Painting Nature in Watercolor with Cathy Johnson—Book Review

June 30, 2014


Above: watercolor ©2014 Cathy (Kate) Johnson. The artist creates depth and space by the deft handling of watercolor. 

Cathy (Kate) Johnson is an art hero of mine. For decades her articles in Artist’s Magazine and her books like The Sierra Club Guide to Sketching in Nature, have inspired me. She writes with clarity about art techniques as only someone with a lifetime of experience can write—she hasn't just spent a couple afternoons sketching in nature, it's been part of her life's work. 

She has a new book from North LIght Books: Painting Nature in Watercolor with Cathy Johnson: 37 Step-by-Step Demonstrations Using Watercolor Pencil and Paint, (2014).

When this new book came out (Amazon finally alerted me to something I was actually interested in) I was quick to purchase it because I enjoy her books so much. Kate had explained in a blog post or on Facebook that this new book was a compilation of material from Watercolor Pencil Magic (2002) and Creating Nature in Watercolor (2007).  But I still had to have this book. First because it’s a bit chaotic here with things going into storage and I couldn’t find my copies of either of the earlier books, and second because it meant I got a chance to come at it again, new. 

(Note: This book does not contain all the material from the previous two books.)

Painting in Nature is a happy blended result because watercolor pencils and watercolor themselves make a wonderful duo for capturing nature on paper.

The book is divided into 9 chapters which cover materials, techniques to get you started, tips on keeping a field journal, and a gazillion (really it seems that packed) tips and demonstrations in which the author shows you her own visual vocabulary for capturing nature.

Whether you’re a beginning artist or someone who has been sketching in the field for years a book like this not only provides ways you can stretch your observational skills but provides inspiration to continue to do so. Your approach to capturing the texture of a cherry tree’s bark may be totally different from the one Kate takes, but seeing her approach will solve hours of frustration for the beginning artist, and it will push the experienced artist to look deeper at his own visual vocabulary to find new and deeper ways to render what his eye sees.

The book is also valuable for the wonderfully relaxed and encouraging voice that is Kate’s, and which runs through the book. There are side bars for instance where she encourages you to stop and use what available time you have, explains the limited supplies she had, and then shows you the delightful sketches she accomplished literally on the run. From there you’ll see how she can work with those quick observational sketches to create a more complete watercolor in the studio. 

I believe you’ll find lots to experiment with and enjoy in this book. It will be a great addition to your art-book shelf.

If you love the book and want more from the author please note that Cathy (Kate) Johnson is one of the six instructors in the new “klass” at Sketchbook Skool, beginning July 4, 2014—“Seeing.” Registration is going on right now.  

    • Julana
    • June 30, 2014

    I have two of her books, and find them so encouraging. This looks good, too.

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