Book review – exercise

MacPherson K. D.  ‘Fill your oil paintings with light & colour’ North Light Books, Cincinnati, Ohio. 1997   www.artistsnetwork.com ISBN-13 9781581800531

I have been looking for an art book to give me inspiration as far as oil painting of landscapes is concerned for a while.  Generally, I use acrylics, soft pastels or mixed media, I have done very little oil landscape work.  I saw this book on Amazon and it had received good reviews there as well as on Barnes & Noble, I opted for the soft cover version.  

Many art tutorial books waste an unnecessary amount of pages discussing medium, substrate and brushes and although this book covers the technicalities, it gets straight to the point.  Emphasised throughout the book is how necessary it is to understand colour and to appreciate that every colour has a value.   MacPherson describes how to capture the essence of a scene and to concentrate on getting the shapes and colour relationships right before worrying over details.  He espouses the use of a limited palette which in his case is titanium white, cadmium yellow pale, alizarin crimson and ultramarine blue.   He suggests practising with these colours before adding winsor green as this is a very strong colour that can also be used to make blacks.   I discovered that technique recently, black tends to make things flat.

‘Nature harmonizes everything, so you paint what is there, the color will be harmonious.’ (p20)

The author is famous for his plein air work and he’s the first author/teacher who has said that near-sighted people (like me) have an advantage!   We don’t have to squint in order to see the big shapes and main colour notes.  Something for me to remember when painting outdoors perhaps?

‘Paint what you see, not what you know.’ (p24)

There is an interesting section on colour mixing, particularly for making your own earth colours rather than reaching for pre-mixed yellow ochre, burnt sienna, raw umber or burnt umber.

The book is richly illustrated with magnificent reproductions of MacPherson’s paintings, as well as projects to complete on your own.  Still life and landscape painting is the main focus of this book, however the principles apply to all genres.  There is a section on pochade paintings – making very small studies en plein air that you can use as the basis for much larger studio works.   The final chapter shows how to complete larger works using plein air studies, notes, memory and photographs.   There is a recommended reading page – some of the books he mentions I have read already or seen in libraries.  Mr. MacPherson has a YouTube channel, though it is not populated with a lot of videos. 

‘Read art books over and over again. What doesn’t make sense today may make sense down the road when you have more experience.’ (p140)

I have already started to play around with some of the exercises MacPherson outlines and I am sure that this book will be a valuable resource going forward, and for under twenty pounds, it was worth the investment.   

Wordcount: 503 words

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