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Catch him while you can!

Last week I finally visited the ‘Leonardo da Vinci: A life in Drawing’ exhibition at the National Museum & Art Gallery in Cardiff and it just so happened I was visiting on the actual day of the 500th anniversary of his death.

To mark the anniversary art galleries across the UK from Cardiff to Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester (just to name a few) held a simultaneous exhibition of some of his fascinating work.

As I walked into the building I was met straight away with the sight of a large banner advertising the exhibition, showing just a glimpse of one of the pieces that I soon found out was on display. What became evident to me almost immediately was that our native language was also used (and I’d soon see more of this throughout the entire exhibition). I feel the National Museum & Art Gallery value heritage and encourage visitors to be curious about our past culture. In the gift shop you’ll find a host of treasures giving a nod to Wales, from traditional gifts such as Welsh love spoons, to Welsh language books.

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The exhibition itself was situated in a somewhat small room off from the main gallery and was guarded carefully by a member of staff. Tickets had to be bought before-hand in the gift shop and punched before you could enter (adult tickets £5, £4 concession, children free). Although I’m personally happy to support educational public spaces such as libraries, museums and art galleries, I wondered if some people may be put off by the price, particularly given the fact that we were given a limit of half an hour to view the pieces. That being said, I feel the majority of the visitors to this exhibition understood that to see first-hand some of da Vinci’s work is a rare opportunity. I should also mention that purchasing a ticket in Cardiff meant half price off your ticket if you visited Bristol Museum & Art Gallery.

The layout of the exhibition was fairly well thought-out given the slightly cramped space and it was nice to see ‘extras’ such as a corner dedicated to books on da Vinci, an interactive board and activity booklets for children (or big kids like me!). I feel like the exhibition was curated for a wide range of ages, though perhaps not very young children.

Whilst we were there we encountered a group of school children enthusiastically trying to re-create some of da Vinci’s pieces in their sketchbooks and I liked the fact that they were free to pick up magnifiers and activity booklets (though the magnifiers were so badly scratched it did very little to help see the pieces clearer). However, as there were a lot of people in the room it was very crowded and small queues had begun to form around paintings. I feel it would have been better for large groups to have been able to book in advance to avoid this.

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The free booklet managed to pack in several suggested activities, whilst also revealing a bit about da Vinci and the way in which he worked. I felt this was a good way to get children participating in art and engaging with the exhibition. The reverse side of the booklet was in Welsh.

In addition to the pieces on the walls there were two plinths, one with a piece showing a technique da Vinci used, which was described in the information board below. I feel there was the right amount of information throughout the exhibition, with small descriptions next to each piece, but larger boards giving more in-depth details, such as da Vinci’s background and most interesting to me, the materials he used.

Although the 12 nationwide exhibitions have now finished it’s not too late to see da Vinci’s precious works. From the 24th of May to the 13th of October over 200 of da Vinci’s drawings will go on display at The Queens Gallery (link).

Overall, whilst things were a little cramped, I’m glad I saw this exhibition. I feel as a former art student (though still a student in some ways as we never stop learning) this was one exhibition I shouldn’t miss.

 

 

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Monthly Review: Perspective & Composition

Last week I talked a bit about the online art course I’ve started and how one unit had been focusing on perspective (link). The unit prompted me to dig a bit deeper into the subject and today I’ll be reviewing the book ‘Perspective & Composition’.

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Full title: Essential Guide to Drawing; Perspective & Composition

Author: Barrington Barber

Price: £4.99 – £23

Where to buy: WaterstonesBook Depository, Amazon, ebay

About: An instructional guide to the ‘rules’ of perspective and composition, with step-by-step exercises.

I first came across Barrington Barber’s instructional drawing books when I was a teenager and used to lap up the art books in The Works. Although this particular book claims to be ‘practical and inspirational’ I’d argue that the former is at least true! As someone who loves step-by-step instructions both written and with visuals, I do like Barber’s books. However, this more methodical, instructional tone doesn’t exactly get you fired up with creative ideas. The covers of Barber’s books tend to be quite tame with a ‘school’ vibe about them and the interior looks almost text-booky. However, the contents is quality.

The layout is logical, with a clear font, sub-titles and diagrams so is good for all kinds of learners, be they visual or more text-based. There are also mini projects throughout to ensure you understand the concepts being explained so there’s a good balance of theory and practical.

I think this book would be best suited to art students, particularly around GCSE and would be useful in a classroom or tuition setting. Although, it would also be useful for those teaching themselves. One section mentions ‘Compositions by Master Artists’, which could potentially encourage further research and study.

Another thing I like about this book is that although it’s short it tries to keep the users interest by covering different ways of using perspective, for example when drawing people or objects in addition to just landscapes and scenes.

Although this book wouldn’t encourage me to purposely seek out any more of Barber’s books I did take something away from it and it’s worth a read if you’re really struggling with the concept of perspective. For me, the best way to learn about perspective is to practice, practice, practice and learn to trust your eyes; draw what you see, not what you think you should see.

Monthly Review: Making Handmade Books

Last week I showed you some ways to use up your leftover wrapping paper from Christmas, including how to make a boring notebook look a little more interesting by covering it with paper. It got me thinking about how over the years I’ve liked to create my own books and folders to suit my needs (in fact I’ve only just recycled the planner I constructed two years ago; I made it to suit everything I needed, including a to-do section,a shopping list section,a notes section,an emergency contacts section,a day-by-day plan section, and even an inspiration section for when I was low and in need of focus). As someone who loves to work things out and create my own patterns (it’s the asperger’s in me! I love to construct/deconstruct things!) I’ve spent many hours working out measurements for folders,books and boxes. However, sometimes a little inspiration is useful in creating new designs, and for those who aren’t sure where to begin it’s good to have some step-by-step instructions along with lots of visuals. In my second year of university we had an exceptionally brief workshop on bookmaking, which actually set me off on the joy of creating my own books and folders. In the workshop a book was recommended and that’s the book I’ll be reviewing today: Making Handmade Books, by Alisa Golden.

Full title: Making Handmade Books 100+ Bindings, Structures & Forms

Author: Alisa Golden

Price: £9 – £20

Where to buy: Waterstones, BookDepository, Amazon, Ebay

Brief description: Step-by-step instructions along with a generous helping of visuals showing you how to create many different books, wallets, folders and more.

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The Good

For me the best feature of this book is the use of images. I benefit greatly from being shown visually what to do in addition to just being told/given written instructions so this book is great for both text-based learners as well as more visual learners. However, not every single step is shown, just ones that the author deems most in need of extra explanation.

The second thing I like about this book is the layout. Each project is divided clearly, with a bold title for each. Each step is also clearly numbered and diagrams are labelled. I feel this approach is very useful for those who struggle to follow instructions, as it allows you to break your project up into smaller bits, allowing you to focus on one step at a time.

Another thing I like about this book is that you get more than you may have initially expected. You learn not only how to construct some interesting books/folders etc but you also find yourself discovering some unique artists. As someone who enjoys learning, I read the ‘Artist’s Bio’s’ section with curiosity. I feel this would also be useful for art and design students who may wish to research the artists further.

Continuing with the topic of ‘extras’ this book is full of them! In addition to the bio’s the book also includes several pages dedicated to ‘Ideas & Concepts’, complete with inspiring images and stories of interesting collaborations.

The not-so-good

Whilst the book provides lots of information and numbered steps to guide you through each stage of your project, some designs are particularly difficult. The majority would be too complex for children, which is why I feel this book is aimed at adults and older teenagers. This is a foray into the world of serious bookmaking as an art form, rather than a weekend project to occupy children. I admit that some of the designs put me off as it was evident that a lot of time and concentration would be needed and the diagrams themselves were very complex (for example the ‘Tetra-Tetra Flexagon’).

The only other potentially negative point is the need for specific tools for some of the projects. For example, linen tape, awl, certain boards.

Conclusion

Personally, I would recommend this book to anyone who has a serious interest in bookmaking. I think it’s best suited to adults and older teenagers, particularly those on design courses or who have a love for making and creativity. I find myself revisiting this book on regular occasions and for myself it has been worth every penny. The price is reasonable and it can be found easily.

 

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Monthly review; Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Letters

Title: Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Letters

Authors/illustrator: Brian Froud, Ari Berk

Price: From £8 – £160 first edition

Where to buy (UK): Amazon, ebay, Waterstones

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This is one of my most treasured Froud books in my collection, possibly because it really stands out from the others. What makes this book so unique is the interaction the reader has with it. Each page is filled with Froud’s distinctive fairy illustrations, but also draws the reader/viewer in by having all sorts of interesting attachments. From ‘handwritten’ pull-out letters, to envelopes containing quaint surprises, this book encourages exploration by the reader, involving another sense (touch) rather than the usual individual sense of sight (though I must admit I’m a fan of the smell of new or very old books…I know I’m not alone in this!).

As with many of Froud’s book the creativity and attempt at authenticity doesn’t stop with the artwork. The text itself could be argued to be a work of art in itself. Throughout we’re treated to a range of interesting fonts, from beautiful italic handwriting to calligraphy-style work. One thing that Froud never fails to do is draw his audience in. It’s almost as if he believes these wonderful scenarios and worlds he imagines. I love the dedication to making the book and backstory seem as authentic as possible, it shows Froud’s utter enthusiasm for his work.

Much like his other books the target age for this book is debatable. Whilst fairies and similar subjects are often thought of as geared more towards children, Froud’s work always seems to fall into this ageless space. I can imagine children and adults alike enjoying this hands-on book. That being said, for the very reason that it is hands-on this book isn’t suitable for very young children as delicate pull-outs may be easily torn/damaged. Some understanding and prior-knowledge is also needed to understand the basis of this book. Many adults will be familiar with the true story of the girls who, in 1917, took ‘real’ photographs of fairies in Cottingley, England (which were later exposed as being fake). The book is intended to be a ‘scrapbook’ of the girl in the famous photograph, named Angelica Cottington. As mentioned in last month’s review of Froud’s ‘A Field Guide to Goblins; The Goblin Companion’, whist wonderfully elaborate the story can be difficult to follow, particularly for younger readers. For this reason I’d recommend this book for older teenagers on wards, however I’m sure children would love to be shown the quirky illustrations and would delight in the pull-outs being demonstrated (do take note that some fairy poses are quite cheeky though! Parents may want to flip through and judge for themselves first).

Price-wise this book is affordable and I personally feel that the joy I get from revisiting this book again and again is worth every penny paid. I’d recommend this book to anyone with an interest in illustration, other worlds, and those young at heart.

 

TIP: If you like this book there are other Lady Cottington books, which are available in Waterstones. You can see the whole collection on their website here: link

What’s in store for November?

It’s hard to believe it’s November already! This year has flown by in a blur. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, about where my illustration is leading me, how I want to utilise my creativity and where it’ll take me in the future. Trying to meet a deadline I’ve fallen into the mindset of my current piece being more of a chore than how I want my time creating to be. When I allow myself time and space, art is my therapy. When I relax and just go with the flow and allow myself to really get in tune with my work is when I actually produce the best results and really engage with the process. In the coming years I’d like to look further in to art as therapy and hope that starting voluntary work working with people with Alzheimer’s will bring the opportunity to bring someone pleasure and a mode of creative communication.

Here are some of my recent rough sketches for the piece I’ve been working on. The piece itself will be made up of many elements and I’m currently working my way through each one, until I feel happy with the final version that I’ll then transfer to my prepared paper.

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The piece I’m working on is based on The Mabinogion, a collection of medieval Welsh tales. The stories are full of adventure, peril and mythological creatures, such as dragons and the cyclops. Above is my interpretation of a ‘Coranian’. The Coraniaid appear in the tale of Lludd and Llefelys and are a race of people that are said to be like a plague; their hearing is so intense that it’s impossible for them to be harmed as they always hear when danger is coming. When I’m creating characters I like to do some visual research. For the Coraniaid I researched medieval clothing to get a sense of what sort of things they would wear, and as the Coraniaid are said to be small i imagined a stocky build. I’ll be talking more about creative processes later this month in my monthly tutorial.

Later this month I’m hoping to visit an exhibition in Peterborough hosted by the City Gallery titled ‘Fabric of Society‘. As someone who’s interested in textiles I’m looking forward to seeing this and will be reporting back in my monthly review next month (the exhibition runs until January).

Next week I’ll be reviewing, as promised, another of Brian Froud’s  unconventional works: ‘Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Letters‘. If you haven’t already read last months ‘Goblins’ review, you can find it here link.

 

 

Monthly Review; An oldie but a goodie

When I was a teenager I was obsessed with the work of Brian Froud and remember going into Waterstones (though back then it was an ‘Ottakar’s’) with my best friend and spending hours flicking through the pages with excitement. I had my first taste of Froud’s work as a 14 year old (with a growing interest and attachment to art) in the small art room at the education unit I attended for a year and was sucked into the magic of this other world that I wanted to enter for myself. Looking at the ethereal illustrations in ‘Good Faeries Bad Faeries‘ I knew I wanted to see more of this artists work. There was something about it that just sucked you in to this other realm and for that time it was like real life was on hold and we had entered this universe.

When I could, I bought some of Froud’s books, the first being the book I will be reviewing today: ‘A Field Guide to Goblins; The Goblin Companion’, followed by ‘Brian Froud’s Goblins!‘ and eventually the one I found most pleasurable to spend time exploring: ‘Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Letters‘ (which I’ll be talking about next month – keep an eye out for November’s review).

Being the first book in my Froud collection and still bringing me joy all these years on, today I’ll be guiding you through this little wonder and maybe even introducing you to a world you didn’t even know existed; the creative (but often slightly eccentric!) world of Brian Froud.

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Title:  A Field Guide to Goblins; The Goblin Companion

Price: Pennies (used) – £35 (new)

Where to buy: Amazon, ebay, World of Books, AbeBooks

About: A pocket-sized collection of some of Froud’s Goblin artwork ‘captured and catalogued’ (so the book states) by Terry Jones. Information and images of various Goblins, giving you a ‘who’s who’ of the Goblin world.

The Good

If you love looking at other people’s sketchbooks this book is for you! Often in books we see only very polished versions of illustrations, which is why Froud’s book is so refreshing. Yes, you’ll see his complete work but you’ll also see works in progress and rough sketches. It’s interesting to see how his ideas develop and you get a real good glimpse into the imagination of this quirky artist’s work.

Another area that this book excels in is aesthetics. It’s evident that everything about this book has been carefully thought about. From the fonts used, to the annotations, to the tinted pages. All this contributes to the feel of the book and assists in drawing you in to Froud’s imagined world.

Whilst the best aspects of the book are of course the content, I have to mention the price. If you’re just getting interested in collecting Froud’s books or are looking for a gift for an art/illustration fan, this is an affordable place to start. Officially priced at an inexpensive £5.99 this book can be picked up online for even less.

The not so good

Whilst Froud’s books are always guaranteed to be a little…unique, shall we say, I have come across people who found the text (particularly in the introduction) to be a little confusing. I admit that it’s what some would consider a little bizarre but Froud fans would expect nothing less! In regards to intended audience Froud’s books can be deceiving. This isn’t an average children’s book…in fact, the majority would argue this isn’t a book intended for children at all! Though from the subject matter and the high volume of illustrations those unfamiliar with Froud would be forgiven for thinking so at first glance. This makes it difficult to judge what age range this book is suitable for, though I personally feel this is suited to teenagers all the way through to centenarians! The language used is too complex for children, though I’m sure they’d appreciate the host of unusual characters they’d meet if they were shown them.

So is it worth it?

Yes! In my opinion it’s worth every penny. As an illustrator this is definitely my cup of tea, as someone who still reads fairy tales and myths, this certainly satisfies that interest and as someone who likes to collect beautiful books to look at time and again, this is one of them. If you’re creative, interested in illustration or have a liking for fantasy, this is your book.

Rating: 4.5/5

Tip: If you like what you’ve read Waterstones has a huge collection of Brian Froud books. Take a look here: Link

If you’re a Froud fan (or become one!) check out the work of artist Amy Brown. You can find her website and see some of her work here: Link

Quick book review: Illustration Workshop

This month I’ll be reviewing a book I got in the summer; ‘Illustration Workshop’ by Mary Kate McDeritt.

 

Full title: Illustration Workshop: Find your style, practice drawing skills, and build a stellar portfolio.

Price: £9.85-£16.99

Where to buy (UK): Amazon, Book Depository

About: Written/compiled by American illustrator Mary Kate McDevitt, this appealing book guides you into the world of illustration. From the very first page you’re encouraged to get creative (literally – your first activity is to write your name and draw yourself) offering practical information on the industry, materials illustrators use, small warm-up activities and whole guided projects.

The Good

  • The layout – it’s fair to say this book is very aesthetically pleasing; with bright colours, illustrations throughout and interesting typography. The book itself is a piece of illustration work! It also breaks things down into sections making it easy to follow.
  • The writing style – The language and tone of the book appeals to ‘everyday’ people which makes it accessible to even beginners in the field of illustration. Everything is explained well without any hint of pretentiousness.
  • The activities range from small to large projects meaning if you have just 5 minutes to fill there’s something for you, if you have 5 hours to fill, there’s also something for you.
  • Projects are guided and go through a process. You follow each section of the project so you’re never left wondering where to go next. If your imagination seems to be having a day off, there are activities within each project to get your creative juices flowing, such as questions (‘who is your target audience?’) and a section for a spider diagram.
  • In addition to the mini activities within each project there’s also some visual inspiration, which is great for those of us who think more visually.
  • The book can be picked up very reasonably online
  • It’s a fun way of developing your illustration skills

The maybe not so good

  • If you’re from UK you’ll be aware that the book is American. There’ll be minor spelling/terminology differences
  • The information provided about working as an illustrator is limited. It’s a good introduction but this book isn’t for in-depth explanation

So is it worth it?

In my opinion I love this book! It was affordable, pleasing to look at (I’m a very visual person) and gave my need to practice my illustration skills/develop my style a direction. It can be hard to pull a project idea out of the air, which is why this book is so useful. I like the honesty with which McDermitt writes and the personal edge she gives it. The projects are engaging and the small warm-ups very unique! I’d recommend this book to anyone looking to develop their illustration skills, especially if they feel they need more direction.

Rating: 4.5/5

Monthly review:affordable gouache

I started using gouache in 2004 when my artistic ability (and obsession!) was just developing. I had just started a college summer course and had never heard of it before but it soon became my go-to paint for the next 5 years until i went to university and branched out a little. I loved the versatility of it, the fact that you could use it as you would watercolour (very dilute) or more thickly. Though unlike watercolour it’s opaque. For this reason I find it preferential for pieces where I want vibrant colours. However, this type of paint does dry fast so you’ll need to work fairly quickly, which is why when I’m doing more involved pieces I like to use water-mixable oils (a faster dry time than traditional oils, but not as fast as paints such as gouache and watercolour).

Gouache can be expensive with individual professional tubes costing as much as much as £10. However, there are budget options available. These sets are great for experimenting with and I own both professional and cheaper brands and use them together. A more purse-friendly brand that I’ve found to be quite good is Reeves, not as cheap as paints you’d find in bargain stores, but not as expensive as professional brands, this set is a good in-between, so that’s the brand I’ll be reviewing today.

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Name: Reeves Gouache Artist Colour Tube Set – 24

Price: £9.99-£27

Where to buy:  Hobbycraft, The Range (cheapest so far), Amazon, ebay, many other craft stores/online

Having tried various brands, including professional more expensive ones, I’ve never felt disappointed with Reeves gouache. In fact, I trusted it enough  to use during my time at university alongside these more expensive brands and still use it today. It retains its quality well and doesn’t dry out after months of storage, unlike a much more expensive brand I also regularly use. It still remains smooth, whereas the more expensive brand had become thick and unusable. For students on a tight budget and beginners wanting to just experiment before shelving out for premium brands this is a great option.

These paints can be used on their own, but I find them useful as ‘base colours’ underneath soft pastels. I do this to achieve a ‘softer’ look, but the good thing about gouache is it can also be used for pieces where you want vibrancy. Reeves gouache delivers this and they mix easily with water. The more liquid texture (in comparison to more expensive brands) can be thanked for this. However, the fact that it’s more liquid may suggest that to save costs there are more ingredients such as water and binding agent and less pigment, which is what gives you vibrancy. Gouache is made of pigment, water, and a binding agent such as gum arabic or dextrin. In higher quality paints you’d expect there to be more quality pigment. However, these paints are very workable and once you get the hang of them you can control the intensity of your colour by adding more/less water.

One issue with the Reeves set is actually not specific to this brand, but shared by all gouache paints; the fact that you must be careful when using the paint undiluted/thickly or you risk cracking. One thing lacking with this specific set though is any assurance of permanence, which is something you do get when selecting professional/more expensive paint. Winsor & Newton for example use the system: AA, A, B, C with AA being extremely permanent and C being most likely to fade. If you’re creating a piece of artwork for exhibition it would be best to opt for a brand that gives you an idea of the permanence of your paint and opt for the highest possible. For everyday experiments and general practice though I feel the Reeves set serves a purpose and the quality is good for a mid-range product.

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‘Moving’ Gouache base under soft pastels

 

To see some of my past gouache work, click the icons:

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An art lovers’ guide to Caerphilly

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In previous posts I’ve mentioned my involvement over the past two years in the Y Galeri Caerffili Open Art Exhibition and this month my ‘monthly review’ brings you an introduction to the small but blossoming art scene in this little Welsh town.

Type ‘art in Caerphilly’ in a search engine and the first thing you’re likely to see mentioned is Y Galeri. This small gallery, which moved to its current location in 2015, has become a hub of creativity, displaying work from talented local artists and makers, and bringing together creatives, as well as offering the wonderful opportunity of guidance and gallery space for each year’s Open Art competition winner. The gallery, though small, is a must-see for any art enthusiast visiting the area, and is just a stone’s throw away from the impressive Caerphilly castle, which has been the subject of many entries in to the yearly competition. One such piece which was shown at this year’s exhibition was a lino cut by Elanor Whiteman, who lives and works in Caerphilly, and has taken part in an extensive list of solo and group exhibitions around England and Wales. You can view Elanor’s work on her website here: http://eleanorwhiteman.wixsite.com/print/about

The Gallery is a great place for visiting art fans to begin, especially as just upstairs you’ll find the visitor’s centre (link) where you’ll find information leaflets, a café, and local crafts and gifts. The friendly staff are also on hand to answer any questions, and it’s open daily from 10-5:30 (The gallery is open Tues-Sat 10-5:00).

If you’re planning a trip to the town and want to cram in as much creativity as possible, Caerphilly holds a number of craft fairs throughout the year, with handmade items from talented local crafters, conveniently near the visitor centre. You can find out more by visiting the Caerphilly Craft Fair facebook page here:  link

In addition to craft fairs and the gallery, Caerphilly also has an art society, which holds a week-long exhibition each Autumn displaying members work, from enthusiastic beginners, to professionals. The society also holds demonstrations and workshops and guests are always welcome (prices apply). To find out more email caerphillyart@gmail.com

Useful Links

Trip adviser reviews for Y Galeri Caerffili: link

Y Glaeri Caerffili facebook: link

Twitter: link

Website: link

Caerphilly art society facebook: link

Website: link

 

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