Saturday, 15 December 2012

Texture and More

How does one create texture in a watercolour painting or should one wish to? There are various schools of thought about watercolours, one of which is  the `purity' one, beloved by traditionalists like the much-loved Edward Wesson. Wesson was against many of the modern trends, which have accelerated in the years since his death in 1983. To quote Ron Ranson in `The Art of Edward Wesson' (1993 David & Charles).

" He viewed with undisguised disdain those artists who threw water, grit or salt at their work, distancing himself from what he termed `Americanisms' - the use of masking fluid, body colour and scraping- out techniques"

Turner used scraping and scrubbing in many of his watercolours so....?

With many of today's artists using one or more of these techniques he would probably have had apoplexy.  Wesson is held up as the archetypal Englishman with his outspoken views and much quoted remarks, a high profile artist with a huge cult following. He is still promoted, especially by Steve Hall. I was once a Wesson enthusiast but less so nowadays as I feel possibly things have moved on. I may be wronging him, if so I apologize, but he seems  to belong to the era, common among some, who resist change in the name of `tradition'. Change for it's own sake is not all good but neither is tradition. On the other hand Americans, with a much younger history have a more questioning attitude and are more prepared to take chances and try different things. Any hackles raised yet? I hope not because I don't want to upset anyone, after all painting isn't about life or death.

I do not necessarily believe anything goes, as it is easy to have too much of a good thing and I personally believe - but there are artists whose work proves the exception - that watercolour benefits from simplicity, but even so to hold a rigid view of what should and shouldn't be done is equally wrong. It is all a matter of opinion and I take the view artists can do what they wish as long as they are prepared for the consequences. I am irritated by some artists who preach in a biblical manner, as though they are Joseph descending from the mount, and demand that everyone follow their edicts. Don't use black is one example - `The Prince of Colours' according to the old masters..

With that sermonising out of the way where do we go from here. This post is mainly about texture, of increasing interest to many modern day watercolour artists. The books I feature are not solely about this, as the titles suggest, but cover `techniques' and `tips' and `tricks'. This is straying onto dangerous ground as there are those who feel that tricks, especially, can be overused and `tricksy' paintings are to be avoided. It is true that many American artists have promoted such things for years in the American open-minded manner, so three of the books are American. I should add I'm not suggesting they are the most outstanding ones but are those I own. I'm sure there are others and several books, like the very good ones in the Search Press catalogue, include the use of texture amongst other techniques. I reviewed two recently, one by Robin Berry and the other by Diana Craig and Hazel Harrison.

81/2" x 11" Softback 158 pages North Light Books 1987 

This book shows `54 ways to create imaginative effects in your paintings'. It just about covers everything needed to create texture, various tools, liquids, natural bits and pieces and then some!  The only danger is overkill. Worth buying? Yes at the right price. A query on Abebooks, my favourite source of used books brought up many copies. Those from UK booksellers ranged from £13.48p to  £24.85p. But from the American booksellers prices starting at £5 including carriage. Amazon has `new' at £71.23p - can you believe this - and used at around £10 including carriage. 

Cathy Johnson has written several other books and a later one with a similar title, which increases the number of `ways' to 75.  Is this a better bet? Not having seen it I couldn't say but two reviews on Amazon were lukewarm.  Two is insufficient really to make any sort of decision. Check it out if you are interested.

8" x 11" Softback  128 pages North Light Books 1998 Edited by Rachel Rubin Wolf

This book is specifically about textures and takes the form of excerpts from previous North Light Books by 9 well-known artists like Claudia Nice and Zoltan Szabo. There is a lot of good stuff in the introductory part which covers many tecniques for texturing. Then  follows pieces from the individual artists, as stated taken from books previously published. It is pretty good and I'd certainly recommend it. Prices range from  £22.90p (UK only one) to £18.00 - £20+ (USA) on Abebooks. Amazon have it at around £15.98p for new with used £11.58p. A bit pricey perhaps at the higher figures.

8" x 11" softback 144 pages Watson-Guptill 1983 Edited by David Lewis

This is another good book but once again is a series of excerpts from previously published books, specifically by Charles Reid, John Blockley, Christopher Schink, Zoltan Zzabo, Richard Bolton, E.John Robinson and George Shook. It covers everything from materials and equipment, brushwork and handling colour. We then have five sections ranging from painting landscapes to seascapes with one specifically on textures. All top artists. The piece from Charles Reid is from his first flower painting book which was superseded by an entirely new (and far better) later book. Prices are incredibly cheap on Abebooks ranging from £3.39p ( only one UK bookseller inc carriage) to around £6 from the USA. At these prices a steal. From Amazon prices range from £19.55p new to  used (Amazon partners) £00.1 + £2.80p carriage (!!)

9' x 10' hardback 127 pages Collins 2007 

I have already reviewed this book so won't go into great detail. Although a contemporary of Wesson, Fletcher-Smith and others of that era, John Blockley used texturing in his landscapes and mountains/buildings. His daughter is following his lead and changing her style somewhat. A little bird told me that at least one of the galleries where she had previously shown was unhappy - quite disparaging actually - with her change of style but her new paintings had sold very well at her own recent exhibition in the Cotswolds. This is an excellent book and can be obtained new from Amazon at £11.51p (rpp £17.99p).

Two examples of Ann Blockley's latest work. The use of texturing is very obvious. I rather like these paintings - striking is one word that comes to mind. Note these are landscapes rather than flower paintings - reminiscent in some ways of her fathers original style. 

A point about the prices I've quoted. Abebooks is primarily a used book site and in my experience is excellent. I have had many books from the USA, some from the UK and one from Australia. UK booksellers tend in most cases to be expensive and in the worst examples a rip off. American booksellers tend to have better stocks and prices are much better in most cases BUT carriage charges can vary from acceptable to ridiculous. Stock on Abebooks is constantly changing so may differ from that quoted. Amazon's service is first class but once again they occasionally quote ridiculous figures and prices can vary week to week.They do have many excellent offers so it's a question of selection. In my experience Amazon partners are quite good and as you pay Amazon you are protected if something goes wrong.


Sharon Whitley said...

thanks for these reviews - the only book I have of these is Ann Blockleys which I've only looked at briefly really! I'm terrible for buying books, but then not really taking time to have a proper read of them - as it takes time away from painting time - but I really do need to start learning from all the great books I have!

Irena said...

I love John Blockley's work but am not so keen on that of his daughter. I bought the Anne Blockley book you feature but was not impressed. It must be difficult for her to work in the shadow of her father. Shirley Trevenna produces some interesting textures in her watercolours.

Peter Ward said...

Thanks for commenting Irena. If we all agreed the world would be a very dull place. I have one Shirley Trevena book and a DVD but I've rather gone off her.
I don't know if you've seen examples of John Blockleys later paintings but they are completely different to his earlier work, dramatically so. I prefer the earlier ones..

Peter Ward said...

Thanks for commenting Sharon. I'm afraid I'm guilty of `skimming' as well. I have about 90 books and this is after disposing of a few.

Mick Carney said...

Great, interesting post Peter. I take a similar view to your own. My belief is that it is the final image that is important and that if that is satisfying then he techniques involved have justified themselves. You are right when talking about the over done gimmicks that show off the technique and become the raison d'ĂȘtre rather than being subordinate to the image.

Peter Ward said...

Thanks for commenting Mick. We agree on something then- well more than just this (grin).

artist said...

As an American I am not offended by anything written in this piece. The books mentioned are great books that I either own or frequently borrow from the library.

I also love the books on texture by Judy Morris, James Toogood, Ray Hendershot and my personal favorite, Nita Engle. I just wish she was still teaching.

Great information, thanks Peter.

Ray Maclachlan said...

Very interesting review and comments Peter, thank you. Have to agree with Mick that it's the result that matters. Thanks to you I have become a fan of Yvonne's work. There are tricks, splashes etc in her paintings but the results are magnificent.

Oscar Solis said...

I haven't come across Ann Blockley's book and the library system here in town doesn't have a copy, but those two examples sure recall her father's beautiful paintings. I have to say that what I've seen of John Blockley's later works I've really enjoyed. A little abstraction is never bad for the soul :).

The other texture books I thought were okay. The basics. I have one by Richard Bolton, Weathered Texture Workshop, but it's not for the timid, at least not to my mind. I have to admit I bought it just for the paintings (which is pretty much the only reason I usually buy these type of books).

Your bit about Edward Wesson could not have come at a more timely manner as I have lately been thinking about how it seems that many kinds of artists or creatives can be grouped into "technique purists" and "statement makers". Technique purists seem to place the technique ahead of the statement and vice versa. I've always felt that the some of the best artists fell right in the middle. Ronald Jesty comes to mind here (I wish there were more of his paintings available to view on the internet and not just the few gleaned from books and a few websites). Still forming my thoughts here.

Anyhow, your blog continues to provide food for thought. And, of course, wonderful paintings.

Peter Ward said...

Thanks Delilah. I wasn't out to offend although Wesson fans may not be too pleased.

I don't know the books you mention apart from the Nita Engle one. I did have it but passed it to a friend who is mainly a landscape artists who i thought would benefit more from it.

There are two ways of looking at useful books on this subject(s). Those that explain the actual tecniques and those from artists who show how they personally interpret them. I think Nita Engle is brilliant but to paint like her is exceedingly difficult.

Peter Ward said...

Thanks for commenting Ray as always. Yvonne has introduced more of these things into her work in the last two years but her forte is excellent brushwork allied with use of colour. She has branched out a bit and is all the better for it.

Peter Ward said...

Thanks as always for commenting Oscar. Ann Blockley is a considerable artist who made her name as a flower painter. Like her father, whose style as you know changed dramatically in his later years, she appears to have inherited his adventurous streak. I was amazed when I saw his later work it was so different.
I have seen some of Ronald Jestys work but haven't looked at him in any detail (yet).

Yvonne Harry said...

An interesting article Peter, thanks for taking the time to write it. You know which side of the argument I support! I think you can do anything with an image as long as you think the result is successful, but most importantly, you have fun with the painting! I do worry a bit about the archival qualities of my paintings which have used salt, but as the paintings I sell do not break anyones bank, I don't suppose they expect them to keep forever!

Peter Ward said...

Thanks for comments Yvonne. With the overall quality of art materials much better these days than the likes of Turner enjoyed,I don't think we need worry too much as long as known fugitive colours are avoided. Many (most?) of the paintings that have survived from much earlier eras have changed in some way or other - an awful lot seem to have blackened. As long as they don't completely fade away...!

Anonymous said...

I have the David Lewis book and none of the others. I am not buying any of the others 'cause I'm with Ted. Here's a couple of quotes from the man himself:-
" Today there seem to be so many watercolourits who treat their paper as though it were a sheet of black ice! For they have perhaps been blinded by the gimmicks and querks of some of our American brothers who throw sand, grit and salt over their efforts - anything for effect. All very clever I dare say but, to my mind a definite cheapening of what watercolour should be."

It therefore came as a surprise to read this comment from Ted:-

"I have to admit there are works which contain some body colour and which please me greatly. I refer to the likes of Cecil Hunt and Claude Buckle (and) I have never had any doubts about the judicial use of body colour."

This from Steve Hall

"Despite what he said Wesson definitely used body colour on occasions, particularly in his early work.
Even in his later pictures he would occasionally use body colour when he wanted to use a sweep of dark colour, after which he inserted a small lighter detail. Small white sails, clothing and odd highlights can all be found in his work, although, I have to stress, with great moderation of use."
A small amount of white body colour, masking fluid and then the line is drawn!

Peter Ward said...

Fine John. You are a committed Wesson enthusiast and I don't have a problem with that. I prefer Seago but then his watercolours are in the minority compared to his oils.

I'm not one for overuse of `tricks' or whatever they are called but I do think use of textural effects can be very rewarding in the finished painting.

As for body colour I saw Charles Reid use it on my last course - a regular member said he hadn't seen that before. Most watercolour ranges include at least one opaque white so i don't see that as going `outside the ring' very much.

Happy Xmas (again!)