Thursday, 31 December 2009

Product Review: Pastels by Bryan McGurgan

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

Sunday, 27 December 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Thursday, 10 December 2009

    The other Art Blogs - art stores and manufacturers

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

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

    Tuesday, 8 December 2009

    Book review: Treasures of Botanical Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Tuesday, 1 December 2009

    Book Review - Imaginative Realism by James Gurney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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