Monday, June 30, 2014
Book Review: Urban Watercolor Sketching
Recently, I was sent a copy of Felix Scheinberger's new book "Urban Watercolor Sketching" and asked if I'd review it. I'll happily read any book on sketching and watercolor painting, so I readily agreed. I figured it'd be another in the line of books featuring sketches by someone and I'd love looking at the pictures and I'd be inspired.
But when I sat down with this book, I discovered immediately that I was wrong. This book is SO MUCH MORE than that. Really.
The first thing I noticed was the quirky style of Scheinberger's sketches. I wasn't familiar with his work and the idiosyncratic style is not one that I'm drawn to, at least on first blush. But I liked that every page featured his sketches, even the technical pages were illustrated by his sketches of pens, paints, etc. It makes for a book that feels visually exciting and fun and even surprising. And the more I looked at his sketches, the more I fell in love with his variable line, with a style that expresses his unique view of the world, and his use of watercolor -- oh, it's fabulous. Such gorgeous color and such splashy, confident work with paint. It's remarkable and very inspirational. I have come away feeling that I'll learn a lot by studying his sketches, if just for the placement of color, how he leaves white, how he lets the color splash outside of inked lines.
And then I started reading, and I was equally surprised and impressed. I've read a lot of bookds on sketching and painting, and most of them -- while wonderful books -- tend to follow a fairly basic formula. This book is different.
It talks about what's in paint, and it gives a bit of history of basic color pigments. It was full of interesting facts. (Did you know that yellow is said to have originated from camels that were fed a diet of mango leaves, and then their urine was boiled and reduced to a pure pigment? That most mammals can hardly see red?) He talks about the different aspects of color -- local color, iconographic color, how light affects color. He talks about how to use color to portray distance. He talks about leaving white, and even shows a page of sketches, with the same one in black and white and then again with color, to illustrate that neither is better, but that they are excitingly different.
And there's a lot more here. Finding your own style. Selecting the most important part of what you want to sketch, and accentuating it. Using the negative space. He talks about the tools -- the choices for paint, how to choose paint brushes, how to stretch watercolor paper, and he gives tips for sketching outdoors. I loved his page on how to illustrate air, smoke, and fog with paint.
And for all of the content, none of it is dry. It's written pretty conversationally, as if Scheinberger is talking to you and urging you on and giving you is sketching tips and philosophy.
So here's my conclusion: if you think, as I did, that this is just another one of those books that show some artist's sketches, think again. There's a ton of valuable information here, presented clearly with great illustrations.
The only thing I was wishing for as I read this -- and really, it was the ONLY thing -- was more information about Felix Scheinberger himself. I like knowing how someone came to sketching and what it means to them, and especially because Scheinberger's sketching style is so individualized, I really wanted to know more about him. The back cover reveals that he lives in Germany and that he's an illustrator, artist, and designer who has illustrated quite a few children's books. I remembered that his art is featured in Danny Gregory's book "An Illustrated Journey," and there is more about him and his sketching background there. I also found this video in which Danny interviews Felix. So I'm going to go watch that now. But really, do buy this book. It's amazing.
* I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. But I would have written this exact same thing if I'd bought it myself.