Category Archives: Book Reviews

Imagery from the Bird’s Home: The Art of Bill Carman

Imagery from the Bird's Home: The Art of Bill Carman
There are certain contemporary artists in the field of fantastic art whose work I find a continual delight. Notable among them is Bill Carman, who I have written about previously here on Lines and Colors.

All too often, I find artists in contemporary fantasy, concept and fantastic art (as well as in “Pop Surrealism”) who just seem to be trying too hard — they give a sense of struggling to be weird, or surreal or shocking enough to get noticed.

Carman’s work is essentially the opposite of this: it feels effortlessly imaginative, as simply a natural expression of the artist’s mind.

Carman impresses me as one of those artists who is able to connect his unconscious imagination directly to his drawing and painting hand, and then get out of the way. (In this respect he reminds me of Jean, “Moebius” Giraud, though very different in style and execution.)

I was delighted, then, to receive a review copy of Bill Carman’s new book, Imagery from the Bird’s Home: The Art of Bill Carman.

For some reason, I was surprised when I opened the package, in that I wasn’t expecting the volume to be quite so large, deluxe and beautifully produced. I should know better, of course, because it’s published by Flesk Publications, a small publisher who has earned my admiration again and again for their superb volumes and great choice of artists.

Imagery from the Bird’s Home is big (9 1/2 x 11 inches), thick (192 pages) and packed from cover to cover with Carman’s delightful and beautifully rendered stream-of-consciousness imaginings. You’ll find repeated themes like glasses, lenses, birds (of course), cephalopods, dogs, and various other animals and characters, as well as subjects from pop culture.

Carman works in acrylic on a number of different surfaces, as well as in digital and other traditional mediums. His approach ranges from loosely sketched to highly rendered and intricately detailed — frequently offering much to look at in a single image. The book includes sketches, both random and preparatory for other works, as well as some alternate versions and progress sequences.

Imagery from the Bird’s Home can be ordered directly from Flesk Publications (which I believe to be more beneficial both for the artist and for a terrific small publisher), but if that’s not convenient, you can also order from Amazon.

You can find more images, and a video flip-through of the book on Parka Blogs.

You can see more of Bill Carman’s wok on his website and blog.

There is a brief video interview related to the book on the Flesk Publications site, and a more general interview with the artist on WOW x WOW.


Portraits in the Wild, James Gurney

Portraits in the Wild, James Gurney
As I have pointed out in previous reviews, painter, illustrator and writer James Gurney has in recent years been bringing us a wealth of instructional material in the form of books, videos and his always informative and fascinating blog, Gurney Journey.

Not only has he contributed significantly to the canon of contemporary art instruction (as well as highlighting classics from 19th century sources like the books of Harold Speed and Solomon J. Solomon), Gurney has a keen sense of finding areas of artistic endeavor that have not been traditionally well covered — mediums like gouache and casein, subjects like painting fantasy art from life and advanced topics of color and light.

His latest instructional video takes on the rarely mentioned but important concept of painting Portraits in the Wild. While it may seem to be a specialized approach, in that sketching people on location is more common than creating paintings of people on location, the subject has broader applications than are evident at first glance.

One of the challenges of plein air painting is capturing fleeting effects of light, and in the process, deciding how to handle the changes that can occur over even a single painting session of an hour or two. Frequenty a painter is left to make a crucial decision between painting the “remembered” initial impression of a scene — often what the artist found appealing in the first place — and the scene observed later in the process, as the light has changed.

Painting portraits and figures on location compresses and highlights this kind of artistic decision making to an even greater degree, and the skills involved can be used to advantage in any painting or drawing situation that requires quick observation and compositional decisions about changing conditions or moving subjects.

In his customary casual and friendly delivery, Gurney takes you with him in Portraits in the Wild as he paints subjects while listening to bits of their life experiences, composes complex compositions of figures by utilizing parts of multiple changing figures to construct composites, and delves into portraiture of subjects who are not deliberately posing. In the process, he demonstrates techniques in casein, gouache, watercolor, oil and color pencils.

He also encourages you to be unafraid to drastically change a painting in progress, particularly when using an opaque painting medium — in itself a valuable gem of artistic liberation for those of us who too often become attached to unsuccessful starts.

Portraits in the Wild is 66 minutes long and is available for $14.95 as a digital download from Gumroad, Selify and Cubebrush and as a DVD from and Amazon for $24.50 (more details on this Gurney Journey post).

On YouTube there is a trailer and two other video excerpts here and here that give you the flavor of the presentation. You can find additional material by doing a search for “Portraits in the Wild” on Gurney Journey.

I find that Gurney’s instructional videos are often multi-leveled — conveying information about painting and the artistic process in ways both overt and subtle. What is on the surface a specific challenge of painting people on location carries insights into materials, techniques and artistic decision making that is applicable to a much broader range of subjects.


A few books on the history of pigments and colors

Books on the history of pigments and colors
First of all, this is not an end-of-year book list, or a series of reviews, or even recommendations.

I just realized there seems to be a kind of mini-genre of books about the history of various pigments and colors, many of which are of interest in terms of artist’s pigments.

I haven’t read these, I’ve simply noticed them and selected a few that seem potentially relevant to artists. I’m only presenting them as a kind of FYI that they exist.

The capsule descriptions and reviews on Amazon should provide clues to those you might find interesting. Some are out of print, but appear to be available used.

Rarest Blue: The Remarkable Story Of An Ancient Color Lost To History And Rediscovered, 2012; Baruch Sterman

A Red Like No Other: How Cochineal Colored the World, 2015, edited by Carmella Padilla and Barbara Anderson

A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire, 2006, by Amy Butler Greenfield

Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World, 2002, Simon Garfield

The Brilliant History of Color in Art, 2014, by Victoria Finlay

Color: A Natural History of the Palette, 2002, by Victoria Finlay

Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color, 2003, by Phillip Ball


Illustrators Magazine Issue Eleven

Illustrators Magazine Issue Eleven; Donato Giancola, Tomer Hanuka, Kames McConnell, Mike Terry, Freya Hartas, Gustave Dore
Illustrators is a quarterly magazine published in the UK, that I previously wrote about when they published their first issue in 2013.

Calling Illustrators a “magazine” is a bit misleading, as it’s a 96 page perfect bound format that feels more like a large trade paperback.

I was delighted to receive a review copy of the current issue, number 11 (the contents for issue 12 have just been announced). Like most of their issues, the format is two lead articles of considerable length showcasing the work of contemporary illustrators followed by an in-depth article on an illustrator from history, and shorter articles on additional contemporary illustrators.

Issue #11 features Donato Giancola, one of the finest contemporary illustrators working in the field of fantastic art. Giancola is one of the foremost illustrators carrying forward the style and techniques of classical art, putting them in service of modern, thought provoking fantasy and speculative fiction themes.

For my money, the issue is worth it’s $29.00 US price for the 30 pages of his work alone, including sketches and in-progress versions of some of his pieces.

As someone who has been perfectly comfortable with both creating and appreciating art on the computer for over 20 years, I still find reproductions of artwork in high-quality print to be a different and very worthwhile experience. Seeing this much of Giancola’s work (scanned from the original artwork) collected in print is a treat.

The second major article in this issue is 25 pages devoted to the wonderfully expressive line-and color style illustrations of Tomer Hanuka.

In addition, there are 17 pages on the classic mid-20th century pulp illustrations of James McConnell, and shorter articles on caricaturist Mike Terry and the illustrations of Freya Hartas, as well as the usual book reviews and letters.

Unfortunately, the Illustrators website does not do justice to the presentation of the publication. For reasons that continue to bewilder me, the pages devoted to individual issues show no images but the cover, and don’t overtly mention that a preview of each issue is available.

Previews actually are available, accessed through tiny icons labeled “See what you are missing!” instead of a big headline of “View a preview of this issue” or something similar.

Once in the preview, however, you can zoom or enlarge to full screen and get a decent glimpse of some of the beautiful artwork in each issue.

You can order individual issues of Illustrators through the website, or purchase a four-issue subscription which includes the online editions as well as the print publication.


Richard Schmid: The Landscapes

Richard Schmid: The Landscapes
Richard Schmid is a well known painter, author and teacher, who is highly regarded among other artists and whose signature style is often emulated by his students.

I first mentioned Schmid on Lines and Colors back in 2008. In that article, I focused largely on his demo videos and his excellent instructional book, Alla Prima.

Those who are primarily familiar with Schmid’s work in print from early editions of that book will find The Landscapes — a collection of his paintings published in 2010 — a revelation (and likewise the newer edition of Alla Prima II).

The Landscapes is wonderfully large (11×14″, 28x36cm) and sumptuously produced, with much attention given to the color production in an attempt to do justice to the artist’s work.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the presentation of the book on the Richard Schmid website. There is a preview, accessed from a “Preview this Item” tab under the image of the cover, but (almost as nonsensically as Amazon previews) it includes atypical pages and front matter totally irrelevant to why you might want to purchase the book — which is, of course, for the artist’s beautiful paintings. Some 300 images are included in this volume, a bit more than half of which are full plates of the works.

There are also a few landscape images in the Archive Gallery on the website, a couple of which are included in the book. It’s still not much of a clue as to the real nature of the book.

I’ve taken the liberty of trying to photograph a few, somewhat more representative, examples of images from the book to show you here, but I can’t claim my photographs are accurate reproductions of the color or image quality in the book itself, and of course, they’re still very limited in size.

Suffice it to say, if you like Richard Schmid’s work, but have not seen this book, you are likely to want it if you see it. If you’re not familiar with Schmid’s work, it’s certainly worth investigating.

I find Schmid particularly fascinating for his mastery of edges and values. His work is a textbook lesson in how to control the viewer’s attention — what to include and what to simply suggest. Schmid uses deft control of color, contrast and texture to evoke mood and atmosphere, imbuing his work with a kind of whispered poetry. Elements in his compositions subtly emerge from their settings as if slowly revealed by contemplation.

Those qualities come through in The Landscapes in a way that invites you to linger over every image, and go back through it repeatedly. It’s a beautiful presentation of work by one of our best contemporary landscape painters. I’m remiss in not having reviewed it before now.

I hope to follow up soon with a review of the newly revised edition of Schmid’s classic instructional book, Alla Prima II, which I recommend highly. I can also recommend his instructional videos, notably the series of four seasonal landscapes, among which I think June the best place to start

Note: if you look for Schmid’s books and videos on Amazon or other online sellers, you will find them artificially overpriced and often presented as if out of print. You should purchase them directly from the Richard Schmid website.

At the moment, The Landscapes is being offered for a reduced price ($73.50 instead of $98.00).


Gouache in the Wild, James Gurney

Gouache in the Wild, James Gurney
Unfairly overlooked among artists’ mediums, gouache is the neglected stepchild of watercolor — disdained by transparent watercolor purists (who I can’t help but picture as cartoon aristocrats, painting with their pinkie fingers extended), and looked at in confusion by oil and acrylic painters. (“Gouache? Isn’t that for designers? You know — illustrators?“)

For those who have come to know it, however, gouache is a lovable mongrel, with some of the best characteristics of other mediums: quick drying like acrylic, with the ability to layer and work from dark to light like oil, but with the easy portability, clean up and re-activation possible with watercolor.

Contrary to popular belief, as long as those colors designed specifically for illustrators with fugitive pigments are avoided, and colors are chosen with the traditional artist pigments familiar to oil and watercolor painters, gouache is a perfectly wonderful medium for gallery artists and plein air painters. Gouache is essentially just opaque watercolor.

In addition to common misconceptions about gouache, I think one of the barriers to its wider adoption by artists is the relative lack of instructional material for the medium. Books and instructional video materials are conspicuously thin for gouache, particularly when compared to the abundance of attention paid to transparent watercolor.

Gouache has been gaining more attention and adherents in recent years. One of the best resources for gouache information has been the ongoing mention of gouache techniques in blog posts by James Gurney, who has long been a champion of the medium (along with its milk-based cousin, casein).

In a follow-up to his excellent instructional DVD Watercolor in the Wild, Gurney has created a new DVD along similar lines, titled Gouache in the Wild.

As someone who has become more fascinated with gouache myself, I was delighted when I received a review copy, and even more delighted as I viewed it. Though most specifically aimed at the use of gouache for plein air or interior location painting — a role for which it is very well suited — the video also serves in many ways as an introductory guide to the medium.

Gurney takes us through the process of painting six varied subjects, with quick glimpses of a few others, and gives a guide to materials and basic techniques along the way. He covers some elements that others might not even think to mention, such as making your own opacity charts and brand color comparisons.

In addition to the overt instruction, I find that the close-up views of Gurney applying the paint in various ways, with touches of different kinds of brushes applied at a variety of angles, are instructive in themselves. They also make it clear that new users of gouache should not be misled by the small tubes, and should be unafraid to mix up and apply some generous brushloads of paint.

As is often the case with Gurney’s instructional videos, there is a wealth of supplementary material to be found on his blog, such as his post on “The Seven Gouache Hazards and How to Escape Them” and numerous other mentions of gouache.

Today, June 22nd, is the official release of the video, and Gurney is offering discounts for the day, and will be posting additional previews to YouTube during his “gouache week”, as well as a free live streaming demo of painting in gouache on location on this Wednesday at 4:00pm Eastern Time on ConcertWindow.

Here is the current trailer on YouTube, and another short excerpt from a longer segment.

Gouache in the Wild can be ordered as a DVD or purchased as a digital download. See this post on Gurney Journey for more details.

Gurney has provided a much needed guide for painting in gouache — an often overlooked artists’ medium that is deservedly gaining in popularity; every section is overflowing with his wealth of location painting knowledge and experience.

[Addendum: Gurney continues to add to the supplementary gouache information on his blog. Particularly informative, and much needed, is this remarkable post in which he has inquired of the major gouache manufacturers about the formulations of their gouache paint — a source of common question even among experienced painters in gouache: “Gouache Ingredients: Info from Manufacturers“, on Gurney Journey.]