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Book Reviews


Let me say right away that this book is worth it for the gorgeous photography of landscapes and the pigments themselves. It is just wonderful. If, however, you want a more in-depth exploration of pigments then maybe not so much. Book of Earth explores the naturally occurring pigments of ochres. When you think of earth colours you probably think browns and maybe oranges and yellows but there are strong blues, greens, purples, and reds all supplied by nature. The author is heavily influenced by the spiritual properties and mythology of these ochres. There is some science of how the earth produces these pigments and even how you can make them into paints but it really isn't strictly about their artistic properties. 

Jerry Saltz How to be an Artist
Heidi Gustafson Book of Earth

Jerry Saltz is the senior art critic for New York Magazine and quite the character. He says he is a failed artist who went into driving delivery trucks but felt the pull of the art world that he was so passionate about. Despite all of this I don't think he is a failed artist. He found his art in talking about art and his passion to celebrate artists and know their practices comes through in this little book How to be an Artist. It really is a step-by-step guide with little prompts or exercises like the chapter on Make Your Mark. This is really about when you go into the studio and you want to make art but where do you start? I have this all the time. Well just make a mark, any mark. "1. Cover a surface with pencils, charcoal, chalk, fabric - anything that can be removed. 2. Using erasers, rags, turpentine, scissors - even your fingers - make a new image by removing parts of that layer." This goes along with "Let Go of Being 'Good.' Start Thinking about Creating." Some of these things you know but part of your brain tries to take over like There are No Wasted Days or Look Hard, Look Openly. Sometimes we need that prompt from others to push us. 

Drawn from Life is a collection of prompts or things to think about when tackling drawing from life be in in a life drawing class with models or in a cafe or during your commute. The works of over 50 artists illustrate (no pun intended) basic principles of drawing as well as things to think about before you even start like using toned paper or working from video stills, using contrasting elements like collage. The drawing examples are all so beautiful and inspirational. 

David Hockney Moving Focus book
Helen Birch Drawn from Life

Yes another David Hockney book. Aren't you lucky? This one, David Hockney Moving Focus, is full of essays by professionals both in and not in the fine art world like Frank Gehry, the architect from my hometown of Toronto, British dancer and choreographer Wayne Sleep, and novelist Catherine Cusset and feature the works from the Tate Collection. It's another fascinating read with wonderful examples of Hockney's several decades of work. 

As you may have already seen on my YouTube channel or on this very website, I'm into making my own sketchbooks now. I've always loved seeing well crafter journals and notebooks and art installation using the book as an art form. And I nowhere near this level but you don't have to be either to read Charlotte Rivers' Little Book of Book Making. The majority of the book showcases books made by artisans all over the world with gorgeous works of art. Notes on how they have produced the books are also in the blurb on each artisans' page. Towards the last quarter of the book there are instructions on stitches and other ways to make your own including decorating end papers and book covers using the examples of the artists in the book. Now some of the line drawings in the step-by-step images may be a little confusing if you are new to all things bookmaking but I think you'll figure it out. There is also a list of suppliers at the book. AND, to my surprise, one of the Creative Women of Hamilton I photographed has her books in the book! Lovely!

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Sushma Hegde is a self-taught artist living in Luxembourg. Her book, Wildflower Watercolor: The Beginner's Guide to Painting Beautiful Florals, is indeed a great book for the beginner. It really thoroughly goes through step-by-step creating image os a series of wildflowers like poppies, echinacea, chamomile etc. At the very end there are tips on how to combine all of these flowers into an overall composition. Now these are not highly realistic botanical drawings. They are simplified but still realistic and beautiful. Any enthusiast plant lover would know the plant you've painted. You are looking for the particular characteristic of this species not an exact painting of a specimen. The images of the artwork along with their real inspiration are beautiful. And I'm jealous of her studio, pictured at the end of the book. Looks so bright and clean. 

I think a lot of artists love looking at other artists' sketchbooks or journals. If you do too you will love 1000 Artist Journal Pages. Apparently originally the call went out to artists looking for particular categories but, as anyone knows, journals/sketchbooks are supposed to be where you play and are the most free or most personal. So the book did away with categorization and so it is simply a picture book of pages from these journals by artists from around the world. There is contact information for the artists at the back of the book if you want to see more of their work or find out something about them because there is no text except that written on the journals. 

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Awash in Color: French and Japanese Prints is the exhibition catalogue to the show at the Smart Museum, University of Chicago in 2012. The artworks in the show came from the collection as well as from other U.S. institutions and private collectors. The book has a series of essays studying the relationship between Japanese printmaking and styles and its influence on Western art, in particular during the heyday of the Impressionist movement. The essays also cover the technical aspects of these works, the social and cultural implications besides the style and colour and format similarities. I loved working with works on paper especially the Toulouse-Lautrec posters that were heavily influenced by Japanese woodblock prints although using lithography. It makes for a wonderful read. 

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Very like Hegde's book (see above) in that Nature Painting in Watercolor is a great instructional book even for the beginner watercolourist. But it isn't just flora and fauna there are birds and chipmunks! Oh boy! 

The images are even more simplified here in comparison to Hegde's book, but no less impressive with huge photographs of each step needed to produce an image of bark texture, or evergreen sprig, or morel mushroom, to name just a few. Kristine A. Lombardi, an illustration artist based in New Jersey who has worked on advertising campaigns and has licensed her artwork is also a teacher at Montclair Art Museum. 

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While I love J.M.W. Turner's groundbreaking oil paintings, it's his watercolours that really get me excited. Maybe it's a bias because I've worked in watercolours since high school. It always amazes me what he got out of watercolour and how it changed how artists used it. So I was pleased to find out about this book Conversations with Turner: The Watercolours. It is the exhibition book for a joint Tate Britain (which holds the Turner bequest of 30,000 works on paper and 280 sketchbooks (plus oils, but we won't talk about them here) and the Mystic Seaport Museum. There are 100 works of art discussed in this volume by eminent historians, curators etc., divided into chapters such as Turner and the Sea, Nature and the Ideals and My Fellow Traveler, that are either just sections with plates or essays. 

Are you afraid of gouache? Ruth Wilshaw's Creative Gouache is a good starting place. The first part of the book really troubleshoots some issues that can come up when using gouache and work arounds to avoid them. She walks you through lessons to practice some important skills. There is also a chapter on using gouache for lettering and a chapter on mixing other media with gouache. The last part of the book gives you some creative projects in case you are looking for some inspiration. 

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Ink and Wash Florals are even more simple and loose than the book above by Sushma Hedge. As with most books like these the first chapter goes over supplies and studies like value, colour etc. The majority of the book divides lessons for several types of flowers. The final part of the book brings these altogether with projects composing these florals together into vases or bouquets. I love Brix's style. I'm always after loose depictions. 

Jeanne Oliver is an artist who tells her story through journalling. She walks through her process in The Painted Art Journal. These are artworks in themselves. Now this may not be for you but a lot of us keep sketchbooks which are kinda like our journals. Some can be quite personal. I looked at this book more as some techniques she discusses to take on board for artwork or sketchbooks. There's even a section on making your own watercolour palette like I have. There are interesting sections on markmaking and transferring images - all things that can be used beyond journalling. 

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Catherine Whister's Venice and Drawing 1500-1800: Theory, Practice and Collecting explores the role of the drawing in Venetian art not merely as a means to an end (ie. working up a composition for a later painting or copying a painting for study). Drawings were collected and executed in their own right. This book is part academic and part coffee table material due to the large beautiful photographs throughout. The term disegno used in art at this time especially in Venice deals with not just "the manual act of making marks on paper but also for the intellectual strengths of an arts, based on study and seen in his idea or invention which would be clearly expressed in drawings and in the finished work of art."

More drawings... Cézanne Drawing if the exhibition catalogue to a show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This was the most significant unification of Paul Cézanne's drawings. The book is divided into essays by curators and art critics exploring themes as well as materials and processes by the artist. The images are beautiful and so inspirational. The lightness with which he used watercolour and in some cases so restrained is just amazing.

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Okay, one more heavy drawing book from the masters (for now)... Here we move to Florence. Botticelli Drawings is a hefty book and the first looking at Sandro Botticelli's (ca. 1445–1510), famed for his paintings La Primavera and The Birth of Venus, work as a draftsman. When overwhelmed by huge masterpiece paintings we tend to forget about the draftsmanship of Renaissance artists. His drawings are amazing and they are presented beside the paintings they were used for (and any underpainting drawing that has been discovered under the layers of paint) as well as others on their own. The book in divided into essays and the catalogue for the exhibition at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

I can't believe I haven't looked at this book, The Urban Sketcher: Techniques for Seeing and Drawing on Location, before (check earlier reviews of urban sketching books). I love Marc Taro Holmes very loose work and the way he adds just areas of colour. The majority of the book is full of exercises to get your drafting skills up to par. Aspects of such as sight measuring and checking angles, focus and composition, perspective and figure drawing. All of these exercises bring you to a point where you can, if you choose to, add colour. So the rest of the book has exercises to show you how to add colour as washes or spot colour etc.

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Nature in Watercolour: Expressive painting through the seasons by Waltraud Nawratil begins with a section of step-by-step instruction for creating her loose style of watercolour inspired by nature. The majority of the book is divided into seasons with an image of her works and what she used such as paper, colour, brushes and any other materials. The directions are now simply text rather than images showing you each stage that she has in the beginning of the book. 

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