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Book Reviews


Back to one of my favourite things - urban sketching. Gabriel Campanario founded the Urban Sketchers group in 2007 in Seattle for like minded sketchers, hosted on Flickr. This group into a global phenomenon with chapters around the world. The goal is to "see the world, one sketch at a time," working en plein air and not from photographs.  Stephanie Bower, also based in Seattle teaches urban sketching at many of the groups symposiums. A trained architect (like many of the artists featured in the book) she turned to illustration of architecture instead. She has compiled a list of artists and their works from around the world through the Urban Sketchers group and featured them in this book The World of Urban Sketching: Celebrating the Evolution of Drawing and Painting on Location Around the Globe. The only thing I have to criticize is there are only a few from Canada! So much inspiration in this book!

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But back up! I forgot to list Gabriel Campanario's book The Art of Urban Sketching: Drawing on Location around the World. This preceded the above book and so it has a similar format. You have urban sketchers and their work showcased from around the world like Bower's book, but before that there is a chapter on what it takes to be an urban sketcher, what it is, what tools you can use and notes on style and technique. The third part of the book focuses in on different themes, subjects or inspiration. You will want both books! There are so many wonderful artists and fantastic images it is like travelling the world.

The Urban Sketcher's Handbook series is a wonderful assortment of books focusing on different aspects of the art. One of my favourite books and artists is Róisín Curé and not just because she is Canadian and Irish like me. I love her portraits of people and I'm not the only one as she was selected to do a book entitled The Urban Sketching Handbook Drawing Expressive People: Essential Tips & Techniques for Capturing People on Location. She sometimes says so much about a person's personality with very little, it's amazing. There are quick portraits like you may do on the subway or of a loved one to groups of people in huge crowds. Her brown ink and wash images are brilliant. 

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Another book in the series takes to digital drawing. This one is Drawing with a Tablet : Easy Techniques for Mastering Digital Drawing on Location. Uma Kelker lists a number of software that can be used from free to expensive (I will never forgive Adobe for going to subscription and no longer having Illustrator). Anyway, because you have to do urban sketching on site then you are probably looking at an iPad or another tablet. I highly recommend Procreate. It is pretty cheap (one off purchase!) and easy to use especially if you have used programmes with layers before (there's a section on that). Unlike a sketchbook, though, you have to make sure everything is charged up (including your pen!). But the amount of textures and brushes and all sorts of things that you can download out there is staggering. But if you want to try doing night time scenes you don't have to worry about seeing your tools. Check out books listed above on David Hockney who is a big early adopter of iPad art.

Did that whet your appetite? Well there's more in that series with Katie Woodward's The Urban Sketching Handbook Understanding Light: Portraying Light Effects in On-Location Drawing and Painting. Again it's a focus on something that urban sketchers may feel is lacking in their skillset. Key areas covered are Value, Colour, Skies and Atmosphere, Reflections, Foliage and Night Scenes. Some people shy away from night scenes because they are challenging to do well and also seeing what you're doing when you're trying to sketch in low light! But a neon sign? Those look fantastic in urban sketches so try it. There are examples from other artists from around the world just like Róisín's book. 

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I honestly can't believe I didn't already review this book because I got it about a year ago as I love Felix Scheinberger's work and also took his Domestika course. Urban Watercolor Sketching is right up my street and it doesn't disappoint. There's everything covered that you need to know from the basics all about watercolour to glazes, colour theory, developing your style, the tools you need and being out and about. And then tips and tricks that can pull a work together and make it stand out. Definitely a book for your urban sketching library.

I think my dad would've liked me to become a foreign correspondent giving him the news first before the newsroom or agency. And sure part of me would've liked to have been a documentary photographer so I just had to order this book The Urban Sketching Handbook Reportage and Documentary Drawing: Tips and Techniques for Drawing on Location by Veronica Lawlor. I'm in awe of those using their artistic skills for a cause. Although anywhere where people gather or even where there is no one but yourself - you're telling a story. 

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Want more of Felix Scheinberger's work? Then there's also took his Dare to Sketch: A Guide to Drawing on the Go. He shows you don't need much to take with you - a simple notebook and pencil or even a ballpoint pen. All of the elements of a good image are here including looking at how depth and perspective and composition are used and can influence mood. People and animals, architecture, travelling - anything is fair game as a subject. Everything is shown in his unique style. 

Do you just like looking at other artists' sketchbooks as much as I do? Then Danny Gregory's An Illustrated Life: Drawing Inspiration From The Private Sketchbooks Of Artists, Illustrators And Designers will be a joy to flip through. And some of it fits in with the theme of urban sketching that's been going on in this list here. There are some that are more cartoon-like and others full of text and outpourings of feeling and journalling or simply what they did that day. Very voyeuristic in some sense as sketchbooks can be so personal. 

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A friend put me on the to the artwork of Alex Katz and I was hooked right away especially with his Japanese aesthetic. Alex Katz: Gathering is an exhibition catalogue for his first retrospective in nearly 30 years at the Guggenheim in New York City. The catlogue spans his long and successful career starting in the late 1940s to present. There are essays written by fellow artists and art historians in the book and gorgeous colour reproductions of his various series and works including his collages and monumentally scaled works. I particularly love his portraits and his tree studies like the one used for the cover art. What an amazing career! I so wish I could've seen the show. And yes, this book is on my every growing Christmas list.

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Nests, Eggs, Birds: An Illustrated Aviary by Kelsey Oseid says it all in the title. Did you know the North American robin is actually a thrush? I knew they were a lot bigger than the European robins so that makes sense now. Again, very detailed, informative, I learned a whole lot and appreciate birds more than I did. A wonderful book. 

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I've known of the artist Gwen John for years but I have to admit more in relation to the fact that her brother was the artist Augustus John. They both went to the Slade School of Art in London at the same time. The fact that her brother was a successful artist in London and that she was a female artist at the time when it was still relatively unusual has added to the myths surrounding John and her career, that she was shy and retiring and didn't seek fame are dispelled by the author, Alicia Foster in Gwen John: Art and Life in London and Paris. This is a woman who was dedicated to her art. She moved to Paris on her own and supported herself (including being a model for Rodin). She was fiercely competitive and very social knowing some of the great artists of her time and well regarded in her time. A truly interesting life. And I loved the way this book was designed so it was a joy to read.

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I don't know which YouTube person it was who put me on to Kelsey Oseid's books but thank you! There are a series of them and I managed to get two out of the library. Trees: An Illustrated Celebration is all things trees. There are notes on species, types, parts of, how good they are for animals and the environment. You will definitely want to hug or plant a tree after this. The illustrations are the star for me. They are almost childlike while at the same time being very realistic. I'm not sure how she does that but I love this book.

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Yes another David Hockney book but this one, Secret Knowledge (New and Expanded Edition): Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters has a twist. It is really a survey of the art in terms of how artists came about realism. His theory after studying countless Old Masters' works is that artists used lenses and optics to create. Because how did artists go from very static, very 2-D images with no perspective to the Renaissance in art in such a short time? Hockney tries some of the techniques that may have been used and layers famous paintings with his analysis. It is eye-opening and makes you think "of course they did!" So don't fret if you aren't a Leonardo or a Caravaggio straight off, because they had a bit of help.

Yes yet another Hockney book, Hockney's Eye: The Art and Technology of Depiction. Don't @ me! I never thought when Hockney's work would come up in my art history days that I would learn so much from this man and appreciate his work so much. And this book takes up from the previous one and with more of a focus on Hockney's own use of camera lucida and obscura and photography itself as well as the art of just looking itself is done. This book is a catalogue for an exhibition that began at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Another show I wish I had caught! 

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So I got this out of the library but now I have it on order. An Artist's Handbook: Materials and Techniques will be a great addition to my library for my own work and for the work I look at in my auction job. It covers all of the media and goes into the historic aspect of it and what you would need to say start a watercolour painting or what sort of supports you could use for an oil painting and how to prepare your support for any medium with great images of the steps. I think it would be great to add to any artist's library. 

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This Alex Katz book, This is Now, focuses on the artist's landscape work and was for an exhibition at the High Museum in 2015. The text accompanying these gorgeous works include essays by curator Michael Rooks, art critic Margaret Graham, and David Salle as well poems by John Godfrey and Vincent Katz (the artist's son who is also an art critic). The landscapes date back to his early career to the present. Most of the book consists of plates from the exhibition. 

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The anthropologist and textile artist Lauren MacDonald's In Pursuit of Color: From Fungi to Fossil Fuels: Uncovering the Origins of the World's Most Famous Dyes tells history of dyes and cloth, its social and economic effects and processes. I particularly love the recipe for "Sad Brown" taken from the 1615 book called The Secrets of Alexis: Containing Many Excellent Remedies against Diverse Diseases, Wounds and other Accidents. It involves saffron, by the way. Oh sure there are chapters on more famous and colourful dyes for reds, blues and purples, but brown deserves to shine as well. 

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Pastel Painting Atelier: Essential Lessons in Techniques, Practices, and Materials by Ellen Eagle definitely covers the basics and beyond of using pastel as a painting medium. There's even information on making your own pastels, storing them and caring for your finished work. The author's own work is intermingled with historic work and work by her contemporaries. The beautiful photos show you exactly the potential of pastels. 

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And yet another book I am putting on my Christmas list. The Artist's Studio: A Cultural History by James Hall doesn't so much go in a chronological survey but rather at different aspects of what became the artist's studio in both the myth and the reality. From when studio's started to be used for teaching or having models (live and static), being crammed with things to going to bare minimum (the myth of the artist in the garret comes to mind) to when the outdoors is your studio. It is really a great study of the studio and how it was formed and used over the centuries to today. Richly illustrated too! 

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If you are interested in colour in the 20th century Pantone: The 20th Century in Color, might fit the bill. Pantone became the gold standard in color categorization for design professionals. You probably hear every year about the Pantone colour of the year. Here, iconic works of art, decoration, products and fashion of the 20th century are looked at, the Pantone colours picked out from the example and both the social history and the colour examined. I think some of these colour palettes could be great jumping off points for doing artwork. You know they work well together because, well Matisse, for instance, was a good artist. I think he knew something about colours and how they go together. So limiting your palette to a set of these colours could be a fun exercise. And if not, it's a lovely illustrated book.

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Katy Hessel is an art historian, broadcaster and curator. While attending a prestigious art fair in 2015 she looked around and noticed that there were no women artists. In 2015! But then she thought, could she name 20 women artists herself. She also acknowledges Linda Nochlin's groundbreaking essay "Why have there been no Great Women Artists?" published 40 years ago yet it was still happening. And not because there can't be great women artists or that there never were any. So Hessel set about to list them in The Story of Art Without Men, from the Renaissance to present day and across the world. She also runs the instagram page @thegreatwomenartists. It is a fascinating book. And yes my master's in art history did not cover many of these remarkable women. 

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If you've scrolled all the way through these art book reviews you will think oh not another Hockney book. But this one is a bit different. To See Clearly by Robert F. Sibert and Evan Turk is about David Hockney but for kids 4-8 years of age. It will be on my list for a certain 4 year old soon. The illustrations are fantastic and totally in keeping for a Hockney book

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