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Excellent Book; Strengths and Weaknesses
on January 2, 2014
If 4-Stars means a great book with some shortcomings, then I've properly rated it. If not, I hope someone will tell me so that I can edit this correctly. Also, I really want to be fair, and I write this review with kindness in my heart which I hope will translate to the printed page. This will be a long review, but I hope it helps to clarify the book you are considering to buy:
To be as fair as possible, I will share in terms of what I think are strong points of this book and then weak ones. The book is divided essentially into two sections. Chapters 1-5 deal with tools and materials needed (ch. 1), color (2), techniques (3), composition (4) and painting landscape elements (5). Chapter six contain a number of step-by-step book demos of his four-part system of painting landscapes.
STRONG POINTS: His discussion on establishing "mood" is good (28-29). The first overall wash is fundamentally important which will set the tone for your specific mid-values and final presentation. I agree that we should paint with strong colors, and I will seldom gray them down with a compliment as strong color entertains the viewer. Edwards' discussion on technique is perhaps his strongest painting virtue (31ff) and an advanced painter will benefit even if it is a review of sorts (none of us have "arrived" or ever will). Edwards enjoys using his patented flat bristle brushes with the age-old maxim of starting with the biggest flat brush and work with it as long as possible and then work down with a half-inch flat to round brushes, etc. His discussion on composition is good and targeted to the beginner as I think the whole book is, which is fine. "The Rule of Thirds", compositional formats is well done, with the emphasis on doing value studies prior to the final painting. Then his discussion of landscape elements, techniques with rocks, trees, skies. mountains, buildings, water is all very useful.
Then, in a word, Edwards' 4-part process is quite good, but not original. He says in his video that the 4-part process is an outgrowth of years of feedback from students, workshops, etc., but in reality this process of doing watercolors has been around for a long time. I remember when I began watercolors in 1963, we were taught to paint that way, albeit the actual 1, 2, 3, 4 process may not have been formally written down. But around that time, I do remember the late Robert Landry teaching me a similar process. What is the "process"? Here is Edwards explanation of it:
1. "Block in shapes and midvalues while saving white paper. The white of the paper left will be the center of interest.
2. Add the darkest darks to illuminate the midvalues and white paper.
3. Glaze selectively over the white space that you do not wish to preserve.
4. Add finishing details and refine."
Now, with each project demo in chapter six, he provides a list of the materials that he uses--paper, paints, brushes, other. Some of the projects such as sunsets are relatively easy to do, with practice, while others are more difficult. This brings me to the...
Under "Tools and Materials" (ch. 1) Edwards recommends MaimeriBlu watercolor paints. You will see them displayed throughout his book with various projects and demos. He also recommends his own line of bristle brushes and palette. Well, if you like bristle brushes you can buy a couple of flats and rounds for far less than his line of brushes. Go online to Cheap Joe's, Blick or Jerry's Artarama. Then he clearly uses Fabriano 140# or 300# paper. Fabriano is an Italian paper, but in my view Arches has never been beaten by anyone, and is about the same price as Fabriano By far, most professionals use Arches and yes, you don't need to use the 300# paper as long as you use the 140# properly. Do your sketch, wet both sides of the paper, lay the paper down on a foam board or some art board and use paper towels to flatten out from the center of the paper. Do your painting and let dry. The paper will dry flat. If you have some buckles while painting, just paint around them. If the paper drys with some buckling, turn it over, wet the back and let it dry again under a board with a book or two on top. That simple, but, you won't get these tips either in the book or DVD.
In my view, because Edwards is actually recommending MaimeriBlu paints, perhaps he is a rep for them. That's fine, but for the beginner, at least, his whole discussion of paint quality, transparency, etc. is confusing. Here's why. On pages 10-11 hie discusses the importance of using transparent watercolor and then makes comparisons with semi-transparent watercolors and opaque watercolors. He rightly says that as a painter you don't want to create mud and it's easy to do if not careful (man, that is true!). But then flip back to page10 and you see his palette makeup of 14 watercolors and discover (with a little homework) that the vast majority of his palette paints are semi-transparent. If you are a beginner you need to know from the get-go that all watercolor paint pigment is rooted in pigment guide numbers and you find them on most all professional grade paints (stay away from student grade paints). For example PY means pigment yellow, PG means pigment green, and so on. PBr means pigment brown and PBk means pigment black. Now, many fine watercolors will have fancy names such as Scarlet Lacquer (French manufacturer Sennelier brand for scarlet lake). Every manufacturer has one, or more, peculiar names but in reality, if you check the guide numbers you can tell what color they actually are. For example, PB 29 is always ultramarine blue regardless if it's Daniel Smith, Sennelier, M.Graham, Winsor and Newton, so on. These fancy names are designed to sell paint pure, plain and simple. So, with that, here is Edwards' palette which you will need to translate into plain English in order to see how his choice of colors relates to your own palette: I will provide his colors, guide numbers and comments so you can compare his color selections with what you have on your palette:
Permanent yellow lemon. PY 175, not the usual PY3 which is a clear, clean mixer. This is Azo yellow (175) which is SEMI-transparent. Great for mixing greens esp. when mixed with a tad of Phthalo green, but his 3 palette greens are already two combined pigments, which I will discuss below.
Indian yellow. PY 139 is Iso orange combined with PY 42 yellow ocre. In my view, this is an impure Indian yellow; Daniel Smith and M.Graham have stunning single-pigment Indian yellows, both single pigment. Most yellow ocres are semi-transparent; raw sienna is more transparent; better still quin. gold (Daniel Smith esp.) is great. PY 24 is a deep yellow shade with a green to brown bias.
Golden lake. Sounds like a place where I would like to be is PY 24 Flavanthrone yellow, semi-transparent, a deep yellow with a shade range of greenish to brown.
Orange lake, another fancy name, is really Po 43 Perinone orange, while nicely lightfast it is semi-transparent. Be careful in mixes. If you want a spicy red-orange ad a tad of Quin. red.
Brown Stil de Grain, the fanciest name of all, is a mix of PG 36 Phthalo green (transparent by itself), and PR 101 Red iron oxide (semi-transparent. So here again, this one color already has two pigments in it to make it a deep orange, so if you aren't careful another third color will make it mud. Beautiful browns are easily mixed with single transparent colors and you can make darker or lighter values.
Avignon orange is PR 206, Quin. Pyrrolicline. It's not a great mixer. I prefer its more transparent cousin, PR 46.
Permanent red deep. A nice English sounding name, but PR 177 Anthraquinone red is known to be fugitive, or in watercolor terms, not light fast. Still, some artists argue that most paintings will not be displayed outside or in direct indoor lighting, so what's the fuss? They will still use Alizarin crimson and other fugitive colors and I can name pros who still do. But I argue why use known fugitive colors when there are great alternatives? In this case, Quin. red is workhorse and a great mixer.
Primary red-magenta. This one is both lightfast and transparent. Good choice.
Permanent violet blueish. This is made with PV 23 Dioxazine violet which is a known fugitive color. Edwards uses this in mixes. Why not quin. violet? Sennelier has an amazing red-violet, but so does M.Graham and Dan Smith.
Payne's gray. PB-29 ultramarine blue (transparent) mixed with PBk9 Ivory Black (opaque). The resulting mix is a semi-transparent color. Be careful: in any mix it can quickly turn to mud, and when used with a script liner to, say, define details in buildings, if mixed with an existing color it may also turn to mud. Same with shadows. For shadows many recommend using a darker value of the local color which will make the shadows look natural. But experiment.
Primary blue-cyan is really PB 15:3 Phthalo blue. This is a great mixer and is transparent. The word "phthalo" (or sometimes Thalo) is key as most other manufacturers will use this word. The pigment is all the same, the difference may be in the binders such as gum or honey.
The last three pigments on Edward's palette are called "convenience greens" which are pre-mixed so that the artist doesn't have to mix them, just brush away. I will describe each of the three and then explain my issue with them:
Green blue is a combo f PG 7 Thalo green, and PB 15:3 which is Thalo blue. The combo is almost a teal blue. Both colors are transparent and both lean to the cool side. Then,
Cupric Green deep is PG 7 Thalo green, a single pigment also leaning to the cool side. And then,
Permanent green deep is a combo of PY 175 Azo yellow which is semi-transparent and PG 7 Thalo green which is transparent but also leans to the cool side.
So, here we have three greens ALL of which are cool. In my view, if you're going to have three convenience greens, have one cool, one warm and one somewhere in between cool and warm. When I use convenience greens, I will use Viridian (M.Graham single pigment), Emerald and Turquoise (Sennelier only) and Hooker's (D. Smith). Lemon yellow (PY 3) or Indian yellow (M. Graham) will mix with any of these greens to make any desired share of green for spring, summer or fall.
I think that all authors of painting books, regardless of medium, would simply use names such as "warm red" or "cool red" and then provide the pigment guide number, because all paint tubes, regardless of fancy names, will have the same guide numbers. This helps not only beginners, but more advanced artists who like to buy painting books because there is always something more to learn. Nuff said.
In sum, I think that the strongest part of this book deals with technique and the exercises in chapter 6 are quite useful. The weakest part of the book has to do with color, his explanation versus his palette selection.Why not use quinacridone cdolors such as red, violet and gold? They mix much cleaner than his choices? Why three convenience greens that are all cool shades? There are any number of warm greens out there that are warm and single pigment such as M.Graham and Dan Smith Green Gold and Rich Green Gold respectively. They are also transparent and mix wonderfully. Ameriucan Journey has their Skip's green, a bright pre-mixed green that mixes well with viridian, Hooker's and lemon. DaVinci's leaf green is essentially the same as Skip's and mixes well.Wjy Mr. Edward's doesn't use viridian green I do not know, considering that as a single pigment it easily mixes with lemon yellow for spring and summer greens, and with Thalo blue or Thalo Green for cool fall and winter greens. Most pros that I know have viridian or Hooker's, or both, on their palette because they will mix nicely with lemon yellow for bright happy spring greens, and with thalo blue for cooler greens. Mix viridian with any red for a wonderful range of grays.
The student (while a professional,I am a lifelong student and learner) should continue using his/her existing palette colors and not be tempted to go out a buy new colors, brushes and paper. That's what the manufacturers want. Grow your color, brush and paper selection slowly over time. I use a limited palette of three reds, three yellows and three blues, all single pigments, a warm, a cool and a mid-pigment for each primary. Then, for fun I have tossed a few jazzy colors into the mix and change them around. I am currently messing around with a few Daniel Smith "Triads." Check them out. Do the math and see how inexpensive they are and they ship free. I always recommend buying single pigment colors which are transparent. Make sure any "convenience" color is either a single pigment color, or has a mixture of transparent colors, otherwise you may end up with mud with certain mixtures. Take your time to practice on small sheets of paper at first with a limited palette so that you can learn how to mix. Well, I see I digress.
As a footnote to the above, a few other things strike me: first, if you flip through the book you will see that his paintings almost all lean to the cool side of the palette, with some exceptions. Second, his palette has only one blue, Phthalo blue. This is a great blue for marine watercolors and cool winter skies. But I would add ultramarine (warm blue great for any seasonal sky, water, ocean) and either Manganese or Cobalt blue, mid-blues great for skies, snow shadows, mixers for grays, both transparent. Then possibly cerulean which is related to ultramarine in the pigment scale, but lighter, great for skies, particularly horizon blue, for for waves esp. Hawaiian waves. In short, I think a thorough discussion of color would have been helpful.
Mr. Edwards is a good teacher and demonstrator and clearly explains what he is doing as he is doing it, what colors he is mixing for what desired effect. Another artist I know when he does DVDs, or a workshop, will throw down paint to paper and while he is painting simply says, "Now I'm going to add some of this...then a little more of that, and this, then some of that, then a little of this color (looks yellow, maybe) and darken that with this..." and on and on. Mr. Edwards guides the student well for which he should be commended and his DVDs have good value, in my view.
I have over 50 watercolor books. My favorites are by Gordon Mackenzie, Tony Couch one of my mentors, Tom Lynch, Tom Jones (check his DVDs and website for free art lessons) and Charles Reid (10-part DVD series). Please read the reviews before purchasing and know the product. Don't buy any brush until you have seen and felt it in a local art store. Hobby stores tend to sell student grade supplies and paper and brushes are often exposed so people will mess with the paper (hands have dirt and oil) and brushes (they sometimes get mushed up: so...buyer beware in all these things. The above review is this reviewer's opinion only and does not necessarily represent the views of aforementioned artists/authors. It's easy for us to want to copy other artists and do things their way and then we get frustrated because it doesn't always work out the same way. Remember to just be yourself and try techniques that are comfortable to you. In time your own style will show through. In the meantime, buy good books like this one, learn all you can, keep a journal and...love doing watercolor!