Friday, April 15, 2011

A Review of My Watercolor Books

Like many other watercolor painters, I have a collection of instruction books that I buy when I'm in between classes and need some fresh inspiration. There are many books available that I don't have yet, so this is far from a complete list of what you might want, but it could get you started, anyway.

Watercolor Lessons from Elliot O'Hara, by Carl Schmalz. This is a foundational book. Eliot O'Hara was a modern master of watercolor, and has been called "America's greatest teacher of watercolor." He had a famous school at Goose Rocks Beach, Maine, and also taught all around the US. His student and assistant, Carl Schmalz, compiled O'Hara's lessons into this book to create a mini course that can be completed in about six weeks. The book is no longer in print, but is available used from various sources, including Amazon. I heard about it from one of my teachers, Tom Hoffman, who was a student of Carl Schmalz while at Amherst College. No matter what your experience level, this would be a great book to have on your shelf. I refer back to it over and over, and always learn something new.

Finding and Improving Your Painting Style, by Carl Schmalz. This book is designed to help you develop critical judgement about your own work. This is not in the negative sense, of course, but in the artistic sense, where you learn to discern whether your painting reflects your vision and intention for it, and if not, why. Schmalz guides you through the process of analyzing your own work to identify the definite "look" that you create, and to focus on developing your strengths and underplay your weaknesses. This is another foundational book, which I also learned about from Tom Hoffman.

Watercolor Basics: Let's Get Started, by Jack Reid. (I am compelled to make an aside here: Don't you just love how these master painters call things "basic" that it takes years to attain any sort of competence at? Not to dis this book. It's vitally important to have stellar examples to look at when you're trying to learn this skill. I just have to mentally cross out the word "basic" when I'm looking at the illustrations.) Anyway, this is a great book for learning essentially everything you need to know about to make a successful painting, from the types of materials to use and how to set them up, to brushes and brush strokes, to techniques such as washes, layering, wet-in-into wet. And if your results don't look like his right off the bat, join the club!

Making Color Sing, by Jeanne Dobie, AWS. This book inspires me. I absolutely love Jeanne's approach to color and design. I would call this another foundational book because it covers the issue of color much more comprehensively than any of my others, as it well should with color as its subject. In a whole bunch of different lessons, you first learn about the characteristics of the different pigments, then about how to select and mix colors, layer, use glazes, make your color pulsate with life, get the most from darks, so on.

How to Make a Watercolor Paint Itself: Experimental Techniques for Achieving Realistic Effects, by Nita Engle. If you're in the mood for something fun and different, try some of the techniques in this book. Nita starts off by talking about materials and how to set things up to paint. Then she goes straight into a variety of approaches for creating a watercolor painting that go beyond the application of paint with a brush, including squirting paint from a bottle, using a knife to sculpt rocks as you would working in oils, throwing paint, stamping with crumpled paper, and so on. I hold a weekly watercolor meetup group and think it would be fun to spend a session or two trying out some of these ideas together. The reason I'm game to do this is because the group meets at the Loyal Heights Community Center rather than my house. :)

Watercolor Painting Outside the Lines: a Positive Approach to Negative Painting, by Linda Kemp. No, no, no! Negative painting is not something you do when in a bad mood! It's in fact a very important and underutilized technique that you can add to your painting repertoire. It consists of defining an object by painting around it. Sounds simple, and in fact is simple. But in this book, Linda Kemp helps you attain true mastery and gives you many ideas about where this can be used to great effect in your work. There's an example of negative painting in the picture below, where I defined the tree trunks by painting around them.

Winter Barn

BTW, I review books on pictorial composition in another post.

PS: If you want to write up any reviews of your own watercolor books, feel free to post them here in comments, and I'll get them up on the blog.

No comments: