Category Archives: Book Reviews

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

 
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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.

 
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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).

 
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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.]

 
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The Tale of How book rereleased

The Tale of How book, Ree Tweweek
Since 2006, I’ve been following the fascinatingly idiosyncratic work of South African artist and illustrator Ree Treweek.

Treweek, along with animator/filmmaker Jannes Hendrikz and composer Marcus Smit, are collectively known as The Blackheart Gang.

The group achieved notice for their deliriously quirky and beautiful animated short The Tale of How. They went from there to doing wonderfully odd television commercials as part of the production company Shy the Sun.

Back in 2009, there was announcement of the upcoming publication of a Tale of How book, lush with fantastical images, the actual release of which I somehow missed, and the book quickly sold out.

The Blackheart gang just announced a second edition of the Tale of How book is now available from their website (though probably not for long).

There is also a series Tale of How prints, images of which I’ve used as examples of the book, above. I haven’t seen the actual book, but I’m assuming the same images, or similarly delightful ones, are included.

The website does not provide much purchase information, but if you send an email to the address provided on the book page, they will get back to you with an order form and details.

The signed edition is available for US$60, GBP40, ZAR600 (plus postage); and the regular edition is US$45, GBP30, ZAR450 (plus postage, which will, of course, vary depending on the destination, the book is shipped from South Africa). I don’t know about the price and availability of the prints, but you can enquire at the same email address. Payment can be made by PayPal, credit card and additional means.

I’ll also point out that there are other treasures to be discovered by digging through the Blackheart Gang website. You might start with the index on Works by Medium and/or The Tale of How short.

For more, see my links to previous posts about Ree Treweek, The Tale of How, The Blackheart Gang and Shy the Sun, below.

 
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Daily Painting, Carol Marine

Daily Painting: Paint Small and Often To Become a More Creative, Productive, and Successful Artist
I’ve been following the “daily painting” phenomenon since 2005, when I wrote about a blog called A Painting a Day by Virginia painter Duane Keiser.

Keiser had committed himself to painting one small painting each day and posting it to his blog. I commented at the time that I thought this was a terrific idea, and lamented that I didn’t have the time and discipline to follow suit.

I watched with interest as other artists took up the practice, one of whom was Texas painter Carol Marine, an early adopter who started her painting a day practice in 2006. I wrote about her in early 2007.

I continued to follow the idea, as “painting a day” grew into a genuine internet phenomenon — part of a fundamental change in the way artists world-wide interact with their audience. (And, years later than I should have, I finally joined in.)

In addition to taking note of new artists taking up the practice, for which “painting a day” became too narrow a term and “daily painting” is more widely applicable, I’ve also watched some of the earlier adopters continue to make progress (which is, after all, the primary goal of the practice).

Marine, in particular, has become noted not only for her small paintings, with their inventive compositions, geometrically strong forms and bold colors, but as one of the primary proponents of encouraging others to take up daily painting — thorough articles on her blog, a series of online tutorials and in-person workshops.

In addition, Marine and her husband, programmer David Marine, established Daily Paintworks, which has become a very popular group showcase and auction system for hundreds of daily painters.

She has also published a few books through online sources, but has recently published a book dedicated to the subject of daily painting through Random House, titled: Daily Painting: Paint Small and Often To Become a More Creative, Productive, and Successful Artist (Amazon link).

I have to admit that as much as I enjoy Marine’s work, I expected a book on this topic to be somewhat lightweight, filled with lots of her appealing paintings, and a bit of breezy commentary about the practice of daily painting.

I was wrong.

I received a review copy of Daily Painting, and I was delighted to find it extensive, well thought out, beautifully designed, and dense with information.

The book actually succeeds on three levels: as an introduction to the practice of daily painting and a detailed guide to following it; as a coach-like encouragement to follow through, keep on track and overcome problems like artist’s block; and as a basic guide to the fundamentals of oil painting.

In addition to topics related directly to daily painting, such as choosing subjects, photographing and posting your paintings to a blog, promoting your work and selling small paintings online; she also does a fine job of covering painting basics like materials, composition, proportion, value, color mixing and brush work.

Marine’s primary subject matter is still life, though she also paints landscapes and figures, and the book is rich with photos of her work; but she also draws on the work of other daily painters, such as Karin Jurick, Belinda Del Pesco, Qiang Huang, Michael Naples and a number of others, to add variety in subject matter, medium and style.

Woven throughout the instruction and information is the core message of the book — and a valid and valuable one it is — summed up in the book’s subtitle: “Paint Small and Often To Become a More Creative, Productive, and Successful Artist”.

She states in the initial chapter that painting small and often: minimizes emotional involvement in individual paintings, reduces fear, encourages experimentation, provides structure and promotes rapid growth as a painter.

I agree wholeheartedly; and for anyone interested in taking up the practice, I highly recommend Daily Painting.

 
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