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Three books about drawing and painting

The Artist's Complete Guide to Drawing the Head - William L Maugham

This is a book that I can't help thinking of as 'the anal retentive art book'.  It tells you not only what to draw, and how to draw it, but what pencil and paper to use, right down to how to sharpen the pencil.

I thought it was excellent as a learning tool (though I didn't use the recommended pencil and paper...).  It takes you step by step through drawing each element of a face, and I definitely learned a lot about how faces work and how to draw using shadows rather than line.

However, it is also quite scarily limiting.  I think I'm quite confident about drawing generally but by the end of this book I was finding that I was almost freezing up when I tried to draw something, trying to remember all the 'must do' rules, trying to keep the proportions right and worrying about whether I was drawing a form shadow or a cast one.  

This author is a man who quite definitely sees himself as working within a tradition. The book starts with the Mona Lisa.  It's unashamed about wanting to create a likeness, and quite cautious about moving away from the all important 'reference'.

Drawing and Painting People A Fresh Approach - Emily Ball
I'm very glad I read this one after 'Drawing the Head', rather than first.  It's the complete opposite in every way. Emily Ball is all about novelty: she doesn't care about creating a likeness, she doesn't even want to create something attractive to the eye.  She doesn't care about cleverness, she wants to be creative and 'courageous'.  I suspect 'courageous' to be code for  ' creating the reaction what the **** is this supposed to be when it's at home???'

I must confess this is the sort of thing that would normally have me rolling my eyes: a lot of the examples in this book are things that strike me as appallingly, hideously ugly, produced with neither skill nor any  aesthetic sense that I can recognise.   Some of them are, to my eyes 'good' in that I find them interesting to look at and thought provoking - but none of them seem to be drawn as a deliberate attempt at a likeness.  Many of them would possibly be classed as 'scribbles' if not expensively presented... 

However, read immediately after 'Drawing the Head ' it was a liberation. I worked through a couple of the exercises - creating a 'conversation of marks' - where each mark on the paper is drawn as a deliberate contradiction of the last - and 'the eye' - drawing an eye from life using a number of different marks - and immediately felt much more relaxed about drawing again.   I liked the exercise that involved drawing without picking the pencil off the paper as well, I've tried a couple of pictures in that style.

I've not quite finished reading this book, but will definitely go on with it.

I imagine that if Emily Ball met William Maugham, there would be some sort of explosion.   Ball is obsessed with novelty and originality almost to the point where she seems to considered practiced skill and craftmanship as a bad and limiting factor.  And I'm not sure that Maugham would consider her work to be painting/drawing at all.

Capturing Light in Acrylics - John Hammond
This isn't a drawing people book, it's mostly landscapes.  I particularly wanted it because there are 1001 books about oil painting, but not that many on acrylics, and I like painting in acrylics.  It's quick and you can do loads of different things with it.  

Unlike the other two books, this one is not full of condemnation for those misguided fools that don't completely share the author's view and tastes, which makes a nice change. 

Unfortunately, I think it may actually make it a less effective resource: if there is one thing that makes for compelling writing, it's a really strong belief that Your Way Is Right, and John Hammond doesn't have that : he tells you what he does, not what you should do, and he doesn't set exercises, so it's easy to just drift through without really picking up anything new.

Again, I found this a more useful resource after reading the other books.   Maugham does include a section on colour painting at the end of 'Drawing the Head', but I'm afraid that I found his colour work (rather than his drawing, which is undeniably awesome) maddeningly *wrong* somehow.   It was like all the amazing stuff he could do with his pencil fell apart as soon as he set to with the brush.  Whereas Hammond really does amazing things with paint. He's much more impressionistic and less detailed, but the overall effect and the use of light and colour is great.

I'm not going to try to copy  Hammond's approach, but I think I picked up some useful stuff about using glazes and layers of colour.  And I now know that  I need to do more research into colour translucency if I'm going to do more with that.

I shall try and scan some of the things I've been drawing to see if there is a visible development when I put them all together on a web page.

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( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
clarienne
10th Mar, 2010 21:14 (UTC)
Thanks for those reviews. I do know what you mean about freezing up thinking about proportions.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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