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

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Mindful Artist: Sumi-e Painting by Virginia Lloyd-Davies


Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I love the idea of painting, although I do none of it myself these days. I don't have the time! This book, written by a woman named Virginia who lives in Virginia, but who has studied with the masters in the East and the West, struck me as particularly interesting because it is also about mindfulness and Asian art. I imagine all art is about mindfulness in one way or another, but this book focuses on it particularly, and it has a lot to say about technique too, so I concluded that it will be of immense value to anyone who wants seriously to get into this art form - and likely of interest to other artists too, regardless of which style they favor.

On a technical note, I have to say that the book doesn't work well on an iPad which means that the publisher wasn't very mindful about how it would look in other formats! Unless you have the large-format tablet, the text is far too small to read comfortably, meaning I had to enlarge the page and read, then slide the page around to the reach next section; then shrink it to swipe to the next page. This didn't always work well and was quite annoying - not at all conducive to mindfulness! Then there were problems in moving to the next page, requiring several swipes sometimes before it would slide over, so I wouldn't advise getting the ebook version - and unfortunately that's the only kind of book a reviewer like me gets to read! Maybe it's not available in ebook format? I dunno, but if that's the case it makes me wonder why it's issued for review in such a format! I now claim the record for using the word 'format' more times in a single review than any other reviewer! Yeay!

Amazon's website was predictably hopeless when it came to learning the print book's dimensions. I have no idea why so many publishers and authors sell-out to such an abusive behemoth. Obviously they claim that it's where everyone goes, but it is we who voluntarily give that power to Amazon. They wouldn't have it if we didn't kiss Billionaire Bezos's ass so passionately and routinely. But Waterstone's tells me the book is about 11" (2.96cm) tall. My iPad is only 7"x5" so the height of the book in landscape mode was less than half the actual print height. From this, I imagine the print version is a lot more legible! And now I'm exhaisted. I have to go lie down. Kidding. The book was 65 pages in ebook form, but it's twice that in print because both the Adobe Digital Editions app and the Bluefire reader app were counting each double-page spread as one page. Had the book been published in ebook form as single pages. It would probably have been more legible on my iPad at least.

So enough with the technical. Let's look at content! This was much less frustrating and much more relaxing! The art was beautiful, and delicate, and inspiring, and eye-catching - everything you expect from traditional Asian art. The author took us through selecting brushes and paints, and other materials and the kind of environment you might want to find to paint in. One issue I, as a vegetarian, had with the brushes was that the author recommends animal hair. For me, it would be hard to be mindful when painting with a brush that had animal hair in it because I'd be wondering where that animal was, and how the brush manufacturer got that hair. If it came from a slaughterhouse, I doubt that would make me feel good about using it to paint with! But maybe that's just me!

That aside, I was impressed by the thoughtfulness that had gone into this book, and the useful information with which it was replete. It had all kinds of suggestions from the type of paper to the type of brush, to how the ink was prepared and loaded onto the brush. Following this was page after page of beautiful art, with hints, tips, and step-by-step instructions on how to get there from here.

I was impressed and I commend this book as a useful tool for anyone who is into painting.


Friday, November 1, 2019

Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev


Rating: WORTHY!

The publisher won't tell you this, but this is book one of the "Théâtre Illuminata" trilogy. Once again, not a word on the cover about this being part of a series. That's a huge black mark against it, as well as a testament to Big Publishing™ dishonesty, but I've had this on my print book shelf for several years, still at that point in ignorance of it being the prologue to a trilogy! I decided to give it a try anyway. In the end I wasn't disappointed, but neither was I pointed enough to want to read any more. I'm very much anti-trilogy or any other -ogy, especially anti- the unending 'series'. It has to be something truly special before I will embark on another series. This one volume, however, I'm willing to commend despite some issues with it.

It seemed obvious after getting about fifty percent into this book that it wasn't going to end after one volume, but by that point I'd decided I liked it enough to read it to the end, although about two-thirds the way through I started having doubts. It came back strongly enough from the lull to carry me to the end, but it was precisely this sort of thing that put me off wanting to read more, especially since the ending was a bit flat and a lot cliffhanger. I do not approve of that. If the author can't make the story grip you through one volume, what chance has she when piling the soul-sapping weight of another two on top of it?

The story is about Beatrice Shakespeare Smith, and that 'Shakespeare' portion of her name is important because although she lives in a magical theater which is literally home to real characters who exist in plays in a tome that the theater guards, and who manifest themselves in the theater even when a play is not in progress, Mantchev seems to think, as judged from what she writes, that the only works ever produced in a theater are those by Shakespeare.

Realistically, she could hardly steal characters from more modern plays without getting into copyright issues, but there are scores of well-known plays out of copyright, and she could have could have at least mentioned other characters in passing without anyone suing her, yet all we get is Shakespeare, a mention of The Little Mermaid and from that, some vague love interest named Nate who seemed to think that "Bertie" needed manhandling now and then. The fact that he disappeared at one point in the story and never reappeared when others who had also disappeared returned, told me that this was never going to be resolved in one volume. Barf. So here's another author who's sold out to the YA publishing world's demand that if you don't have a series, or at least a trilogy then you're fucking useless.

But I digress! This tunnel vision on the author's part with regard to 'what's a play' has imposed a severe limitation on the novel, and while I must grant that the author did well, even confined solely to Shakespeare, this confinement meant she lost a huge opportunity to have interesting and amusing interactions in this world she created. So, while parts of it were highly amusing, particularly her banter with the four fairies from A Midsummer's Night Dream: Cobweb, Moth, Mustardseed, and Peaseblossom, who seemed to like to hang with Bertie because of the chaos and mischief she caused, there were also parts that were tedious to read, and an often insufferable Ariel (from The Tempest), who was the penis leg of the inevitable YA lust tripod that all these YA stories are inevitably cursed with.

Bertie was, she's been told, left at the theater as a baby by her mother, yet she never really questions why her mother left her there as opposed to say, a convent or an orphanage. Instead she makes up stories - performed as plays, in which she watches various random characters act out her origin story. But Bertie's days are numbered precisely because of her ill-behavior, and at seventeen, she's given an ultimatum: prove herself invaluable to the theater, or leave. For reasons which escape me, she decides that if she can put on a production of Hamlet set in ancient Egypt this will make her case! She sets out to organize the performance, but first has to deal with Ariel's mischief in setting loose the entire cast of every play by ripping out the pages of the magical play-book. The only page he can't rip out is his own.

The characters are recovered, of course, and nary a word is spoken about this imprisonment, so issues there, but that aside, the story was interesting enough and amusing often enough that I was able to stay with it. So I commend this as a worthy read, but like I said, I have no stomach for pursing Bertie in any further adventures. She's not that interesting of a character. If the next volume had been about Cob, Moth, Mus, and Pease, I might have changed my mind!


Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia


Rating: WORTHY!

Eliz is counting the days until her graduation when she can head off to college and leave her little town behind. She's tired of being the odd one out at school and has no interest in anyone there. What neither the school nor anyone else but her immediate family realizes is that Eliza Mirk is the creator of a web comic called Monstrous Sea, which is highly popular. Why it is, I don't know.

There are a few (and far between) illustrations in the print book along with some text about which I had no particular feelings one way or the other excepting to say that it didn't seem to me the type of thing that would inspire and rabid readership and a thriving paraphernalia store which nets Eliza a comfortable income such that she can already pay her way through college.

This all begins to unravel when a studly guy arrives at her school as a transfer, and immediately he and Eliza start becoming an item. At first it's very awkward, but when they both reveal their shared interest in Monstrous Sea (he as a fan fiction writer, she as a fan fiction artist - so she tells him) they begin hanging out together and eventually really are dating. This is where I began to have problems with this novel because it started feeling too trope to live. The girl who thinks she's unattractive and has no interest in guys. The stud of a guy - a jock, with chiseled features and a buff bod - is attracted to her. Seriously? That is so YA. This could have been about a couple of regular nerds with no special physical qualities and it would ahve read a lot better, so why'd the author go the trad route instead of making her own path? Selling out to Big publishing™ maybe? Far too many YA authors do.

For the longest time it seems as though Eliza was truly going to be different, because the writing suggested she was perhaps overweight and typically dressed way down, but in the end she's the good-looking girl who only needs to take her eyeglasses off to be a runway model. Well, it wasn't quite that bad, but it came close at times. That started to turn me off the novel, but the writing continued to be good, original, and interesting and the relationship didn't suddenly balloon out of nothing. That sure helped. The thing is that it could have been that same way with the nerds. Unfortunately, it wasn't.

I read on anyway, and found myself being drawn into the story and wanting to know what happened next even when, at the end, it became predictable. Eliza had a counterpart who had started a series of books and then when it came to the last volume - never produced one. She left her fans hanging and dropped out of the world. You knew at this point that Eliza would contact her when she ran into the same issues, which in Eliza's case were precipitated by her idiot parents who have zero understanding of Eliza, and who constantly demean and belittle her interests concerning Monstrous Sea; they consider it to be just some passing fad which didn't deserve to be taken seriously. They had no interest in even reading the web comic.

I wondered at times how autobiographical this novel was. I don't know. I hope it wasn't, but it could well be for all I know. She writes like maybe it is, or like maybe she knows someone like this. I can understand it from my own experiences. But loved ones aren't by any means required to love what we love. We can only hope for understanding, and be miserable if we don't get it! Writing can be a very lonely profession, even for an amateur.

The problem other than the trope high-school couple was that the ending was very predictable. You know she's going to be outed before she tells her studly boyfriend her big secret and that he's going to react very negatively, but in the end everything is going to be hunky dory, and she's even going to be reconciled with her family that she's spent the entire novel all-but despising until that last few pages. That was too sickly for me, but despite that, the overall the novel was worth reading. Besides I'm tired of wishing for novels that don't necessarily wrap-up neatly in the end like a pathetic TV sitcom tying off all the loose ends in a half-hour or forty minutes. I got so tired of waiting for such novels to come that I started writing them myself!

I read somewhere that this author is John Greene's new favorite. I wonder what happened to the previous one? How are they faring? Whenever I read one author recommend another like that I wonder how much they were paid to review the book. She's fortunate that I read that commendation after I read her novel, because if I'd read it beforehand I would never have picked this book up! I can't say she's my favorite author, but then I'm not paid for my reviews! I can say I would read something else by her - except maybe not if it was as long as this was.


Monday, September 2, 2019

The Art of Drawing People by Debra Kauffman Yaun, William F Powell, Diane Cardaci, Walter Foster


Rating: WARTY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This is another of those step-by-step books which approaches art from the lowest common denominator, under the assumption that all prospective artists are the same, at the same level, with the same skills and interests. There was nothing new there, and the art was competent enough, but the questions which bothered me about it were two-fold. One was: what does this book teach that a score of others like it do not, and I could find no worthy answer to that.

The other question was why is the book so larded with images of women? Are men so worthy of depicting? Surely what's sketch for the goose is sketch for the gander? If it had not been for the appalling gender-bias in the art and the limited range exhibited in the various depictions of figures, then I might have favored this book somewhat more, but as it was, I cannot commend it as a worthy read.


The Little Book of Drawing Dragons & Fantasy Characters by Michael Dobrzycki, Bob Berry, Cynthia Knox, Meredith Dillman


Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a short but useful book about drawing and shading, and making realistic images of fantasy beasts such as dragons, griffins, satyrs, and wyrms. It takes a step-by-step approach, and I'm not sure I buy into this raw blocky shapes first approach, followed by refining them because, for me at least, it means a rather soul-destroying trudge through drawing and erasing repeatedly as the blocky shape is transformed into the final artwork. Ultimately though, the point is to get to that final image, so whatever works for you as an artist is the way to go.

I wish more attention was paid to thais kind of thing, because I've seen very many art books which take this same approach and treat all prospective artists as though they are at the same level with the same personality and methodology and in need of precisely the same tuition. That is patently untrue, but I guess if you wish for more individual attention, you take an art class. This book is a 'lowest common denominator' kind of approach, but that doesn't mean it can't take you at least a part of the way along the path you wish to travel, and if starting here gets you closer to that fine end result embodied in the examples we see here, then this is as good a way to go as any!

On that basis I commend this as a worthy read.


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!