Friday, May 12, 2017

Favorite Art Books Part 9

Online learning resources continue to proliferate, but even so printed books remain the single best source for information artists can use easily. A book can remain constantly open on the drawing table or next to the easel--no electricity required. Video instruction online is often useful, but a book of techniques can be equally helpful, particularly if it's a book that's not digitized or easily available in that format. Although online instruction (both live and delayed) is improving, so far as I'm concerned, art books remain an accessible and convenient way to advance an artist's information and skills.

There are still many titles published in virtually every area of art, from history to materials and methods to art criticism and so on. So it's easy to miss valuable information and useful books. And I make no claim to expertise or encyclopedic knowledge. Accordingly, I've asked several artists I know to write about their favorites. As time goes by, perhaps a good number will respond.

This week, Brie Dodson, whose paintings grace a number of collections, writes about one of her favorites.

Have you ever bought a book for its cover? Nearly twenty-five years ago, I did. The cover painting for Joseph Sheppard's "Bringing Textures to Life" (North Light Books, 1993) was gorgeous: a fresh orange with segments of peel curling outward like flower petals; a cut lemon, flesh still moist, with peel and pith spiraling down; a pear suspended from a red-violet ribbon, its curves and color as visually important as the pear itself; and an array of too many other fruits to mention. Clearly the artist who made that painting had things to teach that I needed to learn. I leafed through the book excitedly and hurried to get it home.

The contents include step-by-step demonstrations for ten large and complex still life paintings, and inexplicably, the cover image - a detail of a larger work - is not among them. Nonetheless, this book rapidly became, and has remained, a favorite on my shelf. It's like a "Joy of Cooking" for still-life painting. You'll find more than a hundred "recipes" for portraying still life objects, from iridescent seashells to satin, old silver to raw eggs. Three of the paintings include figurative elements - faces, hands, feet - as well.

Sheppard renders iridescence in the abalone shell by alternating tints of alizarin crimson, phthalo blue, and phthalo green, applied with a small sable brush
Sheppard's painting style is facile, sometimes indulgently so; but his methods are straightforward and workmanlike. His step-by-step procedures are clear and well-explained, including the visual reasons for rendering a given object as he does. There is no mystery or "secret ingredient" to his techniques. That makes it easy to extrapolate his rendering methods to other objects with similar characteristics.

The artist is an advocate of Maroger medium, and while I have used and enjoyed that medium, I do not find it necessary in making use of Sheppard's techniques. His brush recommendations are as no-nonsense as his methods (house-painting window trim brushes make the best blenders, he says). He suggests a relatively simple palette of seventeen mostly traditional colors plus flake white, and wields his colors in a straightforward tonalist way. The impetus is not to worry about the colors of shadows, but rather, simply to get on with the business of painting.
Objects in the jars are rendered directly, as if the jars were not present, with pure white impasto highlights conveying the impression of glass


The yolk is painted into a couch of medium. Sheppard renders the egg white with medium that has been tinted with ivory black, into which he paints the color of the tile floor, which appears slightly darker when seen through the albumen.

While "Bringing Textures to Life" contains much of value for painters of varied experience, it seems best suited to those at an intermediate level, who are comfortable handling paint and adept at drawing, but may find themselves intimidated by rendering more complicated still life subject matter. The author simplifies the process well, and his book is a solid guide. Follow the steps of Sheppard's "recipes" carefully and with focus, and soon enough you'll have created a feast. Highly recommended.
Previous posts in this series:
Favorite Art Books Part 8
Favorite Art Books Part 7
Favorite Art Books Part 6
Favorite Art Books Part 5
Favorite Art Books Part 4
Favorite Art Books Part 3
Favorite Art Books Part 2
Favorite Art Books Part 1

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