I have had this post in planning for a few months but today is the day for finally sharing with you three of my favourite art books.
The really interesting thing about all three is that they do not directly relate to the way that I currently sketch. And they are not technique based books with lots of step-by-step demonstrations.
The reason they are my favourite is because they explain concepts and make me think.
This isn’t a detailed book review of each but simply an overview containing what my ‘off the top of my head’ takeaway thought is right at the moment – months and months after reading each book.
Perhaps in some ways this might be a more interesting way to review a book? Articulating what I remember about a book and I have absorbed into my work. It might not be as accurate as if I had just finished reading it but it is a sign of its impact.
I suggest that you check out the Amazon reviews for more details – or if you have read these books, please leave comments below in this post for others.
Hawthorne on Painting
I have been reading and re-reading this book since July 2012 when Anne Watkins in NYC told me about it. I have packed this little book in my suitcase on many trips (I now have a kindle version as well) and would often pick it up and read a few sentences at the end of a big day out sketching. The book contains a selection of quotes from Charles Hawthorne to his students about painting.
The book is focused on shape-based painting, not drawing. When I first started reading it, I was addicted to line so it was a completely different way of thinking. Now that I am more into shapes, I get much more out of this book, but even in the early days of reading it, Hawthorne’s thoughts were inspiring.
My big takeaway from the book: Painting is simply one coloured shape next to another.
I bought this book after a conversation with Shari Blaukopf in Barcelona in 2013 – she is a mega-fan of Tom – so when I got home looked him up and ordered his book straight away. Since starting to write this post, another sketching friend, Suhita Shirodkar, recently did one of Tom’s workshops and blogged about it here.
This is not a how-to watercolour book as such, although there are a few step by step demonstrations included, so I think it is best suited for someone who has some experience. It is a book for thinking about watercolour with lots of food for thought.
The whole book is great but I particularly remember the chapters on seeing in layers and sharing control of wetness – what great chapter headings, hey? I included a long quote from the book in this recent blog post.
I really need to re-read it again soon and share more insights with you.
My big takeaway message of the book: Watercolour looks spontaneous but requires a lot of planning.
Early in 2015 while having a coffee with Chantal Vincent, she mentioned looking at the work of animators. That was enough to start me thinking: animators design movement a little bit like architects design buildings – this includes having understanding of structure and then using it to tell a story. I then started googling and lots of people referred to the handouts of Walt Stanchfield from his Gesture Masterclasses at Disney Studios.
I can’t tell you how wonderful these books are – not just in regard to capturing gesture but also general creativity and drawing. I started reading them just after putting together the content for my Foundations online course. One of the big ideas I introduced in that course is how feeling edges, abstracting shapes and constructing volumes are different ways of seeing and that they work together. Aside: this is what I will be teaching in my upcoming workshop at the USK Symposium in Manchester and in my SketchingNow Buildings course in September.
I had a lot of half formed ideas that didn’t make it into the course, ideas about the ways in which constructing volumes (a more left brain approach) can really strengthen your work and that often it’s not just a matter of drawing what you see. This is a major part of Walt’s teaching – the book is full of his quick sketches correcting the ‘students’ drawings to show how to strengthen the story by modifying the gesture. This involves the ability to deconstruct the subject mentally and then put it together from a slightly different viewpoint. So it was unbelievably inspiring to read a master artist articulate his theories of using both left and right brain when drawing, which was where my ideas were heading but I had thought they might be a bit too radical!
While used in the context of the human figure, I think of this Walt quote all the time when I sketch buildings: “Perspective should be felt not diagrammed.”
Oh! there is so much in these books – I am certainly not doing them justice in these few lines. So if any of my readers have read these books, I would love you to leave a comment sharing what you love about them most, so others can get a better idea of the rich content.
Takeaways: Using both sides of the brain when you sketch, not drawing what you see but modifying it to tell the story better… and much more. I really need to re-read this book again soon.
So there you have it, three perhaps slightly surprising ‘favourite art books’… but if you know me well, you will understand that I love thinking about art and this selection will make more sense.
So, what about you? What are your favourite books?
Have you read any of these three books? did you enjoy them?