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What I’ve Been Reading: Some Quick Book Reviews

December 12, 2010

The full post lists some short book reviews on a variety of subject matters.

I’m writing this collection of short book reviews on Saturday, December 11 while there is a blizzard outside. Since there was already snow on the ground I woke this morning knowing I wasn’t going to be exercising outside (biking) and we don’t have dogs any more to walk at all hours. So I went about my
indoors" day and round about 9 a.m. I thought, "Well the light from the windows [which have shades usually drawn] looks odd." And I looked out and saw a winter wonderland and more to come. A quick check of the TV weather reports showed blizzard conditions in southern MN moving north, and white out conditions in some areas.

My first thought was, “There is no chocolate in the house!”

I knew I should have gone out last night at 10 p.m. but I didn’t check the weather.

Well, I called up to Dick in his study and told him I was walking to Harvard Market. It wasn’t quite a blizzard here yet and I am a Minnesota girl (despite being born in the tropics) and I do have all the gear, i.e., snow shoes were going to be necessary in this situation). Then I went back to the window and looked out again and said to myself, “Chocolate or no chocolate, that’s plain stupid.” So I called back up to Dick, “We’re making cookies.” (He makes the batter and I shape the cookies [using a magic spoon] and bake them to perfection.)

So we did.

It’s too early to have any of those cookies (they are on hand for later when I get to worrying about chocolate and the blizzard is really here!) so I’m writing book reviews.

I was encouraged to write book reviews, also, because true to his calling the postman arrived at 9 a.m., through all the snow, to deliver more books to me. I won’t be reviewing those today because I haven’t read them, but more reviews will follow—let’s just say those new books are so cool I can’t wait to get back to them. To make headway through an already enormous pile of reading material I am posting these reviews.

Some How-to Books or Art Examples (Samples/Inspiration)

Books

Print & Stamp Lab: 52 Ideas for Handmade, Upcycled Print Tools, by Traci Bunkers, from Quarry.
I found this book a couple weeks ago while poking around the shelves of the MCBA shop. It had just come in. I was just talking to my journaling students about using found objects for stamping. Here was this book. If you already pick up things to make impromptu stamps, or use a heat gun to mold foam into relief stamps of found objects then this book will simply reinforce what you already do. But if you are new to stamping or journaling and want some way to expand your repertoire or rethink the “tools” you might have lying around, or if like me you teach and are always looking for things that will inspire your students to think differently, then you’ll enjoy this book. Everyone using found objects has a different style. This book would also be a fun project book for art groups who like to get together and set a project for themselves. Use the same objects and see all the different approaches that emerge.

Cut It, Paste It, Sew It: A Mixed-Media Collage Sourcebook, edited by Chisa Itou, from Quarry.
This is really an example book (hence my subtitle for this section). Here’s art from someone and and interview with them. This isn’t how-to, but if you like to collage you’ll find this book interesting. For me the interest lies in the drastically different esthetic I see from these artists, mostly from Japan. There is a refreshing use of white space, fun use of color, and lots of interesting found paper items (and some fabric items. When I mentioned on my blog that I was working with the decorative masking tape from Japan my friend Briana told me about this book. Yes, many of the artists use this masking tape in their designs. Again, it’s not a how to book and I find the interviews really skimpy (there is so much more I would have asked the artists about their work that never is touched on!), but the visuals are wonderful.

Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter, by James Gurney, from Andrews McMeel.
People may know Gurney as the creator of Dinotopia (and this is also stated on the book’s cover so people make the connection—though the dinosaur image also helps reinforce that). The book states that many of the pieces in the book appeared on his blog and he has thought about this material for some time. That’s all to the good for a number of reasons because each topic is presented in a small digestible bit, within a larger framework of related items in a “chapter.” I think this approach makes the book useful for both beginning artists who read it cover to cover and more experienced artists who want to look up a particular topic to get Gurney’s take on it. It is illustrated throughout with Gurney’s art and the art of other realist painters. The quality of reproduction in this book is marvelous and frankly, if you like realist painters that alone is enough of a reason to purchase this book. Gurney is typically refreshingly neutral when defining terms and discussing topics, for instance in “Charting Pigments” he explains terms like “convenience mixtures” and “tinting,” but at then end of this brief text (with several illustrations) he comments that you have to try out organics and inorganics to see how they behave in various mixtures. For the how-to-book glutton who is always looking for the new “right” way to do something this approach will be frustrating in the short term, but experimentation always leads to greater satisfaction in the long term. His discussion of “The Mud Debate” is the shortest and most to the point that I’ve ever read. He is challenging you to think past "the" rules or pronouncements to what is really happening—and that’s the best type of art information book because it will propel you into more experimentation.

Art Books and Books About Artists and Their Work

Mirror Mirror: Self-Portraits by Women Artists, by Liz Rideal, from Watson Guptill.
I picked this book up at the MIA gift shop. This is a catalog for an exhibition of self-portraits by women artists at the National Portrait Gallery in London. There are the obligatory scholarly articles which in this case are actually interesting. The rest of the book is spreads dedicated to each portrait (one page) and info about the artist (the facing page). You can see how women are depicted by male artists in every museum on the planet. You can even see how some female artists depict women in some such museums. The fun of this book is that you can flip through it and at a glance see a story of the changing views of women through the eyes of women themselves, all at once. I find this very interesting. And the images selected will get you (regardless of your gender) to think about your own self-perceptions.

The Theater Posters of James McMullan, by James McMullan, from Viking Studio.
I wrote about my respect for McMullan several weeks ago and mentioned that I’d just learned of this book (I have some others containing his work). Well I ordered it up and it is marvelous! It is a large format book—10 x 13.5 inches—which allows for large reproductions of the work under discussion. McMullan’s posters are presented along with thumbnails and discarded versions. His text discusses his process. It’s an instruction book on the process of illustration and is priceless.

Sketchbook Confidential: Secrets from the Private Sketches of over 40 Master Artists, Pamela Wissman, editor, from North Light Books.
Readers of my blog know I’m a sucker for facsimiles of journals. Well I love, just as well, sketches—in any form, from thumbnails to more finished “sketches” in oil that some artists would consider finished pieces. This book contains such work from a group of artists who may be known to you already (like the fabulous Cathy [Kate] Johnson—who’s examples here do include wonderful pages from her journals; and Claudia Nice known for her pen and ink books) through their writing of books and articles about art. And others like Joe Paquet who have workshop reputations. Other artists still might be those whose work you simply know, based on books they have illustrated or sculptures they create, or jewelry they have designed. As you may realize from the last sentence there are artists working in all media, still creating sketches. This isn’t a facsimile book, you don’t get to peek into pages and pages of journals (though there are some journals represented here as I said) but you will see how artists use their sketchbooks and sketching practice. The interviews with these artists are a little skimpy as well, but what comes across clearly is the love of sketching most of these artists have. If you want to understand what the big deal is about sketching and no one has been able to explain it to you, then this is a great book for you to read through with many approaches to the same question. Either way it’s a fun book with delightful visuals that will inspire you to think about your work in new ways.

And One Very Special Book in a Category All Its Own

My Life in France, by Julia Child, from Anchor Books.
If you have ever seen any tape of Julia Child cooking, either in "real" time or reruns on PBS you'll have her voice in your head (and several variations of that voice thanks to the talented comics, especially at SNL, who have interpreted her for us). That real voice comes through loud and clear in this book that she wrote with her nephew Alex Prud'homme. It is a straightforward, unembellished descriptive form of prose, pleasing to read, hard to put down. The book is also captivating because of the time it depicts. In our current world of globalization with a Starbucks on every corner from here to Dubai, it is healthy to remember that the world wasn't always such. That regions were known for certain products and approaches to food and culture in a more clearly defined way than today. Change is inevitable (and speaking as a woman, in many ways desireable and good), but I think that readers, regardless of their particular take on today's global conditions will find the descriptions of post-World War II France interesting on several levels. To me this book is also a great love story, about a couple who took their lives in political service and involved themselves in whatever culture they found themselves. Had Paul Child's occupation been different I think we still would have heard from Julia, in some other arena. This is a book about working hard (really, really hard, with setbacks) from a passionate core, to find and then follow a dream.

Time to go get one of those cookies. Happy Reading!

  1. Reply

    Your comment about the light coming from the window made me laugh. That is always what I look for in the morning to see if it snows even before I look out the window.

    • Leslie Schramm
    • December 13, 2010
    Reply

    Tisk, I have occasionally ran out of toothpaste, and reguarly for shoe polish but running out of Chocolate, shame on you!!! ( You;ll be running out of coffee next!! someday ask me about my first Midwest pot of coffee, it’s not a prety story)

    I often use http://rococochocolates.com/
    both for chocolate bars and chocolate art!

    They have great chocolate, and hilarious sketches and doodles on the wrappers, the website is good just for the fun of it all

  2. Reply

    Leslie—I would never risk my life for coffee (I can’t even stand the smell of it—Dick has to brew his upstairs!) Chocolate is my only vice. (Well that’s the way I see it.)

    I must hear the Midwest Pot of Coffee story. (Not everyone in the Midwest makes coffee the same way, I just have to say, in defense of coffee snob Dick, and other good friends who do indulge)

    I’ll check out the site, but no one could have arrived in time if we had not made cookies!

    Now of course the roads have been cleared and there is once again an abundance of chocolate so it is easy to ignore!

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