Showing posts with label Art. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Art. Show all posts

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Birds & Butterflies Drawing & Activity Book by Walter Foster Jr Creative Team


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I have to say right up front how disappointed I was in this book - designed as a print book but reviewed as an ebook - which purports to teach how to draw birds and butterflies. I felt it didn't do anywhere near enough to teach any art at all. The book offers three methods and cycles through each of them with different pictures alternating between birds and butterflies. The first is simple tracing, and the print version of the book has tracing paper built in, presumably over the top of the image you're expected to trace. Tracing isn't really art in my book.

The second method is drawing using a grid. You copy each square section of the larger image by duplicating the lines in a marked four square wide by six square tall grid. This is a step closer to art, but it's still not really teaching anything. The third method comes closest, but even here there are problems. The third step involves drawing simple shapes initially, to 'map out' the more complex shape of the thing you're drawing. I've seen this method used many times in art books and while I remain unconvinced that it's the best method to teach art, I do acknowledge that it provides a rudimentary means to that end which hopefully anyone who is serious about pursuing art will find ways to circumvent as their personal technique improves.

My problem with this method was that as presented here in this book, it offers not steps, but jumps. The examples shown start with simple clusters of circles and some other shapes for, say, a butterfly, and these are refined in subsequent steps, but suddenly, in five steps, we have a professionally-drawn butterfly and in the sixth, a colored one without any hints, tips, suggestions, or advice about how to get there from step four, which was nothing more than an outline that might as well have been traced.

For me this was a major failing with this book because it assumed way too much, particularly with the coloring. It was a mystery because on the face of it, the book appears to pander more to people who want to idle their time away while on vacation and who are not really that serious about learning to drawn and paint. For an art book this contains a disturbing amount of non-art activities, such as word search, sudoku, spot the differences, and on and on.

Those pages could have been better used to explain the art and suggest ways to work on and improve ones technique. So on the one hand we have these professional insta-art projects which start out looking like amateur step-by-step methods before leaping to a professional finish with no suggestions as to how to get there from here, and on the other, we have completely unrelated activities that contribute nothing to learning about art and seem merely to be mindless time-wasting activities.

Admittedly, it helps to step away from your art now and then, so you can come back to it with a fresh eye, and I know the cover says quite plainly it's an art and activity book, but the way this book is thrown together seemed insulting to anyone who seriously wants to learn how to draw and color, and pointlessly complex to anyone who merely wants to dabble and who really does want some mindless distraction for a vacation. For these reasons I cannot commend this book, with anonymous authors, as a worthy read.


Friday, August 9, 2019

Portrait of an Artist: Frida Kahlo by Lucy Brownridge, Sandra Dieckmann


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I've been intrigued by, nay, in love with Frida Kahlo ever since I first heard of her. She's something of an enigma. I'm a lot more a fan of hers than I am of her art as it happens - not that there's anything wrong with her art. I find her work evocative, and some of her most moving paintings are featured here as modest reproductions. Many of her works are like mini biographies - the equivalent of what today, with always-on instant communication, are called 'status updates'. She went through two different hells as a child and a teenager: first suffering polio, and then a pelvis-breaking tram accident which left her in pain for the rest of her life.

This didn't stop her from painting and painting and painting. In fact one could argue that the accident, which left her in bed for some time, unable to do anything much other than read and paint using a special easel her father made for her, triggered her advance into art. Her meeting renowned painter Diego Rivera gave her another push. He liked her work and liked her and eventually they married, but the marriage wasn't always a happy one. This book wisely doesn't go into that. While it does talk of her polio and the accident, it otherwise paints a rosy picture of her too-brief life, written in short, clear bursts and eminently suitable for a younger child to read. Kudos to Lucy Brownridge for getting it right.

And talking of art, Sandra Dieckmann paints us a fine visual picture on every page: colorful and playful, serious but not staid, and very endearing. I already knew lots about the artist (Kahlo, not Dieckmann!) having read at least four other books, including children's books about her, or about art that mention her, yet I still found this one engaging, fresh, and entertaining, and I commend it as a worthy read. Let Frida Ring!


Portrait of an Artist: Vincent van Gogh by Lucy Brownridge


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

What can be said about van Gogh that hasn't been already? Well, this book reveals that and more! It's very colorful, aimed at a younger audience, and it tells an honest story while not becoming maudlin or depressing. The book features modest reproductions of several of his works including the well-known ones, and the art (by Edith Carron) is as well-done as the text, which is brief without being too brief and informative without being exhausting - in short, just right for a young reader whom you want to introduce to the kind of art that, let's face it, a child might emulate in many ways, especially if they try to copy the colorful, unadorned, yet fine-looking works that Carron reproduces here.

For me the real tragedy of van Gogh isn't his life, but what happened afterwards. He can never know how beloved he is today after having such a short and unappreciated life, and that's inexcusable, so it would behoove us all to remember that when looking at new art today.

The book discusses van Gogh's art, his life, his relationship with his brother, and even his depression without becoming medical or unintelligible. It's not just about the art, but about the whole idea of what brings an artist to paint what they do, and as such the book does have something new to say about van Gogh, something younger reads would like to hear. I commend this as a worthy read.


Saturday, July 6, 2019

Painting Masterclass by Susie Hodge


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Subtitled "Creative Techniques of 100 Great Artists" this book of almost 300 pages does precisely what it promises, and explores well-known (and lesser-known) works by artists both classically famous and bubbling under. In each case a painting is depicted and discussed, including the paints used, the techniques employed, and imparting some information about the artist as well. Susie Hodge has an MA in Art History from Birkbeck, University of London, and has has written over 100 books not only on the topic of art.

If I have a complaint - and notwithstanding that it may seem churlish to complain about a book that has commendably assembled five-score masterpieces for our perusal and education - it would be that once again we're faced with something designed for a print version and therefore being inadequately represented in ebook format. Too many of these paintings are unfortunately - some might say scandalously - split across two pages which is never - ever - a good thing. In the ebook version it's worse, because there is a thick gray line down anything that dares to be in landscape orientation. Additionally, the book has a glossary and an index, but again the index is for the print version, and is not 'clickable' to navigate in the ebook.

If I have praises, I have too many to list here in a review that's already yeay long, but the inclusion of so many female painters is definitely praiseworthy. The history of arts isn't that of white men, but for all that's written about it, you can be excused for being bamboozled into thinking it is. You can go back as far as you like - even to cave paintings (which get some coverage in the introduction), and it seems that the thrust (the male thrust, of course) is to exclude women as creators - like the caves were solely painted by men when we have no idea who the artists actually were. This book commendably does a lot to redress that sorry imbalance (and no, Joan Miró isn't female) and is the better for it.

After some fifty pages of material that is both introductory and educational, including a history of art (not quite the same as art history!), the book is divided into seven main sections, each with a dozen or so artists representative of that category:

  • Nudes
    I'm not sure why nudes get to be first. Sounds like naked aggression to me, but here we go (and I promise not to make fun of artist names or painting titles):
    • Titian - Venus of Urbino
    • Jacopo Tintoretto - The Origin of the Milky Way
    • François Boucher - The Triumph of Venus
    • Francisco Goya - Nude Maja
    • Gustave Gourbet - Sleeping Nude
    • Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres - The Turkish Bath
    • Gustave Caillebotte - Man at his Bath
    • Georges Seurat - Models
    • Edvard Munch - Madonna
    • Paul Gaugin - Nevermore
    • Paula Modersohn-Becker - Self Portrait on Her Sixth Wedding Anniversary
    • Gustave Klimt - Danaë
    • Amedeo Modigliani - Red Nude
    • Suzanne Valadon - Reclining Nude
    • Jenny Saville - Branded
    • Cecily Brown - Two Figures on a Landscape
  • Figures
    Figures excludes portraits, which appear in 'heads'!
    • Michelangelo Buonarotti - The Delphic Sybil
    • Sofonisba Anguissola - The Chess Game
    • Paolo Veronese - The Wedding Feast at Cana
    • Pieter Breugel the Elder - Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery
    • El Greco - Christ Driving the Traders from the Temple
    • Caravaggio - Deposition from the Cross
    • Artemisia Gentileschi - Judith Beheading Holfernes
    • Frans Hals - The Laughing Cavlier
    • Diego Velázquez - Las Meninas
    • Rembrandt Van Rijn - The Jewish Bride
    • Jacques-Louis David - The Oath of the Horatii
    • Édouard Manet - Luncheon on the Grass
    • Honoré Daumier - Third Class Carriage
    • Edgar Degas - The Ballet Class
    • Berthe Morisot - The Cradle
    • Eva Gonzalès - Nanny and Child
    • Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec - At the Moulin Rouge, the Dance
    • Egon Schiele - Seated Woman with Bent Knee
    • Balthus - The Card Game
    • Richard Diebenkorn - Coffee
    • Peter Doig - Two Trees
    That cavalier really isn't laughing, so I feel that portrait name has been treated rather...cavlierly. Also the Jewish bride wasn't so named by Rembrandt. Luncheon on the Grass was rather controversially imitated for an album cover by the new wave band Bow Wow Wow in the early eighties.
  • Landscape
    These are the gray divider line pictures
    • Claude Lorrain - An Artist Studying from Nature
    • John Constable - The Hay Wain
    • Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot - The Bridge at Narni, Near Rome
    • Caspar David Friedrich - Mountain Peak with Drifting Clouds
    • JMW Turner - The Red Rigi
    • Jean-François Millet - Haystacks: Autumn
    • Oskar Kokoschka - Tre Croci Dolomite Landscape
    • Paul Klee - Hammamet with its Mosque
    • Claude Monet - Water Lilies
    • Edward Hopper - Haskell's House
    • Emil Nolde - Distant Marshland with Farmhouses
    • Frank Auerbach - Primrose Hill Study Autumn Evening
    • Julie Mehretu - Retopistics a Renegade Excavation
    • Hurvin Anderson - Untitled (Red Flags)
    Constable's painting is known as The Hay Wain but it wasn't originally named that by him. His less memorable name for it was 'Landscape: Noon'! It was subject to minor vandalism in 2013 in the museum where it's kept, but no lasting damage was done. there is a beautifully-rendered rose on the Klee page which to me far outshines the main painting. Nolde's watercolor is equuisite and Anderson's untitled beach scene is equally entrancing.
  • Still Life
    Isn't all painting still life, ultimately? LOL! Just kidding.
    • Floris van Dyck - Still Life with Fruit, Nuts, and Cheese
    • Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin - Still Life with Peaches, a Silver Goblet, Grapes, and Walnuts
    • Henri Fantin-Latour - Flowers and Fruit
    • Pierre-Auguste Renoir - Onions
    • Paul Cézanne - Still life with Cherries and Peaches
    • Georges Braque - Violin and Palette
    • Juan Gris - Grapes
    • Fernand Léger - Still Life with a Beer Mug
    • Georgio Morandi - Still Life
    • Georgia O'Keeffe - Jimson Weed White Flower No 1
    Gris's painting was curiously not done as a Grisaille. Go figure! Not sure how still a life with an empty beer mug would be, especially if it was the artist who drained it, but moving along.... Georgia O'Keeffe's painting is wonderful.
  • Heads
    Portraits.
    • Leonardo da Vinci - Mona Lisa
    • Raphael - Madonna in the Meadow
    • Hans Holbein the Younger - Jane Seymour
    • Johannes Vermeer - Girl with a Pearl Earring
    • Adélaïde Labille-Guiard - Self-Portrait with Two Pupils
    • Mary Cassatt - Portrait of the Artist
    • Piere Bonnard - Self-Portrait
    • Vincent van Gogh - Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear
    • Eugène Carrière - Self-Portrait
    • André Derain - Portrait of Henri Matisse
    • Henri Matisse - Portrait of Derain
    • Amrita Sher-Gill - Hungarian Gypsy Girl
    • Pablo Picasso - Weeping Woman
    • Alberto Giacometti - Anette
    • Marlene Dumas - Amy Winehouse (Amy Blue)
    Mona Lisa is never described as The Laughing Lisa. I rest my case.... I have to say I am not convinced there was any pearl earring here. It seems to me, given the circumstances, that it was more likely that it was some sort of shiny metal - perhaps silver if it was the daughter of Vermeer's sponsor. No one knows what Vermeer titled it, but it became known as the girl with a turban until relatively recently when it became rather poetically known as "Girl with a Pearl." If you look at Vermeers featuring girls actually wearing pearls they look quite different from this one, but you pays your money and you takes your art. These were all created before the term 'selfie' came into use, so the much more formal 'self-portrait was a common title. I love the reciprocity of the Derain and Matisse works! Weeping woman was probably captured after Picasso jilted her for another woman, and 'Anette' looks like something out of a horror movie, so disturbing is it.
  • Fantasy
    This was an unexpected, but welcome inclusion.
    • Sandro Botticelli - The Birth of Venus
    • Peter Paul Rubens - Minerva Protects Pax from Mars
    • Giovanni Battista Tiepolo - The Finding of Moses
    • Eugène Delacroix - The Death of Sardanapalus
    • Rosa Bonheur - Highland Raid
    • Ilya Repin - Sadko and the Underwater Kingdom
    • Edward Burne-Jones - The Doom Fulfilled
    • Marc Chagall - I and the Village
    • Francis Picabia - Dances at the Spring
    • Leonora Carrington - Self-Portrait
    • Frida Kahlo - The Two Fridas
    • Howard Hodgkin - Robyn Denny and Katherine Reid
    • Philip Guston - The Street
    • Paula Rego - The Dance
    Repin's painting is remarkable, but I think that the Best Title Award has to go to Burne-Jones's painting. It's really hard to tell if Picabia's spring is a season, a water source, or even...a bedspring.
  • Abstraction
    I wish I could be more specific about this section but....
    • Wassily Kandinsky - Composition 7
    • Hannah Höch - Mechanical Garden
    • Joan Miró - The Poetess
    • Jackson Pollack - Autumn Rhythm (No 30)
    • Nicolas de Staël - Agrigente
    • Hans Hofmann - The Golden Wall
    • Helen Frankenthaler - The Bay
    • Gerhard Richter - Abstraktes Bild
    • Cy Twombly - Untitled (Bacchus)
    • Gillian Ayres - Suns of Seven Circles Shine

Long list! But worth it. The paintings - some you may love, others you may hate - say a lot and are well-worth seeing, as is reading the breakdown of how they were composed, and what sort of paints and materials were used in their creation. This book is as remarkable as the paintings and I commend it as a worthy read for any artist or anyone interested in art.


Friday, July 5, 2019

101 More Mixed Media Techniques by Cherril Doty, Heather Greenwood, Monica Moody, Marsh Scott


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I'm not the kind fo reviewer who gets a print version to review, which is fine, but it does mean I get some slightly-askew perspectives on a lot of books, and the thing that caught my eye immediately with this one was the table of content. It told me that this book is designed as a print book with no thought given to electronic format readers because there is no click option to go to a specific part of the book from the content nor to return to the content, unfortunately, although I guess you can always use the search function if you know what you're searching for. That aside it was well laid out and organized.

The book opens with a word or two on materials and supplies, and then quickly launches into the various sections, which cover borders and edges; embossing and casting; drips, drops, and sprays; aging and antiquing; pens, pencils and Pastels; yarn and string; fabric and fibers; using metals; resists and masking; alcohol inks; watercolor monotypes, pyrography; washi tape; alternative surfaces; spray inks; ephemera; and finally gelatos - and I'm guessing that's not desert!

As you might guess from this, I'm not a professional artist or any kind of artist really, but I love to learn, and I learned a lot from this, including some new terms/techniques I'd never encountered before despite reading a lot of art books! Each of the above sections is broken-down into actual techniques for achieving the required effects. For example, borders and edges covers such techniques as cut, torn, and colored edges; burned edges and sharp borders; colored border effects; and applied borders.

Each section is subdivided this way with a simple, but detailed path working towards the desired outcome with step-by-step instructions augmented by photographs. For example, the section on embossing covers not only embossing by hand, but also by vehicle - yes, setting up your materials in front of the vehicle tire and driving over it to create the emboss. This section also includes making your own pulp paper, creating molds and using found objects. The section on aging and antiquing employs several methods, including recycling teabags. This is something soccer player Arrogant Alex would not be able to appreciate, I suspect!

This isn't just about method and technique - it's fundamentally about art, and some of the art work including as examples here is quite remarkable regardless of what technique was used to produce it. The picture on the tea bag antiquing page is really quite outstanding, for example, as is the ocean and beach in the section on pastels, the rose in the 3D fabric effects section, the bird and the butterfly in the candy foil accents section, the chicken in the wax-resists section, the two pictures in the cling-wrap effects, the amazing image in the using yupo section (plus now I know what yupo is!). The stag and the butterfly in the pyrography section are noteworthy. I'm not a big fan of 'day of the dead' style art, but if you are, you'll no doubt love the decorated 'coffin' in the 'burn outside the box' section.

And on that score, if this book does nothing else for you, it will unquestionably get you out of any rut you might be in, inspiring you to try something new and experiment more. Washi tape, for example, is something I learned of only very recently, and the section here on it is short, but it contains four different items on the uses of this tape. Alternative surfaces is another out-of-box experience section, covering the ABC's: acrylic, burlap, clay as well as fabric, styrofoam, wood, muslin, and glass - always a fun medium to explore in art. A word about the flammability (especially in a paint environment) and non-biodegradability of styrofoam would have been appreciated. It's a nasty material.

So overall, the book is comprehensive and really helpful. It covers a lot of ground in relatively simple steps, and will no doubt make a major contribution to any artist who wants to stretch themselves or improve on techniques they may already possess. I commend it as a worthy and education read.


Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Frida & Diego by Catherine Reef


Rating: WORTHY!

I've long been interested in Frida Kahlo and the life she was forced to live, so when I happened upon this larger format print book I saw in the library, I grabbed it up without thinking twice. It tells the individual stories of the childhood and youth of the two artists separately, and then of their life together, problematic as it was at times. It discusses their work and how events in their lives influenced it, and of Frida's struggle with health issues, beginning with polio, and then with a tramcar accident which resulted in a metal hand rail piercing her hip - a major and life-threatening injury from which she never fully-recovered and for which she was still having surgeries long after the accident.

As if that wasn't bad enough, she ended up falling for a serial philanderer which led to a codependent relationship that neither party could move on from, not even after they divorced. The book covers a lot of ground and contains a wealth of fascinating detail. The author has done her work without question.

The only thing about this book which bothered me was that so little of their art was depicted. There is a lot of imagery and quite a few of their paintings are included, but most of the pictures are photographs of them and their friends, so for me, too little of the art was on show. That aside though, I enjoyed reading this, and I commend it as a worthy read for anyone who is a fan of either artist, or even of art in general. Both the over-used phrases 'struggling artist' and 'tortured artist' apply quite literally to Frida Kahlo and she's always worth reading about.


Draw Like an Artist: 100 Flowers and Plants by Melissa Washburn


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was an amazing book on drawing that does exactly what it promises to do: it supplies easy to follow step-by-step realistic line-drawing examples for creating 100 flowers and plants that look amazingly realistic.

Starting out with the most simplistic of initial images, the authors shows you how to refine them in five, six, or seven simple steps to turn it from a crude blob outlining what you want, into an ornate flower, of from a spike into an detailed leaf, and so on. Page after page of these examples painstaking outlined (and then filled in!) in simple steps. Yes, they're drawn by an artist, but I'd be willing to bet that any budding artist who works through this book, follows the advice, and copies these examples will be turning out an end result that looks remarkably like the images depicted in this book. I commend it.


Celestial Watercolor by Elise Mahan, DR McElroy


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was the second of two art books reviewed today that I cannot commend. Usually, I enjoy art and crafts books and find them useful and educational, and far more often than not, review them positively because of this, but this one felt like it was uninterested in talking about art, and far more into rambling on about astrology and seasonal Moons. I didn't feel like the book title represented what was going on here, and I was not impressed at all by what was going on.

The astrology treatise occupied over a dozen pages, followed by a short tutorial on actual painting. After that, it went on a jag about the new Moons which ate up another dozen pages without imparting a word about painting technique until, again, a short tutorial appeared at the end of that.

The book did offer some basic introductory information about watercolors, paints, papers, some techniques, and so on, as you would expect from a book of this nature, but after that it really wasn't much help at all. All of those pages passed by filled mostly with a bunch of folklore and fairytales that had nothing to do with painting.

The ebook version I had was annoyingly 'sticky' in the sense that certain pages (not always the same page) brought the book to a screeching halt and no matter how many times I tried to swipe, the page wouldn't change backwards or forwards for about twenty seconds, and then suddenly it changed. I couldn't even tap on it to bring up the slide bar at the bottom of the screen to change pages that way, so I was literally stuck on that page until something clicked internally in the iPad or the app and it swiped.

It was really annoying. I tried this in both Bluefire Reader and in Adobe Digital Editions and had the same problem in both apps, so unlike a print book, the ebook will not allow you to quickly page through to find a specific page. Overall, I felt - or rather I would have, had I paid for this rather than been able to see it as an advance review copy - that there was very little value for money to be had here! I cannot commend this one.


Draw 62 Magical Creatures and Make Them Cute by Heegyum Kim


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This book was rather disappointing for me. While it does offer step-by-step examples in drawing creatures, that's literally all it offers. There is little to no text, and no pointers, hints or tips. There is no advice about materials such as those which art books typically offer in my experience, or information on style or technique in terms of approaching your drawing.

All you get on each page is a set of half-a-dozen or so simple steps to start, add to, and finish your creature or folk-lore person, and then there are some suggestions, in the form of additional drawings, on how to make it look cute, which to me didn't always succeed, but that's a matter of personal taste.

So overall, if you don't mind emulating existing drawings, but being largely in the dark about methods, this book might work for you. For me, I do not like the minimalist approach which some might argue is lazy or cynical. To me it felt more like it was offering nothing more than basic patterns to copy, and I was not impressed. Having seen other, much more generous books on art, I cannot commend this as a worthy read.


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Art Makers: Polymer Clay for Beginners by Emily Chen


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I'd never heard of polymer clay and I don't consider myself an artist, but art interests me and has done more so since I started this childrens' picture book series of mine, so anything out of my experience zone tends to attract my attention.

For the most part, this book was well-written and very informative, colorfully illustrated and explained in detail where necessary. This 'clay' is made from polyvinyl chloride or PVC. The water that comes into your house and the waste you flush away more than likely runs through PVC pipes, and the electricity you use more than likely runs through cables insulated with PVC. Polymer clay is treated in various ways with 'plasticizers' to render it into modeling clay. You will need to work it to get it soft and ready to mold into whatever shapes you want, but once it's 'loosened up' it's just like clay. When heat-treated though, instead of melting or drooping, it hardens and retains its shape; it's rather like baking ceramic or pottery. It also retains its color. This makes it perfect for making items you want to keep and even use, such as jewelry. You could make buttons for your clothes and other useful items such as, for example, the pieces for a chess game - and even the chessboard itself!

The author shows many techniques and steps the reader through making a variety of items, some of which look good enough to eat - such as fake chocolate chip cookies and a fruit flan that, when done properly, looks very realistic. Polymer clay comes in a variety of bright colors and it mixes readily with other colors to blend shades. There are also varieties you can get which make for a semi-translucent or a pearlescent finish. You can, as the author explains, add other materials to the clay to change appearance, and make a more matte finish to your project. The clay remains workable until 'cured' by heating at relatively low temperatures in an ordinary oven, but perhaps a dedicated oven might be a better bet, or an alternate heating technique. Here's why.

The author doesn't mention this, which for me was a big no-no, but there are certain health risks associated with long-term use of certain types of polymer clay - specifically those which contain more than 0.1% of any of a half-dozen specific chemicals known as phthalates. This is why polymer clay isn't a good material for making children's toys or for making items which might be used as food containers. I understand that the manufacturers of this clay have sought to remove such plasticizers from the clay since 2008, but it's always a good idea to be fully aware of what it is you're working with and what the risks are, which is why I would have preferred at least a mention of this in the book.

I found this an inexcusable omission in that this was not mentioned at all. I also understand from reading around on the topic, that the clay doesn't necessarily need to be baked - it can be heat treated with a hair dryer, dryer for example, or put into very hot water and left for a time to harden that way. Given that some formulations of polymer clay could exude hydrogen chloride gas when heated, the water idea seems like a safer bet to me, but maybe more modern formulations of the clay do not have this problem.

The fact is that I don't know, and the author made no mention of this in this book. I think this was a serious omission and which is why I am not recommending this book. The author also neglected to mention pricing, which can vary and change over time, I know, but a rough price-range would have been nice as a guide. A dedicated oven (an old toaster oven will do) might cost around $70. The clay itself costs about a dollar an ounce, or perhaps more from a brief survey I did, and a hand pasta roller - which you can use to work the clay and make it malleable prior to modeling, will be around $30, although you can work it by hand or even with a rolling pin, I guess; then you would not want to use that rolling pin for food, so a dedicated roller is also wise.

So while this book did offer hints, tips and advice about getting started, the lack of any sort of pricing or safety warnings made it a fail for me, and I cannot commend it. It may well be that safety concerns have been reduced with newer formulations of this material, but still a note of caution would have been wise I felt, especially if (for all I know) there may be 'cut price' older formulations of this material out there. Hopefully there are not!


Portfolio: Beginning Pen & Ink by Desarae Lee


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Part of the Portfolio art series from Walter Foster Publishing, this book takes the reader from beginning level to competency status with advice on tools of the trade, techniques, step-by-step examples, and ideas for projects. It covers drawing techniques for achieving ink effects such as softly graduated shading, each aimed at improving your drawing technique and making it look ever more advanced and professional.

The book instructs on terminology with examples, explaining light, mood, shadow, texture, tone and value in terms of drawing effects, and while most of the book is black ink on white paper, it also introduces the idea of using color. This book was designed as a print book and there were issues with the page numbering such that, even on a full-screen iPad, I had to swipe by four screens before the page number went up by one. I'm not sure what was up with that. It looked to me like this was yet another book designed with little thought given to the electronic version. Aside from making it difficult to go to a specific page to reference something I'd read earlier, this was a minor issue, and overall I consider this a worthy read and a useful asset to anyone who is interested in pursuing this as a hobby or a career.


Artist Toolbox: Surfaces & Supports by Elizabeth T Gilbert


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This, the third title in a series, proved to be another useful book of information to help you not so much take steps as to stride confidently through your art ambitions by ensuring that you have the most suitable surfaces on which to work once you embark on an art project. It covers not only drawing and painting surfaces you might employ, but also what effect this medium has over that medium when using those surfaces.

Just like a building, a firm foundation gets your creation off to a good start in not only supporting your work physically, but also bolstering it artistically in terms of how your work looks both texturally and colorfully. There's no point is painting brilliantly if your support isn't there and your efforts are washed out or otherwise undermined because of a poor choice of material on which to paint or draw. It's not just how you do it and what medium you use to create the work, it's also about upon what medium you use as a foundation for your work, and how that's going to interact with your other materials and influence the final piece.

The book covers:

  • Canvas
  • Glass
  • Metal
  • Panels
  • Paper
  • Stone
  • Textiles
And the coverage isn't just in selecting a good medium and knowing how and what to paint on that particular piece, but also how to clean and prepare the material before you paint, so your efforts are not destined to fail. It also covers how to best preserve your work once it is painted.

The book contains some fabulous examples of artwork on each of these surfaces, and while no one can guarantee you will end up with strong artwork like those, you will be assuredly a lot closer to it knowing your materials and approaching your project fully prepared than ever you will going at it haphazardly! I commend this for being comprehensive, easy to understand, and offering good advice, and lots of tips and examples.


Artist Toolbox: Drawing Tools & Materials by Elizabeth T Gilbert


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This book is less about creating great art than it is about the tools you will need to create great art, and more importantly than the tools, how to use tools to get you the image you're seeking. And it also talks about creating great art - so what's not to like?!

As the title suggests, it covers a range drawing media, from colored and graphite pencils to crayons and crayon-like painting sticks in assorted forms, along with charcoal, vine charcoal, white charcoal, and conte materials, but it doesn't just talk about what's available, it gets into it about how to employ those materials to get the kind of results that will elevate your work to the next level, and it includes advice on how to store those materials to best preserve and protect them to prolong their life.

Since the surface upon which you create your art is also an important tool this area isn't spared attention, so we have a discussion of different materials available, and how your painting materials work on each surface, with some photographic examples of results achieved using different tools on different surfaces.

It goes beyond this as well, with step-by-step instructions on working through several projects for even a beginner to learn to draw effectively, so in short, everything you will need to get a firm grounding in your materials and your technique. I commend this as a comprehensive and useful tool to add to your artistic arsenal.


Friday, March 1, 2019

The Art of Modern Quilling by Erin Perkins Curet


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I had no idea what quilling was - never heard of it, which is why I was interested in this particular volume. It turned out to be quite fascinating. It's a skill that can be - I assume since I'm not a quiller myself - learned quite readily with some practice, and it requires little in the way of equipment to pursue this. The results are charming if they're to be judged by what this book contains. On that topic, I have to observe that this author seems to have an inordinate fondness for butterflies, but they were very pretty, and there is much more contained here than just alluring lepidoptera!

The most elaborate item she demonstrates is a clock face to which was attached a clock mechanism to create a wall-hanging, working clock. The work involved seems to my not-even-amateur eyes to be heavy and requires a dedicated crafter, but the result is quite stunning. I have to say though, that the utility of it to me was lessened by the fact that the clock had so many components and was so colorful that it was more likely to befuddle than enlighten anyone who was trying to decipher the time of day from it! As a hanging decoration however, it was truly eye-catching.

I think I was most impressed by the jewelry the author constructed. The paper is curled, glued, and treated with some sort of fixative so it's not just raw paper. She created a pair of dangling earrings which were rather bell-shaped and quite pretty, and she made a necklace out of quilled hemispheres of paper glued together to make spheres, and threaded onto a string. The end result was remarkable. Not that I plan on making any of this myself, but I can't help but admire the skill and work that went into all the things she made. They were solid, colorful, beautiful to look at, and very attention-grabbing.

There's a quilling article in Wikipedia if you want to learn a little about the art, but if you want to learn how to actually do the art, then this is definitely the book to go with. The author has clearly mastered this, and has gone beyond mimicking things - as anyone would do when developing her skills - and she has moved on into a fascinating and creative world of her own. I commend it for a captivating and instructional glimpse into a world I had not known even existed.


Colorways: Acrylic Animals by Megan Wells


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I've reviewed several books about art and painting over the last few months. I don't consider myself an artist by any means, but I have dabbled, and it is a topic which fascinates me and in which there is always something to learn - especially if you're a writer and want to imbue your stories with a little realism. It doesn't hurt to absorb some advice from established artists in books like this to sort of sprinkle yourself with a bit of authenticity to use in your writing projects. Plus the books are interesting in themselves. I'm always happy to learn how artists do what they do and get such appealing works out of the seemingly paltry source materials of some colored pigments and some brushes. It's really quite magical when you think about it. The paintbrush as a magic wand! Paint as fairy dust!

This book is firmly in the acrylic camp, and it takes a loose and playful approach to painting animals. This artist definitely has fun, and the art here isn't about absolute photographic realism, but about conveying a sense and feeling for the animal subject and making it stand out, in both how the basic image looks and also in the colors it employs including some collage techniques in one image.

The subject titles are amusing. We have complementary cows, pointillistic pandas, tetradic llamas, and vibrant flamingos. The titles are a hint to the technique the author/artist is going to use and the shades and hues of paint that are going to be employed in it, because each exercise follows a slightly different strategy to reaching the end goal, although there are certain rules about building-up the painting which are common to all. The level is beginners, so if you're just starting out, have a little experience, or have never picked up a brush before, this should still work for you. I don't think anyone is so advanced that they can't learn from a new talent!

There was one section on painting a giraffe that I found interesting for several reasons. The author shows her work - like anyone taking a math test should do! - so you can see the steps to the result, and sometimes looking at those early images, I wondered if I were painting this, would I have stopped there and not gone on to 'finish' the work. Is a work of art ever finished? I guess it is if the artist thinks so, but there are different places any individual can stop and say it's done, so it was interesting to think about that. Another reason this was interesting is that the giraffe image was laterally reversed in the final picture. I think someone got an image the wrong way round, but it didn't detract from the effect of seeing the resulting finished-image after following all the steps to get there.

The book is replete with hints, tips, suggestions, and most importantly, encouragement, and the whole works well together to give anyone a solid grounding in expanding their range and ability if they're looking for a leg up. I commend it as a worthy read. Each time I read something like this it makes me want to go pick up some supplies at the art store and get to it! Fortunately for my kids' clothing and dietary needs I restrain many of these impulses! But setting yourself up with some basic brushes and colors doesn't cost that much these days, and you can paint on pretty much anything you want! Grant Wood's American Gothic was painted on "beaverboard" which is more like cardboard than it is like canvas! So grab this book and get to it!


Monday, December 31, 2018

The New Color Mixing Companion by Josie Lewis


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a useful book for artists, going into some interesting and practical detail about color mixing, gradation, shading and tinting. It's patently evident that the author has put in some serious work here. It covers collage, mixed media, and pure paint, and works through examples you can follow practically, exploring various aspects of color mixing as you go.

The book includes a glossary of terms and goes above and beyond color wheels and simple paint-matching and contrasting into a more advanced appreciation of just what color can do and how it can impact the eye. It offers inexpensive solutions and provides a series of printed templates for the practical experimentation and emulation of the examples the author sets. Obviously it's intended as a print book, and presumably using photocopies of these images rather than paint directly in the book(!), but it would be no problem to take a screen-shot of the images in your ebook version, bring them into a computer so they can be printed out to work with them that way.

I found this to be a comprehensive, detailed, and eminently useful contribution to painting, and I commend it as a worthy read.


Saturday, December 29, 2018

Rohan at the Louvre by Hirohiko Araki


Rating: WORTHY!

Also known as Toshiyuki Araki, this author's oddball graphic novel tells of a young man's arrival at a boarding house where he encounters a mysterious divorcée, with whom he has an oddball but platonic relationship. Rohan himself wants to be a manganeer of course, dreaming of creating his own comic book. It is this, rather than Rohan himself which attracts the attention of the divorcée, despite her violent treatment of his first effort - because he drew her as a part of it. In a moment they have together, she reveals to him the story of the most evil painting ever put on canvas, and which is kept locked-away in the darkest corner of the Louvre.

A decade later, Rohan discovers that the painting this woman told him of actually exists, and is everything she claimed for it! Beautifully illustrated and artfully told, this was an enjoyable and wistful fantasy tale in more than one way. I commend it as a worthy read.


Colorways: Watercolor Flowers by Bley Hack


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I've been posting several reviews on various art forms, and here's another to add to the collection, which will doubtlessly be my last art book review this year. This one, part of a 'Colorways' art series, focuses on the delicate art of watercolor flowers and how to achieve various looks and effects with this ethereal medium.

The author offers hints and tips from her own personal experience, including useful techniques such as wet-into-wet painting, washes, gradations, and glazing, as well as step-by-step instruction on achieving certain effects such as capturing a rose bloom for example, which by any other name still looks as sweet! The book includes advice on how to keep a painting frame of mind when your tools are not to hand - or better yet, when you have a camera to hand to capture ideas for future paintings, and in this day and age, who doesn't have a cellphone camera? Hey if you don't, go get one for art's sake!

The book goes beyond just watercolors and into collage with a step-by-step on creating a picture frame made from a watercolor, and I enjoyed reading this and adding to my stock of general knowledge even though I don't have any immediate plans to immerse myself in this demanding medium. I commend this as a worthy read, and a useful tool for anyone interested in improving their watercolor technique.


Calligraphic Drawing by Schin Loong


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I've been reviewing several books on art recently, including one on calligraphy, and this one adds to the collection of those I commend both for their artistry and their teaching.

This one particularly intrigued me because I've never seen a calligraphy book which really talks about art as opposed to writing. The closest most calligraphy books get to art (although arguably, calligraphy itself is art, but you know what I mean - I hope!) is in the flourishes and embellishments added to the written word, but this one goes a step further and is solely about art, with writing added here and there as a kind of embellishment!

Clearly the author is a master of this form, at least as judged through my amateur eyes. The creations she has on display here are charming, inventive, accomplished, and beautiful to behold, but this is not an art gallery, it's an instructional book which takes you through the steps she followed to make these images of (from the book blurb) "pigeon, swan, crane, rooster, jellyfish, goldfish, peacock, parrot, owl, raccoon, elephant, puppy, rabbit, fox, and zebra." That list doesn't do the book justice though, because the real art is in the hints and tips of how to get these ideas from your mind onto the page via your pen, and there are plenty of those, provided by someone who has clearly, been there, done that, and got the calligraphy art to prove it!

I was inspired by this and with the timely help of a Christmas gift card and the untiring assistance of a Barnes and Noble employee (you don't get this at Amazon!) was able to find and buy a modest calligraphy set myself, to start my own practice which will probably not make perfect, but which will give me a great deal of satisfaction, I don't doubt! Who knows, maybe a future book in The Little Rattuses series will have a calligraphic element? I doubt very much it will be to the standard exhibited by this author, but hope springs eternal in rats, you know! I commend this book highly, and not only for being a thing of beauty, but also being a thing of great utility. It'll be a joy to be holding this book in your hands!


Leonardo's Science Workshop by Heidi Olinger


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a fun book advertised as a STEAM book, which to me was confusing until I realized it meant STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, (and) Mathematics. I've never known it to be referred to as STEAM, although it does have other acronyms that have been used from time to time. To the best of my knowledge, the America COMPETES Act of 2007 refers to it as STEM, although the companion book I also review today includes Art, so maybe that's where they're pulling the 'A' from.

Frequently referencing Leonardo da Vinci, who was not a steampunk (in case you wondered!), but an artist, inventor and innovator, this book introduces youngsters to his work and through it to a look at science, nature, and even some art. Growing up with no formal education, Leonardo from Vinci nevertheless mastered a multidisciplinary approach to topics and excelled in pretty much everything he explored.

And he explored a lot, which gives this book a huge platform to launch an assortment of explorations itself, including flight, motion, 3D illusions, and even an electron dance, as well as making your own fabric from recycled plastics. Yes, depending on the age/ability of the child, some adult help may be required here to pursue all these topics, especially since da Vinci isn't the only great thinker of yesteryear who is called upon. Other well-known names are Galileo Galilei, James Clerk Maxwell, and Isaac Newton, so you know this needs to be approached with a certain amount of gravity, although an Apple computer isn't required....

I do ahve to point out that the airfoil explanation on page 20 is not correct. NASA’s own web page here: https://www.grc.nasa.gov/www/k-12/airplane/wrong1.html explains. Wikipedia also has an explanation: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lift_(force) . It’s also questionable whether Galileo Galilei dropped lead balls from the tower in Pisa, but likely he did a similar experiment rolling balls down a ramp. He wasn’t the first, though. John Philoponus did it a millennium before Galileo, and it was definitely done by Dutch scientists in the late sixteenth century.

More spectacularly, astronaut David Scott did it on the Moon during his Apollo 15 mission using a hammer and a feather, which in the Moon’s near-vacuum, both hit the ground at the same time. And on the topic of Moon astronauts, Neil Armstrong actually said, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” It’s just that the ‘a’ got lost. If you listen very carefully you can just about catch a brief hesitation where he says it. If the first person to set foot on the moon had been a woman, I'd be willing to bet she would have said 'humankind', but I guess we'll never know!

Anyway, I commend this book as a fun and entertaining occupation for young - but not too young - children.