and the Making of Modernity
Author: (Publisher): Professor Anthea Callen (Yale University Press Published: 15 November 2000)
Technical data: ISBN 13: 9780300084023 ISBN 10: 0300084021
Physical properties Format: Hardback; Number of pages: 240; Width: 245.00 mm; Height: 310.00 mm; Thickness: 27.00 mm; Weight: 2010.00 g
Synopsis: This magnificent book is the first full-scale exploration of Impressionist technique. Focusing on the easel-painted work of Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Cezanne, Cassatt, Morisot, Caillebotte, Sisley, and Degas in the period before 1900, it places their methods and materials in a historical perspective and evaluates their origins, novelty, and meanings within the visual formation of urban modernity. Browse the contents page here and here.
Who should buy this?: People who like the Impressionists a lot and/or are really interested in how they painted
Who should not buy this?
  • people who aren't willing to search high and low for it!
  • people who aren't interested in the Impressionists
  • well researched detail about context and practice in the past
  • details what the Impressionist artists used for paint, what sort of canvases and grounds they painted on, how they applied their paint, where and in what sort of conditions they painted and finally whether and how they varnished and framed their works
  • the very best photography of Impressionist paintings and small sections of them that I have ever seen in a serious art book
  • many reproductions of paintings I've never seen before in any other book
  • an opportunity to really examine the nature and quality of the mark making
  • corrects the views some people have of Impressionist painters
  • a fantastic glossary and very detailed bibliography and endnotes
Think Again?
  • academic language used - typical of a university level text
  • now apparently out of print and may be very difficult to get hold of
  • the price you may now need to pay to get hold of a copy
Summary / Recommendation: I highly recommend The Art of Impressionism: Painting Technique and the Making of Modernity for anybody who, like me, likes the work of Impressionist painters and is also fascinated by the preparation and process behind the making of their art.

My purpose in posting is to update a post in February 2008 on my Making A Mark blog - The Art of Impressionism and associated painting techniques. Click the link to read my detailed book review - which is summarised above.

The painting on the front cover is part of "Boulevard des Capucines" by Claude Monet painted in 1873.
80.4cm x 60.3 cm
Nelson-Atkins Museum collection
According to Prof. Callen it was painted
on a 'horiziontal landscape no 25' canvas.
Drawing on scientific studies of pigments and materials, artists’ treatises, colormens’ archives, and contemporary and modern accounts, Anthea Callen demonstrates how raw materials and paintings are profoundly interdependent. She analyzes the material constituents of oil painting and the complex processes of “making” entailed in all aspects of artistic production, discussing in particular oil painting methods for landscapists and the impact of plein air light on figure painting, studio practice, and display. Insisting that the meanings of paintings are constituted by and within the cultural matrices that produced them, Callen argues that the real “modernity” of the Impressionist enterprise lies in the painters’ material practices. Bold brushwork, unpolished, sketchy surfaces, and bright, “primitive” colors were combined with their subject matter—the effects of light, the individual sensation made visible—to establish the modern as visual.

This very worthwhile book is now out of print and apparently copies are difficult to locate. Personally I think it is a book which is well worth owning. However if you want to acquire a copy you need to buy it now or you might not be able to buy it at all.

These are the libraries in the UK which have a copy.

If you want to purchase a copy then:
  • EITHER you may need to try hunt it down off the Internet - and this may take some time
  • OR you could be paying very high prices on the Internet - Amazon for example has book sellers in the US quoting prices from $400-600+. In the UK it was originally priced at £45.
This is also an excellent book to use as an example for telling your nearest and dearest why very good art books - packed full of information and expert comment - are a really a very worthwhile investment! :)

Plus we also need to let publishers know which books need to be reprinted! I'm off to write a note to the Yale University Press!

Note: Many thanks to Caroline Oakley, who's an Adult and Community Learning Tutor, who wrote to let me know that this book is now out of print.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Webware review: SEO Analysis Tool

Webware: SEO Analysis tool
Owner/Distributor: SEO Workers Consultants.
Technical Details: The tool is webware and can be used without downloading anything from the internet. There's an option to download Firefox browser extension (not tested). This is what it claims to do.
  • Analyze most common meta tags;
  • Analyze keyword density from the page content;
  • Analyze page load time from the page;
  • Analyze size from the page;
  • Analyze title meta tag relevancy to page content;
  • Analyze description meta tag relevancy to page content;
  • Analyze keywords meta tag relevancy to page content;
  • Check robots.txt file if user agent is allowed to spider the page;
  • Display meta tags returned from the web server;
  • Display headers returned from the web server;
  • Search for keywords on the page;
  • Search for keywords in the anchor (URL) tags;
  • Search for keywords in the images alt tag.
Summary: A useful tool for reviewing the titles, text and meta tags used for individual website pages. Identifies quickly and easily issues which might cause a site to fail to rank well in SEO terms.
Suitable for: people wanting to assess whether their website is search engine friendly
  • webware - can be used without installing anything on your computer
  • helps siteowners to improve the page ranking of individual pages of their website by removing aspects unfriendly to Googlebot and other spiderbots
  • tests for a good match between title tags and page descriptions (in text)
  • helps focus attention on how a website page is described - and whether that will be scanned by spiders
  • checks that meta tags are a good match with text
  • produces results very quickly and very simply
  • uses a traffic light system of colours plus text to highlight issues which need to be addressed
  • you can test and retest easily - identify what makes a difference by being able to tweak, republish and check again very quickly
Think Again?
  • debateable how important meta tags are these days (however titles and text and congruence between the two remains very important)
  • it's a bit too addictive - ration your time!
  • inability to understand the coding of blogspot blogs
Suppliers: Available from

Before I comment further on the tool it's important to provide some context so here's......

A preamble about SEO and Page Rank

Google crawls webpages to look for changes roughly in order of the page rank of each page. This is how Google rates and ranks web pages for search purposes
PageRank Technology: PageRank reflects our view of the importance of web pages by considering more than 500 million variables and 2 billion terms. Pages that we believe are important pages receive a higher PageRank and are more likely to appear at the top of the search results.

PageRank also considers the importance of each page that casts a vote, as votes from some pages are considered to have greater value, thus giving the linked page greater value. We have always taken a pragmatic approach to help improve search quality and create useful products, and our technology uses the collective intelligence of the web to determine a page's importance.

Hypertext-Matching Analysis: Our search engine also analyzes page content. However, instead of simply scanning for page-based text (which can be manipulated by site publishers through meta-tags), our technology analyzes the full content of a page and factors in fonts, subdivisions and the precise location of each word. We also analyze the content of neighboring web pages to ensure the results returned are the most relevant to a user's query.

Google - Technology Overview

This is a summary of Google SEO Ranking Factors with comments based on the SEOmoz survey of Search Engine Ranking factors v2.

Earlier this year I reviewed which factors were relevant - or otherwise for artists in

What this SEO Analysis Tool will NOT do

This tool is:
  • NOT going toimprove a site's page rank in terms of how many links you get (as described above)
  • NOT going to tell you what your page rank is - but it will show you how you're messing up your chances of getting a good page rank.
  • NOT going to tell you all the things you need to do - but will highlight some important things to address.
How this SEO Analysis Tool can help
This SEO Analysis Tool is to help you analyze and measure the ranking potential of your web pages.

It doesn't only analyze the Meta Tags of your pages, rather it tries to use the same spider technology as the search engines spiders them self.

Before you can get a link you first have to be found! This tool might improve the chances of a page being found as a result of a search due to the page being accurately described in a way which the Google bot and other spider bots like.

All you have to do to use this tool is insert a URL for a website (for the home page) or any URL of any website page and that page will be analysed as to its SEO effectiveness. Then complete a quick spam check.

An example of a report produced
(for my portfolio website

On the right I've provided an example of a page. i'd like to just emphasise that this was after paying attention to the warning messages and tidying up my site description and meta tags.

In general, I found it very helpful to focus in particular on the title tags and the description as that is where Google starts in its hypertext analysis.

I've personally found it very helpful for reviewing the set-up of my information pages on Squidoo and the individual pages of my two main websites. The thing I liked best is that you could tweak a site, republish and then check to see what difference a change made - for better or worse.

The one problem I identified while trying it out is that it is not at all helpful in analysing blogspot blogs.

The website also provides some useful SEO tutorials in layman's language and general terms.

Incidentally, one of the things I liked about SEO Workers was that they identified who they are - see About Us which lists names and provides pics, addresses, and contact details.

Pay attention to Matt Cutts too!

It also pays to review what Matt Cutts, the SEO GoogleMeister, has to say from time to time. he's got the most up to date perspective on what counts and what matters.
Think about the keywords that users will type. Include them naturally in your posts
  • "usb drive" "thumb drive" "flash drive" "pen drive"
  • ALT attribute are handy (3-4 relevant words)
  • Don't forget image search, videos, etc.
Matt Cutts - Straight from Google: What You Need to Know
Plus this is a YouTube Video by Google about Google for Webmasters Tutorial: Crawling and Indexing


Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Book Review: Art - the definitive visual guide

Title: Art: The Definitive Visual Guide
Author: by Andrew Graham-Dixon (Author, Editor) (Dorling Kindersley 1 October 2008)
Technical data: Hardback, 252 x 301mm, 62 pages ) ISBN-10: 1405322438 ISBN-13: 978-1405322430
Robust production values indicate this is a book which is not about to fall apart - which is very reassuring given the number of pages!
Synopsis: Covers 700 artists in a 540 page chronological overview of the history of art relating to different cultures and the main periods of art history from prehistory to the present day.

According to the author/editor, the purpose of this book is as straightforward as its "does-what-it-says-on-the-tin" title. Its aim is to open, to the general reader, a thousand doors into a thousand different experiences of art - and by doing so, to make the wold of the museum and art gallery, church and cloister, temple and mosque, both more enjoyable and more accessible.
Who should buy this?: People who want to know more about the history and development of art
Who should not buy this? Those bored by art history or any art from unfamiliar lands and cultures
  • includes an introduction about how to look at art
  • a book which is packed full of high quality reproductions of 2,500+ paintings and sculptures
  • artists grouped into different genres or movements enabling a better understanding of the wider context
  • individual and important paintings examined in depth
  • provides an overview and timeline of the lives of notable artists
  • summary reviews of how different artists have tackled specific genres of painting
Think Again?
  • some major gaps in the art covered - eg very little mention of Russian artists
  • lacks a section on 'how to look' at contemporary art
  • lacks a decent index of all the artists covered by the book - by section
  • would benefit from an overview of the best museums to see the art highlighted in the book
Summary: This is essentially a visual guide. The text is informative and succinct but does not provide an in-depth discussion of art in different periods.

In 600+ pages, this book succeeds in giving a very good flavour of each art movement, art period, art culture and an awful lot of artists.

It's a very good book for introducing people to art across the ages and different cultures. A primer for those wanting to learn more about the history of art and suitable for all students - young and old.

Andrew Graham Dixon suggests it can be used as a work of reference, a bluffer's crib or a guide and companion on a path to exploring art.

You can read my detailed review Book Review: Art - the definitive visual guide which was first published on Making A Mark

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Book review: The Coloured Pencil Artist's Drawing Bible

Title: The Coloured Pencil Artist's Drawing Bible
Author: (Publisher): Jane Strother (Search Press)
Synopsis: Aspires to being a comprehensive guide to coloured pencils - but fails.
Who should buy this?: People wanting to see examples of coloured pencil artwork by different artists.
Who should not buy this? People new to coloured pencils who want to learn how to use them as a serious art medium. The book provides poor technical advice about tools and materials relevant to coloured pencils and only generic and very basic art advice. There are much better alternative books available.
  • This is the redeeming feature of this book and to my mind the only real reason for buying this book. There is a good range of coloured pencil artwork from a number of different artists
Think Again?
  • apparently written by somebody with little or no personal expertise in the use of coloured pencils.
  • apart from the gallery feature, most of this book is covered better by other books and/or is far too generic eg much of the advice is generic drawing advice and has little to do with the properties of coloured pencils
  • the tools and materials chapter is superficial and/or incorrect. It's a major weakness of this book for pencil artists interested in using coloured pencils as an art medium
  • the techniques articulated by the artists who have provided artwork for the gallery are not reflected in the rest of the book.
  • the chapter on Subjects recommends copying from 'copyright-free' stock photographs. The author appears to be unaware of UKCPS rules on use of photographs or the consequences for artists entering subsequent artwork in a coloured pencil society exhibition.
Summary: The Coloured Pencil Artist's Drawing Bible has its merits, however it's far too generic to be of interest to those wanting to become serious coloured pencil artists. It was very disappointing to find serious weaknesses in the discussions of tools and materials and techniques for working in this media. It would have been nice to see a recognised expert in the use of coloured pencils commissioned to write a book like this.

I do NOT recommend this as a book for those wanting to become coloured pencil artists.

This is a summary of a book review which I did earlier this year.

You can find my comprehensive book review here Book review: The Coloured Pencil Artist's drawing bible on Making A Mark.

Below is the conclusion I reached after reading and reviewing this book.

I'm not sure the publishers were clear what audience they were aiming at. If it was artists beginning to use coloured pencil then the book simply doesn't deliver in enough depth and as indicated above there are other books around which deliver better value for money. If it's people starting to draw then I guess it might explain the choice of author and the wealth of very generic material that it includes - but I can't help thinking such people would be more likely to buy any of the really good drawings books which are around. I'm afraid I can't recommend this book because of the serious weaknesses it displays in relation to the more technical aspects of drawing with coloured pencils and because there are much better books around which tackle the subjects covered in a more accurate and comprehensive way.

I think it's a great pity that the artists whose work has been included in this book haven't had the quality of their work matched by the art instruction on offer.
Book review: The Coloured Pencil Artist's drawing bible
Below I've included links to sites where I do recommend books to those wanting to become coloured pencil artists. Plus a couple of comments on the type of book which these days is often missing from bookshelves devoted to art instruction.

Coloured Pencils - Resources for Artists
Find out about coloured pencils. This leading resource has information for everybody from experienced artists to beginners wanting to learn all they can. Topics include
  • tips and techniques for working with coloured pencils,
  • information about coloured pencil brands and associated products (CHECK OUT the poll - find out which make of artist grade coloured pencils is the favourite.)
  • coloured pencil societies,
  • coloured pencil artists and
  • forums where you can discuss coloured pencil matters with artists working in coloured pencils
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...